Posted by Emily Block | 3 comments

Re-Entry: First Thoughts

A lovely little reminder from iCal greeted me as I opened my computer for some bedtime browsing.  It said, "Remember why you went."  I have this scheduled to pop up at odd intervals for the next three years to remind me of my voyage around the world, what I learned, and what I want to do in the future.  As I gazed at that little reminder my throat tightened in a wave of memories caught me in their flow.  In some ways the trip seems like seconds ago.  I still wake up some mornings expecting to be in Ghana or India.  In other ways, the trip seems like a whole lifetime ago or even perhaps just a marvelous dream I had.  To think I did these things I recall seems the purest of fiction as I recline in my childhood bed in my childhood house in my childhood city.  The past several weeks have been busy with a whole host of ordinary things; doctor appointments, lunch with mom, finding an online class to take this summer ...

In some ways this "usual life" consumes me.  It is difficult to focus on all of the tough questions that came from my travels, difficult to ponder all of the things I learned in my ship classes, when I am back in the waiting rooms of doctor's offices and spending evenings watching X-Files with my mom.  The ordinariness of each day binds me in it's monotony.  It is not unpleasant, but it perhaps is not the best thing for me.  At the same time I am so often plunged into these moments of almost immersive memory.  I look down a street and something about the colors of the buildings or the lighting peeking through rooftops takes me back to the fishing village in Ghana.  The drive to my university I have done so many times takes my breath away in it's likeness to the rolling hills outside of Cape Town.  I look at little town on the hill facing the pacific ocean, close my eyes and I am looking at the ocean facing hillside in Dominica.  It is not only places I so often am transported to.  I also find myself vividly recalling conversations I had with a guide in Brazil or how a man in South Africa taught me how to make a pot out of clay.  I find myself turning to share a joke with one of my friends and realizing they are half a country away.  I'm caught between the monotony of everyday life and the memories of a few extraordinary months.

Sometimes I wonder if I have really changed at all.  That is my biggest fear.  That I went all these places, did all of those things, met all of those people, and will put it on a shelf in my brain under "a very good vacation."  I fear that I will loose the passion I felt as I sat discussing tough issues in service learning or the friendliness and openness I acted with as I met so many new people.  I fear that my eyes will stop searching for wonder and that my mind will stop questioning.  Perhaps that I fear this means I am not there yet.

Perhaps there is other evidence that SAS was so much more than just a vacation.  I have been shopping only twice since I got home.  I used to delight in the browsing and purchasing of new things but now I find myself too preoccupied with questions of how and where the goods were produced.  What sacrifices were made to bring that product to me at the advertised low price?  Do I really need another shirt?  I look at menus not only based on what sounds good but also what sounds sustainable.  I now know that I have a part in so many of the problems that plague the world.  Each time I order a hamburger, I'm using that $8 to vote for a ridiculously unsustainable food source.  Each time I buy something I don't need for a ridiculously cheap price, I am voting for a system that doesn't always adhere to human rights.  The more I take, the more I take from others, whether it be humans, animals or the environment.  I can't ignore that.  That is a major difference in me since the trip.  Before I knew all of these things, but they seemed to be just as distant as the fictional novels I am so fond of.  Now I have seen it, lived it, and cannot look the other way.  At the same time I want to fit in with my culture and that culture is one where I hang out with my mom by shopping at Kohl's.  It's one where I really should put up with those infuriating commercials to watch a TV show so I can chat with my friends about it later.  No one would want to hear about how flipping scary the censorship and regulations are in Tibet.  I am having a hard time with this.  My dad jokingly said that I must have majored in insufferable on the ship.   I guess in some ways that is true, but the fault is in my delivery, not my education or the people in my life.  RIght now I am trying to find a balance between living a life I feel good about and staying tolerable to my friends and family.  I  hope this struggle means I did change.  That things did stay with me.

The hardest part about this reverse culture shock is that I lost my support community.  For every step of the SAS journey I had a whole ship of people to help me process what I saw.  Each class session was an opportunity to put things into context, to discuss what we saw and what it meant.  Meal times and late night conversation found us reflecting on our most recent adventures and trying to wrap our minds around big questions.  We all went through different shades of the same thing and were a part of each other's journey.  Then, when it came to the biggest challenge of all, how we would take these many experiences and apply them to everyday life, that community no longer existed.  We left our home on the MV Explorer to fade back into our own lives, but I think we still need each other to figure out the complexities of this transition.  There's facebook and text messages and all the benefits of modern communication technology, but that will never be the same as a passionate class discussion or a three hour conversation with one's roommate.  We are left on our own with the most important and difficult part of the journey.  The sum of all of our challenges converges on our shoulders in one moment, and that moment happens again and again as we venture each second into our old yet different lives.  It is unbearable at times and beautiful at others.  Usually it is both these things as once.  



3 comments:

  1. You definitely are different Emily. But you haven't chaned at all. You've only become "amplified". You are just a more vibrant more action motivated version of you. And it's incredible. Don't ever be afraid to let it ALL out or think you have to hold back to please the rest of us. We love you and anyone that can't accept this bigger version of you isn't worthy. You are incredible. Call me anytime I'll let you convince me never to eat burgers again. ;)

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    1. Also... "chaned" is my new word for "changed"

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  2. You have no idea how much that means to me. :0)

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