Almost 12 days ago, I woke up slowly and glanced around the room. For a second I didn’t know where I was. Then I realized I was home in Ellicott City, Maryland in my very own bed; home sweet home. I laid there for a few minutes and contemplated the possibility that I had just woken up from a very long, vivid and emotional dream. But then I caught a glimpse of my big blue and black suitcase that sat across the room. It was all real. I had just returned home from what had seemed like a weeklong dream. As my feet hit the floor right below me, I immediately missed the ladder of the bunk bed from the Hostel in Phoenix that I had climbed down every morning for the past week. I was extremely jet lagged waking up that morning, and to be quite honest, I was having a really hard time convincing myself that I had just lived through such a surreal experience. I went downstairs and immediately my mom said “Good morning! Let me hear about your trip!” I wanted to respond with so many things but all I said was, “…..I don’t want to talk about it right now.”
Since then it has been over a week that we have been home from our spring break trip to Phoenix, AZ. Without a doubt, I have needed every second of the past 12 days to even process everything from the trip. At first I felt bad that I had nothing to say to my mom the next morning after returning home. But now that I have had time to reflect and get back into my routine life, it wasn’t that I had nothing to say that morning, but that I had too much to say and not the words to say it.
In my pre-reflection before going on our trip, I expressed my fear of being “silent” in the presence of the refugees that we anticipated working with simply because I thought it would be impossible to relate to them in anyway, therefore causing me to not say anything. However, now that we are back, as a post-reflection I would describe myself not no longer silent, but speechless.
The dictionary defines the word “silent” as an adjective meaning, the absence of noise or sound, not inclined to speak, not talkative, unable to speak or, refraining from speech. In my pre-reflection, I would say I was correct in describing my fear of silence. I was afraid I wouldn’t want to talk, and that I would purposely refrain from speaking out of fear and uncertainty. The dictionary defines the word “speechless” as an adjective meaning, lacking the faculty of speech, temporarily unable to speak, as through astonishment, unexpressed or inexpressible in words. I would have to say that if someone was going attribute any experience as the cause of becoming speechless, it would definitely be an experience like our trip to Phoenix. Now more than ever I am not silent, but speechless. As the definition states, I am astonished, and my experience has left me unable to find the right way to express my feelings, emotions, and thoughts. The English language might be the most prominent language around the globe right now, but that definitely doesn’t mean it is easy to find the right words to describe what I want to say.
Aaron was exactly right when he told me that I was going to have a hard time explaining everything to people when we got home. We were living through such an incredible opportunity in Phoenix, meeting inspiring people and I was expressing my worry that I wouldn’t be ever be able to explain the degree of awe I was feeling. Aaron said, “Welcome to my world.” It has been one of the most frustrating experiences coming back from Phoenix and answering the question that a million people have asked me, “How was that trip you went on?” I haven’t received one reaction from other people that I have been ok with. Not even the people that I am closest with. There truly aren’t the words to relay to them how amazing our week actually was. Most people that I talk to don’t even fully understand why we went. After a few nods, almost everyone moves on to brag about how crazy their week in Cancun was or how much fun they had in Panama City, FL. It takes all of my will power to bite my tongue and just move on with the conversation.
It’s so obvious to me now how privileged of a life we live. I thought that I always knew it and appreciated everything I had but after our trip it is a daily thought that I am thankful. I am thankful for my life, for everyone that I met in Phoenix, for their openness to share their stories, for my classmates, and for Aaron too. I wrote in my journal that in the matter of 5 days, I got the chance to meet more remarkable people than I ever have in the entire duration of my life thus far. To me that is such a hard concept to wrap my head around because I never thought in a million years that 5 days could affect my life this drastically. Just by doing selfless things and actually listening to other people instead of just worrying about yourself like most people typically do, I am a better person with a very different socially constructed world than I had before. My roommates turned on MTV this week. Before our trip it would have been a normal occurrence and I probably wouldn’t have even paid much attention. But now that it is after our trip I just look at things differently. The show Rob and Big happened to be on. The episode basically consisted of Rob, a pro skateboarder gone fearless comedian, doing outrageous, pointless, drastic stunts. It was normal for that show, but it made me so angry. The thought of how much money is spent on all of the worthless nonsense that they do on that show literally made me so upset. The show Rob and Big is just one example of how much money is spent on pointless things but now when I see money being spent carelessly, I notice it and can’t help but think to myself how badly I wish all of that money could be put towards all of the refugee families that we met or just the cause in general. I think I began to see money differently the day that we were working with Catholic Charities and went to the 99 cent store to spend $1,000 dollars on supplies for refugee families like laundry detergent, toilet paper, and soap. One of the case managers named Sandy came in to give us some of her families for us to distribute the supplies to and I will never forget when she said, “Oh, the toilet paper is a luxury item, they will be lucky to get that.” From that point on, the word “luxury” really stuck with me. So, toilet paper is a “luxury” item for refugee families that were forced to flee their country for safety due to genocide and violence, but spending an absurd amount of money on worthless stunts just to be funny is the “norm” for people like Rob and Big and many other insignificant “celebrities”? I don’t think I need to elaborate any further about why that upsets me.
Our trip to Phoenix taught me a lot but one thing I think I was really able to learn and internalize is how to deal with stress and frustration. Global issues are everywhere and studying them in depth down to their core is inevitably going to cause anger and frustration. It’s hard to understand why things are they way they are but leaving our trip I learned that it’s not about the frustration, it’s about what you do with it. The Lost Boys that we had the pleasure of interacting with it said it best. They told us that we were making the biggest difference because we were spreading the word and advocating for the cause. We are taking part in diffusing awareness. Apart from that, I now define the word stress differently. You can walk around the JMU campus on a daily basis and hear thousands of complaints from students about a paper they have to write, or how their roommate didn’t do the dishes. I myself still have my moments of complaining and stress, we all do, but I am now truly able to take a step back from my “problems” causing me stress and be thankful that my stress is from a paper and not from having to run for my life and my safety in my own country. The people I had the honor of meeting during the week in Phoenix were able to put things back into perspective for me. They taught me the meaning of genuine humility. They brought me back down to earth in a sense. I think we could all use a little more humility sometimes. There are things out there bigger than yourself. I am so fortunate to have experienced and lived through something so incredible and I now can say that I have a true passion for something. My passion is no longer a sport, shopping, or cooking, but a global issue that deserves it.