I won’t go so far as to say the “f” word…
…but I think I could see us living in Ghent for a long time. Longer-than-three-years, long time. Longer-than-Kyrgyzstan, long time.
Moving to Bishkek, the plan was open-ended. Well, initially we said, “Let’s stay at least a year and see where it goes from there.” Then there was a second year and we said, “Oh yeah, we can keep going.” Then we thought, “Okay, three is good. Let’s get out after that.” The thing about long-time expats in Kyrgyzstan is that nobody seemed incredibly happy to be there for that long. I could tell that I wouldn’t last there forever.
Sure, I considered it from time to time, especially when we started thinking about having a baby. We could raise him to speak Russian and Kyrgyz and English! We’ll buy a dacha in the country and spend summers at Issyk Kul! We’ll continue with the business, which gave us enough for a decent life in Bishkek… but not much else, no building blocks for a future elsewhere in the world (except maybe Tajikistan). There are international schools. There are clean, private clinics for medical needs. And think of the adventure, the uniqueness of raising a family in Kyrgyzstan.
Those thoughts were rare and fleeting. The international schools are so freaking expensive. The clinics are okay, but during tense situations, all I wanted was an English-speaking doctor with a Western degree who I could be sure didn’t bribe his way through school or had updated his knowledge since the Soviet Union broke up. Dachas are charming, but roughing it in a cabin with only basic amenities was never my idea of fun. Yeah, okay, Issyk Kul is great. And while a trilingual kid would be a fun party trick, knowing Russian and Kyrgyz limits any potential career opportunities to, you guessed it, Russia and Kyrgyzstan (and a few other equally dreary and authoritarian countries). Usually all it took was a corrupt official, a monthly bout of food poisoning, or a power outage in the middle of winter to convince ourselves that a lifelong stint in Kyrgyzstan was not in the cards for us.
This is not to say it’s horrible for everyone, and I know families who are pulling it off quite well.
Kyrgyzstan was the adventure for us. In terms of a lifetime, it was meant to be a chapter.
Now we’re in Belgium. Belgium was never part of the plan, so each day is sort of a new adventure. A calm, developed, bureaucratic mini-adventure. We have no timeline, but unlike Kyrgyzstan, I can imagine us living here for a very long time. Five, eight, ten, twelve years, or even more. Who knows. It’s all a bit too soon to imagine. When was the last time you thought, “Twelve years from now, ____ is where I’ll live, _____ is what I will be doing”?
There’s a lot that appeals to me about this idea. There’s the uniqueness of being an expat with the ease of living in a country where students aren’t expected to bribe their teachers to graduate, where the heat doesn’t just go off one day, the hot water the next, the internet the next. Where the healthcare industry isn’t actually an industry, but rather an institution that is organized to work for you (that’s a nudge against the US).
Sometimes I try to dance around it, but living in Bishkek was not always rainbows and endless bowls of lagman. The business, the friends, the inertia of having made the decision to go there and then getting there and being there made it easy to stay there for as long as we did. I’m sure Ghent won’t always be filled with fresh croissants, frites with 50 different sauces, and maybe I’m just in the honeymoon stage, but I like what I see here. I like imagining our future here. I like talking to our friends about how things work here and not groaning at their responses because they’re so ridiculous. Things just make sense. I could see us raising Darwin here for a long time. And yeah, I know Dutch isn’t really a door-opening second language to know (a smaller range than Russian, even), but if we stay here for long enough then I guess it won’t matter where else he might be able to use it.
Besides, he’ll always have English.
(et francais? or, considering my neighborhood, he could pick up some Turkish too!)