Living out of a suitcase is an interesting state of affairs. While we technically now have a new temporary home in Cameroon, and therefore can’t really call the time in said house ‘living out of a suitcase’, I did calculate that from May of 2018 until the present time (Nov 2019) I have not gone more than 6 weeks without either relocating to a temporary location (staying somewhere for 4-6 weeks) or taking a short trip (usually anywhere from 2 days to 2 weeks) I know people who have traveled more, so this is by no means heroic, but in the last 18 months, (including next weeks’ trip to Winnipeg) I’ll have taken about 14 commercial flights, (counting each leg of any transatlantic trip separately) 2 missionary aviation flights, a few trains and ferries, 6 half or full day motorcycle trips across an African border, a few Uber fares, a number of Canadian and Europe road trips varying from 2-12 hours, and more African car/truck/van/taxi trips than I care to count. For most of that time, I come ‘home’ to a house that is not yet really ‘home’, occasionally wondering when that might change.
Sitting in Canada, in my mom’s palliative care room, while she’s sleeping, I’m been trying to process some of what I’ve discovered during this time frame, and that with a modicum of humor, I hope.
Out of sight, out of mind.
I can’t remember some of the things that I have in the house that I once really thought I wanted/needed. Or, when there is a chance someone could bring them to me, I can’t remember or describe where they are, especially when I’m limited to text messages, or poor phone connections. It’s going to be a huge surprise, if and when I get back to my Africa house, to see what I all have there.
I’m more thankful for small things
I’m giddily thankful for the most hilarious things- like when Elsie gave me a proper dishwashing brush, or I receive a spice that I can’t get in country, or when I realize that the passed-on shoes from my mom actually fit me better than I thought and look good with the two dressier outfits that I brought on this particular trip. When some of your best gifts of the year are a half empty bottle of Cardamom, and new flipper/spatula thingy from a missionary that left the field, and a container of French vanilla cappucino mix from Bulk barn that my best friend sent by missionary mail, it’s rather instructive.
My ‘stuff’ becomes less important
My relationship to my ‘stuff’ has changed. For example, realizing when I need something, that ‘I have that in Ndu’ feeling is gradually becoming a running joke more than a huge frustration. I also am embarrassed to explain to any of my Cameroonian friends the number of kitchen gadgets and utensils in the average Canadian kitchen.
On the flip side, my hoarder tendency has revived.
Right now, if a friend or colleague is giving away or getting rid of something that I might use for teaching at some point or is remotely unusual, or hard to obtain in my current home location in Cameroon, I keep it. I spent 4 years downsizing and getting rid of stuff while my youngest kids moved out from home and before moving to Africa, but now I feel the urge to accumulate all over again, but half of it is completely random stuff.
On a related note…thrift stores in Canada could be my undoing.
Baggage limits are my accountability partner. (I’m proud to say that so far, most of the things I have gotten are actually on my list(s) or are for use here in Canada- but I still have a couple of weeks…)
Being ADHD is both a blessing a curse when you travel a lot.
I forgot exactly what point I had in mind for that. Maybe it will come back to me before I post this.
I actually thrive on change, and love the excitement of travel, but long for some routine.
Whether it’s exercise, personal devotions and Bible study, language study and practise, financial records or writing newsletters, all of these suffer immensely whenever I travel. If I return to a place I have been before, I can often form some new routines in a couple of days, but often I lose a week or more in some or all of these disciplines.
Living on the move unfairly inconveniences women.
I refuse go on a backroad motorcycle trip, or work on a renovation site, in a skirt or dress. But I still need to take more culturally appropriate clothes along for the rest of the time. So that means multiple types of shoes, head gear, and other things to look decent in those settings. NO WAY I can take as little luggage as the men I travel with, including my husband. Related note- quick dry clothes are a God-send for their light weightness and obviously for drying quickly, but are rather cool for some rainy season living.
My fridge gets cleaned more than at any other phase of my life.
Every time I leave town, I have to clean out the fridge, get rid of all perishables, and decide if I need to leave it on and hope for no major power outages, or decide if I have little enough that I can store stuff at a friend’s fridge. Hoarding favorite food stuffs from the capital city in the freezer is NOT a worthwhile risk.
I envy my Cameroonian friend who can got for 2 weeks with one large day pack or a carry on suitcase….sort of.
I’ve become less of a ‘Be Prepared’ Boy Scout type on many trips, but my teaching and out-trippng leadership is too engrained in me to go crazy on that. Besides, there is a certain perverse sense of justification when one of the light packers on my trip needs or wants something I am dragging along, whether medications for headaches or backpain, or jerky and fruit leather for a diabetic when we run behind schedule and there’s no place to buy food. I so far have resisted the urge to say “ I told you so”. Very mature.
I ‘lose’ less things than you might imagine, but ‘misplace’ them more.
I really DO try to have a place for important things, and have routines for things like keys or phones, but honestly, every trip is different and if you use different bags or luggage, modes of travel and types of accommodations, it’s pretty hard to come up with a plan that works in all settings. Which is why I STILL occasionally have the airlines confiscate things from my carry on luggage, because most of the time those I carry all my personal toiletry items in one place, and forget to transfer them into some stupid spot in my checked luggage when I fly. I try to use the ‘Keys/wallet/phone’ mantra every time I get out of my vehicle here in Canada right now, but I slipped up once and locked my keys in my truck last week. Here in Canada, I spend inordinate amounts of time finding or double checking that I DO have my keys/wallet /phone, certain electronic peripherals, or all the various things I need to have for a multi-purpose trip or errand.
My coping strategy-”Don’t look for it, just clean up” has saved my sanity more times than I can imagine- when I implement it, that is- and the errant item is located a remarkably high percentage of times.
So there you have it. Living out of a suitcase is doable, but overrated. I admire nomads, salesmen and itinerant preachers who do this for years on end. I do not have that calling. It has been a growing experience, and when I just get overwhelmed by it occasionally, I am learning to call on my heavenly Father for grace to deal with it. I hope the life lessons I glean from this will seep their way into my soul, so that if, like Jesus, I ever have ‘no place to lay my head’, that I will be OK with it. But in all honestly, I prefer it not come to that.
PS….Important note, please DO NOT reply to this post with suggestions on how I can be more organized in travel, unless they are hilariously funny websites or videos. I might feel compelled to become passive aggressive and deliver my next thrift store donations to your house.