Tender

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I left my dog at his new home today. The lovely people who asked to take him have been waiting anxiously, their arms looking to pet and lead. I’ve kept hold, not wanting to let go.

I finally had to let go.

He needed to be in the home that will be his forever now. 

My dog now lives on a beautiful vineyard here on our island, overlooking the sea, his backyard rows of purple grapes and blueberry bushes. 

The goodbyes have begun. The letting go has started. 

This ex-pat life. This moving life.

So much letting go. 

I tell myself this time it will be different. This island is still ours, we will still come home to it. I can see my dog, no longer my dog, whenever I come home to my island. I have be welcomed there. 

But this time, this beautiful crazy time alone on this island with my children is winding down, and will never look the same. 

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This island is full of artists who open their studios for tours.

I love to take the children to a pottery spot at the edge of an apple orchard where you can watch a woman’s hands shape clay. 

I love to take them to the weavers and watch their eyes get wide as the threads move in and out. 

Last week we took our first tour of a lavender distillery and learned the process that gives us the drops we scatter upon our pillows each night. 

Recently we happened upon a new gallery opening up, walls filled with explosive color on canvas. The kindest man walked us through each painting and when hearing my daughter is an artist he insisted we meet the artist of the work. He explained she was recovering from a stroke and tending to plants in her greenhouse below. Following him down a rocky path, past an ivy-hugged home, we came upon the glass house and met the lovely woman behind the work we were just admiring. 

What happened next was so beautiful, touched me so deeply.  This man’s tenderness to his partner was so sensory I felt I could reach out and touch it.

He explained to her, in the softest voice, that we had come to see her work.

He gently took her hand and walked her up and out of the green house, introducing us while smiling at her the entire time.

Life long loves and he was lit up completely looking at her as if they’d just met, and just that moment fallen in love.

He said he thought it would be lovely if she could come to the studio and do some art with my daughter, and would that be okay with me, as it would make this artist so happy to make art with my daughter.

Of course, I said, we’d love to.

And then he took his love’s hand and as he walked her through their garden he stopped to show her a new flower that had bloomed.

I watched them watching a single red rose blossomed in a sea of white roses, completely lost in their tenderness for each other and I thought, this, this right here is the most beautiful thing I have seen on this island. This is what I want to take away. To walk in that kind of tenderness. 

With my family. 

With my friends. 

With myself. 

I am holding onto the tenderness as I think of my dog, being gentle with my deep sadness. 

This letting go of this amazing two years.

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Parts Unknown in my very favorite show. It’s been a companion to me this last 2 years as much as my sweet dog has been, filling my nights with companionship. Night after night after night I have gone around the world with Bourdain. Night after night after night he brought me so much joy with his adventures.

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Let’s look to our neighbors.

Let’s all be tender.

Help someone.

Give them a smile.

Be patient in a store.

Be kind.

We are all trying.

We are all just trying to get through sometimes. 

The Unraveling

Uganda was familiar yet so much had changed. It still remains running in my blood, when I look at my daughter I am there, she wraps the county around me so I can still smell it and feel it, even long for it. I see in her the people I knew for 4 years, the people on the street, in the shops, walking along the road. I see them all when I look at her. And miss them.

How lucky I am to have lived in the country my daughter is from for 4 years. To know that part of her.

The city is choking. Day after day I found myself unable to breathe. When the rains came it was perfection and I loved it and then the dry would come and with each minute, day, week, month, as the moisture left the air turned brown, then grey, then dark.

My daughter started to get asthma.

My son seemed pale.

The dry season slammed us.

I started to pull in, worry. Shut myself up. Wait for the rain.

And in that waiting…

…there was the horrible food poisoning that laid my son and I down for weeks.

…the middle of the night emergency room run where no doctor was available.

…the yellow fever outbreak running through the villages coming closer to the city.

And then the election.

The president of Uganda, Museveni, was running again, his  86th term (or there about) and word was his main competitor was not going to let the election be “stolen” again.

I was hanging on when I heard phones might be shut off. I was hanging on when I was assured the UN would evacuate us if need be. I was hanging on.

And then my dear English friend who raised her children all over Africa, my dear friend who thought nothing of being in a car in the worst neighborhood without a cell phone, my dear friend who seemed to have no fear said, “Oh no, but darling you must evacuate. It’s not going to be pretty.” And then she left.

That’s when I heard the opposition was planning to burn the city down.

By the day of the election, with most of my friends gone, I was no longer hanging on.

Me, to my husband, “But how will we get out if we need to?”

Husband, “Don’t worry, we will.”

Me, “But if the city is on fire how will we get to the airport?”

Husband, “The UN will get us to the airport.”

Me, “BUT THE ROAD WILL BE ON FIRE AND THERE IS NO OTHER ROAD!”

Now I know my husband would have never let us be in a dangerous situation, but I no longer heard him. I had let go and 8 years of wandering came flooding out of me….

And then we heard the gun shots.  The walkie talkie comes on to tell of riots. The government shuts off all social media. We hear the opposition has been arrested, the streets are filled with soldiers, more riots, an occasional yell pierces through the deep silence and I felt adrift and lost and terrified! I ran to my bedroom and crawled under the bed and called my neighbor who was thankfully still there. Through sobs I told her I needed to know there was a way out. She told me she had the Irish ambassadors helicopter as her escape plan and no matter what the children and I would be on it if need be. She promised not to leave me behind. I will never forget her kindness. Those words soothed me, saved me and buffered me as we stayed by the walkie talkie and listened to it all unfold, my heart pounding in my chest while I clung to my children.

There were no fires.

The riots were very small.

I can safely assume no one else crawled under their beds with fear.

But it was clear that I needed a break. It was clear there was something more going on. It was all too much, too wonderful, too scary, too full of adventure, too much chaos to find a new center after I’d left all I’d known so very long ago.

I needed a break. I needed to go home. I needed clean air, and good food, and to just catch my breath, to feel connected. I needed to rest.

I could have never imagined when we made that choice  for me to come back that I would end up not at home, but in another country, alone on a mountainside, on a tiny island with my 2 children and nothing else and it would be nothing like rest, there would be snowstorms and power outages, my husband a million continents away. I would be more cut off than I’d ever been, more isolated and more vulnerable than I thought possible, and that it would prove to be the best and most wonderful 2 years of my life.