You see, though we travel together, we travel alone, – Madeleine L’Engle, A Wrinkle in Time
Wake me up when September ends – Green Day
I took that photo of my daughter this summer in Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport. Schiphol is Dutch for Ship’s Hole. Once upon a time, it was The North Sea where the airplanes land. The land was reclaimed from where many ships used to sink into oblivion. I was reading a book called Why the Dutch are Different just before I took the shot of my little one. A man started chatting to me.
“I can beat that,” he said
“I’ve travelled to more countries than you,”
I blinked back at him and the conversation was naturally finished. There is a novel by NoViolet Bulawayo called We Need New Names. At times I feel that third culture individuals need new words. Though I had to travel to new countries where I was to live during my childhood, I was in no way travelling in his meaning of gap year fun or voyaging bucket list.
It’s still September and it’s an important month to me. It is the month when school begins. It is the month I celebrate my daughter’s birthday. She was born early in the morning on September 11.
“Do you remember where you were?” the midwife had asked me
I knew exactly what she meant and I migrated back to the end of university when I was 22 years of age. I had sat shaking on the sofa, staring at the television screen.
“I was in London,”
“You will return there?”
“I will return to England, ”
It was with a chill in my heart the moment I first looked out of my living room window in Holland and saw these house numbers.
I have always remembered that the FBI found the supplication for travel from the Koran in the terrorist’s abandoned suitcases.
There was once a September out of reach and untenable. A vivid journey for me was when I had just graduated from the 6th grade. I was to relocate from the United States to Turkey. I had no concept of Turkey but my best friend in Virginia filled in some gaps for me. She called it Gobble Gobble Land and the day I left we reenacted being pilgrims in a New World. We hitched up her King Charles spaniel to a wagon with some pillows and canned food and away we went up the suburban street. We tumbled onto a neighour’s lawn.
“We’re in Gobble Gobble Land where all our dreams come true,” she cried
She was trying to understand it too. I often thought of her who stayed. She ran after the car as I left and I unbuckled my seat beat and waved to her until she was gone or I was. That releasing of the safety belt was a big deal to me at the time. I took very seriously the signs all over the state; Buckle Up Virginia, It’s The Law! The book I had in my backpack was A Wrinkle in Time. All my favorite children’s books are about travel; Homecoming by Cynthia Voigt, The Black Stallion by Walter Farley and The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S Lewis. Makes sense to me today that those treasured tales still on my bookcase are about dark planets, finding a safe harbour, a shipwreck and most poignant, tumbling from that wardrobe totally bewildered. Crucially, all of them end with coming home. The children’s souls are allowed time to grow in sanctuary.
My daughter and I travelled a good deal this summer. Our favourite passage was to Cornwall where I met old friends and my smiling and welcoming older sister and niece.
“It would be quicker to get to Shanghai,” I joked
All in all it had taken 13 hours to get to where we were. We had walked to the tram, took it to Laan Van NOI and changed for Schiphol. Then a plane from Amsterdam to London Stansted. 45 minutes on a train to Liverpool Street. Then the Underground to Paddington where my daughter just stopped in her tracks after the Tube barriers snapped at her like some monster.
“No Mummy!” she protested
I dropped our bags and held her tight as the indifferent crowd thronged amongst us.
“I’m sorry,” I told her
I had forgotten just what the great metropolis was like for someone like her. At Paddington station we could relax before taking the 5 hour train to Redruth. We wound along Victorian train tracks which for this reason are so hard to renovate. There is also some battle to do with nationalisation and privatisation. It was a topic of conversation with other guests at the Cornwall house.
“I know it takes forever to get here,” one woman said “But that’s just how I like it. Why should it be easy? It’s for that reason that Cornwall is still Cornwall,”
“Fair enough,” I responded
This month is drawing to a close. On our journey by bike to school, my daughter noticed a car dealer.
“Mummy, is that for buying cars?”
“That’s right. It’s like a supermarket but only for cars,”
“But we don’t have one?”
“There’s no need. Here in Holland we can walk, use bikes, trams, trains and buses,”
“But in Venezuela there are only cars,”
I was very struck by her observation and remembered an interesting tweet I’d seen relating public transportation with how progressive a country is. Indeed, some hard memories for me when I was a girl were always to do with how stuck I was when there was poor public transport.
September is the month when travelling stops. September is now the month I think about travel, for want of a better word.