I’ve always wanted to travel the world.
Throughout high school and my first 3 years at uni in a small French town, I was impatiently waiting for the moment I could step on a plane and discover the world.
And once I started, I never looked back.
But not as a traveler, no. I had no interest in being a tourist. I wanted to be A Local.
To know the roads, discover the culture, understand the jokes, speak the language, decipher the local politics. I wanted to soak in the culture from the inside. To gorge on it.
I longed to feast on the thrill of exploration.
I’d look up from the memoirs of some extraordinary adventurer, gazing out the window into the grey, low sky of Parisians suburbs and imagine the excitement of a life under the Indian Sun, of speaking Mandarin or exploring the Baleares Islands.
How I longed for it… Dreaming of absorbing cultures to add spices, salt, pepper to my bland daily life.
How do you move to a new country when you have no contact, no experience, know only basic English, and can only bring to the table a burning desire to keep moving?
Any excuse would do.
I became an international student, then a clerk, an NGO-worker, even a banker. Mexico, Madrid, Kolkatta, Manila, Hong-Kong, I could never stop. 3 months, 6 months, a year… every time a bit longer, but just enough for me not to get bored, and be ready to fly again.
You see, I wanted to have the thrill of discovery, but without the blandness of familiarity.
I was a fish. The girl with a thousand stamps on her passport, which I exhibited proudly at customs, and wherever I landed next.
Until one train ride I’ll remember forever.
The closest country. France’s frenemy. A 2-hour train ride. But no return ticket.
It was time to ‘grow up’, and settle down.
Re-create daily life. In a new country, true, but the same life my parents had created for us and that I’d been running away from all that time.
A life where the flavors are familiar, where you know the streets like the back of your hands, where the local barista knows your coffee order.
Where you don’t get the thrill of being A Foreigner.
How I dreaded that life.
And yet, how I needed that life.
Years of travels and constant uprooting had left me penniless. I was more connected than ever, with friends across all the continents and an exciting facebook feed. Pictures of NY, HK, sunny beaches in Thailand and match games in Sweden… Yet I had never been more lonely.
The friends I’d grown up with joked about my latest travels, but didn’t invite me to birthday parties and baby showers anymore. Why would they, if I never could make it? They were lucky, if I showed up for weddings at all.
And, especially, my mind was going round in cycles.
The thousand flavors of constant travel had left me mentally exhausted. I didn’t know what I liked anymore. And I couldn’t sit in silence in a room for one evening. Like a junkie, I always needed more. More excitement, more new names, more new roads. To the point where I didn’t know who I was.
Taking a full-time position in London meant settling down.
Meeting people. Meeting them again, one year, two years from now. Properly discovering them. And letting them see who I was.
Letting go of the exciting new-girl-in-town-identity and becoming a woman who can give directions to tourists, visits counties twice, has a network and a career and has never properly set foot in the British Museum. Becoming a true local.
With all the blandness and the familiarity it implies.
And God knows that wasn’t easy. Past the excitement of the first few months, you discover that your life is your life, the same life, wherever you are.
I learned to enjoy the contrast between a fast-paced week, and the slowness of a Sunday spent in a pub. My co-workers let their guards down and became friends. I found my favorite city escape (Brighton), and started going there every couple of months. I discovered I could predict when it would rain, and finally, a few years in, bought practical shoes.
I truly was A Local.
But, especially, I discovered that life on the slower side has one advantage: it allowed me to create deeper connections than I’d ever had.
With people who’ve seen me change and grow. Who’ve seen me at my best but also at my worst. Who’ve forgiven me for stuff, like I’ve forgiven them. Close friends who’ve consoled me on the dark winter nights or neighbors who smile at me when they see me on the street.
I’ve exchanged the anonymity of the traveler’s life for one of tighter bonds and deeper connections.
Recently I went to France to renew my passport.
My heart tightened a bit when I handed over the old fully-stamped one.
But I received a new one instead. Whose serene blank pages are inviting me to keep traveling. But by going deeper instead of going wider.
And so to share my experience I’ve co-written Behind Our Skin, a fast-paced and visceral play where two stories of immigration merge and diverge. Our show opened in August last year to great reviews in Edinburgh.
If you are at Brighton Fringe on the first weekend of May join us for a fast-moving drama. You won’t regret it. And in true British fashion, we do drinks after 😉