I am ten thousand twelve kilometers away from home. Yet I am home.
For more than eighteen years of my life, I have lived in several cities different from where I was born and, for at least fourteen, I have mainly spoken a language other than my own. I probably don’t qualify as the typical digital nomad. I have always considered that I have lived in a city only if two things have happened: I have declared taxes at least once and I know how to drive or travel within the city better than locals do (I know, subjective, but you get the idea).
This has not been an easy thing to do. I am away from my family all the time even though we are close. I missed the wedding of my two siblings. They missed mine. I was far away when my grandfather passed away last year and I couldn’t make it to his funeral. My parents have yet to meet my younger son even though he is already almost two years old.
I have had close friends in every place I’ve lived, but then I move away. I still consider them my close friends when we meet, but I am not great at keeping in touch. I am sure that this has confused them a lot. That’s why I chose my twitter handle to be @SlippingAway, because leaving and missing and being homesick all the time is my lifestyle. And don’t get me started on logistics such as getting or renewing a visa, learning the language or trying to find my way around in the new place.
If this is so painful, why have I done it?
This is natural to understand for people who have lived abroad. There is a calling to try new places and learning to adapt to the unknown. With every new place you get to live in, you improve your life skills, get a new appreciation for what you already know and, in the process, become a better person. At least, I know I have.
By having grown up in a very paternalistic environment, I used to expect other people to actually tell me what, how, and when things are done, but never question the why. By living abroad, I have learned to be a bit more independent and self-driven. I feel proud of and celebrate what I accomplish, but I also understand that I must own my failures. This is a life-long struggle that it’s not nearly half-done, but I’m happy that it has begun. It has also created the dissonance in which I seem as very independent to people from my home country, but must still look very passive to people in my newfound home.
On the other hand, I have brought good things that I am not planning to get rid of. At home, we tend to be very empathetic when someone needs help. The simplest case is giving a ride if you own a car. My dad has been doing this since I have a memory. I am doing it all the time in Estonia and enjoy doing it (and am the unofficial driver of any Teleporter in Tallinn). The point is I am free to pick what I change and what I keep.
Within my own family you may hear at any moment, palun, por favor, bitte or please (aside from our home-cooked cognate, plitte). We eat either puder or mosh for breakfast, which is in practice the same porridge, but none of them resemble the Estonian or Guatemalan version anymore. In some cases we always use the same word no matter the language: hark (pitchfork or tridente are too long), mono (not ahv nor monkey), huevos (cooler than eggs or munad), but paprika (chile pimiento or bell pepper don’t ring as good).
And I’m happy that in spite of growing in such alien worlds compared to each other, my better half and I seem to be more than compatible (you should have been to our wedding: people of 11 nationalities helped us celebrate it).
There is the strong belief in me that everyone should move at least once to become even better people than what they already are. It gives you freedom and it gives you choices. However, there are many who are afraid of doing it because of artificial barriers such as getting a visa, finding a place to live, applying for a new job, speaking the local language or just being in an unknown environment. I have lived in six different countries. I am sure that I would have lived in many more if I had something like what we are building up in Teleport.
Remember, free people move.
Karim Heredia is part of the Teleport team, tinkering with backend systems among other things. Originally from Guatemala, he has lived in seven cities in six different countries so far. He currently lives in Tallinn with his wife and two sons. If he is not sitting in front of a computer, you may find him taking snapshots all over the place.