How I started ‘The Village Report’

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AFTER THE STORY ENDS you think you have a way to talk about what happened. The good stuff, the road, the sharing, the journey. You try to do this in a way that’s cohesive and consistent. You put things into 750-word columns for someone somewhere on the other side of the world, whom you hope will enjoy it. You want to know if someone is reading, and engaging, and every so often you will get a tiny note that says something like, ‘I clip your essay every month,’ and it makes you think, Keep going.

I’ve always written, but not always for myself and a handful of others like those who find Kismuth and me and what I’m sharing, and who read the stories I publish through this site. All of this started in 2012. With the launch of The Elopement, a true story of leaping from America to Ireland, with a soon-to-be partner, perhaps for life. Now, with The Village Report, read the rest of that story. How a couple together broke free of yet other mores, abandoning a way of life for the ‘practice of the unknown, uncertain, and different.’ With a kid.

THE VILLAGE REPORT: BREAKFAST IN CAMBODIA is the new name for the book I’d promised to share with you when I set out on this long, long trip. I remember talking to RF at the Y when this whole thing got formulated, in a tepid way. She said, ‘Shree* said y’all are going traveling around the world.’

At the time, Shree was just four, so he didn’t know that you don’t just blurt out stuff like that. Makes it seem like you have some kind of cheek, bucking the status quo and tapping some unknown quantity of hidden funds from somewhere. It doesn’t seem fair. Taking a trip around the world for a year, or more. Coming back, perhaps. Storing stuff in friends’ attics, basements, extra houses. Even your parents’ place, even if that’s a little awkward, given that you are leaving because you’re not sure what they think about your philosophy and your ideals about Life and Purpose and Meaning and most especially Parenting, and you agree to disagree (but not really) and you Go Away. You make a big deal about it. You are stubborn and boxy. You kick up a yard sale, leave stuff on the yard on Gregson Street in Durham, NC, with a note saying, ‘Take stuff. Leave some money in the mailbox,’ and you are mesmerized that people actually do leave money in the mailbox, and then you take the last of it, which is way more than you wanted it to be, and you pack it up in the old room that is the new room in the house that your parents have. You’ll come back and get it. You will. You solemnly swear.

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THREE YEARS LATER you call your mother for the first time since you left. You have come to some realizations, you say. You don’t want this to be hard. You know it’s hard as hell. You still do it. You email. You say, ‘I’m ready to talk to you, if you’re on for it.’ You wonder how it got this way, how you got to be way far away from the land and people you used to know, and yet, and yet, you are still connected. In the ambient, internet-y way, you only have to do one thing. Email. She says cool. You call. You have had some thoughts. You aren’t sure where all the thoughts are going to land. You erase many of them, mid-conversation. You write, you delete. It’s like the creative process, all over again. Just like every fork in the road: that time at the border in Nepal, where you were freaked, or the one when you had to face the people you didn’t want to face on account of fear and diffidence and pride and stubbornness and, mostly, yeah, fear. You do this. You go. You go on the road for a year, maybe more, with no plan, no agenda, and no source of income. Fling of the die? Throwing yourself into the ‘net’ that is supposed to appear? Trusting the process. Diving into uncertainty. Calling 2013 the ‘Year of Enchantment,’ like dressing it up makes going vulnerable somehow okay (it does, actually, help in some way), and 2014 the one of caring and the next one the year of the mountain and then, finally, it takes this one to get to the point where you realize it’s time to call home, the 2016 year comes, and it’s, (Jung’s Great Unconscious, plugging into your personal one, that’s what did it, yeah? had to be): it’s, yeah. ‘The Year of the Relationship.’

FLASH BACK TO 2013. IT IS APRIL IN DURHAM. The flowers are going to bloom. I’d said to Shree*, when the flowers come out, then we go. We will. I promise we will. I have no idea where, or how, but we’re going to go.

Does he know how lucky he is? Someone from The Road would ask, way later. By that point I’d gotten into a groove. I’d grown cooler, more collected. This practicing uncertainty thing wasn’t so bad. Not yet. Not really. I’m a picture of repose when this young person asks it. ‘No,’ I say. ‘He’s just a kid.’But before. Before the whole moving over to Asia, before the airplane changes at Narita for the longest last leg of my life and trains and buses and too many suitcases, I’d had to face the others. The people. The old villagers. In Durham, NC, where I’d thought I’d had a bit of a home (but now am sure I didn’t). And answer the hard questions, the ones behind R’s, when she’d asked it. ‘Are you really going traveling with your kid? For a year? But how will you… how will you live? Are you going? Is that true?’ People were asking. They wanted to know. It was getting a little uncomfortable. It was getting hard.

Back then: Ohhhh, man. How do I explain this in a way that makes it okay?

Now: YES. I am. We are. It’s absolutely, definitely true. And I trust that it will work, because it has worked. And that is experience. What was that thing Einstein said, about personal experience being more important than knowledge? And what about the other stuff, Jung’s stuff, about finding your ‘tribe’ in the people you meet and feel a kinship to that’s outside of geographic, dogmatic bounds, but an ‘usness,’ a sense of that, which is of a variety uniquely its own?

In this frame of mind, from this opposite side of the world and having emerged from a long period of wondering what it was all about and now having written The Village Report to share the conclusions, some of which those reading along in the Kismuth newsletters will have seen me meandering towards and then veering away from and wondering about, later, or assigning less and less importance to the ‘figuring out’ of which, I’m relaxed. I’m also older. Sure. That helps. And so is Shree. That means it’s not so weird anymore. Expat kids are everywhere, here. Life moves. It happens. People find us. We work for them, from time to time. We invent new ways to keep ourselves alive, fed, happy, safe, together, sound, warm, cherishing, engaged, and most of all inspired, when we interact wholeheartedly with The Village. I can tell you more about it another time. Or you can read it in the book. Or we can meet for a cup of tea one day, if I’m in your neighborhood, and talk about it. Maybe a book tour will happen, in living rooms around the world. I’d never, ever send The Village Report to a traditional publishing house—that would ruin it. I don’t need someone to put it on a poster, to ‘market’ it for me, in order to know it’s good. I’m only sharing it through the Kismuth page. This one. And that’s it. Because if just three of you get it, then you’re the three that it’s for.

HUMANITY. The idea is that we are human, we are connected and connecting, are engaged and engaging. We see each other when we notice our differences as much as our similarities… we are human. We are all just part of it. The big thing. The village. And this book? It’s written by not just one of us, but all of us. And that’s it, you know? The village? The village is the sharing.

This book is for AKK.

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