Sara went ahead of me to Haiti in 2010, arriving in Port-au-Prince only two weeks after an earthquake leveled most of the city. The quake destroyed the national palace and most government buildings, killed well over 100,000 and left more than a million and a half homeless in the country’s capital.
(In case you’re new to my blog, Sara is, as they say in Spanish, “mi esposa.”)
However, we had lived in Vietnam the year before, a place that taught me a thing or two about surviving in a country far from home—what makes it bearable, what makes it optimal, what makes it borderline or even downright hellacious. These insights I hoped to apply during our transition from Southeast Asia to Haiti.
I had loved the people of Vietnam. I loved the culture. I loved the narrow streets that snaked through Hanoi’s Old Quarter, the charming mix of traditional, Vietnamese buildings and colonial, French architecture.
There were, however, a few things I didn’t love—specifically, the heat (infernal), the mosquitoes (hungry), the bathroom (rats), and kitchen (no oven).
I know what you’re thinking. You firmly believe that rats in the bathroom would be the worst. I know. I understand your reasoning. However, that reasoning would also be wrong.
Admittedly, the night I woke up at 2 am only to find a cat-sized rat perched atop the bathroom door, I wasn’t exactly happy. Rats equal in girth to basketballs and close in length to toy trains don’t exactly leave middle-aged, peri-menopausal women bouncing back to bed, rapping about rodent romance.
Though it probably should have been, though it might have been for most reasonable people, repeating the scenario above wasn’t my first fear about moving to Haiti.
No, I had only two requests for Sara when she went looking for housing in post-apocalyptic Port-au-Prince. I wanted screens on the windows, and I wanted an oven. The former would keep out mosquitoes; the latter would allow me bake.
When I look back on it now, I’m embarrassed by my sense of entitlement. To assume I would have screens, let alone windows, in a city where most of the population was living in tents, at best, or under tarps, more likely, epitomized hypocrisy on my part—made me the ugly American, expecting to be catered to in a city where cholera would soon be killing so many of those who managed to live through the initial disaster.
Things were bad in Port-au-Prince, to say the least. I was asking a lot. I should have been thankful if only my kitchen didn’t look like those used by most Haitians at that time.
Still—dear Sara delivered.
When I arrived in Haiti two months after the earthquake, we not only had a house—
We had windows. We had screens.
We had 2 armed guards.
And yes, we even had an oven—
It was narrow.
It was tall.
It had no thermostat.
That’s correct. There was no way to set any temperature on that oven, either Fahrenheit or Celsius—try as I may—and I, indeed, did.
I’ve told this last part of the story before—some of you may recall. (To read my piece about this in the Huffington Post, click here.) But I was reminded of it this last week, when Terri, a blogging buddy of mine remarked that our kitchen in Ecuador was way nicer than the one we had in Haiti. Bless her blogger’s heart for reminding me. (God bless all those who have been reading for so long.) I had forgotten. Who knows how? Maybe it’s some bizarre form of expat amnesia.
Still Terri’s comment made me think—as had Miranda’s before hers. Our kitchen here in Ecuador is awesome. No, it doesn’t have a dishwasher or garbage disposal, but it does have:
- an actual oven,
- a thermostat,
- and more counter space than our kitchen in Kentucky,
We’re moving up in the world. And I’m not talking Andean elevation!
I’m also thinking about the evolution of our expat kitchens (and houses, in general), since our 20-foot container arrived in Ecuador last week and is due here at our house the day this piece posts.
Sometimes when I imagine all our belongings stuffed in that over-sized steel box—the books and art, shoes and clothes, gadgets and gizmos—I realize I still feel a bit too entitled. I still crave comfort—the biggest and best, the latest and lovely. But maybe that’s not so much the American in me. Maybe it’s just my all too human heart—inclined as it is to cling to the concrete, the tangible trappings of home and hearth.
What do you think?
What gives you comfort? Do you cling to things that you wish you were less preoccupied with? If you moved to another country, which possession would you want to take along?