Tuesday, November 10, 2009

What You Leave Behind

What do you gain when you spend so much time away from home, living abroad in some wild expat dream or traveling? Often enough, you wind up losing more than you think you're gaining. Ask yourself, do the long term potential benefits of leaving home really outweigh the short term actual benefits of staying in a place already familiar to you?

I'm in a weird place right now, and really I have been for a couple of months. Maybe I have been for a couple of years. When you start out traveling, everything is so new and fresh, and it's all just incredible to you. You can actually be somewhat understood in a language that isn't your own! But after you've been around enough, the novelty starts to wear off, and while it's still a terrific thing to do, you have lost that initial thrill it once gave you. Slightly, anyway.

I think of my insatiable dream to come visit Argentina, and eventually live here. It was an unreachable dream for a long time, then it seemed like more of a reality, and finally I was planning it out and ready to do it. But if you've followed along in my time here, you'll see that it hasn't been love at first sight. It's been a hard struggle with what I expected and what I found. In many ways, this has tarnished the dream I once had, and I'm left to wonder.

I wonder if I ever should have toyed with the idea in the first place, and merely left it as a dream, so that I could at least look at it and have that special corner to go to. To imagine what it would be like. You can picture living on a tropical island as perfect, but stay there long enough and the truth emerges. Tropical disease, famine, floods, monsoons, tribal issues. No place is perfect. So maybe leaving something to the imagination isn't a bad thing.

I've always wanted to travel as much as I can while I can, to see the whole world. Last year I read "The Alchemist" by Paulo Cuelho, and though I read it in Spanish, I understood it pretty well. One of the characters always dreamed of going to Mecca, but when given the chance to go, preferred to stay at home and not make the trip. His reasoning was that if he got there and it wasn't that great, his image would be ruined, and he would have nothing left to live for or look forward to. I understand that point so much better now.

However, I still want to travel to every corner of the world. But it makes me think about why. Every new place I see just takes me farther away from home, and you never truly get back. Even with Ecuador, which became my home after long enough, I wonder if I should have stayed there. I left behind some things, and some people, all of which were very important to me. Sometimes you leave a Saturday tradition, which you miss for the sentimental purposes. Other times you leave behind a person which for one reason or another you love, and know that you've blown any chance at anything ever developing or continuing. That's much worse, and it's selfish in so many ways, to take away that potential relationship from both people.

Maybe the correct answer is that once you've traveled long enough, you don't really belong anywhere, yet are uncomfortable staying still. It's an isolating state of mind, where nothing is ever good enough, and what you've already seen was so much better. What a horror.

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