Nomad Diaries: Winter 2016/2017

Washington.

I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve been to D.C. I guess that’s in part because I think of these trips as visits to my sister, not the city. Even so, I’ve always enjoyed the touristy parts of D.C., and there always seems to be some sight that I’ve missed. This time around I had a few presidential firsts: a visit to Mount Vernon and a tour of George Washington’s home was one of them, the National Portrait Gallery being another. But the Lincoln Memorial was the one that I enjoyed the most. It’s beautifully situated on one end of the reflecting pool, the Washington Memorial on the other end. And there was something about climbing the steps to see Lincoln in his seat that was almost pilgrimage-like. (stand down, my Muslim friends. I said almost.) Sure, it might have something to do with the history that Lincoln’s presidency represents. The Civil War, the Emancipation Proclamation. But I also think of millions of protesters gathering on the National Mall through the decades. The Women’s March on Washington. The Million Man March. The numerous anti-war protests. I think of Martin Luther King delivering his famous “I Have a Dream” speech from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, right where I stood more than fifty years later.

I left D.C. on the day of Trump’s inauguration. As I listened to it on the radio, I couldn’t help but think back to my visit to Lincoln Memorial. I thought about the Women’s March that would be taking place the next day. I wondered how many more marches it would take for those with privilege and/or power to hear those who have been clamoring to be heard.

New York.

New York is another city I’ve lost track of in terms of how many times I’ve visited. My sister and I went again when I was visiting her over the holidays. We went on January 1st, happy to dodge the New Years Eve bustle. Even so, I still wasn’t looking forward to the trip all that much. The mere idea of being in the city is exhausting. It’s dirty and noisy, and the bus ride from D.C. to N.Y.C. is always kind of gross. No more, I always tell myself. Every. Single. Time.

Yet somewhere there always ends up being a next time, and I never know why. There isn’t a single, concrete sight, shop or restaurant that draws me to New York. But I’m reminded of a quote from E.B. White: “The city makes up for its hazards and its deficiencies by supplying its citizens with massive doses of a supplementary vitamin–the sense of belonging to something unique, cosmopolitan, mighty and unparalleled.”

Chalk it up to a vitamin deficiency.

St. Louis.

Any holiday longer than a week demands time spent with my parents in St. Louis. I look forward to seeing everyone. I look forward to my mom’s cooking and having leisure days that start at noon and end whenever I pass out with Netflix still playing on my laptop. I cherish the time I spend with my grandmother, who, at any moment I know I can lose – something I have been telling myself ever since I was a small child.

I go in with good intentions, but I always fall into the same habit of struggling through the readjustment process. Readjusting to the lack of personal space. Readjusting to having people around me who always want to know what I’m doing, where I’m going and how long I’m going to take. I begin to feel stifled and it makes me cranky.

Not having a routine also makes me cranky. So does the lack of socializing when I’m in St. Louis. Much of that has to do with time going by and naturally losing touch with people. Much of the time it’s also a self-imposed isolation. Since going away for college, St. Louis has always felt like a chapter in my life that’s now shut. I can’t go back, but I don’t really want to either.

Columbia.

Columbia, on the other hand, seems to be a chapter I can return to repeatedly. Sort of. Time goes by and things certainly change, but there are always familiar faces there. Fewer than there used to be, but enough for me to bring me back time and time again. These beautiful faces, which I first encountered in Columbia as a college and later graduate student, are some of my favorites, ones that I never tire of seeing.

There are times though, when visiting CoMO, when I have fleeting moments of insecurity about where I am in life – like instead of taking 20 steps forward in my life since moving from CoMO 7 years ago, I feel as though I’ve taken a few steps forward, gone back and retraced my steps a bit. I’m reminded of all the people I had met at Mizzou and I think of where they are now. Some are married or in committed relationships, some have kids, some are bounding forward in their careers.

I get down on myself for being so remiss in these areas, but then, I have plenty of reason to be content too, though it takes a bit longer to find those reasons. I know myself so much better now – my weakness and my strengths. I’m more mature, less insecure. I’ve developed grownup habits like budgeting my meager TA stipend so I can afford to buy cheese from the fancier part of the grocery stores without feeling guilty, and cleaning so I don’t live in my own filth. I’ve gained a sense of adventure, new hobbies that I’m actually pretty decent at. I’ve learned to tame my inner demons. I don’t always succeed at it, but the scoreboard definitely reads in my favor these days. In short, while the big milestones haven’t been in the cards so far, I have enough small ones to make me feel proud of who I’ve become.

 

 

Nomad Diaries: Albany 2016, part II

I’m at a rest stop somewhere in upstate New York, breaking for lunch. It’s a little early, but this particular service center has a Moe’s, which is a couple notches above the McDonald’s I usually settled for on road trips.

“So, where are you from?” the man assembling my veggie bowl asks me.

I pause for a moment, not really sure what to tell him. My guess is that he wants to know my ethnicity, as that’s what people usually mean when they ask me where I’m from. I tell him that I ‘m driving from Albany.

“Oh, so you’re from Albany?” he asks as he drizzles cheese atop my rice and bean mountain. The momentary look of surprise confirms that he indeed was expecting me to mention another country.

Just nod and say yes. You hate making small talk with strangers.

“Well, not really. I just moved there a few months ago. I’m from Missouri.”

“Ah, that’s a long drive from here!”

“Oh, I’m not driving there, I’m driving to D.C.”

The man looks at me with slight confusion and decides not to engage further. He rings me up and sends me on my way with extra tortilla chips and salsa.

The thing is, I’m quite used to these confusing conversations on my travels and day to day life, although it still stumps me that I have yet to figure out a concise response. I mean, really. How hard is it to convey that where I live is not necessarily where I’m from?

As I drive on, leaving New York behind me as I enter New Jersey (Really, Miss Marvel? This is what you’re skipping school to defend? Um, ok.), I wonder at what point I’ll start to feel like a New Yorker. In all likelihood, I won’t ever get there. I like it here, and don’t feel any immediate desire to leave, but I know it’s inevitable. I came here with a specific purpose, and when I’ve achieved that, I will be swept off to wherever the best job opportunity takes me.

I sometimes wonder how it feels to put down roots and just know that you’re not going anywhere. I don’t mean getting married and having kids necessarily, I just mean coming to a stop, and knowing you’ve come to a stop. Sometimes I long for it. Sometimes the mere idea of it feels like a death sentence. And sometimes – since moving to NY – I feel like I’m approaching it.

As I said, I doubt I’ll be here long-term. But since moving to Albany in August, I’ve actually felt somewhat…settled. I already know that I want to renew my lease for next year (even if I have stayed in the same city for more than a year, I cannot for the life of me remember ever renewing my lease.) I’m thinking of hitting Ikea while I’m visiting my sister in DC and buying an additional bookshelf, when my customary running-out-of-space tactic is to throw out/donate things and/or store things at my parents’ house. In short, I’m flying in the face of the Nomad’s rule book.

1. Thou shalt covet the short-term lease.

2. Thou shalt not put down roots with Swedish furniture. Or something.

But rules are more like guidelines, right? (#LinesThatDontWorkOnCops) And things change without warning. So they have here, and they’ll probably change again without warning. But for now, I’m happy, and that’s all any of us is looking for, isn’t it?

Nomad Diaries: Albany 2016

It’s a few minutes after midnight and I hear my phone chime in the darkness. I glance over at my parents who are asleep in the next bed; neither of them stirs.

I prop myself up on my elbows and reach for my phone. Birthday messages. Birthday Facebook posts. I’m too tired to smile, so I fall back into bed and make a mental note to be excited in the morning.

Morning comes all too soon. Having gotten only a few hours of sleep, I pull the covers over my face as I hear my parents shuffling around our small hotel room, trying to get ready for breakfast. I tell them I’m too tired and my stomach hurts from something I ate the night before. They leave me behind so I can get a little more sleep, but it doesn’t happen.

I spent my 28th birthday unpacking boxes in Memphis. I spent my 30th birthday unpacking boxes in Kansas City. And this year 31 is being spent in a Travel Lodge in the middle of Ohio, followed by a day of unpacking boxes in Albany.

I’m no longer 30, but rather, in my 30s. Plural. It’s not a big deal, I tell myself as I curl into a ball, hugging my stomach. Yes, my metabolism is becoming noticeably slower and my undergrad abs are now just the stuff of legend. Yes, I seem to be going backwards in my career – leaving a wonderful job and a workplace that I enjoyed to become a broke-ass graduate student with no guarantee afterwards of getting to pick up where I left off in my career. No, I’m nowhere near the life I thought I ought to have at 31 (I was supposed to have a boy and a girl by now – Mufasa and Sephora, respectively). If my past is any indicator, my tomorrows aren’t anything to get excited about.

But then I remind myself that tomorrow is promised to no one. So I count each year – no matter how unproductive I perceive it – to be a blessing.  I tell myself that maybe tomorrow will be different. Well, maybe I can try to make tomorrow different. And here’s my opportunity: starting over in a new city. It’s a new story, a blank page. A new life.

I feel like I’ve lived many lives. More than a cat. Every time I move it’s as though I’ve left a former life behind as I start a new one. My old self and my old life are still there – in my memories – but coming to a new place somehow feels like a transformation. To borrow a phrase from Doctor Who – “same software, different case.” I’m like The Doctor (most egotistical thing I’ve said all year), only I don’t know how many regenerations I get. I just live on the hope that I’ll make the most of the ones I’m given.

A few days after reaching Albany and settling into my new place, my parents take off to visit my sister in D.C. I watch them leave, and once they disappear from my view I close the door and run to my balcony to see if I can catch a few more glimpses of them. I can’t, and suddenly I feel a surge of anxiety and loneliness. I stifle the feelings before they can turn into a full-on panic attack and I get on with my day. Let’s see what 31 brings.

Nomad Diaries: Costa Rica 2016

I had just come out of the Museo de Oro Precolombino and had emerged onto a very busy intersection. Masses of locals were hurrying about their day, not bothering to watch for oncoming traffic as they crossed the streets. Not wanting to stand out as a tourist as I determined how to find my next museum, I quickly sidled up to the building on the corner, letting others pass by me. Determined to remain unobtrusive, I pulled out my map from my purse and tried my best to unfold in only a little. I studied it for a while, glancing up occasionally to determine what streets made up the intersection before me.

“Necesita ayuda?”

I glanced up and saw an elderly man – probably in his 70’s – approach me, pointing at my map that I had tried so hard to minimize. I smiled and told him that yes, I could use a little help.

It turned out this man’s name was Solomon, he was in fact in his 70’s, and he knew exactly where I needed to go. He offered to walk with me some of the way since it was on his path anyway, and not wanting to be rude, I agreed, silently hoping he wouldn’t turn out to be creepy. (#BeenThere)

He was friendly and very chatty, but a far cry from creepy. In fact, my conversation with Solomon had been those most stimulating one all day. Over the course of our ten minute walk, he asked me where I was from and if I was Muslim. Answering affirmatively and that I was Pakistani American, he grinned and told me he was Jewish. I didn’t know how to react, so I just smiled and nodded.

More questions came. Among those were whether or not Muslims believed in Jesus (yes, but as a prophet), if I was from the same country as Malala (well, my parents are), and if people were treating me OK here (absolutely!)

By the time we parted ways, Solomon felt comfortable enough to offer me his phone number and told me that if I needed any help during my trip, I could reach out to him, his wife or his daughter. And then he lamented that such a young woman must be nervous, traveling all alone. (He guessed I was about 20. I laughed and thanked him for his misjudgment.)

Traveling as a Muslim woman is an interesting experience, and how I’m received by locals certainly differs wherever I go. My experiences in the U.S. and Europe are similar – people often think I’m Arab, that I’m an immigrant. I’ve found that people are more accepting in Europe of the fact that not all Americans look the same. Here in the U.S., there’s the occasional suspicious glance or glare, the odd cashier who’ll be super friendly and talkative with the person ahead of me but then fall completely silent when it’s my turn. There’s the occasional racial slur. But one thing I rarely get anywhere is questions. It’s like everyone’s already in the know and has chosen a side: Muslim-friendly or Muslim-hater.

In San José, however, it was different than anything I had experienced: my presence was met with…I guess the best word is curiosity. About Islam, about hijab, about Muslims on the news, about Muslim women and how they found me confusing because I was a conservative-looking Muslim wandering around alone in a foreign country. Where was my husband? Did my parents approve? Why didn’t I look like an angry terrorist, or a heartbroken refugee? According to the news, those were the faces of Islam.

On another free afternoon I had, I went looking for the Spirogyra Butterfly Garden and – because I’m me – I got lost. Again.

Cue the random construction worker nearby. He doesn’t look busy, as he’s just ambling down the sidewalk and whistling to himself. I ask him for directions. What should have been a 30 second interaction (he didn’t know where the garden was) turned into a 30 minute Q&A about Islam and our belief system (Um, hello! Don’t you have a building to build? I’m missing my butterflies!) As a devout Catholic, he wanted to know how Muslims were similar, and how we were different. What was our take on Jesus? Original sin? Afterlife? How is the Qur’an different from the Bible? He apologizes to me later about his inquisitiveness, and tells me that they don’t really have many Muslims around Costa Rica, and all they know about Islam is what they see on the news. He tells me he’s happy to have had such an interesting conversation, at which point he invites me to dinner. Alarmed at the turn this conversation has taken, I quickly remind him that I need to find the butterflies (I’ve missed them. The garden closes at 2:00) and also that I’m primarily in San José for work. I wish him well and hurry off.

Side note: I ended up having to circle back to that same street on which I had met the chatty construction worker and found myself power-walking my way down the sidewalk so as to avoid running into him again (I was super hungry and didn’t want to stop for anything but food!) While I didn’t see him, I did see a larger group of guys in construction hats across the street. One of them noticed me and beckoned me. “Pakistani!!” he called out. (Um. Yeah.) It turns out Mr. Chatty Construction Worker told his buddies about me, and Mr. Chatty Construction Worker #2 also wanted to have a theological chat with me.

While I am guilty of being a bit impatient when I’m hungry, I typically welcome questions and enjoy appeasing curiosity. If I couldn’t, I wouldn’t fare very well as a teacher. Admittedly, there are times though (besides hunger-induced moments) where I do get a bit annoyed – when curiosity tiptoes into the realm of assuming and accusing.

I joined a tour group to visit the Irazú Volcano towards the end of my trip. I had a wonderful time, although it took me a while to warm up to the other tourists in the van. There was an English mother-son pair that I got on with (I almost opened with “Oh, you’re English! I love Doctor Who!” but thought better of it), and then there was a Spanish couple on their honeymoon who were pleasantly surprised to learn that I spoke Spanish, and had asked me to interpret a few times for them and the English folks.

Then there was the German lady who lived in Colombia who kept to herself. Fair enough; I was doing the same for most of the drive to the volcano – I had woken up at 6 am with no time to caffeinate myself. We eventually spoke when we had reached the volcano and were taking photos of the crater. She was attempting a selfie so I offered to take her picture. Somehow, we got to chatting and when I told her I was travelling alone (same as her) she seemed stunned. She then asked me, “Isn’t that forbidden in Islam? Your parents let you travel alone?” and something in that question stung, like I was a child who had gotten caught sneaking out to the movies after my bed time.

Still, I never stop being polite. I get that from my mom, and all of the Jane Austen film adaptations I watch.

I explain to her that many Muslims have a conservative (and sometimes strong) take on gender propriety, and that sure, many Muslims would be in agreement that women shouldn’t travel alone. In fact, my parents feel that way. I, however, don’t…at least for myself. As a fairly independent person who was taught how to take care of myself, as someone who often travels to places where I can communicate in the country’s language, I do not feel that a man would fare better than me (or be safer) just because he’s a man. In fact, I often feel that my only disadvantage is my religions, not my gender  – whether I’m thousands of miles away from home versus right outside my home. I have been harassed by strangers – in high school when I was still living under my parents’ roof; in college, when I was walking down the street with my sister; in California, right in the parking lot of my apartment complex; in D.C., when I was at a restaurant with my parents and sister. My point is: my safety is never guaranteed, whether I’m near, far, alone or accompanied. All I can do is make smart decisions to avoid trouble, and – if needed – be ready to knee someone in the groin and run (in case you’re curious: no, I haven’t had to do that yet.)

Prior to this trip, I hadn’t thought about how I might be received by others. I’m used to people seeing me, taking some guesses as to where I rate on the Muslim scale (Ethnic Muslim who has no interest in Islam, or ISIS operative. Yeah. It’s a weird scale.) People usually don’t want any help understanding my identity, or the vast diversity that makes up the Islamic spectrum. Perhaps it’s both a blessing and a curse – much our societies have become heterogeneous enough that people feel like they understand those who are different from them. The curse is that perhaps many of those who are complacent in their warped understanding are the ones who ought to be asking questions. It was a refreshing change, then, to be thrown with people daily in Costa Rica, who hadn’t yet committed to a Muslim-friendly/Muslim-wary side and were genuinely interested in understanding who I am.

Nomad Diaries: California 2016

I look out the window as the plane touches down and I see the familiar Sacramento airport. My stomach jolts, and not just because of the bumpy landing.

It felt off-putting, returning to the scene of the crime.

Anxiety. Depression. Loneliness. Was it really worth coming back here just to run a half-marathon?

I head towards baggage claim and find the escalator leading down to the carousels and ground transportation. I remember a friend had picked me up from the airport once and had been waiting by this escalator with a cup of tea for me, and at the time the gesture had made me feel warm and happy. We aren’t friends anymore.

It takes about ten minutes for my luggage to tumble onto the carousel. I grab it and head for the car rental shuttle. I pass by a line of cabs, all with their drivers waiting outside and eyeing the oncoming travelers with little to no interest. The first time I had come to Sacramento for a visit, an Afghan cabbie approached my parents and offered to give us a lift. What had started as a refusal ended up with him and my dad conversing jovially in Pashto and my mom, sister and I piling into the back seat. We had been dropped off at the car rental area with an open invitation to dinner at the cabbie’s home.

I was never able to get on with strangers that well.

As I hop on to the shuttle, I look into my carry-on bag to find my paperwork, because I can’t remember which car company I made a reservation with. I find it tucked away and make a mental note of the rental company, and then turn my attention to the window, wondering if I would recognize any landmarks, hills or traffic lights. It feels only vaguely familiar. My old home is more than twenty minutes from here. 

It only takes a few minutes to get to the car rental building, and shortly after I receive my car. A convertible. It was my lucky day, according to the rental attendant, they were giving me a free upgrade from my compact car reservation. I glance around tentatively as I get into the car. It looks like a cockpit, and I feel too self-conscious about driving with the hood down.

It takes me almost half an hour to get to my friend’s apartment, partly due to my cautious highway driving. As I take the exit and come to a stop at a traffic light, I suddenly feel a wave of anticipation – the first one I feel since landing. I had taken this exit many times to visit M; either I rented a car or she picked me up from Davis in her own car. Sometimes we spent the whole day together – going shopping and doing dinner – other times I spent the night and we stayed up late talking, watching t.v. and eating junk food.

I had a handful of friends when I was living in neighboring Davis, but M. was the only non-student, the only one removed from my local environment, and often my only escape from my frequent bouts of melancholy.

The light turns green. I gently press the gas, and after several more turns through the grid streets of midtown Sacramento, I pull up to a very familiar building and can’t help but break into a smile. Moments later I see M coming outside, grinning as she runs up to my car and hops into the seat next to mine, telling me she’s going to open the garage so I can park my car inside. It had been three years since we had last seen each other. It doesn’t occur to me to point that out or make any fanfare about our reunion, so I thank her and let her guide me to a parking spot in the garage.

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Nomad Diaries: Italy 2014/15

We walked in silence. It was our last day in Italy, and we had come full circle and had returned to Milan for our flight. As we wandered around Il Quadrilatero d’Oro, pausing now and then to look at the windows of designer stores, I hugged myself to keep warm. I was a little out of pace with S as I trailed slightly behind, but in that moment I didn’t really care. I didn’t care that we were in fashion heaven, or that we were returning to the U.S. tomorrow, or that my fingers felt a little numb. I was irritable and nothing could distract me from the task of silently fuming, even if I couldn’t quite fathom why I had gotten so pissy in the first place.

I only remember the moment of ignition – we were unpacking in our hostel and I had discovered that I had left one of my tubes of lipstick in our hostel in Venice.

“I can’t believe I left it there!” I cried. It was brand new and the perfect shade of red.

S offered her condolences, but the expression on her face suggested that losing a lipstick was on par with losing a pair of nail clippers.

“It was a limited edition!” I added, pouting. I slammed down the front of my suitcase in defeat. “Why does crap keep happening to me?”

In retrospect, I may have been acting a tad dramatic. In my defense, I had been mentally counting off the things that went wrong in the past couple of weeks – dropping my phone and breaking it, for one.

Months after this trip, I honestly can’t recall any other specific incident. Chalk it up to quiet stress bubbling underneath the surface for two weeks. Maybe it was the being in close quarters with another human being for two weeks. It may have been PMS. Or the insomnia.

Whatever the contributing factors, we had finally sparred. Or rather, there had been an exchange of a few passive aggressive comments, and maybe a couple of aggressive ones. That was a lot for us. Ten years of friendship and that was the first heated exchange we had ever had.

With nothing else to say and only a few hours left before it got dark, we decided to head to the fashion district of Milan. So there we were, walking in silence. I was still upset, though I wasn’t sure if S could tell. I had a feeling she knew and was just giving me the space to brood, expecting that it would eventually pass.

It took an hour or so, but the ice eventually melted. We were in an H&M and S had found a notepad on sale and had shown it to me. “I’ve been checking you out!” it read, and followed with a checklist: funny, cute, stylish, etc. It was the epitome of immature, and we laughed about it. And suddenly, we had returned to the status quo. We eventually headed back to the hostel and ordered a pizza. The last one we’d eat in Italy.

Looking back on this trip, a montage plays in my head: getting lost in Milan as we hauled our suitcases around in the snow in search of a train station; grumbling about how gross our hostel was in Florence; sharing a pack of gum and asking each other the personal questions that appeared on the wrappers; going to the Colosseum for New Year’s Eve and holding on to each other for dear life as we tried not to get trampled by the crowd; walking among the ruins of Pompeii and chatting about our families; going to the same over-priced restaurant twice in Venice because one of the waiters resembled Dan Stevens. The quasi-fight doesn’t make it. None of the difficult moments do; not unless I make the effort to remember them. They had somehow gotten left behind.

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Nomad Diaries: Europe 2013

This is an old journal entry from a trip to Europe back in 2013 — a transitional period for me, as I had just left my PhD program and was in search for a new adventure.

The last time I crossed the Atlantic was almost a year ago to the day. I was 27 and was determined to put all memories of the last three years behind me. I arrived in Barcelona around 7:00 am. Jetlagged and sleep-deprived, I stepped off the plane and walked through the terminal, barely paying attention to the signs in Catalan. I had always wanted to study Catalan, but next to my graduate studies and all the other languages I foolishly tried to juggle in my head, it never made it on my priority list.

Following my older sister, who had a knack for navigating airports in any language, we made it to baggage claim and found our luggage. She glanced at her watch.

“It’s 7:15. Check-in isn’t until 3:00. What the hell are we supposed to do?”

I shrugged lightly, leaning into my suitcase for support. I hadn’t slept for more than a couple of hours on the plane. “Let’s just go to the hostel and ask them if we can drop our luggage off and then get some coffee.”

And so we wandered around the airport in search of the shuttle that would take us to where we needed to go.

“Go on, ask him,” my sister nudged me in a shushed tone, pushing me towards a man in uniform who was arranging orange cones along the walkway of the lower level of the airport.

I rolled my eyes. And thus would begin my role as vacation interpreter. I quietly approached the man and, pausing briefly to get into Spanish mode, asked him where the shuttles were that led to the nearest metro stop.

As he explained, I glanced at the right side of his chest where his name tag was pinned. Carlos. I had known a Carlos in my graduate program. His office had been a few doors away from mine and he was two or three years ahead of me in the Ph.D. program. We rarely ever spoke.

Thanking him, I headed back to my sister and told her to follow me. Within minutes we had found the shuttle only moments before it was ready to leave.  We quickly hopped on, allowing the young driver to pull our luggage on board for us.

I thanked him as I paid our fare and then took a seat next to my sister. His name tag said he was Miguel. I knew a Miguel in California too.

The entire vacation went by in a blur. Barcelona was behind me in the space of a week, as was my sister. As she headed back to the U.S. to return to work, I continued on to London. Paris. Amsterdam. I met family and friends along the way but spent most of my time in solitude. I had wandered into the Sherlock Holmes Museum on a cold and rainy day, excited to have some time to myself to savor my favorite fictional character. I stared up at the Eiffel Tower alone, oblivious to the picnicking couples and families behind me on the expanse of grass that stretched away from the famous landmark. I spent a quiet afternoon in the Van Gogh Museum, wondering if others could relate to the utter despair and hopelessness depicted in the sketch The Sorrowful Man, or if was just Van Gogh and me.

When I finally left, a new life awaited me. A new job, a new city and a new opportunity to start again. I jumped in without looking back. Perhaps there I would find what I was looking for. Some form of self-realization, perhaps a kindred soul, or at the very least, a reason to stay.

A year later, I am still that same person. Still moving, still searching, still looking forward. Time to plan another trip.