I think I’m meant to be learning to ‘grow where I’m planted’.
On the day after Christmas, I made the possible mistake of reading a few blogs and some Facebook chat of families currently travelling around Australia. They are in tents or buses, or caravans. They have no kids or 11 kids. They are raw vegans or roo-shooting carnivores. They are frugal feral free-campers, or sponsorship-seeking resort-visiting glampers…..
But they are all on the move. Until five months ago, that was our life too. We lived in a funky 36’ 1969 Bedford Bus, quite possibly the coolest rig on the road.
We sold our house and most of our possessions three years ago, after a year backpacking Asia.
So we had ‘no fixed address’ no electricity bills, no wifi, no rubbish collection day.
My husband Chris worked very part-time, consulting here and there around the country. And we would turn his visits into family trips, camping here and there, sometimes house-sitting, sometimes on a beach all by ourselves.
We never actually camped illegally, but we rarely paid to camp in a ‘commercial caravan park’ either. We got good at hardly using water, minimising laundry, cooking on fire, extracting the most out of our solar power set-up. We learnt all about Bedford Buses and diesel engines, gear ratios and grease nipples (!!). We changed 100kg tyres by ourselves, and cut a hole in the roof and made a secret upstairs boys room. We built an indoor climbing wall, a double-double bunk and a fold out couch. Chris taught himself to solder and fibreglass. We learnt about 12V power, managing internal moisture, and one-pot cooking.
I learnt how to wrangle my pantry and fridge so that I could go TWO WEEKS without shopping; managing the delicate balance between space, nutrition and freshness, the order things are used up, the type of heat available, and the changing ravenousness and contrariness of the children.
The seven of us could go a week on 350L of water. In reasonable weather our solar panels kept our batteries fully charged.
If we needed to move on, we could stow the breakables and be out in five minutes. If we were camping somewhere dodgy at night, we could leave in minutes, without opening the front door. just drive off! If we don’t love it- LEAVE! If it’s too hot, go south, if it’s too windy, go inland, if it’s cold, drive north for a day and feel the sun again. No rules, no obligations, no 8:30am school or Tuesday music lessons. Freedom.
It felt like we were super self-sufficient, super independent, super autonomous.
What are these? They are some of the values of the western world. More precisely, these are my idols. That bus is a scarily accurate picture of my own psyche. I cannot bare relying on anyone. I don’t like weekly commitments or being tied down. I like for me-and-mine to be accountable to no-one, untrackable by everyone and unindebted to anyone. If I need something, I love being able to find the answer my self. Sometimes, I’d rather do without than ask for help!!
I’d rather help someone than be helped. I adhere to the strict but unspoken rules of reciprocity. (Not to say I always manage to reciprocate, but I do carry around in my head the heavy list of all the people I want to invite back for dinner)
So anyway, here I am in Kathmandu, in a close knit community of families associated with our school. I need help 57 times a day. I don’t know enough Nepali to do anything other than make people laugh and give me a street-lesson on how to actually say the thing I was trying to say. I can’t drive here, let alone drive OFF. Actually, I have encountered such friendliness and community, so welcoming and affirming. So unfamiliar to me. Bit scary. Fright or flight?
I don’t know where to buy things, I don’t know how the buses or tempos work. I don’t yet have the skill of not jumping when a motorbike toots me, even though it just means, “ I’d really hate to hit you, just letting you know I’m here’. I don’t know how to dress for this freezing weather without looking like a pile of laundry.
Here the gas supply is controlled by politics in another country, miles away. The electricity is controlled by the government and the schedule of power supply that they don’t adhere to anyway is changing weekly at the moment. Our back up battery is controlled by our landlord, who operates with no discernible logic.
Dammit, in MY bus, there are no such variables!!! We have COMPLETE control.
I can’t even open the jam jars here.
And its cold!! For Perth-girl, its soooo cold.
So, welling up within me, is the familiar and powerful urge TIME TO DRIVE OFF!! Time to move on, if I don’t like it, leave. Things getting too awkward for comfort- go somewhere else where no one knows me and I have no history and the weather doesn’t hurt.
However, there’s the small and inconvenient fact of COMMITMENT. We’d said we’d stay a year. Maybe longer.
I have written before about the yearn for constant movement, for travel, about insatiable wanderlust.
But did you know I can write about all that using words like ‘pursue freedom’ ‘escape entropy’ or ‘take the road less travelled’
Or I could be honest and use words like ‘quitter’ ‘lack of commitment’ ‘flighty’ ‘lacking in hard-core stickability’ ‘escaping the real world’ ‘immature and unreliable’
Actually, there’s a bit of both going on. When we escaped Australia in 2012 and travelled for a year, it was absolutely the right thing to do. There was some serious unshackling needed.
When we drove off in 2006 for a year, I think it saved us. And many of those families traveling Australia are doing a wonderful things for their kids.
You can’t untravel. Those memories make families.
But now I have a sneaking suspicion that I’m meant to stay put. Dig in. Go deeper not wider, as they say.
I have to fight the urge to click on the Air Asia page and look at all the tempting flights. Instead, I need to kindle in me the resolve to go and talk to the veggie ladies. In Nepali. Again.
I need the maturity to be driven by something wiser than urges. I need the maturity to suck-it-up princess. I need to grow where I’m planted. Because even if I’m not a tree built for stability, neither am I a bus made for constant movement, I am a person made for community.
It’s not often I hear something that I feel speaks directly to me at church. But recently it was the final sunday of a gentle and gracious man, the pastor of 6 years here in Kathmandu, and 20 years in Malawi before that. A sit-up-and-listen wise man.
From Corinthians 15 Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you.
(Ok there was a context, I’m not just making things up to be relevant)
(Can’t remember the context)
Maybe I’m going about it the wrong way. Maybe I don’t need to acquire the maturity to stick at this. Maybe if I just stick at this and stand firm out of obstinacy I will eventually learn to stick at this and stand firm out of maturity. What do you think?
So anyway, I wrote all that a year ago. We stayed. It’s been wonderful. And then hard. And then wonderful again. And now we are actually leaving, in a few short weeks. So many conflicting things going on in all our heads and hearts…..and those of our children.
Also, we have yet more plans and a plot brewing.. stayed tuned!
So, here in troubled Nepal not only do I have to not grizzle about cold food or dark rooms, but I have to mine the narrow winding pathways of happenstance to find specific, often fleeting positive events, for myself or others for which I am exhorted to give grateful thanks and unending praise.
So I can sit in the slightly sunnier corner, unwashed haired, surrounded by coughing spluttering children, drinking tepid tea from the thermos, and ‘be thankful’ but I have to do a few theological and causational gymnastics to come up with an honest grateful sentence.
Bloodyminded stubbornness comes in handy.
Dammit, I will be thankful there was no milk today, because I didn’t have the hot water for tea anyway, neither was there any water in the tank to wash a single dirty mug, so really I’ve just been saved substantial trouble!!