Tuesday, June 11, 2013

People who Stay

My husband has been coming home with some odd objects lately. A wooden tray, some tools, some half-empty bags of rice. But most of all, spices. Bags of little glass and plastic jars of spices. As I was putting another few plastic containers of curry powder and seasoning salt on the kitchen shelf today, I suddenly realized: we're now the people who stay.

We never set out to be people who stay; when we first moved to Haiti it was for two years, and then we'd go off to some other exotic locale, spending our lives traveling the world.  That was our ambition in our twenties, before children.  As MKs, we feared settling down, accumulating possessions, being monocultural.  We would always move on, we thought.  There was too much world out there to choose one place to be.

I remember how scary it felt the first time my husband signed a multi-year contract.  But then, how freeing it was not to have to think it through at the end of every year.  Would we stay or would we go?  No, now I knew.  We'd stay.

One of my brothers' friends used to call my parents' home the House o' Condiments, because every time one of us siblings left for overseas or for a new home, we'd take all our half-empty ketchup containers, soy sauce bottles, and spice containers to their house.  When you're at the end stages of moving, the point where you want to take all your belongings and put them on the street with a sign marked "Free," there always seem to be spices left.

And now we're the ones collecting spices, little remainders at the bottom of jars.  We'll have lived in this house twelve years this November.  I've never lived anywhere that long; I've never even lived in the same country that long without interruption.  When you add up all our time in Haiti, not counting those interruptions in the US, it's been about seventeen years. 

Sometimes it stinks to be the people who stay.  To be the ones left behind when others are moving on to exciting new lives.  To say goodbye, again and again and again.

But then, there are the spices.  The memories that linger, mixed into our weird fusion food, Japanese and Indian and Haitian and whatever other influences we've picked up.  The stories we tell.  The phrases that creep into the language we speak at home, mostly English but with Kreyol and Japanese and Kipsigis and Spanish and Texan words here and there.

And along with the spices, there's some perspective, some experience gained.  I used to panic at each negative news story about Haiti, wondering what was next.  Now I barely notice them.  I just live my everyday life, show up in my classroom each day, collect year after year, class after class.  I don't know everything about Haiti; in fact, in many ways I feel like I know a lot less than when I first got here.  I can't generalize about very much.  But I know I love the tastes and smells and sounds of this place (most of them); I know this is where I live. 

We may not be here forever.  Who knows when it will be our turn to move again?  Who knows what may displace us?  If I didn't know that my plans can be disrupted in an instant (and I had already had plenty of other opportunities to know it), I learned it once and for all during the earthquake.  But for now, it feels pretty good to be people who stay, people collecting spices, becoming a one-of-a-kind expat House o' Condiments of our own.  

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

I love the images and the essay. Thanks for your commitment to stay.

Linda at teacherdance said...

I never thought of the 'staying' in that way, Ruth, but you're right, when we've said goodbye to people, they're brought over the 'leftovers'. We lived in the home I just sold in April for 34 years. I never thought I'd live so long there. I wanted to move, even just into Denver, but my husband was a real homebody, and wanted to stay, so we did. Now I've moved & I'm fine, but I miss certain things, especially neighbors. Thanks for your thought-filled post. I enjoyed it very much!