You no longer have to assemble your sandwhich on the back of a motorbike, or check for flies in the milk. And so at 4:30, when the organized people, in the organized houses, upon their clean streets sleep, you grab handfuls of foods that were once in your dreams. The cereal The chicken, The candy. You taste the sweetness. You taste home.
It’s 4:30 AM, and you are stuffing your face with fresh mozzarella cheese . You ate cheese on your layover in Paris, on Rue de Vernueil, savoring Bleu des Causses and Brie, the Bordeaux flowing like a faucet tap down your throat. You observed confused Americans commit to making their once in a lifetime France trip so unforgettable that they will overlook this quaint cheese shop and walk ten blocks to the one listed in Frommers.
The 4:30 AM Cheese binge is not luxurious, but duly satisfying. You eat it because you can, because it is right there. You missed it. You dont have to walk ten blocks to your favorite Pad Thai stall (though you admit, it is the best in Bangkok) or ponder an entire menu just for a waiter to tell you they only have Dosa. 4:30 Am Cheese is quiet. It is the symbol of having options.
You indulge in the ease of access. A simple refrigerator door that leads to a cornucopia of snacks you lamented upon for months. The cold-cuts stare back from their shelf. The olives. The thick loaves of whole grain bread. Little delicacies that were once so expensive, the days you had them became a special treat, edible memories swallowed by the countless days away from a familiar place.
Got Cheese: Soofia Asad Photography
You no longer have to assemble your sandwich on the back of a motorbike, or check for flies in the milk. And so at 4:30, when the organized people, in the organized houses, upon their clean streets sleep, you grab handfuls of foods that were once in your dreams. The Cereals, the chicken, the candy. You indulge in the sweetness. You taste home.
If some of the people you met along your travels saw your fridge, they would drop in praise thinking it is the promised land. How could so much food could feed only five people, and always stay replenished. How could one trip to the bountiful harvest of a “super-store” produce so much nourishment, and how can this exist when so many fields are barren in another part of the world.
Perhaps, it is only the illusion of nourishment. After eating chicken, you taste the difference. The hormones and the synthetic chemicals. The chicken you used to eat on the street would be called “free range” here. People would pay twice the price for it. And though you joked that you were eating mystery meat from that food stall on Soi 38, or that chicken 65 shop in Kerala, you know that that is indeed, what chicken should taste like.
How did you get here? Stuffing cinnamon toast crunch in your face the way wealthy students grab fistfuls of hash in South India . How are you ready to run a 5k this early? The ease of this place is confusing. In your old life, you’d be having dinner right now at some new shiny restaraunt, because its cheaper to eat out than cook. Here, restaraunts are a luxury and must be a planned and coordinated affair.
Jet lagged fridge raids.
The people here will say, “Our way is better. They will chide that “Our lifestyle is the best,” and they will be sure to remind you that you come from the third-world. They cannot possibly imagine the luxury and the lavishness of the lifestyle that is possible in your experience.
It’s quiet now. The pulse of a sweaty polluted tropical city is replaced by chirping of birds. Of an ocean crashing only a few yards away. You can finally hear your own thoughts. You craved this peace for so long, and now you are unsettled by it. How the organization of this world might make you complacent. Or, how the organization will propel you to even better things. The sun rises of lavender and lilac, colors of the tropical flowers you once stopped to smell in awe and wonder.
You are neither here nor there. Free from travel purgatory, you look at tickets for future trips, take a deep breath and decide that you will take your knowledge and make something of it, in this strange world of organization. In this simplicity. The other world has left you with abrasions. You will always know chaos. You will always know how to negotiate drives and transactions that are simply not logical. You will know real fear. That “other world” has taught you strength and capacity, and your own depth.
The cheese starts feeling gluttonous in taste. You put down the spreading knife, eyeing the spices you brought back from India. You take them out of their canister, savoring the aroma of the spice market. You place them in the boiling water the way your Aunty showed you, and wait till the milk bubbles just the right way. Let the tea simmer in the hot water, the same way you once simmered in a new culture. You sprinkle some garam masala in it and take your cup of tea outside. This Masala chai, is also a taste of home for you. You will now long for it, and romance the luxury of this exotic drink. The authenticity only to be found over great conversation in Cochin and Udupi. Each sip makes you teary and smile.
You feel full of cheese. The small minced pork and rice you are used to never felt like a brick in your stomach, but it never left you satisfied, either.
You set your tea down and wonder what is next.
Looking out to the ocean, out “there”—wherever “there” is for you. You ask for guidance from the travel gods once again. Raising your arms to the sky, in hope they have the wisdom and kindness to help you arrive– wherever you need to be.
NJ is a lecturer, reporter, and human rights activist. She is curious about the human condition, human rights ethics, and the ways we contextualize our experiences abroad. She serves as the Editor of Shatter the Looking Glass Magazine.