Seven years ago I landed in Heathrow airport, just another tourist. I was returning to the US from a few weeks camping and travelling through east Africa. A few weeks which had forever changed my life. The night before I had said a very tearful good-bye to my holiday fling who, five years later, would become my husband.
At that point I was not aware of the massive shift which had occurred in my timeline. I was, however, very aware of not being sure how to get to our hostel. The city was still in chaos following a transit bombing a few days prior.
I remember being aware of a low level panic coupled with a determination to continue with life as usual. I remember being aware of very strong body odour on the tube and bus and realising, with horror, that it was coming from me. I remember a moment of silence settling over the entire city one morning.
For three days, my dear friend and a new friend, roamed the streets of London. We walked past Buckingham, Big Ben, the Eye and along the south bank (Southbank). We browsed the book tables under the pedestrian bridge at Embankment and joined a tour through the Globe Theatre. We wandered through Kensington Gardens and got repeatedly lost in winding streets with no signs. We rummaged through thrift shops in Notting Hill and marvelled at all the vegetarian options unheard of in the US and Australia.
And when it was time to leave, time to return to my previous life of four jobs and no health insurance, we hailed a cab and asked to be taken to the nearest working station for the 'blue line.' Not realising there are two blue lines (and what we wanted was the Piccadilly Line), we navigated a surprise mid-journey change with bulging backpacks.
In little over a year, I would be landing in Heathrow again. The African holiday romance proved to be 'the real deal' and an interview with a university waiting for me.
It's six years later and it looks like we are here to stay. At least for the foreseeable future.
This is exciting and a bit sad simultaneously. We are attempting to move through that expat transition of 'when do we go home?' (a question made all the more difficult by having two homes and families to consider) to 'this is our home.' This decision feels a little bit like an adventure. Like an adventure on par with running away to Africa in that this one little decision, to call this place home, has the potential to change our timeline in a million ways we could never have imagined, even just a few years ago. This is grown-up adventure.
Having made the decision (or to be honest, giving in to the lure of Greenwich and earning GBP) to take up a more permanent residence here in London, means we also made the decision to endure A LOT of rain and non-existent summers. We both grew up thinking summer was hot and sticky and sunny (albeit at completely opposite times of the year). It's a bit heart-wrenching to think our children could grow up thinking our memory of summer a complete fabrication.
And then there are the deeply-held and loved holiday traditions which either don't fit with our adopted country's weather patterns (Christmas Barbecue and New Year's baking on the beach), are slow to catch on (costume parties and Trick-or-Treating on Halloween) or are completely non-existent (Fireworks and parades on the Fourth of July, Turkey and football (American-style) on Thanksgiving). And of course, the new-to-me holidays and accompanying traditions of Guy Fawkes, Boxing Day (which bare a resemblance to the Fourth and Black Friday) and random Royal events.
As most of my readers will know, there is a lot of talk on wedding/marriage blogs about creating your own traditions. When talking of a wedding, this seems a nice concession to each family of origin and the couple and makes for great wedding stories of harmony and independence. Looking forward into a life of forever new traditions, this idea seems exhausting. We aren't just talking about melding two families here, we are also adding three/four cultural heritages and customs to the mix*.
Most of the time it is relatively easy to just go about our usual business and traditions. Occasionally we include some friends willing to go along with whatever traditions we have mashed together and it really isn't such a big deal.
Except when it comes to holidays traditionally spent with family. Then it is just us two and the gatherings that make the holiday so special are absent. The people we wish to be gathered with spread across the globe.
When I left Africa seven years ago, I knew I would keep travelling. Something clicked within and I knew I would be forever compelled to seek out new places and observe the similarities and differences and general beauty (and sometimes ugliness) the world has to offer.
What I didn't know was that one stamp in the passport, one graphic permission to enter, would mean a lifetime of shuffling back and forth between families in three corners of the map.**
Can I find the new and exciting, the beauty and the darkness, in places so familiar, yet far-flung?
Will the stress of trying to maintain family traditions and customs mean that we resign ourselves to becoming *gasp* British?
They may take our accents and summers but they'll never take our pumpkin pie and pavlova.
*For those of you new to the Graphy and slightly confused on how I got to 3/4 when speaking of two of us, here's a crash course in our background. I'm a mid-western American (1). Pete is from New Zealand (2) and of strong Croatian stock (3). We live in London (4). (I occasionally claim my 1/2 Sicilian blood, but really only when I am overly dramatic/emotional or have to choose a team to back in European sports tournaments.)
**Don't hate me. It's really not as glamourous as it sounds, all this travel. Anyone who has experienced the 30 hour one-way trip between NZ and London, 24 of those in air, will testify. It is painful and maddening. Scream-into-your-airline-pillow maddening.
Apologies for the random white highlighting. I've obviously done something Blogger doesn't like. I'm working on a solution.