Breaking the silence

I sit in front of Tonsai pier. On the southwest center of Koh Phi Phi, I look out to see towering limestone formations draped in shrubbery, a stretch of water between me and them. The bay is crowded. To the left is a neat row of longtail boats, the traditional vessels adorned in ribbons to bless the journey and honor the ocean. To the right, clusters of speedboats abound attesting to the booming tourist industry here.

Behind me is a paved road cluttered with shops boasting of imported goods for the tourist’s consumption.

To understand my emotional response, we need to turn back the clock three weeks.

I arrived on Koh Lipe- an island five hours by boat from my current location- on Thanksgiving. More remote, it is in the midst of a transition Phi Phi’s already seen. 

In the past nine years, Lipe went from having four resorts to over 200. The island’s center, once swamp, was converted to a “walking street market”. The local Chao Lay people- originally semi-nomadic fisher folk- are being crowded into an increasingly smaller pocket of land away from the shore.

When the students arrived to Lipe, we met with the Chao Lay group and learned about their community organizing efforts. They told us their story of selling their land to a business man some thirty years. They explained their unfamiliarity with the notion of land as something to own; the enticement of short-term profit without a sense of long-term costs; the twenty-year lag before any consequences came. When the man (now in jail for his role in a human trafficking ring) sold it in plots to hotel owners and other developers. When Lipe joined Phi Phi amongst the must-see spots of Thailand’s attractions.

We spent the next week paddling around the Adang Archepelago camping on neighboring islands. Surveying tourism’s other costs as we snorkled at dwindling reefs whose fish populations decline every year. (To be fair, commercial fishing and changes in climate also contribute to the reefs’ threatened state).

I probably should have better considered all of this when scheduling an island vacation to directly follow. Or perhaps this is the best time to really examine myself as a tourist.

Either way, here I am. Peering into Lipe’s future as I step onto Phi Phi.

Getting off the ferry, there was a line of tourists 200 deep. Just one of six departures for today, as I too am one of countless boatloads being ferried in.

While I want to handle all of this with the complexity and nuance it deserves, today I feel the need to just respond emotionally.

To sit in my sadness. My fear. My guilt. To wonder where we are heading and what my role is in the future of this resilient though greatly taxed planet.

To ask: should I be here? How do I do so responsibly?

What is my every purchase supporting? What livelihoods- and life- does my presence threaten?

How do we account for the fossil fuel consumption, waste production, and cultural imposition of travel? 

These questions crowd my throat, tearing at my voicebox. Begging for a response that alludes me. Stripping me down to the desperate inquiry: how do I find space to breathe in the midst of all of this? Leaving me fearful of the more pertinent: how are my choices choking off the planet’s own breath?

That’s where I land today. On Koh Phi Phi with a growing concern of what that means. I’ll leave you here to go find some trees. Whom I’ll thank for their important work of inhaling carbon dioxide and exhaling oxygen. I’ll breathe in this gift as I unite mind, body, spirit with the breath of the world. As impartial of a response as it seems, I’ll return to my practice, inching closer to a disposition from which to view this crazy beautiful, deeply aching moment in time.

From which to be me: a tourist, an activist, a healer, a consumer. A living contradiction.

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Re-dressing

I am back in San Diego and excited to have more clothing than what I carried on my back the past eight months. Getting dressed this morning, I was struck, though, by the ways that my clothes fit differently.

A shirt flares out at the hips in a way I didn’t remember; my pants feel tight in my thighs.

I likely misremembered some of my clothes, like this shirt’s quirky cut. The rose-colored lens of nostalgia remembered how things felt on a bright day more than what they were. I don’t think the material changed from lack of use, but its tempting to say that’s another piece.

I suppose too my body has changed. Legs boasting the muscle built from a more active year. Stomach softened by the carb-heavy diets of communities abroad and beer-filled nights once back in the States.

Staring at the mirror contemplating this outfit that feels new and slightly off while familiar and so me, I think ‘yep, that’s about right’.

Because this is what returning is like…Coming back to a place that is different than you remembered it- both in the ways its changed and in the ways your memory of it made it something else. Being different than you were when you were last here.

I feel a bit as if I am in a fitting room that is my childhood town. Easing into relationships and tugging at their seams. Turning around to get a 360 view of what things look like. 

It’s all new and slightly off while familiar and so so me.

The circle game

In a profound circle, I find myself at the final country of this trip, my first last year. For our South Africa orientation, we are staying at the backpackers where my TBB travels began seventeen months ago.

My first photo from last year's trip, taken at my current accommodations
My first photo from last year’s trip, taken at my current accommodations

As I crawled into the bed I first slept in at the onset of my international tour with TBB, a rush of memories flooded my mind. Faces of students who are now dear friends resurfaced. Conversations and views played on a loop, cycling through various joys and adventures of TBB.

I fell asleep laughing with my co-worker and friend, another repeated experience.

This morning, I wrestled with the water heater and then found a flat spot to lay my yoga mat. Every action is simultaneously new and repeated— not in a boring sort of way, but in a centering one.

With this return to the beginning, I am reminded of the thrill and excitement of the start. My eyes are opened once again to the beauty, the wonder, the daily gift of this life abroad.

On the road to the students’ homestays where they’ll settle into later this week, there is a curve just at the top of a hill. As you round it, it reveals a stunning view of the ocean. The water stretches out behind a row of houses, with the sky as expansive just above. Every day as we made this drive last year, Beth would say “take a moment!”. With brimming gratitude and disbelief at our job, lives, and world, we would look out at the view and feel all that we’d been given.

In truth, this same job is now routine; this life, sometimes tiring. Yet this world is still full of wonder; gratitude and awe are still the appropriate responses to the opportunities before me. Long forgotten in the normalcy of my extraordinary, today I took a moment.

Greeting the sun with some salutations, I felt at home. It was a feeling of at home in the universe that Parks speaks of and to which my blog title alludes. I was rooted in a connected orientation to life.  One that Knows gifts when they are given, that takes time to remember and experience wonder anew.

As I moved through the asanas, the sun rose above the clouds shining directly on me. I stood in its light, in my own Light. I circled back with a smile and sensed that my return is not only to South Africa, but also to self.

Wanderlusting

She set off around the world with the gushing optimism of a twenty-something landing her dream job.

Lesson number one: dream jobs can still be challenging.

She accepted this. Embraced this. Learned to be open to life in all its complexity— desperate loneliness and profound community, agonizing pain and overwhelming joy.

Paradox became her normal. Her honest truth.

Contradiction revealed itself at every turn as she labored toward a life of congruence.

Continue reading “Wanderlusting”

Stepping in or stepping on?

Tucked behind a lone tree and rusty gate, it took us a week to figure out that the billboard advertising Fitness Basics Gym was directly in front of the gym itself. The first time we noticed the sign, and with it the list of classes, we took a picture and said we’d call.

We still hadn’t the day I looked a bit closer and noticed one more sign inside the gate. “Is it right there?” I inquired. As I did, the picture became clearer: there were stairs leading down just below the second advertisement— and was that music I heard coming from below? Curiously, I wandered in and met Meenakshi, the owner of the gym.

Sure enough, just as the billboard promised, there was a full schedule of classes: Power Yoga, Zumba, Bollywood Dance (!), Extreme Core. Behind the mirrored area were a handful of machines and, further back, some weights.

I joined that night. Continue reading “Stepping in or stepping on?”

Wake up calls

Photo credit: Anya Zakhour  Jaipur, India November 2013 Title: India Struggles
Jaipur, India November 2013
Title: India Struggles
Credit: Anya Zakhour

Writing to you from India! Where tuk tuk drivers are sages and sages hail from Canada to teach you Everything You Need To Know. Where sages then tell dirty jokes and play dirty tricks to get your number or get you to their home.

I’m spitting out the bones and still chewing the meat as my friends, the Christians, say. Continue reading “Wake up calls”

Highest heights

IMG_3137

We awoke in Quilotoa, a quaint mountain town at the base of what was once a towering volcano, now a breathtaking crater-lake. This stunning sight inspired the Quilotoa Loop— a trek in the sierras of southern Ecuador that takes you winding through Kichwa villages and around the crater we found ourselves prepared to hike. Continue reading “Highest heights”

Moving on, always

There is only one constant in my life right now, movement. Let me catch you up to speed: after enjoying the shoreline of Portete, I bounced from Bua to Quito and the mountains south. I ventured to the Cuyabeno River deep in the Amazon. I traveled to Peru where I enjoyed a stunning trek through the Andes. Finally, I flew to Thailand, where I write to you from today. My time in the Amazon aside, I enjoyed all of this with my students and co-workers with Thinking Beyond Borders.

Even since being in Thailand, we’ve yet to stay put. We lingered for a long weekend in Chiang Mai celebrating the Loy Kratong festival where we floated boats of flowers down the river that surrounds the city. We spent a week at the Upland Holistic Development Project’s demonstration farm learning about their efforts while participating in many levels of food production on a farm. Two nights ago, we settled into home-stays with Thai farmers just outside Chiang Mai city.

All of this movement brings with it unique pleasures and challenges. As of late, I have been feeling the latter as my life lacks any resemblance of a routine. In our constant transitions, I’ve lost consistency and discipline in my reflective practices.

Let me be clear: there is incredible privilege in the itinerary I just laid out— in the life I live. There is a burden too, though. Continue reading “Moving on, always”

Leaving Home

My time in the States is beckoning­- demanding, rather- that I make peace with my identity as a traveler. That I face the reality that my sense of home is fluid, my place of origin a landing pad that is more frequently launched from. While a place of comfort and full of community, my most consistent choice is to leave.

The title of my blog- Homeward Bound– is far more relevant than I knew when this journey began. I return often (e.g. here and here) to the illusive question for a nomad, “where’s home for you?”

I am asked this in various forms every day. Friends begin their correspondence with “what country are you in now?”  New acquaintances reach out with the innocent question, “where do you live?” Reunions open with the inevitable, “how long are you here for?”

With every query, I suppress an internal groan. There are surface answers to be sure: the United States; San Diego is where my family, dog, and belongings reside; I’ll spend the week here for now.

Beneath these questions, though, is a set of my own. They center on responsibility, presence, community, and vocation. I face the inverse of that which I grappled with as I prepared to embark on my journey around the world. My former inquiry explored the tensions of my temporary presence in communities worldwide. In a post picked up by Everyday Ambassador, I reflected:

EA quote

In that piece, I looked at the problems with international travel and my (brief) presence in communities abroad.

The untouched story here is my brief and fleeting presence in communities at home.

These tensions are not of accumulation, but abandonment. What does connection look like when a timestamp lingers over every exchange? How do I sustain relationship when my pace and place are fluid and ever-changing?

The trend is clear: since being back Stateside, I spent one to two week stints in DC, Virginia, Pensacola, Southern Utah, Colorado, and the bay before spending the last month in San Diego. On the cusp of a trip to Minnesota, I pause.

And I ask: what must I reorient myself to now?

When my voices of self-doubt and loathing take over, my questions level critique against me for my lack of consistency. I wonder at the cost of the life I’ve chosen. I distrust the ease with which I depart.

Yet, when I lean into the invitation to trust my path, my questions are gentler. Predominately, they are ones seeking to create space for my process, as wayward as it might be. How do I embrace this traveler’s identity as a central part of how I engage in the world? What does it look like to accept the call to keep moving? What exactly am I traveling toward?

This last one leaps off the page and into the core of the why and how of what I do. I travel toward Love. Change. Learning. Growth.

And in these words, I find my center. It is to purpose, then, that I must reorient myself.

With this reminder, I step into a process that, though uncertain, is embedded in my understanding of my life’s work. And I seek a center that can move with me. Furthermore, I wonder if the notion of ‘leaving home’ distances something that is actually inside me from which I can never depart. Perhaps home is synonymous with vocation. It is within, as realizing it is about discovering the call of Deep Self.

From this perspective, my blog title takes on a new meaning. It is not only a nod to where I am heading, but that which I am bound to- who I am. The journey I am on is one not of leaving but of returning, greeting, and birthing this place. Beautifully, this task is also the core of what I support others in doing. In a circle that astounds me, my home is found in helping others create their own.

Sitting at my favorite coffee shop in San Diego with the warmth of the sun upon my back, my roots tug me eastward. I’ll sleep tonight in the bustling suburb that raised me to be the woman I am today. Come next Wednesday, I’ll lay my head elsewhere.

My hope is that in both places- and wherever else I find myself- I’ll learn to be home in my skin and in my heart.