Sunday, January 27, 2013

Returning Differently

Soon I’ll be off to a different country on a different adventure.

I have a mindset that doesn't serve me well - adventures occur when I go to places or have experiences that are different or new to me. It then logically follows that familiar places and lived experiences are somehow ‘normal’, right?

A few times I have sat anxious on a landing airplane, nervous about what I would experience when I set foot in a foreign land.
This natural spike of adrenaline coupled with the expectation of a new experience has helped me to navigate these adventures.

Operating from this framework, going back to Ontario, Canada (the most familiar place in the world for me) was surprisingly more challenging than I expected. Everything felt relatively the same - except for me.

It is one thing to be obviously foreign, an easily identifiable outsider based on language, accent and appearance. It is a complete other experience to feel foreign in the place where you’re from.

Canada was a different type of adventure - an internal one set against a familiar landscape.

Don’t get me wrong, it was wonderful to be home!  While travelling to Canada I burst into tears a number of times out of sheer excitement and a sweet feeling of familiarity.

On the flight from Frankfurt to Toronto, I heard people making announcements in my accent and was overjoyed to watch a movie in Canadian French. The man sitting beside me was from Calgary in all his plaid flannel shirt, handlebar mustache glory and went out of his way to help me with my carry on.

I adored being in a racially diverse crowd of people waiting to board the aircraft. Most of us held passports that like mine bear shiny gold letters that spell ‘CANADA’.

I was greeted by smiling parents who showered me with comfort things – cheese, chocolate, warm clothes. I enjoyed the company of many beautiful friends and family members.

Mom welcoming me home - complete with cheese platter!
Beautiful gift and meal from Elsa

Despite all this, I found myself feeling overwhelmed with a completely new and indescribable feeling. Not being able to put thoughts and feelings into words is incredibly frustrating for me. How could I understand and express that something inside of me has shifted, that I don’t know my different self at home, the very place where I’m from?

Malawi turned the world upside for me and stepping back into my motherland didn’t turn it back.

I know much less now, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

A few days after arriving home, I wrote:

‘Everything is so fast. Blazing by so quickly, I can observe the intensity but fail to capture any warmth that this rat race might emit.

Friends and family have been small oases scattered amidst this chaos. They are eager to listen to the fragments of my experience that I can muster words for.

I was worried about questions wanting neat, packaged answers. I have been lucky to have few. Instead I'm receiving patience and acceptance.  

They also allow for the silence that expresses the spaces I feel so acutely, silence more expressive than any words I can string together.’

Thanks to family and friends for all the love that was offered to me while home. 

Thanks also to those who gave me hope through their donations and interest in development initiatives in Malawi. 

Nugget getting carried in Chitenje
Dad on Christmas
Sister! Christmas Day
Brother :) Christmas Day

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