Friday, November 30, 2007

Life of a Nomad

I’ve always been intrigued with nomads? What is it in their makeup that they can’t stay in one place for a long period of time, always on the move?

I’m not talking about the tribal nomads roaming the deserts. I worked with those people for fourteen years in the bush of Kenya, and I know why they move about…they are in search of grass and water for their herds. I remember the first time I walked into one the Turkana compounds and being struck by how little stuff they have. Their little huts are not more than five feet high and wide. They find just enough sticks and brush to provide shelter from wind, sun and rain; nothing else is needed. They have no beds, a few pots that could fit in a small suitcase, no extra clothes, nothing to weigh them down for their next move in a few days time.

The nomads I am thinking about are people, well, like my wife and I. My folks have lived in the same county for over forty years. My two brothers have never lived outside of Arkansas since we moved there in the early 60’s. My in-laws also haven’t lived out of Benton County and my father-in-law has lived on same corner of land for at least 60 years, maybe longer. So what’s the deal with Sandy and I?

The best my memory serves me, in the 39 years we have been married we have lived in at least 17 different houses. These are the times we physically moved our stuff into new dwellings and doesn’t include the many times we stayed in guest houses, homes and apartments for shorter periods of time. Along with that tally we have lived in six different states and foreign two countries.

Not all people in my profession are nomadic. I know several colleagues who have lived in their adopted country for thirty years. In fact, those who do stay on the field for any length of time usually put down pretty deep roots. Being a cross-cultural worker doesn’t automatically mean that they will be nomads.

I realize there are other professions that are inclined to nomadism. Military personnel come to mind, but also people in sales, who often get transfers. Even in these occupations people do not have to move around as they can ask their companies to give them permanent assignments. But some, like us, are forever packing up and moving to new destinations.

Every time we have a sale, selling our stuff for pennies that we bought with dollars just a few months before, I think about how nice it would be to just stay with our stuff in one place for a long period of time. Oh the joy of being attached to a worn out and outdated chair! Every time I wrap a box of stuff to send to my next destination I think of my African desert friends and how they never have to think about storing, saving, sending or even preserving their things.

At my age you’d think I’d be ready to settle down. I realize that social time will eventually catch up with me, but until I physically can’t move, I can't say for certain when will be our last stop. When I’m in my 70’s it’s entirely possible that I will say to Sandy, “What do you think about living in Macau for a few years?” Yo-ho-ho, it’s the nomadic life for me.