America 101 — Family
Coming Home and Learning How to America, Again
Moving away from home created an opportunity for me to expand my family.
When I shifted from SoCal to Washington, DC, I made friends that were different from those at home because they represented different states, countries, and cultures. I felt as if a broader, richer new world was revealed. DC is rich and vibrant and attracts people from all over the United States and the world. My years in DC were the beginnings of my expanded family who reflected every walk of life from every corner of the world. My eyes and heart opened wider than ever before and my family continued to grow when I moved to New York City.
In Egypt (2001–2003ish), I made some really great friends (my Aussies) who kept me grounded when I was well and truly out of my depth across so many aspects of being an expat. I also made friendships with locals and expats that had no relationship with work and I equally cherished those connections. My Egyptian network had balance — expat and local, Christian and Muslim — and they made my life in Egypt rich and full and deep and our mutual love continues today.
When I moved to Kenya, I knew one person — Rose. Rose was my local logistics tour operator when @Shawna Sharruf and I took our incredible trip to Kenya in 2006. When I moved to Kenya in 2008, Rose was my first official Kenyan “local” friend and Rose set me straight on a great many things that I didn’t understand or appreciate and she did it all with love, sincerity and laughter. I cherish Rose. Over time, my Kenyan “family” grew to include an exceptional group of expats and a lot of Kenyans. I am humbled that the very nature of my work, being on film sets, gave me the chance to forge local friendships that not all expats manage to create. My Kenyan family is rich, diverse, complicated, and wonderful. They represent countless countries, religions, genders, and backgrounds. They are all exceptional. I spent many holidays, birthdays, and other countless life moments with this family of mine and I am grateful.
I became Auntie several times over to some of the cheekiest little people you could ever meet.
I was welcomed into my Somali family and life will surely never quite be the same ever again. Life would not be quite right without my Somalis.
My Kenyan family taught me so many things about myself — the good and the bad — and about life but there’s no way to record all of the lessons. The great abundance (a word that a friend reminded me of the other day) that comes from my international family could never be “earned”. Their richness in my life limitless.
Rather it is my duty to humbly receive their love every day despite my many flaws.
And while I was only in Singapore for a short time (14 months), some truly incredible humans came into my life and my family grew once again. I didn’t get to spend nearly enough time with the fabulous bunch in Asia but I know that we have time to create many more stories, despite the distance, as time moves forward.
Yesterday, a member of my family passed away after a severe reaction to COVID-19. I lost a piece of my family. I met her 25 years ago in a NYC elevator that refused to function. While we sat on the floor of the elevator and waited for the fire department and elevator team (and that’s not an unusual event in NYC), we bonded over crisis as all good family members do and we chatted about life and love and men and work and we became good friends. It was Sex in the City — the elevator pitch. I didn’t see her very often but we stayed in touch via social media and chat over the years and exchanged an epic phone call, every once in a while, that set the universe right.
Today I miss my family. I miss the familiarity within our daily lives and the ease between us as we sat in a café or restaurant and talked about love and life and all manner of things. In a COVID America (and world), that’s nearly impossible. Connections cannot be made so easily and it’s harder to expand, or just reaffirm, my family as we all stay indoors and try to stay healthy.
I realize that in order for my head and heart to shift from that of an expat to a local, I have to give myself space to “mourn” my broader family. Yes, they’re all still out there in the world and yes we are in touch. But the fabric that created my everyday life — friends, lovers, co-workers — is over and there is a wide, deep chasm left in their place that I feel is going to take a long time to mend. Shifting from expat to local means I must surrender so many things all at once. The phrase “culture shock” doesn’t do the transition justice. Amputation and triage come to mind, instead.
I am incredibly lucky for the many adventures and lives I’ve lived.
I am wholly and completely grateful for the gift of my global family who laughed, cried, and cheered me through so many events over the years and who I can never deserve.
I miss my family today and love them all very much.