It’s something about being in another place, country, culture that changes you, but doesn’t make you a different person. That probably doesn’t make much sense, but it’s hard to explain.
Traveling has a way of making the world bigger and smaller. Living on the south side of Chicago, places like Glenbrook or Libertyville might as well been on the other side of the planet for me. Mexico was the moon, and any other continent was as far as the distance between stars. Fortunately, basketball and a father who stressed the importance of not simply knowing where your distant family is but actually knowing them, I’ve been to about 35 of the 50 states. I was raised in the Midwest, went to college in Virginia, and I’m in grad school in Los Angeles. I’ve been to Jamaica and now I’m living in Cape Town for the summer.
But in another way, traveling seems to only offers an alternative reality. It carries the same “change” as buying new clothes, and the same guise as switching masks. This plays out in the physicality of leaving one place, and living in another, but the real key is the going back home part. When I was in Charlottesville, the culture was so different than Chicago. The experience broadened me, but lurking behind it was a sense a normal or “Chicago Josh” and a “Virginia Josh”. Like once I landed in that space, I stepped into a version of myself, equal parts of who I already was and where I come from, but also acquiescing to their culture. When I was home, I was Me.
I went to Jamaica in 2011. It was was the best week of my life. I was disconnected to school and home in a way that was very cathartic. Life is this beautiful burden. We know the sky is the limit, but are constricted by hundreds of everyday obligations. It’s an inner clash between purpose and “what’s the point?”. And with technology and the internet, there’s this heavy illusion that you are always connected or at least should be. But that nexus is only virtual, and in some ways, it pushes people farther apart (in the sense that not calling, texting, emailing, Skype, FaceTime, or Facebooking a friend or family member to say hi seems like much more deliberate neglect than in the past, when people had to send letters, or even way back when the only way we could talk to each other was to actually be face to face).
But in Treasure Beach, my phone was off, no internet, no social media. That connection or illusion or reality or whatever it is was replaced by mint tea in the morning, rewarding days with the kids we tutored, encouraging Sanique to keep writing, glorious naps, long afternoons on the beach, a J-Dilla playlist and “Fantasy” by Schoolboy Q and Jhene Aiko on repeat, jerk chicken, Ting, and festival, and the little church girls singing “God is good to me, how can I let Him down?”. I didn’t “miss” anything. I connected with my group full of people from different races, classes, cultures, etc. in a deeper way than we would have if we weren’t on Alternative Spring Break. It was a peace that I haven’t been able to recreate at home; a stillness of time I yearn for.
Thinking about all my amazing memories plane to come back to Virginia was euphoric. But as my reality back in Virginia rushed closer, the Jamrock fantasy flew farther and farther away. Every obligation or situation or problem vacuumed back into my mind; homework, student loans, my spiritual life and all it’s questions without clear answers, the studying I wanted to do for the fraternity I intended to pursue, my career, my blog, girls (coulda, woulda, shoulda, the why’s, and why nots), my future, my past, my struggle with celibacy in (of all places) college, the disappointment of the Athletic Department ruling me ineligible to tryout for the basketball team, even though the fault was there’s, the guilt of not being able to help Sanique with her situation, the frustration of not knowing if my music or writing just isn’t good enough or my friends and family don’t support it, and the realization that this amazing group of ASB’ers would settle back into our respective divided class and racial in-groups, and probably would not speak to me anymore once we got back to Charlottesville.
I was Atlas, and going back home was putting the world back on my back. I would love bottle that feeling I had in Jamaica. Now I have the travel bug bad.
But it haunts me as much as it excites me. Is my goal to connect with the rest of the world, or do I simply crave that liberating disconnection I once experienced? Is a vacation for fun in the sun, or is it an escape, a break from one reality into another? Is travelling a drug? Is the plane tantamount to a spaceship carrying me to A Different World? Maybe it’s a mixture of all those things.
My friends and family who write me (thank you for all of your love, care, and support) usually ask “So how is it is?” as their first question. Since they took the time to write, I try to be descriptive in reply, but most of the time I just want to say “Just taking it all in”. My internship at Chimurenga has been a blessing in just about every way. South Africa is my home and South Africans are my people. At the same time, it will always be my home, but these aren’t my people. And this can’t be my home, but these will always be my people.
My travels to different states, lead alone different continents, have been wonderful experiences. Traveling has allowed me to connect the dots, to refine myself, but also search for another self. I would not trade these memories for anything, and I know I’m in Cape Town for a fate-filled reason. But more and more, exploration seems like another word for time travel, an out-of-body experience, a trip to a distant cousin, a walk around the corner, and a voyage to outer-space, all wrapped up in to one gift.