I’m feeling a little claustrophobic, and I’ve climbed the walls two dozen times in the last week alone. The restlessness is making my knee bounce up and down. There’s an itch I can’t scratch because flexibility is a myth. Or, I’m too tightly wound to be bend over backwards and kiss the sky.
That big blue canvas that lays watch over a million wonders. Marvellous, breathtaking, creations of humanity and divinity. Mountains, deserts, oceans, and cities. Structures, delicately crafted, reach up and touch the clouds.
I look up at the sky, and I’m jealous of those clouds floating overhead. Caught on a current that will send them off a grand adventure. The things they will see! The experiences they’ll have. Oh, the stories they could tell if they were more than clusters of water particles floating off into the wild yonder.
I need to escape these four walls, but arg, I can’t. I know I can’t. There are a lot of reasons why, and I won’t go into them because this is an experiment in happiness. Listing the reasons why I can’t join the clouds on their epic quest won’t put a smile on my face. It certainly won’t make me happy. It makes me incredibly grumpy, so for the sake of the experiment, let the list go unspoken.
Take a deep breath in through the nose, hold it, and blow it out slowly. Ah, yes, that’s better.
The world is, at the moment, closed for renovations, and travel is taboo. Which is why I’m grateful for my past good fortune. I’ve travelled to some amazing places and seen some incredible things. I have a lot of memories locked up tight in my mental vault. They’re kept safe from pests, vermin, and water erosion so that, in times like these, I can relive them with delight.
One of those moments happened after my last kidney transplant. For years, a friend and I talked about packing our bags, getting on a plane, and travelling the world. We had a list of places we wanted to visit and things we wanted to see. Except, it was just the most perfect dream and nothing else. I, for one, thought it was one of those things we talked about doing with little intent of taking action.
Then I got sick, my one functioning kidney died, and I spent a few years fighting for every breath. My brother, bless him, gave me a kidney, and the healing began. It took a year and a half to recover. Over that year, my friend and I talked about this grand adventure. This time though, it started to take shape, and we narrowed down our list. It went from a dream to a plan. That plan soon evolved into booked flights, hotels, and packed bags.
My life had been on hold for years, so the second my doctors gave me the green light, we drove to the airport and flew to our first destination. We were visiting five countries in four weeks. It was going to be a whirlwind adventure. There was a chance our dreams were grander than reality, but screw it. We were going to test the boundaries, and that thought alone was exhilarating. I sat there waiting for our flight to board, and I damn near vibrated right out of my body.
Have you ever done something that you’ve spent years dreaming about? It’s that thing you say that you will do someday, but you never believe it will happen. Hope? Absolutely, but how often does hope become a reality you can touch, taste, see, and feel? In my life, it’s as rare as a swarm of caterpillars humming Madam Butterfly.
But there I was, staring at the plane that would take us to the very thing we’d spent years dreaming up. It was a reality, or I was having a very vivid hallucination but, since my travel companion saw it, it must be real. And you bet your eyeballs I doubled checked that we were experiencing the same version of reality.
Paris was the first stop!
A decision that one misguided soul called a cliche. Uh, no sir, you are mistaken. Paris is never a cliche, and it’s a city everyone should experience at least once. You have to go for the copious amount of art and history alone! I love art and history so, excuse that particular bias but, it just might be as close to heaven as a historophile can get.
We got to our hotel, a few blocks away from Gare De Lyon, late in the evening. I dropped my bag next to my bed and walked to the window. There was a small balcony, wide enough for one person to step outside so, that’s what I did. It was late April, we arrived two days before my birthday, and the setting sun was turning the clear blue sky a gorgeous pink.
Maybe it was the excitement of an adventure just getting started or the sixteen hours of travel. Probably a combination of the two, but to me, the sky meeting the rooftops looked like a painting that we would find in the Louvre. It was almost too gorgeous to be real. The vivid colours. The brush strokes across the sky. The old city, full of so many stories. Was this real life? Was this really happening? Was I really standing on the smallest balcony in one of the oldest cities?
I was in Paris! Forget about playing it cool. No, my friend, I think I squealed, and I seldom squeal.
Finding yourself living a moment you’ve dreamt about for so long is incredible. It’s hard to stay present and remind yourself that, yes, this is real. You’re really here. This is happening in the waking world. You don’t have to pry your eyes open or slap yourself to wake up.
Pro tip: Pinch yourself in different places so that you don’t bruise too soon. I like to use a rotational system. Arm, stomach, ear lope, and then I bite my bottom lip. Wake up. Wake up. Oh, this is really happening! This is my life. I am living in this moment. Deep breath, and play it cool. You don’t want to be one of those tourists. Get the squeals out inside your hotel room or on a tiny balcony.
By the time we got settled in and washed the thick layer of travel grime off our bodies, the sun had been packed it in. Our internal clocks were out of sync with our environment. Our hunger had settled in a little too late. A lot of the restaurants were locked up or closing down for the night, which left us with dwindling options.
Exhaustion contributed to our indecisiveness. Every time we found a place to eat, we couldn’t decide if we should eat there or walk on. So on we walked. Too tired to explore much further. Too hungry to rest. Basically, we turned into pouting toddlers on the inside while externally trying to remain adult about the situation.
Lucky for us a hero was about to cross our path. Okay, I’m a bit dramatic. After all, we were just looking for something to eat. But it was getting late, and our tummies were grumbling. Enter our hero! He worked at a small shop that sold sandwiches, fries, and snacks. He saw us wandering around like lost farts in a thunder cloud and asked if he could help.
Now, my french is very basic. I took eight years of it, as is required by the Canadian education system, but I don’t remember very much. What can I say? Je ne parle pas Français. I don’t speak french. Tu parle Anglais? Do you speak English? I can say please, thank you, and excuse me. So, all of the basic entry-level phrases and, please, forgive my spelling.
Did our new friend speak English? Nope, but he did speak six other languages, so Abdul takes the win. That was his name, by the way. We put enough french together to get that much information. That’s the challenge, and the fun, of travelling to a country outside of your language-speaking network.
Sure, figuring out new ways to communicate is hard. It can be overwhelming. Sometimes it can be frustrating. Other times you meet someone named Abdul, who has a big smile and an even bigger laugh. Who better to play a round of multilingual charades?
Turns out, one of his six languages was Spanish, and I took a semester in college. My Spanish was only slightly better than my french, but it was enough to get a conversation going. He was born in Iran and had immigrated to France ten years early. He worked at his family’s restaurant, and they were getting ready to close. Thankfully, they would stay open a little longer if we wanted something to eat.
How could we refuse the kindness?
Standing there, on the streets of Paris, was one of those magical moments when I realized just how small the world was. Adbul, an immigrant from Iran, and me, an immigrant from South Africa. I’d started a new life in Canada. He started a new life in France. We both left our countries of birth to find a peaceful existence in a new land. In so many ways, we were so different but so similar in all the ways that matter.
That’s what I love about travelling! It opens my eyes and lets me see how connected we all are. It’s easy to look at the lives of people in other countries and think that they’re worlds away. Their lives don’t affect ours, and what we do, doesn’t matter to them. But the world isn’t that big, and our lives are more intertwined than we realize.
I suppose, for some, that’s a scary thought, but it makes me smile. It means, to me, that we’re not as alone as we might think. There’s someone out there, on this small planet, that’s going through something similar. They’re feeling what I’m feeling. They’re worried about the same things that keep me up a night.
They laugh at silly things like I do. They love animals more than people, just like me. They like the colour red. Enjoy drinking tea after a long walk in the rain. They have a dream that seems unattainable, but they still hope that it becomes a reality. They are just like me, and I am just like you. Despite the many miles that separate us, we’re linked.
Language differences be damned! Where there’s a will, some yet lag, and a jovial man named Abdul? There is a hot meal and a grin that puts every dream to shame. Which is why I keep dreaming about the places I want to see and people I want to meet.
That day will come! The world will open back up, and we can turn our dreams into glorious realities. That possibility alone is worth a little happiness.