Long term travel has something that vacations just don’t have, and it’s not good news. They both start with an emotional high. We’re packing! We’re on the plane! We’re here! The adventure of something new and unknown is a thrill. That’s all good. A few days into the trip, a different tone takes hold as you set about exploring and learning. There is a passing realization that you actually are doing it. You feel a sense of pride and accomplishment to be in this place faraway. You taste strange foods, sleep in a weird new bed, shower in a funny spot, and attempt to communicate through a phrase book. Surprises good and bad come about and you take pictures to record it.
About 10 days of this and the following mood begins to dawn. If it could speak, it would sound like this: “Thank you very much, that was fun and interesting – but I’d like a pizza now, my bed, my bathroom and my people. Maybe I’ll visit again, good-bye.” Polite, grateful, but definitely a message of departure.
If this were a vacation, no problem. Arrivederci! However, if you are traveling this is a dangerous moment. In our case, this is the new “home”, at least until there is enough money to afford moving on. The previous concept of home has been reduced to the packs on our backs. Initially, this is easy to ignore because it feels like any other trip. When that moment arrives to return home, the scary reality sets in that you are staying.
This gets dangerous. One must guard against all negative thoughts. What we think, becomes what we say. What we say, becomes what we do.
When the internal voice begins a small moaning, “I don’t like rice anymore.” “we should pull up the mattress pad to make sure this isn’t a concrete slab we’re sleeping on,” “I am too old to live without a proper bathtub,” “I miss home,” “I miss my family,” “I want to go home,” you know you are in the danger zone.
If you allow thoughts like this, misery is sure to follow. Soon you will voice these thoughts to your travel companion, and next you are believing you’ve made the worst mistake in the world. Wherever you look this is all you will see cementing an existence of wretchedness and despair.
I knew all this as I was walking along one night through the late market with David, but the thoughts were getting the best of me. He was (annoyingly) happily bounding along. David is an overgrown puppy—he bounds instead of walking and he is always happy. We had just been to dinner in a posh (read: expensive) place that had nothing edible on the menu. To be polite I ordered something they called “salad”, hopeful but doubtful. In my present negative state upon arrival it was (as it only could be) unacceptable. So David eagerly ate both our meals with all sorts of lip-smacking and yum-yum noises, nodding, smiling little.. I wanted to puke. Walking home the thoughts were getting the best of me…this horrible place, they can’t even make salad, I don’t belong in a place that can’t make a salad!
When we left the restaurant we had to cross the 6 lane highway on foot in pitch blackness. No street lights, no crosswalks, Thai traffic (“this place is a death sentence”) the following mile of rat infested/trash strewn highway was too much. I was about to open my mouth and speak the words, and then I saw something. A street vendor that looked different than all the others. It was just enough to spark a distraction from my thoughts.
This cheerful old man was hard to ignore. He had a huge steal bowl of white liquid and a ladle that he was scooping it out into little baggies all tied up with colorful rubberbands. I approached for a closer inspection and saw that it was warm. What is it? I asked, assuming it was some form of strange coconut concoction (nothing I would want, but at least different from what I’d seen).
A kind stranger standing there tried his best to describe it in broken English, “It good for you- you health” While rubbing his belly for added information. “You know oat?” “It is oat” “It sweet for you” “It sweet and warm for you health”. OMG! It is Oatmeal!! Warm, sweet oatmeal!! On. The. Street.
I saw then how he poured brown sugar and oats into the bag first, added the milk and tied it up neat and tight. I almost giggled out loud and the vendor was obviously aware of my delight as his smile showed every tooth he didn’t have. It was the kindest nicest smile I’d seen in days.
Back in the room I savored every sip like a delicacy. The warmth traveling down was calming and familiar. Somewhere deep inside I had found home in this place so far away, my previous thoughts waning with memories this simple food triggered. I was back at Grandma’s house, in my safest softest place and I was going to be okay. It was as if Grandma had sent the message herself. Oatmeal, I agree very good for “you health” indeed.