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* thoughts on the whole “leaving on a jet plane…” thing

August 28, 2015

It’s been 20 years now since we moved back to the US from Madagascar, where, by then, my wife and I had lived for almost 10 years. Living there jet plane silohouttemeant going there. And then coming back to the US for visits and a few study leaves. This was something I’d actually started doing a long time ago, back in 1966 when my family first moved to Madagascar. In those days it was flying in smoke-filled Air France DC-8s or 707s. Our first flight went from Minneapolis to New York to Paris to Djibouti (refueling) to Madagascar (my last flight there flew from Minneapolis to Paris direct then nonstop from Paris to Madagascar, an 11 hr flight). Then we got on a cold, drafty, rattly “Air Mad” DC-3, if you Air Mad DC-3know what that WWII-era flying beast was (see picture), for our multiple stop
flight down to Fort Dauphin where we lived for the next 10 years.

Getting on a plane to do this when you’re actually moving there means saying goodbye to a lot of things. It was a lot simpler as a kid. As an adult it was hard to leave especially older family, not knowing if we’d see them again here on earth anyway. It also meant selling most of one’s things while trying to figure out what we did want/need to bring with us. And ending jobs, handing over keys, leaving where you’ve been living as well as all the people in your lives. Often final days were filled with saying goodbye to those who stopped by during the day while madly packing and sometimes purchasing at night. This was before “survivalists,” but we resembled them somewhat in terms of both what we bought and how much of it we bought at the same time (our first length of time overseas when I was a kid was for 5 years, not even getting up to Madagascar’s capital city during that time. When my wife and I left for the first time it was for 3 years, though we did get over to Nairobi once.

Leaving stuff behind? Once I had gotten on the plane and didn’t have to sort, pick and choose them anymore, that was actually a big relief.
Leaving jobs behind? That was easier for me than my wife, as I had just finished grad school the first time we went and was going to a job I was very excited about in a country I’d grown up in. For my wife, however, it meant leaving her teaching career, which she had been very much enjoying, and going over to a place she had never been before, where the language is mostly Malagasy (some French, at least then very little English) and at least initially there weren’t any jobs she could do.

One of the toughest parts of it all was leaving family and friends. And that never got any easier. But then, again, I’m not sure I would have wanted it to. Those were very special folks I was saying goodbye to.

And at first when we got to over there, while it was fun in many ways to be back to my “home” on that side of the ocean, most everything was new. While I had lived in Madagascar for 9 years growing up, being an what am i doing hereadult there was a very different experience. And at first things are so inefficient, with almost everything initially taking 2 or even 3 times as long as they did from where you came from (interestingly, this was true when we moved from Madagascar back to the US as well). That is, if you can figure out how to even do it! There is way too much time for frustration and questions about why you decided to make this move! But then slowly (at least for me), things begin to start making sense again. Generally in some new and quite interesting, sometimes simpler, sometimes much more complicated (and yes, at times exasperating) ways.

So here’s to all of you making that transition! There are those of us who have done this before you. And survived it all. And though it took awhile, we actually thrived.

Give it time, it does get better. In fact it can be an incredible, life-changing blessing, as that’s what it was for me both growing up and then working in Madagascar as an adult. And yes, there were some tough times as well. But as I’ve grown older, I’ve come to realize that’s just part of life. No matter where you’re living. So give it time. And enjoy! You’ve embarked on an amazing journey!

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