Becoming a Home Turf Tourist

Festival mural, Merida Mexico

I am filled with wanderlust. Day dreaming for hours, I picture myself vagabonding across the world. From pushkars and souks to night markets and early dawn fish markets, a chorus of languages I don't know, chaos, heat, and a light sweat...I love the bewildering moments of traveling in another land. I welcome hurling myself into less developed countries where busses show up hours after their scheduled departure and where the posted rules of government are not the rules of society. That disoriented feeling of not knowing what the hell is going on...or what I'm going to do something I thrive on.

Knowing this about myself, my inner voice resists things that reflect any sort of permanence. I hate the fact that I own a car. Even more...I hate the fact that my car is important to me. Every day I seem to run in conflict between living a life that's appropriate with "being an adult" and my wanderlust.

I clearly recall the first of a series of events that signaled my life has stronger roots than my vagabond self could support. Having just left a significant relationship and still crying in my chai, a friend of mine dropped off two adorable kittens she had rescued. Nursing my broken heart, she knew I needed the unconditional love. And she vowed to come back in two weeks to pick them up if I decided not to keep them. I recall laughing at her. Two weeks came and went long ago...

Then there was the mortgage. I needed a place to live, right? My real estate agent helped me negotiate a deal where I took ownership of my new home for less than the deposit on an apartment rental. Home ownership meant I could now paint the walls and finally "live in color." As I painted, and later hung that 6' x 3' oil painting, I knew I was taking myself further away from the life where all my possessions fit into a backpack.

I still frequently daydream of traveling distant lands, but I've found a way to at least mollify my wanderlust. Seattle is a city that is big enough to hold pockets of fabulous ethnic communities...and I dive in.

A gem of an Indian market is near my house. It sits in a strip mall near a big high tech company and nothing of the surrounding neighborhood would indicate what is inside. At the entrance, an invisible wall of sound and smell assults the senses. A rickety boom box with a CD stuck on repeat, the bad glare of fluorescent light, and scents of curry, cardamom, and nearly over ripe fruit transport me to India. I walk the isles and study the boxes, some in English others without translation (other than the required USDA label). I'm transported out of my familiar....and I'm only blocks away from my home.

Experiencing ethnic markets and restaurants helps satisfy that world traveler inside me. I liken it to "research", thinking that if I explore all I can locally, that when I do take that trip of my dreams, I'll be that much closer to understanding the culture. Trying unusual food here in Seattle and even learning how to make it, somehow makes me think the shock value won't be as high when I do eventually step into that country.

Being a tourist on my home turf has also helped me develop a deeper sense of place. I remind myself that there are people who save all their lives to be exactly where I am. I try to see the city through their eyes...and it has enriched the life I have today. Playing tourist, I now notice the details in architecture, study murals adorning old buildings, and admire details in public art. And I allow time for wandering off the beaten path..... By seeking out the unfamiliar, it's resulted in the most wonderful experiences and I have learned to know a different side of my city. This tourist approach has helped deepen my awareness of enjoying exactly where I am today--even if my eyes are set on a distant horizon.

Today I came across this quote:

"Life may not be the party we'd hoped for... but while we're here we might as well dance"

It took me a while to find my rhythm, but now, with arms spread wide open, I'm enjoying the music...and the dance.