Magazine article New Internationalist

Between Home and Horizon: Some People Can't Imagine Leaving Their Own Neighbourhood While Others Can't Wait for Their Next Trip to Bermuda or Bombay. Oakland Ross Reflects on the Meaning of Travel

Magazine article New Internationalist

Between Home and Horizon: Some People Can't Imagine Leaving Their Own Neighbourhood While Others Can't Wait for Their Next Trip to Bermuda or Bombay. Oakland Ross Reflects on the Meaning of Travel

Article excerpt

DURING the 1980s I was a foreign correspondent for the Toronto Globe and Mail, first in Latin America and later in Africa. In both cases I was a regional correspondent covering not just one country but a continent or more. Especially in Latin America I was forever on the move, rarely in one country for more than two weeks at a time. I sometimes went five months or longer without seeing the place I called home-a one-bedroom apartment on Rio Nilo in Mexico City.

There was little that was predictable about my life then. I had to write and file my stories, but the circumstances in which I did so were always changing. When I look back, I find it extremely difficult to remember in what part of the year any particular event took place. The normal systems of reference that we use to fix a memory in time-the cycle of the seasons or of the school year-didn't apply.

To a remarkable degree my life didn't go around and around. It went on and on. I suppose you could say it was an open, one-way ticket rather than a succession of round-trip fares. And in some ways I was happier than I've ever been, before or since. That isn't to say I'm unhappy with the way my life is now-a small house with a mansard roof, mortgage payments, frequent tennis games, lots of familiar friends, a dishwasher. Still, I rarely get through a day without a pang of longing for the pure and undistracted energy of those vagabond years.

I remember the trajectory of my emotions each time I set out from Mexico City not knowing how long I'd be away or how many countries I'd get to, or whether this journey-ostensibly to Nicaragua, say-would eventually take me all the way to Tierra del Fuego. I'd be filled with excitement at getting away. And then, just as I was closing the door to my apartment, I'd feel a stab of regret. I'd think of the friends, the diurnal rituals I was leaving behind and for a while I would be downright blue. This feeling would last for the drive to the airport and even dog me into the terminal.

But by the time my plane had lifted off from the tarmac I'd be feeling the first rustles of a transformation I experienced whenever I set out on another journey. I felt myself thrilling to an almost effortless pleasure-the joy of perpetual motion. In those days motion meant work. The two ideas were just about interchangeable. While I was on the road I did little else but work-days without end-because there was little else. I was a reporter. Work meant tracking down stories. Everything I did, everyone I spoke to, everywhere I went-it was all part of my job. I never had to force myself to work or to work harder. I couldn't seem to stop.

I spent very little time on personal or social maintenance. There seemed to be no need. I had no community responsibilities, because I was travelling on my own. All my friends were directly related to my work-either other journalists with whom I could exchange impressions or else local residents who could tell me about their countries. I lived in hotels. I dined in restaurants. I left my laundry in a plastic bag in the hall outside my door. I led a life that was distilled into two almost pure and unadulterated elements-travel and work. And they seemed to merge.

I was rarely unhappy, at least not on my own account. Most people become unhappy because they are dissatisfied with the way things are in the places where they find themselves. …

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