El Inmigrante

Living abroad / Vivir en el extranjero


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When the good ones leave us

(La versión en español estará disponible en los próximos días. Gracias por tu paciencia)

This was a difficult one to write…but here I go…

It has been a year of personal changes, a year of letting go; even so I did not want to, it was about time. During this process, that I am still going through, I have learnt a lot, and most importantly, I have finally seen all the good things around me. I have spent too much time complaining about everything and blaming others for my ‘bad luck’; my favorite one to blame was the country where I am currently living. But all this negative vibe is finally staying behind, and I hope to move forward to better and more positive things.

This year has brought me many blessing in terms of personal growth, but at the same time, it has taken things from me. Some of these things needed to be gone for a long time, like my pessimism about every little thing that has to do with The Netherlands as well as my lack of motivation of being an immigrant. I started to regret all the effort I put into staying in Europe. So the fact that this negativity is slowly making its way out makes me feel good. However, there is one thing that I wish I could get back.

On May 26th, my grandma passed away. It was something I had been expecting the last couple of years; not that I am a cold-hearted granddaughter, but I did the math and her health was not the best lately, so I assumed nature would take its course any time soon. Obviously, I did not want this to happen at all. This amazing woman had always been in my life and she ‘is’ my second mother. She raised me while my parents worked, she cooked for me when I was hungry, she gave me support and warmth whenever I needed, and she gave me a talent, the talent of knitting. I learnt how to knit from my grandmother when I was 6 years old; it was our special connection. Through the years, we developed our own routine, we would go to shops to buy wool, magazines and sticks for our knitting. She would guide me every time I got lost in certain patterns or stitches.

The day I received the news, I was not doing well myself, and it hit me hard, like a huge brick wall. The pain I felt penetrated my heart so fast and sank so deeply, giving me the hardest time to breathe properly. I started crying uncontrollably, and despair took all over me. All I wanted to do was run, but where? to Peru?. The worst feeling I had at that moment, beside the lost of my grandmother, was loneliness. I was all by myself when I read the news and I couldn’t find comfort in anybody, and even if there would have been somebody, that somebody would have not been my grandmother, the one who used to give me warmth and support (I do have to be fair to my partner, who took the day off after I told the news. He gave me all the support he could).

Being away from your family and friends is tough, and moments like this one makes that feeling even worse. Guilt invades you because you know you should be/have been there; you need to give and receive support from your love ones, and most of all, you need to say goodbye. But sadly, when you are abroad, that is not the case; you linger in your room with the last memory you had of that person that is now gone, and you try to hold on to their best moments. Some of us understand the powerlessness of not being able to go home or being with your family at that moment. Therefore, the grieving process cannot be done properly, and it is very probable that you still expect to see that person next time you visit your country. So what to do? How to grieve a love one while abroad?

My way to say goodbye to my grandmother from afar was to ask my mother to put a picture of me in her coffin. Since I wanted to be present at her funeral, but I could not, I felt the immense need to be there somehow. My picture was my way to say ‘Toti (that was her nickname), here I am, I will always be here with you’. I am not sure yet if my mother did it or not, I have to understand that she was also going through a hard time. Whether she did it or not, the idea gave me a bit of closure and inner peace. This is of course my very personal opinion and suggestion. But, if you ever find yourself in this situation and feel the need to do something else, I have found some other suggestions that could help you.

On this article, I found tips given by grief counselor Mertick, she suggests the following:

  • Keep in touch with other family members or friends to exchange stories. Secure something—anything, it doesn’t need to be a valuable item—that will remind you of the loved one who died. This object should represent what you remember about the relationship you shared.
  • Make a scrapbook of memories including poems, letters or pictures.
  • Search for therapy, if possible, or the help of a support group, just to let you know that your feelings are normal.
  • When you return on Home Leave, it’s important to visit the grave. If there isn’t one, go to a place that reminds you of the person lost. “This visiting will trigger grief,” she says, “but it’s also a way of creating a conclusion.”

Whether this helps you or not, one thing is clear: when the good and love ones leave us, we are left with an emptiness in our hearts that will probably never be filled again; all we can do is keep the great memories and teachings they left us. Celebrate their lives with a smile and light a candle for them. Share your stories with them to anyone interested, once you try, you will realize that there are people willing to listen to you and your memories. There is always somebody, even here, I am willing to listen to you.

In the meantime, do not waste time, call the ones that are still wandering this world. Send them an e-mail, a text, make a call, anything. Let them know that you are thinking about them.

Grandma in her 20s

Grandma in her 20s

Her spirit was unbreakable; she went through a lot in her life, but she always had a smile for you and laughed loudly, like there was no tomorrow. The moment you least expected, she would make a sarcastic comment that would make you laugh nonstop. All her grandchildren called her ‘Toti’ o ‘La Toti’, a nickname given by my brother when he was 2 years old….we still don’t know why or what it means. Her favorite quote was ‘Not everything in life has to be good, because otherwise, it wouldn’t be life.’

R.I.P., Toti

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The Guest House / La Casa de Huéspedes – Jelaluddin Rumi

(ver versión en español a continuación)

CC Image courtesy of Łukasz Strachanowski on Flickr

CC Image courtesy of Łukasz Strachanowski on Flickr

Living abroad brings a lot of emotions that sometimes can be unpleasant. We fight against them, we don’t want to accept them. The more we fight, the stronger they get.

When I find myself full with unpleasant emotions, like anger, resentment, homesickness, etc., I usually turn to this poem. I have realized that, instead of rejecting these emotions, I need to welcome them, no matter their shape, their color or their intensity. This poem teaches me to be patient and open to what comes my way. And I say ‘teaches’ in the present tense, because I haven’t accepted all my emotions yet, and that is why I like to keep this poem close to me and use it every time is needed.

I hope you like it and find some truth in it. Have a great a week!

***

Vivir en el extranjero puede producir muchas emociones que algunas veces no son para nada placenteras. Luchamos contra ellas, no las aceptamos. El problema es que mientras más luchamos, más intensas se vuelven.

Cuando me siento llena de emociones desagradables, como cólera, ira, resentimiento, nostalgia, etc., normalmente leo este poema. Me he dado cuenta que, en vez de rechazar estas emociones, debo darles la bienvenida sin importar su forma, color o intensidad. Este poema me enseña a ser paciente y abierta a lo que se presente en mi camino. Y digo ‘me enseña’ en tiempo presente, porque aún no he aceptado todas mis emociones. Es por eso que me gusta mantener este poema a mi alcance para leerlo cada vez que sea necesario.

Espero te guste y encuentres algo de verdad en él. ¡Que tengas una buena semana!

THE GUEST HOUSE

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.

Be grateful for whatever comes.
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

— Jelaluddin Rumi,
translation by Coleman Barks

LA CASA DE HUÉSPEDES 

Esto de ser un ser humano

es como administrar una casa de huéspedes.

Cada día una nueva visita, una alegría, una tristeza,
una decepción, una maldad,
alguna felicidad momentánea
que llega como un visitante inesperado.

Dales la bienvenida y acógelos a todos ellos,
incluso si son un grupo penoso
que desvalija completamente tu casa.
Trata a cada huésped honorablemente pues
podría estar haciendo espacio para una nueva delicia.
El pensamiento oscuro, lo vergonzante, lo malvado,
recíbelos en tu puerta sonriendo e invítalos a entrar.
Agradece a todos los que vengan
pues se puede decir de ellos que han sido enviados
como guias del mas allá.

— Jelaluddin Rumi


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Birthday away

(Haz click aquí para la versión en español)

Today is my birthday. I turn 32 years old. I live abroad.

In 32 years, I have celebrated my birthday 26 times, usually with a big party or a great night out. I love to celebrate my birthday or at least I used to, I haven’t decided yet which one. These last years have been a bit hard for me to celebrate one more year on this planet earth. No, it is not a 30s’ syndrome, it is definitely not the thought that I am getting older and my sweet young days are over, but I do feel I have lost the excitement to throw a party or make a big deal out of it. However, something very deep inside of me still feels like celebrating this day, I just can’t figure out how.

Happy birthday to me - CC Image courtesy of jo marshall on Flickr

Happy birthday to me! – CC Image courtesy of jo marshall on Flickr

When living abroad, many of your old traditions/habits will go through a transformation. In my case, if I want to have a big party for my birthday, it is not going to be the same as the parties in Peru. The ‘key’ people who usually went to my parties don’t live here; I have new friends, but they come from other countries and their views on celebrating a birthday can be very different from mine. In addition, my host country has another philosophy about birthdays. Dutch people don’t really care much about their birthdays, and if they do, they are very practical about it. At work, they would bring some cake or sweets to share with their colleagues at lunch break, which is something that surprised me a lot the first time I saw that, because it is your birthday and I think your colleagues should be the ones spoiling you, right?. They also like to keep it simple at home, they would hang some decorations, offer a piece of cake and tons of coffee, invite a couple of their close friends and say goodbye once the cake is over. This makes me wonder: Is that good enough, is that great or is that boring? – I will leave that up to you.

A faraway place

A faraway place

After many attempts to recreate my Peruvian birthday parties, I gave up. I decided to let go and accepted that living abroad had changed some of my traditions. As a result, last year, I decided that I wasn’t going to spend all of my energy and money on a party, instead I had an amazing trip to a land that is far, far away. I was in a ‘hippie’ mood and I assumed that being away would bring me some new energy and positive vibes. Did it? – For now, I would say that it brought some changes in my life, like the start of this blog.

My birthday cheesecake

My birthday cheesecake

This year, things are very different. At the moment, I cannot really afford a faraway trip nor a party, which takes me to stay at home and enjoy the company of my love one and a delicious cheesecake he made for me. I cannot complain. I am glad that this birthday will be remembered as the one that made me reflect on my past birthdays and the long way I have come. And that is not too shabby for a birthday.

I know celebrating your birthday shouldn’t be such a big deal, it is just a day and just another year. What really matters is how you feel inside and that the important people in your life remember it. No need to have thousands of Facebook messages to feel special, only a few are the ones that really count.

Things abroad are not the same as they used to be at home, and that is O.K., but the question remains: How do you celebrate your birthday while living abroad?.

(Do you adopt the host country’s traditions? Do you pretend it is just another day? Do you throw a party? Do you wish to be back home? or Do you not really give a crap and you wish you would have clicked on another post instead?).


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Homesickness: 6 things I miss the most

(Para la versión en español, haz click aquí.)

Homesickness is a well-known feeling to me. I often find myself daydreaming about my country and my life in Peru, but then I wake up and realize that I am surrounded by other people, who don’t seem very familiar and speak a language that is only noise to me; all I do is show a big smile and nod (who knows what I am agreeing to!).

It is not that I have not accepted my life here, but sometimes I just wonder about what my family might be doing at this exact moment, how big my friends’ kids should be by now or if that bar I used to go remains open. Wherever you go and whatever you do, it is impossible to leave behind important moments and people who took part of your life for so long. All immigrants/expats go through this, it is normal to feel homesick once in a while.

I made a personal list about the 6 things I miss the most about my home country. I am sure you will identify with some of them and I hope you share your list as well. This list is not in order of importance, I just wrote things as they came up.

Note: In this post, you won’t find food as one of the things I miss the most. It is not that I don’t miss the magnificent food from my country, but products to prepare Peruvian food are becoming more and more available in Europe. (Why Peruvian food is the next big thing?. For the foodies, you can check this article/video about Peruvian food.)

1. Family events and special occasions 

This year has been like a baby boom among my friends and family members; it might be the 30s. Almost everybody decided that 2013 was a great year to make babies and I am very happy for them. What makes me sad is that I couldn’t be with them to enjoy such an incredible moment in their lives.

CC Image courtesy of Paula on Flickr

Today, one of my best friends is giving birth to a baby boy (his name will be Benjamin). I wish I could be at the clinic waiting with her family for the ‘It’s a healthy boy!’ and cheer together. I know that if I would be there, I would have a big balloon that says ‘Welcome home’ (I would have preferred one with ‘Welcome to the World’, but I don’t think they sell those).

However, there are other occasions less cheerful, like my grandma’s funeral. I am not a big believer of this kind of ceremonies, but I think it would have been good to be present, not only to say goodbye to my grandma (my second mother) but to show my support to my family. I would write about it later, because it is still too soon for me. My point here is that living abroad gives you many moments and experiences that will make you a better person, and at the same time, you miss so many things back home. I wish I could be there and here.

2. Starry sky

When I was around 9 years old, I used to tell my parents I was going to bed and turned off the lights in my bedroom. Once I was sure they also went to bed, I opened my window and looked at the sky and tried to count the stars. Since then, I have not seen a sky so starry as the one I used to contemplate during my summer nights in Peru. Sometimes I thought I saw UFOs but I didn’t tell anybody, because I knew my friends would laugh at me, and I am happy now I didn’t. That would have cost me some friends in primary school.

Starry Sky – CC Image courtesy of Jason Barnette Photography on Flickr

As I became older, starry skies were my companion when I had bonfires at the beach, I went on camping trips and I walked through my city’s Old Town. I really miss all of that!!.

This summer has been particularly good in the Netherlands, but it has not yet provided those dreamy summer nights I enjoyed from my window in Peru (sigh…).

3. Friends knocking on your door

When it comes to social rules, Peru can surprise you or shock you. One example is knocking on your friends’ door; our social awareness doesn’t tell us that maybe it is too late, that perhaps your friend doesn’t want to be disturbed, that your friend is holding a small family gathering or that your friend simply doesn’t want to talk to you. No, in Peru, you just knock on the door without previous notice.

Who’s at the door? – CC Image courtesy of Mark Wyatt on Flickr

I understand how difficult this is to assimilate for any person who is not from Latin America, specially for Dutch people, who like to plan their days. Most of them carry an agenda everywhere they go (how I dislike the agenda!).

Sometimes I have the idea that things in Peru are way simpler than in Europe, but maybe it is just my homesickness. After 7 years abroad, I have come to miss a friend’s visit out of the blue, which will lead to an invitation to the movies or a nice chat after a long day at work. Spontaneity is so much better than planning something weeks ahead. How do you know how you would feel in 2 weeks? How do you know if you are going to be alive?!!.

4. That ‘touchy’ feeling

O.K., let me explain. As a Latin American, I was born with the ‘ability’ to express my emotions and feelings with my hands and arms, which creates the need for some space around me when I am talking as well as the need to touch people during my conversations. In Peru, family members, friends or co-workers are constantly touching each other in the head or arms and giving hugs for no apparent reason. Emotions need an outlet, so we become loud talkers, hand talkers and very ‘touchy’.

Free hugs is what we need! - CC Image courtesy of M Hooper on Flickr

Free hugs is what we need! – CC Image courtesy of M Hooper on Flickr

Physical contact is a basic need, and for those skeptics, here is a good article about it.

I miss laughing really hard and leaning on my friend’s shoulder, I miss greeting people with a kiss on the cheek (not total strangers, but friends or co-workers) and I miss spontaneous hugs. I personally don’t think that Europeans are cold and distance, they are just shy while Latin Americans are more extrovert and social.

5. The summer

I know what you are all thinking: ‘Who doesn’t miss that?’, but first let me tell you that I come from the North Coast of Peru and my parents’ house is only 10 minutes’ drive from the beach. Yes, I was a lucky girl while growing up. The beach and the GOOD summers were part of my life for 25 years, and I regret I didn’t appreciate them more while I was there.

View of Huanchaco-Peru

View of Huanchaco-Peru, my beach.

Summers in the Netherlands are very different from the ones in Peru. The weather doesn’t give its best and the country feels like a desert, I mean, a lot of people go on holiday to Spain, France or Italy, the ones with the good summers. It is the complete opposite to what happens in Peru, because there people don’t really go to other countries when they have holidays (although the economy is increasing a lot and there are more possibilities now). Peruvians enjoy what they have around; it could be a day at the beach, camping in the valley or a small city trip, but not for a long period of time.

Summers in Peru can be very hot and provide you with immense energy and happy thoughts. Besides, there are a lot of events and parties to go to, you feel that the streets are alive. And that is what I miss, streets full of people and the sun shinning on my back.

It also happens that summer begins in December, so when New Year’s Eve comes, it really marks a new beginning in your life. Everybody starts the new year with good weather, and that is already a good omen.

6. Taking taxis

This one has to do with how lazy I used to be in Peru. I took taxis to go everywhere, and not because I was rich. Taxis in Peru are very cheap, and I had the tendency to run late very often. Now that I live in a country that has more bikes than people, I had no other choice but to cycle to run errands, to work, to a party, etc.

Ian Glover

Taking a taxi in Peru is never a problem – CC Image courtesy of Ian Glover on Flickr

Taking a taxi in Amsterdam is not as easy as it used to be in Peru; first, you are lucky if you find one and second, I need to win the lottery first to allow myself such a luxury.

I am happy that I am not so lazy anymore and I am very grateful for the better legs I got from biking; it is excellent exercise and your heart will be pumping for many years. Nonetheless, I miss the glamour of taking a taxi, specially if it rains, it snows, it is cold or it is windy. Hmmm…I think I miss it more than I thought.

So, there you go, these are the things I miss the most from my home country. What about you?