My hopscotch journey towards New Zealand began with a flight from Inverness to Belfast. After six months on so many different roads I’m wondering what I’m heading back to. Where and what is my ‘home’? Here in my sister’s Derry backpackers around forty people a day enter our lives, tread about within our communal home, and then head out to their next port of call. Some of them bind themselves to us for brief periods, sharing pints, songs and stories. I ask these ones about their homes, about what makes their bungalow in Washington State, their apartment in Genova, or their farm outside Kabul the place they want to return to. And in their stories I hunt for meaning, because I’m about to return to a country in which I hope to build a new life.
It was the three months in the USA that opened my mind to new ways to envision my future in New Zealand. That bold country has enabled generations of people a great deal of control in deciding what sort of home they want to create for themselves. The enormous and varied landscape provided opportunities for millions of people to create something new, unrestricted hundreds of generations of tradition. And for some time their government left them enough freedom to determine their own paths. And though these freedoms may be disappearing, I still found plenty of people who had tried two or three different lives on for size, and found one that fit. Not the one their parents dictated to them, nor their laws, nor their peers. And their experiences helped me understand how I might be able to combine freedom of thought and movement, with a permanent base, a real home in my country.
Many of the Americans I met also helped me understand that I shouldn’t be afraid to walk with conviction towards the things I want. It’s not just the lifestyles that Americans have been free to create, they’ve also been encouraged to chase ideas. My own hopes and dreams were usually bolstered when I shared them with people. My enthusiasm for the outlandish wasn’t as open to negativity and cynicism as it might have been in other environments. I realised the importance of ensuring I spent time amongst ideas people, creative people, intelligent free thinkers. They drive me onward, rather than slowing my progress.
The third thing I decided to take home from the States was the utilisation of the honest compliment. My first response (I shudder to recall) to these positive critiques was cynicism. I hunted for subtext, for an end-goal in these happy comments on another person’s character, hair style or youthful vigour. And when I couldn’t find it, I began to realise it was simply a good and kind act. I was smitten. I was even the recipient from time to time, which no doubt made me doubly suspicious. But then I grew to understand its simple power to bring happiness. So I’m taking this home, and I’ll aim to fill a few half empty glasses.
The transition to Europe helped add new ideas to those I harvested from the Americans. I did two months of volunteer work between Ireland and Scotland, and the time spent in old homes in old parts of old countries was useful in corralling my thoughts on what I need from life. Wandering and cycling through the countryside on the occasional days that the sun spilt between clouds on the horizon was blissful. But being so far from civilisation tended to make my head itch. The humble quarters within the castle walls (ironically) taught me how little space I needed to relax in. The caravan in Scotland shrank this space significantly, but the views I took in from the narrow lounge windows became my environment as much as the thin aluminium walls that shook like barley in the exhausting cross winds. So small house, in big country. Tick. The lack of people though, that was the itch. I need my cafe interviews with artists and musicians, my wander through the markets picking out beetroot to roast, my Wednesday evening gigs at character packed pubs and bars.
Now I’m back in Derry, the heart of my travelling experiences. Six weeks ago I was here briefly, licking fresh wounds, and working through my thoughts and hopes. This time I’ve returned with a peaceful energy, a head full of ideas, and a focus. My Halloween evening here was spent dancing on the edge of a life I knew in my thirties. I told ghost stories to gladiators, twirled with witches, and faced down demons. And I’ve made peace with the things I’ve seen and done. I’m consolidating I’ve learnt, and begun planning for what comes next.
New Zealand is still a place where we can build our dreams. I’m returning to Aotearoa with new ideas from other places, aiming to build a home between town and country. A place I can share with people who fight to obtain their dreams, and with my family. I’m returning to spend time with my young niece, the newest member of that family. Her Uncle Regan’s returning a little less cynical, a little more focused, and just as happy as when he last saw her. He’s looking forward to telling her tales of far off lands, encouraging her imagination, and supporting her ideas and hopes.
I’d like to thank all those people who I have met along this most recent journey. You mad, wonderful, inspirational girls and boys with whom I shared a few beers, a trailer, a Castle or a laugh with. You’re all forever welcome to visit me in my home, wherever that will be. I’ll make sure there’s a comfy couch.