Posted on September 20, 2009
1. There are the similar physical humiliations— the diarrhea or leaking breasts, the forced doing of once unthinkable things, begging a bus driver to stop so you can relieving yourself in the weeds, baring your breast to nurse in a crowded subway train.
2. There’s the same dependence on a bible, The Lonely Planet, or Dr. Sears Baby Book or Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child, and the same frustration when the descriptions don’t match your reality.
3. There’s the discomfort and awkwardness of too much gear, the protrusion of a pack in a re-purposed school bus stuffed three-to-a-seat or of a stroller and bulging diaper bag in a shop aisle.
4. There is the feeling of all eyes on the potential disruption that is you, the lone white person in the village market, the sweating young mother with the baby who begins to cry in the quiet lobby.
5. But all eyes on you also in the other way, too. You’re a movie or rock star—the person with the eyes called beautiful and the blond arm hair others want to stroke, the madonna with the baby miracle, the newest bearer of the universe’s greatest gift.
6. You make the same thrown-together alliances, with the other backpacker getting off at dusk in the town, with the other mother looking to break silence in the park.
7. You have the same desire to do the right thing and the nagging fear that you’re probably doing it wrong—and that you’re being judged. What do you do with a fork in a Thai restaurant? What do you do when your baby’s only pacifier falls in the dirt?
8. You place a similar consequence on what you eat—the attempt to avoid ice or raw lettuce in Katmandu, to avoid dairy if you’re nursing. And there’s the same second-guessing: Was it the market-stall smoothie you gave in to that left you puking in the outdoor toilet at midnight? Was it the broccoli in that soup you ate that caused the horrific pre-dawn screams?
9. There’s the same urge to picture-take. You can’t believe how glorious the site, how far you’ve come. You can’t believe the perfection of the baby. If you capture it just right, will you always remember the ecstasy of this moment? Will others begin to understand that despite the dysentery, the battered body, the lack of freedom and privacy, of one’s own bed, the forbearance of mosquitoes and 4:00 AM feedings, you would never not be here? You would never have not made this trip.
10. And of course there’s the newness. Each stone and shadow and breeze is new, and particular. You sample the infinite variety, but you recognize the infinite connectedness, too. We all were born. So many have given birth. So many have tended babies, protected them from the world, showed it to them, smiled at them to elicit their smiles. It’s the humble and arrogant search of so many journeys: the world revealed, a mystery peered into. You are powerful and powerless, and everything seems both small and huge.
I’m sure there’s more.