Heart of Campus, Green School

Thursday, 30 May 2013

Anxiety's Grip

I’d fall asleep ok. That wasn’t the problem. The problem unfolded in the darkest hours of the night when I would awake with a start, sometimes even an audible gasp accompanying my body as it bolted upright in bed. I would immediately start sweating if I hadn’t already woken up drenched in liquid fear. The night’s dreamy terrors would replay in my mind as I lay there awake, rigid and inconsolable. They usually entailed one of my children in a dirty foreign hospital with a lot of tubes and wires connected to their body and people standing around shaking their heads. I couldn’t shake these evening replays no matter how irrational they seemed during the day. Nighttime changed everything.

My husband Chad waited patiently for me to turn the corner on these terrors and get fully on board. His bags were packed. He needed a change. Once he makes a decision if there was any hemming and hawing during the decision making process, the doubt is forever cast aside. I was on board for 48 hours. One could have even possibly described me as excited. Images of white sand beaches and kids growing up free in the jungle had me sold at the prospect of dropping everything to teach at a start-up alternative school in the jungle. Why not? Nature is where it’s at. We quickly told everyone about our plan, drew up leaves of absence from our employers and began celebrating our achievement of taking the plunge overseas again, this time with kids in tow.

But the nagging fears took hold sometime after midnight and didn’t release their grasp until dawn. I was a walking zombie for a few weeks. Chad finally realized the grip this anxiety had on my mental health and so, one day, as we sat by the river trying to take a few moments for ourselves, he officially pulled the plug on going. All for me. And then I felt all my anxiety about going shift to staying and I started to worry about what would happen if we stayed. And I realized how fucked I was. Sitting by the Deschutes River on that sunny cool early spring day in Oregon I found myself in a classic, “Damned if you do damned if you don’t” moment. I envisioned myself in the water flowing downstream. Knowing there’s a massive waterfall less than a mile below. Would my frantic attempts to stay out of the current get me to the shore in time? I’d never know unless I tried.
It was anxiety’s grip on keeping things the same that pushed me to go. I imagined my world shrinking year by year as each obstacle loomed larger than the one before it, carefully obscuring the difference between true risk and benign adventure, slowly locking me into a smaller and more controlled world over time. I envisioned myself unable to leave the house, festering away in the garden with too many pets. I pictured framed photos of cats all over my house, despite my current allergies and general disdain for the snobbiest of pets.

Less than three months later we moved to Bali, Indonesia with a 2-year-old, a 4-year-old. We lived in an open-air bamboo house in the jungle with no walls. We felt like the Swiss Family Robinson, only we had internet. After a few shaky days, a challenging month and some unexpected misadventures I can safely say that facing anxiety head-on is a horrible necessary for those of us with roulette-wheel worry brains that go to the dark side so quickly. This particular horrible necessary has a happy ending. Not the special Thai massage happy ending that so many fat bastards fly into Bangkok for, but more of a sleep-through-the-night-the-world-is-your-oyster-and-it-is-all-going-to-be-ok-even-really-fun-most-of-the-time happy ending that smacks of a Hollywood-worthy champion race horse overcoming a bad leg story. Or, perhaps it is just a story of an ordinary person having an extraordinary journey with her loving family because she decided it was better to face her fears than to be boxed in by them.

Love with a Chance of Drowning – A Memoir by Torre DeRocheThis post is part of the My Fearful Adventure series, which is celebrating the launch of Torre DeRoche’s debut book Love with a Chance of Drowning, a true adventure story about one girl’s leap into the deep end of her fears.

"Wow, what a book. Exciting. Dramatic. Honest. Torre DeRoche is an author to follow." Australian Associated Press

"… a story about conquering the fears that keep you from living your dreams." Nomadicmatt.com

"In her debut, DeRoche has penned such a beautiful, thrilling story you’ll have to remind yourself it’s not fiction." Courier Mail

Find out more…

Sunday, 14 April 2013


On our return-to-Bali flight at the end of Spring Break 2013, we hadn’t been allotted the most amusing family seat configuration, which puts the 2, 3, or now 4-year old alone in a seat all by herself aisles away from her parents. When I first realized this actually happens, after some uptightness at the desk with airline workers shrugging their shoulders and letting me know it was the only possible seat assignment, I have learned to roll with it, plopping Zoe down in her assigned seat, then retreating to my aisle far away while mentioning to those sitting near Zoe that she might need some assistance with a few things during the flight. Amazingly, without fail, within a few seconds someone always volunteered to change seats with me!

This Spring Break, returning from our short trip from Jogjakarta, Java to Denpasar, Bali, I was winging it alone on the starboard side of the aircraft. Chad was the filling of the sandwich between the kids in the middle of the 3-row aisle directly across from me, happily rigging up a video to watch with Ethan and Zoe on the mini-travel player that has proved time and time again it is more than worth its weight in gold.

Two Indonesian women joined me in my row. I assumed they were rookie fliers for a few reasons – first they couldn’t find their seats then they struggled to figure out how to get to their seats with me already ensconced in my book in the aisle seat. I stood up quickly and scuttled toward the back of the plane, giving them free reign to find their way and settle their bags before I sat down again. I opted for the, “I’m more interested in my book than meeting you” approach to making friends on the airplane, so I smiled, nodded acknowledgement and settled into a 1-hour blissful solo-time quiet reading session.

Part of holding my book open entailed me firmly planning my elbow on both armrests – one aisle side and one shared with the elder of the two Indonesian women in my row. After a brief but subtle silent elbow war, I prevailed and took command of the armrest for the duration of the flight. I’m not sure if it was the loss of territory or some sort of cultural difference that I have, until now, been completely unaware of, but about 20 minutes into the flight my seatmate began freely repeatedly belching loudly. That’s right. Her burps were akin to a “just downed a cold brew after a long bike ride” burp on a hot summer day, but worse. There was nothing subtle about them. There was no mouth coverage, no attempt to mask the sound with a hand or arm movement. There was no verbal acknowledgment of the belch with a surprised, “Excuse me” in any language. There was simply a visceral explosive sharing of rotten gut air in our small semi-enclosed shared space. I wondered if the Mrs. from Indonesia had a different view of her airplane space. Her demeanor was sort of a Las Vegasesque “what happens in 21-E stays in 21-E mentality” as if she’s encased in an invisible bubble. I don’t know. What I do know is I was grossed out and I looked longingly over at Papa Chad with his ear buds firmly in place, giggling along with the kids at the silliest scenes of Madagascar III on their shared tiny screen.

Upon arriving in Bali, I asked Ketut if he knew if burping was considered polite or impolite in Java. He suggested across the archipelago of Indonesia it was considered impolite and if a burp slipped out a simple “Excuse me” would suffice. A quick Google search on the etiquette of belching in Java had me lost in cyberspace for long enough to realize the idea of a quick search on this topic was oxymoronic and one that needed to be aborted quickly. So, this minute life experience will have to be archived in the ‘unsolved mysteries’ folder for now, unless anyone out there has insight into what I perceived to be crude eructations from my fellow traveler.

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Do's and Don'ts

Getting ready to move home again after a healthy game of international living Ping-Pong. I’m on the cusp of completing a back-and-forth sojourn of nearly seven years of living overseas in four different countries, which has put me in a reflective state.
I remember trying to explain to my Aunt Karol why I would even consider moving from Egypt to Ghana instead of coming home. (I also had to explain to her why I would stop to pee in the woods on my way to Portland from Bend instead of pulling into a gas station…to each their own!) I had come to the realization that my chaotic mind was peaceful when I lived in a chaotic place. By dropping into Accra, Ghana and using my problem solving skills to figure out how to live there on a day-to-day basis, I generally felt an inner calm that was difficult to achieve at home. Living at home was easy, perhaps even boring. So boring, in fact that I had to create chaos to make it interesting. Unfortunately for those around me, the chaos I created often made their lives more difficult. And so, as things go, unplugging from the mundane to experience the chaotic is something I imagine I’ll do over and over again in order to keep my roulette wheel mind busy and amused.
Here are a few things I have learned along the way, in no particular order:

Live and let live. There’s more than one way to skin a cat. If we were all the same, the world would be an inherently boring place and I would have to create even more nonsensical chaos to quiet my mind.

Egypt’s early lessons:

DO NOT look into the driver’s eyes when crossing the street. This means he knows you have seen him so he guns it. Instead, you negotiate with the bumpers and fenders of all the cars around you as you casually step in front of them.

DO NOT ask “bekem” (how much) in Arabic unless you think you can understand the numbers that are about to rattle back at you.

DO cross the street from a tourist trap or an expatriate market to grab a cab. It will cost you about ¼ the price of the cabbies that nab the people coming right out the door. (See lesson #1 on crossing the street before you try this, though.)

DO soak all of your vegetables and fruits in a capful of bleach before you eat them (Otherwise you may encounter severe bowel trouble referred to as Pharaoh’s Revenge in that corner of the world).

Find other cyclists as nutty as you are to ride with. Create a critical mass before you head out.

If you are not riding in a large group, pick your line and maintain it. However, if there is a chicken, pig, goat, dog, motorbike, car, truck, handcart, donkey cart or pothole the size of an elephant in your line then you should pick a different line.

Realize if you leave Cairo city environs on a bicycle, you will pick up a mandatory police escort at the checkpoint. Be thankful for this police escort, because suddenly all traffic behind you automatically passes safely. Be less thankful for this police escort when you are looking for a discreet place to pee on the side of the road.

Study the local language right away. Practice as much as you can when you are out and about. You’ll only learn if you try.

If you aren’t going to really learn the language, learn enough phrases to be friendly to locals in many situations. Also learn an amusing line or two to keep people smiling. For example, In Egypt, “Meyah meyah wella frecht gemeyah = Good enough like a government chicken” will do. In Ghana, after the locals yell, “Good morning, White Lady” to you, you should learn to yell back “Good morning, Black Man” in the tribal language Twi. In Bali, you don’t have to learn anything like this because suddenly you have two children to amuse the locals. You just have to learn to ask the Balinese about their children in Bahasa Indonesian.

Carry tissue, sunscreen and mosquito repellant in your purse all the time.

If the police try to pull you over in Ghana, you are probably better off pretending you don’t see them. Keep driving.

In general, it is easier to ask forgiveness than permission. Before you do this, however, have some understanding of local customs so as to not offend in a major way. If you offend in Bali you’ll never know. Balinese people are inherently forgiving and polite. If you offend in Ghana you’ll know right away because everyone will start laughing and slapping their knees and smacking you on the back as if you have just won a major sporting event.

Try all the local foods and beverages at least once.

If you are eating or drinking something unfamiliar that you don’t like, it is easier and much less offensive to swallow it quickly than to look for a place to spit it out.*

*Look for my soon-to-be-released coffee table book (with photos) titled, “Things I have had in my mouth that I wish had never been there”.

If you acquire pets overseas in a developing country, some ‘home vet care’ is OK but consider waiting until you get back to the USA to get them spayed or neutered.

Keep in touch with old friends while away but realize life goes on without you.

Find a local friend. If they invite you somewhere, go. Attend a wedding, ceremony, breaking of a fast or other significant event. It can be challenging to connect with people outside of your immediate surroundings if you are living in the expat community and working at an international school. Find an outlet for friendships away from the bubble.

When packing to move overseas, don’t buy things that you think you might need when you get there. Only bring what you already have and what you know is essential. The rest you can do without.

Realize what you think is essential might be very different than the rest of the people in your house. Understand this creates a lot of luggage and roll with it, but remember less is more.

Live somewhere desirable where family and friends might want to visit.

Every once in a while you will need to turn off and tune out. Have a couple movies available to watch at home. If you are prone to anxiety, stay away from movies about outbreaks, kidnappings, airplane disasters and terrorist attacks. Something more along the lines of “When Harry Met Sally” should suffice.

There’s always a new experience to be had and new people to meet but you’ll never know about it if you stick to your routine.

At the same time, find simple entertainment at home. Dance parties with kids are really fun, even if you have to listen to Brittany Spears over and over and over again.

Travel lightly (still working on this). Less is more.

Paying extra for convenient flights is worth it if you have children. So is finding a playground in the airport or any place you can sniff one out in the world.

Living in an open bamboo house in the jungle is cool, but living in a villa in the rice paddies with air-conditioned bedrooms and a swimming pool is a lot more comfortable.

Be patient, calm and seek to amuse yourself and those around you when things seem to be going terribly wrong.
If massages are cheap get them as often as possible.

Do what you need to do to turn your home into an oasis. Nothing is too weird to bring if it adds to this feeling of comfort at home. My own bedding and multiple boxes of macaroni and cheese are my top two choices.

Always stop at Duty Free for booze in the airport, even when you are arriving with too many bags and tired children.

Again, live and let live. There’s more than one way to skin a cat. If we were all the same, the world would be an inherently boring place and I would have to create even more nonsensical chaos to quiet my mind.

So, how to be home again without boredom and self-inflicted unhelpful chaos? I have a few ideas. For one thing, I have some built-in chaos in my home from having two young kids. I’m also older, more tired and therefore calmer (sometimes). We are looking forward to welcoming a pet into our lives again (guaranteed chaos) and I’m hopeful that our home in Bend will be inviting to family, friends and neighbors to stop over and stir things up a bit. In the end, home is the right place for now. There are always possibilities on the horizon and I won’t kid myself that sniffing into them brings a thrill, but for now the thrill is in checking into a more permanent community (thank you, good people of Bend, Oregon), maintaining important ties with family and getting back into sporting in the great outdoors in a place that we love. So, please check in with us in Bend soon and bring your chaos so I can leave mine behind!