on the bus

here
i have no car
can’t get to any place
without my own legs carrying me
or reliance on another

here
where you can open the window
close the window
spit out the window
and no one cares

where i am
i can see
ladies with backs bent
from years of service
to the earth
carrying the vegetables
to the people

where i am
i see a man who needs help
talking to himself
alone in his head
and everyone looks
the other way

“do you know my son?”
“do you know my granddaughter?”
“do you speak this language?”
“from where do you come?”
tilted heads
dark eyes looking into mine
hand reaching out to touch
my messy hair
i’ve been waiting
here
for awhile

here
i let my legs carry me
through sidestreets
through alleyways
through a little town
in the countryside

by the river
a cat is chasing a chicken
the running water
and the fear of the hen
are the only sounds

here
is where i met
the little girl
and her little dog
and we laughed
for lack of common language

she told me i was pretty
and i told her she was pretty
and she giggled
and covered her face
and ran away

invited to sit
scolded
pushed and shoved
and patted on the back
waved to
laughed at
spoken to
ignored

it’s another day
on the bus
here

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korea: the beginning

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cherry blossoms in jeongeup

I have been laying around in my little apartment all day feeling quite sick and even more annoyed that I’m physically unable to hike and travel a bit like I had hoped to this weekend (the 5-10 minute walk to the nearby convenience store was almost too much to handle, so…).  I figured it was a good time for my long overdue blog update.

I can hardly believe how fast time seems to be moving.  it has been just about two months since i landed at incheon airport feeling all dazed and confused after my ridiculous lineup of cancelled and/or rerouted flights around the US and my one very long flight from chicago to south korea.  I found the counter where I could pick up my korean sim card, and then made my way to the EPIK counter with my arms full of luggage where I was told a bus would pick me up shortly.

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welcoming ceremony at EPIK orientation

orientation is a blur in my mind now.  a combination of jet lag and recovery from being sick before leaving (am I always sick?) made me feel rather out of it for the first few days, and the schedule was pretty busy and tiring on top of that.  we had teaching classes, lectures, meals, korean language classes and a demo lesson to prepare for.  meanwhile, most of us were left wondering where in korea we’d be living for the next year, what grade levels we’d be teaching and how many schools we’d teach at.  all in all it was good to have an introductory period to korea and to meet others who were doing the same thing, but it felt like a lot of waiting for answers.

at the end of orientation, we found out our fates for the year–mine was that I’d be living in jeongeup-si in jeollabuk province and that I’d be teaching middle school.  what I didn’t know yet was that I would be teaching at 5 rural schools–3 middle schools and 2 elementary schools.  at the time I felt pretty overwhelmed by the idea of teaching middle school kids when all I had mentally prepared for was teaching elementary school kids.  now that i’m into the swing of things, teaching middle school and elementary school both have their pros and cons and it’s not as terrifying as I thought it might be. 😉

my apartment…..it’s not bad.  well, it’s not bad anymore.  when I first moved in, I found a pretty good sized population of weevils (flour bugs) feasting on some dirty dishes and pots and pans that the previous tenant graciously left behind.  I’ll be honest, I was grossed out at the state of the place, particularly the cupboards (where most of the bugs lived) and the bathroom.  BUT, I purchased some cleaning supplies and gloves and went to town.  i’ve done a pretty thorough cleaning every weekend since I’ve been here and I’ve kept all my food refrigerated, and i’m happy to say that I have been bug free for a week! (meaning, I haven’t SEEN a  living weevil for a week. are they still living in the cracks, waiting for me to drop a crumb?  i try not to think about it). anyway, now that it’s been cleaned I’m pretty content with it. the size is nice for me and didn’t require me to buy much of anything to fill it up, and the bed is comfortable.  it’s free for me to live here and it’s my own personal space, so I’m happy.  a little shift in perspective and a positive attitude make all the difference.

my city….I genuinely like it.  for a korean city, it’s small.  but it’s not actually that small.  it has everything I could possibly need or want apart from maybe an H&M, but it’s better for my bank account that the nearest one is 30-ish miles away by bus anyway.  koreans love coffee shops.  If you know me at all, you know that pleases me greatly.  within 5-10 minutes walk from my place, I can get to at least 15 coffee shops.  (mhmm, I’m counting).  my relationship with espresso will continue to be strong this year. I’m even becoming a semi-pro at ordering coffee in korean (when I don’t get all shy and lose confidence, that is)!  important phrases include: I’ll have one latte (or americano), please; one extra shot please, and I’ll have it for here/take out.  anyway, enough about coffee…. the other foreigners in town have been really friendly and welcoming (thanks guys!) to myself and the other new teachers.  there are, i think, less than 20 of us in total living in town.  the nightlife here isn’t too exciting, but there are still a lot of restaurants, bars/clubs, and noraebangs (singing rooms).  If i decide I need more excitement, it’s super easy to get anywhere else in korea by train or bus.

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beverages of jeongeup

teaching….it’s definitely been challenging.  the first few weeks were a little rough as I had no idea what anyone expected of me.  it has gotten much better, and I feel like though it’s still a lot of work if I want to create quality lesson plans for my students, it’s become a lot more enjoyable.  I’ve chilled out a bit on thinking I have to control every detail of what goes on in class and because of that the whole experience has been a lot more relaxed.  It’s okay to use the mediocre textbook activities sometimes if it means I get enough sleep the night before. it’s going to be okay if I planned what I thought would be a really enjoyable lesson and the kids ended up with that “teacher I’m bored” look on their face.  teaching, I’ve found so far, is full of all kinds of life lessons that need reinforcing.  mainly, for me, letting go of the need for perfection and just going with the flow.

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my wednesday middle school in the mountains

speaking of going with the flow… yoga.  what would I do without my practice?  my favorite thing to do after school is get on my mat and get rid of any negativity that I let seep into my brain & body throughout the day.  I HIGHLY recommend  Yoga with Adriene (youtube) and an app called “Yoga Studio” which I believe is only available for iOS?  these two (free and/or very inexpensive) resources made me fall in love with yoga over two years ago, and my life has never been the same. (insert dramatic music here).

lastly—

many friends and acquaintances have asked me various questions about how I found out about this teaching program, what tefl class to take and “why korea?”  I worked with Greenheart Travel  to apply for the EPIK program (English Program in Korea).  I recommend everyone who asks, if you don’t want to apply directly through EPIK and you want someone to kind of hold your hand through the process (it’s an intense process, people!) then work with greenheart! I had a fantastic experience and it was nice having someone in my own timezone (USA Central) to work with and email if I had any questions. they recommend the International TEFL Academy tefl course, which I took.  it was a little expensive compared to some others, but I found it to be pretty well organized and I learned a lot about practical ways to teach english.  if you think this is something you want to try, then I say go for it. why not?

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elephants, tea and temples: amanda in sri lanka

Happy 2016 everyone!  It’s been awhile, hasn’t it?  It feels good to be back.  As I’ve been busy applying and interviewing to teach in Korea, I’ve let time slip away without an update about my recent travels to Sri Lanka.  (If you don’t already know, I am preparing to move to Korea to teach with the EPIK program in February).  Now that I’m sitting around waiting to hear about my placement city and sign off on my official teaching contract, I have a little more time on my hands to think, process and write.

 

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Chicken Biriyani in Colombo

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sri  Lanka was incredibly beautiful.  Breathtaking beaches, brilliant green fields of tea growing throughout the mountains, the curiosity and hospitality of the locals and the FOOD.  Seriously though, the food.  My taste buds will never be the same.  The group of people I traveled with went impressively well together-I couldn’t have asked for a better bunch of people to hang out with for two weeks.

When someone asks me excitedly, “How was your trip!?” I genuinely don’t know what to say.  I usually reply with a generic positive exclamation.  I did, of course, have a seriously wonderful time in Sri Lanka, but how can I even begin to explain the impact that setting foot into another new world has on my soul?  I can tell you I saw elephants and got sick with food poisoning for three days and got all dressed up in a saree and drank the local coconut liquor, but when I enter a foreign land something deeper always happens internally than I can describe to you with my words.  Travel is a powerful experience–the most powerful, in my opinion.  So, instead of a play by play I’ll just share a few of the thoughts which, strung together, make up a rough outline of “how my trip was.”

When you are an average American from the lower middle class who just flew across the world juxtaposed directly next to a Sri Lankan tea worker who makes 600 rupees ($4 USD) per day but is fighting for 1000 ($7 USD), you question things.  You just do.  You can’t help but think about the $4 latte you grab a few times a week on the way to work, or the little $7 airport salad you ate during your long and incredibly boring layover in Dallas, Texas.  You can’t help but wonder about the concept of currency, and the man made idea that the American piece of paper in my right hand is worth more than the Sri Lankan piece of paper in my left.  You also can’t escape the reality that though it is a man made idea, you must abide by the principles of these ideas if you want to participate in society like the other humans.

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tea field

I learned that my acting skills are greater than I thought they were. Or maybe, it’s my eating skills.  While the spicy food burned my mouth with the fire of a thousand suns, I was still capable of smiling politely and sitting casually at a table.  I even came to enjoy the spiciness of the food, and I find myself adding cayenne pepper or some other spicy spice to everything in the midwestern United States where I live.  It’s hard to find any meaning in midwestern food when you’ve just returned from Sri Lanka.  I’m excited to try all the spicy food Korea has to offer.

I cannot express how hopeful it made me to see a country with a recent history of a horrific civil war full of such religious tolerance. Of course I was only around for two weeks but in that short time I watched Buddhists, Muslims, Hindus and Christians exist peacefully and respectfully together.  The US could take some notes.

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Hindu Temple, Colombo
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Buddhist Cave Temple, Newara Eliya

 

Stay tuned for my first post from Korea…I can’t wait to hop on another plane next month and be off on my next adventure.  Keep in touch, please! And have a beautiful new year.

 

 

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the sublime is at your doorstep

Caspar David Friedrich: Frau in der Morgensonne
Caspar David Friedrich: Frau in der Morgensonne

reasons to be dissatisfied seem to be spewing out of every corner, brewing up down every street and springing up inside each of us.  reasons to feel that you do not have enough, that you do not do enough, that you do not give enough or take enough…that you are not enough.

what is the source of dissatisfaction in your life?  i know that i tend towards this when i am stationary, when i am not embarking on a grandiose adventure or partaking in my next seemingly meaningful endeavor.

i have come to believe, once again, that the greatest adventure of all has to do with the simple moments–an awareness that brings with it the appreciation for the moon lighting up the darkness, the joy that comes from delighting my senses of smell and touch with a cup of warm and strong coffee, the connection that comes from acknowledging the coffee farmer and having gratitude for his work, or the smallness i feel when i stand in the valley of mountains.  the simple moments of a kind interaction with a stranger, or a child laughing, or a hug from my sister.  daydreams are beautiful, but simple daily realities have now truly stricken me with their vast profundity.

if looking at wildflowers growing by the lake doesn’t make you cry tears of happiness–what does?  if that’s my thing–what is it for you?  what is beautiful to you?  i thought i had to run circles around the world to find out, but the sublime is at my doorstep.  the sublime is at your doorstep.  it is in you as much as it is floating around in the sky on the opposite hemisphere of this earth.

what do you love?  what brings you joy?  i challenge you to make a little list of the little things in your daily life that make you happy.  here’s mine:

one. time with close friends and family

two. meditation (while staring at trees, preferably)

three. yoga classes

four. new friends

five. cat cuddles

six. (responsible amounts of) wine

seven. being around trees even while not meditating

eight. minimalism

nine. deep, unstoppable laughter

ten. making lists with even numbers of bullet points

updates and reflections from the great plains

fargo, the city I know so well.  the city of dreams… dreams of summertime in the midst of long winters, that is.  dreams of mountains and oceans, dreams of air that doesn’t hurt to breathe.  the weather’s getting a little warmer around here and people are stripping off their winter parkas, feeling slightly uncomfortable in their relative nakedness.

my new little apartment is just my size.  it feels a bit naked as well, with its lack of furniture and other people.  i like to think of the emptiness in terms of extra room for yoga and late night (or early morning) solo dance sessions.  my cat makes it feel like home though, and i am eternally grateful for her incredible listening skills.

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my new job also has cats, and one of them sits on my lap sometimes.  i can look out big windows at trees and my coworkers are beautiful and there is a limitless supply of coffee so i’m quite happy there.

i’ve now finished a class to become tefl certified (teaching english as a foreign language) so as soon as i turn my final papers in, i will be qualified to teach english overseas, which i hope to do next year.

today I was daydreaming a bit…remembering my first day in belgium on my most recent trip.  being so tired and out of it, it didn’t register how ridiculous it all was.  want to hear a story?

I was up late in dublin with my couchsurfing hosts and several of their friends.  we went out to a bar and had a few hot ciders and mulled wines and laughed and I listened to their beautiful french speech and talked to a new spanish friend about writing and cats.  as we walked home that night, my two lovely couchsurfing host ladies and I found a stray cat wandering the streets of dublin.  we spent about an hour earning its trust and eventually coaxed the poor lost kitty back to the apartment with us.

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three hours later, i was in a cab on my way to the dublin airport.  the sun shone through the windows brightly during my descent to brussels, and needless to say I was exhausted and totally unprepared to enter a new country.  but, i entered a new country….right into a total public transportation strike.  now, if you know me, you know I travel on a budget.  I did not have a taxi budget, and although there was room in my funds for emergencies, a taxi into brussels city center would have costed me about €50…that’s something like $75.  when your budget is 50 USD per day, you fret about that kind of cab fare.

staring out at the emptiness in the underground area of the airport where the trains usually run, i looked up at the dingy ceiling and whispered a little “help” to God.  “help,” I said, and a young belgian gentleman suddenly appeared at my side.  “you know the trains aren’t running, right?”  he said to me.  i nodded sheepishly, “I thought I would come down and check, just in case.”  “yeah, me too.  i’m from here.  i’ve never done anything but take the train.”

“are you headed to the city center?”  he asked.  i nodded again.  “want to share a cab?”  he asked.

now, before i left home, i made no promises to anyone except one:  the promise to my father to not share a cab with anyone.  too many sequels of “taken” had come out for him to not give me this sound advice.  so, dad, this is a disclaimer for you: please forgive me.  but know that my intuition is strong and my general rule in life is TRUST NO ONE.

so, i followed this man to the taxi line, where we were going to pay our €25ish each to get to the city center.  he suggested we try to catch an uber taxi instead.  i seemed to be doing a lot of shrugging and nodding that day, and this i did again as we climbed over the fence together and headed upstairs.  we wandered around trying to find the one that showed up on his phone, finally found it, and met the man who would be our taxi driver.  the taxi driver only spoke french, and in this moment i had to turn on my body language reading skills to understand their conversation and see if this was still a wise decision or not.  i could tell the driver’s french was broken, and the two men did not know each other.  being unfamiliar with uber prior to this, i wasn’t expecting an unmarked minivan…but i noticed the driver’s uber keychain as well as his kind and gentle demeanor.  i sensed that he was new to belgium and that he had young children.  i could sense his fatherliness and compassion for humanity in general.

so i handed him my torn and crinkled piece of paper with the address to my hostel and hopped in the minivan.  we first dropped off my cab-mate who wished me good luck in my travels and explained to me in english that we were not far from my hostel.  after he shut the door, the driver, who had shown no sign of speaking any english, asked with some embarrassment, “can i try english with you? sometimes i am afraid of english.”

i laughed and told him his english sounded good, and he let go of a little fear.  he told me how he had always wanted to visit the united states, because he had family in california.  he told me about his children and about how he drove the uber taxi as a second job because he wanted his wife and children to have nice things.  he thanked me for letting him practice his english and proceeded to drop me off at my hostel, where he told me my first uber ride was free and gave me coupons for more free uber rides. thanks for the help, God.

collapsing onto my hostel bed, i thought i was going to avoid any socialization and instead sleep for a whole day and a half.  that was before i met my sole hostel-mate.  she entered the room smelling like vodka and carried an air of the belief that she used to be lovely when she was young.  she ignored me at first.  an hour or two later, we began a conversation that would last deep into the night.

she was a french speaking woman, homeless, and full of regret.  she carried photos of her young daughter who was doing well in school and was being raised by another family.  a few hours later we were both sitting on the floor telling each other our stories; she was drunk on vodka, i was drunk on lack of sleep.  we exchanged bits and pieces of our lives with each other in english and spanish.  “i used to be young and beautiful, like you,” she reminisced.  “i never thought this is what i would become.  please do not become like me.”

“there is still hope for you,” i said.
“that’s what i believed when i was your age,” she replied.

a pain in her back had persisted for years.  she said she had seen many doctors who rejected her because she was a crazy homeless woman who had no money to pay.  the only reason she was able to stay in the hostel with me, she said, was because the homeless shelter had paid for it after she had broken a glass over a man’s head when she had had enough of his sexual advances towards her.  “what i want more than anything is for my daughter to love me again and for this pain in my back to be gone.”

now, my spiritual journey at this time was one of pure confusion and aimless wandering.  what compelled me to ask her if i could pray for her, i am not sure.  i hadn’t prayed in my own head for a long time, and to hear myself talk to God out loud felt foreign on my lips but it also felt like the right time for a prayer.  i put my hand on her back and prayed.  we cried together that night–she cried because no one had touched her in love for years; i cried because my dry soul felt the water of communication with the divine once again.  “i used to know God,” she said between swigs of vodka.  “i used to know that he loved me.”

we cried together that night–two women whose souls hurt for very different reasons, two women brought together and connected by humanity.  two women who would then go to sleep, and wake up to say a short goodbye and never see each other again.

and that….

was my first day in belgium.

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this place: amanda in fargo

i know this place like the back of my hand
every curve in the road
every streetlight
burnt out.

its why i dream of a distant land
unfamiliar
a feast for my eyes
mountain air
desert skies
wind lightly blowing on the nape of my neck
like a kiss
like a delicate touch
and like the feeling
that nothing is better than this.

i wake up in the morning
with the people around me
i look in their eyes and i can’t help but know
they’ve all seen the facades
that i so love to show.
wandering alone
with a hot coffee cup
i can’t act anymore
so i’ve given it up.

i’ve given it up
so have at it, world
tell me all your knowledge
and what you call wisdom
tell me what i should do
what i should’ve done
as if i don’t already know.

tell me one more time
that i’m crazy
for packing my bags
for leaving all the time
for heading off
to my version of real life
tell me you know
better than i do
tell me to stay
like a wild tiger in a zoo
tell me i’m wrong
one more time
and i will tell you
i don’t care anymore
i’ve given up on reason
i’ve given up on rhymes
i’ve given up on dreams
of someone else’s real life

i’ve given up on myself before
but i won’t do it again
the mountains
and the sky
and the tree
they are in me
in my soul i can feel their call
carried to the nape of my neck
by the wind

like a kiss.

welcome

i am outside
the gates
outside.
the others inside
don’t see me.
i am outside.

a little boy walks up beside me.
hold my hand
he seems to say
with hand outstretched
he says words in a language
i do not understand.
but my spirit
understands.

a woman on my left
approaches
she has come from the east
she has come from afar.
she nods in my direction
and she takes my other hand.

others join us
long journeys
painful journeys
have brought them
to this place
to the outside
of the gates.

languages
i have never heard
reach my ears
reach my mind
and my mind does not understand
but i understand, again
in my spirit
these words.

then the multitudes
holding hands
walk toward the gate
the gate is open
we all enter the gates
we are inside
there is no longer a door
there is no more door
on the hinges.

we are welcome.

notes from the irish countryside

It can be hard to find time to write.  While I regularly pull my journal out of my purse and jot down my thoughts, it seems like a real feat to have a period of time to dedicate to updating you all on my travels.

So, here I sit, on a bus from Cork City, Ireland to Killarney, Ireland.  The scenery is incredible, even from the main roads.  Rolling hills, old farmhouses, grazing sheep and green everywhere greet my eyes and make my heart feel calm and content.  Being in Ireland feels like a sigh of relief for my soul.

So far my trip has gone like this: Dublin, Ireland; Brussels, Belgium; Ghent, Belgium; Amsterdam, Netherlands; Leiden, Netherlands; Valletta, Malta; Mdina, Malta; Gozo, Malta; back to Dublin; and Cork, Ireland.  I’m currently en route to Killarney, Ireland.  I have plans to go to Galway, Ireland after that.  After Galway, no set plans yet.  It’s nice to be flexible, I’ve learned more and more along the way.

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Me at the Azure Window in Gozo, Malta. Probably my favorite natural spectacle yet.
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Sunset on Gozo, atop the Azure Window. My hostel-mate and I traveled a long while by bus and ferry to get here, and it was totally worth it for this.

I celebrated Christmas in Cork with some fellow CouchSurfers.  It was one of the best decisions I’ve made on this trip so far…I wasn’t sure that I’d find anyone to celebrate with so it was awesome to find some fellow wanderers and a generous host!  She made an incredible Christmas dinner complete with four meats (including spiced beef–specialty of Cork), vegetables, potatoes, and desserts.  Movies were watched, drinks were drunk, games were played, stories were told, and new friends were made.

Christmas dinner with Rocky, Christian, and Donna (left to right).  So much good food!
Christmas dinner with Rocky, Christian, and Donna (left to right). So much good food!

I also sampled the local craic

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Ireland makes great cider!

Tonight I’m staying in Killarney and I’ll take a day tour of the Ring of Kerry tomorrow.  I’m generally not big on taking organized tours but the Ring of Kerry looks pretty spectacular.  I have no other specific plans other than heading to Galway on New Year’s Eve….yay flexibility!

Cheers!  

things people say

things that people say, have said, and may potentially say again:

“you are from eastern europe?”
“are you german?”
“you are from sweden, are you not?”
“wow! your english! so good! and let me guess…you are polish?”
-random assortment of people (no one has assumed “american” yet. or at least they haven’t told me if they have.)

“I have only been to canada. I don’t like america.  they have, you know, bad privacy.  bad government.  I don’t like the people.  I really just hate the american people actually.” -guy from germany talking to a jewish girl on an airplane

“you have balls bigger than me; you have balls bigger than many men.  i am serious.” -serbian guy to me, amsterdam

“**question I didn’t understand in dutch**?
“I’m sorry, is english okay?” -me, fresh off the bus, running on two hours of airplane sleep
“would you like plastic bag?” -check out clerk at a grocery mart
“si, gracias.” -me, not speaking english

“why did you come to ______?” -everyone
“because I’m traveling and it seemed nice.” -me
“but why??” -everyone

“you should ________ while you’re young”
-a majority of the people I meet have some kind of “you should” advice for me.

“would you like to see a picture of my cat?” -me to my new acquaintances

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thoughts on “home”: amanda in amsterdam

(FYI: I wrote this two days ago…but didn’t have a wifi connection at the time).

Today I arrived in Amsterdam. After an unnecessarily long bus ride through Belgium (seriously, Eurolines? Two hours late?), a rather embarrassing train ride to Amsterdam Centraal Station (apparently when the train goes forward, you should hold on to something so you don’t fall over with your pack on) and a weary walk in the dark through the lively streets of the city to arrive at my host’s home. After a brief chat and her departure to bed, I sit here with Leif the cat and ponder.

“What am I doing?” The question has run through my mind frequently as I’ve stared out the windows of planes and trains and three a.m. taxicabs. “The journey is the destination…” or so the cliché goes, and I repeat it over and over to myself until it begins to sound moderately inspiring.

Through these windows I see places that children have grown up knowing by heart, though they are foreign to me. Each time the train screeches to a halt, we have arrived in a small city or village that someone calls home.

Home. The concept is beautiful to me, not having one and all. I know that my family loves me, my friends put up with me and care about me, and I know I am always welcome to be with them. I know certain places to be familiar; I know some cities and country roads like the back of my hand. But I don’t have a home. And I’m not sure I’ve ever felt a sense of home in any place over the course of my life.

What’s a girl without a home to do? If you know, please enlighten me. For now, as I travel through places previously unknown to me, I will bask in the glorious comfort of a decent place to sleep at night. I will savor every luxurious moment a hot shower brings. I will enjoy the beautiful company of strangers—some who become friends, some who I’ll never speak to again. I will sip my coffee slowly in the cafe so I can sit there just a little bit longer, because it is a lovely place to be.