My last night in Bangkok got pretty ugly since I fell ill with food-poisoning. I hadn’t even eaten from one of the little food stalls in the street that night, like I had the day before. I had been to a rstaurant. Either way, it was a long and sleepless night, and by Sunday I was seriously doubting I would make it to the airport, let alone to Australia.
Note to self: the no. 1 tourist attraction is never low-key, even if it is a temple
Since I had to check out of the hotel by noon (at that point I was lucky enough to only be exhausted, my body was done with the cleansing process) but the flight was in the evening, I thought it might be a good idea to keep it low-key. Like going to the temple of the giant reclining buddha. In hindsight one might ask if maybe I had emptied parts of my brain during the night as well, since the number one tourist attraction obviously didn’t turn out to be a good destination for a quiet outing. To top things off, you had to go there by boat. It went surprisingly well, and I thought to myself, if I can do this, I am going to be good to board the plane that night. I felt a little queasy was when I smelled food, and I was extremely thirsty but could only take tiny sips if I wanted to keep the water down. As far as discomfort goes, that was pretty ok compared to the previous night.
As long as I’m alive … As long as it’s the right soda!
The way to the airport was pretty awful though, and I thought I might need to ask for help which almost certainly would have meant missing the flight. All I wanted at that point was leaving this city, though, so I was determined ta make it. And I did. At the airport all that was left was extreme fatigue – and I was incredibly thirsty for Coca Cola. I hardly ever drink coke, or any other soda. And here I was, with a desire as bad as an addict. Since for some reason it just had to be “the right kind”, too, I found myself going through several stores, because, of course, most of them only had Pepsi … Life can be funny that way, one minute all you wish for is to live (or die, depending on how drama-inclined you are), the next nothing seems more crucial than getting the right soda … Don’t you just love the irony of that?
Sent back off the airplane – That could have been me!?
It gets even more ironic: I was sitting in the middle row of seats, on the left side. Then came two empty seats, then another woman who was looking like she wasn’t feeling very well. It turned out – you guessed it – that she had fallen ill with food poisoning. The crew called a doctor, and the lady was sent off the plane. Of course I felt sympathetic to the woman but I also thought: that could have been me. Thank God it wasn’t! … That’s how I suddenly found myself alone with an entire row of seats, meaning, I was finally able to stretch out and sleep. Such a blessing after the ordeal of the previous night. I didn’t wake up until they started serving breakfast.
All just coincidence – right?
Thus my short visit to Bangkok ended with kind of a shock. And you might know me well enough by now to know that I don’t believe in coincidence. I am convinced that this wasn’t just some random bout of food poisoning. I believe there has been a process of transformation at work in my body. When I left for Sweden for my two semesters abroad in 2007, I fell ill, too, which I could not explain at all, because I had never been afraid to travel. My parents, who had come to Bremen to see me off, even went to get painkillers. I flew anyway – and at the hostel in Stockholm, where I had a stopover, I felt more miserable than ever in my life. When I arrived in Sundsvall, everything was fine again. What I did not realize at the time was how significant this stay abroad would be. After all, I had no idea that I would move to this country and live there for six years, three of them at the place where I “just happened” to spend my year abroad …
Explanations make it easier for me to accept a situation
I think this trip is similar, but of course, I’m more aware that this experience will make an impact on the rest of my life. So I’m not really surprised by this physically exhausting start, though that does not take away the shock of the experience. I just always find it comforting to have an explanation. That way I do not have to go into resistance and try to fight something that I can not change anyway.
Sleepless in Sydney – homesick …
The shock came not only from the food poisoning. I could still feel it during my first two days here in Australia. Due to the time difference and the sleep disturbance that comes with it (I do not belong to the people who can fall asleep easily anyway), I felt pretty out of it, and this of course also affects the mind. Tuesday night, when I was tossing and turning in bed, I really hit the low point. I felt so out of place (even though I am staying at a very nice Airbnb, I have a room with a family, so it reminds me a bit of my exchange year in the US, which was such a positive experience) and it felt like I would never be able to feel “right” again anywhere.
… but where is home?
I was so homesick, and at the same time the feeling was not directed to a specific place. Or rather, along with the thought “I want to go back to xyz” (in fact, it’s usually the nature in Sweden I miss, when the homesickness sneaks up on my), came the certainty that this is not my home. That if I really did give in to the feeling and decided to quit everything and book a ticket to xyz, I would just end up feeling that I was not “right” there.
Home is where you are – The real reason for this journey
A while ago, I was wondering what the true purpose of this trip is. Even though it may be true that the idea was born out of a certain impulse to escape (namely exactly the feeling “I’m not right here, so I’m getting out of here“), I was sure that there was something else to it. Because I am convinced that on a deeper level, the trip is still right and meaningful. So what is the real reason? I am convinced that it is about finding the home in me. Because that’s what I’ve come to realize about homesickness: it overcomes me when I cannot feel myself, when I cannot recognize myself in my surrounding.
If you do not recognize yourself in the world, claim your place in it
The world is our mirror, and if we stand in front of the mirror and we do not recognize ourselves in it, then that is scary. But the real reason why we cannot see ourselves is that we do not occupy our space. It is understandable that we contract in a strange environment, instead of expanding. It is not immediately clear to us where and how we can take our spot in this strange place. It was this phase of disorientation I found myself in when I arrived here in Australia.
Belonging and alienation – both are in you, not in your surrounding
I am firmly convinced that this experience, uncomfortable as it may have been at first, was important for me. Because it did not allow me to project my idea of ”home” onto my surroundings. Because that’s my pattern, right? I like a place, I call it home. It gets uncomfortable, I draw the conclusion, this is not home, I move on. I believe that in reality the comfort and the restlessness, the sense of belonging and the sense of alienation are in me – not in the places.
In this initial phase of disorientation, the feeling of alienation was just very strong – and also the pain of it. When I realized that, the feeling of being lost did not immediately disappear, but at least I could remember that the answer to my grief was to take my place. That’s how I can feel me again and THAT is the real feeling of home.
Claim your space – Be that which you feel is missing
How do you claim your space? For me, it means starting by observing what exactly it is that I miss in a given place. I believe that we are claiming our space (which is the same as fulfilling our life’s purpose) as we bring into the world what we miss in it. It may sound somewhat counter-intuitive that we should be what we feel is lacking, but the more I put this belief to the test, the more I see: that’s how it works. When I do for others what I wish somebody would do for me, then I actually get the feeling that I long for – it is as if I receive what I give.
I often feel that the mothering energy is missing in my life, in the places where I am. By now I know that this feeling is a call to me: Be caring to others.
I mentioned that my Airbnb is a room in the house of a family. The mom happens to be abroad this week. The father and the son are great, still, at first I felt that it would have been nice having another woman in the house. It took a moment for me to understand: you may not be the mother, but you are here now. And the answer to what I can do here is so simple: give the kid some attention. I often lack the energy when it comes to playing with children. But that is not even required of me! The son of my hosts is already very happy when I just listen to him and watch him play. When I came back from my trip to the Blue Mountains yesterday, he came to the door right away and gave me a big hug. That made me very happy and I am becoming more and more aware that my ideas about what the world expects of me, what great things I have to accomplish to be enough or to “live up to my potential” are completely out of scale!
It’s the tiny little things that count and make up our life’s accomplishments. Those are the ones that make up our everyday life – and those are the first ones we overlook when we look ponder the purpose of our life, because we think that it must be something larger than life.
“I see you” is my life’s purpose. And it’s the present moment that reveals to me in what way I can live up to it.