I remember my first Songthaew ride into the city. I anxiously walked up to the bus stop at the top of the road. Apparently, you just wave them down from the highway and they will stop. Sure. Sounds normal. Sure enough, a white truck with the bed made into rows of benches and a cover on top pulled to a hault when the driver spotted us. Even with my coworker, Mo, by my side, I was a nervous wreck. How would I know when to get off? Would I even know how? Once I was off, where would I go? So many questions running through my brain. And I would be lying if I said that my second…okay, and third time, were any different. That same day, I had to take another ride back to the resort. You can imagine the draining I managed to do on my battery as we made our way down the highway. Nothing looked familiar, and I wasn’t taking my eyes off that little blue dot for the entire ride. As I watched as we quickly approached the pin drop a coworker had sent me with our site location, I dreaded what I had to do next. With sweaty palms, I nervously pressed the bell to alert the driver to stop. Boom. I did it. I had made it back, but not without suffering a few mild panic attacks in the process.
During a conversation with my mom a few weeks ago, I told her I was home sick, to which she replied, “home is where the heart is”. A saying I have heard my entire life, but never fully grasped until recently. I have struggled with feeling “at home” for so many years, yet recently find myself feeling at home everywhere I choose to stay awhile. In January, I moved to Key West. I had no job, no plan, and just a couch to sleep on. I knew only my aunt and uncle, which I know is more than most when moving to a new city. Within weeks, and with a lot of help from my aunt, I had a job, a routine, and I actually started to make friends along the way. Don’t get me wrong, it was a rocky start of feeling out of place and missing those back in Colorado, but once I started to appreciate all that this new “home” had to offer, I ended up falling madly in love with every inch of that island. In the process, I learned more about myself than I could have ever dreamt of. For one, I realized that this Colorado raised mountain girl who spent winters skiing and summers hiking, actually was meant to be on the water. It was as if this hole in my heart I never knew existed was filled by somewhere I never would have imagined. This must be how everyone back home who would rave over the snow capped peaks must feel, I thought to myself. I never thought I would feel more at peace and at home anywhere else; that is until I moved to Thailand.
I cried for days as my upcoming departure from the island I called home grew near. I dreaded saying goodbye to the friends that had truly become my family, and my family that had quickly become two of the most important people in the World to me. How would I ever feel this way anywhere else? After traveling to two more states to say my goodbyes to my other friends and family, I was Thailand bound, once again with the unsure feeling of what came next. I surely wouldn’t feel as at home and comfortable in this foreign land. Like clockwork, I struggled through a few weeks of a rocky start as I gained my bearings. Even though I was starting to get into the swing of things, it still wasn’t my sunny island filled with my favorite people. Then again, I moved from paradise to the jungle, what more could I expect to feel? I used my previously learned mind exercises to train myself to jump into this new lifestyle. With that, I found myself making my own new home in this unfamiliar place. And as the weeks turned into months, I realized that this once unfamiliar place felt more like home than I ever thought possible. After spending days looking for lost dogs, it forced us out into the village. I knew every street and alley way like the back of my hand. I knew that if you turned left behind the house on the end of the main road, it led you to a dirt road through the rice fields that would bring us home. I knew where we could find Jan, the sweet lady that dedicated weeks of her time to help us find our dogs; she would be at the shop in the middle of Sai Mun Village. Between our daily searching and helping some of the most in need village dogs in the process, people began to know us by name. Well, they new Ryan by name, and I was just the blonde vet nurse that was always tagging along. I had been to a party with the local villagers, accepted food and drinks in return of helping wounded dogs, and sat in tiny shops with neighbors who spoke no English whatsoever. I slowly learned enough Thai to get by, just by being fully submerged in the daily culture…and maybe with the help of a seasoned Westerner. I made a home in sometimes the most uncomfortable and unfamiliar situations, and that’s what made it so special.
I find myself today, riding in the back of a very similar Songthaew as I rode in a few months back. The difference now, is that I am able to fully enjoy my ride into the city. I confidently wave down my driver as I pop in the back, not even caring that Im squeezed tightly in between six other people who are all staring at me, the overly smiley foreigner. With my headphones in, I watch out the window across from me as we slowly make our way down the highway. What may have looked like bare rundown store fronts before, are now a mere barrier for what I know holds a town of friendly faces and beautiful dirt roads leading to houses upon houses of mid day napping Thai people and tail wagging dogs that I know by name. On my ride now, I find myself getting lost in the moment, almost enough to join the others on my bench that have used the down time to take a snooze. I no longer need my google maps to show me my destination, as I now know where to get off and head straight to one of my favorite vegan restaurants.
It’s a weird thing, finding your home. I always thought it had to be one place. Something you buy and fill with fake love and material things. I thought I had to choose one dot on the map and plant my roots (not that this lifestyle isn’t for many, just not me). Little did I know that home truly is wherever the heart is. It’s wherever you find yourself loving your life just as it is, and being comfortable in the unknown of that possibly changing in just a few short weeks. Home is where your family is, whether they be the ones you were born with, or the ones you met along your journey. Breath in your moments where you find your home, where you find your family, because you never know when a new home is around the corner. From boat rides over crystal blue gulf waters, to motorbike cruises through muggy rice fields, I am now sure I am able to find a home wherever my feet take me.
Home is where the heart is, but it’s also where you make it.