Written on 9 Jan, while in Cambodia
Before I begin this post, I wish to share my irritation with the Cambodian government. We are in a bus on the way to Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam (Saigon) and it is bouncing around like a rubber ball on amphetamines. It is bouncing and rocking so much that Andrew has taken to making whooping cowboy motions as we go. This in turn makes typing a grammatically and syntactically correct post difficult. Why is this happening, you ask? It is not the bus, as I have had far smoother rides on far worse buses, and this bus is by no means the dog of the Cambodian fleet. I am bouncing and rolling around because the fucking bus has no road. This is the route connecting two of the largest cities in this area of the world and it has no tar.
Now, many countries which are comparatively poor have no tar on their roads – the situation is not entirely uncommon in, say Somalia or Afghanistan – but these countries also generally lack a capital city which is not only terribly well manicured, but which plays hosts to teenagers in Hummers, SLKs and other vehicles and night spots which would not be out of place in Sandton. My ire, therefore, is not at the lack of the road, but at the inability (presumably willful) of whichever rich fools are responsible for road building, to provide even this most basic service to the people of the country. Though South Africa may be economically unequal, selfish and corrupt, we do, at a bare minimum, give something of a stuff about the poor – something that this lack of a road in comparison to the relative wealth we have seen, makes me question the commitment of the leaders in this country.
But anyway. Not to digress too much.The point I wanted to write about was a consideration of the state of mind that travellers go through on the course of extended journeys such as this one, wondering whether this is actually some form of intellectual growth or simply a passing overall mania – much like a mental illness. I can remember distinctly when I arrived in Suvharnabhumi some weeks ago for the start of this whole jaunt, I had at the time a particular mental frame, for lack of a better term. This was composed of a number of things, such as my views on people and the world, perceived emotional attachments to various members of the debating community, sense of humour and so forth. Sitting now on this rocking bus of Satan, with a week left on the adventure, it is startling just how much this mental landscape has changed.
Things which seemed to be important issues in my life have become so very, very unimportant at present. Though I can see that intellectually, what is going on at home is important and should be worried about, it just seems so terribly abstract when driving, walking or tuk tukking through these lands and their people every day – more so given that the issues that affect my every day back in the real world (web development) are so abstract to these people and where they are as to be completely meaningless. This must be what lawyers -turned-game rangers must feel like.
Related to this altered thinking point is the observation I have come to of late that living one’s life in the tiny little bubble that is Johannesburg, and even South Africa, woefully underequips one to be able to comment on the vast and tasty smörgåsbord that is humanity across the world. If there can exist such truly massive differences in belief, living conditions, priorities and philosophies between these places and South Africa and these places and each other, then how much more am I completely oblivious to that occurs in societies and cultures across the world. I suddenly feel terribly, terribly, underqualified to comment on what people in the world should be doing, how they should develop, or what they should think. The problem, however, with acknowledging the intellectual burden of realising that I know stuff all about the world and her people, and that neither me nor my country holds any particularly special place in it, is that this creates some sort of responsibility for positive action. Precisely what, I am not sure of – besides the obvious need to see more and different people and places in some vain hope of filling in the missing pieces of the picture enough to make some more intelligible observations.
Outside of the intellectual space, the trip has also been something of an emotional education. I had made a few commitments to myself about what I would and would not be prepared to do post-relationship (on the premise that I am not to be trusted and do not know much about myself emotionally at all, save that I am probably a mess). With that in mind, I have managed to make more than a few silly emotional mistakes, fall for someone I really shouldn’t have (who may come across this blog and shall so remain nameless) , and yet also take back a real wealth of memories and experiences (in the non-happy pizza sense) which I think will leave me a richer person for the trip. While cabin fever can certainly lead to wanting to kill more than a few people – all of which are fortunately either on their way back to South Africa, or will be shortly – I.e. They are not here.- it also leads to the formation of very strong shared experiences with those I have traveled with so far, and some excellent stories to share in quiet times to come.
Spending time with oneself
Another positive development from this trip, it must be said, is that for the first time in a while, I have had a good deal of opportunity for self reflection and making an awesome new friend. That would be me. Trite though it may sound, life in South Africa with all of its pressures and crises means that the opportunity to take time to sit with myself for the purposes of contemplating my own thoughts is terribly rare. By contrast, this trip has been more than filled with lots of long bus, boat and train rides where I have had little else but an iPod and my thoughts to keep me company. The result of this scenario is an opportunity to explore my feelings and thoughts about the world and my priorities in life with a degree of honesty and openness not usually possible in the hustle and bustle of the real world.
I think, on reflection, that I am largely happy with the direction that my life is taking, and can honestly say that the world I am returning to after this trip is one that I do, in fact, find entertaining and challenging and embrace the opportunity to be involved in. That said, this trip and the people and places we have seen really do drive home the realisation that my life and pursuits in South Africa, for all the larger rationalising that I may do, is largely a self-serving enterprise. Realising this creates something of an emotional challenge to do something that actually connects with and makes a difference in the world – to find a way of bringing the honesty of life in this backpacker bubble to my everyday real world existence. It would seem to me that this trip, like others before it, is somehow more emotionally and intellectually honest than the day to day existence of life in Johannesburg. You see more of the world, and you see familiar things in new and challenging contexts. The very act of rediscovering all of the basic activities you need to survive, the transient nature of your food, shelter and where you will be tomorrow forces you to continually make decisions about who you are, what you like and where you want to be that are just not required of you at home.
This process, in turn, forces me not to care about intellectual and stress-filled minutia, but to keep my eye more firmly on issues of how I feel, what I want and who I am. This is something that we assume too readily back home and never stop to reexamine, save for when our lives are shaken up by a death, end of a relationship or other forced crossroad. And so, in a countless number of small ways, traveling forces me to grow, and to make conscious choices about who I am and who I want to be. The result, it must be said, is far more satisfying than who I am back home where I seem not to reflect on these questions nearly so much.