Here I am again and while this week has been a bit Vago heavy, rest assured that from now on I will be confining my editorials to Wednesdays.
I’ve decided to call my weekly column “What am I doing here?”, the inspiration for this simple title comes from the French poet Jean Nicholas Arthur Rimbaud who famously wrote home from Ethiopia “What am I doing here?”
Even if the words had never been said or written famously by Rimbaud or others, they are still perfectly apt for an editorial travel column and specifically for one written by me since, in truth, not a week goes by that I don’t ask myself “What am I doing here?” whether I am in Morocco, Turkey, Hawaii, Paris or anywhere else on this planet.
Rimbaud himself was a libertine who traveled extensively and lived only 37 years before being taken by cancer. In that time, he had a profound impact on literature and while he isn’t specifically known as a traveler, certainly travel had an impact on his work that cannot be measured.
I like to think that Rimbaud was like me in many ways. He was a vehement anti-authoritarian – so much so that he probably did the very things that killed him and harmed him simply because they were forbidden. Absinthe binges, hashish bouts, fights, running away from home, crime, and even joining the Army to get free travel benefits. Yes, Arthur, me too.
Like Rimbaud, I feel that it was inevitable that I become a vagabond. My childhood traumas, teenage rebellions, and natural proclivities for that which is forbidden led me to eventually flush my future down the crapper whenever it began to look like it would be settled. And, like Rimbaud – my wandering eventually led me to Africa where both of us have spent more than a bit of time asking “What am I doing here?”
If all of that sounds ridiculous, consider that I left the dot com world of stock options and new millionaires every day in the Seattle of 1999 to move into a $100 Volkswagon van and learn how to enjoy being homeless. That life changing experiment yielded Rough Living: Tips and Tales of a Vagabond.
As for Rimbaud, at 17 he wrote the following in a letter…”I’m now making myself as scummy as I can. Why? I want to be a poet, and I’m working at turning myself into a seer. You won’t understand any of this, and I’m almost incapable of explaining it to you. The idea is to reach the unknown by the derangement of all the senses. It involves enormous suffering, but one must be strong and be a born poet. It’s really not my fault.”
By the way, I didn’t encounter Rimbaud until 2007, oddly enough. If I had, I might have avoided a lot of suffering since it seems he answered many of the questions I was seeking answers to. Of course, the answer that never comes is that eternal question “What am I doing here?”
Whether a question of practicality, being lost, sudden realization, purpose, or philosophical exploration, I’ve found that it’s a question that needs to be asked. I’ve asked it as a way to evaluate my careers, a way to evaluate my relationships, a way to evaluate my geographic location and a way to check up on my work.
Most recently, I find myself asking “What am I doing here?” in regards to Morocco. Morocco. A culturally rich country filled with wonders, kind people, fresh delicious foods and more. What am I doing here?
The truth is, I can’t stand living here. Morocco drives me insane. From the fact that in order to get a dental appointment you have to wake up very early, go to the dentist, take a number and then come back later when your number ‘should’ be up (and that’s the modern version) to living in a cinder block concrete house with no insulation that is sweltering in summer and freezing in winter. More specifically, what am I doing here in a medium sized town in the Middle Atlas mountains where there are no restaurants, no movie theater, no cultural attractions, no outdoor attractions, no writing groups, no university, no this, that or the other? What am I doing here?
Well, the answer, isn’t too difficult to suss out. Rimbaud died at 37 and instead of that, I fell in love and got married to a shepherd’s daughter in this medium sized Moroccan town. At 38, I got her to escape to Turkey with me but at 39 when she became pregnant, she (quite reasonably) wanted to be surrounded by family – and so at 40, I’m trying to convince my wife that we should take our daughter somewhere else. That’s what I’m doing here, geographically speaking.
The truth is that there are only three places that I’ve ever felt like I could call home. The Pacific Northwest of the USA, the Hawaiian Islands and Turkey. And that brings me to economically what I’m doing here. Trying to get together enough money to drag my wife and child to one of those places or possibly to someplace else – you know, because Sri Lanka, Japan and Peru all sound like they could be pretty good too.
I’m an inevitable vagabond and when I met my wife, I explained all of that to her, but I think she thought maybe it was just because I wasn’t married yet and didn’t have children yet. Nope, I was telling the truth. My dream is (and always has been) to drag my family around like that guy from Paul Theroux’s Mosquito Coast. I love that guy’s answer to the question of what is he doing there? “I’m in the hot, sweaty Amazon – I’m making ice! That’s what I’m doing here.”
So, I’m writing, building a travel company, furnishing an apartment I can’t wait to leave, looking for a piece of property, dreaming about a garden space and becoming impatient at the inability of Moroccan’s to use telephones to make appointments or stand in ques when they are waiting for taxis. I’m dreaming about buying a gallon of organic maple syrup so I can do a ten day master cleanse fast and dreading the overcooked cauliflower that my mother-in-law (and all Moroccan women from what I can tell) loves to cook.
I’m escaping from the garbage filled streets of our little Moroccan town to other towns that are slightly different but pretty much the same and avoiding my wife’s suggestions that I get a residence permit so that I have a completely valid excuse for leaving Morocco at least every three months so that I can drink whiskey, talk about books, look at scantily clad women (you know, not in djellabas or burkas) and pretend that I know how to solve the major problems of the world with the other bar stool philosophers (by the way, this is an impossibility in Morocco because one, there aren’t many bar stools and two, the guys on them are Muslims even if they are drunk and so when you talk about problems they just say ‘inshallah’ meaning, it’s the way God meant it to be).
What am I doing here? Obviously, I’m going crazy. I’ll look forward to telling you more about it next week.
4 January 2012