Wherever I go, there I am
I've never thought of myself as a turtle. When people ask me what animal I'd be, if I were an animal, I opt for a deer or maybe a chipmunk. I used to do a mean Pepe Le Pew imitation as a kid. But a reptile with a penchant for carrying heavy loads...
I've never thought of myself as a turtle. When people ask me what animal I'd be, if I were an animal, I opt for a deer or maybe a chipmunk. I used to do a mean Pepe Le Pew imitation as a kid. But a reptile with a penchant for carrying heavy loads?
Lately, however, I've begun to feel that, like a turtle, I carry my home with me. Wherever I go, there I am.
I used to think driving to Albert Lea, about a four-and-a-half-hour trip including a caramel roll at Tobie's, was a pretty complicated journey. Now I've talked to taxi drivers in French, Bulgarian, and German.
I've tried to avoid liquids so I could hold it through a five-hour bus ride across Morocco.
I've spent an afternoon in downtown Frankfurt eating a pretzel and waiting for my flight to Ireland, and a night in downtown Milan eating pizza and waiting for a flight to Bulgaria.
I've ridden on the top level of one of those Harry Potter-style double-decker buses, gotten caught in a soccer fan riot on the German subway, and been squeezed out the doors of a packed metro in Barcelona before I made it to my stop.
A lot has changed. I have suddenly found myself at home in the world.
When we first moved abroad, I packed two holiday napkins each for Halloween, Christmas, Valentine's Day, and Easter. I needed pieces of home to give me continuity and help me adjust to a new life. As the months have passed and I've used up my napkins, I've realized it's not a new life, it's my life in new places. And it's not napkins that hold it together.
My first night in Santorini proves unusual. My flight touches down awkwardly through swirling winds, my cab driver apparently does not fear death, and I am dropped off in an empty square where a strange man - not Maria, the owner of my rental villa - awaits me.
Ah well, an adventure, I think. I follow the man down a dark winding staircase along the cliffs of this Greek Island and into my rental, which turns out to be the size of a ping-pong table. "You can't drink the water in the sink, and you shouldn't put the toilet paper in the toilet" says the man, my new friend.
"OK," I reply, unconcerned. I just want to go to sleep, so I can wake up to sunrise over the Aegean Sea.
Sitting on the curb of the Milan airport, Brett and I begin to tire of our endless wait for the airport shuttle. The territory around us feels foreign, even slightly hostile. "Want a gummy bear?" I ask Brett. I am excited to see the Duomo Cathedral and sample the cinnamon gelato at Chocolat, the gelateria I discovered with my exhaustive dessert research. For now, I am at the airport in Milan, just hanging out in the sprinkling rain.
In Vienna I find myself one among thousands of fans cheering at the city marathon. I squinch myself in towards the railing in an effort to support my husband in his 12th mile.
Cameras are clicking, cheerleaders dancing, Powerade employees raising a ruckus with megaphones, and I can't see those golden shorts I'm searching for. A woman near me scoots over, pointing to the railing next to her with a friendly bit of German. I smile back and join her at the rail. We wait, cameras poised, for those we love.
These days when my friends in the States ask what I'd like them to send me, I hardly know what to say. Sure, I miss York Peppermint Patties and burritos, and if I thought our cats Oscar and Felix could make it through the mail, I'd love to see them. But I've discovered a new home inside, one that has nothing to do with what's at the grocery store or what languages I might encounter each day. My concept of home has expanded from a place where I exist to a promise within - to honor where I come from as I see where I can go.
Betsy Mork Potash is a Duluth native now teaching English at the American College of Sofia, in Bulgaria. Her parents are Bruce and Joan Mork of Duluth. If you'd like to read more stories of life abroad and see Betsy Mork Potash's photos from her European adventures, check out her blog: http://fromanotherangle-bb.blogspot.com .