Saturday, March 18, 2017


There is a mythology of the expat aid worker, it’s sort of an inverted nationalism or perhaps a metaphor for marriage, in which you leave home and fall in love with another land. Once you’re as jaded as I am you come to realize that this is by no means the norm, but it somehow becomes a kind of holy calling, an ideal, a moral high ground – as long as you stay just short of actually “going native” this love for an adopted country is often worn as a badge of honor.

That hasn’t happened for us here in Colombia, and I’ve always felt terribly guilty about that. I don’t think this is the worst place on earth, but neither is it paradise. It’s just a place that I have failed to form any strong sense of attachment or connection to. And for this reason I have lost count of the times I've wondered whether coming here wasn't the hugest mistake. 

Last night though I was thinking about that emotional burden that I’ve placed on myself and began to consider alternative ways to look at the situation. For most of our time here I’ve believed that my lack of love for this place or its people has lowered the quality of my work, and that has been a source of shame for me. But then I began to wonder, what just is my motivation, if it isn’t love – and why am I ashamed? Maybe it’s actually more admirable, in a way, to do the work and strive to do it well even without love. They say that in marriage love is a choice you make; I think there is a parallel here because we’re talking about commitment. We made a commitment to living and working here because of something we believe in – service in the name of Christ, if you will (that’s our organization’s tagline) – and we’ve stuck it out. And I think that, overall, we’ve done a pretty good job of it.

I know I have grown tremendously, personally and professionally - and that we achieved what we came here for in the first place: living closer to family, our children learning Spanish. It hasn't been without a cost, but I'm beginning to feel that it might be possible that it has been, perhaps, worth it (have I added enough qualifiers there???)

We’ve begun the process of leaving, spending some time at the team retreat last weekend beginning to say our goodbyes. For the first time, it feels possible to actually leave well.

O Zemër

I guess it's no big secret that Terry and I really miss Albania a lot. I think I spent the first year and a half here actively grieving. I didn't realize before we left how much I had fallen in love with the place, the people. I had gotten a little bored and thought I needed a change of scenery... I wanted to be closer to family, and I wanted my kids to learn Spanish.

For me at least, my attachment to the place is inextricably connected to that phase of life with the kids. I look at pictures now and goggle at how small they were then!

But at least now I can look at those photos without my heart aching so much. I think our last visit in January last year was something I very much needed to do, in order to truly say goodbye.

I can make myself a cup of coffee in the mid-afternoon without crying. I don't feel so guilty about leaving Shpresa.

I still think it is one of the most beautiful and fascinating places I have ever been to. And that has at least a little bit to do with how we felt there among our Albanian and expat friends - wanted, appreciated, loved. 

I have found friends here; over the last year I think I finally accepted that it was ok that my closes friends are all people I work with, in most cases supervise. It doesn't seem to be an issue for the Colombian women on my team so I decided it's not an issue for me, and I've been much more content since I made that shift.

We are still uncertain about what our next steps will be. Albania could be in our future again, not only in the past. I have more thoughts about leaving that I will leave for another post - just processing in these last few months here.