Friday, March 19, 2010

An Expat's Hierarchy of Needs

Based on Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, I was having a discussion with a friend on Wednesday about how now having some semblance of stability in our lives leads to us having to worry about all of these things that we had just ignored before. The conversation went something like this:

"I'm having an existential crisis."
"So, what's going on?"
"I'm lonely."

Having a place to live, a stable job, a visa, a forbearance on my student loans, and most other things off my shoulders, I have the time and energy to realize that I'm lonely. I don't have a whole lot of friends here, and even fewer whom I feel like connecting with because I know they'll be here more than another month or two. So, it seems, I'm on level three. Let's take a look at each level.

Level 1: The basics. All those things like health, food, and shelter which are crucial to continuing to live.

Level 2: Stability. Once you have a place to live and food to eat, you need some stable income in order to continue to eat and dwell. For expats, we also need a visa to keep our jobs and stay in this country. This is the level at which most expats in the Czech Republic live for their first three or so months.

Level 3: Community. All people need to have some connection with other people. I believe that people, in general, need connection with like-minded folks. And I don't just mean people who like the same pubs. Community is about more than Friday night, it's also about Tuesday morning or Saturday afternoon, whenever you need a friend. This is particularly difficult to find when people are always coming and going from the expat community. This is where I am stuck and I bet a lot of others are too.

Level 4: Sense of Fulfillment in Your Work. This seems simple enough, but so many people I know are completely unhappy with their jobs and this unhappiness distracts them from everything else in their lives. You don't have to love your job, but you gotta' enjoy the little things at least.

Level 5: Cultural Fulfillment. This is different for everyone. It might be studying Czech or learning about Czech culture. It might be art, dance, or yoga (definitely spelled it joga and couldn't figure out why Safari didn't like this, oh j/y confusion).

I've left out some big things because I can't figure out where they fit in. Dating? Should expats even be allowed to date? Overcoming homesickness and/or wanderlust? Connections with people back home and/or freedom from people back home?

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Food Musings

A topic of conversation that seems to come up a lot lately is whether or not one could kill an animal in order to eat it. Last summer, I lived with these guys. The turkeys wandered around camp, eating little bugs and pecking at anything shiny. When they were still babies, they would hop in my lap and I thoroughly enjoyed petting their feathers. This spunky guy tried to get into my tent.

But I had no amount of disconnect about the reality of the situation. Turkeys are food. When they wandered close to the fire pit, I would joke, "Yes, make yourself ready!" Why can't you play with your food and eat it too? Let the turkey live a nice happy spring and summer and come late autumn, he becomes dinner. But the question always is: could I kill the animal? Could I make dinner out of a living creature instead of a sterilized package?

Two years ago, I would have said certainly not. I also had trouble, for a while, cooking with raw eggs because they gave me the willies. But the more I learn about food, the more comfortable I am with the process by which it has come to me. I remember when I cooked a roaster one night in college and I spent so much time trying not to think about the weight of the animal in my hands or the feeling of its skin. But now, I can look at meat and imagine where on the animal it came from, what the animal must have looked like. I try to thank it for playing a role in the continuation of my life. So, I believe, with gratitude in my heart, I could turn one of my pets into my dinner. I've never had this opportunity, though I haven't sought it out either. Maybe that's a goal for next fall.

But this feeling of connectedness with my food is what makes me a comfortable omnivore. I am content to eat meat with the knowledge that it was at one point an animal. But what about the rest of my food? What WAS all of this at one point? I find myself, after having read so much about the American food industry, sticking to the outside of supermarkets--even here in the Czech Republic where the food industry is starting to follow the American standard. I get fresh fruits and vegetables, fresh bread, meat, and dive into the aisles only for grains and spices. Yesterday, however, I needed to make a banoffee pie. It was an urge I could not control. I had to find condensed milk and digestives. I knew that the can in my had contained milk that had been cooked down, I think, to be thicker. Okay, I can handle that. The digestives were the next step. More appropriately than in American supermarkets, the cookie aisle was one with the candy aisle. I scoured the shelves for something not made by Opavia, a Czech company owned by the one and only Kraft Foods. I pretty much came up empty on that front. So, I headed over to the natural foods section of DM where I was able to find cookies not made by Opavia and with a fairly short list of ingredients.

When I got home, I put away my groceries. I wondered why every week I suddenly felt by Friday like I had no food left. I made two piles of food as I unpacked my groceries: fridge and counter. That's why. Almost none of my food goes into a cabinet to store for later. I buy very few things with any sort of shelf life or which I don't intend to use within a few days. And while it's frustrating because it's not how I've been taught by society to shop, it's actually the most natural way to do it.

Thursday, March 4, 2010


The first Snowdrops of the year appeared this week! There's still a bit of icy snow left about but the Snowdrops, like the crocuses at home, are persistent. When Jana brought in one from the garden on Monday, I told her my Snowdrop story which I've heard from many Waldorf sources. I could write it out, but it's better told in person. I then told it to Ruza and the kids, who adored it.

I spend a lot of time thinking about storytelling. How is it different to tell stories to adults versus children? How can we learn to tell stories better to both audiences? How can we become better listeners so that we can enjoy a "nice" story? I talked with a friend about it this weekend who said that we, as the audience, want to feel included in the story, feel like we are part of the drama. That's why, she said, "I went to the grocery store and got some yogurt, and it was good," isn't a good story. But I sit in circle every day with children who say things like, "Yesterday, I went swimming and today I am going to grandma's house." The other children are enthralled, they appreciate these stories. They don't need to be part of the drama. How can we recapture that?

I tell stories all the time. I tell nice stories. And another important thing is learning to accept the audience's silence. You need to give them a moment to absorb and not expect something that sounds cliché like, "That's nice." Just let the story fall. And be okay with it.

As the Snowdrops poke their drooping heads through the frozen ground, we are looking everywhere for signs of Spring. Yesterday, we found worms in a pile of old leaves. "It is alive! It is life!" shouted Ruza. How accurate? When everything around us feels dead, it is so good to see life. We moved them carefully to the compost pile and explained how they would be our little helpers, making us magical compost which will bring new life.

Another thing about spring with young children is this:

We as adults have come to understand from many years of experience that though winter can be dreary, spring will follow. We know what to expect. My kids are 2-5. They have had so few winters and springs, and even fewer that they actually remember. So, every winter to them, it must feel like the earth is simply dying--that this is the end of the world! Imagine the wonder of finding a worm living in the dead leaf, his wriggling pink body so vibrant against the darkness of decaying plant matter. It must really feel like Ruza said, but it's the Earth that's alive! The little Snowdrop reminds us of this.