Monday, February 11, 2008

Have Toilet Paper, Will Travel

The View from Halfway In
Written and Posted from Goa, India

When we started this journey, 54 days ago now, I didn't really have any thoughts on toilet paper. I mean, if someone would have asked me my thoughts on the subject, I would have told them that I prefer soft to scratchy, 2-ply to single, maybe ridges to smooth if I was being really picky. But that would have been about it. I would have offered no dissertations on the importance of the mere presence of toilet paper, nor would I have expressed profound affection for flush rather than scoop toilets and the effect that the later have on toilet paper. But 54 days later, walking around city after city with a half-used roll in the same over-the-shoulder bag that carries my ever-important camera and journal, I'll tell you that toilet paper is an essential part of THIS traveler's experience in the world, that men have it easy with their ability to use the facilities, at least half of the time, without the stuff, and that those little trashcans residing next to a scoop toilet don't gross me out as much as they did, say 53 days ago.

I feel confident that when I look back on this trip in the weeks, months, and years after we return, I won't often think of my bathroom experiences. In fact, I think my eyes will glaze over as I remember how I felt when I was standing under Buddha's gaze at Wat Po, my stomach will rumble when I think of those spring rolls on the beach in Koh Lanta, my fingers will tingle as I remember how much I wanted to tickle the tummies of those kids in Laos, my ears will ring with the sounds of horns honking and roosters crowing, and my mouth will water every time I taste a lime, wishing that it was drinking down a refreshing lime soda like the ones in Sri Lanka. Yes, I think I will sense all of those things again when I get home, that I will privately re-live those experiences whenever someone is bold enough (and probably bored enough) to ask me about this trip. But I also have a feeling that every so often, walking into a bathroom somewhere unpleasant, I will be reminded that once upon a time, I walked into a bathroom in an airport in Goa, and every single stall was devoid of toilet paper, each instead sporting a faucet-like nozzle attached to a hose.

In a way, it's all of these things together that make up a trip like the one that we're on. It's the feeling of quietly studying another statute of Buddha, while also calculating in the back of your mind just how many other people stood there in that same spot, as barefoot as you are, and wondering, silently, if any of them suffered from athlete's foot. Before we left, some people who had traveled more than we had told us that at some point, we would get used to it. It's like Europe, they told us. After a while, a church is a church is a church. Except that so far, I haven't felt that way at all. Every Wat or Temple we see, even the ones that don't feel particularly spiritual to me, are amazing. There's always a child to watch, or a woman in prayer, or a particularly interesting plaque to read. Every single day I experience a moment where I think to myself, "holyshit you are in Thailand!" or "Laos!" or "India!" Every single day I have a moment where I catch my breath, feel my stomach clench, and think, "you are so lucky to be here, experiencing this." And I'm not even exaggerating when I say that it happens every day. Even on the days that I don't like, the days when I'm feeling particularly lonely for home, or the days when every thing I eat makes me want to puke. Yes, even on those days I feel lucky. Lucky to say to myself that I will be so GLAD to go home and get a hug from Julie or my Dad, or so GLAD to drink water right from the faucet. Even on the days when it's hard, I feel lucky to be in a place that reminds me of how happy I am in the familiarity of home, just as happy, even, as I am when a child in Vietnam points at me and giggles, calling my hair "noodle hair" and laughs out loud when I laugh out loud too and shake my hair at her for fun.

If the next 54 days are anything like the past 54 days, they will fly by. They will be filled with colors and noises the sights and sounds of which I have never really seen or listened to. There will be days when I think that I could remain in that one spot forever, and other days when I wish that there were magic planes that could transport me home in an instant. If the next 54 days are anything like the past 54 days, I will check my bag before I head out the door, taking care that I have enough toilet paper to get me through the day, and double-checking that my camera battery is charged enough to record all of these experiences. If the next 54 days are anything like the past 54 days, I will be lucky enough to experience a few more bits and pieces of the world, I will feel how lucky I am at some point every single day, I will turn to Matt and smile at our good fortune at having found the one person with whom I want to share this expeirence, and I will go to sleep excited to see what the next day will bring, good or bad, clean or gross, spiritual or commonplace.


Jess said...

I love it! Your feelings are true and real. I hope the best for the second half of this adventure - that it only gets better and better. Those homesick moments will be there but when you get back they are the first memories to disappear and all of the goodness remains forever. Miss you guys!

Richard said...

I have literally, been thrilled (in Sri Lanka, it was a little too thrilling) to "be with you guys" for the first half and look forward to the second half with great anticipation for more insightful postings and spectaular pictures!!