The Thing About Being A Female Turtle…

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Each night in Sri Lanka we’d watch the turtles surf the shallow waters looking for dinner. With a little bit of concentration and a keen eye you could see them popping their heads up as they rode the waves. Henry Hotdog was getting a little distressed when “everyone else can see them but I can’t” *insert combination whine and pout here*. Our friends took this shot when he finally found one.

I’d heard about the turtles here in Qatar who return to lay their eggs at the same beach each time they are ready to nest. Sometimes they travel for hundreds of miles to get back here.  Some believe it’s smell that leads them back to the right place, others feel they follow the earth’s magnetic field to find their way. Many times, due to the turtles lack of landmarks, strong currents, and poor visibility, they rely on pure instinct. Female turtles have been taken by boat and dropped in far flung lands, only to then swim thousands of miles to make it back to familiarity. Just in time to waddle their way along the same stretch of beach and begin digging their nests.

G asked the manager at the Sri Lankan turtle conversation centre we visited “why do they come back to the same place?” He wasn’t entirely sure when he answered. “Maybe safety?”

I wanted to suggest that they sit with a group of expectant expat mothers, I think then they may begin to understand why. The magnetic pull to home has never been stronger.

The first little traveller was born in Australia. We were living in Indonesia at the time and I knew I wanted to be home for my first. But when the second little traveller was due to arrive, like many expat women, I realized it was a very long swim to make with a toddler on my back. Unlike a turtle, I had others to consider, a husband who obviously wanted to be around for the process, and my first little turtle who had her own life going on.

On the evening before the second little traveller’s birth, I sat in an unfamiliar hospital room in Malaysia wondering if I’d made the right decision. G had gone home to gather supplies and like many pregnant woman before me I suddenly changed my mind. I have a friend who stood up mid labour and announced she was going home “I’ve changed my mind, I don’t want to do this anymore”. When we talk I only have to utter the words “I’ve changed my mind…” and we’ll both giggle hysterically.

What I hadn’t bargained for was how I would feel after the event. That Kuala Lumpur was no longer just a location that we’d lived in, it was now the birthplace of my child. More than a name on a birth certificate, it now encapsulated everything in those few few days when our family changed forever. The flowers, the visits from friends, the drive home – all of it now interwoven with a time in another place.

When the third little traveller announced his surprise arrival with the onset of morning sickness and a vague memory of a very big night at the British Embassy in Libya, I began to map out a way home. I had a small problem, one that even the best cartographer couldn’t help me with. I had too many young turtles under the age of two to legally navigate my way home on my own. We headed to Mediterranean waters. The third little traveller is inexplicably proud of his Maltese origins, and I have to agree with him. We all fell in love with Malta in that time of our lives. The entire experience for many reasons, has its own permanent piece of real estate in my heart.

When the fourth little traveller told me the other day that he hopes to marry a Canadian, I didn’t have to ask why. As a family we all talk of Canada with the kind of melancholy that comes when you leave fabulous friends, snow capped mountains, and a number of first of the firsts behind you. Our first house purchase, our first visit from the tooth fairy, our first Christmas away from home. It was a fellow mother from the first little traveller’s kindergarten class who delivered him. “It’s a boy” she squealed, knowing that his brothers and sisters were all at home with fingers and toes firmly crossed that it was a new brother coming their way.

When I sat and watched our Sri Lankan turtles bobbing up and down I wondered how they differed from the Qatari turtles at home. How different would the process be? The waters were surely calmer and warmer here in Qatar, as opposed to the surf and reef on the coast in Sri Lanka. What was it that made them keep coming back? Making the trek home.

Sometimes if we can ignore the magnetic field, the tug and the pull, we can surprise ourselves with how much like home so very far away can feel.

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