Expatriate

So I quit my job and I’m moving back to the US.

Not because I have ants in my bed or wasps in my office. I mean, I do. I have those things in those places. Right now, in fact. Which is why I’m writing this in the kitchen. But no, the true causes are more complicated than that.

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I work here. At least, I try to. When it’s not full of wasps.

It’s not a bad thing, either. I’m not leaving this place like I left my last job. It’s an unfortunate but necessary step. You see, even under the best of circumstances wildlife rescue is a terribly underfunded charity, and it’s not a great way to make a living. Tack on a pandemic, global shutdown, economic recession, and resulting work furlough and well, I that’s my cue to make my exit.

But I’m not here to talk about work. The real reason I’m writing this is because of what so many people said to me after I broke the news to them. From friends and family, variations of, “Are you sure you want to do this? The job market in the US is terrible, there’s a disease, the political situation is a nightmare, and there’s been all this violence with the police.”

To which I answer with a laugh.

Not a happy laugh. Not, “funny, ha ha,” but a kind of desperate, maniacal, insane laugh. The kind of laugh you do to stop from crying.

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The kind of laugh you make while retreating back inside your shell, never to emerge.

I’m going to try to explain why.

Years and years ago, when I first began my career in Latin America, I had all kinds of feedback from people. Most of it negative. “Central America? It’s too unstable. Too corrupt. Unsafe. Unsanitary.” “Don’t drink the water and don’t trust the cops.” “Watch out for malaria and Dengue.” Granted, I was just a college student and, true, some of the places I was going in Guatemala and Peru were pretty rough. I’m not denying any of that.

But does no one else see this? The irony? The symmetry? Can anyone help me frame this paradigm of people warning me from returning home for the very same reasons they warned me not to leave?

And yes, I know, it’s not completely the same. Differences of scale. And I’m not getting into a political angle here on a blog about snakes and ants and monkeys. Nor am I trying to make any of these issues about me. And I’m certainly not enjoying this, as if this were some sort of cruel comeuppance on a segment of complacent privileged America. I didn’t want any of this to happen. Not to anyone.

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I don’t want this to happen to anyone either.

But I still can’t stop from laughing.

So what I guess I’m trying to say is: watch what you say, because it could happen to you. Don’t take anything for granted. Don’t see countries as monoliths with discrete borders. They are tapestries, stained and rent and woven together.  The people who live there are people too.

The most I gained from my travels was perspective. It’s the one thing I can say I truly earned on my own. I saw dead bodies in the street and never shook that image. I saw people withering away from preventable diseases in overcrowded hospitals. I looked to armed police and soldiers and didn’t know if they were friend or enemy. Or if it mattered. And I saw people live alongside all of that and still somehow go about their lives, returning home to their families to put food on the table.

I lived in fear ever since that it would happen again, happen close to home. And now it has. So I’m going back home, to the country that raised me, to try to forge a life there that Costa Rica isn’t able to do right now.

Happy Fourth of July.

 

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