How many times have you found yourself wishing that you could just stay on vacation and not return to “real life?” Unless you are fabulously wealthy, the possibility of and endless vacation is well out of reach. The word vacation itself carries connotations of getting away, relaxation, doing and experiencing things that you wouldn’t normally. Often while visiting a faraway land, it is all to easy to fall in love with the romance of the location; waves lapping at a lush coastline, rolling green hills spotted with livestock and colorful outbreaks of flowers, ancient winding streets lined with narrow houses and small shops, a crisp and modern skyline, forests and mountains so plentiful they seem to have consumed all surrounding landscape; the list goes on forever.
Something about visiting a new location draws our eyes only to the magnificent and beautiful, blocking out the “real life” that exists in all places, regardless how romantic the backdrop. Consciously or subconsciously, we look past the people out sweeping the streets, hanging out laundry, commuting to and from work and, in general, just going about day-today existence. Stepping out of the role of visitor and into that of resident involves more than just a change of visa, but a complete shift in paradigm.
Within our own cities and towns, we are often remiss to take advantage of attractions that draw others from out of town. Whether this oversight is related to lack of time or interest or the feeling that it is already familiar, it is often we who are missing out on the jewels that rest at our fingertips. This malaise is also found in the residents of the locations that we so covet and flock to.
As far as “great explorations” go, I would have to say that I am not much of a traveler. The number of stamps I have in my passport is less than the number of states that I have visited in the past decade, hardly breaking double digits. Despite this fact, I have spent three of the last five years living outside of the US. For most of the three years, I lived on the remote archipelago of Cape Verde in West Africa working as an English teacher for both youth and adults and, during the third year, traveling around the country to research and write a travel guide for Other Places Publishing.
The diversity of the small country of Cape Verde often surprised me as I traveled from island to island, rocky coastline village to isolated plantations nestled away in the mountains. The thing that surprised me most, however, was how differently I viewed the same landscapes and locations from the many tourists that I met along the way. While we were all delighted by the physical beauty of the islands, by speaking the language, listening into conversations and looking beyond the strips of businesses set up to catch the wave of tourism, I saw an entirely different Cape Verde.
This issue of paradigm comes into play again as I am currently staying in Glasgow, Scotland. Though I am here for an extended visit, I would hardly consider myself a tourist. Living in the South Side of the city, I am a regular commuter by bus and train, I buy my groceries at the various local shops, I spend a fair amount of time scouring the local area for a decent coffee and occasionally visit the odd museum, all in all, not much different than my life in the US. Though the Glasgow accent is thick and often difficult to decipher, it is easy enough to get by. Much of the news and popular culture overlaps with that of the US and values, etiquette and education are largely similar. Like everywhere else in the world, there is wealth and there is poverty, there are conflicts and there are people working together, cities differ from towns, adults go to work and children go to school. Despite these similarities, it is the subtle differences that frequently remind me that I am not at “home.”
Perhaps the moral of the story here is that there is always more depth to our circumstances than we are able to perceive. The idea of “home” and “away” is as much our own paradigm as it is location. Though I had lived in Cape Verde for almost three years, established myself in the community and was able to communicate and get around with ease, it was only my perspective that made me “less” of a foreigner than the tourists I encountered. We avoid being tourists in our own towns because that is what outsiders do and often we avoid the commonplace while away as an “escape,” but perhaps we would all do good to incorporate a bit more of both in all locations. After all, appreciating bits of beauty while mucking in the mundane is what makes us all human, regardless of where we are.