I’ve been back in Auckland for two weeks, and each day rolls onto the next in a warm, languid haze. Every morning I wake up to the tuis that sing outside my window, and then walk down the same suburban streets as I did as a girl. The roads are smooth and spotless. On Wednesdays, bright recycling bins line up on vibrant green lawns, eager to be emptied. All kinds of people walk their dogs and jog in Nikes in the evenings. The air is still and soft, and sometimes salty, depending on how close you are to a beach. Everything is clean. Everything is so orderly.
The realization of just how isolated New Zealand is set in as soon as my plane hit the tarmac. The trip home took two full days, and as we slid to a stop, I knew that a trip out would take just as long. Flying back had been a proper journey; like going back in time to a prehistoric land. We truly are three little islands, bobbing at the bottom of the vast Pacific. All the intricacies of our culture and our way of life is self-contained and sustained. We have funny slang and funny accents, circulating in a little world that is just ours.
Overseas, I am left to myself, and I am driven. Stomping along downtown Toronto or running through Mexico City, an energy burns through my blood and I am alive. In Kathmandu, I am jostled and bumped down every half-made street, forced beyond every comfort. I grow.
There is nothing to lose, and I take risks. I reach out to people. I am at my most daring, personally and professionally.
Sitting in the quiet still of the suburbs, my passion feels as far away as places do. Maybe it didn’t manage to fly back with me, and I try to shut down the creeping thought that maybe it can only be found beyond this land. I desperately try to bring it back by thinking up issues I want to document and people living in places I want to capture—Kenya, Iceland, even back in Nepal. In the day, I make small talk to supermarket cashiers, hairdressers, retail girls and the boys who run the gym, but when evenings come, I furiously imagine photo campaigns and big visions with big companies into messily scribbled lists.
But underneath the longing, I know I should be present. I feel guilty for the lack of gratitude on coming home to one of the most beautiful countries in the world. It is against all the mindfulness and fundamental values I try to embody. Slowly, I begin dipping my toes into my previous life by visiting the ocean I grew up in, my great friend. The waves here can be wild and unpredictable, but they are welcoming. I make drives down familiar roads and take in familiar smells. I sink into the rhythm of my friendships, which have not changed since I left. What a gift that truly is.
One morning in a cafe, a young waitress stops at my table and points to my camera. “I have the same one,” she says. “What do you capture?”
I tell her, hesitantly, about where I’ve been. Sometimes it is hard to describe what I do succinctly, especially to people who live differently. But she is amazed, and eventually I show her my photos. She looks at them with a light in her eyes and talks about them with enthusiasm. I feel the energy explode back inside of me, the one that had eluded me since returning.
The streets of of this city are pregnant with every single moment of my childhood. Walking them feels like retracing steps I have already taken: as a laughing girl, a confused teen, an angsty young adult. There are moments where I slip into being every version of myself I’ve ever been. Coming home means re-walking them all, and I won’t hide from doing that any more.