I think the best way to possibly explain my spring break with the lost boys is to say that I can’t conceivably put into words the experience I had. Most often times, when I am passionate about something, I can explain the emotions felt & dealt with easily, displaying my fervor with each sentences projected. Here lies however, a complex dichotomy, between what I’m feeling and what I can express. For one of the first times, I’m at a loss for words. The past few days back at JMU, back into the world which I’ve succumbed to for the past three and a half years of my life, have been completely abnormal. I have walked around with my head in the clouds. I’m back on the daily grind, juggling my time between class, studying, writing essays and training my horse. However, my feet seem a little lighter; I seem to be walking a little taller. When friends ask me how my spring break was, I stand there agape, as my mind traces back to the memories of the hostel, back to the interactions that now seem like they occurred in an alternative dream world. Where am I now? Who am I? How will I explain it?
What I can say, is that I am privileged. I am a very, very lucky girl, who has more than she needs, living a comfortable life often taken advantage of. The past days back at JMU, I have been unable to sleep, facing insomnia night after night, finding my only comfort to be the journal kept during the week, reflecting on facts learned and memories kept. I am privileged…I have never had to walk hundreds of miles to safety–never watched my family be killed, have never faced the troubles of post-traumatic stress. I am lucky. This experience was numbing. It numbed my emotions to the core and yet melted them away as well. How? How can I even explain? With the media and endless amount of information available to us in this day of age, you can read about anything in the world–mental illnesses depilating people’s lives, Kony abducting children in the middle of the night. Bad things happen to good people, but when these experiences are simply read on paper, they become something sorted into the back of our minds, to be stored in the brain’s file folder, where all the other numerous readings we have come across in our day to day life stay. However, to hear it lived changed my perspective on life, changed my perspective on my own being, changed my perspective on the classmates I so casually sat with for 8 weeks, classmates turned family with a round dinner table and an explanation of highs and lows. Myself, being one who needs her personal time, being one who strives to be an independent woman, destined to create her own path and follow no other’s lead, was forced to do the opposite all week—-I was my biggest enemy. I learned there are two ways to enter situations; either you open yourself up to it, or you close the doors, close yourself and your mind off to the experience. My newly made friend Koor told me one night over a casual banter turned inspiring conversation, that we are in control of our minds—that he does not really believe in psychiatrists, that if we decide to be positive, have a good day, and live life to the fullest, then we can. You are in control of yourself. Koor was right. I either opened myself up to the experience, allowing the information to seep into my every being, completely altering who I was, or I let it slide off of me, as if I had a protective plastic shield protecting me from some of the horrific stories told.
One major modification made on me by this trip was the way it washed the lens through which I view ethnicities. We, as white Americans, whose primary language is English, have no idea what refugees go through when they are misunderstood or judged by the public eye of criticism. We cannot speak their language and they, by far, outweigh us in strength and determination to learn a new language, some learning English as their 4th or even 7th language. My experiences working with the Catholic charities taught me that. The lost boys and Ayom…they helped solidify this fact as well. The ages they were, the way they navigated a confusing country, an English speaking individualistic filled domain, was remarkable. Ayom, an incredible 64 year old woman met at the lost boys center, was learning English. I had the honor of helping her with her reading one day. Spunky and smart, she taught me more than I taught her. The demeanor she portrayed was awe inspiring. We all adored her by the end of the week. Ayom, currently learning English, could navigate the public bus system. Our group couldn’t even make it to the grocery store without getting lost— driving our own van, speaking and reading the language of the signs and using our multiple iPhone maps to navigate us. Sad. But true.
During the trip, new movements were learned about and we were educated more on them. For example, the problems in Uganda with Joseph Kony. I will join the fight. It will end. This trip brought me into the clouds, into a dream world, where the reality of JMU seemed displaced in the week long interactions with my classmates and our new friends. Returning to JMU brought me back down to earth. How easy it is to take advantage of what we have, to get caught up in the materialistic needs we let consume our lives. How was my break? Better than yours. Friends have tried to explain their epic party tales, their excitement for doing nothing, lounging around, how they had the best time of their life. As I listen to their words, my mind escapes their grasp and I find myself reminiscing about the hostel life, about my trip. It seems like a loss to even explain the life altering experiences we all had. How can anyone understand what I am feeling?
What did I do over spring break? I transformed my looking glass on life. I formed a new family. I gained a new network to care about. I learned. I lived. I created memories that no time could erase. The indifference will be erased, one day, it will be gone, but the memories of this trip, they stay engrained in my mind. The Sudan bracelet sits peacefully on my wrist, and looking at it, warmth transpires through my body.
You only live once. Live it well.