Whoever says that traveling is glorious and magical and something everyone must do, was not telling the story from the beginning.
Or perhaps they are made of different stuff than I am, like ease and confidence and a perpetual sense of inherent belonging. Perhaps they more easily take risks or they don’t perceive risks in the same way I do.
Yesterday I stood for three full minutes outside of a grocery store in India because there were flip flops on the stairs. “Huh. I wondered. Flip flops on the stairs. Does this mean I too, should remove my flip flops?” I mean, a grocery store isn’t a temple, but this is India, and taking off shoes seems to be a thing. I stood there, paralyzed, until a man pushed passed me into the store wearing his shoes; I followed. Halfway down the first aisle I saw a dreadlocked hippie couple hand-in-hand and barefoot.
I was so worried about getting it right, and it turns out I couldn’t get it wrong. I could have left one shoe on and taken one off, I suppose…kind of funny, except that is what traveling has felt like so far, one foot in one culture and one in another without a sense of belonging to either.
I’m writing this from a cafe perched above the main drag of a beach town in Goa. Where I sit, the breeze is cool and the hot sun doesn’t reach me. I’m alone, looking down at the life below me. A man rushes by with two backpacks and only one back. A pair of old friends greet each other on passing motor bikes, a small boy pees in the street. I hear French, I hear German, I hear Hindi, or what I would have thought was Hindi before I learned last week it could be any one of twenty languages or a hundred dialects. I’m up here writing. I’m up here watching. Is this “Traveling?” Am I doing it?
I’m two weeks in to a three month trip. This morning I called my friends back home in tears, I’ve cried most days. “This is too hard!” I say “I can’t do this!” As always, they say all the right things. “We love you, and you can, and we love you.” Other friends have made it look easy, but when I ask “You only hear the highlights,” Sharon says. “I know those fears too” Andrew admits.
Maybe whoever said traveling would be the time of my life, didn’t know how scared I can get, how lonely, or how hard it can be for me to decisions that aren’t on a to do list or in an externally imposed structure. Maybe they didn’t know that my courage in certain domains does not extend to others. Or maybe they know something I don’t, but something I hope, that I can do this. I can do this.
A half hour later, I pull out my markers. A woman approaches me and says “Hi, may I join you?” Like two five year old girls who’ve just become friends because proximity is enough, we sit together in the cool breeze, away from the sun, and draw.