A group letter via email to all of my family and friends:
I know that I haven’t written to some of you for a long time, and this is the antiquated tradition of the group letter that isn’t maybe the best way to stay in touch. But I do think of you, individually and collectively, often. I’m not the only one who has been moving around, but I do exceed the average. I hope to hear back and catch up on what you are doing, and where you are.
I’m writing to everyone to tell you about a rather pivotal year for me. I’ve retired, rather unexpectedly. Of course, after years of living abroad in different countries every few years, I don’t really have a home in the States anymore. My “homes” have been related to my work, so no more work, no home, at the moment. So here’s my year:
I started New Year’s 2015 in Cambodia traveling with my friends John and Parvis. At that point I expected to be leaving my job in Bangladesh, where the university was undergoing a severe crisis (I ended up departing with 1/3 of the faculty). I was considering a number of options, including applying for positions for the fall semester. I did think about not taking another full-time job, or maybe taking another semi-volunteer position (wages were so poor in Bangladesh that it was almost volunteering). It was great having John and Parvis to bounce things off and get suggestions and support from (besides they are great people to hang with). I finished that holiday and returned to Bangladeshed knowing that I would be leaving at the end of the term, though it turned into being at the end of the summer term.
Over spring break I returned to Nepal for a week or so and traveled some with my dear friend, Herman (when he wasn’t meeting with the Nepali Government and such). I’m so glad I went when I did, as the shocks and aftershocks of the earthquake rolled through my apartment in Bangladesh just a few weeks later.
I had one other long break after the spring semester and before the mandatory unpaid summer semester (one of the things that caused me to quit). I went to Bangkok for a physical checkup and then on to Laos because I hadn’t gotten there yet. I would love to say I was thrilled with Laos, but it was so damned hot that I spent most of my time in my (incredibly charming French Colonial) hotel room in Luang Prabang. More medical stuff back in Bangkok, and then the summer semester. I led 2 small groups of students through researching and writing essays on modernization and family in developing countries. I got some stellar work despite the heat and constant power outages.
I had taken the job in Bangladesh for a lot of reasons, but one was that I had for a long time wanted to do something like volunteer teaching. I’ve never felt that I could afford to, but this teaching gig paid a survival wage and provided housing and health insurance. That was doable. And I got to teach World Civilizations to the most motivated students I ever had. In the end, that was enough to keep me there for a couple of years. But given the financial situation, as well as other problems there, and general exhaustion and isolation, I left at the end of June.
My friend and traveling partner Martin and I would talk for sometimes hours as I struggled through my last months in Bangladesh. He invited me to stay at his house in Melbourne, Australia for as long as I need to sort out my next act. I spent a lot of my first 6 weeks there taking care of accounts and paperwork, and finding out about my Social Security. I had anticipated working a few more years and then retiring someplace on my pittance of a pension. I was shocked to find out that I could start collecting immediately, and in fact it would be ridiculous and a big loss of money not to. Hence, I retired. Not that I won’t be picking up some income here and there, but there is officially now no job search. I haven’t worked in 6 months, which is the longest since I was 16, unless you count the long compulsory school days from the time I was 5.
I arrived here in Australia in July, and and in late August I returned to the States, first to LA to spend a couple of weeks with my sister and brother-in-law, who suffer my presence pretty much once a year or so. It feels like home to me, and being able to be there for a bit regularly is important to me. I spent a couple of weeks in Seattle with good friends, and with Tiffany and her family. After over 20 years, Seattle wasn’t the same, of course, and wasn’t home.
Martin met up with me in Mazatlán, Mexico in October and traveled from there to the Copper Canyon. I spent a few weeks in Mexico, riding the train and taking photos, and practicing Spanish. From there we returned to LA for a few days and then back to Australia.
The next step for me is finding a place where I can plant a garden and cook for my friends in my kitchen. I know I’m not about to be done traveling, but, after years of having my home being determined by my work, I want to find a place of my own in a community of my choosing. I was considering places in Asia, but it’s so far from the States and friends and family. It is also damned hot and humid, and I think I’d spend my whole pension on air-conditioning. So I am focusing on Latin America, where I’m at least able to find a bathroom in the local language. Someplace in the mountains, at a high enough altitude to be temperate.
I finished 2015 here in Melbourne, with Martin, in his lovely home with his neighbors. I’ll be back in Seattle for a little time in January, and then fly south to Latin America, probably flying in to Guadalajara or Mexico City, and bussing south to South America. I’ll be backpacking and hosteling on the way. At this point I’m leaning towards Ecuador, but want to check out Guatemala, Nicaragua, Panama and Columbia along the way.
If any of you would like to meet up with me on the Latin American road tour, please, please, do get in touch. I’ll be the one with the green and purple back pack and orthotics in my shoes.
Happy New Year!
Much Love and Big Hugs,