Where do you want to go?
How much do you wanna risk?
These are the lyrics of a Coldplay song called “Something Just Like This”. This song is smack dab in the middle of a playlist that I listen to almost every day. It’s like the song was written with our family’s current life situation in mind. Sometimes, out of the blue, there seems to be a blip in the matrix of life and the lead singers of my favorite bands sing songs that seem to be about me and the Netflix original series that I choose for my TV relaxation time seems to follow my personal life events with such uncanny clarity that I hesitate to describe it for fear of sounding like a schizophrenic. These breadcrumbs on my Life Path are a weird source of hope and grounding for me when the pragmatics of life fail to provide me with a solid footing.
How closely connected am I to the band and to the song?
Sometimes I don’t know.
John, Lydian, Naing Naing and I are in Ecuador now. We got here about a month ago and we’ve been living in Cuenca in a couple of apartments in a complex near the centro. We’ve all talked about staying permanently. And we’ve talked about going back to Mexico. We’ve also talked about living in both places semi-permanently.
The latter option resonates most with all of us, perhaps because Home is like the drops of iodine that I use to disinfect our Ecuadorian vegetables. The iodine drips into the bowl, contorts into Rorschach Inkblot-style shapes and then disappears. It’s still there. In fact, it’s everywhere, but nowhere. It’s presence is essential to our health and well-being, but I can no longer make it into a solid thing with a definite location. And perhaps it isn’t necessary that elusive things crystallize. Rather, for us, it seems that the crystalline shapes are dissolving.
Last week, Lydian discovered that it would be possible for her and Naing Naing to get married on an archipelago off the coast of Venezuela called St. Vincent’s and the Grenadines. Lydi and I celebrated the discovery by making a new flow chart and after that was done, she sat across the table from me, hands in her lap, with a mystical look in her eyes as she stared out the window. “I don’t care about dresses or suits, or flowers or cakes anymore.” She said. “I cared about it once, but I don’t care about that stuff anymore. I just want to find a way to be able to be with him.”
I smiled when she said this and said, “Yup. I know just what you mean.”
At lunch, we went upstairs to John’s and my apartment to introduce our latest discovery to the boys. In regard to this little known island nation I’d never heard of before, I said, “That sounds like the name of a band.”
“If it were a band,” Lydian said, “the back-up singers would wear hats made of fruit.” She mimed the hats and the mic, closed her eyes, and did a subtle undulation. Naing Naing looked up from his computer, squinted at us from the dining room table, and chuckled lightly.
I agreed. “There would be 32 back-up singers. One for each island.”
Naing Naing shook his head then and returned with focused intensity to his computer. He kind of understood the
humor, but he was only partially tuned in after half a day of doing intense computer-programming studies in English under John’s tutelage. He takes notes in both English and Burmese. On the back pages of his notebook, he has lists of Spanish words that’s he’s memorizing one-by-one. His Burmese writing is elegant because as a kid he wrote everything by hand rather than typing like most people his age in developed nations of the world. As a teenager, he studied by candlelight in a bamboo hut beside the Irawaddy River. But despite the cultural differences in terms of their upbringing, he’s got a sense of humor that matches Lydian’s. “C’MON!” Lydian says, the mimed mic still in her hand. He looks up, shakes his head at her and says, “What?”
John walked out from the kitchen just then with a potato in his left hand and a peeler in his right hand. “What are you guys talking about?”
While John and Naing Naing work together on computer programming tasks, Lydi and I spend our days researching our future and the various routes that are available to our family given the bureaucratic limitations of various countries. Every day, we uncover new caveats in plans that take shape and then lose form under the weight of this rule or that regulation. Lydi and I explained to John and Naing Naing that there was a problem with Naing Naing’s Myanmar police report. It was, technically, a small problem. The document had never been certified in Yangon. It initially appeared to be a small problem, except that in order for the police report to be double-legalized, it had to be certified. And in order to get the document certified, Naing Naing would have to go back to Myanmar, take the document to a government office and request the certification. Sending Naing Naing and Lydian back to Myanmar is something we’d all like to avoid, if at all possible. Myanmar is just one-step up from North Korea in terms of human rights abuses and oppression. It wasn’t easy to get them out. So upon discovering this issue, Lydian and I set to work trying to solve the certification problem by looking for loopholes and work-arounds.
Each problem that we encounter sucks the four of us into a labyrinth of additional problems. I have several notebooks full of flow-charts that I’ve drawn up over the past two months to try to help me jog my memory and remember the bureaucratic pathways and dead-ends between here to there. The flow-charts overlap and most of them are 3-dimensional. Over the past four weeks, Lydian and Naing Naing have worked to align on many levels in terms of which flow-chart appeals to their sensibilities. And meanwhile, Naing Naing, a young man who had never before opened a computer prior to meeting Lydian, set about learning front-end web development from John. Every day he sits next to John learning the basics and two days ago, he finished an educational suite and scored high on his assessments. I took him by the shoulders, smiled at him, and said, “You’re doing it!” He laughed and nodded, though at times he still doubts himself.
Approximately ten days ago, we’d given up on Mexico and decided to make Ecuador our permanent home. We grieved and despaired and then accepted the situation. Within hours, we were excited about permanency in Ecuador. But now it looks like Ecuador may be out of the running as a permanent abode because of that problematic certification issue with the police report. In an unexpected twist of fate, we discovered then that Mexico doesn’t require police reports and that in the state of Quintana Roo, marriage between foreigners is relatively straightforward with documents Lydi and Naing Naing already have in their possession. What Mexico wants from Naing Naing is not a guarantee that he’s an upstanding citizen, a non-criminal, but rather a duly funded bank account in U.S. dollars. Up until 3 days ago, this problem hung heavy in the air around our family. The Bank Account Problem loomed as insurmountable. In Myanmar the banks like KBZ are (according to my research) owned by the cartels and are therefore shady and pretty hard to work with (which mirrored our experience with them). These banks only function within Myanmar so an account at KBZ was mostly worthless for Naing Naing. They offer foreign currency accounts in U.S. dollars, but despite our best efforts John and I (and Naing Naing) were never able to seize on the secret handshake that would make it possible for Naing Naing to convert his KBZ account into something with actual value in the real world.
Rather than wasting our time on such a corrupt banking system, we instead turned our attention to setting up a Georgian bank account (in the country of Georgia, not the state). Over six weeks ago, we hired a law firm called Anastasiou to work out the details as Power of Attorney for Naing Naing. It was supposed to be a 24 hour service. In other words, the account was supposed to be opened within one day after all the documents were delivered, but Naing Naing is a Myanmar citizen. So six weeks later, we finally received confirmation that his account did, in fact open.
I cried privately over this event as though a miracle had happened. With the Bank Account Problem solved, it was time to draw up new flowcharts and see what new paths had opened up as a result. The path to Mexico, which had been closed before, was now wide open.
Imagine trying to travel across the planet without a bank account, dear reader. Now imagine attempting global travel with a weak passport and an invalid bank account (or no bank account at all). If you speak English fluently and you’re reading this blog post and understanding it, chances are you have no idea what I’m talking about. Who doesn’t have a bank account? And what the hell is a weak passport?
Now, try to get married to a foreigner with your weak passport and without a bank account. Add an insidious form of government oppression into the mix and you have quite a puzzle on your hands.
I shit you not.
But we aren’t totally screwed. Nope. There are solutions to the problems, but none of us knows which one will take us to a final destination, which, by the way, is not a location, but rather a state-of-mind (hopefully peaceful) or perhaps a daily routine that vaguely resembles daily routines that other people follow in other parts of the world (cooking, cleaning, working, laundry, bathing, sleeping, eating, that sort of thing)…
Or maybe it’s a way of life that we can follow in spurts with periods of transitions interrupting it at regular intervals perhaps. It’s nice to know where your socks are when you wake up in the morning. Not having to think through the motions of taking a shower (where’s the shampoo?) or brushing your teeth frees up moments to think on other things or nothing at all. And knowing where the grocery store and laundromat is located can be a real time-saver too. It’s hard to find the time to write down the mundane (and not-so-mundane) details of our lives when we don’t know where we’ll be living in a few weeks, in a few months, in a year. When this kind of uncertainty is the only certainty that we can lean on for the foreseeable future, our minds turn into this stretchy substance that bends when the wind blows. The bending is either like adaptation or insanity depending on who’s talking with us and how bendy their own minds are.
Yesterday, John and I talked about buying land in Ecuador and shipping fold-up, fold-out houses here from China. The houses are freighted overseas and lay flat with hinges that, when extended, make a fully-fledged house. I’m enamoured with them, but over lunch John voiced concerns as he and I discussed the plan.
He said, “That’s all fine and good, but what if we buy land here in Ecuador thinking, ‘hey, this is great!’ and then we find out that there are plans for a pig farm right up the road.”
He paused for a moment, realizing that a pig-farm might be too easy of a problem to solve and corrected himself:
“A nuclear pig farm.”
I looked at him without flinching at the statement and he looked back at me earnestly, unmoving. In my mind’s eye, I saw a beautiful view of the Andean mountains at sunset from a perfect lush, green landscape of passionfruit plants and orange groves and I imagined our collective naivete and those silent but deadly nuclear pigs up the road. And then I laughed at us and how stupid we all are for thinking there’s any way to ever avoid the nuclear pig farm, which is, metaphorically speaking, always up the road.
We cried we laughed so hard and I thought about how early that day, I’d quietly cried with joy about opening a bank account and how arbitrary and silly life is. But then, sitting there at the table, I plucked a green grape from its bunch in the fruit bowl between John and me and said, “Nuclear Pig would be another great name for a band.”
He nodded for a moment and then said, “Not as good as St. Vincent and the Grenadines.” while plucking off a whole handful of grapes and tossing one into his mouth.
“Nuclear Pig could be the opening act.” I offered.
“Yep. Definitely the opening act.” He agreed.