This week’s photography challenge inspires me greatly. I live in the Netherlands and I’ve always felt the confines of the small country I call my home. With 17 million people on a small stretch of land that you can drive through from one end to the other in about three hours, I sometimes feel claustrophobic. We are with so many people that school holidays are divided into three regions as to not have everybody ‘out and about’ at the same time. Whenever the sun’s out, beaches and parks are filled to the brim with everyone wanting to catch that bit of the good weather.
This is what I’m used to, this is my home, where my roots are, where I live and work and go about my business.
And I never questioned this. Until I started travelling outside of Europe.
The first time I travelled outside of Europe was fascinating and enlightening. I went on a working holiday to Australia after bagging my first Bachelor degree. My Dutch and European frame of reference started showing cracks from all the new impressions. Back home, I longed for unspoilt nature, void of people. In Australia there was plenty of it and it was the strangest thing ever, because at first, I didn’t know what to do with myself. I wasn’t used to so much space and, admittedly, I was feeling rather lost and overwhelmed.
Fast forward to a few years later, when I went to New Zealand for the first time. It was my second time out of Europe and I was expecting a similar experience as I had in Australia. While I feel I have a ‘love-hate’ relationship with Australia, New Zealand was oozing love. I was a bit uneasy when I first started travelling New Zealand, but after a while I felt right at home. It was simply mind boggling to realise such a beautiful country exists at all. When I boarded the plane home, I was crying. I was crying so much that the person next to me asked me if I was alright. I’ve never experienced a place like this. I never could have imagined that I’d fall in love with a country so far away. As if a part of me belonged there all along and I just found it again.
Since that first time I’ve been back to New Zealand three more times. The most recent trip was earlier this year, when I spent four weeks travelling the country with my wonderful mom. I was worried that New Zealand might become ‘normal’ and I’d be more ‘been there, done that’ after multiple visits. Nothing could be further from the truth. That amazing blanket of belonging warms my heart still. I’ve come to love the space, the emptiness, people having time for a chat, the rugged nature, the calmth of mind and the sense of adventure I get when all options are open. As if it’s suddenly okay to be content with little, and to be happy with being right where you are. Far from the rat race, far from people wanting ‘more, more, more’ at the expense of authenticity, kindness and humanity.
New Zealand taught me to strip back to the core and to enjoy the little things. I enjoy my daily life and my working life a lot more than I used to. And while I don’t think I can move out of this tiny and overpopulated patch of Europe that I call home, I have another place in the world that I love.
Maybe I have to accept that my heart belongs to two places…