Lifestyle,  Self-discovery,  Travel

My Dilemma with having to Choose a Home Country

Ever since my husband and I got married, I’ve just always had the idea that, eventually, we’d choose a place to settle down for good. We first met in the Dominican Republic and two years later, after being relocated (yet again) for work, we were saying “I do” in Haiti, which happens to be my birth country. Right from the get-go, we both knew it wasn’t a place we’d ever be able to call Home, because of its unstable political climate and constant insecurity. We’d have to accept living in confinement behind barb-wired walls most of the time, with armored cars and bodyguards, trying to avoid getting robbed, held up or even worse, kidnapped for ransom. I like living on the edge, but this is a little much, even for me. More so, that wasn’t the type of life my European husband was used to, and I must say that my own memory and experience of living in free and safe countries has pushed me to search beyond such a dangerous and toxic environment.

Since then, we’ve lived in 6 different countries, and twice I let myself think “this is it, this is where we’ll spend the rest of our lives”. Unfortunately, it wasn’t actually the case and we chose to relocate again, and again… I couldn’t avoid the question anymore: Why is it so hard for us to choose one country and commit to it?

We’ve always said we’ll end up in one of 3 countries: either Romania (his birth country), the Dominican Republic (where most of my maternal family has moved), or France (my paternal family’s country). These are the 3 places we more or less identify with, where we have roots, and that would make sense to us. We’ve actually lived in each of those 3 countries, and yet, we still can’t make up our minds, and here’s why.

France

This would be the most developed country, the more stable choice and clearly reasonable decision to make. A continental climate marked by 4 distinctive seasons to enjoy all year round, a good social security system, great infrastructures, valuable education, a vast intellectual and cultivated world to learn from, good healthcare, interesting job opportunities with decent salaries and reasonable working hours, leisure time to enjoy hobbies and getaways, as well as the possibility to buy our home through stable mortgage. We wouldn’t be limited for choice either; we could choose to live near the mountains, the seaside or in-between, the landscapes are beautiful, and the indulgent food is endless. France is organized from top to bottom everything is thought through, there is an answer to every question and a transparent procedure to everything and anything you want to do. It’s rather safe too, depending on where exactly you choose to live. The settling down process is a bit hectic, but after a few months, and once you’re in, everything becomes smooth and you can sit back and relax just like every other French citizen or resident. Nothing is easy in life, but everything in France is organized, and the information is available for you to use.

So, what’s keeping us, you ask? Well, after a while, you kind of feel like nothing more than a number in a huge system. You pay a lot of taxes, for everything, which I understand, but still… Everyone leads a very similar life to yours, doing the same things, at the same times. Everything becomes predictable. The French are not the warmest people either and it’s difficult to have fun and let go of intense intellectual or philosophical discussions. People are more often serious then anything else. I’m afraid we’ll miss the warmth and lightness of the Caribbean/Latino or even Eastern European cultures – which truly are really different and so much stronger in human connection. I don’t know if traveling to other countries once or twice a year will be enough to refuel ourselves by finding meaning in more chaotic, but so much more lively surroundings. Overall, I guess I’m just afraid of feeling rather isolated and meaningless in a big country like France.

Romania

We were living in Romania up until just last year. In terms of development, let’s say it’s a country situated somewhere between France and the Dominican Republic, as it isn’t as industrialized as France, nor as underdeveloped as the Dominican Republic (although DR is not so far behind). In other words, we thought it would be the perfect place! You’re still located in Europe and it’s generally easy to travel around. The natural landscapes and wildlife are drop-dead gorgeous, the Eastern European culture and traditions still reign strong. Romanians are similar to Latinos in a way and love to have fun. The country is in development, which means there should be plenty of work and business opportunities, real estate is still cheap, and there’s some sort of social security system in place along with public education and healthcare. The infrastructure is better than many countries I’ve been to, the food and music are great, and the people, although not very smiley at first, are friendly for the most part and open in general. You have 4 distinctive seasons in the year, with very hot summers and very cold winters, giving access to snowy mountains and animated beaches.

The downside is that, as a EU country, we expected more from Romania and were disappointed by the fact that its evolution into something better has stalled. Like I said, the infrastructures aren’t the worst, but there is a lot of room for improvement and yet, nothing appears to get done, the working hours are too long and the salaries too low for a cost of living close to that of Western countries. We thought there would be more room for entrepreneurship, but it seems Romania is only profitable to large organizations and not very small business friendly at the time being. There are tons of EU funds flowing into the country, but very little are being used properly in order to improve the country, and as a citizen, that makes you feel as though you’re on your own. The political system is exceedingly corrupted, administrations rotten and although you pay taxes (not as much as in a country like France, but still you pay a considerable amount), the public education and health system are falling apart causing the private sectors to bloom and literally bleed your money dry. In short, instead of evolving for the better for its citizens, Romania is pushing its people out. In the last decade alone, nearly 10 million Romanians have left their country and all of this, over time, weighs a lot on the people who choose to stay, especially when you have children. It’s a painful reality, but after spending 4 years there, trying to make a decent living, we gave up and to our great dismay, chose to leave once again. Will we ever consider going back there for living? I doubt it. But it’s still Home to us and will probably always linger as a last-resort backup plan in the back of our minds. In the meantime, we’ll be going back there regularly to see our family.

Dominican Republic

To me, this little Caribbean country is a substitute for my birth country, Haiti. Seeing as Haiti is in such a bad state (has been for decades and most likely will be for decades to come), the Dominican Republic, which shares the same island, was thus an easy move and trade-off. Although there are many unique attractions in Haiti I will forever miss and regret, and that I will never find elsewhere in the world, the Dominican Republic, like I mentioned in Home Is Where The Heart Is, has brought a lot into my life. And since my husband also lived there, he understands how and why this place has grown on me. What is it about the DR that makes me daydream so much? Well, for starters, the people. The way Dominicans are genuinely so warm, happy and outgoing. It isn’t rare to find employees singing in stores, people spontaneously dancing at the bodegas on the streets, drivers shouting and honking outside, and bachata, merengue or reggaeton music playing 24/7 almost anywhere – it’s actually very much part of everyday life. People are emotional, creative and authentic in every way. In general, they aren’t afraid to express their emotions, to connect, to be loud, and to show their true colors. Socializing is the most important thing to do there, and with socializing comes dressing up and the importance of appearance too. And boy, is Latino fashion colorful, over-the-top and extravagant sometimes! Not to mention the all-year-round hot tropical climate, the endless picture-perfect white sandy beaches, and in-land mountains for a little fresh air. And don’t even get me started on the food! I could thrive on their pineapples, coconuts, mangoes, avocados, bananas, rice and beans for the rest of my life. I guess there’s just something irresistible about the lightness of island life, where time isn’t as important as on the continent. People are helpful, it’s great that no matter your social status, you can receive help around the house, for cooking or for the kids. Life isn’t too expensive if you go local, but it isn’t cheap either and I’ll address that in a bit. The infrastructure isn’t very good, but you can see constant progress and it’s more or less easy to drive around and across the island relatively safely (and once you get the hang of the local driving customs).

One of the things that is less pleasant, and it’s probably due to the fact people are so emotional, is that they also get angry and aggressive quite quickly and situations can easily fire up, literally. Unfortunately, it’s legal to carry a gun in the Dominican Republic, and finding yourself in dangerous situations isn’t rare, especially in road traffic or even at-home burglaries. The majority of the capital’s residents live in apartment buildings, their windows caged up with heavy steel bars all the way up to the top floor… The countryside is somewhat calmer, but road traffic is still one of the biggest risks. Furthermore, you’re also more exposed if you happen to be of a lighter skin color. Racism, sexism, misogyny, domestic abuse, corruption, harassment, nepotism and classism are very much an everyday thing. A good portion of the population is poor and hustling to make ends meet, and thus, there’s this constant, underlying shallow mentality and social pressure to become or at least appear rich all the time. As if poverty was to be feared and ashamed of – which is understandable, to a certain extent – but here, things tend to cross that fine line. In the long run, this side of the Dominican Republic can feel oppressive, and paradoxically, you eventually feel you lack freedom despite being on a paradise island… But by definition, an island is geographically isolated, and not just in terms of land. Such isolation and distance make communication with the rest of the world challenging, costly and delayed. Intellectual and cultural awareness, trends, traveling, quality international products… everything takes more time and is rare in quantity. Season changes are not very marked either, so if you’re like me and you’ve traveled or lived in continental climates before, there are chances that you’ll miss Spring, Fall and Winter. I always say that from an anthropological perspective, countries prone to season changes are usually more advanced for this mere reason that their population is forced to plan and prepare ahead of time for the changes to come as well as all the basic activities that it impacts in their everyday lives. Whereas on an island, other than the occasional hurricane or tropical storm possibly passing through once a year, you don’t really have to worry about tomorrow and your natural environment. People have a tendency to forget and move on quickly after natural disasters too… I’ll save that for another conversation, though. Back to our sheep: public administrations are gradually being modernized, however there remains many archaic ways of doing, where abuse of power or arbitrary decisions have a tendency of taking over. It’s to the extent that you really don’t know who to trust or even if you’re being conned when resolving administrative matters. There’s not much of a social security, public healthcare or educational system in the Dominican Republic. I mean, there is one, and at least in comparison to Haiti, the citizens are literate, they can read and write. There are decent public schools, universities and hospitals on the island. That said though, it just isn’t enough to rely on. People who have the financial means will ultimately use private facilities and services most of the time, or even travel out of the country for specific healthcare issues or a better higher education. Which brings me to my last point, if you want to live decently and hassle-free in the Dominican Republic, with a basic minimum lifestyle like you would have in a developed country, in my opinion, you either have to move out of the capital, or you need a high income. It’s one or the other. And trust me, the latter isn’t so easy. Salaries in the Dominican Republic are quite low, people are qualified, hard-working and pushing to move up the social ladder as quickly as they can, so there’s constant competition too. The working hours are non-stop and with very little social benefits and advantages. High-paying jobs are rare, hard to come upon and even harder to connect with. Perhaps entrepreneurship or business would be more viable options on the island, but the market’s purchasing power remains very limited and you’d therefore need one hell of a good business plan in order to succeed. Just like anywhere else, I guess nothing is easy nor served on a silver platter, but somehow, I think certain places like the Dominican Republic are even more restrictive in terms of finding a balanced way of life. Let me guess, now you’re wondering why I would want to live in a place like this in the first place, right?

Well, it all comes down to 2 factors: reason and emotion. It’s hard for me to choose because I am constantly tormented by both. I don’t know if I should listen to the cautious voice in my head or follow my heart. Funny enough, this has a lot to do with my parents, who each represent one of these characteristics. France would be the careful and secure choice. Dominican Republic would be the higher risk of struggling but humanly, so much more satisfying within a culture of people I could deeply connect with. My father came from France and I know he would tell me to follow my heart. On the other hand, my mother, coming from the island herself, would only reason me. Romania is somewhere in the middle, but not quite near any of the perks of either extremes. So, what’s it going to be? Am I destined to be incurably indecisive for the rest of my life? Am I unable to choose and commit because I want the best of both worlds and choosing would mean losing what the other side has to offer?

I sometimes wish I hadn’t lived in so many places and that, like the majority of people on this earth, I wouldn’t have to struggle with these decisions, because I wouldn’t even think of asking these questions. You can’t miss what you don’t know. Sometimes, not knowing anything else than what you’ve always called home really is best. From time to time, I happen to envy those who feel so complete in one place they are comfortable to live, thrive and struggle in that same place, day in and day out, no matter what. Like people who just don’t have a choice to stay put, or even if they do, would never consider moving anywhere else because they’ve accepted a specific place is their Home, for better or for worse. In certain ways, I also tend to believe that this also comes down to my own identity issues. I think it’s a mix of neurosis, multi-potentiality and the shiny object syndrome I suffer from. That said, I don’t know any other way of living than my nomadic one. Which begs the question, who am I really? What do I really want for myself? If you’ve read my raw story Becoming Me or My Last Day of Psychotherapy you’ll know what I’m talking about. What will I choose for myself? What is best for my family and I? Will I ever be able to settle down for good? I know I want to, desire to. I know it’s also what is best for my child. And I’m giving myself until the end of our upcoming annual sailing trip to choose the country, take the decision and commit to it.

Lastly, I will say that I do not want to offend any French, Romanians, Haitians or Dominicans with my idealistic or pessimistic views. Understand that I too am part French, part Romanian, part Haitian, part Dominican, and that these are opinions and memories which I formed with time, experience and living in these countries. I truly love all of them, even if I’d want some things to change. But since no place is ever perfect, and I can’t change the world, it will be up to me to choose which place I will accept to adapt to in the long run.

So, what do you think? Have you ever wondered what life would be like living elsewhere? Or do you also struggle with such a commitment?

Sarah the Digital GypSea

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“The most important thing is this: to be able at any moment to be free to choose a life that makes you happy.” ― Roy T. Bennett

7 Comments

  • Dana

    Ah, I remember this feeling of unsettledness! Even though my childhood was pretty stable, I’ve moved around a lot in my 20s. I don’t remember when I stopped looking for a home, but the question hasn’t haunted me in recent years. Maybe it has something to do with the relaxed ways of island living 🙂 I would say always follow your heart! And do what feels good for you now, giving yourself the freedom to reassess your choice later.

  • dave42w

    In many ways I shouldn’t feel any such dilemma. I was born in England, have always lived in England (although in lots of different parts of England). When I was younger I travelled a lot for work (over 40 countries).
    But now I no longer feel at home in the UK. The changes since the BREXIT referendum was announced are horrible. We have extended family in and from lots of countries (Australia, Ghana, Trinidad, India USA) and the way racism and hate has been legitimised in the UK is horrific, we no longer feel at home here.
    This is definitely part of our motivation for looking to a retirement sailing around the world. Although if/when we have to settle it will probably be the UK if it still exists.

    • Sarah the Digital GypSea

      I’m so happy to know that there are people out there that feel the same as I do in this way. Identifying to your own country isn’t always easy and plain-simple. I agree with you on some of the things you say about the UK, it’s a difficult time and transition, I feel like things are going backwards instead of progressing… I hope your sailing project will help you take a break from it all, get some perspective, and help you decide whether or not you’ll want to come back to the UK.

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