Wednesday, April 13, 2011

On returning

“Welcome home!! Whatever that means these days,” reads an email from a childhood and dear friend who is similarly ailed with itchy feet. I smiled, resolved to ring her and was pleased that she gets it. It being that “home” is no longer a physical place and likely will never again be the geographic location of where we grew up. “Back to where I started” is my preferred phrase because it accommodates a degree of vagueness and openness to interpretation. It also solidifies the self-imposed limbo I live in.

Rarely in one place for more than four months (eight months if uni years are considered) for the last eight years, I am never completely anywhere. Both feet are often firmly planted elsewhere – one in where I just came from and the other in where I’m off to next. While this caters well to my anticipation for upcoming events and desire for reflection, a wake of disposable, temporary relationships inevitably follows as individuals I know turn into people I knew. In a constant struggle to create, never mind maintain previous social circles I repeatedly leave friends, lovers and family scattered about the globe in favour of reckless rushes into the unknown.

When I return to previously created communities I paradoxically expect and inwardly hope I’ll be walking in as I left. Warmly welcomed and easily integrated back in, I’m shocked when all has seemingly changed. Friends are in or have fallen out of serious relationships, working on producing a CD or house shopping, work supervisors retire, coworkers suffer incomprehensible romantic trials, lovers turn into someone else’s, uni houses are populated with other students and the price of beer has skyrocketed.

While grappling to grasp these new developments and comprehend friends likewise venturing out to far-flung ports and outposts themselves, little has mercifully changed too. My aunt still loyally recommends novels, a friend who has always wanted to be more than a friend is still keen, Bonnie Doon’s handsome Tuesday morning aquasize instructor from more than a year ago is still not only teaching but recognizes me, my sister continues to make irresponsible (but remarkably sexually safe) decisions and my mother is pumped at the prospect and actualization of my return – even if it’s just for awhile.

At either end of a travel or binge work contract, as I cycle caulk boots and ribbon for dive masks and quick-dry towels, I find myself begging for that one concession novelist Zadie Smith says we rarely get more of: time.

Time for another dog walk with Gough, who truly and unselfishly means it when he says, “anything for you.” Time for another crib game with Brenda. Time to explore another temple with just-met-yesterday friend Lindsay. Time to hungoverly linger on the pier with Dan as crab traps are pulled up. Time to crawl under Robyn doing back stretches next to a bomb shelter. Agreeing with Smith’s husband Nick that time is how we spend our love, it is the shelter of each other she writes of that truly is the greatest place to return to.

Abroad and where I started, it’s about connecting with people. Sure, I’m embedded in stunning scenery in both places, but it’s not the rolling hills in Laos I pine for, or the glacial lakes of northern B.C. that quietly and persistently beckon me back, or Scotland’s Highlands dotted with sheep, shaggy surfer-dude Highland cows and heather, or Bahamian hammerheads or even Alberta’s truly big sky that I leave and return for, it’s the people, local and otherwise, I shared places with that are the most memorable.

While my address book is swollen with new entries spanning the Norwegian couple that’s still maddeningly in love with each other who tipsily insisted on picking up my Tiger tab in Vietnam to the Serbian model who campily posed with a toothless Filipino man in traditional garb and later Empire hungoverly took up dull spears against him to Roz whose dress was either plastered up on her top or tempting the locals with shoulder sex for sharing an Angkor tuk tuk for two days and cheap drinks for slightly longer to a gorgeous NYC lawyer who brazenly chided our jungle guide for the “free night trek,” I’m soberingly and achingly reminded that in addition to people worth their weight in gold and pho, there’s d-bags all over the globe.

Calgary’s car jackers, Saigon’s midnight muggers, Kratie’s sexually bold moto-taxi drivers and disgusting Filipino construction workers, divemasters, shop keepers and general disrespectful male population take away from a pleasant vacation but more importantly point at greater underlying social and societal discrepancies from the Western and “other” worlds.

In Edmonton for the month before heading north for work, I am homesick for a place that isn’t my home and dearly miss motorbikes, kitchens carried on either end of sticks, livestock big and small and dodging pushcarts and sadistic bus drivers while meandering about the city.

This too is temporary as I’ll likely be back in SE Asia for the upcoming winter, but in the mean time, I am somewhat grudgingly settled (read: most of the contents of my bag are no longer in my bag) and I have the time to reflect, enjoy and appreciate my life for the adventure it is.

1 comment:

  1. You are a terrific word smith. Though stationary in comparison, my limited travels and social experiences reflect truth in your words. This is the only entry I have read, but now intend to read the rest as it is a marvelous read! I hope your future is full of many more adventures with stories to share for us folks who tend to stay in one place. I think the saddest part is, the friends seem to come and go just as often. You're terrific Sheri. Hope to see you soon!