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My Paper Heart

NorthSouthEastWest: Expat Dispatches

It’s the middle of November so you know what that means: it’s time for our monthly virtual four-way blogfest!

North: Yours Truly in The Netherlands (www.adventuresinexpatland.com)

South: Russell in Australia (www.insearchofalifelessordinary.com)

East: Erica in Japan (www.expatriababy.com)

West: Maria in Canada (www.iwasanexpatwife.com)

This month’s theme? What is the one item each of us can’t imagine living expat life without.

So have a seat, get comfortable and come around the world with us as we explore four different items from four different perspectives:

At In Search of a Life Less Ordinary, Maria shares what matters most to her;

At I Was an Expat Wife, Russell ponders whether it’s possible to be too attached to his chosen item;

At Expatria Baby, I’m all for throwing off the bowlines; and

here at Adventures in Expat Land, Erica demonstrates why paper beats rock and scissors every time.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

My Paper Heart

 by Erica Knecht

As part of this NSEW exercise, I’ve written about difficult things. I’ve embarrassed myself. I’ve revealed some of my darker tendencies. But for some reason, this post wherein I am to write about an object that is central to my expat experience has stumped me. Stumped me so hard that I’ve missed my deadline. Twice.

I could not think of a single thing that is essential to my expat existence. There’s nothing that I’ve carried with me on every stop along this journey. There’s no material object that I simply could not live without.

In the early years of my expat career, young and and full of wanderlust, I traveled to Europe, my imagination full of day-long train journeys, alighting in stations strange and new, accompanied by only the belongings I could carry in a beat-up, wheel-less suitcase and my beloved red backpack.

It was a serious backpack. As I was preparing to move to Europe, I invested several hundred dollars in this pack. It was a virtual fortune to my 21-year-old self. But I forked over the cash, believing that I simply could not live in Europe without a good pack. I sewed a maple leaf flag on the top of my pack, and donned the identity of a serious traveler.

I carried that pack from Strasbourg to Bamburg, by way of Berlin and Barcelona. It went with me to Tunis. And Marrakech. I carried it through airports, train stations and ferry terminals. It accompanied me as I hitchhiked across France and into Switzerland. Up mountains and into deserts it went. Over oceans and across lakes, as it acquired grease stains and tears, and lost a few buckles and and a protective flap along the way. That backpack announced to the world my bohemian aspirations. Its imperfections spoke of adventure and experience.

I don’t have that backpack anymore. It was sacrificed to the gods of de-cluttering.

You see, I just don’t keep things.

Sweaters and household sundries stayed behind in India, donated to the migrant
workers who were building a house next to ours. In China, we gave our bikes to our ayi. And our wine glasses. And cutlery. Canned goods. Piles and gobs of clothing. Decorative items that I collected but never really knew what to do with. 

I don’t attach a great deal of sentimentality to objects, preferring to keep memories in my imagination. I make do with what I find in my new home country, and pine after those longed for objects that I can’t locate. And for everything else, there’s Amazon.

Still there IS one object that actually HAS proven to be essential to my expat life: a marriage certificate.

At 24 years old, I followed my boyfriend to India with $1000 and without much of a plan. He was starting a new job, and I was adrift, in love, idealistic, and seeking adventure. So I went with him, and I figured that I’d sort out my visa situation (and my life) later.

My uncertain status hung over me, like a cloud of anxiety. We didn’t talk about what we would do when the months eventually ticked by. But it stayed in the back of my mind, nagging and niggling, coming back to me at three AM. Could I extend my tourist visa? Would I have to hop the border into Bangladesh and then re-enter? Maybe a trip to Dubai? Would I have to return to Canada, boy-friendless and jobless? Maybe we should get married? Could we even get married in India?

Circumstance solved the problem as we left the Subcontinent hurriedly and unexpectedly, and wound up in Switzerland. Ten days after our disastrous flight from Delhi, my then boyfriend had a job offer in Shanghai. “Could my girlfriend come too?” he asked. They suggested, strongly, that we get married.

So we did. We threw together a ceremony. Amassed the required documents,
rallied my family who made it to the mountains just in time. We were married in a lovely lake-side town. We drank Champagne in a castle together with our tiny wedding party. And ate our wedding dinner in the foothills of the Bernese alps.

A few months later we were en route to new adventures in China. We didn’t take much with us. Two suitcases each. Plus a box of cookbooks that we sent ahead of us. But we had our marriage certificate, and I was legit. I had the luxury of a visa, and no anxiety about how long I could stay.

Mr. Chef and I started our expat adventure together in India, two young kids, naive to the realities of living abroad, heads firmly planted in the sand, ostrich style. We built the foundations of our life together in Switzerland, out of necessity, yes, but also out of great love, and certainty that things would only get better.

photo of Erica's second cat inside a suitcase in Adventures in Expat Land

Fur Child Number Two and Suitcase

They have.

In China, we expanded our tribe, adopting two cats, our beloved fur children.

And in Japan, our daughter was born, and our family and our hearts grew again.

So, I guess, there are things that I take with me on each of the stops along this journey. We take our marriage. Our little fur babies, and our lovely little girl. I wonder and dream about where we’ll go next and who we’ll add to our little gypsy band.

[Image credit: Erica Knecht]

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