Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Our Island Life

The town we currently call home -- Porto Martins -- on the island of Terceira in the Azores, Portugal

Three sides of our home here overlook the ocean.

The hill (visible out of the one side of our house that does not face water.)

From the fourth side, you can see up the side of a large, rolling hill -- where sheep are always grazing.
Most days, nearly all since so few days are completely devoid of wind, you can hear the waves from any room of our house -- hear them crashing on the rocks that line the coast.

Volcanic rock

The boys have named segments of the rocks they love to climb. "Radiator Springs" (from Cars) is one section. "The Island of Sodor" (Thomas the Train) is another.

This time of year, the birds are chirping nearly constantly. It is bright and sunny and beautiful until nearly 10pm. Many of the houses in our neighborhood that were closed up for the rainy season, are now wide open. Whether the inhabitants migrated to another country or just another part of the island for the "winter", they are back in Porto Martins for the serenity of summer.

It is around 70 degrees every day right now. Nearly the perfect temperature in my opinion. We have been getting in our pool nearly every day. (I think it's a bit on the cold side, but the kids are loving it!)

And yet despite the exquisite beauty and peaceful surroundings that this island boasts, this place is strange to me. Foreign. Unfamiliar. My heart doesn't know it. Doesn't feel it. Doesn't recognize it.

Flashback in your own mind to the most peaceful vacation you ever had. Lounging in a hammock maybe? Overlooking the water? Reading book after book after book? Sipping your favorite drink? Ordering from a luxurious menu? You get the idea.

In the middle of that vacation, you probably had a moment that left you thinking, "I could do this forever!"

But could you?

That's the island in my opinion. That's our life here. Most people who are stationed here, when asked what they think of Terceira island, will say, "It'd be a nice place to come for a vacation." But to live? most agree that the life here is very remote. More remote than most people in America are comfortable claiming.

Some people live on Base. I have heard it said that two-thirds of people reside in a base house while one-third of those stationed choose to live off-Base. The choice is your's. People's reasons for choosing either are wide and varied. Many live on-Base just to try to retain some of their American identity. Others because they are uncomfortable being in a foreign country. Or they want their kids to be able to walk to school. Those that live off-Base can't imagine living in a foreign country and not really living in itOr they want privacy and some anonymity.  

America is a country where you can drive for days and not reach a dead end. I have been to 46 of the 50 states, which I think is a lot, and yet I have not seen so much of our country -- really only touched the surface of what is there.

This island is 12 miles by 19 miles. You can drive around the perimeter in just under two hours. There is no mall. There are really no museums or department stores. There is not a single fast food restaurant. There are only three stoplights. Cows outnumber people two to one. My housekeeper Hita had never been in an elevator before riding the one in our house (which has since been removed, by the way.) One tiny airport. Two or three small grocery stores aside from the Commissary on Base.

It's like we live on a tiny island.

Wait. So yes, we do live on a tiny island.

I have realized that two years in Turkey in a remote location (where leaving Base or travelling were not "simple" nor advised) and now living on this remote island, is a lot of remote. I know that I will probably never, ever live somewhere so beautiful. I will probably never experience a life so peaceful and routine. There is little to do. Outside of activities offered on Base, there aren't many things waiting to be tackled. Life is simple. Plain. Ordinary.

We still have yet to see all of the island. There are other things we want to do and explore. But generally speaking, we have made peace with most of the spots here on Terceira and don't feel we have left very many stones unturned.

Life will probably never move this slow for us again. The pace will never be as steady. I will most likely not hear waves out my bedroom window again in my life. I won't walk around the corner to the neighborhood café and find the same faces each and every morning (one of whom always has a beer at 7am). The beach, covered with Portuguese bodies as the weather gets warmer and warmer, won't be visible from my windows. Life will change.

I am trying to embrace this opportunity. To remember that this is just a brief period in my full life. But I find myself wanting it to feel like something it will never be.

It will never be Turkey. Turkey, for me, was so incredibly rich culturally. I learned the language (of which I have been unable to do here -- probably due to the Turkish still filling my brain.) I embraced the Turkish people, and. I was surrounded by American people that just "fit me" so well. If I went back to Turkey tomorrow, it would not feel like that. It would be different. It was a time in my life. That time is passed.

And this will never be America either. America is home. It is normal. It is typical. It is within a day's drive (or a cheap flight) of family. It has fast food and Wi-Fi and traffic lights and Target.

Minnesota. Southern Florida. Kentucky. Northern Florida. All places I lived in America. And all places that felt like home when I was there.

But here? It doesn't feel like home. It feels like vacation. It feels ... weird. Foreign. Strange. Uncomfortable even? Just not familiar.
And yet it's supposed to be home.
That's hard. To live somewhere that feels like vacation for two years.
What is home? I'm not sure. This island, with all it's beauty and charm and personality, isn't home for me. But I am blessed, beyond words, to be here with JB and my kids and to have us together as a family.
And we will be blessed, next year, when we return to the USA, and the comforts that it affords as well.

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