So.Many.Stories – The Trunk that Traveled the World

Today’s lovely post comes from Annelies Kanis. Annelies is a fellow third culture kid and we share Murree as a common denominator, all be it a generation apart! In this post she looks at a piece of luggage that has been on the journey with her. Read on….

The trunk that traveled the world now sits in our bedroom. It’s retired. It holds extra pillows for kid’s sleepovers, a sleeping bag that once went up the Kilimanjaro and posters from museums that will never find a spot on the wall, but that I can’t bear to throw out.

The trunk is old. I’m guessing it was made around the 1920’s, but maybe that’s just the period that I would like it to be from. A time when women had just gained their rights and there was a world for them to discover. And when they did, they packed all their lovely dresses into this trunk and danced the night away in exotic destinations.

When my parents moved to Pakistan to work with Afghan refugees in 1985, they needed trunks to carry our belongings. I was nine, ready for a big adventure and ready to discover the world. Not many people move half way across the world with two kids, a blond Labrador and a lot of stuff. Most people go away on trips for a few weeks. They pack a bag and credit card for the things they forgot to pack. My parents had lived in Bangladesh years before and knew exactly what they’d miss. And those were the things they wanted to take along; items that didn’t fit into suitcases or backpacks. But where do you get trunks if people don’t use them anymore?

Before we left, my dad was director of a nursing home. He knew a few other directors and asked them whether they had trunks up in their attics; trunks that were long forgotten, much like the trips they’d made. Eight trunks came our way and on a sunny day my dad and a friend stenciled our names on them and gave each a number. A few months later they were packed and shipped. And after a rather long stay in customs in Karachi (and a very angry father), they arrived in Peshawar with most of our things intact. We were excited and happy to see all the things we’d packed away months before.

Then came March, and my sister and I went to boarding school. Two of the trunks were packed carefully with all the items on the boarding list. Everything had my name on it and all the clothes were clean and whole. We could never take all the toys we wanted, there were restrictions, so it was carefully determined which toy got to come along. The trunks made the trip up the hill to Murree with us and lived in the attic of the hostel once we’d unpacked. I have vivid memories of 8 girls in a room unpacking all their trunks at the same time. I don’t remember who carried the trunks up to the attic, but I do remember the excitement of seeing each other and later the many tears on that first night away from home. I never cried, I loved boarding. But it’s tough hearing all your friends sob themselves to sleep.

The excitement returned at the end of term, when our trunks came down the stairs from the attic and we literally stuffed all our things in them, ready to go home.

After three years of travel between home in Peshawar and school in Murree, the trunks went back to the Netherlands, filled with Afghan carpets, gifts for family and friends and many memories. My parents still have one or two and a drum filled with Pakistani and Afghan clothing.

I don’t think my trunk will ever travel again. While I plan on travel, I don’t plan on moving overseas and I now prefer Samsonite. And though we want to redecorate our bedroom and the trunk doesn’t fit into the scheme, it is staying. Not for it’s beauty, but for the stories it tells.

Annelies Kanis works as director of programmes at an NGO for children in the Netherlands and developing countries. She lives in Leiden with her two sons and husband. Annelies holds a master’s degree in cultural anthropology from Leiden University and has lived in Pakistan, New York City and Zambia.  

For more on the So.Many.Stories project click here.

8 thoughts on “So.Many.Stories – The Trunk that Traveled the World

  1. Thanks Annelies for a great story! I love the responses from people and the memories it brought back in so many of us of luggage traveled, luggage lost and luggage found!


  2. I inherited a trunk that is modern and not very pretty, but it has “Murree” printed on the top and represents my first great adventure. It is sitting in my parents’ attic and is filled with treasures from many adventures. We just bought our first house and I am trying to figure out how to convince my husband that we need to ship an ugly trunk that won’t match anything in our house half-way across the country.


  3. What a great trunk — beautiful! And I love that you keep it for the stories and memories. I don’t have very many tangible items that remind me of my TCK upbringing (we were pretty nomadic), although I have one desk drawer full of small mementos and photo albums. But, your story made me realize that when I was growing up, never in the same place for more than a few years, I always wished I had a place that I could really settle in and “put things up” like on the walls, etc. But now that I’m in the same house for many years, I don’t do that — much of what I have is in closets, in boxes — and it just occurs to me that maybe I can’t handle feeling like a place is that permanent. Thank you for the story and especially for bringing me some enlightenment!


  4. Annelies! Is it possible you were only at Murree for three years? I remember your soft brown eyes and sweet smile. My trunk was a little aluminum one bought in Layyah bazar and painted white. My dad also stenciled my name on the top and on the side. Somehow that trunk made it’s way to India in my adulthood but has been misplaced there in the chaos and transition of our lives. It makes me sad to think I’ve lost it. She was my companion on all those train rides, and bus rides up the hill. I miss her. I’m so glad you have yours. Keep it there at the foot of your bed to pack your dreams in and keep your memories safe.


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