Perhaps this is a disease. Diseases are often genetic.
Papa D laid face down on the desk. His wide shouldered frame slumped into dark wood, the blood pooled on the lacquer almost unnoticeable from a small round hole just left of center on his forehead. His bald head trickled sweat beads between the last few defiant spikes of hair in the crescent at the base of his skull. The bright lights were burning through the cheap, factory made suit. His fingers twitched against his will as he silently chanted, “…don’t move…just don’t move…”. A boom mic dropped into the frame and the director clapped his hands. Papa D raised his head a few inches off the table, arms still splayed on the desktop. His keeper nodded at him from the corner with a grin. This shot must have gone well.
A petite woman in a tight blouse came forward, wet towel in hand to wipe the sticky, blood like makeup from Papa D’s forehead. She laughed as she patted at his face. He had been told to wear his own American clothes. Papa D’s ties were to be the beginning of a new look for Western influenced men’s wear. The bespectacled costumer had not understood that the Italian mafia did not wear the same suits as former Illinois country boys. Papa D had only brought two ties when he came to China with his wife. Both ties he had carelessly bought at a department store outside St. Louis at eighty percent off. He liked the bright geometric shapes, snake like curves and bright colors that shouted he was coming a half a block before he reached his destination.
In exactly 107 days I will be leaving my family, my friends, my cat, my job, my financial security and everything else that is supposed to be important and vital to me growing into a responsible and productive member of American society.
To say the least...I'm nervous.
I think the bible had it right. When you're going to make an Exodus from your life...don't plan it from months in advance. Yes, you may get the cheapest airline deals...but it means you have that many more months to panic and worry and psyche yourself out. Will I make friends? Will I have enough money? Will my suitcase get too heavy? Will my friends get tired of hosting me on their couches? Instead, I should go knock on my neighbor's doors the night before I want to leave, coerce a little gold and a donkey out of them, and take off. (Though I imagine getting from Ohio to Brazil by donkey could take the entire 6 months I have set aside to travel around the entire planet.) This little travel experience is also coming right in the middle of a transition in my life anyway - I'm starting to leave behind the life that is easy to have, for the life I'd really prefer to have (which involves lots of graduate school, travel, research, writing and more school).
I have been thinking a lot lately....why? Why me?
Papa D (or Opa to me) left with Oma (my grandmother) in the 1980s for one of four trips to China. He would manage to teach English, become an actor, buy more clocks than any one person should own, and even have quadruple bypass surgery in China after a heart attack in 1996. When not in China, Oma insisted upon building apartments into the attic of their small town Illinois home, so that Chinese, African and other assorted foreign students could have a free place to live while they attended the local university. Thanksgiving at Oma's usually meant the appetizer was egg rolls, spring rolls, and white rice.
My own parents didn't help. When I was six years old, Mom and Dad started bringing home foreign "sisters", high school exchange students who would spend a year at our house through my entire childhood, high school and first year of college. We hosted girls (and one boy) from Thailand, Bulgaria, Russia, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Brazil, Mexico, and Finland. These girls were often my heroes as a little girl, older sisters I wanted to grow up and be like...and they all went to a foreign country.
As an adult (something I still have difficulty saying)...I'm faced with deciding what kind of life I want. The more and more I explore myself, and when I think back to the times when my smile is the biggest...and it's when I'm on the road, or remembering the road.
Just as Opa used to sit me in the big swing outside his house, the two of us facing each other as our feet moved the benches back and forth, smacking the bushes with a satisfying "THWACK"...Opa always had a light on his face, as he smacked his lips together, chewed on a toothpick and quietly told a story from a navy ship in WW2...or being discovered by a casting agent when all he was trying to do was buy another clock for his collection at an outdoor market in China.
Maybe this is all just in my genes. My grandparents passed down a sense of adventure, and openness...my parents opened their home and inundated me with foreign role models - so that as an adult the nature and nurture effects of my upbringing mean that my life won't be satisfied without as much diversity, experience, freedom and openness as I can possibly find. And I think most travelers would agree...little else in this world can compare in providing those four qualities except a small suitcase, ticket to somewhere else and a local language dictionary.