I’ve hinted at bits and pieces of my itchy feet before, and since I have just booked three trips for the coming three months, I thought it’d be appropriate to write some words about my travels.
One of my first jobs (after working in a café for mentally challenged people which my mother had set up), was a summerjob in France. I went there with friend to work on an activity team there, and working nights in the bar/restaurant as a waitress/bartender. I LOVED the freedom of living in a new country with new people, with a new culture and language and simply just ‘getting away from it all’. The summer after the first, I returned, this time as an au pair. I would spend endless days walking the kids and dogs through the vineyards, there were daily picknicks (or, pickwicks as my little one called them) and dance classes with my 4 year old in the kitchen. I loved it.
After finishing grammarschool, I decided to give into my itchy feet. I quit my part time job as a waitress and booked a one way ticket to Thailand. I did not open my Rough Guide until I got onto the plane, and had no idea what I was getting myself into. I just wanted to ‘go’. After two months of Thailand (and a little hop to Cambodia) I crossed the border into Malaysia where I found a temporary job as a nanny in Kuala Lumpur.
I wanted to work and live in Asia for a while, to not just experience that part of the world as a tourist, but the get the inside scoop. To feel like I actually got to know it. The job was with an expat family, and even though they were nice and I lived in one of the most expensive neighbourhoods (private pool y’all, holla!) I felt so out of place. Had I not met the most wonderful group of local guys, I had not stayed in that crazy city. But I did, and I had the best time of my life there.
I could not cope with the expat community though. They looked and talked down on the locals, treating me as one of their own ‘higher class’ yet all my fellow-nannies (mostly Indonesian and Philipinnian (?) girls) were not even worth looking in the eye. I was pushed into the expat community, but it was the opposite of where I wanted to fit in. I was there to live the ASIAN life, not the EXPAT life after all!
So I moved in with one of the guys. In a Chinese neighbourhood. And I loved it. I would sometimes embaress the shit out of him (‘You went SUNBATHING in my garden?! What will the neighbours think of that white barely covered chick!!’), the neighbourhood loved me too. Actually, most locals did. I was the crazy white chick who mixed with the locals, who even spoke a little of the local language and slang and who did not mind if the rats nibbled her feet when she had dinner at the nightmarket.
I bloomed, I blossomed. I have never felt so me. I did not have to pretend anymore. I did not have to make myself prettier than I was, skinnier than I was, funnier than I was, more intelligent than I was, cuter than I was, cooler than I was, etc. I felt good being silly old me, and accepted just like that.
With hindsight, maybe the need to make myself a little something else was not there because I was already a little something else. But I know too that I was the fact I was so at ease and the fact I was surrounded with such awesome people that eased me into this newly found me.
I have a problem with adjusting. I adjust too easily. I forget about the me inside. I have this problem everywhere, at home and on the road. But at home I tend to adjust to the bad bits, while on the road I tend to do the opposite. I need to find a way to take this attitude with me, to internalize it. I hope to be able to do this at some point. I love to travel, but I wish I did not ‘need’ it to be me. But by living there, with people who made me see I was also good enough by being that ‘abroad me’, I got a taste of how to do that.
After my short Malaysian stay (appr 3-4 months in total) I continued to travel (Indonesia, Papua, Lao, China, Mongolia, Russia) all the way back to Holland. Which is where I got a job with mentally challenged people again and started Uni. I moved to the big city, had a great first year and then got sick. I had already lost a pile of weight before due to circumstances when travelling, had gained some of it back, and then when I got sick again, I lost a hell of a lot of weight again. The doctors couldn’t find out what was wrong, so I was off and on on antibiotics, codeine, prenisone, etc for months before they found out it was pneumonia. By that time me and food had become very unfamiliar with each other, and our relationship only worsened from there. It was never about wanting to lose a few pounds, about coping with anxiety etc at first. It happened and it screwed my brain up like nothing had done before.
I managed to squeeze some travels in, one with my mom and aunties to Morocco (highlight was a panic attack and then a fight and crying session over pizza) and a trip with my parents to Kenya to see if I could ‘reload’ or ‘re-set’ my brain. Obvious fail. When I then went with my parents and brother to Germany to visit the camps my grandfather had been to, my dad had a breakdown and cried that I looked like the men and women in the pictures of the camps. Emeciated and worn down. And still it did not hit.
Going back to Malaysia kept being postponed. I could not face seeiing my loved ones looking like this. Malaysia is a country fuelled on foods, and not even close to the health type of craze. Fat, carby, sugared stuff. The first phrase you’ll learn is ‘Sudah makan?’, which is a Malaysian greeting meaning ‘have you eaten yet?’ which is the replacement for ‘hi’. They would not survive the look of me, and I would not survive that.
It wasn’t until Christmas that year that I stepped on the scale and hit an ultimate low. I cried and realized something had to change would I ever be able to go anywhere ever again. Even the thought of going into town had gotten too scary. What if my heart would stop? What if I’d get distracted again while crossing the street? What if people would say nasty things again? Could I cope with another judging look? And why was it so far away? Wouldn’t I get tired? And what if I’d get hungry? How fast could I get back home? etc. Even the thought of just leaving my house became so overwhelming I would cry myself to sleep (if I’d even manage to fall asleep, that is…) nights in a row. I did no longer even dream of foreign, exotic place anymore. All had gotten too scary.
And sleeping was pretty much absent in my life anyway.
Now I have some short trips (Istanbul with the fam, Berlin with Uni and over a month of Cuba with my good ol’ backpack) ahead. People no longer worry when I tell them I’m off travelling again, which, when I was sick, they would. They’d declare I was nuts, that one could not travel when in that condition, etc. I, ofcourse, thought differently, but I do finally see their point. It would have either killed me or saved me, but that’s a real big leap to take.
So now again I will travel. When I travel I absorb. I absorb bits and pieces of newness into me. But not in a toxic way. I take the good bits and mix them with the me bits. There is no ‘old me’ to justify, to try and change, to ignore. There is only the new me, willing to learn and experience.
Travelling, for me, is freedom. Freedom from my own disordered, slightly autistic, overly conscious and cautious brain. In a way one could see it as running, but it’s not. You cannot run from your own brain. Wherever you go, when the problem is in your head, you will take it with you. You might be able to silence it for a while, but it will not disappear by running. By being somewhere unknown, I cannot cling to all my safe routines. I need to find new ways to cope and to open up.
When I ‘go’, I need to ‘let go’.
I need to let be, and be. Be me.
Do you (like to) travel? How has it affected and shaped you&your life? Your dreams? Your plans? Please, share!