Recent, I was facebook messaging a special friend, AN, and it started to sink in that in less than 18 days, I will be in yet another continent this year (not counting N. America, it will be my third). I think it was the discussion of Buddhism, monks, beads, and family in Cambodia that brought the realization that I will soon be physically there. Ever since, the recognition of little ironies of my current life started.
I love to travel. It allows me to meet new cultures, live with the people, absorb all that I can, and in a miniscule way, help as a volunteer. However, in transplanting myself to a new place (for any prolonged time), I am exposed to culture shock. Regardless of how often a person travels, that phenonmenon always strike. It is understandable. Although the ears, eyes, and all of my senses may have been mentally prepared by the act of flying or the active mental reminders that I will be in a new place, it is still shocking to me to be walking among people that no longer speak my language (at least not well). All of the senses that I have come accostumed to are no longer there as I step out of my guest house door. It is hard sometimes for the mind to accept the fact that all of my comfort zones have been completely stripped away and in the new place, I have to get used to the new senses, the new ways of life, and redefine my new temporary comfort zones. The irony of it all is that, it is this set of newness that makes this lifestyle exciting, while at the same time, too much of it may make me just want to go to a private corner somewhere and regroup. For me, when that happens, I would call home, go to a cafe or bar that is known to have others like me there (aid workers or volunteers), read a book, listen to my iphone music, or just watch recorded episodes of my favorite shows (two and a half men or How I met your mother. I love my iphone). That little "alone" time is normally enough, and I would re-engage the new temporary life.
Another thing I have come to anticipate is that in traveling to certain places, I just have to let go of worries about personal safety. I know due to the distance, the locales and the conditions of healthcare and/or security in those locales, if anything serious should happen to me, not much can be done. It is amazing how mentally and emotionally liberating it is to accept all that could come. Suddenly most of the fears that the western world has taught me to carry in my daily life, no longer exist. But ironically, I feel my most secure while abroad. This is because I am my sharpest, most alive, and most aware while abroad. Also, as I live longer in a place, I quietly learn my ways around, learn little tricks, etc.. So, in a sense, I think it is harder to get hurt while I am abroad. Besides, I think that not truly worrying about one's safety is a requirement of this career choice.
Although the comfort of home, knowing friends, having my dog around (love my Milou, the mini-schnauzer that like his Dad, still acts like a young puppy), etc.. can get boring, it is something that I do miss while abroad. It is a double-edged sword really. While I am in the states, these comforts and luxuries make me feel connected and close to my immediate surroundings. However, I feel disconnected from the rest of the humanity of the developing world. Also, I just feel as if I am just floating through life, not doing much meaningful things. When I am abroad volunteering, despite feeling distant from the local comforts, I feel connected to humanity, and feeling as if I am doing something constructive. I guess it comes from the daily exposure to truly impoverished people. Hearing their stories, touching their lives, and seeing their lives and feeling their sufferings, make me grounded. There, I feel truly connected to their lives, lives of complete strangers. I guess these experiences in a great part, help make me feel "alive".
Finally, in terms of the heart, while I am far away, there is a physical distance with the special people like my Mom, AN, and some of my close friends. However, because I emotionally and mentally carry them with me wherever I go, I don't feel that far from them. When I was in Uganda, when I looked at the smiling eyes of the children, I thought of my Mother. When I saw little dogs running around, I thought of Milou. When I visited Kitgum and spoke to the people at an IDP camp, I thought of RU. Some beautiful Ugandan sunsets made me think of AN, wishing she could have seen them. And when I was in Kampala, I visited a bar carrying my best friend son's name, Mateo. I know that while I am in Asia, there will be constant reminders of those special people. Buddhist monks will remind me of my Mom. Cambodia and its children will remind me of AN (she has family there and she loves to volunteer). Running children and adults with broken english will remind me of RU (she was an ESL teacher in DC). I guess, sometimes the loneliness when I am abroad makes me think of them more. Here, in the US, I am inundated by so many unimportant things that I never truly get a chance to think of them and/or appreciate them. So, yet another irony. Close physical promixity yet far in thoughts. Distant in bodily touch, yet close in mind and spirit.
16 days left...