I’m not really sure what to say now that I am back in the US. The culture shock is, of course, palpable. The food prices are shocking (but I am willing to pay for the variety and lack of stomach pains), the roads are flat and not filled with potholes, and the buildings seem even larger and more ominous than ever before. I am happy to be back. I am exhausted, have jetlag, and keep obsessively washing my expedition clothes; however, I am uncomfortable in large groups, I don’t always know what to say when people ask me about the expedition, but I am also sometimes lonely in a way I have never been before. It is an odd situation to have shared terrible Nescafe instant coffee and white bread with a group of amazing friends(family, in reality) most every day for over a week and then wake up in a comfortable bed to no one else. It is also bizarre to see good friends and not really know what to talk.
But these are temporary discomforts that, like the jetlag, I know will pass in time. More profound are, with any luck, the internal changes that will stick inside me forever. I feel more empathetic, things that might have once annoyed me are no longer of much concern, and I feel a deep compulsion to protect my health and well-being (this includes my mind, body, and soul). I don’t know where I am headed or what the road will look like, but I have a much better understanding of who and what makes me happy. Isn’t that quite the paradox? I looked despair and desperation in the eye for days and come back with a greater sense of everything I truly want in life. Perhaps it isn’t such a paradox. My life, unlike the lives of many of those I interacted with, is not written in indelible ink. Perhaps that is the greatest gift I received in a time of previously unknown bounties – while I was attempting to assist in writing the verses to a poem about the exploitation and enslavement of children, these same people (and those in their orbit) were really helping me write and revise the verses of my own life’s poem. Maybe they only worked on a few stanzas, but the changes are quite tremendous.
Stevenson declared in Aes Triplex that “The changes wrought by death are in themselves so sharp and final, and so terrible and melancholy in their consequences, that the thing
stands alone in man’s experience, and has no parallel upon earth. It outdoes all other accidents because it is the last of them.” I have experienced very little death in my life (blessedly), but the moments of melancholy brought on by those losses did not result in the changes that have overcome me. Perhaps I will say something different when I inevitably lose someone I share my soul with, but I think I gained more from the instances of heartache, empathy, and even incredible joy that I experienced the last week and a half.
That is another personal paradox I am still sorting out. There were days of discomfort with many moments of sadness (a depression that persists no matter how dispassionate you try to become), but there were also some moments of seemingly infinite bliss that stand out far more. Which did I gain more from? I don’t know, but I do not regret an instant of this trip nor an action nor a terrible shot forever known as The Boff Special. All of these moments blend to create something beautiful. Every memory is special, and while some will fade, I took the time to soak in the most important ones. And those memories, some blissful and others distressing, I will try and hold in my head forever.
I know this blog is meant to be about my travel, but these words are the only ones I have right now. As for the purpose of the expedition (as I see it in a post hoc fashion), Vonnegut says it better than I can: “Many people need desperately to receive this message: ‘I feel and think much as you do, care about many of the things you care about, although most people do not care about them. You are not alone.'”
I hope that everyone will have an experience as profound as mine, and I look forward to the next expedition. Perhaps the changes will not be so profound in part deux and beyond, but I am sure they will be just as … tremendous.