the uncertain future

August 10, 2012 · 4 comments

in ramblings

People always ask me when I’ll leave Kyrgyzstan. It’s inevitable, I won’t argue that. Nobody assumes that expats will stick around here forever. But it’s a tough question to answer. I’m coming up on two years since I moved to Bishkek and there’s still no clear plan for how long we’ll stay, what we’ll do next, or where we’ll go next.

For a while, the vague plan has been to stay for another year or two. We decided recently that the business’s future will not be in Kyrgyzstan, so we thought we would put a few months of careful effort into figuring out where we could expand to. Kazakhstan? Afghanistan? Brazil? Argentina? Burma? Ideas to split our time between two continents were mentioned, spreadsheets were made and contacts were reached out to. We’ll give this whole thing a solid few more years, we told ourselves.

And then Farrell got an idea.

Aquaponics. A closed-circuit system designed to grow organic produce (without soil) and raise fish at the same time. He’s currently on Day 5 of spending the majority of his day researching organic food markets, property prices, transportation, freshwater fish breeds, etc. He asks me if I’d like to move to: China, Brazil, France (the Burgundy region), Spain (outside of Madrid or Barcelona), Colorado (Denver), or Texas (Austin). Or if I happen to have any other locations in mind.

I’m pretty sure those are the choices so far, but they change so quickly from day to day. (Bangladesh? That’s a no. But maybe Japan. How about Thailand?)

I can’t determine if this is real yet. I’ve written previously about his entrepreneurial whims, how he spent several weeks during our stints in Baghdad calling around to companies that manufactured tomato paste-processing equipment, with the idea of opening a factory in Iraq. There was also the real estate company he started just before we moved to Bishkek (he and his partner recently closed it). Then there were the ideas that never quite got past an intense week of discussion and some light market research, like the idea to make and export beeswax candles from Kyrgyzstan, or the hamburger restaurant in the Baghdad International Airport. Just a few weeks ago there was even talk of opening a Cinnabon franchise in China.

None of those have panned out. So for now I can’t tell if I should be excited, if I should plan, if I should buy a Spanish phrasebook, if I should buy an airline-approved cat carrier, if I should research new visa regimes and new small-business regulations, if I should inventory my current possessions, decide what can be donated, trashed, packed for shipping or swapped out with what’s in storage in the states…

Or if I should sit back and wait for this idea to fizzle out, if I should count on the plan to stay here, the one that isn’t actually much more thought out than the idea to move to {insert country here} and start a farm.

I guess that’s the toughest part about knowing we have the freedom and the opportunity to pretty much go anywhere and do anything we want. We get these crazy ideas and there’s not much to actually stop us from pursuing them when we know that we can become relatively successful at ventures like moving site-unseen to Kyrgyzstan to start a social research company (for example). But how do you choose your future when you have such seemingly endless opportunities? The uncertainty can be frightening and overwhelming, and sometimes I find myself longing to just have a solid direction for my life and some semblance of stability.

So who knows. Maybe I’ll still be in Bishkek two years from now, maybe I’ll be living on a farm outside of Madrid, maybe I’ll be somewhere completely different chasing a new wild idea.

What about you? Fellow expats (or anybody, really), how do you decide what “the next step” should be, when to take a big leap, or where to go next?

(Photos are from the most insanely gorgeous backyard garden at the house we rented last weekend in Issyk Kul. Maybe we should just do the aquaponics thing here?)

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Ebriel August 13, 2012 at 4:55 pm

So many places to be, and only one life to live it in.

We’ve struggled with this for years, and it always involves compromises: between what he’d like to do, what I’d like to do, where we’d each like to be, what languages we want to learn.

Before moving to our most recent location, we discussed what we wanted to achieve there. We figured out a shortlist of a few things that were really important to us. Top on our list was learning Mandarin in a place with a good art scene, and that narrowed it down to just a few locations:

* Singapore (I like it but he’d have to have an expat-type job in his industry, and he doesn’t like the city)
* Taipei
* Shanghai
* Chengdu (pleasant city in China, but not enough going on for me)
* Beijing – the most unpleasant place to live, but the best art and language options

We chose Beijing, a place we’re based in for a few years, before we get too old and can’t take it anymore ;)

Probably London area afterwards, me for a UK passport and the Man to reconnect with his home country again. Now we’re looking at what we can do while in China to prepare for returning to an English-speaking country where we’ll need to find work within a high-stress economy, and figure out how to turn our skills and experiences into something like a job.

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2 Kirstin August 13, 2012 at 5:14 pm

It’s a tough decision! I’m kind of surprised at how much this new idea is affecting me, I keep thinking that I wasn’t this concerned with the decision to move to Kyrgyzstan. But yeah, I think we’re in similar spots now, trying to somehow prepare to move to an English-speaking country even though all this stuff with the economy is telling me to stay away.

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3 Jill/Colorfulheart August 14, 2012 at 3:50 am

PLEASE share if you figure out how to effectively make such decisions in a rational way!
We are in a similar situation–just past 2 years of living and working in Navajoland, focused on at-risk young people. This has been a good place and has given us good experience…but it is becoming ever more clear that we won’t be here much longer (6-9 months tops). And we are spinning in circles trying to figure out what might be next…with ideas changing from day to day.
The biggest difference between us—is that we are now in our 50s so retirement (and a need for financial resources in retirement) is looming on the not-so-distant-as-we-thought horizon. Sure wish we had given up on the suburban lifestyle many years earlier to start pursuing our many passions!
Best wishes to you in figuring out your next step…we readers look forward to “tagging along” wherever you go…

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4 Kirstin August 14, 2012 at 1:40 pm

I’m not entirely sure how effective it is yet, but Farrell put together a massive Excel spreadsheet that we’ve been using to pull together all sorts of criteria like cost of living, minimum investments for starting a business, etc. He’s been crunching numbers to see what makes sense, and now we at least have a somewhat better idea of where to focus our planning. I think a solid exercise for both of us has been ranking ideas and locations based on personal feelings (no other factors), doing this completely secret from each other, and then comparing our results. And of course, anything in an Excel spreadsheet is rational, right? ;)

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