I am honored and ecstatic to present my story that is featured in the top finalists for Travelex’s The Next Great Travel Writer! To check out the other finalists and my story on the site, click here.
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Without further ado, here is my story…
A Home to Return To
With gripping fear and writhing pain, my soul finally understood. Amongst the crowded terminal, the tears slipped slowly down my cheeks. I tried to hold in the gasps of air that dared to escape as I burrowed my head into my backpack that still smelled of spicy sweet. Every fiber of my being wanted to run back through the halls of the terminal, and back onto the plane with its nose pointed towards the land I left my heart in.
In hour seven of an eight-hour layover, I came to realize the reality that I had to board a plane back to Oregon. I had to leave behind Thailand and let it breathe only as a memory.
I walked with slow steps onto the plane with bloodshot tired eyes. I shoved my backpack up on the shelf and slipped into my seat by the window. I looked out at the tarmac trying not to grieve my homecoming. I missed the warmth of my family, but something changed within the walls of my heart while walking the red dirt roads of Thailand. Something I could not quite explain.
An older couple smiled at me and motioned they were the two seats sitting next to me. I smiled in return as they stumbled into their seats.
“You look like you’ve been some places!” The lady chuckled to herself.
I realized I probably smelled from not showering in a couple days, and my hair was swirling every possible direction. I laughed genuinely before responding, “I was living in Thailand”.
Her husband peered out from the other side of her and inquired, “How long have you been away from home?”
“Four months”, I replied.
“Oh dear, your parents must be greatly missing you!“ The wife said with a smile.
The flight attendants then started their safety speech as the plane moved into position for take off. I stared out at the wing as the plane turned towards the runway.
I dreamed for years of traveling to Thailand, yet I never thought of what happened after the dream was fulfilled. No one can adequately prepare you for what comes next.
Everything felt different, yet everything was the same.
The plane lifted into the sky that shimmered a soft dark blue. The same blue of a child’s shoes that ran through the rural village. My mind drifted into memories that pushed and pulled on my heart, flowing me into a remembrance that felt fresh and alive.
It was a village that was unlike any part of the world I had known.
The dirt was a soft red that was soothing against the wild jungle that crept at the edges of the northern tribal land. The air sent wisps of smoke from the kitchen fires with the sweet smell of bamboo. The women bustled around in brightly patterned skirts shushing the children that asked questions in a language I could not understand.
It was as if stepping back in time.
My heart filled with a sense of wonder and awe as I let the scenery swirl around me. To the western world, this place would seem like a poverty stricken village. No electricity, no running water, and untainted by the flashy world of popular culture. Yet, they were the happiest people. I had traveled to other tribal villages, but I never experienced one that felt familiar, like it was a home I was returning to.
The Karen tribe was welcoming to my travel partner and I as we were introduced to the members of the tribe. The children scurried around us in excitement, reaching out to grab our elbows in a sign of greeting.
“Tableu” they said to us in Karen. I figured it was only used as a greeting, but it turns out it can mean a multitude of things. The days in the village passed in a happy blur, as I learned from the movements of the people. From the lady who owned a boisterous monkey, to the songs the village sang softly at night, it all seemed surreal. It felt like a dream, a far off heaven of people who enjoyed the simplicity of a loving community.
When the view of the village left my site for the last time, it tore at my heart. With a raw feeling of heartache, I turned my head towards the future, hoping the village would be a home to return to.
My mind jolted out of the memory as the pilot spoke on the intercom, “Landing in Portland, cloudy skies”.
“Have a lovely homecoming!” The lady next to me said cheerfully.
“Thanks, it will be good to be home!” I said in return.
As much as I wanted to believe the words that came out of my own mouth, I realized that they were not entirely true. When you return from a different home so endearing to your heart, it can be hard to explain to family your experience.
Yet, as much as the hardship of reverse culture shock came to claim me, the memories still stay alive. In my dreams, conversations, and stories, the traveler in me stirs with the gentleness of community, the love of strangers, and a village across the world that will always feel like home.