Our nomadic life

POINT OF VIEW - Dorothy Delgado Novicio - The Philippine Star

Every Tuesday, our virtual, pre-prayer conversations with my multi-cultural friends revolve around the weather, faith, home or our wanderings. One day someone updated us of their posting to India, one moved to Arizona while one returned to Beijing where our friendships started.

We marveled at what has become our way of life. A friend once remarked she wouldn’t want to be in my shoes when I said we were leaving again. A part of me understood, yet a part of me wished to say, you would.

How we navigate our life as global nomads is an oft-repeated question every time we relocate. How will you find a house? A school for the kids? How about your pets? Will you be able to cook Filipino food? To which I always say there are places called markets and groceries and a technique in cooking called substitution.

The tasks sound overwhelming, especially when leaving for a first assignment and to those who had never experienced moving. As we managed to embrace this pattern for decades now, packing and unpacking are no longer daunting. For me the sense of anticipation now far outweighs the apprehension. But the agony of leaving always feels the same. It is only when the airplane touches down at our new host country or when going back for home posting does melancholy switch to joy.

Moving is not as exhausting as a colleague once assumed. She imagined me spending weeks packing sets of china, cutlery, clothes – our entire home. There are professional movers who do the job, I explained. Two to three days are enough to pack a whole household – from beds to the last pair of spoon and fork. When arriving at post, the same company unpacks our stuff, especially the pieces of furniture. But that would be after a month or two, with earnest prayers in between that the ship carrying our cargo won’t sink.

A retired lady diplomat once lamented how, many years ago, the ship carrying her piano and other household effects sank. While the insurance company paid for the damages, the sentimental value of the items lost was irreplaceable.

Depending on the country of assignment, searching for a house could be done in a day or over a month. It was love at first sight for us for a flat overlooking the bay and Disneyland in Hong Kong versus 14 inspections to find an apartment here in New York where rentals had skyrocketed post pandemic.

Discovering the unknown, of what our host country offers, is one of the most rewarding facets of the nomadic life. Like intrepid wanderers, our new home country becomes a hunting ground for unforgettable adventures. And I say this with a deep gratitude to the work the hubby has dedicated his life to with our DFA and the benefits associated with the job.

In a hunting and gathering society, our ancestors foraged for food, built homes beneath cathedrals of trees or created art inside caves. Our cultural immersions and survival go beyond what we glean from museum visits. We try to live like the locals and one of the first bridges to attain this goal is learning to speak the language. We adapt to cultural nuances and traditions or strive to weave them with our own to make life pleasant and thrilling.

Like most residents, our children traversed Jakarta’s streets via gojek or motorcycle taxis. On our way to our national day reception we got stuck in the city’s horrible traffic. I had to be punctual because the hubby was out of town and I was part of the reception line. Besides, the Bayanihan dancers were performing and it would be impolite to enter the hall mid-performance.

Desperate, I nudged my cousin to please hail three gojeks. Albeit hesitant but to my daughter’s delight, she called three motorbikes. We each hopped on our respective bikes, but that was before a plea to kindly snap a photo of me in my elegant piña terno with the iconic green helmet on my head. Then I politely asked the driver if I could wrap my arms around his waist for safety. Pak (a respectful way to address men in Indonesia), shyly said, “Boleh, Ibu” (can, ma’am).

When our protocol officer who met me at the lobby asked how I made it on time, “gojek!” I exclaimed. He was amusingly shocked but the hubby was even more stunned when I messaged him. The gojek adventure of three ladies in graceful Filipinianas with mismatched green helmets on their heads remains a treasured reminiscence of our Jakarta stint.

Our escapades, misadventures included, provide for profound memories, especially for our children. Had we not lived in Beijing we would not have discovered that the kilometric expanse of the Great Wall of China goes beyond the touristy Great Wall of Badaling. This magnificent wonder extends to the breathtaking Great Wall By the Sea, the Great Wall of Mutianyu, which is prettiest in autumn, and our family favorite, the Jinshanling Great Wall, where we hiked sections of its unrestored parts.

Over the years we have mastered the art of acquainting our palate with the local cuisine and eventually loving them. My son’s ultimate benchmark for roast duck is Beijing’s cao ya while the best nasi goreng and satay for us are the ones cooked in Jakarta’s warungs, our carinderia counterparts. Here in New York, we only have to scour the streets of Manhattan for Polish, Peruvian, Hungarian or food that would satiate our gastronomic curiosity.

Unlike the times when we relied on maps for directions or the kindness of neighbors to assist in our most mundane needs, information now is readily available with a swipe or tap on the phone. Gone are the wonders of spontaneous conversations, being disoriented or misinformed due to language barriers. As AI takes over, this also signals another interesting phase in our nomadic life.

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