Twice a year I make my way towards the Southern hemisphere for a few weeks or months at a time, jetting off through the sky to my ‘other home’, my ‘original home’, my country of origin. The one that was so fully mine before life carried me far across the equator to a new home in England which had, over the years, also become my ‘other, adopted home.’
In the modern world many live like this. Some halved, like in my case: a dual citizen, leading a double life, or is it, perhaps, a halved life? Is it a case of being neither here, nor there, or do the endless departures and arrivals fracture one so that what was once whole now equals more than the sum of its parts? A life added to a life which was already there? Do people sometimes end up somehow more than their original self? Split by time lines and language differences and differing cultures but all nicely held together by passports stamped like a tattoo-ed skin that goes with you everywhere.
After perpetual arrivals and departures, the excitement of moving-between had managed to wear off during the years and a tiredness had crept in amongst the blank stares of passport officials, the smooth running of airport terminals and the bright fluorescents of duty-free.
Don’t get me wrong: I love going on holidays and experiencing new places, taking a break and jet-setting to some exotic location. So, when people refer to my usual disappearance as ‘Jet-setting! Again?’ I find myself protesting, ‘No, no. You see, I’m just going home.’ This frequent reaction from others and my increasingly confused reply led me to look up ‘jet-setting’ in the dictionary.
Apparently this word had first been used in 1951 and referred to ‘an international social group of wealthy individuals frequenting fashionable resorts’.
I continued looking up ‘jet-setting’ and ‘jet-setters’, this time in the thesaurus, where I found some intriguing synonyms which, even though not set in any particular context, added to the scope of journeying and the way in which people had done it over centuries:
‘Globe-trotting’ make this kind of lifestyle sound exciting. I’m sure this is probably how many of us feel when we start out the ritual of crossing continents.
Other terms make this kind of journeying sound quite infamous and wild, like ‘vagabond’ and ‘vagrant’.
Then you get the restless, pleasure-seeking ‘gadabouts’.
Why not be a ‘nomad’? Tirelessly I see travellers traversing desolate landscapes in my mind’s eye, armed with camel and walking stick and lounging in Bedouin tents during star-studded desert nights.
You can be official, even religious, about the whole affair: an ‘itinerate’. Even philosophical, educational and ‘peripatetic’.
Or downright lazy and deliciously hippy-ish : ‘rambling’, ‘roving’, ‘wandering’, ‘drifting’.
This last synonym reminded me of a childhood dream I had when I was young: going on a sea journey to the other side of the world before the age of travelling by air. These voyages must have taken careful consideration. Drifting over the ocean for weeks and months at an end, tasting and breathing the salty air and following the sound of seagulls, swaying with the rhythmic to-and-fro-ing of the ocean that brings equilibrium, healing that gap caused by switching between continents and the simultaneous space created between head and heart.
In those days, I guess, you had no choice but to ponder what you were leaving behind and where you were going. The time in between departure and arrival was a journey in itself: an inner traversing of the heart. Nowadays the take-off and the touch-down are mere inconveniences. Reflection a thing of the past. Delays a reason for consternation and complaints.
At times, it is only years later that we realise what we’ve left behind.
And so my life has merged into a repetitive pattern of scattered moments in which the bare branches of London trees would scrape against its leaden winter sky, while only a few hours later I would raise my face to meet the sun cracking the dry, bright African sky. And vice-versa.
And so, time after time, I start gathering my African self: shifting mental gears, slotting back into Southern-hemisphere-life like a perfectly tuned, modern-day transformer. Only to, weeks later, yet again pick up the pieces of my splintered self on the other side of the world. Like a quilt made to show different experiences which added to one’s life but patched nonetheless, endless seams criss-cross the landscape of so many people’s worlds. Countless journeys buried within us: one enclosed by another; one scratching the surface of the other; eternal movement shaping the person it is folded within.
The last time, as I was crossing the continents at 500 miles per hour, I had a sudden, unrealistic schizophrenic fear that I might fall through an air pocket, a gap between the world I was leaving and the life I was heading towards. Scared that I might get lost in a no man’s land of un-belonging; a twilight zone caught in the two hours I was losing in transit.
And it has lingered ever since: this disconcerting sense of a loss of belonging. It made me wonder if the pieces inside of me were clashing and getting possessive. Maybe even territorial. Are they asking me to choose? Or am I just getting old and feeling a need to ‘settle down’ and become (as the thesaurus clearly states) the opposite of ‘jet-setting’: physically ‘unmoving’? Or do I indeed need to take slower trips, the ones where you travel inwards and heal the cracks within?
To make sure where I really belong.