Saturday, March 14, 2009

Living On High Alert

Hi Everyone, Coming back to Mexico City this week, after leaving our four-year-assignment here two years ago, completely threw my emotions upside-down, as anyone who has ever returned to a previous assignment location would probably understand. I was nervous, excited, happy and sad. I was re-living great memories, but feeling like I've been missing out, but then feeling like nothing had really changed and everything was still the same. At one point, a strange sense of calm overwhelmed me when I genuinely felt like I had returned 'home', but on the other hand, I sometimes felt so far from home that I wished I was elsewhere.

The latter occurred when I was at the police station yesterday to report my stolen camera (in order to obtain the police report that I need to satisfy my insurance company). What started as the normal multiple-hour test of patience with local government officials, turned into both a "please don't shoot the guy, so I'm not a witness" when one of the detainees escaped through the station and a dozen police bolted out after him, and a "please get me out of here" in the last 15 minutes of my second round of grilling about my camera, when I was being intimidated by three police officials in a "no escape" zone if they were to decide that they didn't like me.

After 4 nights here, I've finally managed to articulate the main difference between living in a city like this, and living elsewhere...

It's the fact that here (or in similar places), you are, without realising it, always living on a high sense of alert - as if your body knows it needs to stay super-sensitive to what's going on around you... just in case.

The best example of this would be... at home I often daydream when I'm driving - a bad thing to do, but the roads are so easy and so 'boring' that I sometimes find myself daydreaming and not remembering the last few minutes that I had just driven. That would never happen here. The same when we lived in Jakarta, Indonesia. And most likely the same for you if you live in similar cities. You have to stay alert 100% of the time - and by the time you get home each day, you've successfully avoided or witnessed multiple near-misses on the road.

But it's not just the driving, or the police station episode yesterday: in the conversations that I've had here, everyone is always dealing with some 'issue' that is unexpected and which is adding to the stresses of their normal day. It's hard to explain unless you've lived it, but I guarantee that when I hop on my plane tonight, my body will sink into the chair and be grateful for the opportunity to 'switch off'. Maybe that's why when you live in cities like this, you are always planning your next weekend getaway... your brain and your body need a rest!

Just a personal oberservation. Maybe you feel the same. Thanks for listening, Andrea. :-)


Anonymous said...

Hi Andrea

I so get your living on high alert. I thought I was overly sensitive but have found that I do live my life in my new home countries in high stress which become norm after a couple of years.

Thanks for making this observation and sharing it!


Anonymous said...

Andrea, I understand more about my parents now. Although I've always carried a US passport, I spent my whole life until 20 yrs old in cities like Jakarta, the child of expats. I find now as an adult that I actually relax in those kinds of environments and find the US much more stressful in general, even after having lived there for many years! It's an interesting difference between between parents' experience of these countries and their TCKs' (third culture kids)experience...

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