Khaki isn’t exactly the prettiest color in the world.
It’s the stuff of Gap ads and corporate casual dress codes, the proverbial “vanilla” of the crayon box: It’s not really the color I’d reach for if I were asked to paint the picture of my life for the past two and a half years.
I’d choose orange for Buddhist temples. Or green for the calm forests I used to cycle through in Fukui. I’d choose white for the uncompromising neon light of Korean cities, or a warm brown for the faces of smiling Cambodian children. I’d pick blue for the sea lapping at Oaxaca’s unspoiled virgin coastline and the endless sky of the Mixteca. Pink for the church in Huajuapan that I run past in the mornings and for the laundry room at my old apartment in Culiacán. Yellow for the threads woven into Guatemalan textiles.
Red for the color of the three faithful suitcases that have accompanied me on my incredible 30-month journey through five countries in two hemispheres, an experience that has helped me fulfill goals I never knew I had and to become a person I never dreamed I could be.
Nope, I never would have reached for the khaki-colored crayon to paint all of that.
Khaki, according to a co-worker, is the color of Chicago. The color of the cold plastic seats on the CTA. The color of file folders. Of cubicle walls in downtown office buildings and of the pants of the people that work in them.
My colleague, who left Chicago years ago and has since found a new home here in Huajuapan, never wants to go back to khaki. At least that’s what she told me yesterday when I told her that I was moving back to the city we both used to call home. It’s funny how we cling to the words we hear when we’re sharing the results of big, life-changing decisions.
Khaki or not, it’s time for me to go home. The reason is simple: The colors of a globe-trekking life, once vibrant and exciting to me, are starting to fade. Travel, once my raison d'être, leaves me feeling a bit hollow. Wanderlust-y weekend treks to exotic locales make me more exhausted than enlightened. As Paolo Coelho-ish as it might sound, through all the travel and time zones and tears and triumphs, I’ve finally found what I was looking for: Me. (Or at least a better understanding of how I fit into this crazy, big-but-small world.)
The decision to return to a khaki-colored life would have horrified the girl who, thirty months ago, sold off every last possession that wouldn’t fit into her three red suitcases and set off in search of adventure.
But the idea of khaki doesn’t scare me now. And that’s how I know I’m ready to go back, mature enough to handle it. Khaki may be the color of the biggest adventure of all: Settling down. Being brave enough to realize that personal growth and fulfillment don't necessarily come in the form of a passport full of stamps and a scrapbook full of photographs. Instead -- and here's where I'll go all Paolo Coelho on you again -- it's about daring to put down roots, to contribute to instead of taking from a community, and to see the day-to-day color in what, from the outside, may seem to be a pretty simple, khaki-colored life.
In five short weeks, my three red suitcases and I will again arrive in a foreign land, a place that will surely be unfamiliar and difficult at first, with the seemingly insurmountable task of making that new place feel like home. The Chicago I'll return to isn't the same Chicago I left in July of 2007. But this time, my process of building a home for myself will be different because I know what home really is.
Home: It’s only fitting that I had to stray thousands of miles away from it to truly understand it.