How did I become a Curious Nomad?
I remember as a child of 8 years old — I loved watching travel shows. I mean seriously I absolutely loved them. The startup tune and visuals of ‘Globe Trekkers’ still gives me goosebumps. No kidding. (Remember the person with dreadlocks drawing a circle in the sand, anyone?) After school, and in between homework and dinner, basically, any time that my young self could find, I would sit flipping between TLC, Discovery and Lonely Planet hunting for shows about travel. I was in love with Ian Wright’s authentic but witty humor, Samantha Brown’s perkiness, and could not wait to try the concept of six degrees of separation. I was enamored by the sights, sounds, cultures of foreign lands and people. I would often day dream that I am the lucky one, traveling to far off lands and near, and also getting paid to do that!
What gave me this appetite to travel to unfamiliar lands? What gave me this insatiable curiosity to connect with unknown people?
My story started in a small town in Northern India — Chandigarh. And at the mere age of ‘one’ I packed my bags (more like my mom packed them) and moved to a new city 1,057.2 miles away, we stayed there for 2 years and then moved to another one and then another one. I ended up living in 12 different cities till the age of 16. And to put this in perspective — India is an incredibly diverse country. Each of our 28 states has their own unique culture, language, and cuisine. So moving from Northern India to Southern India had its own level of cultural shock. People looked different, ate different food, talked a totally different language. Not just a different version but completely different language, new idiosyncrasy and all.
You see nomadic tendencies were not something I acquired. They were born deep into my being even before I could spell travel.
It was exhilarating when my mom or dad would share that we were moving again. I would ask a hundred questions about the new city. But then, I would wake up the next day in a home that suddenly didn’t feel like home anymore, it seemed different, almost foreign. I would go to school and see everything around — my friends, teachers, the school grounds and start realizing — I am going to lose all of this. I am going to lose the beautiful tiny world that to me was my life, my identity and not just lose it, but lose to the absolute unknown. It was so scary. It was really painful.
My glances to everything; the color of my room’s walls, the way my best friend giggled, the way my favorite teacher wore her hair; were slow and purposeful as if my eyes knew these were fleeting moments that will not be available again to refresh my memory and I was trying my best to etch them into my being. I would shed tears, tell my friends we would be in touch with sincerity and then time and my mom would ask all my attention to the mammoth task of moving — deconstructing and rebuilding our life.
But when you go through this cycle of exhilaration, pain, fear and rebuilding every 2 years of your childhood, it becomes normal, maybe comfortable even.
And my young mind learned over time that those old friends, schools, and memories would somehow slowly fade without me noticing and make room for new ones.
But even though it became normal, it never got easy. The rebuilding actually became harder, especially socially as I aged and reached puberty.
I mean to think about it, I was the new girl, always. In each of the nine schools I received my fragmented education from — I was the new girl. And there were many problems with that. For one, I hated every single first day of school(s). First days were always just a blur of awkwardness, novelty, discomfort and self-consciousness. The agonizing fear of being asked to stand up in front of the class to introduce myself looking out at a sea of unfamiliar eyes fishing for reasons to mock and scorn. And to make it worse having to repeat that in every class of the day. Some teachers were kind enough to not notice me until day two or three. And then there was the beautiful dance of catch up in academics, as my family somehow always moved mid-term or mid-year. Trying to figure out who to talk to, whom to sit with, whom to eat with, whom to ask the chapter the teacher was reading from? What assignment was that? Where is the bathroom? Where can I hide?
Curiosity— My wonderings would lead to wanderings that created my story
On wondering how did I do this, again and again, I learn something important. For one, I am grateful for the natural instinct of wanting to fit in. It was like a game to me. This would make me curious about things. You see, it is my curiosity that would help me learn about the people, place, and culture and somehow help me build relationships, connect and understand the unfamiliar. And it always worked and worked very well. I would end up on dance troupes, performing plays, playing table tennis for teams in a school I had only been in for months and will last another 12 or so. This was great, as it gave me memories and moments that a more stable middle- class childhood would have in India.
But this curiosity also did another beautiful thing. It somehow without me knowing help build, well…me.
I am always at a loss for words at the mammoth task of explaining how the entirety of my existence so far is spread across so many places.
How do I explain no one place has claim over me? Because my memories were made in so many homes, schools miles apart, my story a residual of the commonality and difference of the many narratives I heard. How do I explain that my community is filled with people tied by the closeness of our hearts and not homes?
I now think, that childhood desire to travel was telling of a greater life purpose. As even today whenever I travel to a new place the game continues. Each time I am curious about other perspectives, cultures, languages; or each time I share a meal, hold a listening ear or helping hand to unfamiliar friends — I end up seeing new facets of me, I learn more about me.
It’s like the universe and I are in a lifelong game — a treasure hunt if you may. There are so many divinely inspired foreign landscapes and relationships that are hiding pieces of me. And I have the privilege to seek them out.
And on finding these treasures bit by bit: the world and I are building a better me.
And hopefully in that process helping me build a better world, my community.
Love. Peace. Gratitude.