The only culture that allows me to understand myself is one that is starkly different from my own.
This was the realisation I came to last night as I was writing about something completely unrelated.
You see, for the past few nights, I have been thinking about what it means to be a traveller and what happens to us when we travel.
Travelling and moving from place to place has been an unintentional way of life for me. I have lived in countries for years but never long enough to make them my home. Only long enough for destiny to come and move me somewhere else. But I have always moved with the intent to settle.
I realised a few days ago that I had been on the road for the past 10 years or so and I started to reflect on whether there was a deeper meaning behind this constant movement between cultures and cities.
You can’t fight destiny.
Constant travel taught me how to be a minimalist and how to be adaptable. Instead of buying things, I photographed. My camera was essentially my treasure chest. I could take as many memories as I wanted with me and I could photograph things in the moment, only to re-look at them later, seeing the details I had missed. Remembering things happily which at the time I didn’t consider important. My camera taught me how to focus. It became my constant companion. In a way, travel made me into a photographer.
Travel is the only way to really know ourselves.
I have never felt 100% comfortable in the ready-made world. I’d spent a long time searching for more and now I am old enough to know that more and better is all relative. What is more important is difference. Encountering difference allows us to see ourselves for who we really are and we are given a chance to correct ourselves and grow in other ways. It also gives us a chance to prove ourselves right where we had doubted ourselves. Travel has allowed me to encounter the difference that allows me to stand between what I think I know and the challenge to go deeper.
Travel is my way out, my way into and my way back.
I feel that I have lived my life. And to be honest I hadn’t really planned beyond this point. Things were supposed to turn out differently but destiny, and this time thankfully, once again put me on another path. I’ve stopped planning for the time being and allow things to now happen to me as if by surprise. I take it day by day, still healing from the trauma and waiting for my divorce papers to go through.
The nowhere is as important as the somewhere.
The times when I have felt nowhere have been just as important as the times when I have arrived. Those are the times of reflection, letting go and adjusting. The in-between allows me to think without the resting place of familiarity. I allow my thoughts to wander and I allow them to speak to me.
Travel is about crossing boundaries and restructuring our relationship to them.
Travel not only allows you to cross physical boundaries such as rivers or mountains but it also allows us to cross the boundaries of our thoughts and our emotions. Each new perspective gives us a chance to cross the boundary of a deep-seated conviction. Each difference we encounter gives us an opportunity to see, to renegotiate and restructure our own boundaries in relation to it. We return renewed with clearer insight.
I don’t know about you but when I encounter difference through travel my world becomes bigger and richer. I am no longer locked away in myself. I become a part of what I experience. Over the years my relationship to travel has matured. It’s no longer about me but about the other – the place, the people and the elements that combine to tell a story that helps me understand my own.
The photograph above was taken in a small coffee and sandwich shop close to Süleymaniye Mosque. Thought it was a genius idea 🙂