“Murphy’s Law of the Dear Departing”
Since we’re on the subject of repatriation trials, this seems an appropriate time to share the worst leaving story ever… I call it, “Murphy’s Law of the Dear Departing”.
I went to Baku to open my own business, because of our exchange students and a desire to make a difference, teaching job skills that would enable these young people to work for the oil companies coming to Baku.
But, approaching a decade in Azerbaijan, I was now divorced and there were some local services doing what I had done, so it seemed like the right time to think about a transition. I had also been the Executive Director for the American Chamber of Commerce in Azerbaijan for almost 5 years and had achieved what it seemed like I could do, so I let the Board know months in advance that I would be seeking a job back home.
I thought I was well prepared, both mentally and emotionally. In retrospect, nothing could have prepared me for the emotional roller-coaster of leaving and finding myself anew in post 9/11 America.
“Murphy’s Law of the Dear Departing” says that as much as you prepare, there will be things that you forget, people you didn’t get to tell or say goodbye to properly (an email blast doesn’t cut it).
“Murphy’s Law of the Dear Departing” says that as much as your purge, there will always be something you wish you had kept or wondered why it seemed so impossible to leave behind in retrospect.
The day I left, I finished packing my three boxes- yep, that’s all I could bring home after 10 years. Labeled “General Delivery Seattle” until I could get an apartment in my next location. I had been up for more than 28 hours, working, leaving last minute instructions, giving away all the things I could to friends (see @naomi_hattaway’s “Things Shared ‘Round The World”). When my driver came to take me to the airport, I was alone and I cried the whole way there. Until… I found out the flight had been cancelled!
I had wanted desperately not to go, then I began to cry, thinking I might not ever get home.
My travel agents were angels. Saida found she could cash in my unused round trip and get a first class one way ticket for only $12 more. Why hadn’t I done that in the first place? Why had I even bought a round trip? I was clearly not coming back, if I could ever leave, that is.
Once I got home to Houston, I had a ticket to Alaska waiting to take me to my next job. Hey, Alaska is sort of like the US right?
Now, anyone who has ever transitioned anywhere knows “Murphy’s Law of the Dear Departing” doesn’t let go that easily. I had built a house in Houston after my divorce, but hadn’t yet gotten to live there, and now I was off to a job in Kodiak, Alaska.
The job in Alaska turned out to have more twists than a river of salmon. After a few days it was clear that the job wasn’t panning out. My head was reeling and I was suffering from something- ulcer, gall bladder, who knew. I was taking OTC Zantac and Tums by the handful. Finally I decided I needed to get a ticket on the next flight out.
Remember those 3 boxes? Yeah, as “Murphy’s Law of the Dear Departing” would have it, they were on their way to Seattle, due to arrive just the week after I left. Oh, to be a fly on the wall when this conversation took place: Seattle calls local Alaska freight office saying there are three boxes from this place called Azerbaijan (just north of Iran, and, uh, at war, technically speaking, with Armenia). Kodiak says no, call Houston, she may be there. Seattle calls Houston gives the same spiel. No she left for Washington DC yesterday, no address yet. BING, BING, BING! Alarms go off and just like that “Murphy’s Law of the Dear Departing” kicked in and my “life” got impounded by the counter-terrorism unit.
Funny thing, after being all that time, safely in Muslim Baku, now I am having to explain that I am not a terrorist and the boxes actually just contain my underwear (none that were explosive) and could I have it back, please? No, ma’am… So there they stayed for the next 4 months. I finally got a call saying my stuff were to be auctioned off the next weekend.
I hastily made my way out to Seattle and settled the duties and other fees, and stood there in the Seattle mist, out in the Customs broker’s parking lot, sorting through the broken boxes of my former life. I was able to salvage a few things, meaningless things to anyone else, but that pillow case I got at the bazaar, the Russian linen table cloth, the wall hangings and a couple of small carpets, these all meant something to me.
My pottery pieces got smashed, but I picked up the pieces, metaphorically and literally, and proceeded to put all of it behind me. It cost me $1700 that I didn’t have, and putting paid to that sealed the chapter with a feel of finality.
If this can serve as any kind of cautionary tale, I would say this. I did the right thing in saving up some money, and having a bank account established. I did the wrong things by trying to make it all seamless when in reality this kind of transition has very clear breaks and chapters.
I should have reached out for support. I should have acknowledged, especially being alone, that I could be was vulnerable. I should have made a friend who could be there for me, instead of putting up that wall that said, “I can handle it all”.
After several years home, getting remarried, surprisingly (or maybe not?) to a man who has never lived outside this area (yeah, what’s up with that?), I am finally looking backward and embracing all the memories and challenges, and learning why “Murphy’s Law of the Dear Departing” impacts us as it does.
I realize now, I could have short circuited much of the misery by asking for help, and/or by using any of the resources we have here. If only I had known then, what I hope I know now.
Next time, perhaps I will…
I hope these resources will help others before “next time”. Check out the ExPat Links page here, and connect with each of the friends listed there. You’ll be ever so glad you did!