They’re building some new apartments in my neighborhood. Watching these buildings go up freaks me out a bit. For one, most of the workers are barefoot, in shorts and t-shirts and without hardhats…or any protective gear for that matter. Then there’s the fact that the buildings appear to be just cinderblocks stacked, one on top of the other, up and up to what is now a height of about 10 meters.
This type of building process is not new to me. We were living in the Dominican Republic when the Haiti earthquake happened. We felt the tremors and then, as Embassy employees or volunteers, watched as evacuees filed out of chartered planes or buses still shaking from more than the unstable ground. From that moment on, I watched buildings go up around Santo Domingo – tall buildings of 10-20 stories – with only twig-based scaffolding upon which to balance the twig-sized men. Again, cinderblocks one on top of the other…up and up and up.
Buildings like this don’t last. Of course. I mean maybe they stick around a few years…or even a few decades – here in Madagascar we’re earthquake-free…although not flood-free, fire-free or pest-free.
This makes me think a lot about our mobile lifestyle. We collect experiences around us like cinderblocks. One on top of the other. A little deeper here. A little wider here. Just a thin façade at this point. Maybe a door or window here.
It’s easy I think, to imagine all of these experiences just collecting up, one after the other, to make a frame of a house that we call “my expat experience.” It works, right? Lots of people do it. I’ve been there! I’ve seen that!
But, really, that can’t be enough…can it? Like a house without proper foundation, supports, braces, corners and roof, if all we do is collect the experiences – we’re missing out. We benefit when we look at each one of these experiences and then mold it and shape it to make sense in our own reality. We can use reflection to create a solid foundation, stronger than a bunch of random blocks of experience. We can ask: What does it mean that I saw that? How do I feel about it? What was it like to arrive? What will it be like to go?
And when we ask these questions, we don’t just build a precarious, ill-fitting, mish-mash of a house – a life of random, unconnected and loosely interlocking parts, we actually build a home – a place inside ourselves where we say, “Here’s what I’ve learned. This feels right. I think I’d like to stay.”