Spring Break 2012 has officially ended and Facebook is rubbing it in our faces. All of my friends are posting pictures of beaches and drinks but as I scroll through, I don’t feel an ounce of jealousy in my body. Then I turn to the pictures that we took during the break. I look at everything we’ve posted on Facebook. I look at the Tweets we’ve sent. I look at the Twitter account we’ve created. Finally, I see what JMU and others in the community have said about what we did. The combination of all these social media pieces overwhelm me with memories and feelings that remind me that there are no beaches in the world or coconut filled drinks that could have replaced our week in Phoenix.
I waited (alone) for six hours in the Phoenix airport waiting for my flight to see my brother and team in Las Vegas. Two weeks ago, I assumed that I would spend those six hours listening to music and reading a novel to kill the time. Much to my surprise, I found myself continuing to journal about the past week for six whole hours. I reminisced about the past few days and nights in addition to the trip as a whole. There would me moments during that time in which I could do nothing but stare at the blank pages of my journal. How can I put what I saw and felt into words? It’s impossible. My mind is filled with images and stories from the past week that can never be replicated although I’m sure I’ll try my hardest to do so.
“From the outside looking in, you can’t understand it; From the inside looking out, you can’t explain it.”
This quote has been used so often that it’s almost a cliche. But what if that’s exactly how I feel about this experience? I’ve been asked so many times, “How was your Spring Break?” Every time, I’ve stared at them blankly, not knowing where to start. I could have 5 minutes with each person or 5 days, and I don’t think I could explain our trip in a way that does it justice. We’ve been welcomed into the home of many refugees from all over the world while also being welcomed into the hearts and pasts of those who would share with us. We sat on floors or in crammed living rooms of apartments smaller than mine in Stone Gate but the difference is that some of theirs had to fit five to nine people in it instead of the expected four. We heard about tragedies of the world. Death threats, killings, rapes. While we’re concerned about grades, jobs, and the new iPad 3, these families have been worried about getting their family to safety and leaving behind family and the only home they’ve ever known. We were reminded that there are bad people out there, that people are capable of terrible terrible things. All it took was to sit in a refugees living room for one hour to hear about their journey away from danger and into the safety of the United States.
It’s an amazing feeling to meet individuals and to feel like you’ve been friends for years. That’s exactly how it felt to meet some of the Lost Boys of Sudan. Eight weeks of readings and intense discussions could never have prepared me for the stories that they shared or the friendships that we built. In the comforts of our hostel, we shared meals and conversations that have been more meaningful than I can even explain. We talked about how each of them walked miles upon miles while watching their friends and families die right in front of them. We talked about the family they’ve left behind in Sudan, about their first experiences in the US, and about what they’re doing now as most of them hope to use their knowledge to help Southern Sudan in the future. Most importantly, we talked about their outlook on life. These men have experienced more in their 30 years of life than I will in my entire life and they have suffered more than any individual I know, yet they see the world as an opportunity. They live for those who have died before them. They understand the keys to happiness: family and friends. The only word I can use to describe these men is pure-hearted. They have seen the worst of the worst but continue to be more optimistic than many of us. I’d like to give a shout out to Jany, Kual, both Gabes, Koor, and Sam as they have inspired me to do more. To expect more of myself. To expect more of others. To embody the words that JMU has engrained into my mind for four years now: “Be the change.”
I have realized how much I have taken for granted. My safety, my family, my education, my language. I’ve grown up assuming my life is nothing out of the ordinary but this past week has proven just the opposite. My skin may not be ten shades darker and my laundry basket is filled with t-shirts and running shorts rather than bikinis and dresses, but I’m completely fine with that. The individuals I’ve met this week have shown me that there are good people out there; I just have to believe that they’re there. After rambling on and on in this post, I can say with certainty that I will never be able to accurately describe this trip to Phoenix. For now, I’ll continue to try. I’ll continue to fight to find the right words to describe how much this experience has touched my life. We have been thanked over and over again for “giving up our Spring Break” to help others in Phoenix, but they should be the ones who are thanked for sharing stories that will forever inspire our lives.