Gabi Klaf and her family have been nomadic for quite some time now and have learned quite a few life lessons along the way. One of those, that seems so obvious yet is hard to accept, is that every time we make a decision to DO something, we choose NOT TO DO something else. Here’s Gabi to explain.
We had no intention of staying in Boquete, Panama for ages. By definition, moving on is what makes us ‘The Nomadic Family’. And, alas, instead of us hitting lucky continent number three; three months later, here we are. It’s a dreadful tale of self-sacrifice and suffering. In a sentence: we were offered a house-sitting job to die for, and took it.
Talk about materialistic/consumerist everything. We were upgraded from a one-room moldy cabana the size of a small bedroom to a two-story house with a king-size bed padded with that amazing foamy bed stuff. We’ve gone from a Ziplock of toys per kid to every product that Toys ‘R Us has marketed in the last 50 years; from two books per backpack to a children’s library I’m still drooling over; from playing with rocks and dirt to a 15-foot trampoline; from picking their noses to picking who’s next on Wii. I’ve gone from holding up the computer just so to get Bob-the-kindly-neighbor’s wireless connection to five bars of internet day and night.
I’ve also gone from bonding with my family to conveniently forgetting to feed them; from murdering them for not going to bed on time to and letting them stay up playing later than I care to admit so that I can push, push, push behind a screen, getting more work done in three weeks than I have in months.
We have, instantaneously, lost all connection to nature (and most contact with living humans) as we’ve gotten sucked up (joyfully) in consumerism and materialism.
As a family of five traveling for an undefined period of time; we’ve tasted, thus far, life in the big city, in an RV, on a ranch, in a cabana, and now, in someone else’s home. This two-story mammoth has thick “properly-built” walls. I sit here in a raging rain storm and realize, for the first time in forever, how detached I am from the natural world I live in. The sky is crackling, booming, and pouring; but who really cares? The kids are bowling on Wii; my husband is working on a project in the garage, as I’m working simultaneously on two laptops (am I really admitting this?) making the final edits on the three e-books (finally!) coming out next week. Unlike every living arrangement in Latin America thus far; nature has quite nothing to do with me, and I don’t like it.
Living in this house, with all of its five-star glimmer and all the remarkable conveniences we just go gaga over; has quite detached us from why we set out globe-trotting in the first place. Back in the La Lucha de la Tigra ranch in Costa Rica, our home was open to the elements. The house was well-visited by leaves, bats, birds, lizards; and one stormy night, a cow. When it rained, we could barely talk as the raindrops pounded the metal roof. When it rained hard; we balanced ourselves along the wooden partition to remove the leaves resting in the gutter drains making waterfalls onto the floor.
Then, we were nomadic volunteers without a car, but with backpacks and hiking boots. When it rained on volunteer days with the elderly in Florencia; all five of us walked in the rain to the bus stop forty minutes away [uphill both ways]. And when we missed the bus (usually), we hitchhiked on the back of pickup trucks, and arrived drenched. When it rained on our volunteer days at the Lucha rural school; we slopped through fields and rain forests of mud.
Unlike now, when my new best friends are whoever ‘liked’ us today on facebook; there, we actually connected face-to-face with the neighbors and nature. When they came at dusk to my “Clean Your Soul” class; Lula would tell me in hushed tones (in Spanish), “I can smell them [rattlesnakes], and, yup, they sure are near tonight.” That always freaked me out.
Their tuition was a fresh fruit or veggie per class. And so, what they ‘paid’ their classes with depended on how their personal crops were doing and what was ripe. And that was what we would eat. That and whatever Kobi and the kids could knock off the highest branches with rocks; how many tilapia fish they caught in the neighbor’s lake; if Sonia was going into the rain forest village to get yucca, or if Don Jose Ramon was up to go digging elote with them.
When we moved on to the cabana in Panama; in addition to breathing in each others’ CO2, we breathed nature. The cabana, the size of a very small bedroom, was covered wall to wall with mattresses at night. Our choices were simple: we could be in the bedroom/dining room/bathroom/living room/kitchen or on the porch. Our porch was heavenly (until the snake). By lack of choice; we spent hours out there watching the Panamanian clouds dance with Volcan Baru; we’d talk [imagine that] over a puzzle; the kids caught worms, insects, and lizards. The rains dictated our rhythm and hum. We usually had a minute’s warning before the rains poured, to push everything to the middle of the porch, grab the always partially-dry laundry, and hang the plastic tarp with cloth pins. And for the hours after, we’d sit there on our porch (where else?), all five of us; and eat, fight, learn, read, fight, and play with the rain echoing loudly above our heads and misting on our faces.
And here, as we live in someone else’s perfect suburban home, we walk around the block. Tailored flowers and shrubbery do not compare to goats, horses, chickens, cows, and unkempt wilderness in our walks of just a few weeks and months ago. Of course, I could go outside and stay connected to nature. But, I don’t. There is too much technology and comfort luring me to stay inside. You know how it goes when you’re busy. In my weeks here, I’ve opened ‘The Nomadic Family’ a Facebook, Twitter, and Youtube channel; I’ve gotten three new e-books written; I’ve gotten us on page one of google. Why the hell would I go outside?
All the cleansing and tranquilo life-style I’ve deeply breathed into my lungs these past months have been knocked out of me in one fell swoop. Don’t get me wrong about this house-sitting arrangement. We are loving this! This is the closest we’ve been in almost a year to feeling as if we are living the ‘normal’ life back home. Our own bedroom (can I even remember what we’re supposed to do with complete privacy?) and white cotton sheets. Puzzles, Lego, Polly Pocket (complete with diving flippers), knights on armored horses, and rooms far enough away from each other that you can’t hear every word of every argument.
This is awesome! It has nothing to do with the non-materialist, simplistic, “need” vs “want”, get-to-know-the-locals mentality we’ve been walking towards as we travel the world; but, hey, we’ll suffer silently.
What does it mean that I was so seamlessly allured into a world of comfort and away from a world of simplicity? What’s the significance of my little horror story of dumping poor-man’s backpacker’s life for the lap of luxury? And what do I learn from this?
It means I made a choice, but that was not so easy for me to recognize in the beginning. For me, the lesson was unclear and very confusing at first. Unclear, very confusing, and guilt-ridden. Would I really choose comfort over simplicity? Is that the sum total of all I come down to be? Comfort vs Simplicity. I lost one and found the other, and spent a lot of time reflecting what that means about me as a person.
Guess what? It means I am human, and that I weigh the advantages and disadvantages of my options (even if it seems sub-consciously), and choose what is right for me, at the time. Neither is good or evil, right or wrong. There are many wonderful things to have in our lives, and each has a place in our lives, guilt-free, at their own given time.
I learned that when I pick one thing in life (house-sitting in the suburbs of Los Altos, Panama), I am automatically not picking another thing (roughing it with the locals in sub-modern conditions). That when we saved like mad to afford our open-ended RTW family travel; I could not, simultaneously, go out to eat at the restaurants I liked and buy nice clothing. I picked one and consciously did not pick the other. I found one and lost the other.
So, I deeply enjoyed that productive time in that 5-star 2-story loaded house. I lost all contact with nature, my family, and, maybe, with myself; but, I founded online foundations that have been the pillars from which my online businesses have grown. I did dump simplicity for comfort and it felt so right at the time.
And now, a year later, I sit here off the River Kwai in Khanchanaburi, Thailand working on the computer while my husband teaches the kids how to compare fractions. The winds have picked up and the breeze brings great relief from the usually-exhausting mid-day heat. Also here, we are making choices in the everyday ying-yang of travel life. How much time to be online vs. “on-life”; to be out exploring on wild adventures vs. to conserve our energy here in the shade and veg; to meet locals and fellow travelers vs. to create quiet corners for our family to curl into. All choices, all great choices, and all choices that I will pick because, at the time, they are right for me and my family.
Gabi writes a great deal about making choices, money vs priorities, and how that all fits into making our dreams come true. Three powerfully insightful articles on this topic are The Ying Yang of Living Without, Voluntary Frugality, and Poverty for Christmas . I think you will enjoy them.