Today is December 16. Thursday. It’s 27 degrees outside (Fahrenheit) and snowing. This is the warmest it’s been all week. I wore two coats to work, completed my outfit with leg warmers over my tights, and swathed myself in two scarves. Arguably, it’d unseasonably cold for DC for this time of year, but arguably again, I should at least be partly acclimated to this kind of weather, having grown up in Syracuse, NY. It’s practically Canada. The fact that since I left home when I was 18, I’ve spend more time on the Mediterranean and in Africa than I have back in Syracuse notwithstanding.
In less than forty days, at 4:30pm, I’ll be sitting on a plane headed in the direction of Bamako, Mali. I sat down to write this in the spirit of the other posts I’ve written: that’s to say, a sort of retrospective. Because I’ve done this a lot, left from wherever it is I’m calling “home” to go live somewhere else. Every time I leave, I go through a similar cycle of neurosis. My head is overrun by questions and self-analysis; the perfect excuse for a mini-existential crisis. (and I don’t use that term flippantly.) This time in particular, not only am I moving across the world, but I’m quitting my job (which might not be the most fiscally sound decision I could make) to work for an agricultural development project for a few months and then embark on a (7-year) path toward three little letters called P, H and D.
In 2003, as a freshly minted highschool graduate, I left my mother’s nest to go to Marseille, France and then to Hamburg, Germany.
best friend in Marseille
In 2006, it was Berlin for three months. Technomusik, Tanzparties, turkische Pizzas… the summer of fun.
Wir Sind Park: weekend long park parties
In 2007, Dakar. The place where feet are never clean.
verrrry dirty Dakar feet
In between there’s been a lot of travelling, visiting family, friends, cities, volcanoes. I should have started planting trees years ago because my carbon footprint from nothing but the flights I’ve been on is enough to rival that of a small nation.
All this to say that I am used to leaving. I’m not used to coming back, however. I don’t know how to come back. Someone once said to me that even when (if) you are promised to return to the same life (friends, loves, work, whatever), the question then begs itself whether or not that will be enough. Leaving now, and setting myself on this trajectory of 95 degree weather, sand storms, farms and farmers, Joloff rice, Sékou Touré and Amadou and Miriam, will I be able to come back? Can I reinsert myself into a life I’ve left? But perhaps more importantly, will I want to come back, so-to-speak, to a life that I am making a conscious decision to leave?
I’m used to leaving but I also don’t know how to leave behind. People, places, faces, familiarities: do we lose our aptitude to reacclimate at a certain point? Does age prevent us from the flexibility to recreate our lives in a different setting? Every time I do this, I question myself more and more. Every time I leave friends, loves, work, whatever, it feels like I also leave a part of myself behind. Maybe that’s true, and inevitable; maybe it’s how we leave our mark on others. Eventually, I am going to have to stay in one place and keep the people I love around me in a tight squeeze. My bank account certainly isn’t thickly padded enough to bring all of them with me.
Coming back to leaving. I know it’s the right thing to do, and don’t have reservations, just a lot of esoteric musings. That mixture of fear and excitement – stepping into the unknown – makes it clear to me that it’s the right next step. A friend who’s been living in East Africa for the last year and a half and is back visiting for a few days said to me today that it feels “safe” being back. Safe and predictable. Things always go how you think they will. It’s the known variable, it’s easy.
I’m not saying that I searching for something difficult. I’m not sure that’s even the opposite. But there’s something about stepping outside life’s norm, creating a different box to put around yourself, living a life that isn’t always comfortable. Anyway, I leave in thirty-seven days. I come back in thirty-seven days and (about) six months. I don’t know what either of those statements mean. All I know is that it’s the unknown variable, and it’s scary and it’s exciting.