How was your summer? Mine was spent housetraining my new puppy Max, cleaning up puppy puddles, taking shoes out of Max’s mouth, keeping the two dogs from killing each other, and wondering what the hell I was thinking when I agreed to adopt the damn puppy in the first place.
During those heavenly moments when Max slept, I dipped into the (virtual) stack of expat memoirs on my iPad. The first one I read was Here We Are & There We Go: Teaching and Travelling With Kids in Tow by Jill Dobbe.
Jill and her husband Dan were looking for a little excitement when they headed off to teach in Guam back in 1991. They soon became hooked on international life, and over the next two decades they and their two kids moved to a new country every couple of years.
Here We Are & There We Go covers their time in Guam, Singapore, Ghana, Guadalajara, Egypt, India, and Honduras. Jill has a lot of great material to work with, and it’s an entertaining read. Not entirely light-hearted — the family’s adoption experience is an unexpected note of grief — but there’s humour there, too. And shopping — lots and lots of shopping.
Seven countries’ worth of stories are a lot to cram into a single book, and at times it was a little unsatisfying, like being served a sliver of cake when what you really want is to eat the whole thing, calories be damned. More than once I was disappointed to find we were moving on to the next destination before I was ready to leave the current one. I’m greedy, I know, but I wanted more.
As much as I love reading about people’s experiences in other places (especially lines like this: “Isaac held the hole up to his mouth and with one quick, hard blow blew out the dart, making a direct hit to the cobra’s head”), I have to admit I always perk up when they share their repatriation stories.
Jill and Dan moved back to the US after their Guadalajara sojourn. They soon found out that re-entry wasn’t quite as easy as they thought. “Repatriation was actually quite tough,” Jill told me in an email. “For one, I had so many conflicting feelings going on inside my brain. I was unsure if I really wanted to move back, and I didn’t feel ready to give up our lifestyle of traveling around the world. Everything we had experienced during our 10 years overseas was still such a big part of us. Then when we moved back we found that no one was really interested and people were more concerned about the new reality show, Survivor, and what the weather was going to be like the next day.” They lasted six years before the lure of expat life became too strong to ignore.
These days Jill works at the American School of Tegucigalpa in Honduras. She has no regrets about the decision to become serial expats. “It seems to me that what our kids experienced living in different countries and cultures far outweighed what they missed if they lived in the US during that time,” she says. The apples certainly haven’t fallen far from the tree: her daughter is a teacher in Honduras, and her son is in medical school in Granada.
It’s not surprising that after two decades of international moves, Jill’s concept of home has undergone a slight shift. “In my memoir I write that for us, home was wherever we were all together in one place chatting, laughing, and relaxing together,” she says. “Now that my kids have grown into adults, I think home is wherever mom and dad are living. I also think that home is wherever my ‘stuff’ is — the stuff that makes me happy, safe, and secure.”
Jill’s book, Here We Are & There We Go: Teaching and Travelling With Kids in Tow is available on Amazon.
And this is Max: