Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Home at Last!

Since arriving home, we've fielded countless questions from excited friends and family about our travels.  Everyone thinks we were on this blissful, no-worries-in-the-world endless vacation around the globe.  SOoooo not the case at all.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m incredibly grateful for our extended time away from our jobs, and for the chance to see all those amazing places.  However, our trip was most definitely LOTS of work, and was in fact often quite stressful.  And travelling with your significant other for an extended period certainly tests the relationship. 

Imagine being with your significant other 24 hours a day.  No “how was your day?” or “I’ve got plans to hang with my girlfriends on Saturday!”.  No “absence makes the heart grow fonder”, and nowhere to go to clear your head if you’re driving each other crazy.  Now imagine that you’re both always dirty, in clothes you’ve worn a thousand times in the past month, and you’re frequently hot, exhausted, lost or confused.  AND imagine that you are tracking every penny you spend so that you don’t run out of money on these months of travel, and that one of you is a saver and one of you is just DYING to stuff the crevices of your pack with all those beautiful exotic souvenirs.  Throw in the fact that one of you is a morning person and one a night owl, that you’re both stubborn, opinionated, and bossy, that you’re in a city where neither of you speaks the local language, and that you’re itchy with mosquito bites.  Oh yeah, and there’s ALWAYS a tout following you, yelling at you, begging you, or stepping into your path.

So yeah, there were some…shall we say…tense moments.  If you're planning a trip like ours, I recommend that you think long and hard abut the person you're choosing to travel with, and that you have a talk about how you'll handle the stresses of world exploration.  It's a good idea to split up tasks and to trust each other to get their part done right- and then remember to appreciate your partner when they do!  Who's going to research and plan?  Who's going to navigate in a strange city?  Who's best at haggling and negotiating taxi fares and hotel rates?  Who will be most diligent in tracking your budget?

As much as travel tests the limits of any relationship, I can't imagine doing a trip like ours solo.  There were so many moments of incredible beauty and insane coolness that I was so glad to be able to squeeze Mohit's hand and to share with him (even if he happened to be suffering from dysentery at that moment).  At the end of the day, there was no one else in the world who I’d rather be stranded in the desert with in Jordan or sharing a large beer with on a beach in Bali.

It wasn't all a blissful honeymoon , but our relationship is stronger and deeper after traveling and taking care of each other for four months in places where no one knew us, where our families only vaguely knew what country we were in at any given moment, and where we were surrounded by countless unknowns.   And now we have a boatload of amazing stories to share with our future children!  Though I will say that we have definitely been much sweeter, and more patient with each other since returning home…ahhh, home!
There really is something wonderful about home.  There’s that several-square mile slice of earth that you know like the back of your hand, where the street corners hold memories and the buildings hold people you call friends. 
    Reflections on being home, back in the first world:

    - The street sweeper is the most amazing thing in the world.  On our second day back in the U.S. I stood in my bedroom window and watched it brush the curb in front of our house, sucking up all the sand, leaves, and trash and leaving behind a ribbon of wet pavement.  I used to hate the street sweeper, associating it with parking tickets and towing.  After seeing what streets look like in lands where there’s no shared responsibility to clean up public spaces, I am reformed.

    - The most frequent question we are asked, and the most impossible to answer is: "So what was your favorite part?".  Ugh!  Neither of us have a good answer for this one yet, since there were so many  places and experiences. A walk on a steamy afternoon beneath palm trees along the deserted stretch of beach outside Varkala, forests of shocking pink rhododendron blooms in the mile-high mountains of Nepal, "sneaker surfing" in the Wadi Rum desert down a steep dune of wet red sand, and holding my breath in the middle of the Serengeti so I can listen to the grunts and moans of the herd of thousands of zebra and wildebeest that surround us.

    I have noticed that my favorite memories, the moments that are seared into my subconscious like the ones above, all happened at quiet locations where I was stunned by the beauty of the natural landscape.  This surprised me a bit, since most people who know me would consider me a city girl.

    Usually I consider the person who's asking me when I answer the "favorite part" question.  A friend's husband considers 4 stars to be "roughing it"- so I tell him about the beauty of Bali.  Another friend loves shopping as much as I do so I tell her about the souq in Fes and the street market in Chichicastenango.  A co-worker is a fellow world traveler and frequently participates in international Habitat for Humanity builds, so I've enjoyed sharing my observations with her about how lucky we are to live in the U.S. and how overwhelmed I feel when trying to decide how best to take advantage of all that I learned.

    - The second most common question (and one that leaves me just as speechless when searching for an answer) is "So how was your trip?  Amazing?"  I usually blurt out something about how it was all so incredible and we are so thankful to have had the opportunity to take this trip, which is true. But what I'm really thinking is much more complex.  Yes, of course it was absolutely amazing, and it was also one of the most difficult things I've ever done.  When I've had the luxury of not working for months to travel to varied and exotic locales, how do I explain how happy I was to step into my own home again?  How grueling it was to sleep in a different bed every few nights, to have to check those sheets before climbing in to see if they were clean, to compulsively scan the corner and crevices of our room for big insects and lizards?  It's emotionally exhausting to be so obviously an outsider, an uncovered woman in a Muslim country, or feeling like an oddity while being stared at and photographed by strangers in India. (This baffled me.  Is it the blonde hair?  The pale skin? The westerner clothes?  The fact that I'm strolling around with my Indian husband?  Were they mocking me or were they my personal paparazzi?  I have no idea...)

    So yeah, it's great to be home.  And we can't WAIT for our next trip....


    1. I agree with absolutely every point!! Coming home is amazing but is challenging me in ways I hadn't imagined. Most often it's trying to deal with people's questions and the complex answers that I have but must distill down to a few short, interesing sentences. I am lucky to have a few friends who have traveled long term and to whom I can REALLY talk. I hope you'll keep posting as you continue to adjust to life at home. Cheers!

    2. Wow, beautiful post. Well done!

    3. Kate, you are a great writer! I didnt read all the blog posts, but I really enjoyed reading this one!