I've been getting so many interesting questions from clients, friends and family since I've been back from South America where my family and I were traveling for almost a year, and I want to share a little bit about what I'm discovering along the way.
I know it would be really cool if I came back with this whole summarization of how my life has changed, what I've learned and what it's like being back in the US, but I'm not wired that way. Realizations come in pieces for me, sometimes after letting them marinate for a while, or after having a conversation I make the connection that I couldn't quite get to on my own.
I have a collaborative way of processing. Without your question, I may not be able to extract the information, thought or piece of wisdom circulating in my vault of experiences. It's the interaction that helps me to know and express the experience more deeply. I've always admired those that can process quickly and really get to the heart of the matter - saying the things that I didn't know were true for me until I heard them come out of someone else's mouth. That's not how I experience my processing, but over time, I've come to appreciate being wired this way as it allows me to remain curious and really experience how malleable, fleeting and shapeshift-y memories and opinions can be.
So for the most-asked question - what's it like to be back? My response is: it's not so much about being back in the US. It's about the lifestyle and intention I had while traveling that felt so vastly different from my life at home.
The concept of home itself is in fact such a subjective thing. I made home wherever we went - I put a picture of my family up on the refrigerator with a magnet that was left behind at our first apartment. We put our clothes in drawers or cubbies if we were staying somewhere more than 4 days. We bought some of the staples of our diet (coffee for Mike, pancake mix and chocolate chips for Levi and eggs for me) that made it home. And we had each other. And that made it home enough. We didn't have expectations that we needed anything more, so didn't feel that we lacked anything.
Our lifestyle was at times structureless and disorienting having left a lifestyle of much routine - bedtimes, alarm clocks and shopping for all our meals for the upcoming week on Sundays. Routine made life more tolerable, or less difficult, in some ways at home. But while traveling, it was the very thing we didn't want much of. It felt restrictive. When one of our phones rang, you'd think we'd just heard a fire alarm going off. It was like "What the hell is that sound?? Who would be calling? What's happening?". For real.
Our entire lifestyle was shaped around exploring and curiosity. It required an open mind and wide open eyes to try to take it all in. Hearing Spanish spoken all around us allowed a delicious bubble of not being able to ear hustle (eavesdrop) anyone around us and it created a quiet, peaceful ignorance. A little like when I grew my bangs out in 4th grade to hide my eyes because if I couldn't see you, you couldn't see me.
Never once did we ask anyone "Hablas ingles?" (do you speak English?) and when we visited places where English was being spoken it was almost like an insult to our ears. I know it may sound bizarre, but it felt so LOUD and comprehensible. I could understand EVERY word and I didn't want to.
I liked feeling my way through conversations better.
I tried to use my other senses to understand what someone was saying to me since words often raced by too quickly. I created beautiful, wonderful stories that were completely off the mark, and yet it always worked out. I thought to myself, what if we all stopped speaking for a little while, and just felt the currents of energy that each of us transmits read facial expressions and hand gestures? And the impact that would have on who we choose to share space and time with, and who we made sure to avoid because the energy didn't feel good or safe.
And smiling!! Oh my gosh, it's amazing what a smile transmits! When all else fails, lead with a smile. And learn how to say thank you and please. I may not have ended up exactly where I thought I would, or with the meal I thought I ordered, but it all works out when the intention is to explore and be curious. There was no "right" way something needed to happen.
There was time.
Time to be bored. Time to be full. Time to be in awe and wonder. Time to be a stranger in a strange land. Time to be white skinned in a brown skinned land. Time to feel guilt that I didn't know where it was coming from. Time to feel shame that my country has directly impacted this person's life for the worse. Time to see how religion has destroyed cultures, peoples and ways of life to create a homogenous belief around one right ideology. And the church in the plaza - the relic that acts as a daily reminder.
Time to see resilience, over and over again, in the faces of the elders that continue to weave the stories of life into the fabric for future generations to wrap around their shoulders when they lose hope.
Time to see that the difficulties we experience in the US exist outside of the US as well. Time to see that these difficulties are human difficulties unspecific to geographical location. Time to see how few possessions create simplicity. Time to see how often the word 'poverty' is used in place of 'practicality' when my reference point is based in a culture of possessions and not-enoughness. Time to see that "othering" is a natural response in the nervous system and that generalizations are never specific enough to be saying anything I can fully trust.
Time to be quiet. Time to watch the Andes mountains nibble on puffy white clouds as they drift by in the shape of a giant puffed pastry. Time to be proud of my son for ordering his meal in Spanish, and to watch the frustration arise in me when he refused. Time to see the role environment played on my mood, energy levels and feeling of relaxation or tension. Time to see how many different versions of "comfortable" people mean when they rent their apartment on Airbnb.
Time to let things come to me. Time to find horses or donkeys almost everywhere we were. Time to feed them scraps of grass or crunchy carrots from across the fence. Time to wish I had more food to give them so their ribs wouldn't shout out from underneath their stretched skin. Time to wish that animals were treated as sentient beings instead of mostly beasts of burden. Time to relish in the village that left food and water out on every block for the stray dogs. Time to cry silent tears at the ingenious dog itching its back on the wooden bench and looking adorable doing it until I got close enough to see it was because mange had eaten away his fur and replaced it with red, angry sores. Time to see 4-year-olds asking for money and selling gum with a desperation that comes from hunger and no other way.
I had time. I made time. I enjoyed time. I rode time like a burlap sack down a carnival slide.
My mind was different. I looked out at the world through a lens of curiosity and exploration.
It changed my world.
So how is it being back?
It's like shutting my mind down to see all the expected things in the expected places, having the expected experiences. Except not yet. It's not quite like that yet. I still feel the part of me that says - that’s not the full story! Stay curious! It's not okay to go to sleep on the world. To stop responding when nature taps me on the shoulder and says, "Lisa - I was mid-sentence and you zoned out. I'm still here. Where did you go?".