“…we belong nowhere yet equally everywhere…”
Many authors of the post-colonial focalise on an ideology named diaspora. One of these is the iconic figure, author and critic Salman Rushdie who describes this somewhat un-self explanatory term in an expectedly eloquent way:
“Our identity is at once plural and partial. Sometimes we feel we straddle two cultures and at other times that we fall between two stools. But however ambiguous and shifting this ground may be, it is not an infertile territory.” (Imaginary Homelands, 1991)
To put this into context, and to simplify what I’m trying to get at here, moving from one culture to another can leave us no longer as strongly connected with our mother-land nor fully integrated into our new society. In literature this is most commonly experienced with easternly cultured people migrating to the West, rejecting their own culture yet never fully being able to adopt their desired western culture. The debate on why the East is depicted as coveting a western ideal, and indeed ironically to that the western capitalisation of the eastern ‘exotic’, is a whole different story. Two novels that compliment these debates are Mohsin Hamid’s The Reluctant Fundamentalist and Hanif Kureishi’s The Buddha of Suburbia. Without sidetracking too much, I’ve realised that that backpackers will also, to some extent, experience some form of diaspora. Yes, we all have a home – of course we do – but where do we actually belong?
You see, and I’m sure many can relate to this, when you’ve travelled to many enlightening countries, and met many amazing, weird and wonderful people, going back to the daily grind in your home-town is just not an option. This is not to say that our friends and family don’t cut it, I’m talking about the way of life. So we also experience a sense of having both an identity from our culture and where we come from, yet also a conglomeration of adopted cultures, experience and self growth. Instead of being stuck between two opposing cultures like much of this style of literature suggests, we are an accumulation of cultures, expressions and spiritual paths in an abyss of individuals simultaneously linked and solitary. It’s a sweet abyss at that, if my opinion counts for anything at least. I’ve travelled to a fair few corners of the world since the age of fifteen; sleeping in the African bush, trekking through the Sahara, sharing scientific research in Japan, planning trips across Asia and Australia, not to mention my travels around Europe. I can honestly say that I’m always thinking on for the next adventure. I have wilfully allowed myself to be sucked into this abyss that some may call ‘the travel bug’. I call it a way of life; an eye opening, fresh breath of air it always is.
One thing is for sure, however, that I now find it impossible to envisage myself settled into a ‘normal’ job, a house that is really mine, bought with my real money, earned by a job I go to every day, and actually be happy with it. Now this is not to say that what I am writing is in any way supposed to appear morose. Certainly Rushdie does not think so. He suggests that this feeling of diaspora is “not an infertile territory”. To which I most agree. Finding yourself in this situation is empowering. The realisation that you can go anywhere, do anything and not have any ties to stop you is something that not everyone is lucky enough to have. (Of course there are people who simply do not wish to live like this, whom I do not criticise in saying this.) It’s like reaching the end of the reef and, withought even thinking about it, paddling on through. It’s not about having the balls to do it, it’s about being somebody with the mindset to just go and do it… this is not a plug for Nike …js
Backpacking creates this net underneath you where no matter what happens to you (aside from hospitalisation obviously) you’ll always find a way and you’ll always make it work; individual yet never alone. You may find yourself stripped of what you think is your everything, I know I have been, yet you’ll always find peace in travelling, it will always lend itself to picking you back up again: effortlessly.
So within this diaspora, we belong nowhere yet equally everywhere.