Africa

Being a Stay Girl, Part 2

Made some friends in São Tomé that took my picture since I have so few of those.

In February I wrote an article about being a Stay Girl, or rather, a woman with a Go Girl mentality who is, for one reason or another, in one location for a period of time. Perhaps it is her job to stay put while someone else is out experiencing an adventure.

In my case, I became a Stay Girl when my boyfriend, Marvin, deployed to Afghanistan in January and I was still jobless in Washington, D.C. So I was at home battling the flag-sewing military wife stereotype while he was busy fighting a difficult war and missing with every morsel of his body the one and only lady in his life (his car, Gloria).

Sweeping in what felt like a magical cave. Leogane, Haiti

It is now July and I am proud to announce that Marvin will be coming home in less than one month. This “Stay Girl” was able to stay in D.C. until about March, when I gave up on the job hunt and went volunteering in Haiti (and then a couple of other locations after that, keeping me away from my beloved Capitol Hill apartment). So, it looks like I didn’t really turn out to be the SG I was expecting to be after all. In fact, the only person on this whole Earth who knows exactly where on the globe I am at one point or another is Marvin himself.

Yet my “being a Stay Girl-hood” has still remained to a large degree. I think 20 years from now I will find it hilarious to think about the evenings I spent emailing Marvin while sitting on a small plastic chair under a makeshift shelter that acted as my friend Zo’s living room as he rebuilt his earthquake-demolished house in Leogane. Or sneaking a note while I Twittered about our conference in Maho, St. John, as I got eaten by mosquitoes in the comfort of a screen-lined tent. Or perhaps now, the “NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO” sound that I utter when the lights flicker and go out late at night at Ned’s house when Marvin has just gotten online, thus ending São Tomé’s generous energy donation for the day.

Sitting in on a panel to talk about Waveplace in Haiti -- Maho Bay Camps, St. John, USVI

For wherever I have been in these past few months, I have still been the Stay Girl, writing daily letters, getting online whenever I have the fighting chance, and excitedly checking my Google Voice account for new voicemail messages that he leaves to my cell at home. I suppose in many ways I have been the Stay Girl I always thought I would be, except for the fact that I’m also actively traveling.

I imagine people would wonder how I could find it so easy to just travel the world while my boyfriend is constantly in extreme danger. In fact, I worry sometimes what Marvin’s friends and their wives must think about me. “How can she go galavant around the world when he is deployed?” They might say. “What kind of girlfriend could possibly have fun while knowing what her man is going through?”

I don’t know if people actually think like this, but if they do I try to see it as a good thing. It shows, on some level, that I am strong. Yet there is not a minute in my rides on four-seater planes to small islands or sailboat trips next to a bleating goat or dinners of fresh flying fish and fried banana that I am not thinking, hoping, worrying, praying. I think I hide my fear pretty easily- only my closest friends have seen me in absolute, uncompromising despair. I have had a number of friends accidentally make the “he’s not coming back” joke, growing pale and choking on their words when they realized that “not coming back” is a realistic possibility with a quite final diagnosis that they had perhaps not considered.

Made some rather young friends in São Tomé that took my picture.

Yet I will not lie and say that my life is just as hard as that of any other military family. I’m not sitting in an empty house, looking at a space where Marvin should be. There are many times where my experience is so colorful and rich that I am temporarily able to forget what my guy must be going through, and just absorb the moment. And being in a different country certainly helps. When I’m at home, even when I’m crazy busy juggling my new job and other things, my thoughts eat me alive.

So here we are, a month to go. I am writing this from the STeP UP office in São Tomé. It is Sunday. On Friday, I am heading back to the States for a whirlwind of meetings, conferences, and house-hunting in North Carolina. My best friend, who has supported me through the past months of thick and thin, is getting herself a-married. And then, when I get home, Marvin will be there.

And that is what will finally get me to stay in one place.

Beth Santos
Founder and CEO of Wanderful, creator of the Women in Travel Summit, enthusiastic lover of ice cream, picnics and art.

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