Friday, February 22, 2008

Exiles

Anyone who's lived outside of his/her own country understands the unique bond between expats. You may not like them, you may not even have a whole lot in common, but the fewer of you there are in your new "home" and the more isolated you are, the stronger that bond becomes. A giant city like Tokyo has many sub-groups of expats, all there for different reasons from Yen to Zen, but in towns that only have a handful, you can bet they're a tight-knit group.

Big Dog who has spent the majority of his adult life outside of the U.S. seems to be more comfortable outside of his own culture, and he's thoroughly enjoying the life of an "exile" here in Mexico. (That's what my friend, S. in Tokyo calls the escapees and he's built quite a career (and following!) writing about this "exile culture.") He's made several new friends here that will be like the life-long friends he's formed during his time in South America, New Zealand, Australia, Philippines, Japan and beyond. The fascinating septuagenarian couple from Spain-Turkey-France-Canada who live in a trailer in the next town and a former construction worker/dive master from Colorado-Florida, for example.

(I got that far and was completely distracted by Shadow, Miss J's cat. He usually finds my lap in the morning when I'm in front of my laptop -- on a desk, not my lap -- but today he decided that instead of just curling up and catching more zzz's it was time for grooming. Oh, and what a thorough job! It's hard to concentrate when there's a fat black cat on your lap intently lapping his nads.)

I know people who were born and raised in the same town. They get married, work their whole lives, raise their families and die in the exact same town. They are stranger to me than aliens from space. I've been moving around since I was born, living in all sorts of situations. I grew up outside the culture of my parents, but what was mine? Multi-cultural kids form their own special subculture, I guess, but I never felt like I was of that subculture, either. I can't really be an "exile" because I have nothing to be exiled from. 30 years in Tokyo and it became my home, but since I've been out I realize that I am back in my element again. All through my childhood, home was never a structure, a location, a country or culture. They talk of how home is where the heart is. In my case, that's the only way it's ever been.

And you want to know the strangest thing? I feel more at home here in Mexico, where I can hardly communicate, than I do in California, where I grew up! I am wondering if my isolation comes from Big Dog being "back home"? He's got family, boyhood friends, pals from student days. I am suddenly seeing how deep and wide his roots in California are. There, he is a "returnee." I don't think he likes it much. I don't think I do, either.

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