I’m drinking honey-sweetened green tea with mint, a taste for which I acquired in Morocco. The mint leaves, bought at a local farmstand and dried in my kitchen. The images of desert campfires and Sahara dunes come back when I drink this brew.
I haggled for the scarf tied around my neck with a shopkeeper in Hauz Khas, Delhi, on my penultimate day there. The silver Ganesha I wear, procured from a jewelry maker in Jaipur. Ditto the ॐ charm on my wrist.
There’s always an elephant: on the scarf, in the folklore, in the room…
Also on my wrist, a string of 4Ocean whale shark beads remind me every day that our oceans are fragile and that my plastic picking missions on the beach aren’t for naught. The mermaid dreams of diving again with these gentle giants is ever-present.
I practice ma vocabulaire française before shutting my eyes every night, sometimes dreaming in near-perfect French…the reality of which, in the light of day, is near-impossible until I live somewhere je peux vraiment pratiquer.
Before I’m out of bed many mornings, I’ve WhatsApp’d with Europe or Australia or Asia, or any combination thereof, planning or scheming and dreaming in answer to that lingering question: where to next.
The fernweh*, wanderlust, visceral need to be somewhere, anywhere but right here is usually strongest right before the next adventure, yet the anxiety about the upcoming journey is simultaneously prevalent. What if weaves its insidious web in my subconscious.
It’s both a privilege and a curse, this gypsy spirit. Fortunate and grateful to be able to put my frenetic life on hold for a couple of weeks every few months to go hiking and diving and kayaking and climbing…exploring forests and markets and new cities and ruins of very old ones; celebrating birthdays and holidays with passport stamps and gelato instead of pressies, collecting experiences and spices and photographs over building a shrine to our capitalist overlords.
It’s a feeling, I realise, I’ve had all my life: to dream and wander and want to escape the holds of the ordinary. It’s not the here that I’ve wanted to flee, but more the formulaic-ness of what’s expected. Or maybe it’s just an irrational fear of being ordinary, when all my life I’ve just wanted to make a difference.
They say you learn most about yourself when you are out of your element. I don’t know who they is or if they are even correct. But I do know I value the teachings of the bumps in the road and the lessons learnt on un-smooth seas, how to eat dinner solo in a strange city and how to calculate (and manage the consequences of) the time differences between where I am and where my friends are; where I want to be. I’ve grown to adore gunpowder green tea. I treasure the Qatari cardamom and the Zanzibari cumin and the cheese I bought in that little shop in Cagliari…and the one I smuggled home from the Mısır Çarşısı. And I’ve learnt the hard way that the chef’s special is maybe not the best thing to order on a rainy night on an island in the middle of the Indian Ocean.
I look at my turmeric-stained fingers as they type these words and think about the unplanned days that lay ahead in an uncharted place; and what’s going through my head is more about remembering to buy more turmeric at the spice market in Istanbul than how I’m going to fill the week before I get the opportunity.
*Fernweh: a German word meaning “farsickness” or wanderlust.