The challenges of returning home

Istanbul, Turkey

I’m typing this post from a coffee shop in Jerusalem, and I’m resonating with an opening line of — and I’m a little embarrassed to say this — a soap opera I used to watch during a summer break or two in my elementary school years: “Like sands through the hourglass, so are the days of our lives.”

I’ve been on the road photographing things for more than seven months, and I have just three weeks left before I return to Tennessee. I have a lot I still want to do in this time, more than I can hope to finish. But I’ll try.

And while trying, with increasing intensity thoughts and emotions will start tugging on my sleeve, reminding me that I’m about to leave people and experiences behind, that I’ll even be leaving a part of myself behind. A portion of my life has just been spent here in the Middle East and Ethiopia. A portion of my life has been shaped too, and has probably contributed to the shape of others I’ve met along the way. These are weighty matters, and now somehow it is coming to a close, at least this chapter of it, and I’m about to go home.

I’ve returned home from several long journeys before, and the account of one was recently published at WorldHum. Set at an Istanbul Starbucks in December 2004, “A Cup of Coffee and a Soft Chair” chronicles the emotions, including fear, that I experienced on the eve of my return. It’s not everyday that a warning on a coffee cup puts you on the verge of a mental breakdown, but neither is it everyday that you prepare to return home after a long trip.

While comments on my story are welcome, even more I’d enjoy hearing about your own experiences in preparing to go home.

Posted by | Comments (4)  | October 26, 2010
Category: Images from the road, Notes from the collective travel mind

4 Responses to “The challenges of returning home”

  1. Yael Says:

    This is probably one of the hardest parts of any trip, as you know. Upon my return from four months in the Middle East a few years ago, I remember a friend telling me “it’s like you’ve put everyone at home on pause, and they’re on play”. Simultaneously, you don’t even realize all the ways in which you’ve changed–and I do believe that every time you goes home from a trip or a short period living abroad, you change. The best way I’ve found to deal with this (and I think it gets easier every time), is to very slowly ease yourself back into being home. It doesn’t usually hit me until I get to the airport to return home, but slowly, surely, I start mentally preparing myself with a menial list of things to do–nothing more than “eat, sleep, read this”. I spend a week doing those very small tasks, and then I start picking up my phone to return calls missed or say hello to people. I find that taking it slow for two weeks or so at the beginning helps alleviate the phenomenon of being six months back home and still feeling like you haven’t acclimated (although that admittedly happens sometimes, I came back from India six months ago and am yearning to go back!). It also helps you have the time to process your memories just enough that you can actually think about them and analyze them, only to return to them when the time is needed.

    Finally, I usually buy a good book or magazine and sit for an hour or two at a coffee shop before getting on the plane–sounds like you do the same 🙂

    Happy homecoming. I’m not sure where you are from in TN, but say hello to the Great Smoky Mountains for me.

  2. Yai Says:

    After circumnavigating the world in four months I feared the conformity that would soon come after returning home. The everyday issues, the dealings with people who lacked the understanding that I now had. It was a scary feeling when I started to get comfortable. When I had that feeling when you no longer feel uncomfortable to sit around watching tv for a few hours! Ouch! Who would’ve thought this would happen to me again! Me, the person that traveled the world and seemed to stretch out an hour to last all day! I was still now…but only physically, my spirit however needed room. I didn’t want to loose the spirit of movement, for I now realize it was in movement that I found peace!

  3. pravda23 Says:

    It isn’t going home that unnerves me, it’s getting away! The day before I left for a 5-month work/travel trip around the USA for the first time, I was properly freaking out. The trivial matters of catching the plane and remembering your plug adapter fritter about you as you pack your final things, and wonder what to do with the four or five hours left in an empty room.

    The great fear of leaping into the unknown is those few hours before the final sleep. It’s a brief glimpse of timeless time, a precursor to the zoneless continuum of the long flight. It’s a reminder that you and all things are ultimately hollow and full simultaneously, and an inextricable, insignificant part of the majestic world you now prepare to explore further.

    If you choose to confront this monolithic silence rather than distract yourself with the petty realia of Facebook, newspapers, coffee shops, you do a brave thing indeed and you have my respect and best wishes, traveller!