“I see my path, but I don’t know where it leads. Not knowing where I’m going is what inspires me to travel it.” ~ Rosalía De Castro
B, C, and I are having coffee in the school music room in Mathoji.
It’s late November and the winter chill is slightly satiated by the wood-burning stove as the room fills with its warm charcoal scent. It’s almost a month and a half in and my clothes are coated with this earthy and welcoming camp fire fragrance; I have adapted to having “cowboy” showers as the electricity goes out so often.
Hot water, electricity, and shoes not covered in mud and any kind of fecal matter have become a rite of passage.
I’m in a rural area in the Republic of Georgia. I have enlisted through the Georgian Ministry of Science and Education to teach English as a second language in the village of Mathoji in the region of Imereti, situated in the middle of the country, for three months—an opportunity to challenge myself and experience the world while working on completing my thesis, in preparation to defend my masters.
B., the music teacher, is beaming telling myself and C. in Kartuenglish that her boyfriend (meaning her husband) is coming home for Christmas. C., the primary English teacher, and I giggle. I love these two women and frequently spend my school afternoons with them huddled around the stove sipping tea during our breaks. I am the first person of African descent to visit and live in this community – C, later shares, that she was apprehensive of meeting me, once she learnt that I was Black and now is grateful that I came and is happy to know me.
Fast-forward to the first week of December. It’s late Monday morning and I haven’t seen B. all day. I ask around to see if anyone has seen her. I’m told that B’s husband has passed suddenly.
My heart is breaking. A bus has been hired by the school to take some of the teachers over to B’s house for the wake. B is sitting behind the open casket when we enter the room. There is a cue of mourners weaving a line outside the house as we all make our slow awkward silence to give our respects. At my turn, I am filled with so much sorrow and hold her.
I’m not a tourist junkie, in fact, I humbly admit that I am not the greatest at planning cultural immersive experiences. Local folklore and intimate cultural practices are a privilege to access, once permitted by native peoples that occupy the space; I travel for the purpose of gaining a deeper understanding of myself and the world around me.
I travel to experience the commonality and value of beings.
It’s an early weekday evening and I’m sitting at the kitchen table in an apartment home in suburban Spain, in a barrio (“neighborhood” in Spanish) infused with sprinklings of migrants from North Africa and Southeast Asia.
The barrio is vibrant and lively with saturated with various cultures, food, and diverse communities, located in Terrassa, Spain.
I’m having a conversation in Spanglish with my host mother, T; This is the second family that has opened their home in hosting my stay while working in Catalonia. We’re discussing how subconsciously our minds can suppress memories to protect us, in particular memories from our childhood that our psyches have deemed too traumatic to be re-lived. These memories are oftentimes the parts of ourselves, with a trusted therapist, that we may need to face in order to access healing ourselves.
T is vibrant, brave, and generous, I am grateful to her and her family for creating an inclusive warm experience for a complete stranger during my stay. Our conversation continues late into the night until she has to retire.
I adore this family but will only be with them for three months and move on to the next family to host my stay.
I travel to experience humanity in its unadorned state.
There is something visceral about being somewhere where no one knows you and the possibilities of memorable experiences are endless.
I believe as a species, we share many commonalities, having sat with the grandmother in Catalonia and learnt to knit (barely) as she tells me of all the things she hoped for herself.
I have frequently visited with the retired principal of a rural Georgian village on my way back from school to have a cup of coffee, and have had her show me pictures of “Once upon a time” when she met so and so, who bestowed a medal for her service in educating young Georgian citizens.
I’ve empathized with the Polish girl I met in Faro, Portugal, having a blurry, drunken, and vulnerable moment because she had a tiff with her current significant other and still ended up drunk calling him in the alley to profess her affection, despite knowing deep within herself that he is not the one but simply a stepping stone towards returning to herself, her first true love.
I travel to return to myself.
I’ve found that when I am filled with wanderlust and that all too familiar restlessness starts to creep, people who have never ventured beyond their own limits will begin to project their own doubts onto me. “But you don’t know anyone…aren’t you afraid?!” My answer is usually, “Yes”
The truth is that change is always frightening and uncomfortable, but I do know these people because they are just like me—not so different and not so similar—just like you, and just like us. Fear can be limiting but also powerful, if channeled intentionally it serves as a catalyst to discover something new and liberating about one’s self.
I learn more about myself and other people when I venture beyond this uncomfortable limit. It isn’t always accepting or endearing but this other side has also provided for some deep reflection. Traveling provides a lens that shifts the perspective of awareness inward, which then reshapes the external view of others, gifting the possibility to push past the physical, mental and spiritual boundaries we often set for ourselves.
When I step outside this conformed idea of me, I’m able to perceive the layering of the superficial and the obscured precious treasure which requires a deeper and compassionate unearthing. For this reason, I travel.
“If you look at the world as a brutal game, then you bump into the mystery of the tree-shaped scar. There seems to be such a thing as grace, such a thing as beauty, such a thing as harmony. All of which are wholly free and available to us.” ~ Toni Morrison
Names of people are not shared for respect of privacy.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Apprentice Editor: Emily Bartran / Editor: Rachel Nussbaum
Photo: elephant archives