All posts tagged: Travel and wandering

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Call You By Your Name

(With thanks to Andre Aciman, for a variation of the title.)  “Very healthy, we believe you. A girl, though? Impossible! This family only has boys.” That was, allegedly, my parents’ reaction upon learning a very healthy baby girl would enter their world. My mother took great pride in that being the last time the label ‘baby’ was attached to me. “You were Roxani from the womb,” she insisted. This is the story of a name and, inevitably, of the stories we tell ourselves. Many Greeks name their children after the grandparents, a game that invites the kind of social gymnastics that need a flowchart to explain: Which set of grandparents goes first? Do the living or the dead ones have priority? What about if you have multiple children? Or just one? What about your siblings’ children? What if–gasp–you don’t like your parents’ or in-laws’ names? What if–further gasp–you just want to name your children something other than what their grandparents are called? Ρωξάνη. For a little baby (fine, a huge, 10-pound baby), my grandmother’s majestic name felt …

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In Northern Ireland, unaccompanied by grief

If you asked me what one of the greatest paradoxes is in processing my work in the humanitarian sector so far, it is that the settings of the disaster or violence are often stunningly beautiful places. There is a dissonance to interviewing people who experienced wartime sexual violence one day only to make finding a waterfall your greatest driving force the day after that. Ancient ruins and modern ones, side by side. Giraffes and refugees. Crystal clear beaches next to injustice. The urge is there to shout from a hilltop atop I perched that Colombia (or Egypt, or Syria, or Uganda) is unequivocally beautiful – if it weren’t for the critical voice that remains in my head and remembers to ask “for whom?” I have never quite known how to process the beauty or our hunt for it in those environments. Can one truly apologize for beauty? How can we take it in, draw hope from it, without romanticizing what is at the foreground? Is this beauty accessible to all and, if not, what are …

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Hereditary travel neuroses of a Greek childhood

Things I learned in Greece: Never rush your coffee, summer is everything, always chase the dust. This is my last morning in the United States for some time and I have spent it shaking my head at dust. Let me explain. Ever since I was a child, I could never sleep the night before a big journey. “A big journey” then meant a car ride from Thessaloniki to Larissa, 2 hours away, where my father’s family lived. I prepared for those trips for days, lining up all my stuffed animals, deciding which of them get to go on this trip, making packing lists (for them, not me, because the beauty of being six years old was that I could live in a single pair of shorts all summer), writing up itineraries (again for them because, um…), and packing car snacks. In the summer, my aunt Mina would move from her home in scorching hot Larissa to the seaside town of Platamonas. At least two weeks before my family descended on Platamonas to join aunt Mina, …

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On going home, by Estefanía Marchán

Estefanía Marchán is a talented writer, terrific colleague, and cherished friend. She spent part of her summer in Ecuador, from where she shares some reflections. Plaza de San Francisco, Quito, Ecuador. Photo by Estefanía Marchán. Yesterday I saw my mother in the face of a woman on the street. I should say, rather, I saw her in the skin of a woman on the street. She, the woman with my mother’s skin, was walking next to me down Amazonas. Where we were headed was unimportant. Only her profile was visible: a patch of translucent freckled skin stretching back like ripples on a lake. The rest of her remained concealed. She wore oblong shades and had her hair pinned back. Sylvia, I thought. Her ghost. Two months in Ecuador and I am becoming superstitious. Memories turn to visions that haunt this place. My mother is on the street, alone, black-clad and elegant at her age. Jorge, her father, drinks dark rum on a stoop, surrounded by other young military men. Lola, my father’s mother, sits next …

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Field notes from Colombia: Nostalgia

This field notes dispatch was compiled, as most honest thoughts are, through excerpts of emails to loved ones. It was inevitable. Do not even pretend to be surprised. A few times a month, I publish a column at The Equals Record titled “Eternally Nostalgic” and this weekend I have lived up to its namesake. A recent New York Times article asked “What is nostalgia good for?” Starting from the premise that it used to be considered “a neurological disease of essentially demonic cause,” the article sought to debunk myths surrounding nostalgia and illuminate its positive sides. An unintended benefit of nostalgia is that it, apparently, raises your body temperature, making you feel warmer. In search of warmth, I write to you from Cartagena on the Caribbean coast of Colombia. I arrived in this country to find myself taken aback by the July chill of Bogotá and the coziness of outdoor space heaters. This weekend I fled to Cartagena, in search of fuller, humid air and warmth. If Cartagena were a color, it would be a …

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Field notes from Colombia: A new series

In many ways, arriving anew in a country you once called home lends itself better to processes of memory than discovery. As I wrote in an email to Elijah yesterday, “can you still count firsts if it’s a ‘first time on this trip’ as opposed to a first ever?” There are endless layers of Colombia I have yet to uncover and even more that I have yet to fully understand, so the memory versus discovery conundrum is not for lack of novelty. Rather, it emerges out of a realization that a return to the field, particularly a return to a site you once called home, inspires — almost unwittingly — a comparison of memories. Does this feel the way it used to? Are these the colors I remember? Is this how thin the air in Bogotá always was? I had forgotten the smell of Bogotá. No, Bogotá does not smell, per se, not in the way that would have anyone pinching their nose and making a face. But it does have its own distinct smell, …

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The rituals of a return to the field

When I returned to the United States for my graduate degree, I promised I would stay put for a little bit. I declared this the ‘age of (semi-) permanence‘ and even purchased a bookshelf or three to anchor myself in Boston. I put nails in the wall and unpacked every box and suitcase and bought polka-dotted wine glasses at the nearby Goodwill store and went through the rituals of nesting with gusto. In early January I wrote: “But I am learning permanence now, if you will, and part of that requires making peace with the part of me that will always, always want to be the girl who goes.” In the months that have passed since then, I have made peace with the fact that the girl who longs to stay and the girl who wishes to go inhabit the same body. There is a part of me that feels like my happiest, most alive, most invigorated self ‘in the field’, doing the work I love, asking the questions that drive me. And there is …

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Untranslatable words, saudade, and linguistic nostalgia

Every so often an article catalogues untranslatable words from around the world. For example, as this Matador Network piece tells me, mamihlapinatapei means “the wordless, yet meaningful look shared by two people who desire to initiate something but are both reluctant to start” in Yagan, an indigenous language of the Tierra del Fuego. According to the same article, the word ‘tartle’ in Scottish refers to “the act of hesitating when introducing someone because you have forgotten their name.” And then there is my personal favorite: saudade. Not quite nostalgia, not quite longing or yearning, not a blend of both. There is more to saudade — and perhaps its magical grip lies in that untranslatable space the other words do not quite capture. In my column today at The Equals Project, I explore untranslatable words, linguistic nostalgia, and what happens when you feel your mother tongue slipping away from you. Wander over here to read it. 

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Remembering warmth

I am the person who is perpetually cold on airplanes. I fly to the Equator wrapped in a pashmina, to a desert in a coat. The layers are a necessary hug in the middle of transition, as though I need to hold myself tight to face the new winds. And then there is always that moment of stepping out of the airplane and into the warmth. The shedding of the layers, of skin that does not feel necessary anymore. The return to warmth has always felt like a release, like a return to self. For four years, while I was working in the field of gender and armed conflict, I shuttled from desert lands to countries straddling the Equator. My bones forgot winter. When I first landed in Boston, I did so with a nostalgia for the seasons and a commitment to celebrating them. Celebrate I did. I photographed fall with the curiosity of what Mary Oliver calls “a bride married to amazement.” I was born for colored leaves and crisp mornings, and for summer seas …

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Anchoring love in memories

When I was growing up, my mother insisted that “respect cannot be forced; it must, instead, be inspired.” She may as well have been speaking about love. My notion of love is grounded in place, anchored in memories of the self I was when the heart fluttered readily and of the life that made it come aflutter. I remember what I was wearing, I remember the documents I was editing when I was g-chatting inconspicuously in another tab. The slight nausea in anticipation of the moment when the distance would end, and he would parade through the airport doors. The need to remember how to be with one another again, in proximity and in the flesh, not protected by laptop screens thousands of miles apart. I remember what loving in Egypt felt like: dusty, furtive, tasting of ‘shai’ and ‘asir faroula’ and ‘sheesha toufach’, with the strong Arabic ‘ch’ at the end that I could never quite muster. It felt clumsy and young and shy and full of wondering and wandering. It was the love …