I spent last four days trying out my old skin – putting it on, seeing if it still fits.
This was the first time since moving away from Ireland to Germany that I flew back there to visit and remember. Reflections awakened by the experience of being there prompted this little post, as well as the whole general section in this blog, intended for those of us who call more than one or even more than two places our “home”. In moving around the patchwork map like the little chess knight figure, playing the expat hopscotch, we forget sometimes how vital it is not just to look back, but also to re-experience our past.
I came back to Hamburg (my “now-home”) today. My head is still rocking like the plane that landed in fog, and I feel my left leg firmly planted on the rock on the Atlantic, while the right one tries to find a firm footing somewhere south of the North Sea. But let me start with this statement born out of this experience: in my view it is an extremely healthy experience to play the expat hopscotch and visit places we left behind.Not just remember them passively – but go back there, try it on, see if it fits.
Before going I did not know this was a healthy experience. Habitually, I look forward first, around me second, only then (maybe) back. In some way I feel this is shared by many expats around me – people okay with change are not afraid to look ahead.
This time I realized just how much I needed to confront the “Hamburg me” with the “Dublin me” in the process of grounding myself despite transitions. The “Hamburg me” survived German classes paid in blood and sweat, months of looking for work and finding her footing in yet another country. The “Dublin me” left the reality that was sometimes frustrating and very difficult to understand, but which became very familiar, cocooning me like a blanket that I grew to know very well within 5.5 years of living there.
What was familiar back in Dublin, this time around?
I think the first familiar thing was the smell of the air. Compared to German autumn of 2016, the Irish one was more mild, more wet and warmer, without the bite. As much as I think that Irish air does not carry a strong smell – in fact I missed fragrances of the continent when I would walk through the Irish field – I could feel a certain smell of air familiarity the moment I landed.
The second familiar thing was how many systems, buildings and roads made no sense : ) Entrances opened where I would not think to look for them. Newly designed airports or tram stations would connect to nothing. Since this was an aspect of my ongoing frustrations when I lived in Dublin, I immediately recognized that feeling of being slightly lost, confused and aggravated the moment it hit me. The land of “good enough”for things that in other places would be deemed mediocre surrounded me once again. Crumbling buildings and smelling streets of north city center Dublin, I came back. Dublin really can be rough. Those aspects of the “dirty auld Dublin” are not the fondest memories of mine.
The third familiar aspect were faces of people and the sound of language. I find that the Irish bunch of the Dublin city has this particular way of looking straight at you without seeming direct. Smiles were back and eye to eye contact was back. Pleasantries that made life nicer were exchanged, some even meant though I knew from my previous life that they mostly lead nowhere, compared to laid-back and cool of Hamburg folks that leads to warm friendships once the door is ajar. The mishmash of fashion of random colors and pieces of clothing thrown together was back as well. Dublin street fashion is full of outfits, which technically should not work at all but yet they mashed and rocked, attacking my senses- and I enjoyed that fully.
I have forgotten how weird, unpleasant and beautiful at the same time Dublin accent(s) sound – well, maybe strike out beautiful for Inner City Dublin, but for other parts of the city it holds. There is a certain amount of quirk in this city and in some way for me it is definitely connected with how people speak there.
I fully enjoyed the familiarity of winding streets leading nowhere and making no particular sense, as well as facades of buildings long forgotten but lingering in outskirts of my brain. I was also astonished to see how easily I get lost in the maze of the public transportation. Once I knew this by heart, so in some way it was disheartening to know I lost it all and felt helpless.
What has changed?
Ever since moving to Germany I was aware I did not choose the easy path for an expat in her 30ties. Learning another language from nothing at 31, exploring another reality, full of unknown, all of it was not easy. But the life in Dublin did not work for my partner and it did not really work for me. While I was enjoying some aspects of my time there, I knew this was not “till death do us apart” sort of promise. We were just for the time being.
Since moving to Germany, I grew wings, even though the beginnings were really complicated. Especially in terms of my inner peace and inner “human”, I made a lot of progress. Sometimes walking through the streets of Dublin I felt like the synthesis of the younger me and who I became in Germany. I credit Hamburg with a lot of my synthesizing right now, because I feel good here, even if technically it should have been easier in Dublin due to the language. Hamburg is the outer axis that arranges the inner axis within me, and because of the relief that I felt, I could see Dublin for what it is, rather than for a place that I tried to escape.
I proved to myself, yet again, that change has no age and no limitations. Improving one’s life, trying something even radically different but healthy for our gut, is .. well, healthy. And no matter when that happens that our life takes on yet another curve, navigates yet another bend, we can take it, grow with it and fly. Hamburg more than Dublin gave me this courage, as I was making this change later in life.
What will be forever?
Even though making friends in Dublin did not prove easy for me, I left behind a couple of souls I will forever love. I made some friends who are going to be my family till the end of my life, no matter where in the world we meet. We have an ease with each other, we have our own traditions, like evenings with Canadian steak and Egyptian rice, merry people around the table in comfortable conversations and heated discussions, and a splash of wine. We all love each other and care deeply for each other, we know how to push each other’s buttons and how to help each other to get better and dream and love – and each and every one of us brings in so much to our little family. My friends still live in the same homes, and their beds and sofas, partners and dogs are comfort. This was the part of Dublin I never wanted to lose, and I have not lost: that was beautiful.
No matter what: we are forever.
How do I see Dublin now?
Do you know that feeling of meeting someone you used to go out with? Not the love of your life by any means, but that charming if weird guy, who you dated for a time, became an item, built some memories in the process but never quite fell in love with?
After the inevitable breakup you would bump into them in a store or on the street, and while looking at their slightly older face, tracing back the memories in the lines of their smile, moments not so crucial that they had been carved in your soul, but important enough for the selfish process of growing up, you would recognize the familiarity mixed with the strangeness. You would notice that conversations, which once used to flow, feel stilted now and you do not know exactly what to say – but at the same time the intonation of their voice would be familiar and one or two things they would say would make you smile in recognition..
This is how this Dublin expat hopscotch felt. Dublin and Ireland is my ex-relationship. It is the one that did not really work out, because there was not enough chemistry between us. Ireland was cranky when I felt like dancing in the sun. I was away and absent-minded when people would open up. But being away from each other did us both some good and I can now see it more for what it is rather than always judge it through my frustrations.
Not just looking back, but going there and experiencing my Dublin ex face to face allowed me to enjoy my relationship with Hamburg more. I do not know if we are a match made in heaven (or very cloudy skies no less), but our chemistry seems to be much better, and I think we are committed to each other, me and Hamburg.
It works between us : )