One-eighty.

24 October 2015 – Six months before departure.

Liminal space.

Li-mi-nal space.

It sounds so skinny. Mini.

Yet I feel as though my whole life is lived here. Stuck here. Like a huge expanse of inescapable sea. Unable to settle into anything and feel as though it’s permanent. Always ready for movement and change. Like it is a sleeping lion, about to awake.

Unable to rest, for I may have to move. Never feeling like I belong and can be home. Because I am not complete. Being tossed about by the sea.

Life is no adventure to be embraced (although some ideas are – the reality is much less exciting). But lived on edge, waiting for a nightmare to run from.

“If only I had a partner, then we could start a journey together, settle in a place, together, be safe, together…” Then life would be allowed to begin…?

 

After eight months of movement, change and impermanence, it is no longer scary and stressful. Life is an adventure because I choose to see it that way. There is life and joy in the scary, unknown, and challenging. Even in the mundane. And I am not alone.

I’ve shared meals with, worked with, explored cities with, and had to trust, people I would not naturally choose as friends.
I’ve had to force myself to go outside and explore, even when I felt unsafe and anxious.
I’ve said a hundred goodbyes, some more painful than others, with the knowledge I will probably never see those people again, yet my story is now stitched together with theirs, in parts of its fabric.
I’ve gone from community to completely alone more times than I would like, and my heart has left pieces in so many of these places.

I missed people in Australia, and yet to be here meant that I was not elsewhere, with my new friends. Yet my new friends are scattered around the world, and my heart knows deeply that it will always miss someone, and some place. Fellow travellers in new places – situations that will never repeat themselves. Even if I return to the place, the people who made it what it was are long gone.

But to live in nostalgia is never healthy, and we all must continue to walk forward, with the hope that all that is learned and gained will be carried in our heads and hearts, not to just be held in a photograph to look back on.

To all the people who shared the journey – of all different ages, countries, beliefs, and walks of life – fellow travellers, roommates, hosts, and friends – in the end, you are why I travel. You make the places and the adventures more fun, meaningful, crazy and special, and I will never forget you. Thank you for being part of the experience and opening your homes, hearts, and arms to me (there’s nothing better than a good hug!).

Eight months, five continents, fifteen countries, and a lifetime of memories.

Prague-Berin-Hamburg… and breathe. 

Wandering around Prague a few days ago I was on my way to the Lennon wall, walking along a small footpath, when I was swarmed by a group of tourists. In an attempt to escape I ducked through an opening in a tall, brick wall, into a park. Attempting to cut through I walked to the other end of the park, but the wall extended all the way around with no way out.

I turned to walk around the path and back in the direction I had come, when a statue of a peacock caught my eye. And then it moved. Not a statue! He was beautiful. I stopped to watch and take a photo. He walked nearer and nearer, and a thought crossed my mind – I racked my brain for any information stored there as to whether peacocks are dangerous (maybe that’s just cassowaries!). I took more photos and watched for a few minutes, and walking around there were more – one was perched in a tree (that I had been considering climbing). I left the area and was walking back to the entrance of the park to leave, and I thought, ‘why am I in such a rush?’ Taking photos and forgetting to stop and breathe. And take in where I am, and what is happening. So I sat down and breathed. And prayed. And watched people. A pregnant mother and her daughter doing a photoshoot. A man with a nice camera under a beautiful tree – just lying and watching, camera on stomach, not taking photos – enjoying where he was. There’s no need to document everything – to get the best memories or photos. Just be.

So I sit in a park in Hamburg, where I will be for a week. Visiting a friend I haven’t seen for twelve years, since she was an exchange student with my family in high school. I’m just being reminded by my body that I have covered quite a bit of distance in the past week, and done a lot in that time. It’s easy for me to forget when a new day brings a new city and so many things to see, how busy I can become and how much I push myself without realizing. But it’s so important to stop and rest.

As I look around I see a guy setting up a tightrope between two trees, about a metre and a half off the ground. Two girls climb a tree, where earlier a man was practicing sword-fighting movement. To my right a middle-aged man is practising poi behind an epitaph with a cross – this park was once a cemetery. A kindergarten group of boys with green fabric draped over them tied with belts – looking like medieval knights with wooden pole swords, round the corner and sit down with their leader ten metres in front of me. I smile.

Birds whistle in the trees as a cool breeze cuts through the gentle heat of the sun. And I breathe.

IMG_5255
Peacock in Prague

 

Capable.

I taught this word to my Kazakh friend who came to the farm in Turkey to improve his English (the farm was run by an English couple).

Market day in the town happened three times a week, and as the only two volunteers at the farm for about two weeks, it was our job to go to the seaside town half an hour away by the village bus, to buy fruit and vegetables brought by the locals to sell.

I became pretty good at purchasing from the locals – I learned the Turkish word for ‘half’ (a kilo), numbers, and ‘thank you’ – pretty much all that’s needed! The first time I went to market was with another Australian volunteer, but the next day she left, so it was up to me, and Mr Kazakh, to go from then on. Apparently it’s cultural for men to help women, so every time I bought something, he would take the bag of fruit or vege from me. The first day I was amused, although the feminist in me questioned what to do. I continued to allow him to help, but it was a frequent topic of conversation – and hence I taught him that I am ‘capable’.

And since then, I’m the one who has had to be reminded.

***

Having staked out the location, I ate my supermarket broccoli and mayonnaise salad dinner, and waited for 7pm. I watched as a woman around my own age approached the building where I was going, and pressed the buzzer. The door opened, so I followed her into the hallway, and down a winding staircase to a small room that was tucked away. There a friendly Hungarian standing behind a desk greeted me, I paid my 500 forints, walked awkwardly into another room around the corner, and sat down at a table.

As an introvert, I have both loved and hated travelling by myself. The freedom to go where I like has been great. However the other side is that it can be lonely and isolating, and to make friends can be challenging – especially when it requires effort that is difficult to muster when in that place of loneliness.

I arrived in Budapest at the place I was couchsurfing, and after about half an hour, my host wanted a nap, so she asked me to go out and come back… seven hours later. Having been in the same place for a month with people who came to be my friends, with routine and a sense of comfortable predictability – to being on my own in a country where I knew no one, with no sense of safe space to just be – I felt very alone.

Tired from waking up at 4am to catch a plane, lost as to where to go – not really wanting to do anything but sleep – I felt like I had been thrown out of the nest and it was time to learn how to fly. So I went for a long walk along the Danube, sat on the bank in the blaring sun (having found a patch of wifi) messaged my friend, and tried, unsuccessfully, to hold it together. Feeling drops of water on me I looked up and saw a huge storm cloud above my head, and mused at the irony.

So what did I do? Well, I put myself out there. I looked on couchsurfing for any events that were happening, and that evening I went to the only thing on – a polygot club (despite only being able to speak English and a bit of French). Most of the people there were Hungarian and practising their English, so I think (and hope!) they were grateful for a native speaker. After about two awkward hours, two of the girls got up to leave, and I took it as my opportunity to go as well. On the way out I asked them if they were doing anything the next day, and if I could possibly meet up with them – an odd thing for introverted me to do! We exchanged details and then left.

The next day I met up with them and another one of their friends and we walked around the city and saw some sights, grabbed some lunch and in the evening went to a pub. They were all lovely and it was fun getting to know some locals. Achievement unlocked.

But even though I managed to do what I felt incapable of doing in my tired and drained state, I’m reminded that it is not me who makes me capable. I’ve had to trust God that things will work, and that he’ll help me along the way, because I really don’t have any control. Sometimes I think I act too quickly to decide the next steps, and later realise that if I’d waited a day or two, another option that may have been better arises. But at other times, it seems that when I wait I miss out on a better deal. However I’m realising that I need to trust that whatever the outcome, wherever I end up, it is all possibly just one of several options, and what matters is that I continue to learn, move forward, and trust.

Istanbul.

I arrived late Tuesday afternoon, and as I climbed the stairs from the underground train station, I saw billowing clouds, blue sky and bright evening sunshine. The cool breeze from the Bosporus washed over me, along with the exciting sensation of wide, open space – so much room to breathe. Buildings, mosques, and house-covered hills are broken up by trees, and the blue-green expanse of the strait, which flows to bring life to a crowded and bustling city.

Walking along the shoreline next to the ferries, that transport people back and forth between continents, the streets are teaming with life – cars, buses, taxis, people everywhere – and it’s not even the busiest time of day. But the sense of being surrounded is not oppressive, because there is so much sky and sea to inhale.

Yesterday I took in some of the sights of Istanbul. A ferry ride up the Bosporus, Europe on one side, Asia on the other. A mixture of Ottoman Empire architecture, mosques and modern skyscrapers. The storm clouds were brewing, the breeze was strong and rather cold, especially in contrast to the humid smog of the Bangkok heatwave I came from.

I wandered around the pier at Eminönü with a warm bread ring I purchased for 1TL (about 50c) from one of the many bread vendors stationed there. Following the tramline along the Bosporus I made my way to the old city, with its paved streets, cute cafes, and shops selling baklava, lanterns and all sorts of souvenirs and other things. I checked out the Hagia Sophia and the Sultanahmet (Blue) Mosque. As I walked into the outer area of the Blue Mosque, the call to prayer rang out across the loud speakers. I sat on the edge, gazing up at the grand domes and spires, reflecting on the history of this place I am now in.

 

I am enjoying travelling alone – to spend an entire day wandering around a beautiful city, and deciding for myself what I want to do. There was an American girl at the blue mosque that looked like she was also on her own, and I wanted to talk to her, but in the end I was too nervous. I felt the pressure to make myself meet fellow travellers, because after all, isn’t that the fun of travelling that we’re all told about? Meeting random people and having spontaneous adventures etc etc etc. But why do I need to do that just for the sake of doing it? I actually enjoy being alone. But I know that I can become too introspective and need others to pull me out of myself. But I’ll get there. It’s only the first day of being on my own in a foreign city – I have plenty of time, and for me it may take a bit longer.

When I arrived back at the place I am staying, I started to feel that sense of loneliness, maybe fear. I know it’s a dangerous path if I continue to walk down it. Maybe disconnection. Maybe I just need hugs from good friends. The thing is I get that feeling when I’m home as well. I think I’m going to be learning more about what causes it and the balance to keep it in check by dealing with the root causes, not simply ignoring it.

In about an hour I will be leaving Istanbul and the new friends I’ve made, to take a ferry across the Marmara to another town (when the man at passport control questioned me and I told him where I was going, he was generally surprised and tried to convince me there were plenty of better places to visit 😛 ). From there a bus will take me to the farm I will be at until the end of May. A few weeks ago I couldn’t imagine what it would be like to be at this point and it felt almost like another me who would be here – I don’t think I quite believed I would get here and do this. But it is in fact me – taking a day at a time and figuring it out as I go.

 

Reflections in Transit

I’m sitting in Borispol Airport, Kiev – a stopover on my way to Istanbul. I flew the 10 hours from Bangkok, and as the first part of my journey is over – visiting friends and a familiar place, I feel the need to reflect on that time, as I transition to the next. From here I’m on my own – I make my own way, whichever I choose. The next few steps are set in place – staying with friends of a friend before I head off to the farm I’ll be working at. Beyond that I don’t know. I’ve never been to Turkey before. I read an article on Istanbul in an aeroplane magazine about seven years ago, and my interest was piqued. Since then it has been on my ‘to travel to’ list, but seemed so far out of reach at the time. And yet here we are.

But back to Bangkok. I decided to visit my friends there as a it was on my way, and I figured it would be a good transition into travelling alone – somewhere familiar, safe, and with people I know. What I didn’t realise, was that it would be a timely transition in other ways. While spending time with my friends in UNOH (Urban Neighbours of Hope) there, I was reminded of how important it is to me to share life in community; with people whose hearts beat the same as mine. During the morning devotional times I was reminded how much I value regularly reading the bible and praying with others, with hearts on the table. The rhythms of life that create a solid foundation. I hope to continue with these on my travels – carving out the space that gives something to hold onto, lest I be rocked by the waves of the unknown that crash around me.

Lots of delicious, spicy Thai food, motorbike rides, and time with friends later, the next part of my journey begins.

A Bit of Context

Every traveller loves to quote Tolkien, as though it gives a sense of mystic or divine purpose to their wanderings – as if they will stumble upon the meaning of life they were searching for, or short of that, some unknown hole-in-the-wall that serves the best pho or felafel or feijoada.

I’m not sure what this blog will be, and I’m not sure if I want you or anyone else to read it. Really it’s just for my own benefit – an effort to make myself put coherent ideas and words to the experiences I will be having, so that the jumble of incessant thought, which my head seems to persistently consist of, will be teased out into meaningful (at least for me) reflections. We’ll see how that goes.

I know the value of staying put. I know how it allows you to become part of a place and develop a sense of community, to be connected and grounded, like the roots of a tree. I even have a tattoo to remind myself just that. I spent almost a decade of my childhood living between two places – two different worlds. I know what it is to say goodbye to friends and family, and am still often incredibly sad at any departures in my life, even if I know I’ll see the person again. From experience, it’s never guaranteed.

I suspect that when I return from my travels I’ll come to the same conclusion, and perhaps will long for this sense of connection more fully. My childhood experiences led me to that desire – but now for something different. I’m choosing to go it alone – to jump into the unknown with a little bit of courage and hopefully not too much stupidity. Rather than plan everything like I would naturally be inclined to do, to have backups for my backups and just-in-case plans for my plan ‘b’s, I’ll be leaving with a one-way flight, a couple visas, a farm in Turkey lined up, and little else.

At this point I’m not feeling much fear, but that all could change when it becomes real and I’m sitting in an unfamiliar airport or train station, wondering what’s next or feeling completely alone and lost.

But that is also why I go. To do that which part of me has always dreamed I’d be brave enough to do. To cause myself to be challenged, to grow, to face fear, to question what I know. Of course the reality will be unexpected, possibly mundane, and perhaps genuinely frightening – but I endeavour to experience it all fully and see Jesus through, in and around it all, in the people I meet, the ground I work, and in the joy, fear and discomfort that I feel.

As I write this, I can hear my neighbours from the apartment block across from me singing and playing Indian music, and it’s beautiful. Maybe I’m silly and naïve for picking up and leaving before I’ve properly settled in to where I’m at in life – maybe I’m running away from something, or maybe I suspect that what I’m leaving will still be here when I return. Maybe my travels will lead me to a new place and path, some renewed meaning or motivation… or maybe I’m just lost.

thoughts of a traveller.