culture & community

Searching for a Space to Fit Into (or: Don’t Knock the Luggage)

by JoAnna — August 8, 2011

First, a footnote that we’ll come back to later.

[1] When I graduated from high school I wasn’t keen on leaving my smallish BC town for university. I wanted to stay close to family, friends and the place I had called home during those heartbreaking, yet formative, years. During graduation week, several classmates boasted about the swank and cool loot they’d received from their parents: cars, backpacking trips, college tuition, jewellery. Based on their hauls I couldn’t wait to see what my mother would come up with, and was extremely excited when, three days after receiving my high school diploma, she called me upstairs to present me with my gift.

I walked through the living room, my hands pulsing with anticipation, and stepped onto the veranda. There, my mother stood, all smiles and smugness, with an envelope in hand and several suitcases at her feet. “Happy graduation!” she crowed as she handed over the envelope. It held a card where she espoused a multitude of sentimental parental musings but there were no car keys. No cheque. I slipped the greeting back into the envelope and looked at my mother with a question mark etched on my face. Her sheepish grin turned into a broad smile as she pointed animatedly towards the suitcases at her feet.

“Happy graduation!” she tried again.

I looked at the 7 piece luggage set–wildly maroon with a rainbow stripe detail on each piece–and my face blanched. I managed to feign excitement at the lovingly chosen gift and thanked my mother but the whole time my mind screamed the following: “WTF? Luggage!?”

“You’re welcome. Now,” my mother said with far more seriousness I had seen her display in a long time, “Put this to good use, and get on your way.”

I read Nix’s post a couple of weeks ago and so much of what she wrote resonated. Cup of tea in hand, I nodded vigorously as I scrolled down the page. I am 13 months shy of living a decade of abroad and it sometimes amazes me I’ve been gone for so long. When I first departed Canada it seemed like a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants decision though, in reality, graduate school was far too expensive an undertaking in North America. It was my sole reason for skipping town.

Upon reflection however, I know I felt that something was missing or, better put, I felt I was missing out on something. The niggling and oh-so annoying restlessness that crept up on me every so often refused to abate and would attack anywhere: on the street car rolling down Queen Street, during one of many university night classes, while I ate lunch at my desk during my day job, as I played cards with my dad during commercial breaks of Frasier. The deep disquiet was relentless and would burrow into the soft flesh of my brain where it whispered, all matter-of-factly, that while my Canadiana pride was cute there was more to be seen. Much more to experience. There was possibly another place for me to call home.

It’s that restlessness, I suppose, that served as the initial force majeure–the overpowering catalyst to get me off my butt and on a plane so I could try my hand at living abroad. Perhaps see if there was another place, a different space, I could fit into. Prior to the last year of my bachelor’s degree I crossed the country from west to east, which was hard enough. Traversing an ocean without want to return seemed highly improbable and inconceivable.

I laugh now. If only I knew what I was getting into.

I went to Denmark for a year then traipsed over to South East Asia before going back to Denmark. After a year I had a short stay in Rwanda before heading “home” to Canada and realising “home” wasn’t where I wanted to be. I returned to the EU and scurried over to Berlin before going back to Denmark, which finally wore out its welcome in 2008. I revisited Rwanda for 18 months before settling into Egypt: the place where I hang my hat for the moment.

Each journey was made thanks to equal parts chance and choice. Each adventure was filled with ups and downs, disasters and successes. Each locale opened the doors to countries and regions I would have perhaps not gone to otherwise. Every single place left an indelible mark on my nomadic heart. Some places I enjoyed immensely, while I loathed others and couldn’t wait to break free. The places I’ve hopelessly fallen for at the moment are Beirut and Paris, although I sadly can’t afford to purchase real estate in either…yet. What I find most interesting is how each city, every country, has a mood. Character. And if you stay somewhere long enough, the sentiments, attitudes and feelings rub off on you, altering your persona. You also begin to figure out that while the world appears to be a rather big place, the people it holds are far more interconnected than you ever could have imagined.


So as I approach my ninth anniversary of restless wandering (leather is the gift for this year, bless) I have also come to understand the following:

1) There’s still plenty of the world to see and though I feel the pull to put down roots (for the sake of storing 9 boxes of belongings and the most comfortable bed known to man) I accept that I still haven’t found what I’m looking for, and never may. It’s a rather terrifying thought, however I’m sure when the time comes I’ll find a home to settle into knowing full well that while it will be a modest physical shelter of brick and stone, it will be big enough to house my ever wandering ambitions and proverbial wings. That said, I do this hoping my home won’t hold it against me if I find another place to rest my head for months at a time.

2) Home, in actuality, is where my heart lies on the geographic grid. It’s where I am now at this moment. It’s this space. This place. It is also the locations where the people who have doggedly burrowed their way into my life–linking the cords of their hearts with mine–reside. As long as I keep that in mind the world is compressed and becomes a much more neighbourly, and welcoming, place.

Now back to that earlier footnote. [1] If you’re wondering about the fate of those seven traveling receptacles I received all those years ago, I’m afraid they’re gone. I lost two pieces, three broke, one was attacked by a virulent strain of green mold in Viet Nam, and I carried the last with me until 2008, when it finally gave way.

But, for the record, it was the best goddamned gift I’ve ever received.

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