Every since I got the transfer notice in February, and even without official orders, we started downsizing even more. And this is something that has been ongoing since I arrived four years, seven months, and twenty three days ago. I landed on island on a Saturday, started work on Monday, and was told by one of my new colleagues, "You know, you are a little overdressed for what people here wear for work. You have to dress for the weather." Well. I immediately took some of my dresses to the thrift shop, and went to the NEX and got a few pieces of casual, warm weather clothes. It's the land of eternal summer and you dress accordingly. I had left Texas in a chilly October and a school that considered "dressing down" the occasional jeans and college shirt on Fridays; otherwise, we were told to dress "professionally"----no shorts, no tee shirts, nothing that looks like something you'd wear to a beach cookout, and never, ever sandals or flip flops.
Welcome to GTMO. Everything is different with island life and the downsizing and a new mentality started the week I got here.
At the end of my first year here, my colleague Brock and I celebrated every week's end with "Flip Flop Friday."™ If you're looking for something small to look forward to, I suggest this small celebration. (Just give him credit if you try to make money off of it---I trademarked this phrase so you won't feel like you have to. LOL).
We are leaving with approximately five thousand pounds less than we brought. This is awesome because it is mostly small things that are now gone. I find it amazing because we've picked up a few pieces of furniture, but still managed to downsize. Our wardrobes are mainstreamed. We only have the toiletries we really need. We've gotten down to the pots and pans we really, really use. Same with kitchen gadgets. I had fourteen hair brushes. Have you seen my hair? I try, but even on a good day, it's not what you'd consider awesome or even good. How do you get so many hairbrushes? Especially when I've had days when students have asked me, "Did you forget to brush your hair today?" (true story)
It's so easy to accumulate stuff---sometimes it's gifts from well-meaning people who you have continuously told to PLEASE stop sending you things. If they don't listen, those things are re-gifted to people who need them. You want to give me something? Offer to watch my kids when I'm back in the US so my husband and I can go on a date. Take me out to a restaurant I haven't be to in over a year and offer to pay part of the bill. Sit with me on the back porch (or if it's too hot, indoors) and take the time to ask how I'm doing and LISTEN. Show me pictures of what you've been doing since I last saw you (especially if they are of your kids who have grown up while I've been away). These are the gifts I want.
Through two big moves in 5 years, I've started thinking ahead to my children, and all the crap they will have to go through. I imagine the gift of my kids having only a few boxes of things to sort after I'm dead and gone instead of an entire house, garage, and attic. Wouldn't that be lovely? It is seriously my dream---that I leave my children wonderful memories and few possessions to choose to keep or give away.
|amazing back porch---we will miss this!|
|waiting in the garage in the rain for the packout to complete|
The best part of GTMO, as anyone who likes living here will tell you, is the friendships we have made. Before we had our second child, my husband and I played in an adult recreation co-ed soccer league and made friends with many other couples. I think it's important in a marriage to have other friends who are couples, because it really helps you see that everyone is working hard---because marriage is hard work----and your struggles sometimes pale in comparison to other people's struggles. Plus hanging out with just your spouse isn't healthy. People need friends outside of their immediate family, and sometimes you need someone other than your spouse to tell your troubles to, to share laughs, to tell stories. After all, my husband (and my good friends) have heard my favorite stories 1000 times by now. But life happens; we had baby #2 and were hermits for a while, and when we started to play soccer again, most of our married couple friends had either moved or divorced. Our circle of friends disintegrated in a period of 2 years, and we spent most of the remainder of our time in Texas isolated.
Living here has given us opportunities to be friends with all sort of folks. I've hung out with people I would have never, ever been friends with in the US---my supervisors, my children's teachers. People who come from very, very different backgrounds and sometimes values, but through a longtime, simmering friendship, I realize I do have much in common with them and will continue to be their friends after leaving. I found friends who felt like I've known my entire life. This is the beauty of a small community.
When you have to knock on a stranger's door in the middle of baking and ask for an egg or some butter, or you know the new neighbor probably needs board games and other toys to occupy their bored kids, you venture out of your comfort zone to help or ask for help. Every Thanksgiving, our little commissary seems to run out of Thanksgiving meal basics. You see people asking on our community fb page for everything from sour cream to sugar to cranberries to cheese. Several people step up. Some folks also offer up their homes to single servicemen and women who will spend a holiday alone. This is how people do things here---you never run out of what you need, because someone will give it to you. You don't have to be a hermit, because people will literally drag you out of your house to make you socialize. (That would be Karin---thanks for making me come out and play poker, even if I did christen your new poker table by spilling a drink on it).
Living here has been challenging and I've done my share of bitching (and itching---the bugs are out of control right now!). But I have learned in my 40s that I have the courage to march up to someone I've never met in my neighborhood and ask them if they need anything (and mean it). I have gotten over some of my anxiety of having people over to my house for dinner or social occasions. I'm not kidding when I say the thought anywhere else of having someone over for dinner gave me a major panic attack. I've kept my social circles very small over the years because I feel awkward with small talk. Here in GTMO, you sort of skip the small talk. It's all about "how can I help you in this rather difficult place?" I've had people flying back to the U.S. mail important documents for us. We've had people lend us everything from linens to a car. My wonderful and amazing neighbor Kim called me the day we were returning from several weeks in the US at the end of summer and said, "I know you are exhausted from traveling. I hope you don't mind, but we cooked dinner for you. You can come over to eat or I will deliver it to you." SERIOUSLY. This is what happens here. You meet generous people who realize that we are all in this hardship location together, and the best of the best make sure you have what you need to make life a little easier.