Up until now, when people I met traveling asked me what I was looking for, I said I just wanted to be someplace green and quiet where I could grow my own food and cook it, sure that those things would finally make me the happy person that I see as the future “me”. I was told repeatedly to go to New Zealand.
New Zealand, a country that saw my breathless list of grievances with India, and said, oh yeah, you want the opposite of all that? You want to be isolated with no one staring at you, omnipresent Internet access, clean toilets everywhere and your pick of achingly serene landscapes?
I barely lasted a month. What do you do when you get everything you want and realize it’s not what you want at all?
You have to forgive yourself for not knowing any better.
Let's start at the beginning. Out of India, I spent an expensive 17-hour layover in Singapore, dressed in my finest ripped and stained farm clothes, searching for somewhere I could take a shower (I settled for walking in a downpour with no umbrella), shoveling steak sandwiches and wine into my mouth and relishing my anonymity as a tourist. The marker of being back in Westernized society? People walking their dogs in athleisure, no question.
In New Zealand, I drank so many delicious flat whites (i.e. lattes with "less foam") that my heart started skipping beats. I went to the health food store everyday, drizzling peppery olive oil over king salmon, roasting red kumara (i.e. Japanese yam) and introducing myself to the wonders of coconut yogurt. After a few days I looked up from my plate. Guh! The most subtle but impactful difference between off-the-grid life and regular life is that when you are off-the-grid, no one is advertising at you. Now I was in Wellington, living regularly, and there was advertising. I wanted to buy things. I was inadequate because I didn't have everything that had become stylish in the past two months. I felt bad about my body. I dreamt up a workout regimen and promised myself I would lose the fifteen pounds that had mysteriously and maliciously crept up on me. Every day I celebrated fresh, bountiful food and wine, and every night I punished myself for eating it and drinking it.
I worried about spending. A meal in India is sixty cents, and a meal in New Zealand is twenty dollars. I decided not to buy a car or a van, because I couldn't stomach throwing down such a large sum at once, and thus bound myself to the scanty public transportation system. I took the bus into town everyday to get coffee and do work at the public library. To be frank, I'm imprisoned by my money, the savings I furiously collected in six months by never going anywhere or buying anything, meant to sustain me while I started a farm in Portugal with my lover. Now I'm afraid to spend it on anything that isn't a meticulously-plotted contribution towards my future. Again I come up against the unachievable: perfect planning.
On Christmas Eve, everything closed. For a month. Then I was really alone. I went on a date just because I was lonely, and drank a lot because I wasn't really interested in the guy, which ended poorly. I spent hours every night looking at Instagram, angry with myself for not being put together like the leotard-yogis and momma-chefs and it-girls, and so wired I could never fall asleep.
I got attacked by fleas in the night! Twice! Not in my cheap tent in India, but in a nice apartment in New Zealand. These were the itchiest red welts I have ever experienced, all over my body, and they lasted for weeks. I doused myself in bug spray before bed and brushed away phantom insects from my skin every few minutes. I added paranoia to my insomnia.
On New Years Eve I went to bed early and prayed. I don't pray, but I was so unhappy, I couldn't think of anything better to do. I begged for an answer. It came back fast, from within my brain and from outside my window. "What should I DO?" "You're already doing it." Damn it.
I made it to my bucolic farm fantasy, finally, as far away from New York as I could possibly get. It was green, and remote, with rolling hills and apple trees and meandering cows. I pruned grapevines and planted peppers. I hid from the torturous midday sun and battled relentless flies, just like I had in India. And I cried, really really hard.
Still not happy??
I've never been this lost. Like I don't know myself at all, I don't know what I want, I will never be satisfied. I miss New York, which makes me an asshole, because all I wanted to do was leave New York. I don't want to be a vagabond? I don't want to live in the middle of nowhere? The list of things that I DON'T want to do is growing longer and longer. What if I spend the rest of my life ruling things out and I never figure out what I DO want?
I tried to go home. I was ready to give up. I got everything I wanted, and I'm such a terrible person, I didn't even like it. I can't try another country, I'm just going to hate that too. I'm going to carry this misery with me everywhere I go, so I might as well go home. I called home, and said, I'm coming home. My mom said, just try one more place. You went to the bottom in India, and you stripped yourself bare. New Zealand was a step back up. Now keep going. If it's between your mental health and your savings, the money is the least of your problems. Go spend some of it and let yourself have fun.
Go to Italy.
Mahleb-Ginger Granola with Goji and Cacao
Makes one medium jar
I know I'm extremely late to the game on this, but coconut yogurt is AMAZING. My outrageous consumption level of the stuff demanded a never-ending supply of granola, so to be cost-effective, I came up with my own version that could be made from bulk ingredients. This granola is super crunchy and cluster-y, just like I like it. If you have a dehydrator, by all means, sprout the buckwheat. Mahleb is a slightly bitter spice made from the ground up pits of Iranian sour cherries. It sounds exotic, but it shouldn't be too hard to find. If indeed you can't get mahleb, try subbing with turmeric and a drop of almond extract.
Preheat oven to 300ºF. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper, ensuring the walls of the pan are covered.
In a medium bowl, combine oats, coconut flakes, buckwheat groats, and seeds. In a separate bowl, whisk brown rice syrup, yacon/maple syrup, coconut oil, salt, mahleb, ginger, and vanilla. Pour the wet mixture on top of the dry mixture and stir thoroughly. If the wet mixture is not enough to coat all of the dry mixture, add more coconut oil as needed.
Spread the mixture with a spatula into an even layer in the baking sheet.
Bake for 15 minutes. Turn the sheet 180º, then bake for another 20 minutes.
Remove pan from oven and let cool for 15 minutes. Add goji berries and cacao nibs to the pan, and break up granola with your hands. Serve atop your favorite yogurt!
Granola will keep for months in a tightly sealed jar.
1/2 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup raw coconut flakes
1 1/2 cups raw buckwheat groats
1/3 cup raw sesame seeds or sunflower seeds
1/2 cup brown rice syrup
2 tbsp yacon or maple syrup
1/4 cup coconut oil, melted
1/4 tsp fine sea salt
1/2 tbsp mahleb
1 tbsp ground ginger
1/2 tbsp vanilla
1/2 cup dried goji berries
1/2 cup cacao nibs