“Life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans.” As cliché as that iconic John Lennon quote may be, in the middle of a three-day power outage in early 2007 caused by some of the heaviest snows ever seen in the Vancouver region, we were all too ready to concede that fact. Culturally speaking, most of us don’t like to go through life without a plan, even with the knowledge that the plan might not turn out as expected. Without a plan, you’re just drifting through life, right? And while this may work for Buddhist Monks, young dreadlocked hippies, and the odd globetrotter, most people are too caught up in ‘Living for the Future’™ to live in the moment. Without a carrot dangling in front of your nose, you run the risk of becoming part of a cultural subset that does not live by the rules of our society, and so become a threat to the people who very much want us to be owned by our debt, to live within a narrow set of boundaries so that we may be easily controlled.
But this is not what I wanted to talk about. Let me begin with a dream.
One rainy spring day in 2006, my wife and I realized that we no longer wanted to play the game of a society that values the size of your TV screen, the make of your car, or the brand of toothpaste you brush your teeth with as a measure of social status. The race of runaway consumerism has no winner, for it has no end. This was not the life we wanted for ourselves, or our two children, Cyrus and Violet. We came to the harsh realization that our own values had been compromised by the soothing allure of domesticated life, and that we were not cut out for the white picket fence lifestyle, or even a nice wooden one with an auburn hue, such as ours. Drastic measures were needed if we were to save ourselves from some Groundhog-Day-meets-Leave-it-to-Beaver sort of hell. We needed to wake up from the false dream of our society and create our own, wherever and whatever that may look like. We wanted out.
Options were discussed. Ideas were bantered about. Living communally in California with Cyrus’s hip Southern family had some appeal, but seemed too close to home, and let’s face it; California is overcrowded, overrated, and overpriced. Too many people with big ideas lacking conviction, not to mention the fact that we were not American, and had no intention of becoming such. Moving somewhere warm and exotic sounded nice. We played with this idea, and mapped out ways of making a life that could incorporate this. Word on the street was that Costa Rica was the place to be, but it was already so popular that it becoming clichéd, not to mention overpriced. Starting a holistic retreat in Belize sounded like it could be our golden ticket, and we latched on to the idea. I went to the library and took out every book on the tiny Central American country I could find, including the Belizean ex-pats bible, Lan Sluder’s “Easy Belize – How to Live, Retire, Work or Invest in Belize”. We started looking at Belizean real estate, which was amazingly cheap. It sounded perfect in every way – tropical, lush, full of culture. But as I laid plans to do a scouting mission, we started to feel that Belize was too remote, too cut off from the rest of the world. And let’s face it; it’s not very sustainable to encourage people to fly thousands of miles just to find peace and enlightenment, which were probably within them in the first place.
In the end, heading West around the world seemed like as good a plan as any, and left much room for improvisation. Our children Cyrus (11) and Violet (3) were home-schooled, so what better way to learn of the world than to experience it firsthand. We realized that whatever the dream, the first step was to let go of our material and financial possessions, to free us up to the possibilities that may wait. We owned a house, and the real estate market had been good to us with the purchase and sale of our first home. We had invested all our equity back into our second home, and equity smelled of freedom…
Selling our house was the logical first step, and knowing that the market was still rising, we did some serious prep work, researched selling strategies, and started to feel the tingling possibilities of making our desires become reality. We spent the next couple of months laboriously cleaning our house, painting, replacing a rotting deck, and generally getting it into saleable condition, and finally feeling ready, called our realtor. He assured us that the market had gone up enough that we could safely ask 15% more than what we had paid for it just one year before. We sensed a disturbance in the market, but it seemed a long way off. Prices were still on the rise, and houses were selling like hotcakes, assuming hotcakes cost $300,000 and upwards. Confidant that it would be a maximum of a few weeks before it would sell, we were in high gear making plans, buying provisions and travel worthy gear. Our previous house had sold in one day for our exact asking price just one year earlier. What could go wrong?
We sold most of our worldly possessions at a continuous garage sale, and donated many unwanted items to the thrift store, and started dreaming of life on the road. And then we waited.
It seemed we had listed a bit too late, and as our realtor informed us, the market had gone “soft”. I think that there are way too many male realtors on Viagra coming up with these terms, but sales on the real estate front were slowing down on the Sunshine Coast. By the time 5 months had gone by, we were getting worried. Finances were running low, and we were slowly accumulating more stuff. Theresa had quit her job at the Waldorf School, and I had cut back my hours at the computer shop where I worked and trained my replacement, and our savings were rapidly dwindling. Suddenly, Christmas happened, and we had more stuff than we knew what to do with. To use another tired Cliché, “When it rains, it pours”.
Looking for any way out of our situation, and to get the ball rolling, Theresa applied for a job as a teacher at a BC International School in Cairo. This was one of the potential stops on our world journey, and to have work lined up was ideal. Theresa had a friend who worked at the school, and Cairo seemed like one of the more exotic places to live. Mystical Pyramids, camels, close proximity to Europe. It sounded like a fair compromise. We dreamed of taking vacations on the beaches of Nice, and exploring our respective ancestral countries. (Ireland for me, Russia for Theresa).
Within a few weeks of Theresa applying for the job, she had a phone interview, an in-person interview, and before we knew it, a two-year contract for the job. With two weeks to prepare, Theresa was in high gear, soon to be packed and headed for Cairo. I was left with the task of finalizing our travel plans, getting the kids ready to go, and getting to Egypt ASAP. There was also the small matter selling a house that had been sitting on the market for over six months, but we were soon to discover that the power of intention can surmount most obstacles.
Luck was on our side, and our house had an offer on it the night before Theresa was to leave. It was a low offer, essentially what we had paid for the house in the first place, but an offer nonetheless. This left us feeling a little more comfortable about her departure, knowing it would all work out within the month.
I’m sure for some people, having a spouse leave for extended periods for work is a commonplace event which they deal with and treat as a ‘normal’ occurrence, but to us, it felt as though we were taking the world as we knew it, putting it in a blender set to ‘Puree’, and serving it over ice with a little umbrella on top. Our family unit was tight, and had never experienced more than a few days of separation. Our grand adventure was starting to feel a bit skewed.
Flying out on the morning of her 30th birthday, Theresa said her goodbyes and tried her best to encourage us that all would be well soon. Her trip was smooth, despite some hassles during her transfer at the notorious Heathrow Airport in London, and she was soon on the other side of the world.
Within the first few hours of Theresa being in Cairo, it seemed that something was amiss. Firstly, there were some minor problems with the school. “Oh, the Preschool classroom you are supposed to set up, well, um, the room isn’t built yet, and you have no students. But don’t worry, we’ll find a place for you. Oh, and we know you just flew for 16 hours halfway around the world, but could you come in to start work tomorrow morning babysitting toddlers? At 6am? Good.” And then there was Cairo itself. Not that the guards armed with machine guns preventing westerners from walking along the street near a mosque were really a problem, but Theresa found the artillery range on the edge of the city, and the gory billboards depicting famous Egyptian war victories to be a bit intense. The violence was reflected on all levels of society, as evidenced by the frequent beatings with sticks that occurred on the streets. Westerners who had been there for a while would say “Oh, it’s not so bad, you’ll get used to it…” but there are some things that nobody should ever get used to.
By mutual agreement, the school and Theresa decided that she was not the person for the job (because there was no job), and we decided that 2 years in Cairo would not be the most nurturing environment for our children. Asking only that we paid the $100 it cost to change her flight date to a much earlier departure than originally intended, Theresa was on her way home. And so we resumed our original plan to head West. We completed the sale of our house, shacked up in a cute vacation rental, and within a few weeks, we were on the road…