The coffee break was a jolt. No, it wasn’t the strong brew or the brisk mountain air… it was much more than that.
We were in Banff, a world-renowned destination, and as casually as a black bear might saunter through the nearby woods, this was our stop for a coffee break – en route from Calgary to home base in Kimberley. I took in the earthy scent of pine and gazed up at brilliant, jagged mountain peaks:
This is truly beautiful. Be thankful. This is on your doorstep.
Why did it give me such pause? There have been some difficult days of transitioning. Four months ago we left our Indian home of two years, and after two and a half months in Europe, it’s been nonstop. Time spent in Vancouver, in Calgary, in sorting a shipment of furniture, time with friends and family. And despite many joyous days, I’ve spent a good number infused with tears. Tears of bewilderment, of sadness, of yearning for that ‘other place.’
Transitioning from one country to another, even if, or perhaps especially if it is to your home country, is like a slow-turning wheel of emotions. From day to day, you don’t quite know where the hand is going to land on that unpredictable dial. Will it be genuine comfort that you’re ensconced in the familiar, in the comfort of roots and belonging? Or perhaps it’s the day that you’re overwhelmed with the ‘stuff’ that was in that other home and now needs to join this life.
Then again, on the spectrum of emotions that colour my transition, the dial could easily land on ‘bewilderment and day of tears’. Like the day when unpacking my saree reduced me to a whimpering mess. It wasn’t so much that I wanted to be wrapped in its fine silk again, it was what it represented: exploring new cultures and savouring foreign lands, the promise of serendipity and unexpected moments.
As someone who has lived in nine countries, I know how transition goes. I’ve lived through those the various stages. From the honeymoon phase to the pain of separation, from bewilderment to elation, from belonging to rootlessness. I know the patience, the mental toughness and the resilience it takes. How did I describe a global life in Monday Morning Emails?
‘Linda Janssen’s book title is ‘The Emotionally Resilient Expat… Engage, Adapt and Thrive Across Cultures.’ These words truly do encapsulate our life. To that sentiment, I would add… patience and flexibility, love and gratitude, and savour each overseas experience. Enjoy the days that you can, and the ones in which you can’t, well that’s okay too. Indeed, it is all part of the journey.’
And now my journey continues, adapting again, often missing and yearning for what was. Oh, give me the colour and vibrancy of an Indian souk or the ringing call of Raj, my vegetable wallah through our narrow lane. Allow me another day to explore the grandness of the Parthenon or the wonders of the British Museum. Place me on the lively street in The Hague that we recently called home; its ring of bicycle bells and café chatter still dancing in my head.
Yet, yet, yet – as I sipped my coffee, beholding the mountains on that cool last day of summer, as tourists from around the world strolled Banff’s charming streets, as snippets of languages and accents drifted lightly around me, as gentle drizzle began to fall, my inner voice spoke softly but firmly:
You are not there, or there, or even there. You are here. And like every other place in the world that you’ve wandered to, you must ‘find’ yourself. Embrace this. Cherish this. Be at peace.
So, we drove the last few hours, back to home base in Kimberley and I marvelled still. The late afternoon sun gleamed on those few blankets of snow already draped on willing mountains. Milky-blue streams flowed sleepily through swathes and swathes of pine-covered mountains.
We stopped again, at a vermillion-hued stream – a place of impossible beauty. After dipping my hand in the icy waters, I wrapped my Indian shawl a little more snugly. It was a comfort and a reminder that India and all those other countries are with me still, very much forever in my soul.
And I realised, I wasn’t on my way to back to ‘home base’… I was on my way, home.