Stories from four continents

{Why do you stay in prison when the door is so wide open?~Rumi}
A story about one small bird

At 6:40 a.m. on Friday morning, I was sitting in our apartment building’s tuk-tuk, waiting for the noisy little vehicle to leave for school. It was the end of our first week back after Christmas vacation and I was still feeling a bit bleary-eyed. Suddenly, a bird whizzed by the tuk-tuk like a tiny cannon ball and flew right into the lobby. “Ack” thought I. “Ack!” thought the bird. (Although I can’t actually read the thoughts of birds, I’m pretty certain that “Ack!” was the emotion foremost on its mind.)  Not surprisingly, the trapped bird quickly became disoriented and distressed.

The bank of windows running along the front of the building enabled me to watch the bird’s frantic flight path down to the kids’ playroom and back to the reception desk. Although the front doors were open, the harried little bird flew right past them, again and again, as it repeated its futile journey to the end of the lobby and back. I was rooting for the little bird, willing it out through the wide-open doors and up into the bright blue Bangkok sky, but the bird was unable to see the escape route so obvious to the people watching. I began to worry that the bird’s tiny heart might explode inside its rib cage but, as the tuk-tuk pulled out of the parking lot, one of the security guards was making his way inside to help.

A metaphor and some advice
During the ride to school, I realized that my interest/investment in this situation transcended the story of one trapped little bird. This bird’s voyage was, of course, a metaphor. Nothing was preventing the bird from leaving the building and yet it could not find its way outside. This bird reminded me of… me. I began to think about the response I had just received from Jonathan Fields at Awake at the Wheel in answer to a question I had asked as part of his Renegade Birthday Giveaway.

Monna says:
Jan 14, 2010 at 7:52 am
Thanks for the lovely reverse birthday gift. I dig it!
How can I improve my blog for readers who enjoy stories about expat life (stories from four continents) while building an audience for the book I plan to write?

Jonathan Fields says:
Jan 14, 2010 at 1:53 pm
Monna – you pretty much said it. Improve your blog by improving your stories. Marketing is important, but content is still very much king.

Like the bird trapped inside my apartment building, we are sometimes unable to see what is right in front of us. We (consistently) miss the EXIT even though the door is marked with a bright neon sign designed specifically for our exit-ing convenience. We say (shout) that we want out… but then we don’t leave the building. We simply lose our way.

A purpose re-visited
In December of 2006, a few months after moving to Barcelona, I began blogging because I wanted to share my stories of creating a life as a Canadian living abroad. I was fully aware that some of the storytelling would involve serious excavation work; accessing my memories of life in Mexico and Colombia (where I lived more than a decade ago) would require a willingness to crawl back into the dark and dusty duct-work of my mind. Undaunted, I began to recall and record as these are the types of stories I love best. When browsing the travel section of a bookstore, I always gravitate towards the stories of expats who have moved to foreign lands and created a home. I can’t help but cheer for that strange brand of people who give up everything they know in order to re-plant themselves… who learn the customs and the language… who struggle and make mistakes… who grow and prosper like some weird and resilient plant that grows out of the rocks.

In retrospect, I did pretty well at first. I wrote about cultural adaptation and awkward (sometimes infuriating) cultural incidents and the wacky, disorienting things that happen when you are a fish living outside the familiar waters of your own nation-state’s fish bowl. Then (and you know I’m not the first one to whom this has happened) I began to focus too much of my energy on blog statistics and the format of my blog. Although I realized that it was happening, and wrote about it at Slow Blogs here and here, I failed to re-commit myself to the the original purpose of the blog.

{Purpose: To share well-written and interesting stories about our experiences as we’ve lived and loved and worked on four continents.}

I lost my way.

I’ve learned, the hard way, that awareness and action are not synonyms.

An action promised
Here’s the action, kids. I’ve got a truck load of stories about living overseas for more than a decade. Some of these are celebratory tales of happy encounters, meaningful discoveries and rock-your-world joy. There are also hard-to-tell stories about conflict and mis(sed)communication and not belonging. In the end, many of these stories will reveal that I am (spectacularly) less than perfect. I’m going to be leaving all of these stories on the floor of this little blog house just as I intended to when first I began blogging.

So here’s to Jonathan Fields’ sage (not to mention free) advice and his gentle push towards the door. Here’s to new beginnings. Here’s to stories about real people (us and you) and how we’ve been transformed through travel and the act of setting down roots in new countries. Here’s to stories from four continents.

I’d love to know what stories you’d like to hear. Is there something about our odd little life that you’ve been wondering about?  Ask me anything.


  1. what a wonderful, thoughtful post. what i love to read most are stories of intercultural adjustment, of being human in the midst of great change or unfamiliarity, of the joys you can find anywhere (food, color, smiles).

  2. @ jessievThanks for taking the time to visit and comment. I really struggled with this post… it took some courage to be this honest and considerable time and effort to convey exactly what I meant. Thanks for your encouraging words!

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