We started off awkwardly. I’ve always felt weird about interviewing people I know well. Since middle school, having assignments like “interview a family member about their childhood” have always daunted me. You learn so much about a person when you sit down and take the time to ask them about themselves. That knowledge can change a friendship. Sometimes that’s why people don’t talk. They talk but not really.
She is a gorgeous young lady. Blond hair. The color people dye their hair to look like. Hers was natural. She is still figuring herself out. But she is doing it with a kind of assertiveness that I lacked at her age. I was there to ask her questions. She was relaxed. She, at least, appeared confident. I thought back to occasions when I acted confident and wondered if I pulled it off as flawlessly as her. She’s the little sister of a good friend and our friendship is easy. Not too much is expected of either of us.
We sat across from each other in the blue cushioned chairs at the white dining room table I knew well as did my 3 year old self. There was always a table cloth on the table and a newspaper sprawled out and a couple letters opened here and there. Today there were a box of peanut butter cookies and a bag of ginger cookies on the table cloth waiting to be eaten. I helped myself to one of each. I always felt casual in this house. Not as casual as my own home. Every now and then I reminded myself of manners and asked for permission before doing something. After a long absence this happened more frequently, however they would break this habit soon after it began by saying something like “Taylor, you know where the beers are, please help yourself.”
She started telling me about Ireland. What she saw. Where she went. We understood each other.
My first question: “Who are you? “
“Who am I? That’s really intense. ” She responded.
“I want you to introduce yourself rather than me introducing you..”
I expected indecision. I expected insecurity. Maybe because that’s how I would approach the question with an ever-changing answer. Her voice was steady. She spoke eloquently. There was some uncertainty in the future. But right now she knows who she is. Right now she understands herself. And more importantly she knows what she wants. What she has to figure out is how to create it for herself.
Food and travel and animals and vegetarianism and writing.
“Lots of people define themselves as a student. And now I am not one.” She started.
There was a pause after this statement. She wasn’t sure where to go from there. It was true. People generally described themselves based on their occupations or what they were studying. She is not working. She is not, formally studying anything. She was forced to describe herself around those identifiers. I was thankful for this. It forced reflection. This is how she did it.
“ So now I think about what inspires me. Where I call home. I relate my personal identity hugely to travel. I would argue that I am someone who is greatly invested in food. I love markets. And to see markets while I travel. I also think that my identity revolves around a holistic approach to food and that ties into my vegetarianism. And horseback riding and various pets and I’ve also considered myself someone very interested in writing. I’ve always kept a journal. When people ask me, when I get my future together, what I want to do I reply, ‘I don’t know, maybe I’ll write something.”
She said it with a sense of humor. As though she was afraid that she would never get her “future together.” But I had confidence in her. She would.
The next question came easily and so did the next and the next. She was easy to talk to about travel. It tends to be a subject that inspires people. Traveling has become a prized possession amongst us. It is a form of losing and finding. In a way it would be selfish not to share an experience that so many helped you create. From the air hostesses to the people you meet on the street, travel becomes a string of acquaintances.
Question number 2 : Why do you enjoy traveling?
“I like to travel because I like to meet new people and hear new perspectives.”
She began with the obvious.
“And to see new things.” She paused here as though it encompassed everything and so she could be done. Maybe because it overwhelms her to think about. It’s the kind of thing you just do. Travel is. The motives behind are not always easy to look at.
“What kinds of new things?” I encouraged.
“Landscapes. I love seeing the foods that different people create. And to look at the different diasporas that shape the country. That is particularly notable in a place like Ireland where half the population is always going. “
She taught me.
She continued to speak almost poetically about the political history of Northern Ireland. She spoke comfortably about the Troubles and the connection of Spain and Israel and Northern Ireland.
“They’ve opened the borders to Northern Ireland…Creating another other. People in Spain, Israel, Palestine and Northern Ireland all connect and identify with each other. There’s huge travel between those communities. They’re like ‘your struggle is my struggle’…”
She ended in this way
“I guess that’s why I like to travel… You think the world is so huge and then you find out that it’s really crazy connected.”
The awe I heard in this statement was genuine.
We went on with the rest of the interview. The questions I asked generally generated more history, more information more knowledge about Northern Ireland. The land of greenery, pink sheep and hospitality. The land of political movements, and museums filled with different languages and food. Food from all over the world. Food accommodating many different dietary needs.
I realized that I loved listening to what she learned about the country she called home for a short time. I realized I wanted to ask harder questions that forced reflection like that first one. I realized I didn’t have the courage to do so and so I was content with the random facts and history she generously gave me.
She gave me more than just history. She lent me the realization that I no longer dislike asking questions. I enjoy talking to people. Really talking to people. She gave me confidence in my jaunt in a particular direction.