The room is still dark. The automatic blinds had been triggered at some point while I was asleep. My eyes feel crusted together as my son climbs over my chest in search of breakfast.
Jet lag. And when you have a child, it’s on steroids. Solo travel was so easy – now, I have to make sure this other living creature (with more energy than I) is fed, slept, bathed, clothed, and safe at all times, while navigating another language, a new environment, and a different time zone (where we’ve lost 5 hours).
I lift Nawaab into my arms and give him a good morning kiss before attaching him to my breast. I’ve become quite skilled at multitasking while nursing after 10 months of practice – I’m able to walk around the room with my hand grazing the wall in search of a button to lift the blinds. As I click numerous switches, the veil finally lifts and the room is filled with warm, mediterranean sunshine.
One of the best ways to wake myself in motherhood has been to jump into a cold shower. Not only does it heal my sore muscles after sitting in planes and buses for the past 40 hours, it also tells my brain it’s time to mom.
One coffee. Two coffees.
Nawaab crawls around Soham’s beautifully manicured backyard as I breathe in the fresh French air. I greet the rest of the crew one by one as they work to set the table for brunch around me. I’ve always been a helpful guest – cleaning dishes, folding laundry, preparing meals – with a kid, it’s literally impossible (but also makes for a good excuse to have two very precious moments of silence as I savor the last drop of my coffee).
I missed this. Community. My thighs greeting the sun. Brunch! With a table spread of croissants, crepes, cheeses, jams, and eggs, I almost don’t want to eat. It’s too beautiful to consume. I need to savor it with my eyes.
I almost want to cry.
I stumble through French as I am seated next to Soham’s guest from New Caledonia. I remember a dream I had a few weeks ago about French Polynesia and am in awe once again of how my dream world always foreshadows my future.
Eventually, and predictable, I devour brunch. I fill my appetizer-sized plate at least three times. Even Soham has found himself next to the cheese and he’s vegan.
I get Nawaab and I ready for our adventure ahead and we’re out the door by 1PM.
Perpignan, although a city, has a village feel with the mountains on one side and the beach on the other. It’s the perfect combination of what I often feel is missing in my own mountain town at 8000 feet in the Himalayas.
Warmth. Sea. Respectful tourists.
I blink and remember something I had said a few months back: “Nawaab should learn French”.
Why did I say it? I’m really not sure. Sometimes I find myself spilling words that don’t even feel like my own. It makes me wonder: French Polynesia? French language? What is my subconscious trying to tell me?
No, I am not fluent, but I was up until seventh grade. I was enrolled in a French elementary school and kick myself for not continuing with this beautiful language, but am also pleasantly surprised by how easy it comes back to me when immersed in a French environment. Even many of my colleagues and roommates in India have been French. Clearly the language and the country has been calling me back (I just haven’t been listening because I couldn’t understand what it was saying… “quoi?”).
As we pass beautiful villages draped with bougainvilleas and gothic romance, a castle appears in the distance: Castelnou. This small village, housing just under 300 people, was established in the 900s to serve as a military capital for the Viscount of Vallespir. The rocky, cobblestone roads and steep steps make it the workout of a century for a mother with a baby carrier.
The grounds are kept by the local community, of which many are artisans and creatives. The main floor of their homes act as their shops, spilling onto the main paths to welcome tourists, while upstairs they have built cozy living quarters with beautiful, medieval stone stoves. I immerse myself in the art pieces, sculptures, and cookies made by locals, while Nawaab is passed around to distribute the weight of a 9KG child while walking continuously uphill.
Suddenly, we are in the small house of a local man who runs l’Oeuf Surprise – The Surprise Egg – from his living room. The art of crafting unique masterpieces from animal eggs – duck to ostrich. Unfortunately, he will retire soon and the craft will retire with him, but he did mention he knows of one other man who practices the art form in Canada.
I notice the rather prominent figurine collection of Hindu deities resting in his cabinet, alongside a few drawings of Rajasthani royalty adorning his walls. I’m fascinated by the mix of culture and history in one room – so rich and vibrant (and violent) while bridging my two worlds into one (plus the egg man in Canada). Nawaab is mesmerized by a specific drawing of a man with an elongated mustache in the famous Rajasthani-style, sticking straight out on both sides. A few memories of my life in Bikaner flash before me as I watch my son take in the contrast between the pencil sketch and the colorful turban of yellows and reds he is wearing.
As we leave the home of this gentleman, I begin to notice just much more attention my son is receiving by patrons of the castle. Respectful attention, which I admire as I cannot stand when aunties in India touch my child without asking for consent (or even bother to acknowledge me holding the child). With every step and new face we meet, we are greeted with wholesome smiles, radiant energy, words of admiration – “he is the most beautiful creature”. I look into Nawaab’s eyes and remind myself that of course a face like that would receive so much joy. He is, afterall, a blessing that I never thought would come.
We pack the car with goodies found along our stroll – breads, biscuits, flowers, postcards – and make our way to a small landing for a short hike. I didn’t know what to expect of our hike, while wearing wedges and a white kurta-style dress, but I step out into the wind and strap Nawaab to me, his little fingers wrap around my hands as we began to ascend the hill.
Unsure of where we are heading, I stumble in my wedges and hand Nawaab to Soham in fear of falling. The higher we get, the more violent the wind becomes. I lag behind the group, my eyes tearing as the wind ravages them beneath my sunglasses. The tingle of the cold in my throat, that I’ve been ignoring for the past two days, itches. I can feel myself struggling to breathe. I am so focused on looking down and watching the path, when I finally look up, my body forces me to stop. The mountains, the castle, and the sea. I’ve never thought I would see all three of these things in the same view.
As I draw more and more connections between my dream world and my current reality, I have a hard time deciding if I was led here or if I manifested this experience on my own.
I’m almost there, still behind the group but getting closer. There is no need to rush. The wind is slowing me down for a reason, as it whips me in the face along with my curls and reminds me I birthed a child 10 months ago.
As I approach the tree everyone has paused beneath, I realize we are heading to a chapel. A small structure made of stone and sand with Spanish-style roof tiles. I take Nawaab in my arms and walk around to the entrance where a small, handwritten sign reads “Sant Marti de la Roca” and the wind comes to an immediate stop.
Although now abandoned, this Romanesque-style church is an open, safe space for anyone to come, gather, and hold faith. I suddenly feel called to pray and head towards the opening in the wall. I duck to enter. Immediately, the energy, the pressure of this spiritual space weighs on my shoulders and I’m grounded, connected to something so much larger than me: mother earth. I glide towards one of the eight pews. Nawaab claws at my chest. I lift my shirt and nurse my son as I look into the faces of Jesus and Mary, alongside an array of candles, cards, and art placed on the altar by patrons who have come and gone.
As someone who has spent most of the breastfeeding part of their life in India, where I always seem to be the only mother outside with an infant in general, I nervously asked Soham “is it okay for me to breastfeed here?”
“Of course. It’s holy milk.”
My body completely relaxes.
How silly of me to consistently think of my duties, my joy of being a mother, to be a burden, an embarrassment to anything or anyone outside of me. To the person seated beside me on the airplane, who found himself another seat (actually, thank YOU). To the annoyed flight attendant I needed to bother countless times for more water. To the ass-hole of a waiter who refused to acknowledge my need for caffeine in the Istanbul airport. The mother is the most important role in all of our journeys, even that of Jesus. She is divine. She is pure love.
Is there anything or anyone more sacrificial on this planet?
I feel like I am in a daze as we descend towards the car. With Soham, there is always an adventure around the corner and it’s wise to never really plan ahead. As unexpectedly expected, instead of heading back into the city, we drive an hour towards his off-the-grid home: Cam Maria – meaning “With Maria”, the divine mother. A home made to nurture the earth through solar energy, rainwater harvesting, and food grown within the acre of its structure.
As we sit on the terrace with fresh food and juice, surrounded by laughter and mountains, my lack of sleep evades me. It’s pushing 9:30PM and the sun is still on the horizon. I hold my son close to my chest and watch as it disappears to greet far populations longing for its warmth.
I linger in the moment, this time, not questioning why I’m here.
I was called, and so, I answered our mother.
About Jazzmine Raine
Jazzmine leads from a background of over 10 years in project management, social impact, and experiential education. She is the proud founder of Hara House, India’s first zero waste guesthouse and tourism organization, and has been recognized globally for her work in the sustainable tourism sector.
Her diverse career has spanned across multiple countries with a strategic focus on providing young people the tools and knowledge needed to solve global challenges. With a love for storytelling and leading social impact, she thrives when coaching students and young professionals in leading new, innovative ideas.
Jazzmine has been a key leader in many unique social projects such as Causeartist, Sustainable Travel Network, Studio.89, CanGap and Hara World. In her spare time, you will find her writing short stories and drinking chai on her balcony at 8000ft in the Himalayas.
You can read all stories under the ‘Passport Perspectives’ Travel Column here.