The Bittersweet Beauty of Goodbye

If I sift through the shadowy pathways of my memory, I will touch a hundred moments of parting and a thousand words of farewell in an instant.
A woman stands on a provincial train station platform with her son, waving goodbye, goodbye, goodbye as my train pulls away.

A friend hugs me in the pre-dawn shadows of an empty parking lot, then stands aside as my bus coughs to life and I step inside.

An open window lets in dust and exhaust fumes and the last echoes of Good luck!

The sterile lights of an airport terminal look on as I hug loved ones goodbye; they stay to watch as I pass through security and disappear.

A last smile at the threshold before the house, car, bus, taxi, train door closes. A last wave. A last glance.
These memories are steeped in the mixed emotions that partings will inevitably evoke—the fragrant cinnamon of nostalgia, and the piquant tingle of anticipation; the bitter smoke of an ending, and the sweet pine needle smell of journeys beginning.
When we travel often, some things become easier with practice.
We learn to sit with discomfort, be it overpacked buses, insufficient legroom, long flights, missed meals or interminable waiting—for delays, friends, food and horizontal sleep. And we come to accept a certain level of stress, uncertainty, insecurity—all fundamental tenets of life on the road—as the norm.
We learn the language of timetables and airport terminals, maps and foreign street signs, and perhaps we come to navigate these worlds with a degree of ease. We find ourselves at home in a sea of strangers, untroubled by change—exhilarated, even.
And finally, we become accustomed to goodbyes (comfortable may be too strong a word). Without a doubt we come to realize the ineptitude of words—the insufficiency of phrases like, I’ll miss you, See you soon, Good luck with everything, or even the more sardonic, Have a great life and, See you when I see you—to serve in these situations.
We become accustomed to goodbyes, yet there is no art to them, or none that I have found. No failsafe formula. No skillful lyricism to master.
Each one is unique in its blend of sadness, resignation, looking forward and looking behind.
Each one is, in its singular fashion, beautiful. 
Or, this is what I am beginning to believe. For, more than cinnamon nostalgia or pine needle anticipation, a goodbye is steeped in love. Platonic, familial, romantic, age-old or brand new, this  is love surrendered to the utter unknowability of what lies beyond this moment.
If that love, tempered by the bittersweet awareness of impermanence, is not beautiful, then I don’t know what is.

And so, as I say See you soon, Good luck, I’ll miss you, and Goodbye to friends and loved ones in the U.S. and turn toward the next leg of my journey, I hold onto that beauty, and my smile smells like cinnamon and pine needles, chili and smoke.

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What is this Feeling? …Nostalgia??

Stunning views from my seat flying Catania, Sicily to Istanbul (on my way to Stockholm…
I should not have opted to fly that way, and now I have no luggage… ah, well… collateral.)

Lately, I’ve been experiencing a sentiment I’ve never known before.

A strange tightening in my chest when it’s time to pack.

An odd sensation as I watch the ground shrink below me during take-off.

An unfamiliar twinge as I lift my hand to wave goodbye.

I feel excited to be continuing on to the next place—of course, that goes without saying, and, I suspect, will never change.

And yet… and yet…

I think I would call it nostalgia, this new feeling.

First it was Zanzibar, and now Sicily.

Maybe I’m growing sentimental in my old age. (Just kidding—my old age is a long, long way away!) Maybe I’m allowing the places (or these people… or these lives, discretely wrapped packages of time, space and possibility) I briefly inhabit to reach a little bit deeper than I used to—sending out just the finest roots beneath my skin.

Or maybe it’s an inevitable side-effect, which has simply run unrecognized along the sidelines up until now.

Wherever it comes from, this nostalgia weaves a duskier hue at the edges of my leave-takings. A slight reluctance (never stronger than the bolder urge to continue on, but there nonetheless). A bittersweet recognition that I may in fact miss this place (these people… this time… this particular configuration of life)—that I was happy here.

It’s the taste of the last sip of hot chocolate, and the color of the faded corner of a photograph. Savoring. It’s the feeling of lingering before standing up to leave a cafe… and it adds, I think, a lovely dimension to each journey onward—a depth, a balance to anticipation.

While this feeling—this nostalgia—is unfamiliar to me, I welcome it. I acknowledge it (for it undoubtedly deserves its place in the scheme of things), and then I leave it beside the photographs, memories and written pages—where it belongs.

So. Nolstalgia… welcome to the adventure!

Greetings from Stockholm, Sweden, where I am visiting my oldest friend for the week. My luggage is dwelling in Istanbul at the moment, but I will be sharing some amazing shots from Sicily as soon as it finds it’s way over here!
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I Might Really Miss This Place

A rainbow came out especially for my “picture-taking day.”

As I prepare to leave Zanzibar (Nungwi, more specifically; East Africa, more broadly), the place that has begun to feel like home, I find myself struck by surprising waves of nostalgia…

With one foot over the proverbial threshold, I observe this place with the forgiving nostalgia of things already past.

Mambo poa? Poa, vipi? Poa poa. Za asubui? Salaama, na wei wei? Mzuri sana. Mzima. Mzima.

The daily greetings—long and impossible to translate (in all honesty, I don’t know the meanings so much as the sense)—through which I finally navigate with ease after months in the region.

For Travellers: Next door to my home, Kipangani Villa.
The familiarity of Hafizi, the vegetable guy, Chef, the owner of “Chef’s Baking Shop,” and several other business owners and neighbors who, day by day, have slowly accepted my presence in their world—though I will never “fit in” here. To a few, I am not anonymous—more than a transient foreign face—and that means something.

Chef’s Baking Shop (and Restaurant).

Hafizi, the vegetable (and fruit) guy.

My hard-won comfort—with the basics of Ki-Swahili; with the daily trials of moving through an unfamiliar cultural and physical landscape; with all the tiny frustrations that sometimes build… and sometimes fade into irrelevance.

The neighborhood cow.

Road to my house.

The herds of cows on uneven dirt tracks, which I pass through on my borrowed bicycle with its one brake and working bell on my way to work; the brief but regular power outages and occasional mysterious absence of water in the taps; the proliferation of rambutan spiders, mangos and goats and the scarcity of apples, cheese pets and pavement; the trash cart hitched to a skinny cow, the call to prayer at sundown and the rocks that bite holes in my sandals.

Nungwi Village.

All of it—tiny details insignificant to some, inconveniences to others—to me, these minutiae are the source of my nostalgia. They are symbols, signifying that I am “there”: someplace far far older than I, but new to me. Not “here” in the familiar, alike, easy—“elsewhere,” and thriving in it.

Second-to-last sunset.

And then there are the sunsets over the ocean, the orange-gold breeze as I teach yoga, the palm trees and the beach; the sumptuous Arabic-style décor of restaurants that charge less than MacDonald’s for a feast, the silhouette of dhow sails on the horizon—the part from guidebooks and travel adverts is also here, though far more complicated than the brochures would have you believe.

Of course, a hundred moments of frustration, anger, discomfort, exasperation and rage punctuate that seeping, honeyed nostalgia, reminding me why I am leaving—why I am ready to go.

Nonetheless, I think I might really miss this place.
As I write this, I am sipping my last cappuccino at the Zanzibar Coffee House (my favorite place in Stone Town) and uploading the handful of pictures I managed to take in my last days on the island. I will go to the airport this evening and travel about 40 hours for a brief visit with my family in Vermont.

Next stop: Sicily.

I hover in the place of in-between’s as I figure out what is next—uncertainty looms as always in shades of vibrant expectation and somber apprehension. I am reminded, again, that home is a thing that fits in a cupboard in my mind… the trick is remembering where I left the keys.


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