Now that was a year to write home about. In fact, I did a lot of writing home. I sent emails from Seoul in the winter; greetings from Florida in the spring; postcards from Virginia Beach and Steamboat Springs in the summer; blogs posts from Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Oman in the fall.
I made some major and minor discoveries in the places I visited — also in spots about which I could only reminisce — and decided to jot these observations down before the calendar turns to 2015. Here’s what I know now that I didn’t know as of 6 p.m. on Dec. 31, 2014.
Number one (hana in Korean): Going back to Seoul was good for my soul. The horrific events of 1988 — murder of a friend and terrible Olympic turmoil — in South Korea haunted me for 26 years. But revisiting the city and the DMZ taught me that the decades of suffering on the Korean Peninsula is the real story. An endless story thanks to a ceasefire and the most hostile border in the world. Because of my 2014 trip, I was able to put my story in its place. Truth is that WE ARE ALL DIVIDED BY ONE THING OR ANOTHER. I guess that’s why I have the coordinates of the DMZ tattooed on my ankle. I guess that is how I came to love South Korea and to let Carolyn Joyce Abel go.
Number two (mbili in Swahili): Nope, I didn’t get back to Kenya in 2014, except in my head. I have fond memories of the country, especially of my father’s visit in 1987. My dad died in 2012, but images of him, especially in Kenya, linger. I probably won’t ever see Kenya again, and even if I did, I wouldn’t recognize the place. What I do recognize, however, is how much my dad defined me and how much an East African country shaped me. These days, I speak to my dad in my dreams — plus I can still speak Swahili very well, as a Kenyan woman I met in Dubai recently told me. The GREAT RIFT VALLEY since my father’s death is finally healing.
Number three (thalaatha in Arabic): I am not between homes, nor am I looking for a place called home. Rather, I am at home in the world. And the place that I have felt most at home — even more so than Kenya, Korea, Singapore, London, Louisiana, or even the Philippines where I was born — is, inexplicably and unexpectedly, the United Arab Emirates. Prior to arriving, I never ever had any interest in Arab culture or places. I once had a Turkish boyfriend in Tanzania, but neither could hold a candle to the people and country of Abu Dhabi. I was perplexed by my comfort and joy in the region until it hit me that I am living with the Bedouin, who are at home anywhere. I have found myself…smack dab in the Middle of East and West. In between, but no longer SPLIT.
Happy new year, wherever you are. May landscape shape your identity.