Wander, Seek, & Find

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Double Rainbow on Christmas Eve

Every morning the last few weeks, I’ve eaten cornflakes for breakfast. And suddenly the world seems less troublesome…

People often travel to find themselves, though why or how they lose themselves remained a mystery to me until recently. Instead I imagine bodiless souls ordained by some holy ascetic to wander the countryside, Will-o’-the-wisps gliding down a path in order to recommune with their weak, dependent bodies.

And it’s hard to argue with that logic; check any Instagram travel account and you’ll doubtless find a quote about how travel is the only thing you shell out dough for that will make you richer, or how travel changes you, broadening your mind and transforming you into Wander Woman, complete with money belt rather than Lasso of Truth. Then why are so many of us so incredibly lost while everyone else seems to find their way?

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My Jamaican Home

I have thought, read, and written about the concept of home and travel so much, you would think I have all these answers. Yet even after shirking work to travel for a year, I have no more answers than a three-year-old eating his own boogers.

So how did I lose myself when Peace Corps is supposed to be all about finding yourself? How did I become so mired in purposelessness, apathy, and despair when there are people whom I can help literally at my doorstep?

While pondering these puzzles, I realized a couple of things:

  1. People like to learn more about themselves, and then share that with the world. Case in point- While reading Eat, Pray, Love, I came across a section where a medicine man, Ketut, describes children born on Thursdays.

The official tree of children born on Thursday is the banyan. The official bird is the peacock. A person born on Thursday is always talking first, interrupting everyone else, can be a little aggressive, tends to be handsome (“a playboy or playgirl,” in Ketut’s words”) but has a decent overall character, with an excellent memory and a desire to help other people.

The point is, I was born on a Thursday.* And this quote is basically my Tinder bio. Which brings me to Point

  1. There’s nothing like a lived experience to teach you about yourself, and you cannot avoid them while traveling. After cussing out a taxi driver in Cambodia for not opening his trunk so I could get my backpack, I realized where my patience ends. After ten days of Burmese food, I learned it does nor pair well with extra cheesy pizza and margaritas.

Like Shrek said, life is like an onion, a layered, stinky, brings-tears-to-the-eyes affair that, when cooked correctly, is quite satisfying. And traveling is the most visceral, immediate way of learning about the life and self you’ve become.

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Moss Filtered Light on the Hike Up Blue Mountain Peak

In short, we find ourselves everywhere we go, between the pages of our favorite book, in the scent of a blossoming flower, or in the touch of a lover. There is no life experience that doesn’t imprint on us in some way, whether or not we acknowledge it. And perhaps this is why the kookier of us careen down life searching, grabbing at every passing token that offers us an explanation of life’s greatest mystery: ourselves. Travel is just the medium I choose to unlock these mysteries, a slow ex-pat odyssey as full of questions as answers, and often not the ones you were seeking.

So maybe it doesn’t matter why I felt so purposeless, in need of finding me. Perhaps what matters more is that I know how to find me, to read in another’s pages feelings I heard as my own, to drift from whence I came in order to come back fuller, wiser, to  tell cheese puns no one wants to hear.**

Returning home from weeks on the road, I saw a box of cornflakes on the table. They were the same brand I had purchased during my trip and I smiled as I recognized the label, the same my host mom always buys. I might travel endeavoring to find myself, but when I crossed the threshold, that box reminded me I had been there the whole time. Sometimes it just takes a trip to notice a box of cornflakes.

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Cornflakes ton UP

*My favorite tree is the banyan tree. I don’t have a favorite bird, but it might as well be the peacock, because that is, in essence, what I am: a loud, gregarious, bawdy young woman that likes to dress in finest feathers, but wants to help people too. As for the playgirl, you’ll have to ask my boyfriends…

**Did you hear about the cheese factory explosion in France? There was deBrie everywhere 😀

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Eat, Drink, and Walk Slowly

This is the true beauty of travel: getting lost so that you can find something you never knew existed.

People will tell you that a jam-packed itinerary while traveling is the best way to see everything. Others insist that eating long meals and seeing one thing a day is better. I won’t be so categorical, but after the past week, I’ve realized what works for me.

I arrived in Budapest to a hostel full of chatty travelers. I didn’t sleep much in Budapest, but spent much of my time simultaneously getting to know the city and these warm people.

In Prague, I spent the days on my own, but the pattern of eating, familiarizing, and wandering stayed the same. It wasn’t until I chanced upon a small courtyard that I realized there was more method to my madness.

Zahrady Gardens

As I was walking to Prague’s Rudolfinum, I looked to my left and saw a little cobblestoned courtyard strewn with fallen leaves and trees preparing for winter. The trees’ branches hung heavy like damp hair, the green, brown, and yellowing leaves obscuring exactly what lay behind. Streetlamps straight from Singin’ in the Rain or Paris in the Belle Epoque guarded the trees. – I have a love affair with streetlamps; they remind me of chilly nights and romantic bridges.- So when my eyes set upon this scene, I really had no choice!

I walked into the courtyard and heard a violin playing. One song later a jazz tune floated out from somewhere. Searching for the source of the music, I noticed a set of stairs blocked by a gate. Never one to be deterred, I walked up the stairs and pushed on the gate. It was firmly locked, though not that tall. I could see Prague’s Zahrady Gardens before me. For once, I turned back, mind swimming with thoughts of Babylon, and memories of past travels. I sat in the courtyard for a while, enjoying the kind of view that bears more significance than any insta-captured, filtered, or posted photo. I sat and then, all at once, I left, knowing I would have to return to these gardens… one day.

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