The Backpacker Diaries: A Junior Doctor’s Year-Long Journey Around the World
A continuation from my previous chapter:
Why I Quit My Job – A Partial Explanation
Chapter 1: Adelaide, Australia
February 2nd, 2019
This is not a story of heroic feats, or merely the narrative of a cynic; at least I do not mean it to be. It is a glimpse of two lives running parallel for a time, with similar hopes and convergent dreams.
In nine months of a man’s life he can think a lot of things, from the loftiest meditations on philosophy to the most desperate longing for a bowl of soup — in total accord with the state of his stomach.
And if, at the same time, he’s somewhat of an adventurer, he might live through episodes of interest to other people and his haphazard record might read something like these notes.
The person who wrote these notes passed away the moment his feet touched Argentine soil again. The person who reorganizes and polishes them, me, is no longer, at least I am not the person I once was. All this wandering around “Our America with a capital A” has changed me more than I thought. – Dr Ernesto Guevara, The Motorcycle Diaries
So in a like-minded fashion, I write from the soil of my “homeland” after a year traveling around the world with a backpack.
But I wonder whether I have a home here anymore – because it doesn’t feel like home anymore.
I have been back in my hometown of Adelaide for three weeks already. And still, I feel like I am walking in a dream. I recognise this place that I grew up, but it is as if the scales have fallen from my eyes and I am seeing everyone and everything for the first time. Everything is so familiar yet so foreign at the same time.
I was so excited to return home. But instead, I feel out of place, like nothing and everything has changed at the same time. I’ve come back to a parallel universe, where everything is subtly, but distinctly different. I study the funny architecture of this country, the dress and colloquialisms of the people. I hear the voices of my friends and marvel – their accents seem so strong to me now!
I thought these feelings would pass quickly, but I still feel … strange. My soul is unsettled. I’ve been waking up with clenched teeth, my mind trying to recall the ghosts of the night that teased my mind in my sleep. It’s like there is a subconscious anxiety that cannot be explained or fully identified. I feel disoriented despite knowing exactly where I am.
I had a strange experience the other day when I went to get a haircut from the Korean hairdresser. As she talked to her colleagues in Korean, I suddenly felt at ease. I suddenly realised that I have become comfortable to the sound of foreign languages around me. Without the ability to understand what they are saying, my other sense become sharper – my eyes studying my surrounds and soaking in all the details, the sounds and smells around me. I felt at peace.
To hear English conversations around me again is a sensory overload. And to have constant internet, technology, convenience and suddenly a houseful of belongings seems nauseating and alluring all at once. I still wear the one or two articles of clothing that I had in my backpack – having developed a strong attachment to the few possessions that I had access to during our journey. I’ve become accustomed to a minimalist lifestyle and I feel shocked at the amount of stuff I own in my house!
I can guess at why a returned traveler might feel this way. With my return is an end of a period of escapism, a forced confrontation with the realities of enduring problems – a return to the reality that all the same issues I left behind in Australia are largely still here. The ghosts of past issues and past grief still lurk in the back of my mind.
But I also know that these issues were never far from my mind when I was overseas either. I’ve learned that our history travels with us no matter how far we go.
Yet, I have hope that this feeling will pass over the next few weeks and months. And I embrace this discomfort, this feeling of being unsettled. To me, it is a sign that I am still on the journey. I love the clarity of thought that comes with travel, the revelations about humanity and one’s own life. So if I feel like a traveler in my own country then I welcome that with open arms.
For what is it to travel and not bring back with you what you have learned or changed in your life? Maybe the struggle should not primarily be about how to fit back into the routine of life at home. The struggle is to articulate and sift through the emotions and learned lessons, and to somehow share and convey the richness of this world and this humanity to the lives of those around us.
When my wife and I left our home almost 1 year ago to the day, I thought I was taking a break to overcome burnout. I didn’t realise that during my journey I would be wrestling with the deep questions of life, of purpose, of humanity, of racism, of creation, of happiness, of inequality, of materialism, of heritage, of identity , of family, of home and of God.
I write to capture these feeling – the thoughts and dreams and aspirations and experiences of a year spent exploring the vastness of humanity and this impossibly diverse world of which we can only hope to take fleeting glimpses.
Next Chapter of The Backpacker Diaries:
Chapter 2: My First Impressions of South America
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