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Neither Here Nor There: Notes From Abroad

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Moving abroad. It sounded so E.M. Forster, so glamorous.

Surely, if you moved abroad to say France, you would have much to write home about. Things about the amazing food, the beautiful language, the sights and sounds of your new country. Germany might provide many interesting emails to your friends as well. Or England. You would send pictures of cathedrals and open-air markets. Of boats punting down the Thames, of museums and strange public phone booths.

But no, I choose to move to the Middle East. The ME. The vast, sandy desert also known as the crossroads of one of the bloodiest, most entrenched, impossible conflicts in the world.

The other day, I sat at an outdoor café with a bronze plate just outside it, to memorialize the deaths of 13 people in March, 1996, when a suicide bomber detonated a nail bomb in an intersection in front of a mall. It was the eve of a holiday in which kids dress up in costume.

This was not a move abroad, in other words, that my friends were particularly enthusiastic about. Usually when someone moves abroad, one of the first things that strikes one is that you now have a great, free, fun place to stay in the aforementioned country. Just before I left Los Angeles, I took a particularly close friend aside. You're not actually going to visit, are you? Uh, no.

Nonetheless or perhaps moreso -- pictures have been attached to emails that suck up terabytes. Facebook has been updated. Skype has been installed. Interminably long, hot day after interminably long, hot day, surrounded by a foreign language and culture, a girl just wants to talk to a friend who gets what you mean when you say tickled pink or whats-his-bucket or yippy-kay-aye or later, gator.

Your friends at home are initially thrilled -- thrilled! -- at this flood of new information. The pictures! The descriptions of your exploits! But gradually, something starts to happen. Out of sight, out of mind. Your friends back home return to their normal lives and you fade into your Skype avatar. One which you put a lot of effort into, by the way.

The dwindling emails do not go unnoticed. You redouble your efforts to ask about your friend's lives back home. When they do answer -- and no, there is not a 10-day time difference, Steve! -- they tell you about stuff they are doing with friends you used to know. Sometimes you feel homesick, sometimes you feel envious, mostly, you feel a strange distance, as if you are hearing echoes of a dream.

You notice a strange, inadvertent discord. Your friends seem suddenly rather disinterested in you while you are extremely interested in them. They are a lifeline to what used to be. And one by one, their fingers are letting go of the big piece of board you are floating on. I am the king of the woooorld. Blip.

I suppose it is natural, this erosion. Out of sight, out of mind and all that. To make yourself feel better, you sometimes adopt a feeling of expat superiority -- look at me and my strange, new life! -- but that feeling is quickly replaced by the reply of the silent ripple that remains where you used to be.

You've heard the groaning of the ropes that have moored you to the docks for awhile. And one at a time, they begin to strain, unravel and then unceremoniously let go. You are adrift.

You don't quite fit in where you are. You look different from 85 percent of the population. You don't speak the language. You don't get the jokes.

I am rebuilding my life, one used couch at a time. Every new friend is a victory, every inside tip is huge. Getting on the right bus is feat of intricate impossibility. I can't discuss what it's like to deal with an institution like the bank or the electric company without getting a twitch in my eye.

I don't know what I expected, moving to Israel. A fresh start. New people, new experiences. And I have had that, certainly. But I have the oddest feeling of being neither here nor there. I am no longer in America, the land of my provenance, but nor am I an Israeli, really a part of the fabric of life here.

Israel is a place full of the quotidian; just like anyplace else. Maybe moreso. Imagine living in a place where all nine lives have already been used up. It makes your banana bread recipe more interesting -- not less!

But I suppose that is impossible to convey. What with the time difference and all.