I vividly remember February 2013, what now feels like ages ago, in Berlin and looking ahead to when we would move to Hanoi. The German winter had been especially long, and as much as I love the snow it had started to be a bit too much for me. As I waited on the 2nd floor of the train station with nothing to shield me from the bitter wind for my once again delayed train, I pulled out my phone to check the forecast in what would soon be my new home: daily thunder showers, but over 30 degrees! As my fingers turned to ice, images of warmth filled my mind. My two lives, the one I was leading and the one I was preparing for, became superimposed.
Fast forward to this school year, debating on whether or not to apply for a move to Tanzania. For weeks, the decision shifted from “yes” to “no”, with my partner and I never quite on the same page. Eventually, we decided we would apply. If we got the job, cool. If we didn’t, the worst case scenario would be to stay in Hanoi another year, and that really wasn’t that bad a scenario because we both like Hanoi. The thing is, moments before we sent the “hello, remember us? We’re just wondering about the status of our application” email, I started to panic. If we didn’t get the job, that meant committing to Hanoi not only until the end of the school year, but for a whole other school year too. That meant a 19-month commitment. While, up to that point, I was mostly happy with Hanoi and our life there, all of a sudden I felt suffocated at the idea of still being there in June 2017.
November was a particularly busy and stressful month, but what didn’t help was that I had started noticing and feeling all the things that maybe, up to that point, I hadn’t allowed myself to feel so freely because this was my home and I needed to like it. Knowing that another destination would be a possibility in the not so distant future, I suddenly picked up and bottled up all the daily annoyances. Even taxis, something I used to love taking, now became a hassle with me always on my guard: will the driver go the right way? Will he avoid the traffic filled streets and go a back way so I can make it to my appointment on time? Was he watching TV on his cell phone through his dashboard? The accumulated frustration was starting to spill out in ways that were far from pretty, so when we found out we got the job, I breathed a big sigh of relief (well not too big… it feels like the air quality is a lot worse than I remember it being our first year.) I could feel myself suddenly becoming too negative about my surroundings, slowly becoming an over-stayer, the people who I thought stayed in a place for far too long, no longer able to appreciate the city they were calling “home”.
As emails from Tanzania trickled in and as we started to fill out paperwork to prepare for the move, I found myself in a similar situation as my last Berlin winter where the only way out of a frustrating situation was to imagine myself, 8 months down the line in a different one. Air quality bordering on hazardous for almost a week? Just think of all the deep breaths I can take next year! Grey skies got me down? Picture the blue skies and sunshine that away in Tanzania? Traffic had me biting my nails? Well though luck on that one, I can’t see much of a change in that department, but still.
Now that we’ve made the decision to leave, it is one that I am extremely happy with. I am also aware though that Dar Es Salaam will also have its own challenges to get used to (including the traffic). And although there are many things about Hanoi that I won’t miss (and will probably eventually look back at with a smile – “remember how they would carry the most ridiculous things on their bikes – never mind that it wasn’t necessarily all that safe?”), there definitely are things that I will remember fondly. We’ve had a great life here, we’ve met some incredible people, learnt a lot about the culture, and indulged in many bowls of pho’, bun bo nam bo, and plates of crispy nem. It has been a great experience and I have the journals and pictures to prove it, in case I need reminders later.
The challenge now will be to think about the positive experiences I’ve had the next time a honk startles me from a car driving way too close, rather than look forward to what awaits in Tanzania.
How about you? Have you ever experienced the feeling of superimposed lives? How do you deal with your two separate lives, the present and the future, slowly becoming one? Do you ever look at a situation and think, “Only a few more months” or “I can’t wait to leave”? Or do you keep both lives completely separate, finishing off one before beginning the next?