Am I Being Truthful When I Say, “I Miss You, Too”?

Am I Being Truthful When I Say, “I Miss You, Too”?

Homesickness – a feeling of longing for one’s home during a period of absence from it.

Wanderlust – the wish to travel far away and to many different places.

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Growing up in small-town, Warren, Ohio, one of my favorite things about summer was church camp.  Every year that I was of age to attend, my parents put my suitcase in the car and off we went to Seneca Hills Bible Camp located somewhere in the mountains of Pennsylvania. It was only about an hour or so from Warren, but it seemed far away.  They would drop me off, help me find my cabin and I was ready to say goodbye.  There were never any teary eyes that didn’t want to stay, those showed up at the end of the week when I didn’t want to leave to go back home.  Not because I didn’t love my family, friends or home, but because I just loved going places and experiencing things.  I can still remember the way the woods smelled first thing in the morning, damp with dew and a chill in the mountain air.

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Aunt Jackie and Dee in Florida

When I was older and could drive, I had an aunt, Jackie, who would call me out of the blue on say a Wednesday evening and ask if I could drive her to Florida on Friday. If I was available or could make myself available, I almost always said, “yes”.  What adventures we had.  She was a bit eccentric in choosing our accommodations, a certain city, a certain floor, things had to be just so, but what fun.  When we arrived at our destination, it was usually 2 days on the road, I might stay a day or two or a week or sometimes she put me right back on a plane home.  I loved these journeys as they were always an adventure.  Even the time she wanted me to drive her to Texas.  We stopped and enjoyed Nashville on our way there.  We arrived late in the evening in Pilot Point, Texas, our destination.  We visited a bit with our relatives we were staying with and then went to bed.  When I woke up in the morning, Aunt Jackie told me she changed her mind and wanted to go back to Warren.  So, we got in the car a few hours later and headed back to Warren, Ohio.  No, I wasn’t upset, it was Jackie and just part of the journey.  My dad used to say, “always expect the unexpected”.  Maybe those crazy trips with Aunt Jackie helped mould me into my current solo travelling self.  I have learned to not let disrupted travel plans upset me and I can usually quickly adjust to just about anything thrown my way.

Once when I was living in Paris, I decided to take a trip to the countryside by train.  I got off at the wrong stop.  I decided to walk to the village, after all, it was only a 3 km walk…WRONG…it was 8 km (I didn’t put on my glasses and the 8 looked like a 3).  Oh well, it was flippin’ hot, I didn’t have any water, but I got to see some beautiful French countryside and got a little exercise.  When I arrived in the village and found a bistro, I remember thinking it was the best glass of wine and meal I had ever tasted.  Not really, but, if you can make the best out of a bad situation, you will be much happier and if you don’t, nobody is miserable but you.

I have spent the better part of the last 5+ years travelling.  Not just travelling, but also living abroad mostly on the other side of the world, 10,000 km (6700 miles) from home.  In the beginning, I would return to Warren, Ohio for a couple weeks every 6 months, then it turned into a year, and most recently, a year and half….I have just left Warren, after being home for the longest period in over 5 years.  I spent 2.5 months in my hometown.  It was great seeing family, friends and making new friends. As you are going through a whirlwind of activities, meeting for coffee, doing lunch or dinner, going to events, visiting people’s homes or just out shopping, the one thing you always hear is, “I missed you”!  The natural response without even thinking is, “I missed you too”. Then, it’s on to the questions, “how was Bali?”, “do you miss, China?”, “how do you like your place?”, “are you glad to be back?”, etc.  You get the idea.  Being it was also around the holidays and the opening of my brother and sister-in-law’s theatre, the Robins, it was a constant flow of events.  It was a never-ending cycle of crazy, mad chaotic, fun. But truth be known, as February was drawing near, I was ready to leave.  Ready to get on with my nomadic lifestyle.

 

February 2, 2020 rolls around.  After what was at least a weeklong send-off, I boarded a plane and am now in Warsaw Poland.  I plan to be here, there, everywhere, probably Bali too, for at least the next year and a half, maybe longer.  Two nights ago, I had a video chat with a group of girlfriends playing trivia at the bar of Jacked Restaurant in Warren.  The place was packed and hard to hear at times, but the phone got passed around and all the I love you; I miss you’s were said. Near the end of the video chat, someone asked, “don’t you miss us and wish you were here”?  Well, a couple of seconds passed, I didn’t answer, and my friend Teri said, “look at that face, that tells it all”.  All I could do was shrug my shoulders and give a half of a smile.  I chatted with a few more people and we ended the call.

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For the last two days I have been thinking about that question and my response, or should I say, non-response.  Was it snobbish?  Does it seem like I don’t like life in Warren/America and the rest of the world is much better?  No…I know my friends know me better than that. They know I love to travel and it is what I want to do currently.  I am living my dream. But, am I being honest when I say, “I miss you too”? Now I want the chance to explain my non-response.

The first time I left for an extended period, I went to Paris, France for nearly 7 months.  Honestly, I didn’t miss anything while I was there.  It was a dream come true.  I didn’t miss any foods from home, I didn’t miss my stuff, I didn’t miss my family or friends.  I do think social media had a lot to do with it on my first extended trip.  Facebook whore that I am, my life was and is pretty much an open book.  The other thing, my family and friends knew this was what I needed at exactly this time in my life.  They also knew I had an end date, a date when I would return for what everyone thought was long term.  I arrived back in Warren, Ohio and discovered more than anything I missed the adventure of living abroad.  I seriously missed being gone and soon made plans to move to China.  Again, this had an end date.  My visa was only good for 6 months and I had to leave China whether I wanted to or not.  I returned to the USA and immediately got another visa.  This time good for 10 years and I returned to China without a return ticket.  Although I would return for a brief visit after 1 year. During that first 6 months and the 3.5 years that followed, I thought I missed things, especially cheese.  I quickly learned that I could live without these things.  The things I was seeing, doing, eating, experiencing far outweighed what I thought I was missing.  I also realized that some of my feelings were really FOMO – Fear of Missing Out.  Missing out on family and friend’s life events.  Missing that wedding, that “special” birthday, that funeral, that birth…but the more I thought about those things the more I knew that my family and friends understood that I could still love them without being geographically near.  They know I share in their joys and sorrows. They know I am a text, a Facebook post, an Instagram picture or a video chat away.

I don’t think I have ever felt homesick.  The closest I may have been to homesick was when I broke my back.  But even then, that was probably better described as feeling helpless not homesick as I had to have a caregiver assist me with everyday simple tasks.  Yes, I have a bad case of wanderlust.  I have met so many beautiful people along my journey, I must honestly say, I will miss many of them.  That is because I know I will never see them again and they have taken a piece of my heart.  So, friends and family, when I say, “I miss you, too”, I am being honest, but I miss you in a different way than I miss those I will never see again.  I miss you and look forward to seeing you, but not always in our home environment.  I miss you and look forward to seeing you, but my wish is that I could see you and share with you the geographical and cultural situation I happen to be in at the time.  I know this isn’t possible for everyone and I hope you understand when maybe I don’t answer that question, “don’t you wish you were here”.  Maybe that’s why I always say my theme song is “I Wish You Were Here”.  Because I really do wish you were here. Thank you all for being a part of my journey, I love you.

I’m going to end with a quote from Hannah Arendt.  “Loving life is easy when you are abroad.  Where no one knows you and you hold your life in your hands all alone, you are more master of yourself than any other time.”

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Yayasan Widya Guna-Volunteering at a School for Special Needs in Bali

Yayasan Widya Guna-Volunteering at a School for Special Needs in Bali

After leaving China and before I returned to Warren, Ohio for the holidays and most importantly the Grand Re-Opening of the Robins Theatre, I knew I wanted to first travel to Vietnam and then on to Bali, Indonesia.  Having been to Bali twice previously, I wanted to spend an extended period on this trip.  But what would I do for nearly 4 months?  Yes, I had friends coming to visit me!  Yes, there is a lot to see.  Yes, I wanted to take a side trip to Singapore.  Yes, I had my Kenari House family, but I felt like I wanted to “do something” while I was there.

Okay, so what kind of “something” can I do?  GTS…. Google That Shit!  But first, I knew I better check immigration laws.  A work visa was out of the question, but a social visa was a possibility and an extended stay visa even more doable.  After more research on the social visa, being that I was living in BFE China, I would need to travel to the Indonesian Embassy in Beijing and most likely need to spend 5 to 7 days.  As an American citizen living abroad, the task was a bit more difficult than applying in my home country. I would have to find a sponsor in Bali, they would have to write a letter and then I had all the hoops to jump through.  Since I didn’t have “something” to do yet, finding a sponsor was, well, not likely.  A little more GTS and I learned how to go about an extended stay visa.  As a US citizen, I had 30 days visa-free without a fee.  I found out that upon arrival if I paid $35 for a visa on arrival, I could extend it for another 30 days at the immigration office in Denpasar. The free visa cannot be extended.  This would mean I had to make 3 trips to the immigration office and more hoops, but, if I used a visa agency in Ubud, for a fee, of course, they would jump all the hoops and my visa would be extended for another 30 days.  Since I also wanted to go to Singapore for a weekend, I just had to go before my 60 days were up. Then because I had left the country, when I returned to Bali, I could go through the whole cycle again and easy peasy, I had my 120 days in Bali.  Just for the record and if anyone is interested for future travel to Bali, it is 120 days, not 4 months.  They count days, so if a month has 31 and you leave Bali on that 31st  or 61st day, you will be fined 1,000,000 rupiahs for overstaying your visa.  It is 1,000,000 rupiahs fine for each day you overstay.  Yes, they check because I know people who had to pay the fine.  They don’t take immigration lightly in Indonesia.

Now I knew how I could stay for 120 days, but I still didn’t have “something” to do, it was back to GTS.  Since I had spent the past 4 years teaching English, I started with teaching opportunities.  Of course, without a work visa, I would have to volunteer my time.  That is how I found Yayasan Widya Guna in Bedulu, Bali.  It was a mere 15 minutes down the road, by car or scooter, from Kenari House.

Yayasan Widya Guna is an Indonesian non-profit organization whose focus is their children’s learning center.  It serves Balinese children who come from unfortunate situations.  They have taken in orphans and provided them with food, shelter and an education.  They support children with all ranges of physical and/or mental disabilities, including but not limited to; downs, autism and cerebral palsy. They also offer English lessons to the village children after their regular school day is over, free of charge.  Their mission is to: Educate the underprivileged Balinese children to be independent and bring them a better future with their own knowledge, culture and skills.  I decided I had found my “something”.   I contacted the Yayasan and they welcomed me to volunteer and sent me all the information to get started.  I decided I would give them 6 weeks of my stay in Bali.  This left me plenty of time to entertain my guests, visit Singapore and just enjoy Bali.

I spent the end of July and all of August at Kenari House.  It was during August that my guests from the USA came to join me at Kenari House and discover Bali.  On Sunday, September 1, 2019, I left Kenari House and moved to Ketut Sadia Homestay which is a 2-minute walk from the Yayasan.  Ketut Sadia is the founder of the school.  He encourages volunteers to use his homestay.  Just like at Kenari House, I paid for a room in the homestay.  By using the homestay of the school, the monies you pay for accommodation directly support the school.  Also, in exchange for your volunteer time, the homestay provides 3 meals a day at no additional cost.

I was the only volunteer at the homestay when I arrived.  This is because many of the volunteers leave the area and explore Bali and the surrounding islands on the weekends.  Our volunteer hours were Monday – Thursday and from 10 am until noon and from 1 to 3 pm, unless you were teaching English to the Village kids then you worked from 2 to 4 in the afternoon.  I spent 1 week of my 6 teaching the English class.  Finishing at 3 or 4 on a Thursday makes for a nice long weekend.  Being it was my 3rd time in Bali and I would have 6 weeks free after my volunteering time, I often chose to stay in Bedulu and enjoy the solitude of the weekends.  By Sunday evening, most of the volunteers had returned from their adventures.  We had “kids” from the Netherlands, Germany, China and Australia when I arrived.  I say “kids” because they were all mostly between 21 and 25 years old.  There is a constant turnover of volunteers at the Yayasan.  Some come for 1 week, some 2, others 3 to 6 months.  I met a lot of great people during my 6 weeks and became good friends with several of those “kids”.  I also learned as we sat around and chatted that first evening that many of the volunteers were students and this was fulfilling an internship requirement, many of them in Physiotherapy.  They also filled me in on the ins and outs of a typical day and a bit about some of the students.

I’m not sure if it was because of my age or I just got lucky, but the rooms at the homestay were all doubles or triples.  I had my room to myself for the entire 6 weeks.  In the mornings, I was usually the first one up…ha…imagine that…me who loves to sleep.  Well, it wasn’t exactly the wee hours of the morning.  Breakfast was served at 9 and we didn’t have to be at the Yayasan until 10.  So, I was usually on my porch around 8:30 so I could sip my coffee and get ready for the day.

Day 1…. I walk to the Yayasan with the other volunteers at about 9:55. It really is no more than a 5-minute walk.  The kiddos (students) immediately noticed a new face…me!  I was bombarded with hugs and “what’s your name”? By now it was time to get started with our day.  Every day begins with 30 minutes of meditation.  WOW!  I can’t tell you how great this was.  I honestly think it made a difference in not only the kids but the volunteers as well.

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Morning Meditation

After meditation, its time to head to the classroom.  I was assigned to what I later found out they called “the zoo”.  It was the largest and most active class.  Each class has a local Balinese teacher and then us volunteers.  The number of volunteers changes from week to week.  All I can say is by 12:00, I was exhausted.  Not only day 1, but every day after also.  From 10:30 until noon Monday-Thursday is spent in the classroom with a 15-minute snack break about 11:15. While the classroom sessions are going on, some of the children are also receiving physical therapy.

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The “zoo” with a few missing

Many of the children receive therapy every day.  Along with the volunteers who are doing their internship, the Yayasan also has Balinese therapists on staff. We also had 2 deaf children that were learning sign language.

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Monday Lung – Nasi Goreng

 

After the morning session, we headed to the homestay for lunch and a much-needed rest.  As a side-note, the other “younger” volunteers got worn-out too. It is mentally, physically and emotionally challenging working with these children.  But more than anything, it was very rewarding. The morning sessions rarely changed, but afternoons were different every day.  Monday afternoons were spent doing arts and crafts.  Often making things to sell in the small gift shop.

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Music Class

 

Tuesday afternoons were music.  A Balinese volunteer brings a keyboard and some rhythm instruments, and the afternoon is spent singing, dancing and having fun.  I think it is the kid’s favorite day of the week. Wednesdays are yoga.  Again, a volunteer comes to the Yayasan, the kids get the yoga mats and practice yoga.  After 1 hour of yoga, the last hour is spent dancing.  The volunteers don’t work on Fridays, but Fridays are when the local teachers help them learn traditional Balinese dances.

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Yoga

 

They also have several older students at the Yayasan.  They prepare the morning snacks; they assist with preparing lunch and spend time working in the garden.  The Yayasan has a large garden a few minutes’ walk from the property.  Here they grow herbs and vegetables to be used in the preparation of the meals.  There are also many fruit trees; papaya, banana, mango, guava and avocado on the property.  Everything grown is used at the school or at the homestay.  After I left, I found out they were going to open a café so the students could learn not only to prepare food but wait on customers and take money.  They want to teach the students to be as self-sufficient as possible. The older students are also responsible for the daily offerings that are an important part of Balinese culture.  One of the older boys also taught me how to make incense sticks which they sell in their gift shop.

You will often see parents hanging out at the Yayasan.  They assist with clean-up and general maintenance of the property along with any other needed tasks.  I really felt like part of a big extended family during my volunteer time.  It was hard not to get attached to some of the kids, parents and staff, and I must admit, I had a couple favorites.  It was a wonderful, rewarding experience and I’m glad I found my “something to do” for 6 weeks of my time in Bali.

I’m going to end with two sayings that were painted on the outside of two of the buildings:

We are all from the same seed, growing to the same sun.  Together our love will color the world.

Allow differences, respect differences until differences are no longer different.

Why I Came Home

Why I Came Home

I am sitting in my temporary home in Ursus district of Warsaw Poland, having just spent 2.5 months back home in Warren, Ohio after leaving Bali, Indonesia in mid-November.  Why?  Simple…my brother, Mark and my sister-in-law, Lori.  Did I come home to see them for the holidays?  Not really, as I hadn’t spent the holidays in the USA in 7 years.  I came because they had turned a dream into a reality.  The historic Robins Theatre in our hometown…opened in 1923…..closed in 1974….sat vacant for 45 years….was re-opening January 9, 2020.  It was re-opening because Mark, Lori and a crew of dedicated workers spent 2 years restoring it to its original glory.  Although he had developed other areas of our downtown, the Robins Theatre was the crown jewel of his vision.  Mark and I had always been close growing up.  He will always be my best friend.  Lori and I worked together for years at the local YMCA and that’s how she met Mark.  There was no way I was going to miss sharing this evening with them.

How do you begin to describe the most amazing evening of your life? I keep an album of quotes. One I look at frequently is “What a wonderful thought it is that some of the best days of our lives haven’t happened yet!” I’ve had some pretty amazing moments/days/nights. I have sipped champagne at the top of the Eiffel Tower at midnight with who I thought was the love of my life, my bff and her hubby.  I have overnighted on Mount Everest Base Camp where I witnessed the most glorious sunset. I’ve dined at the Captain’s Table on a cruise ship somewhere in the Mediterranean.  I’ve walked the same path the Dalai Lama walked in the Potala Palace in Tibet. I’ve climbed the Great Wall of China and visited the DMZ between North and South Korea.  I’ve stood at the Gate to Heaven at Pura Lempuyang, Bali and have seen the 2200-year-old Terracotta Army of Emperor Qin in Xi’an, China.  In 2002, I watched the funeral procession of the Queen Mum in London.  I’ve ridden a camel in the Gobi Desert, had an “elephant massage” in Thailand, visited Angkor Wat and exhumed, cleaned and prepared a body for cremation.  The list could go on, but right now nothing can top January 9, 2020.

Mark is a structural engineer by trade.  A little over 2 years ago he purchased the Robins Theatre in our hometown, Warren, Ohio.  Prior to that, he had developed several other properties in the downtown area, including 10 condos and some restaurants.  But the Robins Theatre would be the star, the House That Mark (and Lori) Built.  Living in China for those 2 years, I was always excited when he sent me updates, photos and news articles about the Robins.  It seemed all of Trumbull County was getting excited.  I was too.  It was also bittersweet, as the 2 people, our mom and dad, who would be most proud, where no longer with us.

I arrived on November 15, 2019, and my life was a whirlwind of activity.  With a 13-hour time difference from Bali to Ohio, I only slept about 2 hours that first night/morning.  I know Mark is an early riser and would be at the theatre as time was getting close to the “soft opening”

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Sure enough, I found him in coveralls and a bandana at 6:30 am working on last-minute details for the December 7th trial run.  I was “blown away” is an understatement.  From a paint peeling, broken down, dilapidated building, to the hidden gem it was…..it was breathtaking!.  The “soft opening” took place with a few minor glitches, but it had NE Ohio buzzing about January 9, 2020.  The theatre also held 2 Christmas Eve Services which were attended by nearly 2000 people.  The city couldn’t wait for the Grand Re-Opening.

The big night is getting close, the grand piano has been delivered and is centre stage.  Much to everyone’s surprise, Mark sits at the piano and begins to play.  A talent no one knew he had.  He had studied with a woman who had trained students for the Metropolitan Opera, Audrey Benedict.  I wouldn’t write this here except a video of Mark playing got out to the news.  He studied under her for 11 years.  At the age of 12, she enrolled him in a 4-year course from the Sherwood School of Music in Chicago.  Between the ages of 10 and 16, he won four local, three district, three state and 2 national piano titles.  He also won a Beethoven, Bach and Sonatina national piano guild title in each category.  But the stage January 9th was not about him.

January 9, 2020, finally arrives with headliner Big Bad Voodoo Daddy and 3 local musicians with National Fame, Dana Morgan, Cheryl Warfield and Dennis Drummond.  But they would have to wait…wait until the true stars were introduced.  First, I need to backtrack.  The night was like the Oscars.  The marquee was lit and flanked by spotlights seen for miles.  The red carpet was laid because all of Warren, Trumbull County and NE Ohio were the stars. Swag bags were passed out by the high school football players.  It was a black-tie night and I was in my gown.  I live just around the corner from the theatre, a one-minute walk at most.  At about 6 pm, a white stretch limo pulls up and Mark, in his tuxedo, gets out of the car and walks to me.  He puts his arms around me, and I immediately start to cry.  This is the night he has been waiting for.  He escorts me to the limo and once inside, pours me a glass of champagne and says, “here’s to mom and dad”.  The limo pulls away and drives around the block and Mark, Lori and I, along with our family and friends walk the red carpet to the most amazing night of my life.

The theatre is buzzing, people are oohing and ahhing and I know my brother is behind the curtain.  He told me as he stood back there, the pride he felt was unparalleled in his time on this earth.  He walked out to a standing ovation.

The theatre was at capacity (1350) and they all stood for him, but as he soon told them, not for him but for every single person who had a hand in the restoration.  He then, one by one introduced his tuxedo-clad crew.  They walked head held high and proud across the stage as he introduced each one and told what their part in the restoration was.  Then, he asked if everyone liked the chandelier and all the bling in the theatre.  Hands clapped and patrons yelled yes as he introduced the person responsible, the “person near and dear to his heart”, his wife, Lori.  It truly was a night to remember and the best night of my life, so far!

 

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