Pieces of Me

Travel is revered as the Great Enricher; that endeavor of all endeavors which somehow makes you more of a person: more than what you were, more self-aware, culturally sensitive, worldly, empathetic, knowledgable. This is not to say that travel has not done these things for me: I would be a radically different person were it not for growing up all over the world, and spending most of the past few years in North Africa. It has made me more than that which I consisted of before, broadened my perspective, given me a much-needed dose of humility. At times it has left me breathless, speechless, in tears, embarrassed, confused- a multitude of emotions, some of which I have yet to pinpoint with an arbitrary name which would only detract from their complexity.

But sometimes travel does more than that. It opens your eyes to a world you had only dreamed about before. It absorbs you into itself, makes you a part of it, of the journey, of the heartbeat of a world beyond the scope of the world you knew only moments before. Therein lies the problem.

Africa- North Africa- has captured my heart in so powerful a manner that sometimes I feel as if my very soul has been split in two. A part of me knows that my home, however long I am away from it, is in America. I was raised to be a Southern belle, woman who stands behind her country, her family, her values, and her football team at every turn. One half of my soul will always belong to the haze of booze-imbued fraternity parties, of sundresses on Saturdays, of family dinners and vintage cigars on the back porch with my dad as we gaze out over the twinkling lights of the Tennessee valley below. But half of my soul has been led away to the barren corners of the world, sandy wastelands stretching as far as the eye can see, the suffocating crush of humanity as hijab-clad women and chainsmoking men hurry from here to there, a world where the language dances, lilting on the night air until I am left with a sing-song headache. I have chased the proverbial dragon here to live a life of adventure, of constant boundary-pushing, nerve-wracking, heart-wrenching discovery. It was been wonderful.

But sometimes, like Saturday night as I watched the grainy image of Trent Richardson streaking down a football field 5,000 miles away, I begin to wonder how much of myself I gave up for this adventure. It is a sacrifice than can never be undone. Whether I like it or not, I have given so much of myself, of my former self, to this region that it can never be reclaimed. When I am here, I miss the part of myself I left behind in America. When I am in America, I spend nights lying awake wishing for the clamor of street vendors and car horns and calls to prayer that never come. It seems to me now that I will always be missing half of myself, no matter where in the world I am. It is in these moments of introspection that I have to shake myself awake from the dreamlike possibility that I may never be whole again. Until it is possible for me to be in two places at once, to be two people at once, to wholly embrace two conlicting lifestyles at once, I may never be a complete version of myself.

And yet, looking at a rare patch of empty inky black sky, unmarred my the reflection of city lights, of airliners, of skyscrapers, as I walk down the dusty alleyway that leads to the front door of my house, I can't help but think that I would much rather be half a person, if that half a person can have the best of both worlds as I do. There is a man and a family waiting for me in a country far away, where Wal-Marts dot the highway and football dominates autumn headlines. There is a campus in the desert of one of the most ancient, historically rich civilizations in the world where I feel that anything is possible. Rather than make me more, travel has torn me into two halves of what was formerly a whole person. But each half is better than what it was when it were whole because of the places it has been and the things it has seen. And, if one day I can figure how to reconcile those two halves into one complete, capable adult...well, I'll be pretty damn cool.

1 "bhebek"s:

Anonymous said...

I have been reading your blog for a while now, and i must say, you write so beautifully and with such passion, that you have become one of my favorite writers! This post (and the one before this), however, has left me so moved, that i can't help but write to you. I too am a woman torn between two worlds (a small country in Europe and the states) and you just put into words what i have been trying to say for a very long time. Thank You!