I was 12 and on my first “date” with my next-door neighbor. Her name was Cindy Oksanen and she was 13. We were at the drive-in, in the back seat of her dad’s station wagon. He was in the front seat. So, obviously having my arm around her was about as brave as I was going to be.
But that was okay, because the movie was Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. It had been out for a few years but had only recently come to our small little New England town. I was enthralled by it.
The story of these two thieves, with their wild adventures with the Hole-in-the-Wall Gang, running from the relentless pursuit of a “posse” that included tracker “Lord Baltimore” (an “Indian tracker”) and lawman Joe Lefors, was exactly what a small kid from a small town dreamed of.
Not the thieving part, but the adventure. The Wild West. The action. All of it.
What held my attention the most was their escape to Bolivia. Like I said, I was a small kid from a small town. I’d never heard of Bolivia. I didn’t even really know most of the places in South America. I didn’t think I cared. But my God, this part of Butch and Sundance’s story really stuck with me.
I’m sure the entire movie was partly responsible for my love of the western US. Shortly after seeing it I bought a book that was full of photos of the West, mainly of Colorado. A place I would move to almost 20 years later and spend 20 years living in. Similarly, I know the Bolivian part of the movie is what planted the seed for me to move to South America (40 years later).
That seed was watered and fed by my love of reading and the discovery of the amazing life of Ernest Hemingway in my early 20’s. He seemed to actually live crazy adventures that even exceeded what Butch and Sundance did in the movies (and also supposedly in real life). His exotic travel, love affairs and involvement in world-changing events opened my eyes to the possibilities of a “different” kind of life. One of adventure and intrigue.
But I didn’t become a spy or anything like that. I went to college, got a good job, then another, then a few more, and ended a great career in my mid-40’s.
And a few years later I moved here. That’s really when my adventures began. I’ve talked about his before, how I love my life here. I own a newspaper, I have an exotic esposa, I have a farm in the middle of nowhere where we have become fully integrated with the locals. I get to meet so many different people at our restaurant and I get to share my random thoughts on things with all of you.
Coming here has become a “second life” for me. Nothing like my old one. Nothing like any of my friends back in the US have. They think it’s an odd choice I’ve made. I think it was the best thing I’ve ever done.
But let’s talk about you. You all came here for a variety of reasons. Some came like me for the chance of a new adventure. Some came to invest in what they see as a growing part of the world. Many came because you couldn’t afford to live in North America (or Europe) anymore. You didn’t really want to leave; you just felt you had no choice.
And lately that has bothered me. I can’t imagine how it must feel to have been forced to move here. You try to make the best of it, but because you never really sought out the Butch or Ernest lifestyle, much of the day-to-day difficulties here become a real burden.
Those of us who are so happy we came here miss the signals that some of our brethren give us. They are sad inside and miss everything about “home.” But we can’t see it because we let go of all of that on purpose.
I’m not sure what my point is here except to say that in this column I frequently push people to “get out!, discover, integrate, be happy, etc..” As if those who are scared of being an expatriate don’t exist.
It was never my intent to ignore those of you who had no choice but to come here. I just never gave it much thought. I felt that I could push you to be happy here. That is was your fault that you weren’t happy. I was wrong.
Over time I’ve gotten to know some of you “economic refugees” personally. You’ve shared with me how badly you want to go visit grandchildren, but you have to wait until you can afford the trip. Many of you can’t even travel around this beautiful country because of tight budgets. I’ve heard some of you ask other expatriates how long it took them to “be happy here.” You’re shocked when they tell you that they were happy from day one.
Many of you were victims of the 2008 meltdown in the US. Some, just victims of poor planning or the rapid increase in the cost of living in US over the last 10 years (almost a 38% increase; more in the urban areas). Some of you had your plans turned upside down by a divorce or death of a spouse. Some of you are here because you couldn’t ever seem to save much for retirement due to family expenses or the low level of income in your profession.
I’m not going to tell you to suck it up. I’m not going to tell you “if you don’t like it go back.” I’m no longer going to assume that everyone here came because they were excited about a new expatriate life.
I’m going to say you are brave for having made the hard decision. For not letting yourself lay down and say “oh, poor me.”
Because you did what you had to do to survive. Just like when Butch and Sundance jumped off of that cliff to escape Lord Baltimore and Lefors.
I hope all of you at least landed safely like they did.