Travel, they say, broadens the mind. It also focuses it.
My current leg on foreign assignment is taking me through nine countries. Each, naturally, is diverse and unique. So far from what is familiar to me, I look for what I recognise. Traces and places of something I know. The common strand through this section of what was once termed the New World, is that of migration. Of journeying, whether by choice, coercion or necessity. Of finding pastures new, or a refuge, or a place to build a future. Everywhere, people on the move, historically, contemporary, singularly or as part of a mass movement which redefines the host and the guest.
Individuals who represent great cultures swept through here. Columbus is everywhere. Gesturing, pointing, settling and unsettling. As quickly as one representative of a distant Spanish monarch appears, a whole community of Mayans disappears, their oral evidence diluted and forgotten.
I take my identity with me on this journey, but bit-by-bit, I shed it. The colonisation of countries, which has led to the ethnic mash up on small Caribbean islands. Vast swathes of Canada redefined by white European settlers, many of them who were driven from their land in Scotland. First Nation becoming one nation, but only slowly as the yoke of history is loosened and an understanding gained of the past. I find it hard to identify with where I am beyond a commonality with people, bonds of new friendships. But in these small steps, I also lose my old skin.
In the church in Bermuda. On the wall of a bar in Jamaica. In the street name in Vancouver. In the business in Belize. Familiar and yet foreign, a tiny drip of memory, like liquid, squeezed from the past, drying and dying, yet nurturing new life. Facing forward. Yet mindful of the past.
Traders, exploiters, immigrants, slaves, soldiers, tourists. They have all been here. Now it’s my turn. When my footprints have faded and the photographs forgotten, the timeless energy of humanity will continue. Change. Contradiction. Challenge. It’s always faced us and always will.
A final splash in warm water. A chance to forget the past. For the communities around me it’s a constant process of new dawn, fresh beginnings. For me, I’ll just go on my way.