Me, Myself and My Stuff
On September 14th 2011 I’m celebrating my 10th anniversary in London. This is a huge number. Sometimes, I still cannot take it all in. I’ve spent the first 10 years of my life after finishing university in Romania, as an expat in London.
I decided to take on Kristin’s challenge and write about my connection to stuff and the things I brought with me when I relocated to London.
I came here with one big 23-kg-piece of luggage whose handle broke sometime during my connecting flight from Budapest. I still smile when I remember my cousin’s struggle to carry it through the London tube. I landed at Heathrow, which is somewhere in the West, outside London, far, far away from the city. My cousin lived in Newham, in the far Eastern part of London. It was a long tube ride. But I didn’t care. I was mesmerized by how new, clean and modern everything looked. So different from the dusty, parched streets and ashy blocks in Bucharest.
Even the house that was to be my home for the following seven months (and which, by the way, was almost a dump) seemed amazing. For the first time in my life, I was actually going to live in a two-story-house in the city. Not in an apartment in a high block of flats with a claustrophobic lift and walls that were begging for a fresh coat of paint. No sir! A real house with a garden and two bathrooms! It was the coolest thing ever!
But getting back to the matter in hand…my big suitcase. I don’t remember much about its contents. Some clothes, a few books and photos of my family, of course the customary medicines (my mom’s a pharmacists and she always has to see that I am sorted, just in case I get the flue or a stomach bug). I remember bringing my expat friends in London some herbal teas, a bottle of pure-fire Romanian brandy and home-made Romanian bacon (honestly!!) that some of the guys in the house had specifically requested.
What I do remember stashing away in my luggage were my diaries, letters and postcards I had been collecting from my high school days. So petrified was I at the thought of my parents reading my ramblings that when I left Bucharest and returned home to pack for London, I asked my high school dear friend, Andreea to keep them safe in her house until my departure. It’s silly, thinking back. I know my mom wouldn’t have read them, but then again, one can never be too sure.
I still have those writings: a beginning of a short novel, some badly written poetry, three diaries filled mainly with silly thoughts and details about the guys I had crushes on, and rants about what I thought was the horrible army-style upbringing my parents thought fit to adopt; the letters that Andreea and I were writing to each other almost daily, despite the fact that we used to share a desk in school. Some funny notes we used to write each other and to some other good friends during the boring maths classes. A kind of analogue Twitter or Skype: I would write a line, then Andreea would reply, or Dana, or Oriana.
I had a hard time in London in the first six months. Memories of endless rainy days and heavy tears still fill me with an unexplainable sadness. I was missing my friends in Bucharest, missing my apartment, my folks and the places where I used to hang out. I even missed my newspaper six-day-a-week job, when Sunday was a working day. Especially since, in London, I was also working six days a week until 8pm, for a Bulgarian “business” whose owners treated employees like inmates in a prison. I remember feeling the waves of anguish at the thought of never being able to adapt and fit in this detached, emotionless society, where one didn’t know his neighbours and where the skies looked like lead day in-day out.
When times got unbearable, I would read and re-read those pages filled with naive, silly schoolgirl thoughts. When reality was too much, I immersed in a world scented with memories of happier times when the greatest worry of all was not knowing what to wear the following day. The irony of all things was that the young, immigrant adult that I was, found refuge in a time and space she so desperately had wished to outgrow.
As for the rest of the things I left in Romania, I made sure my mother sent them all, one by one, with the Romanian truck drivers who used to round their wages by charging people like myself in exchange of secure passage of such dear things from home.
You see, I am one of those persons who doesn’t take separation well. Any kind of separation – be it human or not. I am kind of a junky when it comes to my stuff. I need to hold on to most of my things simply because they are snippets of my life; because they remind me of things, people and places I don’t want to sweep away and dump in the life’s garbage bin.
I’ve kept most of my 22-month old son clothes, from the day he was born. Because they remind me of the happiest moments of my life, of those precious, precious tiny feet and hands, his first sounds and experiences of the outside world. All these things that I want to keep alive forever. Every now and then I win the battle with myself and select a few things that I send off to charities. It feels good but also sad, because I feel like I am giving away a piece of me. What I never, ever give away, though, is stuff that my mom bought me. Not even things I don’t really like. Same goes for most of the things i get from Sergiu and my brother.
Romanians have this tradition: when somebody dies, the family left behind gives away his or her belongings after 40 days from the burial. This is a horrible thought plundering my mind, and I don’t know how in the world I would be able to part from things belonging to my loved ones. I don’t even want to know how I can face parting from the people themselves. Even if that means me going first. On a rational level, I know this is the way things are: you are born, you live, you die. You buy things, you wear them, you throw or give them away for somebody else to use them…but for me…this is unbearably hard to accept.
It often feels like a burden and I do work with myself to become better at saying good bye to the things I own and never use. It’s a slow process. One battle I am hoping to win someday. Because in the end, they are JUST things. The memories are already safe, locked in my heart and senses for eternity.
Such a beautiful post! Love the image of the broken handle on the suitcase you took to London. Stuff–and our connections to it–is such an integral part of our expat experience.
Thanks so much for using Prompt #2 and sharing your response with me. (I’ve now Tweeted it to the world!)
Kristin, thank you so much for getting back to me and for tweeting my post. I tell you, that handle was such a hassle! Look forward to Prompt no. 3!
Amazing story- believe it or not I can see myself first time when I arrived in Ireland 11 years ago. Best wishes, xxdiana
Diana, thank you for your comment. I guess most of us have been through the same kind of experiences when relocating to a foreign country. It’s seems such a long time ago…like another lifetime. hope you & the family are well. and hopefully, we’ll see each other soon.
Ohhh, my dear….i came here 4 years ago and i remember clearly how hard it was!! It was my first fly and i was alone as my boyfriend at that time, my husband now, staied in Romania for another month. I couldn’t even “enjoy” my first fly or realise what was happening to me as i was crying really badly…I felt very lonley and i thought that everything was going wrong! It has been really really hard for several months until we’ve got settled and got used with everything but we don’t regret a thing. We are now a happy familly with 2 beautifull kids and we’ve realised in sutch a short time something that i’m shure that we wouldn’t have been able to realise in Romania. All the best my dear!!
Elena, I think it;s hard for every expat to adjust to a new country, new environment and new people. Especially if those two people are so different. Thank you for sharing and yes…I do agree that no matter how tough it is, it is well worth it. It took me 10 years to finally be able to say this!
I will never forget how quick you were to part with your bracelet when I ‘d said I ‘d liked it. We were in Colledge. Oana and me were staying at your place for days or even weeks and eating your food and wearing your clothes. It was so clear to me things meant nothing to you. you were so quick to give everything. That’s Maria I know. don’t mislead people!:)
I imagine foreignness can be very overwhelming, but not for your big heart. I miss you.You are very brave and strong.
Laura dear…that was something else: I gave you that bracelet because you are my dear, dear friend and you liked that bracelet. As for wearing my clothes…that;s the thing…you gave them back to me…although, I don’t remember you wearing many of my clothes…we had different dress styles, didn’t we? I miss you too. I hope soon you’ll come to visit us again. this time with the whole “army”!
Such a nice post, Maria! I almost felt the tears and the fears of your first months in London….
You used to write letters to your best friend in highschool too? It made me smile, as dear memories came to mind!
Oh, those times!
We came to Shanghai with two suits cases. One of the things I had in mine was… hair color! I was literally blonde at that time! :))
:)) hair colour…oh yeah…I remember regretting I didn’t get some myself. I soon found out the UK ones were not doing what it said on the tin. And I was platinum blonde as well. And the hair salons were something of a dream considering the prices they charge here for a simple colour and cut. I used to regret relocating and was promising to myself that after my masters I would go back to my poor, lovely country where people were friendly and apartment doors still stayed unlocked during the day. Of course I was idealising everything about Romania in the beginning. But it still took me 10 years to finally accept I will still be here for a long time.
Nice! I am waiting for the next episode though. I want to know the path you took to change those fears into confidence. To hear about your life then and now, I’llbe a haapy reader 🙂
Good job with your blog, I enjoy reading your articles!
Claudia, lovely to see you here. You gave me an idea for a future post. Watch this space for the follow up. How are your beautiful girls?
Thank you for your kind words. Hope i will keep you entertained for a long time to come.