I’m in a state of pure, simple satisfaction. In fact I’m not sure I’ve ever felt so content, relaxed, or at peace with the world. It’s not just because I’m on a year-long vacation enjoying the European summer. It’s because for the first time in years I feel at home, and it’s not a sensation I’m used to.
My parents have moved as many times as me, so we don’t have a family home in Australia with familiar bedrooms, bathroom or a kitchen where I know where the utensils live. The house where I grew up in Melbourne, with its black carpet and sandpit, is long gone, so the next closest thing is my aunt’s house in Emmeloord, Holland, where my earliest memories still exist.
The first time I visited my Dutch relatives in Holland was in 1988, thirty years ago when I was five. I spent nine weeks with my aunts and uncles, and returned every four years in ‘92, ’96, 2000 and beyond, to the same house I’m sitting in now.
My aunt’s house has barely changed. The steep, winding staircase I used to run up using my hands and feet is still here. The bathroom overlooking the garden that smells of sandalwood and fresh towels smells the same. The single bed I slept in as a five-year-old still fits me, and the old toys that sat on the wicker chair beside the bed are somewhere in the cupboard.
Of course it’s not just the house that feels homely, it’s the people that fill the space. I’ve spent the last five days eating, shopping, reading, watching television and playing board games at night with my mother, aunt and uncle. The four of us break into spontaneous dance in the lounge room, fall into uncontrollable belly laughter when something Dutch is translated into absurd English, and we shriek at our 80’s clothing and 90’s haircuts as we flip through old photo albums my aunt keeps.
It’s been a magical reunion, and although I’m doing nothing to advance myself financially or academically, I’m convinced I’m doing the right thing. I’m reminding myself of the importance of family, maintaining and nourishing important relationships, learning to understand differing opinions and cultures, and improving my rusty Dutch. Clearly I’m very busy!
Out of all the experiences I’ve had since coming to Europe four weeks ago, the purest moments of connection with my friends and family have been the best. I did nothing in Germany or Italy except spend time with my friends Kelly, Nael and Carissa and her family. But it’s the simple moments, sipping coffee on the couch or balcony, enraptured in conversation, that are the most satisfying.
Next week I’m heading south with my mum and aunt on an eighteen-day road trip through France to Spain. We’re ending up at the hostel along the Camino de Santiago I volunteered at four years ago, one of the most special places in the world for me.
It was whilst sweeping floors, collecting water, making beds, preparing food, cleaning toilets and washing dishes I learned true happiness comes from selflessness, contribution, connection and community. It was the first time I stopped thinking about my own self interests and put the needs of others in front of my own. It’s amazing how much time and energy you have when you take yourself out of the equation.
I relinquished my need to control the environment around me and surrendered to going with the flow. I wrote about this almost exactly four years ago in my post aptly titled: Go with the flow.
The hostel in Güemes has become one of my many homes, and the people in it feel like family. I’m looking forward to reuniting with them, and bringing my Australian, Dutch and Spanish families together for the first time!