Monday, March 14, 2011


At sixteen I became a political refugee and was evacuated out of Indonesia to The Netherlands.  My family lived in Borneo and could not get out.  I had been going to school in Jakarta and was lucky to get on one of the first transports for refugees.  After a three-week journey by sea I arrived in the port of Rotterdam the day after a snowstorm.  Never in my life had I seen snow before and never had I been so cold, either.  I had no winter clothes.  Everything I owned I carried with me in a small bag.  The culture shock was immense. 

Since then my life has been punctuated by numerous moves and journeys, from place to place, country to country, always keeping some kind of refugee feeling.  There was a time early on when I had a backpack ready at all times with the most necessary items for my two kids and me.  I also refused to own anything that would not fit in the trunk of my orange VW Beetle.  Freedom and mobility were what mattered.

It wasn't until Phil presented me with a piano, a nine-foot couch, a big TV console, and a king-size bed, that I realized that it was okay to own big and heavy things.  It was even okay to own something unmovable like a HOUSE!  What a concept!!!  I realized that freedom and mobility do not come from refusing to own big and heavy things; they come from the willingness to lose everything over and over, including your life.  And so began my spiritual practice of Hello & Goodbye.

When the tsunami warning came Thursday evening, I did what comes naturally to me.  I became a refugee again.  Gathered the most necessary items in a backpack and said goodbye to the rest.  The difference this time:  my backpack was on wheels and contained our laptops!

The same day of the tsunami, we got the news that the lease of our apartment would not be renewed as planned.  Apparently the owner's family is coming to Hawaii for four months and will need to stay at our place.  We can have the apartment back again after they leave.  Ha ha, just like that!  As if we're a board game. 

I have to tell you, we LOVE this place. We love living in this small circle of a neighborhood with the many friends we've made in the short time we've been here.  We love living outdoors, eating out on the lanai, walking to my garden, walking through Kapiolani Park, walking under the full moon...  I find it suddenly impossible to say goodbye.  I've barely said hello.

So I create wild scenarios for making it work:  How about traveling around the mainland in an RV for four months, go to Europe, go back to Bali... or find another place in Waikiki for four months, then come back demanding a guarantee of at least a two-year lease for our sacrifice...  Any possible way to hang on to what we have now.

But what about letting it all go?  People in Japan lost everything in the earthquake and tsunami.  Who says there's such a thing as security?  Who says we should stay where we are?  There is only change. 

I have to laugh when I find Annie Lamott's quote: “Most things I let go of have claw marks in them.” 

And so, I scour Craigslist and make appointments to look at places, all kinds of places, knowing again there are no guarantees, no security... and blessing the gift of being a refugee. 


  1. Thanks to your email, David and I now own backpacks with lots of pockets. We have been discussing what to put in them: bar of soap, toothpaste and toothbrush, change of clothing, etc.

    Too bad about the apartment. I love the backdrop of areca palms in the photo of you in your lanai.

    My friend, Dawn, a Pen Woman Friend, is looking for a place also and is having a hard time finding one with a lanai. Meanwhile, her landlord is trying to sell her apartment so it is month to month.

    Good luck!

  2. BTW, if you have been reading Cloudia's blog lately, she indicates that 19 years of living aboard a boat in Ala Wai Harbor are drawing to a close. She and Tom are going to become land lubbers! Her mother lives in a condo, so maybe C and T will do the same. Less stress in the long run!