Putting the Tanga before the Horse; the Bicycle before the Rickshaw

Putting the Tanga before the Horse; the Bicycle before the Rickshaw by Robynn

tanga

Blogger’s note: For those unfamiliar with the mode of transportation called a tanga – it is a less fancy version of a horse-driven carriage.

Many of you have tracked our family’s planned visit back to South Asia. It’s where we were for the first 13 years of our marriage. It’s where two of our three children were born. It’s where we left, in 2007, thinking we’d be returning after an extended sabbatical, but we never did.

And so we’ve been planning this return trip for a while now. It takes a long time to save up the amount of money needed to fly all five us there and back. It takes a while to organize all the details surrounding such a trip: time off work, time away from school, passports, visas, pet care, house sitters. It’s a pretty big deal. The pre-departure to-do list is daunting. But we believe in this trip and so we wade through the quagmire of particulars with our hearts set on travel.

I’m so excited. Going to Asia always feels like going home to me. I was raised in Pakistan. I was newly married and mothering in India. These places contain my heart and my memories. I step off the plane and I’m instantly at home, comfortable, at ease. I know how life works there. I love it!

Pieces of me, places in my soul, that lay dormant while I live on this side of the ocean, suddenly pop back into life on that side of the sea. I’m going back. I’m going home.

I’m also curious and anxious to reconnect our children with that place. The older two have plenty of their own memories. Bits and pieces of stories flit through their minds. A certain nostalgia rises up in them as we talk about our time there in that ancient house, in that ancient city on the banks of that ancient river. But the youngest one doesn’t remember much. It agonizes her. You can see it in her eyes and on her face. All three of them learned to walk on cement or marble floors. All three of them spoke their first words in a foreign language simultaneously to their first words in English. The Muslim call to prayer, the gongs and bells of Hindu temples, the cacophony of Bollywood music crackling over jerry-rigged speakers –these were the lullabies that lulled them to sleep. They awoke to the sounds of the dhobi washing clothes on the river rocks below our windows or to screeching monkeys fighting over stolen bread.

Ironically, Connor our firstborn, came into the world in a small private hospital located in a narrow alleyway famous for selling boom boxes. All through the laboring and the delivering music blasted from the street below. The shopkeepers advertised their stellar wares by blaring Bollywood tunes at full volume to entice and convince shoppers of the potential of these amazing sound systems. Connor entered the world to “Pardesi, Pardesi, jana nahin, muje chorke” — foreigner, foreigner, don’t go and leave me!

And we went and left all of it.

You’d think I would only be experiencing great joy at the prospects of returning to so much of what I love and even, to so much of who I am. But there’s another emotion at work in me these days too. I’m embarrassed to even admit this but as much as I’m looking forward to our trip, I’m dreading leaving there again and returning here. The dread is so large it’s threatening to overshadow the joy of journeying. I’m dreading the re-entry process. There is a growing anxiety in me at the prospects of a grey January, the let-down after the excitement, the sadness after the joy, the clean up after the carnival, the dulldrums of depression at the prospects of purposeless, pointless existence again.

There is a tangible choking in my throat as the uncried tears build up, filling my head and soul with sorrow. I’m not sure how to reconcile it. It nearly makes me want to cancel the trip.

But that’s ridiculous. That would be like refusing to get on a roller coaster because you’ll be so sad when the ride’s over. That metaphor doesn’t really work for me…. Because the only emotion I’d be feeling when I got off the ride would be complete and utter relief that I had survived. And that’s how many of my mono-cultural cohorts might think of such a trip too. They gear up for it. They pack survivor snacks and hand sanitizing gel in large bottles, emergency toilet paper and bottles of drinking water. They take a deep breath, board the big jet and get through it. When the business is over they return to their homes relieved that they survived, exhausted by their own paranoia, full of anecdotes of crazy driving and insane room service. The ride is over. They can relax now.

Please don’t misunderstand me: I want to go on this trip…I’m just not sure I want to come back. Here. To Small Town, USA. To Mondays and the mundane. To grey days. To the long winter of the Spirit.  I know in part it’s because I remember what reentry feels like and it’s not pleasant. I have flashbacks of how long it took me to settle in here, to finally (6 years later!) begin to feel at home here. I’m nervous to disturb that. I’m afraid to mess with my fragile reality, my frail routines.

I don’t know what the answer is. I know it has something to do with being present and living in the here and now. I suspect it involves trusting the God of Journeys….He leads people on trips all the time. He “shall preserve (our) going out and (our) coming in” (Psalm 121:8). If he can be trusted to lead people away, certainly he can be trusted to lead them back again and to settle them back in again.

Sometimes mountains can be stomped down to molehills. The ever-growing mountain of dread that is casting shadows on the joy of this experience needs to be stomped down. That saying, “The devil is in the details….” may have something to do with it. If he can erode my joy looking forward to this trip…and going into that plane…he’s set me up for my flailing (and his success) in January.

The poignancy and pungency of Autumn call me to be present. The crisp colours underfoot crunch as I walk in my Now. The bushes all around me burn with red and glory and gold and they call me to the holiness of Here.  Green leaves on the trees in our yard begin to slowly transform into colour—they speak to me of God’s faithfulness in the midst of transition. He who leads leaves from green to gold and back to green again in the Springtime can surely lead me from here to there and back to here again.

Image credit: yogeshsmore / 123RF Stock Photo

7 thoughts on “Putting the Tanga before the Horse; the Bicycle before the Rickshaw

  1. Lovely Robynn, have you thought that perhaps you might have grown more attached to the place that you live in now than you currently realize? Although reentry may well be hard after this trip there is also the distinct possibility that you may return with more peace and that you may find that returning opens your eyes to some of the things you love in Small Town USA that you didn’t know you loved. Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him and he will make your paths straight. May you enjoy every minute, no matter where you are. Whether you are at home in India or at home in the USA.

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  2. I was just discussing “going back” with group of other expats mothers and telling them of when we left Brazil, the first home our younger daughter got attached to. We had moved on to the next place and were there just a couple of months when, as I put her to bed one night, she burst into tears. The kind of heaving sobs that take your breath away. In between her gasps for breath, she managed to say, “I just want to go HOME.” Broke my heart. It was so hard to explain that we could not and, even if we did, it wouldn’t be the same going to visit as living there. Many of the people we loved had also moved on by then.

    I hope you find the Asia of your good memories, Robynn. But just as you are trying to live in this moment NOW where you are, remember to appreciate the changes there as well. I like to think of beloved places like an old friend that I don’t have to see for years to still love. We both may have changed and grown, but we are still friends because of our shared past. And you make find you will feel the same upon return, about your current home.

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  3. Ugh. I didn’t even think about this aspect as we plan our own trip back to our old country. My ties aren’t nearly as strong as yours, but I still would rather prefer to live there than here. I want to be able to embrace blessings, even if they aren’t permanent. I don’t want to be like my kids who complain that they can’t stay longer at Chuck-E-Cheese, rather than being grateful that they got to go in the first place.

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  4. I wish we could go back with our grown up kids and grandkids who understand snatches of urdu, shabash, teakhai, dibbah…but not the context. And yet I’m not unaware of the negative aspects and the blessings we enjoy here that are uncommon there. A trip for a couple of weeks or a month would be ideal.

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  5. Robynn, aren’t we glad that HE goes BEFORE? May the Lord give your family a wonderfully blessed trip. We’ll look forward to hearing all about your adventure.

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