Do these come with frequent flyer miles?

Just click your heels three times and repeat: “There’s no place like home!”

I’m back in Canada and now looking to stay for a very long time, perhaps even permanently.

“Seriously? You?!”

Now, before you fall over with complete shock, hear me out. Just inhale deeply, grab a paper bag to breathe into if you must, and let’s move beyond pigeon-holing long enough to see the overall master plan.

When I began my international career I didn’t really know where it would take me – literally. I didn’t even really see myself as having an “international career.” I just knew when I finished university that my passions were writing, travelling, and photography – everything just kind of took off onto its own direction based on that.

I weathered the storms of assumptions, culture shock in every country, faux pas’ in every culture – many of which were experienced in returning to my own country. I have found through the years that the most interesting (and mostly frustrating) point in all of the movement was others’ assumptions that if you followed a different map in life, then clearly you must be lost.

I’m far from lost. I may not have always had 100 per cent visibility on the road ahead, but the destination, and many parts of the journey, has always been clear.

The big picture

Sunset in Koh Phangan

When I first left for Malawi on my first overseas posting I envied my boss’ job. She stayed in Ottawa for 70-80 per cent of the time, but had to frequently travel to various projects in Africa, Asia, and the Americas in order to check on these. She had a great house in a great neighbourhood with great friends and an apparently great social life. And then once every four or five months, she’d head to Burkina Faso, Bolivia, or Bhutan (etc.) to meet and greet, monitor and evaluate, do some souvenir shopping, and then return to Canadaland to prepare reports and feedback to the relevant people. I’ve always wanted this. Unfortunately, rather than getting the 20-30 per cent overseas time, I seem to have only ever done 100 per cent.

This has left me with a bit of a long-term conundrum. I have a family who doesn’t know where I am or what I’m doing most of the time (and worries regularly about protests, bombings, malaria, and where I’m going to find water to drink, never mind bathe in), friends who have just stopped asking when I’ll be home, a dating history that looks like an ad for Disney’s “It’s a Small World” attraction, and a “house” that requires baggage tags and small security locks on all the zippered pockets.

I’m tired.

7-year itch (or just dry skin from all the humidity?)

I’ve been told now by numerous sources, including by a surprisingly enlightened Thai massage woman, that major changes in everyone’s lives come every seven years. It isn’t hard to see references to this in popular cultures – the infamous seven year itch, the seven chakras of the body, 7-year intervals for cellular regeneration and hormonal fluctuations, and so on. I’ve hit one of the seven-year marks in life, and with it the changes are enormous.

Christmas in Chiang Mai

While in Sierra Leone I realised that I was no longer happy in what I was doing. It was time for a change.

With this in mind I left Freetown and headed for my favourite country (so far), Thailand. I love Thailand in that you can “live” there relatively cheaply, have amazing massages every week, enjoy stunning beaches and phenomenal rain forested mountains. Plus, the friends I have there are lovely and always up for a dinner out or for lending a couch to crash on when visiting. For me it’s a nice place to rest and recover from long journeys.

I arrived and went straight to Chiang Mai around Christmas/the winter holidays after some quick electronics shopping and catch-ups with various friends in Bangkok. It was really great seeing old colleagues and friends. And I’ll always love mu-ka-tah (a kind of barbeque, but at your table) and khao soi (a kind of spicy noodle dish) in the north the best – especially when shared with laughter and reminiscing.

The month after this was spent simply relaxing on the beach in the south, in Koh Phangan. I stayed at Bottle Beach, one of my favourite beaches, with a really good friend. Sun, sand, the sea – to say it was relaxing is an understatement.

A group hug at the meditation retreat

I then went into a one-month meditation and yoga program on the island. There are few times when a person gives themselves time to rest, reflect, appreciate, and reconnect in life. This was simply a time to give myself all of this. I will always be so thankful for the opportunity.

I stayed on to work for the retreat centre after this. Well, the truth is that I said and heard “work,” and they said and heard “volunteer.” Sadly, I may have lost some good friends over this misunderstanding.

I went on a couple Thai-based interviews for work, travelled to Bangkok, Khao Sok National Park (gorgeous!), and then back to Koh Phangan for some more rest and relaxation with a good friend from South Africa.

Resting uneasy with social unrest

All of this was amidst the bubbling up of tension in the capital and other cities around the country – from the now-infamous Red Shirt protesters. I didn’t get the job in Bangkok (which is fine – it wasn’t really in my area of interest anyways), and the protests made the other job (Khao Sok) cancel its hiring plans… so a call from frantic family members begging me to come home made me seriously rethink if I wanted to be in Thailand amongst all the issues, or home safe and sound with loving family and friends.

I didn’t manage to pick up all my storage items from Bangkok and Chiang Mai, which has posed some logistical issues. However, as my mom points out, “bags and stuff are replaceable, lives are not.” Now I know, let’s not be dramatic – I’ve been to war zones before and Thailand at this point is far from it. But in the end, I was in those war zones under the protective auspices of some pretty big players on the international development and humanitarian playing field. This time I was 100 per cent on my own and questioning what exactly my next steps were supposed to be. The bags will arrive in time.

And in them perhaps I’ll finally find those ruby slippers I seem to have used and then misplaced. Ah well, my old worn out Tevas will do for some summer fun of inter-Canadian meandering in the meantime.

There really is no place like home.

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