On emigrating

Sometime in the last five years I've become what in Estonia is known as a "väliseestlane" - a foreign Estonian.

I still call myself an Estonian, still consider myself one. I speak Estonian to my son, as lonely of an endeavor it feels sometimes, and quite likely will carry a peculiar American-Estonian accent for as long as I live.

But I do not intend on returning.

I've never emigrated though. There was never a good bye party, no items were sold, no bank accounts or mobile phone agreements cancelled. In March 2009 when my "Estonian life" technically ended, I weren't leaving - I were going travelling.

For all intents and purposes I was due back in August 2010 at latest. I had a Master's degree to finish, and a circle of friends that shared or at least understood me for my restlessness. There was a seaside track I loved biking on and was going to miss duly, an apartment I'd rented on and off and could see myself returning to, and little crooked alleyways of both Tallinn and Tartu that I was sure I would someday walk down again.


But in all honesty, there wasn't really much to... return to. There was a way of life, a rhythm I'd developed over the years, but there wasn't any sense of belonging, no essential part of me actively wanting to be there.

At the time, I didn't belong anywhere - or, more likely, belonged everywhere. United States, Canada, Finland, Svalbard, Alaska, Norway, it was all fair game; I felt young, free and contentedly rootless.

I left Estonia with 21 kg of living/hiking gear packed away into my rucksack, and whatever else needed keeping for whilst I was away, I shoved away in a few cardboard boxes and left it all on top of a cupboard in my mother's apartment. I was somewhat minimalistic (simplistic?) in my belongings anyway, so there wasn't much to start with.

And now, five years later, I can see in retrospect that I have, in fact, emigrated and that I have, in fact, become a "väliseestlane", a foreign Estonian. Do I "belong" in New Zealand though?

Not sure yet. Somewhere further down south, maybe.

But why I'm thinking about this stuff now is that I think of the relationships I've left behind in that little, cute, Nordic country with its snowy winters and long, light-filled summer nights, and I think how these relationships have had to adapt over time, over the internet, essentially.

When people "move" abroad - like, emigrate - with packed-up households and researched school zones and potential jobs looked up ahead of time, there is some sort of finality to it all; it gets passed right down through relationships. But when they just go "travelling" - like I did - and never come back, the process of change comes much more erratically and can be downright confusing for some.

Take the stuff boxed up in my mother's apartment, for example.

I'm not sure if I've really had a conversation of "That's it, I think I'm staying here, guys" with my family. For several years the boxes full of stuff were awaiting a decision on what's going to happen to them - and me - until last year my mother sold off my motorcycling gear (and there was quite a bit of it) through a form of Estonian eBay, and that decision alone implied a some form of communication to take place before knowing whether this stuff has to go, or wait for another few years for some more apparent "decision"; and it's very similar to how many of my Estonian friendships and acquaintances have gone.

A lot of it is still, emotionally speaking, hanging. And though I like the "hanginess", and the infrequent letters and e-mails I exchange with people I still hold dear to me, it is also so... "hangy".

But, sorry, gotta go now. Toddler-duty.

1 comment:

  1. I know exactly how you feel! There's still a closet full of my stuff at my parents' apartment.. Every now and then I try to clean parts of it out ))). I wonder if we don't have that sense of finality because like you say, we've never actually intended to emigrate. Maybe it's ok to belong to several places. To have parallel lives, in a sense. Or a life that goes beyond one place.

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