As we wearily readied ourselves two Saturdays ago to jostle with other shoppers and snag a plum parking spot at the IKEA near the German city of Cologne, my husband and I looked at each other and wondered aloud, “How often have we done THIS???”
The “THIS” in upper case refers to yet another intercontinental move in our 12 years of marriage, which by the way we spent unspectacularly this year, apart. (Me in Malaysia promoting my book; my husband at our new abode, unpacking a seemingly endless number of boxes.)
Well, in the month or so that I took a break from this column, much has indeed happened.
Previously, I’d written that we were preparing for our move back to Germany, but to a new city for both my husband and myself.
We were loath to reveal to our initially rejoicing friends in Frankfurt that we wouldn’t be returning to “Mainhattan” after all. (Mainhattan is a play of words on the River Main – pronounced “mine” – that runs through Frankfurt, and the city’s skyscrapers that resemble those of New York’s iconic borough.)
So we thought we’d rip the bandage and yet cleverly delay the burn by posting a picture of ourselves on Facebook holding up our new home state’s coat of arms. Perhaps the time spent Googling it would soften the blow. Or so we thought.
“Bonn??!!” came the almost instantaneous response from one girlfriend, complete with none-too-pleased emoticon.
“Why? Frankfurt not good enough for you?” came her huffy riposte, even as I was furiously typing a placatory explanation.
Others were less emotional. They rationalised that being separated by a 55-minute speed train ride or a 1 hour and 57-minute drive is miles better than an eight-hour intercontinental flight.
On the one hand, I was inwardly pleased to have been blessed to enjoy friendships that now produce such outbursts. Yet, it is a stark reminder that I won’t be able to simply drop in on my friends as and when I please as yet. With 173.9km between us, we can’t always catch up in person, and we’d still have to fall back on Facebook, WhatsApp or Skype.
To me, this also means the inevitable: starting over again. Finding new friends, a new faith family, new social pursuits, new fitness centre or regime, even a new hairstylist. Those grey hairs have begun sprouting again and I desperately miss Vicki, my bubbly Balinese stylist back in DC who could colour and dry cut my curls with such aplomb! Will I ever find as deft a duplicate here? Only time – and experimenting – will tell.
Sure, in the larger scheme of things, all this sounds very much like white whine now. But trust me, the nitty-gritty can and do add up.
Presently, however, I’m more distracted by the unpacking and learning the lay of the land. Kudos must go to my husband for having doggedly unpacked and cleared out as many boxes as he could while I was in Malaysia. However, he wisely left all the boxes marked “Brenda: clothes/shoes/bags” for me to handle. I’ll have to grudgingly admit that it is indeed a LOT to handle.
I’m also slowly getting used to driving again after a two-year hiatus of doing most things on foot or via train. Right now, I’m content zipping around our neighbourhood and the adjacent towns for groceries or households items. I haven’t worked up the nerve to venture onto the Autobahn just yet.
I must add though that Bonn and its people had already made a good impression on me way back in 2006. My husband and I had to spend a week there at an orientation course meant to prepare us for our posting in Vietnam.
I still recall how surprised I was at the chattiness of the service staff and people in general. I thought I’d slipped into some parallel universe after having ranted in this self-same column back then about the surliness of my host countrymen. Naturally, my benchmark then was limited to my husband’s home state of Hessen, which isn’t quite known for chipper folk.
(Now, I understand that they don’t mean to be unfriendly; they are simply more reserved.)
We’ve nevertheless been fortunate to experience the Bonn bonhomie almost from the get-go this time. Our neighbours have welcomed us, accepted parcels for us, and one is even helping us set up lights and electronic equipment in our home. This is all new to me.
It somewhat cushions the hard reality of being so close to all that is pleasant and familiar, and yet being so far.
But it also makes you wonder if it’s time to check the wanderlust and instead put down roots somewhere. Either way, you’ll read about it here.
Brenda Benedict is a Malaysian currently setting up home in Bonn. Given the number of boxes she still has to unpack, she’s now seriously considering the KonMari Method. Follow her at facebook.com/SambalOnTheSide.