As everyone eagerly awaits (I’m sure) my own “re-entry” post, here is another post written by a friend of mine from my voyage. It describes my feelings of re-entry back into America even better because it is more personalized…
How This Feels Blog – Bailey Gerber, April 2012
There is a Singapore rail pass, a receipt from a Vietnamese dressmaker, and a Kingfisher bottle cap on the bottom of my purse. I have been to Dominica, Brazil, Ghana, South Africa, Mauritius, India, Singapore, Vietnam, China and Japan. My trusty anti-theft money belt is now the home of rupees, rand, cedi, reals, dong, yuan, and yen… and I don’t plan on cleaning it out anytime soon. I have done more and seen more than most people will in their entire lives. This is how it feels to have a dream come true.
Where I used to see shapes on a map I now see people; beggars, politicians, drug dealers, philanthropist, thieves, travelers, parents, children and in many countries, angels. Every day I have seen the best and worst that humanity has to offer. I have been ripped off, misguided, threatened, spit on and cursed out more times than I can count. I have also been brought to tears by the generosity of a complete stranger. We have all had to trust, especially in the taxi, tuk tuk, tro tro, rickshaw, and moto drivers- but above all, we have had to trust each other. We have experienced each other’s good, bad and ugly, like really ugly…like day five of the Amazon ugly. Though we were strangers three months ago, we have shared moments of intense fear, hopelessness, bliss and inexpressible gratitude. We have supported each other through meltdowns, travel group drama and of course- missed FDPs. We have watched each other come of age, overcome fears and forge new identities…sometimes in the form of a nose ring or a panda hat.
I have gained an extreme amount of weight- or as I like to see it now- I have gained baby weight of my cultural and intellectual rebirth. But really – it’s not like I was going to skip the Nan in India, the pho in Vietnam or the fan ice in Ghana (or the birthday cake on deck five). Although I won’t miss the pasta and potatoes, I will always long for one more long dinner on deck 5. This ship must be the only place on earth where five college kids can have a three-hour dinner without being interrupted by text messages or Facebook notifications. Those long dinners will forever be among my most precious memories. Whether we were planning our weddings or trying to process India, I always felt most at home during dinnertime. May we always remember the freedom of being unplugged and out of touch and the magic of living in the moment with the people sitting around us.
I finally have the lingo down. I use words like deck, swell, port, berth, tymitz, green sheet, and quarantine. I know that breakfast means deck 6 and dinner means deck 5, unless it’s inedible then it’s up to deck 7. I no longer worry about the pub night schedule or whether or not my clothes match when I run to global studies. I still don’t know the last names of the majority of my friends – even though I can probably name their school, major, hometown and how they handle stressful situations. Like all SAS kids, I too have spent my fair share of time wondering if the peanut butter is actually soy butter or if the mythical stabilizers are out. I tell time by ports, using phrases like “We became friends after Ghana” or “I haven’t been to the gym since Singapore.” Even though I know there are 367 days in our SAS year, I haven’t actually known the day of the week since we left the Bahamas. My closet is now an eclectic showcase of all the latest trends in tourist couture- I realize as I am writing this I am wearing pants from India, a shirt from China and bracelet from Brazil. I can’t wait until I accidentally pull out a Rand to pay for a cup of coffee or find a Family Mart receipt for five Japanese Strongs in my coat pocket.
Though I will miss this ship- the garden lounge, the union and the cove. It’s the people I will miss the most. I can’t imagine life without the eggrolls, the SASholes, the shipsters, the pastels, Mizaram, Nalbach, Takada and of course the amazing crew- especially Achilles. I can already hear Stuart’s voice in the back of my head before all major life events… “Graduation tomorrow- Graduation tomorrow.”
It is funny to look back now- at photos of our old selves before our dreams came true and the world changed us. We looked so put-together, wondering the ship with our name tags on… now we look like day three of a Grateful Dead festival. However you describe it- backpacker chic, pirate swag – this scraggly bunch of college kids is now a force to be reckoned with …and I am proud to be among them.
As emerald shellbacks, we have gone on safari in Africa, tried yoga in India, and enjoyed a few drinks in Mauritius. We have accidentally hung out at a prostitute bar in Ghana and caused a 300% revenue increase for that 7/11 in Hong Kong (the same goes for the Krazy Koconut in Dominica and Captain’s in Shanghai). We understand the frustration of being lost in a cruise ship terminal, a subway station and of course, Makola market. We have built houses, fed the hungry, meditated with monks and stood breathless as we visited 3 of the 7 wonders of the world. We now know that no public restroom in the US could ever match the horror of an Indian squatter… and we always know – no matter where we go, there will always be Kentucky Fried Chicken, Pitbull on the radio, and convenient store liquor. We have survived Brazilian rum, Ghanaian gin, South African wine, Vietnamese beer, and Japanese sake…and we have the stories to prove it. We will never forget the theme songs: “I Love my Life” in Dominica, “TIA” in Ghana, “Waka Waka” in Cape Town- and if you traveled with me in India, you will never forget dancing on the bus to “Chaiyya Chaiyya.”
We are professionals now. We have learned the tricks of travel and how to walk with absolute confidence– no matter how lost we actually are. We have slept without wallets, tied ourselves to our backpacks and carried index cards with “please take me to my hotel” written in various languages. We know now it’s best not to admit it is your first day in a country, especially when bargaining. We are now masters at the “walk away” technique and know that if the shopkeeper is happy- we definitely paid too much. We can spot a fake swatch or Prada bag from a mile away and all the while we wonder if the Tom’s in Africa are fake or stolen. Red flags shoot up every time we hear phrases like “I give you good price”, “Come meet my friend” or “Here brother, sister- have a look.” We now know that asking about people’s children and hobbies is the fastest way to drive down a price (and turn a greedy shopkeeper into an honest friend).
We have learned the importance of pronouncing people’s names correctly and even more importantly learning the words “please and thank you” in every language. We have mastered the art of the discrete picture taking, whether we were trying to capture the serenity of a monk or the desperation of a child, we have captured moments that exist beyond description. Even if we took 1,000 photos- images can’t convey the smells, tastes, and sounds that made each moment real- and maybe now we realize that the magic really begins when we stop experiencing life from behind the lens and fully immerse ourselves in the moment.
We could have done a million other things this semester- stayed at home, studied in one country… but we didn’t. At this exact moment in time, we came together- to learn and grow and to forever be the kids of Spring 12. Although we were a special breed before the MV (let’s be honest- it takes a special person to drop everything and sail around the world with complete strangers…without any real plans)- now we are just bizarre. We lived on a cruise ship. We sailed around the world. We went to a university that had a gangway and a pool deck. We must be the only people on Earth who had classes canceled so we could cross the equator or watch our friends in a synchronized swimming competition. Our lives are epic and we are epic… and I know it is just the beginning.
Although we are a pretty confident bunch, we still have our fears. Fears like getting off the ship, losing touch, or getting that first text message. We worry that we will be strangers to our family and friends and that no one will ever understand us again. We will lie awake at night wondering what we will do with our lives to top this experience or how to make this semester count. Deep down we all really have one fear- that we haven’t changed, that we haven’t grown enough and that we will settle back into our old ways of being. We will walk off the gangway in San Diego wondering: “now how do I make this the beginning, not the pinnacle?” It seems daunting now, figuring out a way to make our new selves function in our old lives- and not bark at our friends when they complain about traffic, class or being hungry. After Ghana, I will never complain about having to read for class again. I get now how lucky I am just to be able to.
As alumni, we will be a hard bunch to overwhelm, to scare or discourage. After waking up to a tarantula in Brazil or walking through a row of beggars in India, nothing really fazes us now. Things that once seemed “difficult” months ago are no longer remotely intimidating. We did this… now we can do anything.
Although we may be unfazed, may we never be “unimpressed.” May we always be delighted by the wonders of the world and find magic in every place and person- not just in the monuments or celebrities- but everywhere we go. May we always see the world through these eyes- the eyes of youth and hope. May we stay optimistic and stay positive… and may we always stay a little naïve-for no other reason besides being young rocks. May we remember the things we said we would do- the people we promised we would help… and may we never forget the moments when we felt anything was possible….may we always remember the person we wanted to become. May we always see the world as an opportunity and a challenge- and may we wake up every morning ready to conquer it.
So as the moments slip away and we try to pack the last three months into two suitcases… may we smile bigger, breath deeper and soak it all in. However you want to say it- You Only Live Once, Love Life, Capre Diem, or Life is short… do it big and do it now… because this is all we have and we are the luckiest people alive. Of course, we are lucky because we just sailed around the world and had 1,000 eye-opening experiences, but the luckiest because we have each other… and may we always have each other.