Friday, April 1, 2011

If I planned a move to Amsterdam

          If I planned a move to Amsterdam, I would buy a dictionary.  If I planned a move to Beijing, or Sofia, or Tehran, I would remember there might be a different alphabet and buy some kind of new-fangled audio dictionary instead.  If I planned a move to Moscow, I would expect to be a foreigner.  I would know: you won’t be able to read the signs, you'll look different than everyone else, bring along some extra cash for bribes.  If I moved to Nairobi, I would ask for help.  I would take a class.  I would be extra careful crossing streets, knowing that having turned the volume down on all that Swahili I'd likely get run over by a bus. 
          But I planned a move to Columbus.
          Oh sure, people told me it was the Bible belt, but it was on all the best-secretly-gay-cities lists.  So how different could it be?  And it's a swing state: think of it!  Think how my vote would count!  How the primary candidates will come running.  How party nominees will want to know exactly what I'm looking for in a president.  How they will try to win my vote, steal my vote, barricade the streets so I won’t be able to cast my vote.  That's how important my vote will be. 
          Nobody even cared about my vote in Portland, Maine. It would be a charmed, new life. 
          And sure enough: the signs were in English.  I could read my accordion-fold map just fine.  We found an apartment, a school for our daughter.  And when I listened very carefully to the woman on the phone I could eventually understand her enough to know where to meet the bus, and what time it would come.  I walked my sons in circles around the neighborhood a few times and we found ourselves a couple of playgrounds.  My breadwinner learned the local dialect fairly quickly (they say “tennis shoes” when they mean "sneakers"), got herself a job, and got me some bread.  I needed no money for brides.  No bus ran me down.
          But then six months later, there I was standing outside the locked doors of an empty church with my family and two quiches, looking for the potluck dinner and Havdallah service we expected to await us.  This was the day, this was the time, this was the church where our little Jewish congregation holds its gatherings.  And here we were: alone in the middle of Buckeye Nation.
          I had to ask myself, Why?
          These kinds of misunderstandings happen, right?  It's not such a big deal.  Turns out they were gathering at a different place.  Because it wasn’t just a Havdallah service.  It was that big Israeli dancing event they've been getting ready for.  The one they sent all the emails about.  Hadn't we gotten the emails?
          We had.  
          But see, I moved to Columbus.  I didn't move to Nairobi, or Amsterdam, or Tehran.  So I didn't plan for this.  I didn't expect that every time I opened an email it would reveal something else I didn't know: some suburb I'd never heard of, some park I'd have to find directions to, some Representative whose name I didn't recognize whom I should call and ask not to vote for some bill I didn't totally understand.  I didn't foresee that elections would come and there would be too much to learn, too many records to track down, too many closets to inspect, and there I would be in the booth, voting blind: check, check, check down the Democratic guide.  I didn't realize I wouldn't know where to find the no-sugar-added apple sauce in the grocery, or where to go swimming, or which kinds of plastic I could recycle.  And I forgot that while I was trying to figure it all out, my boys would tug at my legs asking for a snack, for a book, for a hug.  And then it would be time to meet the school bus.  And then it would be time to make supper.  And then I would stop reading email entirely, because it may as well have been in Cantonese.
          Thank God the bus drivers have been careful.

11 comments:

  1. What a leap! Can't wait to see where we fall.

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  2. I should have something profou to say, but the right words escape me. So....thank you for sharing. I enjoyed reading it. Twice.

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  3. Profound, too. Damned phone.

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  4. This was the best April Fill a dear friend who is still trying to find you wherever she goes in PORTLAND could have dreamed for. I'm going to link you up over at MamaCandtheboys so the trillions come your way!
    Damn fine flow and sucked me all the way down to the last line which came too soon!

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  5. This made me want to cry as I am not a native buckeye and I had forgotten the need for translations.

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  6. Ok, the trip down "tennis shoe" memory lane just sold me (and this comes from a girl who's a California native). I must not miss a minute of your journey so I'm following, lol.

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  7. Thanks for the kind words; they are like GORP for the trail. Yum! And please... I can take things other than kindness. You are each brilliant creators... I look forward to your feedback as I continue.

    And Barbara: what an honor! I screamed when I saw I had a "follower" who didn't know me. On my first day! (That's how new and green I am.) I checked out your blog and your daughter is a gem. I wish you were my neighbor so our girls could play together after school. Cheers.

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  8. Love it. Awed and inspired by your journey and this latest chapter... can't wait to follow along.

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  9. Yay, Liz! Fantastic leap. I'll follow every word and be your Happy Valley cheerleader. And I still owe you that call. Verizon promises me that we will have phone on Thursday. *Fingers crossed*

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  10. i can tell I am going to LOVE catching up with you and learning about your life via your new blog. You have a wonderful way with words, so heartfelt and enjoyable to read! My dad, being from Kentucky, was always saying things like "tennis shoes". Thanks for that little memory! =)T

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  11. I so enjoyed reading your posts on my first foree to your blog (I'm Mama C's former upstairs neighbor in Portland).

    I love this one especially, since I did move to a completely foreign country (Lesotho, Africa), but we definitely have some of the same issues. Phrases that don't work here: "I'll have that to go" (they say "for take away"); "We're all set" (You have to say "We're done eating and would like the bill, please); "Please fill it up" (You have to say "We would like a full tank of gas, please). Oh yeah, and then there's this drink called Appletizer, which they always bring me when I ask if I can order an appetizer...*sigh* :)

    Keep writing! I love the converstaional style and the real-life stories filled with such truth. I'll definitely be back for more!

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