Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Moving into No Man's Land

Bookshelves are emptying. Books are piling up on the floor. Clothes are sorted into piles: suitcase; air shipment; and container shipment. Life seems like one big pile.

Piles are evidence of no man's land. The place of in-between. The packing-up, the knowing that you're leaving, but haven't left. You're in one place physically, but straddling two worlds. Perhaps even a third: the unknown.

It's the most difficult part of transition/moving for me. Stress builds. You become split-up. Part of you belongs where you are. Part of you doesn't. Navigating this is hard. Making sense of it, writing coherently about it … may not be possible. (I did try to in my eBook, Moving to Myanmar.)

It’s like you aren’t anywhere. Not completely. Not wholly. Your mind scatters across thousands of miles, oceans, and brings you straight back to where you are standing, your feet planted in Yangon, only to swiftly lift back up and toss you across that sea again. Fragments of thoughts, of feelings, flutter down around you like confetti. They’re so small you can’t quite catch them. Can’t quite hold them. Nothing feels exactly … real. 

The reality is, though, there is conflict stewing and bubbling inside. I hold conflicting emotions about leaving Myanmar. I hold conflicting feelings about arriving home in the United States. There are things I will miss in Yangon. There are things I will not. As the time to leave comes closer, my feelings about both intensify. Equally, there are things I look forward to and also worry about moving back to the United States; those feelings are becoming more intense, too. 

It's like intense soup over here.

And it’s busy. There are checklists to tick off, schedules to make, people to see, jobs to get done. You navigate the minefield of trying to see everyone who matters to you while you might wish you could sometimes slip off into the distance unnoticed. But you really don’t want that either. Still, you’re so busy and your mind is so active, that you just … find it hard to slow down.

There are moments where I feel more present and the realization of leaving hits. The other day, we had a going away playdate for my daughter. It was her idea and I felt proud she came up with a strategy on her own for letting go. Around 15 school friends showed up. Some parents came, too, and so did three teachers. I was struck by how supported and how beautiful it was to have such kind people surrounding my daughter, wishing her well. How did we become so lucky in just one short year?

Yesterday I spent time doing an interview with quite an astonishing woman. She spoke about how relationships are central in her life. As I held onto her words throughout the day, I felt a sense of gratitude for the relationships I’ve made in Yangon. I was also feeling a bit down about some stuff. While walking around an unplanned trip Marketplace, a friend from Korea unexpectedly called out to me. She and her friend, who I didn’t know, offered me kindness, inviting me to have tea with them.

For a brief time, I could grasp at those fluttering confetti thoughts and pull them to my heart long enough to feel like I was in one place. Not a million places. Just one. Just there. With her and her friend. During our tea, I explained I was moving – she didn’t know. Explanations to why the sudden move were made. It wasn’t easy, yet I was met with such tender warmth and support and what felt like love. She isn’t someone I know well. Despite language and cultural barriers, we connect. I don’t know why. Strangely, we seem to run into each other on those days when one of us is struggling. I see it in her face. She sees it in mine. We nod knowingly and barriers come down.

There are many people in Yangon I have this with. I have been blessed. Truly. It will hurt leaving the people who have touched my life here. It really sucks. 

I love, love, love that I have friends from several different countries. I love that my daughter does, too. It’s one of the most important and greatest gifts of living overseas. You can’t put a price tag on it and you’re forever changed as a result. 

My daughter is beginning to realize the impact of leaving also.  She’s expressing how sad it will be to leave her friends from school, her teachers, and other adults who have played a key role in her life here, despite her difficulty adjusting to life in Myanmar. At the same time we’re anxious to see our friends and family at home. To move on. 

Recognizing the losses that are incurred by moving doesn’t take away from the things I look forward to gaining by going home. The long, deep friendships, the familiarity of home and family waiting for us also doesn’t take away the hurt of what’s being left behind.

It’s not easy reconciling these feelings and you can’t do very much about it, except grasp at those confetti pieces when possible. Try to be in one place for just a moment. And breathe. I’m not very good at it.

The past year hasn’t been easy. An overseas move is trying. A consequent divorce is hard. To turn around and move again just over a year later is testing every ounce of patience I have. Comfort has often come in the form of friendships or warmth from near strangers. I am not sure how to write about this yet, other than to say that without it, the struggles would’ve been much harder. 

There are people in Yangon who probably have no clue how one little smile or warm touch to my arm made my day better on those rougher days. They continue to. And that level of innate, brief support isn’t common, yet I’ve experienced it often living here. I am better for it.

When my thoughts are clear and emotions a little less tender than they are at this moment, I will write about these relationships and the lessons I’ve learned. What living in Myanmar has taught me. 

So now, I will go back to my piles of books and piles of clothes. Go back to no man's land and try to make some sense of it all. 


  1. Beautifully written and so much of it--certainly the piles, the uncertainty and the "intense soup"-- I can relate to, having been in the same situation. It can help to look ahead, even one week or one month and think, "By this time next month, I'll be ____ ." That's what got me through a lot of the uncertainty...having (or imagining) one thing I could be certain of. You're doing great, though, Becky, even with all the tough stuff.

    1. Thank you, Sara. I think when you move a lot - especially if you're an expat - you can relate to that no man's land. And you've certainly had big moves and big transitions! Thank you for your suggestion of thinking forward one week ahead or whatever, knowing something for certain. That is a great tip! Thank you for that! :)

  2. Beautifully written Becky - so emotive and I am there with you, as are all your friends and family. Comforting you, hugging you, wishing things could have been different. I so hope you know that my dear xxx

  3. You've expressed so poignantly, what I've been feeling as I gather up my things as we plan to move, too! Not to another country, but it sure feels like it...going from overwhelm back to forgetting that I'm moving as I meet with friends and enjoy my time with them; then I get home and see all the boxes that need to be filled, etc.

    It is said that "moving" is one of those life changing experiences...I have found that it is. Your sharing of this experiences will stay with me for quite some time...and that is good. :)

    1. Oh, Indigene - I didn't know you were moving, too! I hope that is going OK, but yes ... it isn't easy! (And I think we can feel the upheaval of a move just as much if we're not moving to another country - sometimes just going across town to a new neighborhood can be just as stressful if not more!) Packing sucks! Unpacking is worse! lol

      Thank you for your kind support always. <3


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