I’ve been thinking of expatriating myself.

Years ago, before I even had any idea to travel, I asked an acquaintance, an archeologist, what  memory was the most vivid he had about a place he had been:

“Mexico,”  he said after a few seconds.  “The smell of the earth.  It smelled different from  places I had dug in the U.S.”

I never think I am so affected by odors, having worked with  animals most of my life, but I will never forget riding on the back of Chris Bauer’s motorcycle from Zomba, in Malawi, 1992, where we had attended a party at a house on the plateau, back to Dumasi.

We had  to  ride past the Parliament building, which was all lit up (in a country that either could not or would not extend electricity to the rural areas), then through Zomba town, where  the Queen-of-the-Night was in full bloom about midnight, it’s extremely sweet scent wafting over us for about  a mile.  It was amazing.

I’ve actually been thinking of expatriating myself since my first trip to Africa (Tanzania). At the time, the reasons was the ‘exotic’. Mangoes every day (imagine, my Japanese roommate thinks apples and deciduous trees are exotic. He’s taken photos of our huge snowfalls).
Now, the reason is a better quality of life. I am glad I do not have any student loans. I can’t imagine what young people are thinking–incurring over $80,000 in loans, when the chances of making an annual salary approaching that are slim to none. Possibly, with law or medical degrees, possibly with a Ph.D.—you might make a living, but if you’ve read Barbara Ehrenreich’s “Bait and Switch,” you know making a living is the luck of the draw. It’s especially all luck if you don’t go to an elite graduate school & have a network, and are not ‘normal’ in personality.
At one time, I thought I would like to live in East Africa, but the fact of the matter is, unless you are an elite, life is difficult. That’s why there’s the brain drain. The educated know they have to get out not just to make a living, but to survive.
I am looking into Costa Rica, Panama, and Belize.
Why? Language is part of the reason. I can probably learn enough Spanish to get by, but English is widely spoken in all 3 countries. Literacy is high. Health care is good, and land rents are comparable to places like Arizona, Cincinnati. You get infrastructure in your home. Their economies & political systems are stable.
Chicago, being a major market, has gotten just too expensive. Between property taxes and energy costs (read that: heating fuel), I must say it’s a great place to visit, but truth be told, I’d get more out of visiting than actually living here.
Yes, my family and most of my friends are here, but how often do I see them? Due to work & our schedules, hardly at all.
Because of the price of energy, I haven’t been able to do race practice with my dogs this season. We’d have to schlep out to Gardner. That’s 80 miles from Chicago.

Part of the problem is the economy, but  the economy is not going to improve for most of us.  It’s going  to ‘straighten out’, and we’re going to get used to how things are, but  another fact that most people don’t want to address, because we can’t do anything about it, is land rents are high.  Even with the  ‘market correction’, our  homes cost a lot to buy and maintain.  Were I to put the money into  just living, I’d have a better quality of life.

Health care costs are lower in  Central America, for a number of reasons. They will not get lower in the U.S. because of how capitalism works.

I have started asking RPCV about their experiences where they served.  Anyone who has stayed in one place for over 3 months, please email me and tell me  the pros & cons, and  if you know of any rules for setting up permanent residency.

Most places want you have a financial  core to prove economic stability.

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