Spinning Wheel of Losses

When thinking about what writing I needed in order to excavate my feelings, the image that rose Wheelup from the cloudy recesses of my mind was that of a carnival spinning wheel. However, after a futile search for an image that complemented my mental dialogue, with a fortunate twist, I happened upon the one you see here.

Thoughts of a spinning wheel, not the textile type, bring to mind games of chance. Round and round it goes, where it stops no one knows. One never knows where the pointer will land. What a great analogy for ex-pat living, though the symbology is pertinent for the leaving rather than the coming. Most ex-pats join the club knowingly and willingly leaving home and country behind to seek adventure and a new way of living. There are exceptions, like Ron and I who did not intend to join the collective; it just happened. That is another story entirely and not one to be told here.

One never knows where the wheel of fortunate of opportunities will stop, thus opening a door where you discover the prospect for making new friends. It is all by chance. With a good amount of searching, testing the waters, and taking risks, we are able to explore the tentative ‘dating’ phases that the voyage all new relationships transits.

Compatibility testing is just as important for friendships as any romantic relationship. Then and only then, if standards are met, there is a transforming into meaningful relationships. A tranquil feeling of comfort probably similar to the one we left at home follows this. We take it for granted friends are just a phone call away, but consumed in activities of daily living in a new culture and language devours time. Delaying reaching out to make a social commitment becomes a habit.

Take another glance at the picture above. This picture can tell a story for a second analogy. Look closely to appreciate that the spokes of the wheel comprise spindles of yarn such as those used by weavers. Some people we meet easily weave their life into ours, while others snag here and there and have to have their threads untangled, but then the process smooths out again. Sadly, at times, a spindle just does not fit in and has to be set aside.

We have developed many temporary ‘spindles’ during our almost 15 years of living in Budapest. For a many years, starting in 2002, we became associated with those who arrived in Hungary through the Fulbright program. During the early years, we were privileged enough to meet many people who would remain in our lives for years to come, although we would not see them often once they returned home. They were only interim ex-pats. That said about 18 of them honored us as a portion of the 58 people who attended our wedding in Iowa in 2014. People came from 16 different states. Over the years, the closeness to Fulbright scholars has decreased for a variety of reasons. Nevertheless, each group of Fulbrighters we have embraced into our life, it is a tremendous feeling of loss when they leave. Refilling the hole they left is not easy and it was a perpetual cycle of loss.

This was the impetus for our looking into new avenues of socialization. One came knocking on our door. Her name was Kat (Kathryn) McFadden. About five years ago Kat and her boyfriend Geoff Riddle were guests at our bed and breakfast, BudaBaB. Ron was in the US at the time, so I hosted them. Three years ago, Kat e-mailed me stating her company was transferring her to Budapest to do training for a year. She wanted to know if I or we could meet with her to offer some cultural tips.

Kat became an integral part of our social circle. She has traveled with us to Cyprus and Spain. She and Geoff traveled with us to Serbia and Iceland. Kat enjoys cooking, so she took it upon herself to be our chef on numerous Sundays when she provided delicious dinners. This November, Kat will return to the US. This will leave a large gap in our life and a need to cook on Sundays, I might add.

The comfort zone was so cozy when we finally reached out to Sandra Molyneaux and Larry Ellis. Finally is the key here as we had seen them for a number of years at Democrats Abroad meetings, but never touched bases. It is still unclear how it came about, but once we did, there was no denying these two were incredible people. Both are well-educated and extremely well-traveled. Sandra is the ultimate itinerary planner, which makes my heart go pitter-patter. Larry has a great sense of humor. They topped our list of favorite people who lulled us into the security zone of “we will remain ex-pats”.

Then Larry and Sandra went on an extensive trip starting in Ethiopia and ended in Valencia, Spain before returning to Budapest. Shortly thereafter, they announced they were selling everything and moving to Valencia. At first, we were secure in their biding their time finding a realtor. Then there were no offers, so we relaxed thinking we still had months to spare. Come November, we will be traveling for 6 ½ months, so if they moved while we are gone, it would make the transition easier. That was not to be. After the contract with the realtor expired without an offer, a neighbor came and made an offer they could not refuse.

It finally became real, but there was still time. They had to find a place to buy in Spain. Then there were arrangements to move, furniture to sell, and so on. The goddess Fortūna was smiling on them the entire time. With a week trip to Valencia with appointments set up to view apartments, they settled on one before they left. They were able to sell the majority of the furniture on a Hungarian site with their soon to be cleaning lady of the past doing the translation.

Sandra and Larry invited us over for the last Budapest social, a lunch. They made it plain we should clear the day so we had no need to rush off to other obligations. We had many travel adventures between us that we had not yet shared, but I wanted to interrogate them about the plans for Valencia. We arrived at noon and left at 6:30 pm. Even then, it felt like there was so much more left unsaid. It will have to wait for a visit to Valencia next year.

When I sent a thank you note, Sandra responded “Little did I realize when you were trying to set up a DA-HU “business exchange” that we’d end up wanting to spend days with you much less an evening here and there.  It was such fun.  We’ve found that for those of us who can afford the time, brunches are turning out to be a lovely way to linger over food and conversations.”

Future want-to-be ex-pats have few warnings alerting them to the cycle of losses, but they need to prepare for them. Still those people who have journeyed through our life, even if intermittently, greatly enhanced it in ways that we cannot describe.

Soon it will be time to return to the spinning wheel, but we will have a reprieve until June 2017.

After completing my Ed.D., the frustration of finding a teaching position where I was willing to live, led to Ron and I leaving the country. We intended to travel for a year before settling somewhere in MA or RI. We left the US without any credit card debt, no car payments and our house mortgage paid by renters. We had $10,000 in the bank to make our way through a year.