On Monday I farewelled a friend who left for another overseas posting. She has been home barely a year from her last four-year posting. Yes, this is the life of diplomats, and their friends and families. Farewells and reunions, welcomes and good-byes, adventures and home-comings. It has now been 20 years since my husband and I came home from my own posting in Bangkok. Unlike some of my close friends, I gave up diplomatic life. Even at a relatively junior level, it is a lifestyle that is almost impossible to keep up and maintain a two career relationship. And so I embarked on a life where I travelled extensively for work, and – once the mortgage was paid off – we were able to travel extensively ourselves for leisure.
But it’s not the same. Yes, I love travelling, being a visitor, staying in a nice hotel and visiting the sights. I love being able to absorb the sights, sounds, smells, culture around you. But I also love the anonymity of that lifestyle, the freedom of being able to just check out. But I am fully aware – perhaps more than most – that you can’t absorb a culture, start to really understand it, on a trip of a few weeks or even months. After all, my first ever international experience was an all-in immersion into Thailand and Thai culture. It’s only been on recent visits that I’ve felt like a tourist there. I know the difference. I feel it in my bones.
And so I have always loved settling into a country, seeing how the locals live, trying to learn what it would mean to live there. My travel highlights in the US have been visiting friends in Bethesda or Wilmington, DE, walking the streets prior to Halloween or Christmas, going to a school teachers’ evening, or a soccer game, visiting an apple farm, a snowy evening inside. A highlight of my winter trip to Europe was shopping for and cooking our Austrian goose with my sister-in-law, and staying with friends in their homes in the UK. Seeing neighbourhoods and lifestyles I’d never see otherwise. Feeling as if I belong – even for fleeting moments – is a powerful draw. One of my must-dos for my retirement is to spend six months to a year living somewhere in Europe. I have always wanted to go overseas and live somewhere else again.
So I look back on the last 20 years in shock, as if those 20 years crept up on me overnight. Since we returned from Bangkok, my well-travelled friend has spent at least another ten years overseas, and is now off for another three years as an Ambassador. Another friend, now out of diplomatic life, has enjoyed two more overseas postings. I have been here all that time. And I am still here. Leaving now is less likely than ever, with aging parents, left with responsibilities as other siblings(in-law) have blithely moved further and further away, living lives I wanted to live. This isn’t the life I’d imagined having. Yes, I’ve done some wonderful things, and still travelled more than many of those in-laws who are living off-shore. But I still feel a bit trapped in comparison. Left behind. With itchy feet.