So much to process after living in the jungle. How does one come home from a journey like ours and assimilate back?
The Langur monkeys did not show up our last morning to say goodbye. They had come almost every day until our last week. They were either entertainment or headache. And yet, they were always one step ahead of me, even when it came to saying goodbye.
In the beginning, we thought we were observing them, watching them eat, watching them care for their babies. Our ears became tuned to the sound of breaking branches and a distant squeal as the mother swings with her baby holding tight. In the beginning, we thought we were observing them. In the end, they were observing us. The monkeys knew when we left, when we ate, when we showered. As I sit at my second story window, looking out over my neighborhood, it’s amazing to think I often had an audience of monkeys when I showered.
I think we were all equally fascinated with each other. But after they’d ransacked our kitchen for the second time, the locals said we needed to leave. We needed to break up our routine, our pattern. We needed to eat out for the next few days b/c the monkeys had figured us out. Figured us out? They were ahead of us from Day One. We thought we were breaking the pattern for them. All along, they were changing us. Our habits, our mode of familiarity, our sense of control–it was all being broken up. And then when it came time to say goodbye, again, they were ahead of me. For the time being, however temporary or lasting, they have taken their babies and moved on. They have set a path for me. On the last morning, no matter how much I wanted to stay in our jungle house, tucked under the limestone cliff, hidden under the palm trees; it was time to take my babies and leave.
I miss waking up under our mosquito net, feeling the cool morning air. Pascaline, my morning girl, would already be sitting on the deck with binoculars, watching the monkeys’ activity while we were sleeping. I’d crawl out from under the net, tiptoe to her, and try to rub the morning fog away so I could pinpoint what she was watching. She would look at me and smile. “Do you see them mama? They are being so silly this morning.”
I miss showering in the rain, seeing the Tokay lizard crawl down my bathroom mirror. I named her Dori. She was half the size of my mirror in length and took it upon herself to eat the flying termites on my behalf. Her dedication and focus gave me the luxury of uninterrupted bugless showers. Did I ever think it was possible to be a kindred spirit with a lizard?
Since I’ve been home, I’ve seen one bug. One. Isn’t that funny. In the jungle, I had hundreds of bugs around me all the time. Before Thailand, I’d scrunch my face in disgust if I crossed a bug’s path. Yesterday, I knelt down. I wanted to see what kind of bug it was. And instead of scrunching my face, I smiled. Instead of the bug being a nuisance, it was a gift. A gift that reminded me of all the amazing bugs we’d been living with.
Instead of hearing the King Fisher bird’s creative songs, I hear the buzzing of the telephone wires.
Instead of hearing the Gibbon apes morning call to their mates, I hear the deep exhausted exhale of a city bus as it closes its doors.
I smell the approaching Northwest rain and miss the tantalizing smells of the honeysuckles and wild jasmine.
It’s amazing how you can go away, leave all that is familiar, and somehow find yourself with more clarity than ever before. I always thought I was an A-type personality. High energy, go-go-go, focus, focus, focus–multi-task at insane decibel levels. After living in the jungle, I found that I was a product of my environment.
In the jungle, I was like a sponge. I soaked in every smell, every sound. After two weeks, I surrendered to the sticky heat and let myself sweat without disdain. I woke to the Gibbon’s whooping sounds. I fell asleep to the buzzing of Cicada beetles–a humming that was so loud and fierce, I thought we had a lumber yard working at night the first week.
I didn’t cry once in Thailand. At home, everyone knows me for being a crier. My assumption that tears were my only release proved to be unnecessary there. Instead, my release was the daily 4 mile walk through the roadless, carless jungle…or rock climbing with a single focus to find one place to set my balance b/c all I needed was one place-not dozens of options. Instead of 45 minutes in the gym, I woke, walked to the beach and swam laps in the ocean, swimming against the tide’s pull, letting the salt dry my hair and body.
I never once used a hair dryer. I never once wore deodorant, a bra, makeup or perfume. And I never once missed any of it.
My mind was free. Despite the intense heat, I could sit and write for hours on end. My fingers, often soar and tired, but still trying to keep up with my creative thought.
Most importantly, I was connected with myself.
I wore a two piece for the first time since I was 8 years old. But I didn’t just wear it, I wore it with a type of confidence that is wrapped in ease. Why is it so hard to be at ease with oneself, to let others see your imperfections, and be ok.
I have never loved myself so much as I did in the jungle. And now I know there is a place in this world, where I’m not hiding from myself. There is a place where I am able to breathe deep and not worry about how I look, how bloated I am, how up to date my clothes are, how nice my home is. It’s me and only me. And me is good.
I realized that my home is not on a well manicured neighborhood in the Northwest.
My home is where Brian, Pascaline and Blaze are.
I realized I didn’t miss a single item from home. I was able to not only live without, but thrive. When we left for Thailand I was sure we didn’t pack enough in our two backpacks. I’m now convinced we needed even less.
I found great reward in taking pictures of people who don’t own a mirror and have never seen a photo of themselves. I found fulfillment in making soap with village women who were trying to make up for the money their husband’s once made, before the Tsunami took their lives.
I found that I wasn’t the only sponge. My kids were too. Blaze felt recognized. And neither Blaze nor us, ever realized how invisible he had felt before. Pascaline found a deeper trust for humanity. She is the type that assumes you are making fun of her, laughing at her instead of with her. But when the Thai people couldn’t say “Pascaline” and thought her name was Gasoline, she let her guard down and laughed with them. She decided to trust the people, and they proved to not hurt her. And Brian, Brian slept through the night. After two years of struggling with insomnia, having the slightest sound wake him for the rest of the night, he slept like a baby. He slept soundly under the mosquito net with wild cats roaring, big boa snakes slithering overhead through the trees, and owls cooing.
As a family we found a passion for going back. I know we will take many more adventures. We are now determined to create a life that is simpler and supports such excursions. Brian and I have a feeling the adventures will grow from six weeks to six months. How this will happen, we don’t know. But the vision is all that matters. This is what we found-the surprising desire and strength as a family to make our life an adventure. Julia Cameron talks about how it is one thing to validate you as an artist, but to aspire to live artistically–this is another matter. “We hunger for what might be called creative living–an expanded sense of creativity in our business lives, in sharing with our children, our spouse, our friend.” It took coming home to know that our hunger for creative living is real, true and nece
A Hawksbill Sea Turtle glided alongside of me on one of my last dives. He showed me his favorite food-bubble algae-and all the places it hides-under coral, tucked in rock crevices, behind electric sea anemones. He can eat many things, but finding the bubble algae is what he wants most–even if this means, I’m tagging along with him, interrupting his solitary search. His eyes are deep and old. His motion is fluid, soft, and slow. He has lived longer than my great grandparents. His lessons and wisdom come slowly to me as he intermittently visits my dreams. He is my hope that the jungle was too complex for me to solve in an email to you and writings in my journal. It is too complex to solve in one trip.
The mysteries of how the jungle transformed us continue to unwind, seeping into my sleep, shadowing me on my walks, slowly bringing clarity.
T. S. Eliot wrote, “You must go by a way which is the way of ignorance. In order to possess what you do not possess. You must go by the way of dispossession. In order to arrive at what you are not. You must go through the way in which you are not. And what you do not know is the only thing you know. And what you own is what you do not own. And where you are is where you are not.”
I close my eyes and picture the white mosquito net around me. It is a thin film that covers me. Yet it is thick enough to keep all the distractions at arm’s length. It is warm here. quiet. I can see all the needs around me, but I still have a place of rest. I am able to be carefree–care wholeheartedly but remain free. When I’m standing in line at the grocery store, and all the options are sliding over the scanner with a constant beep that starts to overwhelm me, I close my eyes and try to visualize that white blanket that covered me.
See why I couldn’t call you? You would have asked how my trip was. And because I feel so safe with you, so understood…I would have wanted to share all this.
But you can’t say this over the phone.