November 17, 2016

Thinking of Leaving the Country? Notes on Living Abroad.

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A lifetime ago, I lived in the fast lane. I was passing people on the left, weaving my way through the lanes, getting places.

I had been a good little girl, grown up into a rebellious young woman, yet still managed to attain my degree in advertising. I was living an existence painfully close to Office Space—working in a gray cubicle on a boxy computer and despising my work days, yet getting by and generally well-liked by my multiple micro-managers.

When I left my first career in favor of becoming a bilingual schoolteacher, life slowed down a bit.

I was in my late 20s and “over it.” I no longer cared where, how or with whom I spent Saturday nights. I was no longer a bar-hopping social butterfly keen to mingle with intriguing musicians. Being a first year teacher, I was simply too tired to do anything but work.

When I moved to Guatemala at age 29, life slowed down significantly.

Once I found my core group of friends and established myself at home and school, I found I had mounds of free time. I was given ample planning periods at my job (something most teachers certainly do not have in the U.S.), and I no longer had any social or familial obligations to keep on my calendar. I was free as a bird and finally had the time and mental space to delve deeper into my personal practices of yoga and mindfulness.

Here, the motto is “mañana.” In Guatemala, there is almost nothing that cannot wait until tomorrow—or the day after. This can be irritating when you have a U.S. mindset and are actually trying to get something done in a timely way; regardless, I learned to adore and appreciate this way of life.

In my experience of living abroad, I have encountered the most unexpected things, met the most fabulous people and witnessed the vast complexity of the Guatemalan culture. I’ve discovered true love, peace, joy and authenticity here. I’ve partnered up and started a family, here.

Life slowed down even more when I moved to Lake Atitlán and subsequently to a small cabin in the woods a year and a half ago. The pace of life is sweet. I wake with the sun and am not ashamed to be fast asleep by eight o’clock on many nights.

I spent two months on a visit to the U.S. and Canada recently. A stint in my hometown, Austin, followed by an epic road trip with my parents, husband and daughter to northern California by way of Santa Fe, the Grand Canyon, Zion National Park in Utah, L.A. Then a final jaunt up to Oregon and British Columbia. Here’s a little stream-of-consciousness poem I wrote in San Francisco:

Same same but different. Bay area. California trees and breezes, forgotten highways 80, 580, 680, 880, the 101. Cozy, content, happy, lazy. Life in the slow lane. Catching up. Patio chilling fire time, peace train white wine sofa pillows giggles juice fun fun fun visit techno advancements self-driving cars on auto pilot wireless world wow Pandora Google Facebook eBay Twitter Apple silicon valley Time Out, roll out the mat for Ganesha yoga.

My heart is brimming with gratitude for having had the opportunity to visit many beloveds and a ton of cherished places, old and new, across North America. I miss my friends and family. I miss North America’s fabulous playgrounds, bathtubs, hot tubs and fast wifi.

I do not miss the race to nowhere, the information overload or the urban sprawl. I do not miss the inundation of images, ads, media and propaganda everywhere you go. I do not miss feeling rushed, harried and anything but present.

I live life in the slow lane, and, as my almost-four-year-old daughter would say, “I just like it.”

Gazing at the sky
Watching water ripple
Listening to the wind

No smart phone
No microwave
No problem

Little girls so blessedly, easily entertained
I am turning inward, outward, upside down
I prefer life in Central America

Land of less choices
Eternal spring

I am a U.S. Citizen and a “permanent resident” of Guatemala. (What is permanent?) I am an unpatriotic expatriate. I am reeling, like all of us gringo liberals are reeling, at the unbelievable news that Donald Trump will be the next president. I feel numb, in denial, and yet shocked and appalled.

I am grateful to live outside the borders of my home country. I encourage everyone to boycott America and consider making a move south (or north) of its borders.

Or stay, and fight the good fight. More power to the peaceful, the intelligent, the compassionate, the kind.


Author: Michelle Margaret Fajkus

Image: @elephantjournal on Instagram // Author’s Own

Editor: Toby Israel


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