I’m obsessed with finding purpose and doing what you love for a living. Lately I’ve been reflecting on the power of place as a calling. In a world where we can live and work virtually anywhere, how do we know where we are meant to be? I’ve lived in many places around the world. I was drawn to them not so much for the location as the reason for being there – London to study, New York for work, Montevideo for love, and San Francisco for family – but I sometimes wonder, where is my place?
On a recent trip into the Australian Outback our group was led on an Aboriginal tour of Uluru (Ayers Rock). When we arrived at our meeting spot there was an older Aboriginal woman dressed in a t-shirt, loose fitting skirt and black walking shoes. Next to her was a young Japanese woman, her long dark hair twisted back in a ponytail, wearing designer sunglasses, a bright colored striped sweater and jeans. The young woman started off by introducing us to the older woman and then began conversing with her fluently in Pitjantjatjara, the Aboriginal woman’s native language.
There are more than 200 Australian Indigenous languages. Less than 20 remain strong, and even these are endangered: the others have been destroyed, live in the memories of the elderly, or are being revived by their communities. So the fact that this young Japanese girl conversed with this woman as if she spoke Pitjantjatjara from birth astounded me. I had to hear her story. At a pause in the tour I pulled her aside, “What are you doing here?” I asked.
She laughed and told me how she had come 5 years earlier with her Australian boyfriend for a vacation and stayed 3 months. They then moved to the town where he was from, but she could not get the Red Rock out of her system, and, despite challenges with visas, return trips to Japan, and eventually leaving her fiancée, she continued to feel called back to the Red Rock, where she worked as a guide for Japanese tourists and cleaned houses during the low season. Basically, doing whatever she could to stay in this remote land.
“One day I was visiting a friend’s apartment and she” – she pointed to the Aboriginal woman – “was talking with him and I realized that the construct of their language was similar to Japanese, and I could actually understand her!” She began to study both Pitjantjatjara and English intensively in order to be a guide, sharing the Aboriginal knowledge with others. Clearly she had found her calling. She listened to her inner voice and followed the signs that kept drawing her back to this strange and isolated place. One can feel her passion and sense of purpose in sharing the ancient knowledge and wisdom that would have surely died with this woman, along with her language.
Have you felt the call to place? What places call to you? Where do you feel drawn to travel to or visit and what draws you there? I’d love to hear your story!