“The final destination of any journey is not, after all, the last item on the agenda, but rather some understanding, however simple or provisional, of what one has seen.” â€”Pico Iyer
But before understanding is splashdown in America, tripped up and stumbling through the boroughs, change of speed, social mayhem â€” instead of just the two of us in some unknown world, there are ALL of us, parents, cousins, aunts, babies, friends in the familiar/foreign big/small World of New York.
Amid this hectic hive of loved ones are other comforting elements of the familiar: Grandma’s face and voice when she picks us up at the airport, the same face and voice that dropped us off at the Great Neck LIRR station in the Spring of ’05, where she told us not to cut our trip short if she were to die while we were away. We all made it.
The familiar. For the first time in so long, things that are familiar! The sound of cicadas when we pull into my parents’ driveway, syncopated chorus of chirps and warm nights.
Foods I craved in Birpara, where we ate nothing but egg curry and kichuri every day for three months are now sliding down my throat. The old-new taste of lox and cream cheese, salty-smoothness spiked with fresh onion and tomato, barely-toasted everything-bagel crust encasing warm bready innards.
Re-uniting with such nostalgic nuggets forms a barrage that, along with all the meetings and meals and plans and excursions, actually blocks out the last year of travel during our first week home. We’re asked to tell few stories; 12 countries worth of film has not yet been processed; there is so much to do, especially emerging after our first few days of stationary, self-induced seclusion in the burbs.
Then we’re back in motion, bouncing between The Hamptons, The Beach, The City, The Park, etc. There are moments of confusion, like when Tay packs extra toilet paper for a day trip into Manhattan, in the same crumpled zip-loc that held our TP as we squatted behind tin shanties in upcountry Ghana and The Gambia. Or the confusion induced by the inevitable supermarket scene, gawking at an entire aisle of toothpaste choices or cottage cheeses. Sweetened juices. Frozen meals.
But, for the most part, the shock of return (or as Naipaul put it, the “enigma of arrival”) prevents any real look back, let alone any travel-induced wisdom. “Simple and provisional” understanding maybe, but we’ve got a long way to go before we figure out what, exactly, we have learned from these many months of travel.
All this as the financial necessities of looking-forward press back upon us, so that Tay and I are squeezed, our previous routine of lazily milking the moment temporarily interrupted by the riguers of re-assimilation, with so many engagements, appetizers, drinks, excitement, friends, babies, and, of course, the face and voice of Grandma Helen.