A few of my friends and I are planning a trip to another African country between leaving Lesotho and venturing back home. We will make more detailed plans when we have our official last days, which we will get at our COS conference at the end of the month, but we are still passing around ideas. One asked if we planned to take our suitcase or backpacks. She wanted to sell her pack and take her suitcase home.
This seems like a simple logistical question, but to me it means deciding on my character. Do I want to be a suitcase person or a pack person?
A suitcase person has more than just one suitcase, rather a whole set of perfectly matched pieces of various sizes that are appropriate for a variety of travel occasions. Inside the suitcase, clothing is nicely folded and organized and same patterned toiletry bags accommodate personal items. A suitcase person breezes through airports with their luggage rolling behind. Her suitcase indicates style, order and sophistication. She knows where she is going and has all the right accessories for the destination. When she returns, an orderly apartment and job will greet her.
The pack person hobbles through train stations and bus depots, smashing her bag in any corner it can fit, sometimes using it as a pillow. There is a pair of shoes tied around a buckle, a water bottle hanging off one side and a yoga mat attached to the bottom with straps that she is convinced were made solely for yoga mats. The pack person is not sure where she is going or when she will return but she likes that. All she owns is in that pack, so she never doubts she’ll need something she doesn’t have, no matter where she goes. While the suitcase person floats with tidy hair and sheer scarf tied around her neck, the pack person is wearing three-day old clothes and uses a stained head wrap to hide her greasy hair.
For the last three years, I’ve been the pack person, at times caring everything I own in that oversized backpack. I’ve come to see it as my home the way others view apartments or houses. Its metal frame and synthetic cloth are my walls. I’ve been fond of the times I found myself stranded in bus depots or alongside the road with not much else but this pack.
As I near the end of my Peace Corps time, I am afraid I will no longer be a pack person, that the pressure to finally grow up will make me buy matching luggage for my fully-furnished apartment in my settled-down life. At times that sounds nice, but I am not sure I want that. I am not ready to give up this sense of wandering and that there is more to me than what I carry on my back. I know I will at some point, when it’s time for husbands, babies and a job with a retirement plan.
But for now, I am leaving the suitcase behind and carrying the backpack.
Or, as one of our traveling party suggested, we could sell everything and use a garbage bag. I guess that works, too.