Ever since I left Italy indefinitely a few years ago, I get asked all the time if I miss home. Heck, I don’t even know what home is anymore, but I definitely know what it isn’t. It isn’t four walls.
The truth is, when you travel full time and visit one country after the other, changing hotels every couple of nights, living out of a suitcase, you start looking for some surrogate of feeling at home. When you travel as much as I do, the things that you look for when you go on a two-week holiday don’t hold the same weight.
I wish I could remember all the pagodas, and temples, and pretty landscapes I’ve seen over the last years, but I don’t. What I do remember, though, is the face of the people.
See, for me feeling at home when I am far away from home means feeling welcome in a far-away land.
Even though my culture might be so different, and so its tradition, and food and language, I feel these distances don’t matter when people smile, invite me to their homes, when children excitedly say “hello”and wave, when I feel a sense of joy in the air.
And I’m proud to say that Kerala is all of this and more.
When I visited Kerala four years and a half ago, it was my first trip to such a different place from home. I grew up in a house where my mom used the washing machine to wash our clothes, not the river; where the main ingredient for our meals is pasta, not curry; where you go to the supermarket to buy fruit, you don’t climb a tree to grab a coconut.
One of the things that immediately struck me about Kerala was that people interact with each other. People say hello to each other, and smile to every traveler that passes by. People in Kerala don’t complain of what they don’t have – they smile for what they do have. People in Kerala are just special.
When I first saw the Human by Nature campaign video by the Kerala Tourism Board, I thought it was spot on. Too many destinations in the world focus on the landscapes, the monument, the history. For once, let the people speak proudly for their land. Because Kerala is so much more than just pretty pictures.
I remember lazily sailing down the backwaters, sitting on the dock of the houseboat watching life going by. Women in colorful sarees washing clothes on the banks of the river.
Kids splashing and playing in the water. I can still hear their laughter echoing in my ears. And the fishermen, up at sunrise, enveloped in the orange and pink hues of the sun, trying to catch enough fish for the day.
I can still smell the earthy, strong smell of the tea in the plantations of Munnar, and the women, working hard all day, bent in two when picking up the leaves.
The pungent, spicy smell of the chai tea, and the men who were serving it in tiny shacks on the side of the street.
When I think about Kerala, I can’t separate the landscapes from the people. Kerala is a land that shines with life, a land where the people dance an intricate dance with their natural resources.
It’s a land where you go because you’ve seen pictures of its beautiful landscapes, and you end up falling in love with because of the people. Their genuinity and hospitality.
In Kerala, I feel at home, no matter the curry that’s too spicy for me, the cows that lazily walk in the middle of the street, undisturbed, the traditions so different.
In Kerala I learnt that after all, we are all humans. No matter where we grew up, once upon a time we were all kids just wanting to play and have fun. No matter where we grew up, we all want the same things in life: to be happy, to feel loved, to live a healthy, fulfilling life.
Kerala was the first place where I learnt that happiness has nothing to do with material possessions, and that was probably the biggest teaching that travel gave me.
Thank you, Kerala. Thank you, Keralites.
This post was sponsored by Kerala Tourism.