You journey to foreign lands for the big things- stores of oil, piles of gold, barrels of spices, land for colonies, wars to win, people to conquer. Spaniards and Brits, Portuguese and Greeks, your history revolves on moving constellations and the spinning needles of compasses.
photo by shamash: Moyingyi Bird Park, B*urma (2008)
Oh, the ship charts drawn under a whirling sky; you are guided there through all your mistakes. So many night journeys, Odysseus, through sea storms. So many months without green food, so many miles of salt water, so many lives measured out in the movement of oars, the shifting of sails. It is the quest- the dream- that gets you there.
But once your feet touch ground, it is the tiny things that keep you. The small beauty of a brown-skinned wrist as it weighs the saffron, the lemon grass that grows tall along your fence, the call to prayer, the bittersweet scent of the market, the face of a woman at a window.
It’s your tired feet against the cool tiles of Morocco, the lapping waves, the waters of the Bosphorus against Istanbul on a new moon that reel you in. It’s the wafting scent of sandalwood, the way your knees kneel in those silent cathedrals so alive you can hear them breathe. It’s the cobblestone you trip over each morning on your way to the shipyard, and the broken finger from the door jam, and the way that finger always bothers you when it rains.
It’s the gecko that lives on the bedroom wall, the tarantula that dwells in the drain, that keeps you from buying that one-way ticket back to your homeland.
Of course you still sing the songs from the old country, the hymns from your childhood. But the exquisite words of a new tongue begin to form in your soul. You learn a new love language. You join the fraying fabric of your life with sacred offerings, tiny gestures, small sacrifices.
You become a whirling dervish.
You honor where you are.
With each footstep inland, with each heel dance, you stitch yourself to the land. You sew yourself onto the continent. In the same way your toes hug the earth, you surrender yourself to the weight of gravity. The tide doesn’t pull you out; the land pulls you in.
The quest brought you here.
The beauty keeps you.
So beautiful. To the many things that keep me here I would add crimson robes that flow to bare feet on rain-soaked ground.
Thanks for these thoughts; they've really brought me back to what's important about being at home in strange lands.
Posted by: John Rinker | Tuesday, 15 February 2011 at 06:57 PM
There were so many things I could add to this post, so many beauties, including flowing crimson robes and the bare feet on rain-soaked ground.
I know you know of this: how beauty holds us to a place.
Posted by: shamash | Tuesday, 15 February 2011 at 07:09 PM
Posted by: Thepollinatrix.blogspot.com | Tuesday, 15 February 2011 at 07:12 PM
I'm on the verge of tears, because your words are what I feel but cannot express of my longing to go back to a foreign land. Feelings that I cannot convey to my husband (and have him understand) about my wanting to venture back into new places and new faces. Thank you for sharing. :)
Posted by: Sarah Roe | Sunday, 19 June 2011 at 07:10 PM
I know what you mean, Sarah. It's so hard to articulate how living abroad changes us all on such a deep level. I really hope to work with you guys overseas again. . .
Posted by: Ms. K | Sunday, 19 June 2011 at 07:28 PM
Very nice. I now can relate to much of what you say. Your writing is poetic and forces emotion to surface within.
Posted by: Brook Ketchum | Sunday, 04 September 2011 at 08:40 AM
Hi, Brook. I think the longer we stay in a foreign land, the more it pulls us in. Here's to the small beauties that tie us to a new land...
Posted by: Ms. K | Sunday, 04 September 2011 at 09:14 AM