Thoughts / Travel

On the Eve of Pack-Out

A flower shop not far from our local market.

It was a “I’ll take two caffeinated beverages please” kind of day.  Not bad, not stressful, just busy and…well, there’s always a bit of sentimentality that comes with packing up a home and not knowing exactly where you’ll be and what your life will be like when the time comes to unpack again.

I mean yes, I know some of our stuff will be at an Execu-stay apartment in Rosslyn, VA in a few weeks.  Some of it will be in New Delhi in a few months; but what will those places look like and feel like?

I think those first few days in a new place are always so poignantly bizarre.  Looking back, they always feel a little like a dream and yet there are certain experiences, sounds and smells that I can recall with breath-taking clarity.

The first time I went to India, I remember falling asleep at 6pm on my first night in town and waking up the next morning at 3am.  I had no internet, no phone, no way to let my family know I even made it to India ok.  I sat in small living room with unfamiliar tile floors and a somewhat sketchy velour couch.  I read Anna Karenina and waited for the sun to come up.  I felt so alone it was almost physically painful.

If I have one piece of advice for someone who has moved across the world without friends or family for company it would be this: reading depressing Russian novelists while jet-lagged is a horrible, stupidly masochistic idea.

My first day in Chengdu was no where near as lonely or awful.  It was, however, nothing like what I thought my first day in China would be.  Our phone at the house barely worked so I had no way to get a hold of Chris after he went to the office.  We had no internet, nothing in the house but a bit of food from our sponsor and the clothes we packed and I had no idea what to do with myself.  Our neighbor’s nanny invited me to lunch with her and another Consulate spouse.  I assumed we’d have Chinese food so I was surprised to find myself at a place called Peter’s Tex Mex, eating a grilled cheese sandwich for lunch.  I’m not sure how it happened, but I ended up carrying the other spouse’s 8-month-old daughter across one of Chengdu’s scariest intersections. All I could think was “it would be totally fine if I got hit by a car right now, but please, please, please don’t let me get hit with someone else’s kid in my arms!”

Mangoes were just coming into season when we arrived and I ate one every single day for the first month we lived here.  To this day, the smell of overripe mangoes takes me back to our first apartment in Chengdu.  I see myself standing in our kitchen, peeling a mango, looking out onto common patio where several young guards are chatting and smoking cigarrettes while I tried to get my barrings on this new place and my new life without a job, living in China.

Even though we are still about 4 months away from arriving in New Delhi, packing everything up today made me think about what our lives will be like there.

I packed up our ice cream maker and wondered, “Who will be our friends?  Who will I be inviting over for an ice cream party?”

I packed up my wall of craft supplies and smiled thinking that, perhaps in Delhi, Will will finally be old enough to paint with me instead of just trying to eat the paints.

I rolled up rugs and looked at our artwork wondered whether we’ll find the perfect places for them in our new house.

I debated whether to include my kurtas from India in our baggage for the return trip.  What will living in the North rather than the South be like?  What will it be like as part of the Embassy, as a spouse with a toddler; rather than as a recent college graduate sharing my bed with an Italian girl and an apartment with 6 other people because we were all too poor and desperate to have our own rooms, much less our own beds (For the record, it was not as salacious as it might sound, though she was a very sweet girl and truly a wonderful friend to everyone in the apartment).

I know it will be different.  I know that, as much as I love India, it will be a shock to my system again after 2 years in China.  I know that there will be those first few uncertain weeks of wandering around, meeting people, feeling clueless, wondering which markets and stores we’ll frequent, which friendships will stick, which ties will bind and how we’ll spend our days.

So yea, that’s what I’m thinking about tonight as I look around at all of the boxes and all of the things left to do.  Blogging is an excellent tool for procrastination, as per the usual.

Also, apropos of nothing except that I find it a funny little thing: it turns out we have a truly ridiculous number of Irish Spring soap bars amongst our belongings.  I must have bought it in bulk at one point for some reason and then totally forgot about it.  There’s a good chance Chris will be retiring from the Foreign Service before we ever run out of the stuff.

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