Sometimes on the road you get asked: “Where is home?”
The thing is, I’m not sure. Over the last couple months, I’ve left behind an apartment lease, a cohabitating relationship, and the need to sit in the steel and concrete traffic of LA to run my business. If Southern California is “home”, its only because of history, and because of the people I love there. There’s no one place that I want to feel permanent in.
Last week in Sanur, once the initial thrill of having arrived in Bali wore off, I found myself filled with growing internal unsettledness. Dropped in a new place and new culture, I didn’t know how to make myself at home, where to belong.
I wanted the luxurious fruit smoothies of the tourist world, but hated the inflated prices, insulated environments, and “walking ATM” experience. I had a lot of judgment of western tourists who stuck to the corals of curated exploration, and the consumers who said they “did Bali” in 5 days or so.
I also longed for the village simplicity of an inexpensive banana-leaf wrapped Gado-gado (veggie and egg stir fry with peanut sauce), ordered with intimate conversation of village goings-on, where they don’t speak English. I stood out like a bright white sore thumb, in that part of town though, and struggled with my limited command of the Indonesian language. “Fitting in” wasn’t really an option, there.
Of course, what I wanted was the third path: to somehow be a traveler between those worlds, able to belong in both, and at home moving between them.
I met fellow house-guests who were on that traveler’s path. As they explained how they navigated that open way, my heart sank. The magic opportunities of the traveler seemed to all come from reflexively giving to those around you, regardless of how much you had. The traveler’s access arose from prolifically sharing things, of food, and human attention. A wedge of discouragement thus widdled itself into my ribs.
As someone who recently chose to shift her career and downsize her income (have you tried to live in LA on $1500/month?) and an introvert who was exhausted from years of work in a service business, this all seemed beyond me. I’d had to watch my budget like a hawk, and learned to scale back on all possible splurges. Food was a precious commodity, to be carefully rationed over time. And I’d taken this whole sabbatical, in part, to get away from interacting with people at all. I didn’t see myself as having extra money, food, or attention to give.
The portal to belonging felt sealed shut by a big door of fatigue and isolation.
Exhausted, I headed for the tourist part of town that I’d so adamantly resisted. I politely refused the throngs of ware-sellers, the endless street massage hawkers, the overpriced, though lovely, beachfront restaurants. I didn’t know why I was there, except somehow it seemed the path of least resistance. The tourist side of town felt like failure, but I had myself convinced I didn’t have it in me to find belonging on any other road. I continued walking, unsure what exactly I was even looking for.
As I walked on, I soon began to hear the thump of bass music coming from down the strip.
Memories of dancing with friends on one of my last nights in Los Angeles filled my mind’s eye. Swirling and jumping and hugging that night, I had been surprised by a freedom and ease that that I’d long been missing. There, sweating like crazy to great music with dear friends, I’d felt a version of myself who I’d met on dancefloors before. She was the one who was quick to laughter and silliness, after charging across the desert from music stage to music stage, at Burningman. She was the one who had stomped the stress away at endless afternoon psytrance cafes in Vagator Beach, Goa. She was the one who was comfortable, and free, and at home, wherever she was.
I smiled at those memories, encouraged to followed the beat along the Balinese shore.
I didn’t know where the music came from, but wherever it was, that’s where I wanted to be.
I arrived at the source to find a sort of “food court” of bamboo shacks serving all sorts of different treats. I found the shack with the speakers, and quickly found myself drawn to the stall just next door. I smiled at the couple manning the counter, ready for whatever this experience that called to me was. It wasn’t sure why I’d been drawn to their counter, until I looked at their menu board and realized what they sold: my personal symbols of both roads – fruit smoothies and Gado-gado.
I was okay. Following my own internal guidance system led me to my own best of both worlds. I forgave myself for thinking anything was wrong with me. With each bite of that food, with each measure of that music, something in me healed, and something in me remembered…
I didn’t need to find someone else’s route onto the traveler’s road… it was already wired in me. I just had to listen to my own pull from within.
In this moment, I found belonging in the bass.
And you know where that inner guidance system led next? To buy another helping of Gado-gado to bring home to the other traveler who’ I knew had been longing for it too. The next day, I found myself in a local village market, bumbling through Indonesian price inquiries, to load my bag with snacks to share with others on the next leg of my trip. The music the night before had told me I was okay just I was, and somehow that acceptance broke open the fear-sealed door to the generous wanderer I wanted to be.
Now, just a week later, somehow my bag is never empty of snacks to share, and I have a head full of my own magical traveler’s open-door stories to share. The Gods sometimes work fast.
This quiet afternoon in the mountains, I decided to plug my headphones in my ears, and listen to a DJ set that a friend posted from a music festival “back home”.
I’m surprised when my body starts sobbing as the bass drops. This… aural reminder of who I am – this is home.
I empty my pack of the colorful foil remnants of treats I’ve been able to share, along my wanderings this week. I look over this gorgeous fruit basket just given to me by a hostel worker, as a gift for I don’t know what. I drink tea from herbs picked for me by new friends who already feel like family. I welcome the texts from local friends asking if we can get together once more before I go. I am myself, and it’s more than enough. I see my feet firmly planted on the traveler’s road.
I’ll leave soon for Ubud… I’ve heard there’s an “annoying, ‘untz untz’ place” that’s opened recently there. You can bet my smoothies, Gado-gado, and I, will find our way to its speakers, and dance our butts off – along this traveler’s way we’re coming to call “home”.