Again this summer, I realized what an un-normal, out of the ordinary life we are living.
My friend whom I helped a bit with her move, she just talked about “the crazy shit” after a while. We also called it “la vida loca”, but what she this summer and we last summer had to go through had nothing to do with the Ricky Martin song.
What I am talking about is a transatlantic move with a family of four. Ending the life you led at some place on this globe for several years, packing up everything, saying good-bye to friends. End of that story that was called “Berlin” (in her case) or “Mexico City” (in ours). She had lived in the German capital for 5.5 years, we in the Mexican for 5. Our kids spent very formative years of their lives in CDMX – our oldest from 11 to 16, our youngest from 8 to 13. No surprise, child #1 found it an extremely bad idea of parents to move at that stage in his life. He had made such good friends, he felt at home there, he wanted to continue with his life there. Period. Nothing else. For sure not start all over again, as he had done before – when he was 11 (and 7 and 2). He still remembered how it was the last time, and knows how it is, when you are the new one.
As a family, we have been living “la vida loca” for basically 18 years. My husband and I moved from Hamburg to Mexico City when he started his first job after finishing his PhD and I left mine, close to 8 months pregnant with our first child. We moved to The Hague, when child #1 was 2 years old; to Vienna, with child #2 on board, he then 4 years old. And back to Mexico in 2013. My oldest has a longer CV than some 50-year-old German who has lived in the same town all his life, done an apprenticeship and kept on working for that employer.
What comes on top for us and my friend, is that she and me, we are not married to Germans. But a person from a different country, even different continent, definitely different culture. Which makes the whole “expat experience” far more complicated. Because, “expat” jumps pretty short when compared to that situation. We have Latin American parents in law, a bank account in a developing country, and children in Mexican and Argentinian schools. When I left Germany at the end of 2001, I learned that privileges I would have enjoyed if I had stayed in Germany did not apply to me, as I was living abroad. For example, the time I stayed at home taking care of my first-born was not recognized by the German retirement system, as I did not “educate him in Germany or a EU country”. That he, someday, might live and work in Germany (which he can, among other things, as I always spoke German to him) and pay for retired people’s pension, is totally irrelevant in that respect.
Okay, as a picture is worth a thousand words, here come a few pages…
I have sold or gotten rid of about 3 cars, fridges, TV sets, and xboxes or play stations or whatever these things are called. And yes, we have sets for both – Mexican and German outlets – for our computers, etc. Yes, this is us:
And yes, our kids have two passports, two birth certificates, their parents are experts in consular affairs and all the paper work one needs to do when applying for a German birth certificate in Mexico or a Mexican in The Netherlands. My husband and I got married in the UK, as back then, in 2000, we had to present far less documents than in Germany (try to get a “Ledigkeitsbescheinigung” or “Auszug aus dem Melderegister” in Mexico; great fun); and he was doing his PhD at the University of London. So, this is symbolic picture number 2:
And this is one of the most precious things I own. My set of mugs from Penguin Books which I bought when I did my masters at the University of Cambridge. And they moved with me, these mugs: in suitcases (from the UK to Cologne, from Hamburg to Mexico), in containers (from Mexico to The Hague; from Vienna to Mexico), in boxes (from one apartment to the other in Mexico, when we got hit by the 19S earthquake).
I leave you with two more photos.
This is the seal that the moving company put on a Hapag-Lloyd container in May 2004, the first time we moved with the Mexican Foreign Service. The last time we moved, last summer, we never saw a seal: the company was CRAP, cero a la izquierda, as they say in Mexico. The move took them more than eight weeks, instead of the usual four to five…
And yes, a psychologist once said that I am not a piece of “Diplomatengepäck”. Being the trailing spouse, and I am sure being the trailing child of an expat or a diplomat is not easy. Has its challenges. Can suck. Big time. I guess the expat’s or diplomat’s life as well, sometimes, but one assumes that he or she decided for that kind of life at some point. And might chose the exit option if he or she does not want to carry on with it.
But all in all, looking back at nearly 18 years of “la vida loca”, aka “the crazy shit” has been an enriching, interesting, inspiring experience that made all of us grow. I thank my “squad Lara” for this ride! (There is a reason why I did not write this post a year ago, when we just arrived in Berlin…the “conclusion” would have sounded a lot different.)
I enjoyed reading your post Karen. While I have moved a lot myself, it was almost always because I wanted to move, not because our employer told us to move. And at the times of our moves we either did not have children, or they were too young to even understand what is happening. It is very tough for the boys, and you, but I am sure, like you said, it has given you the gift of great experiences, different perspectives and lasting memories.
Thanks so much, Christiane, for your kind words! Talk to you soon!!!