For eons, humans have been working to build stability and predictability into human culture. And yet, new ideas, new foods, fabulous changes often arise when we do something different.
And just as entire cities work to build stability there have always been the explorers and the nomads that venture out to find new paths, new ideas and generate innovation.
A nomad I will remain for life, in love with distant and uncharted places. Isabelle Eberhardt
In the last few years, my husband and I have recognized that we thrive on the unknown. We love going to bed not knowing what tomorrow might bring. And in fact, we start to feel suffocated by the predictable. We love a good challenge. We benefit from daily routines like coffee, yoga and working out, but at the same time, we prefer the experiential over the predictable.
What scares the shit out of many people is exactly what gets our blood pumping. One of our favorite quotes is that “by stepping into our fear, we find our courage.” We love our families and friends, we honor our traditions, and we love learning about new ones. We adore traveling the world, making new friends, spreading love, courage, and goodwill wherever we go.
What scares the shit out of us is not going after our many goals. We want to make something fantastic happen.
Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity and change.Brené Brown
Sometimes when we talk with friends and family, we get the impression that they think our life is easy, full of butterflies and rainbows, always running along like a well-oiled machine. We get told we are brave. Or that folks wish they could do what we do.
One reason we’ve decided to share this journey with you here on this blog is to show you that we’ve got our problems and challenges. Life changes and rarely is life easy, but we like to push the boundaries and we love the rush of overcoming challenges and problems and coming out the other side. We get scared. We worry. And we set goals and step into our fears.
Some days we suck on our lemons to fully experience the bitter juice and other times we make lemonade. Sometimes we make mixed fruit juice and simply toss in a lemon to preserve the color.
What’s for certain is that we see life as an adventure to be lived.
Recipe: Juicing for Adventure
Planning an adventure is a bit like making juice. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes it makes a big mess. Generally, speaking though, fresh juice is damn good.
Our current recipe for adventure as recounted in this blog post required the following:
- 25 parts official military paperwork for retirement
- 40 parts French bureaucracy
- 10 parts figuring out what to do with our house
- 5 parts figuring out what to do with our cars
- 5 parts deciding what to do with our stuff
- 10 parts packing a shipping container full of stuff. And a car.
- 5 parts planning a USA vacation + road trip with four kids
- 5 parts planning our arrival in Madagascar
Let’s start with retirement. We’ve been “planning” my husband’s retirement from the military since we got married in 2012; however, each year little events of life or politics managed to push the date back. Finally, after a particularly challenging year last year and acknowledging that he and ultimately all of us have been living with the challenges of PTSD, we knew we had to finally make it happen.
Retiring from military life is complicated on many levels. On the bureaucratic level, it meant a ridiculous number of meetings and paperwork, pension determinations and all sorts of stuff.
On a personal level, my husband’s identity is that of a soldier. His teammates are his brothers. At the same time, he is a family man. He is also has a very strong internal compass that sometimes means you have to do the “wrong” thing for the right reasons versus the right thing for the wrong reasons. His personal moral code and his commitment to integrity mean that he’s never followed the easy path.
Not one to give up nor one to let something unjust pass, he’s always spoken his mind and done his best to ensure the success of his team and his missions. Unfortunately, military politics are not that different from politics anywhere else and so even in retirement, after serving France for 18+ years, even on his path to retirement he came up against roadblocks because not everyone respects a man who speaks his mind.
Occasionally during the retirement process, he questioned his decision. Watching the news or talking to his teammates he wondered if he should stay another year or two, but then he’d come back and tuck his babies in at night and know that he was on the right path.
The most heartbreaking moment of this process came on an evening that should have been a beautiful salute to his service. In mid-June, his regiment held a ceremony and buffet dinner for soldiers being awarded the next rank, leaving for a long-term overseas assignment, or for those retiring.
Each soldier was called up by name to shake the Colonel’s hand and that of the gentleman in charge of promotions. Our family, with two little squirming kids, stood up front. Several of his friends and former teammates were there with us. When they got to the section to announce and thank the retiring soldiers, they passed my husband by.
The presiding officer happened to be a man that has had a petty argument with my husband for years, and so rather than putting personal emotions aside, the officer chose to take an act of extreme disrespect.
My husband risked the greatest sacrifice on many tours. He lost his best friend. He saw numerous tragedies and walked paths most of us cannot even begin to imagine. He had good moments. And bad moments. As the children and I stood to wait for his name to be called, I felt both the proudness of a wife and a citizen and the heartbreak of a mother that watches soldiers go off to war.
Instead, a petty man made a petty judgment to “forget” to read my husband’s name. As if one can forget a soldier standing in front of you who has given his all. When I realized that this man’s petty politics stole my husband’s 30 seconds of applause, the tiny bit of respect that a retiring soldier hopes for, I felt nauseous. All my husband expected was to walk up, shake the Colonel’s hand, be acknowledged for his service, close that door and open the next door. As the ceremony came to a close and we started to leave, the Colonel realized what had happened, he came over with an attempt to remedy the situation by meekly saying: “Oh, we forgot you!”
At this point, I took a deep breath, and I took the opportunity to very calmly explain in French, that I wonder how France will ever succeed in their war against terrorism if they can’t even manage to show proper respect to their own soldiers. We then thanked the Colonel, and we left.
Indeed, the politics of bureaucracy and the pettiness of humanity served only to confirm that it is indeed time for us to move on and southwest France is not our home. Similarly, this experience further motivated us to dedicate our physical and financial energy to investing in my husband’s country of birth, Madagascar.
Beyond Politics to Trials in Bureaucracy
Deciding to move to Madagascar four months after making the decision meant that we had a million ducks to get in a row and fast. Not only did we need to determine our own strategy, we had to figure out how to navigate the rules and regulations of moving legal human cargo between countries.
As residents of France, it also meant millions of hours spent dealing with, for the most part totally pointless, French bureaucracy.
If you’ve never lived in France or you are not French, I guaranty you have no idea what I even mean. Leave it that way. French cheese and French wine are gifts to the world. French bureaucracy is a curse. Literally.
I’ll share with you one brief example. We had a “contract-less” internet and phone service that could be easily canceled by moving from one provider to another anywhere around France or the European Union; however, moving out of France, a French territory or the EU? Not so easy.
Even after submitting a notarized “declaration of moving” letter from our mayor, a receipt from our moving company showing all our stuff shipped to Madagascar, our airline itineraries, and a proper formal letter of account closure “resiliation” as requested by the provider (Orange), they declined our requests to cancel our service, threatening to bill us for an additional 6 months. Why? They insisted we needed to provide a copy of our new internet contract in Madagascar. My husband literally told the service agent; “Fuck you” although it was a bit more eloquent than if I had said it because of course, he speaks with a lovely French accent.
As an American, I am still shocked that you even have to get a notarized letter from the mayor of your town to “prove” that you are moving out of the area. WTF. Life and living really do not need bureaucracy. It’s not at all efficient.
A house (and mortgage) as you know are a decent commitment, so our first line of action revolved around figuring out what to do with our house “La Soulatine.” At first we thought we’d sell her, but in the end, we decided to rent instead.
This, of course, has its own challenges, but the short-term challenges of being long-distance landlords are worth the long-term benefit of property ownership. Deciding to rent the house did not make our lives any easier, from an emergency water heater replacement in April to expensive, yet slovenly house cleaners at move out, we’ve been kept on our toes non-stop.
Next up, we had to decide whether to keep or sell our cars.
We ended up selling my car, a Ford C-Max and people mover because, with fabric seats in a humid climate, she’d surely have ended up smelly and dank. Furthermore, from a pragmatic standpoint the C-Max profile is too low to the ground and so she would have been a town car and not for ventures out into 4×4 country.
On the flip side, Kendell, my husband’s 2008 Audi Convertible made the cut. She is a beautiful, solid and well loved car. Rolling in a convertible is the bomb. Even Elvis the dog loves this ride. And although she’s totally impractical for moving a 6 person family or 4×4 country roads, we look forward to enjoying her impracticality around town. She is a perfect beach town car.
We really want to embrace a minimalist life. I’d love to have a capsule wardrobe. My husband thinks each kid should be limited to three toys.
And yet, we’ve got so much shit. Somehow we went from setting up overnight in 2012, and a couple trips to Ikea, to an entire house of stuff. Just like being deathly thin is a sign of wealth. I think the minimalist lifestyle is too. If I could just hire someone to figure out what I need and I what I should ditch, I’d gladly do it. At this point, I am pretty sure that they fewer the things you have in your house (outside of true extreme poverty) the more money one has…
Faced with deciding what to pack and what to give away, we basically packed everything that fit. Selling or donating the last few things (like a washing machine and a bunk bed) that wouldn’t go in the container.
We’ve already made a pact that everything we’ve moved to Madagascar is staying there… If we ever move again, it will be with two suitcases max, per person. Stuff really isn’t that important. And now that it’s gone off on a boat for three months, for the most part, we don’t miss it. We really don’t.
That said, my fingers are crossed that the wine glasses, the juicer, the plates we got for our wedding and a few other things, like my “life is beautiful” coffee mug make it down the Suez Canal and out the other side safe and sound.
We do confess to praying that my 27” computer screen and my husband’s iMac also make the journey unscathed.
In the end, packing and sending off our container was very much like life. We did the best we could, we encountered some challenges, we pulled out some hair, but we got it done and in the end, watching the truck drive off towards the port of Le Havre was extremely satisfying. And totally surreal.
Even more surreal, saying goodbye to friends that have become family, a sad reality of military and expat life.
Not for the weak of heart.
International Moving and packing is not for the weak of heart.
As you can see, when you’ve got a few kids, a dog, a house and a houseful of thingamabobs, you can’t just pick up and move. There is a butt-load of work to get done first.
I am going to make up some numbers here, but I’d bet that some social scientist somewhere might back me up. I’d say that in making dreams happen, you only want to maybe spend about 5% of your time on your dreaming.
You then need to invest the rest into strategy and execution. Hoping that you get some sleep and some work done along the way.
We did it
Settling in for our flight from London Heathrow to JFK in New York, we realized, “we made it!”
Shortly after which, we recognized how entirely stressful the previous few weeks had been and in fact our doubts about whether we could actually make our plans work. And whether we could make it all happen and still be talking to each other when it was all said and done.
Well, we did. We made our plans. We did the bureaucracy. We bought our tickets. We packed up our house. We made it to Toulouse. And then we made it onto the airplane (see the photo of the baby watching a movie) and to my parent’s house in Colorado.
We did it and we made it.
Get ready for the ride, because the Rakoto’s are on the move!
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