Finding My Place

My heart is a muddled mess. It isn’t broken but it feels bruised. I need a bulldozer to push away the rubble of mixed emotions with its claw-like ripper and smooth out the uneven ground I am walking on here.

I hate that I struggle with change. Why can’t I be one of those people who hops, skips and whistles their way into new territory, forging ahead, waving goodbye to their past with a thoughtless, over-the-shoulder wave? For me, change, this kind (and any kind) of profound and life- altering change, challenges my character and my will, and dares me to face it head on with bravery and confidence. I’m getting better at it, I really am.

But today, I feel robbed. I want to chase and take down the thief who has stolen from me all that I loved about life in Bahrain. I want to retrieve it and run the other way as fast as I can.

But then, as much as I want it all back, I also desire to embrace what’s ahead. (Where is that bulldozer?!)

Let me put it in writing that I am so grateful for the opportunity to live in Italy. I like Italy. I like its people. I look forward to exploring the coastlines of Croatia, the ruins of Rome and the slopes of Switzerland. I am eager to move into our downtown flat and frequent the markets and fests and walk the kids to school on cobblestoned streets and ride a bicycle with a basket. There are olive mills awaiting my visit and vineyards with grapes to be stomped on, wines to be tasted and cheeses to be savored. The hills of Tuscany beckon my return. The lakes of Trentino and Como will be dazzling, I am sure of it.

However, amidst the anticipation and pleasure of such adventures, there are many hours spent alone hoping to find my new place sooner than later, my niche in this foreign community. I often envy Josh, I’ll admit; from place to place, there is a built-in network of support and interaction through work and colleagues. There is purpose and drive, with the direction clearly laid out before him. For me, there are just arrows and arrows, pointing in no particular direction but in all directions, demanding I find my way.

I don’t skim surfaces and squander funds. I dive deeply and invest entirely. This way of living can chafe against the lifestyle we have chosen for our family, the journey we have embarked upon that uproots us and in which friends come and go. But it is possible to mesh the two and I am determined to do so.

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Fighting, Hiding and Adjusting My Sails

Today is one of those days I am choosing to believe (because deep down I do know it) that our choices are for the best and will prove to be fruitful in time. Over the course of this beautiful journey from California to Bahrain, Bahrain to Italy, and all the travel in between, I have learned, or at least am learning, how to challenge change in a staring contest and come out as the winner.

I was born a fighter, just ask my parents. From the time I could talk, I demanded the last word. I argued every decision and challenged every opinion. When faced with opposition, I dug my heels in relentlessly, and my family was convinced I would one day make a great lawyer. On the flip side, when provoked, ridiculed, or denied, I lost my capacity to fight and would either crumble to the ground in tears or seek solace behind a closed door (often one I had slammed). My mode of defense over the years was to fight for what I believed was right (or fight to be right), or to hide behind mind-made walls to keep the hurt from penetrating them.

Those early days in Bahrain, I fought. I fought against sadness and heartache. I struggled against comparisons and cowardice. I battled fear: fear of political uprisings and evacuations; fear of losing the self I had carefully and proudly constructed only to watch my identity disintegrate into a person I did not know and did not like. When I became too exhausted to fight, I hid. I built walls. I closed doors.

I went through the motions for the sake of my family, but I felt cheated. Stripped. Empty. I was simply unable to move forward to a better place, to the joys of experiencing another culture with its riches and diversity, even if it was a culture I dearly loved. I could see all that was good outside of my barricades, but I couldn’t get out to appreciate and relish it.

It was over a year until I took hold of the help and strength God gave me to begin knocking down the walls, facing the necessary pains of change and growth, and allowing the discomfort to produce a greater and more resilient character in me. “We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment.” Romans 5:3-5   

Months later, sitting with Josh during our 5pm “happy hour on the beach”, it dawned on me with such clarity that the person I was yesterday, and the yesterdays before that, wasn’t the person sitting on the beach. Fighting and accepting had transformed me into the person I was meant to be that day–and from then on forward. The person who would better process, face and embrace changes when they were most surely to come again. A person who has learned that building walls, slamming doors and hiding are best left in childhood. (Although, and unfortunately, I do still on occasion find satisfaction in a slammed door!)

As difficult as our move to Italy has been in this first month, I do feel I am indeed the winner this time around. Not one of us will escape change or stormy seas, and I believe the human spirit is capable of extraordinary things and meant for transformation.

 “Facing storms and shipwrecks in our lives really isn’t a matter of if; it is a matter of when.So it’s time for us to get our sea legs under us. Rather than trying to avoid the storms of life, we need to learn how to get through them, how to survive them, and how to learn the lessons that we can only learn in such times and such places.

 It has been said that you can’t direct the wind, but you can adjust your sails. In other words, I can’t control all the elements of my world—or even very many of them at all. But I can control my reaction to them. I can adjust my sails—and adapt.”- Larry Patterson 

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Italy – The First Month

It has been a little over a month since Vicenza became home to the Dinkler family.  Vicenza is a 3rd century B.C. thriving, cosmopolitan city with a rich history and culture, and many museums, art galleries, piazzas, churches and elegant Renaissance palazzi. I still can’t believe we live in Italy.

For those of you wondering how the move is going, we are staying at the Inn on post (the Army calls it post, the Navy, base), which has its benefits as we go through all the in-processing procedures in order to live life in Italy. Benefits: a stone’s throw from Josh’s office, a soccer field out back for Cayden to practice his moves, and no cooking or cleaning required!  We found an apartment and move in date is scheduled for November 1st. It is taking time to grow accustomed to the idea of city living in an apartment but for these first years we want to live downtown, close to the action, walking distance to shops, cafes, festivals, and gelaterias. The train station is a stone’s throw away for easy weekend trips, and there are multiple parks close-by.

It all sounds so romantic, doesn’t it? There have definitely been moments, but moving to another country is intense! Cayden and Anya started school today – Italian school. Some teachers speak a little English, but most do not. This will be a stretch for all of us, but in the long run, we believe the kids will benefit from this choice: language and cultural immersion, social continuity (friends at the military DOD school come and go every one to three years- this will afford them lasting friendships with kids living here longer term), cultural immersion and a rich Italian experience for our family as a whole. I took them to school this morning and we felt as fish out of water – but we held our heads high, smiles, and said Ciao! Cayden’s teacher, a kind Italian nun speaks no English, Anya’s, a little. There are a few other American children in their classes.

We had the benefit in Bahrain of most people speaking English – not so here. However, as challenging as it is, I prefer it. I had thought when we moved to Bahrain I would be forced to access from the recesses of my mind the Arabic I learned as a child. Other than some bargaining here and there, reading signs, practicing with my dad, and buying dough (aajeen) from the local bakery, the cobwebs remained. So the language learning has begun. The kids had three weeks with an Italian tutor prior to school starting and I will dedicate a couple hours daily to the language.

Here is a recap of what we love so far:

–       The food. Mama mia! One of my friends in Bahrain told me I will have to learn to love carbs, and I can say I haven’t ordered this much pasta before in my life!

–       The wine – cheap and tasty.

–       The weekend outings to nearby villages (we can actually drive somewhere!) Our favorite so far: Sirmione, Lake Garda and Asiago, an hour drive into the mountains with outstanding views and ski towns that look like Austria.

–       Our new Fiat, a perfect little European car for zipping and parking around the city.

–       The Italian people, who have been friendly, helpful and welcoming.

 What I miss:

–       Friends, of course. Moving means leaving friends who have become family while living overseas.

–       My dad – having him near was a gift I shall always cherish.

–       Feeling “at home” with the Middle Eastern culture and its people. I miss my Arab friends, their generosity and their perspective on life. I miss the “exotic-ness” and surprises each day presented to me.

–       The ease and safety of life – those who have lived there know what I mean. For those whose only gauge is the media, this will be hard for you to understand.

–       The turquoise ocean waters and beautiful pool out our back door, and happy hours on the beach.

–       The diverse expat community – Bahrain is in every sense of the word a beautiful melting pot.

One month, but it feels like five. Some days great, some painfully challenging, but all in all, we are happy to be in Italy and for the adventures that await us here.

A domani!

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Dreams in the Sunshine

I sit here, surrounded by boxes, on a mattress on the floor in Anya’s room, the room blocked off and designated as the “Don’t Box” zone – essentially, each four suitcases with our belongings and clothing we will use for the next month and a half or so until our Express shipment arrives. The rest of our household goods will arrive in November, inshallah (Lord willing, as we say in Bahrain).

As I listen to our lives being packed away in boxes and crates, I reflect on the years spent in this beautiful house making it a home – building memories, laughing, crying, yelling, whispering, growing closer and stronger individually and collectively. It became our asylum.

Today, in a matter of hours, it is just a shell of what was – this is sad to me somehow. The rooms that once breathed life and energy and animation are now still and unresponsive, their memoirs written on the walls. Oh, the archive of stories they must hold! In my sadness, I know that no place which has offered refuge, growth, and happiness, even for a brief time, is ever futile or forgotten. With change comes growth, and with growth comes an expansion of the boundaries we place knowingly or unknowingly around ourselves.

Bahrain definitely challenged my boundaries in those first two years; I tried desperately to keep them close, sometimes gripping them so hard my heart felt like it would crack. As I re-read the first chapter of this beautiful journey, I am a different person now than when it was being written.

I don’t try to control so much because I’ve learned I can’t.

I’ve learned that oftentimes expectations simply need to change.

I’m convinced that comparisons and complaining can be dangerous and can paralyze the soul.

I now understand and appreciate that home is wherever we are, that this world is waiting to be explored and that life is short – in that, I have practiced exposing my dreams to the light instead of keeping them in dusty, lidded jars.

And how the sunshine has multiplied and grown them!

Our physical boundaries are about to shift, and a new chapter is about to be written. It is going be magnificent because it is all a part of this beautiful journey.

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