Six months ago, Eaman and I were sitting in JFK airport, waiting for this year of fun and adventure to begin. Since then, we’ve gone to six countries in South and Central America and done a whole lot that I’ve already shared and re-shared with you. Now all I keep thinking is: How is time flying so quickly? What’s the rush? Can we make it stop? Please?
But realizing how rapidly each day, week and month goes by and stopping to recognize the milestone upon us, it encouraged me to sit down and think about what’s transpired in this time. Leaving South America had me doing some self-reflection already, but now, being on U.S. soil in month six has resulted in some interesting new revelations about myself that I definitely didn’t see coming when we left September 20.
The day we left:
I feel happier around foreign languages than I do around English. When I was at the airport yesterday, two girls and their mother – all from Luxembourg, I eyed their passports – were speaking in what I think was Luxembourgish and it was like music to my ears. Call me crazy, but for me, there’s something so pleasant about hearing Dutch or staccato German or even just English in a Kiwi accent, probably because it evokes such happy memories. For six months, all Eaman and I heard were foreign languages. When we’d enter our hostel room in a new city, if we heard a different language, it was exciting because it meant we’d be introduced to a whole new culture. (We’d be less enthused to hear American English.) Sure, we all eventually spoke in the common denominator language of English, but the point was that we were surrounded by a hodgepodge of different backgrounds. It became symbolic of being on the road, being adventurous, being truly out there. A part of me flip-flops between loving life in Hawaii and missing life on-the-go, and this language issue is definitely derived from the latter.
When we landed in Hawaii last month, we couldn’t stop speaking in Spanish for a couple of days – a “gracias” here, a “quanto cuesta?” there. To have to revert back to English – and not that slower, slightly more articulated Spanish we all sometimes use amongst foreigners, but pure American English – made me feel like the journey was over. Of course, it isn’t, and there’s a lot to be done in Hawaii as well as Asia (whenever that happens), but it was a jarring change. Thank goodness the owner of the smoothie shop I work at is Argentinian, the general manager is Venezuelan and two employees are Mexican; I still get to hear Spanish often. And do I even need to mention just how many Japanese immigrants live in Honolulu?
It takes less time than you’d think to readjust. In Panama I kept saying, “I can’t wait to have an apartment and read magazines in English and be able to order food without hesitation and not get screwed over by cab drivers.” But then we got to Hawaii, and within a day or two, it was business as usual. In fact, it was scary how easy it was to slip back into Americana (minus the aforementioned language non-barrier issue). It made me realize how little time you need to get back into the swing of things. And I’m not talking about work – because it will definitely take me a long time to get back into that mode – but general life. There isn’t really an adjustment period. I grew up in the States long enough to revert back quickly. When I was home, I ran some errands at the mall, Barnes & Noble and the like, and it felt just like the time when I was home for three weeks in September after moving out of New York and before leaving for our trip.
I knew it wouldn’t be long before we ordered Papa John’s in Hawaii:
And I think a part of the reason I got the smoothie job is because the general manager and I connected instantly about backpacking. She and her husband had done basically what Eaman and I are doing sometime ago, but after a point, she told her husband, “I want to go back home, re-settle and take my time to ease back into life.” He told her the readjustment period is a short one and that she’d regret it, and it turns out she did. She echoed my sentiments: It really doesn’t take that much time, so when you’re on the road, stay for as long as you can.
To drive the point home further (for me), I was working the cash register one day at the smoothie shop, when a husband, wife and their son came in. They gave me their phone number so I could look them up in our rewards program, and when I recognized their San Francisco-based cell numbers, I asked if they lived in Honolulu or were just visiting. With smiles – sheer relaxation, really – on their faces, they explained that they were taking “a sabbatical from life” and living in Honolulu for one month and the Big Island (Hawaii) for another. Seriously? With a kid? I found that incredibly eye-opening. They proved that it doesn’t have to end.
I don’t think I fit in with the East Coast anymore. There were hints of this as I was leaving New York, but I don’t think the fact became fully realized until I came home last week. I had flown into Newark, NJ from Honolulu, and as I was getting onto the AirTrain, people were running to get into the car first. Did I miss something? What was the rush? Where was the “excuse me”?
Plus, there was just a general gray energy. (I totally believe in energies now, by the way. Meet enough new people on a daily basis and you’ll learn to read energies, too.) I mean, I don’t blame East Coasters; the weather, though currently wonderful, can suck in March. I, too, had been a victim of it for many years.
Of course this is a blanket statement, and many of my friends and family are happy there, but I think after seeing the places I’ve seen in the last six months and realizing what suits my personality, I now know that I want to be somewhere with good weather and happy people. There’s just this wonderful energy and affection in Honolulu – I also felt it in San Diego big time – and I feel a lot happier and better about myself in that figurative climate. I also have slowed down quite a bit, and I just don’t think I can keep up on the East Coast. I don’t sweat the small stuff as much, and being around that inherent anxiety is a turn-off. I do miss New York, and I’m so happy I left the city on a high note, but apart from maybe one day owning a place in Nolita on our old street – a girl can dream – I don’t see myself there in the future.
I miss my friends. A lot. In El Calafate, Argentina I was reading a lengthy email from one of my best friends, Avni, and bawling shortly after. I just felt so far away from my second family. And then when I was home, I caught up with my other best friend, Samira, and as awesome as it was, it made me realize how far from her I’d be in a few days. See, I have friends from various segments of my life, some of whom have never even met each other, but what they all have in common is that they’re a part of a very small group of people who are like a second family. I knew it’d be hard to leave my friends, but I didn’t think I’d cry about it!
Such a treat to be able to see my friends Jotsna and Shilpa, who I’ve known forever and ever, during their family’s recent visit to Hawaii:
I still have no idea what I want to pursue in life career-wise. In a perfect world, I would just keep backpacking my way around the world. That, however, requires money. And to get money, one needs a job. I do think there’s something to be said for the Hawaiian way of life, as explained to me by one of the managers at my smoothie shop: Work just so you have enough money to live a happy life. Basically, work to live, don’t live to work. After six months, I do believe in this theory more than I ever would have before, but at the same time, there are some lifestyle choices that make me happy that aren’t necessarily things a simpler person would need – like visiting restaurants, traveling a lot, living in California, indulging in fashion and owning 2-3 dogs, including the medically plagued, expense-fraught English bulldog. At least I have clear goals…?
A picture my cousin, Ashwin, sent me:
I’m the kind of person that’s super driven under normal circumstances. Right now, though, my mind and interests feel all over the place. Maybe I want to go to pastry school. Maybe I want to start a (professional) blog. Maybe I want to write a book. Maybe I want to work in the travel industry. I just don’t know. And for someone who always knew what she wanted – to work in the TV department at Entertainment Weekly, a dream I had since 9th grade that I fortunately got to accomplish – it’s a refreshing, but strange feeling for my mind to be so scattered.
But Avni broke it down so well: She said that sometimes when you’re so focused on one thing, your other interests fall to the wayside. Now is the perfect opportunity to explore a lot of different things at the same time, when I have the luxury of time to do so. I’ll eventually have that light bulb moment when something clicks and that’s when my inner go-getter will kick in.
I’m surprised by how many people tune into this blog. My family and friends have been dutifully following along, but I always get extra excited when I see someone I’ve never met comment on a post. I definitely don’t work the travel blogger network as much as other bloggers, so I don’t expect the same returns, but to know that my very personal, non-service-oriented posts are actually drawing people in is a great feeling. Thank you, all! You’ve kept us company when we felt so, so far.
And today isn’t just our travel-versary. It’s Persian New Year! Norouz Mobarak!