Saturday, December 31, 2011
Nearly every trip, in some way - maybe small, maybe great - is an encounter with the Other. There is very likely something waiting for you that you don't anticipate and that you wouldn't know how to deal with if you did. It could be driving on the opposite side of the road, food you don't recognize, an incomprehensible language, weird toilets. Or it could be much more profound, something in yourself that you don't recognize; you could be a modern Marlow chugging up the Congo to confront Kurtz. The horror! Sooner or later, you will have to deal with something completely outside your experience; you will confront the Not You.
What we do when we travel is to go, in some degree, beyond the familiar. If we don't, then I'd argue that there isn't really any travel involved (see my prior post about the difference between travel and tourism). I'm hearing it just tonight as we sit in the kitchen talking about the upcoming trip. Kira is remembering that two friends who came with us to Kolkata last year had been apprehensive about wandering through the New Market, a vast covered warren of shops of all kinds, from jewelers to butchers, where you're hectored and cajoled at every turn. It's neither dangerous nor unfriendly, but it's a sensory onslaught. They went. "Yes!" I think, "they were traveling!"
On this trip, which starts tomorrow, New Year's Day 2012, we'll be traveling in Laos, Vietnam and India. It finally occurs to me that the jitters come from being eager to be on my way; once I'm out the door, they melt away. It's the waiting that makes me jittery. I'm not apprehensive about being in any of these places - even Laos is pretty much on the beaten track - but I'm sure that the Other is waiting, and I'm anxious to meet it.