The lust to wander is back full force and I don’t quite know what to do with this familiar feeling. It’s a bit of a chicken or the egg situation: I purchased a ticket for a brief stint (hopefully filled to the brim with work and collaborative ideas) back to Phnom Penh and since then haven’t been able to take my mind off getting out. Did the desire to make my way across the world again force me to finally buy a ticket or was it purchasing my flight that’s got me all riled up to go?
I notice the changing season and welcome it with goose bump-covered arms splayed open; autumn is a time where I find personal productivity to be strongest, a season for introspection and when every day seems like something magic or tragic could happen. This is the season I missed the most when living in Cambodia. Chilled mornings wrapped in my velvet robe, wet leaves under my trainers as I run under the spindly skeletons of trees, days of grey and navy and midnight black starting at 4pm, and no one is having barbecues or camping- some of the least enjoyable social events. Instead, they’re replaced with artfully curated fêtes for special occasions and evenings spent in- sipping wine, watching deliciously dark films and curled beneath heaps of blankets.
Booking my ticket for the month of November was not by chance: I knew that if I visited The Kingdom during the summer, I may not come back to Tacoma for a good, long time. If I visited during the summer months there wouldn’t be as much pull to come back. I wouldn’t feel strongly the difference in climate, there would be extensive amounts of opportunity awaiting (during a particularly taxing time in real estate), I’d enjoy air conditioning and conversations and experiences with my tribe of friends who navigate through life so similarly, and there would be so much time to begin to retie all of the ends that have loosened over the months since we last connected. While Washington has my heart, Cambodia may have my soul.
If I retreat in November, at least I’ll be leaving a climate that speaks to me. I’ll probably look forward to returning to the things I missed so much when I was away: foggy nights on the Tacoma waterfront, the familiar smell of an electric heater, the soft wash of rain trickling down my arms when skipping over cracked sidewalks and dodging spiderwebs on my morning run, creamy hills of mashed potatoes and savoury boats of gravy for intimate dinners with friends I’ve known for years and family who love me so unconditionally and so fervently.
My elation only grows stronger each day and the mundane, daily activities begin to grow more monotonous when envisioning flying across dusty streets on a moto, the water of freshly hacked baby coconuts hitting parched lips on the side of a traffic choked street, the smell of Esse cigarettes mixed with frangipani on the balcony or through the side streets of Boeung Keng Kang walking late at night. Remembering deftly and joyously haggling over old opium pipes or war era lighters in the alleys of sudoric market places, the best Cacio e Pepe I’ve ever had, and stimulated chats melting their way into late hours of humid nights.
I’m obviously not alone in these feelings. When speaking with friends who have moved back to their countries, hometowns, or even somewhere other than the place they put some roots down abroad there’s always a veil of melancholy when chatting about life back “there”. Studies show that reverting back to an old lifestyle or place can create a stronger sense of culture shock. Multiple articles and essays show up when searching ‘expats coming home’: Debra Bruno writes in Repatriation Blues Many expats coming home go through a period of grief…until they “give in to the homesickness” for their host country. I started sobbing unexpectedly when reading one woman’s brief story of repatriation and that “it took two years until I felt like a human being again”. There are coping sites, forums, and even chat rooms for those experiencing whatever it is they are during their transition back “home”- and it makes me feel far less alone, and all the lonelier at the same time.
My obsession with a life of exploration contradicts my adoration of an existence of comfort and rhythm. I don’t know if I’ll ever find the balance or figure out a way to have both- and I suppose that will have to be frustratingly tolerable and eventually- find a way to embrace whatever comes. In the meantime, I will enjoy Frisko Freeze, snuggling into oversized cardigans, the silken, familiar weight of solitude and the dazzling view of Rainier on a clear day.