May 19, 2012

Free and Flat

My first ever solo trip - 6 weeks in Europe at age 21 - I was so scared that I couldn't let myself feel any emotion about it. Only on the road to the airport, when an airplane buzzed overhead and my dear friend Mary gave me a huge washroom key ("the key to opportunity", she said) did I suddenly get an excited adrenaline rush.

14 years and over 20 countries later I find myself oddly non-aroused at this latest jaunt. Probably several reasons:

1. I'm so prepared and looking forward to my real destination - a one-month work assignment in Sri Lanka - that this India indulgence feels like a detour. I've treated myself to this, devoted mom's precious birthday money to this, and know it will be a treat - a full week in a new place with nothing to do but drink it in. But I think I just need to arrive and Be in it and let it take me over.

2. Related to #1, I've in general gone past a time when I could really enjoy quick visits to places. I became spoiled with the Joy of living long times in places, making friends, learning language, contributing. It's made normal tourism feel somewhat shallow. Sounds snobbish, I know, and truth is that I did deeply enjoy our 2-week jaunt through Oregon and California and felt no need to settle down and volunteer at every gold-mining ghost town or perfect beach we discovered. As with most things in life, I need to remember to not compare - a week in India is what I've got, and I'll experience a huge mouthful of the long longed-for continent in that short time.

3. I'm still not far enough away from my family and home. I'm dearly missing my children, planting season on the farm, my beautiful wife who so beautifully gifted me with this time away, our community, the end-of-year school stuff, etc. Much more than in past trips - perhaps because I'm that much more involved in my children and community life than in the past, perhaps because I'm that much older and more mortal. I just know that opening myself too much to where I'm going is impossible without opening myself to the gushy tears I feel watching my sad, multiple-tantrum little boy on Skype this morning, acting out so beautifully and purely what all four of us are feeling at some level.

4. Admittedly, and surprisingly, I'm a bit nervous about arriving in India for the first time ever, at midnight, with no direction, itinerary, hotel, transport... Everyone says that no matter how much you've travelled elsewhere, India's still going to be overwhelming. Well, despite all the incredibly difficult travel I've experienced, I guess a little piece of me still buys that story. Not enough to overplan - I still feel confident enough to not even have a Lonely Planet, just trusting that I'll amble through it just fine - but enough to jitter a bit.
A man walks down a street, it's a street in a strange world
Maybe it's the third world, and maybe it's his first time around
Doesn't speak the language, he holds no currency
He is a foreign man, he is surrounded by the sound, sound of
Cattle in the marketplace, scatterlings and orphanages..'.

I've spent the last week consciously noticing and appreciating Canada, to heighten the contrast to the India I'm about to discover. Here's just a bit of the Canadiana I've tried to drink in:
- Space. We have so much open, quiet, green, throw-your-arms-out-and-dance-in-circles space
- Pizza, poutine, croissant, organic peanut-butter-chocolate squares...
- Sunshine that (right now) is just perfect to talk in without protection, sweat or exhaustion
- Clean, smooth sidewalks that let me keep my head up

On the other hand, I've also noticed
- Absolute lack of children in downtown Ottawa. 3 days, 2 kids in strollers spotted.
- Lack of people - the same wide space and silence I enjoy is also a lack of music and smiles and people-life that makes other countries so alive
- Canada's 8th-largest carbon footprint per capita - this plane ride sits heavy on my eco-conscience
- Prices - having trouble dropping $10 on felafel for lunch knowing that tomorrow I can eat amazing "real" Indian food for under a dollar
- An overall level of comfort and ease that is lovely (and against which I don't fight nearly so much as when I was a young backpacker - this photo's from 1990 in Zaire) but also isolating and artificial, living in a bubble

So here's to a 20-hour plane ride to a chaotic midnight entry into a new sub-continent. 20 hours to let go of Canada, let go of heaviness and fear and flatness, and open myself wholly to this new mistress who waits patiently to unfold.


  1. Hi there Rick hope you're having an interesting and safe time in India, please send me your email address when you have the chance as I'd like to comment directly to you.
    reader and admirer of your blog