Well, I’m here. And the last three days have been exponentially changing- in good ways. When my professor first insisted that I keep a blog I nodded knowing that I’ve been pretty diligent about writing my travel experiences in the past. He pressed on a bit more saying that, No really, I will truly need to have a vehicle to voice all of the thoughts that grow like little bamboo shoots (okay he didn’t use that metaphor, but it’s totally true).
Within about 10 minutes of arriving at Sarvodaya I understood exactly what he was referring to and how impossibly suffocating it would be to try to process everything all in my head. Before I even fell in to jet-lag-recovery coma, I busted out my keyboard (many thanks Gene, it’s wonderful) and wrote a up a few pages mostly just describing those ten minutes. I realized that my blog posts would be a huge limitation, and no doubt turn into rambles that make little sense, if I saved everything for when I finally found the internet. Anyway, I’ve since put a little organization into place and with any luck this post will be a decent description of the past few days.
This is what I see when I look out my window every morning. Every sunny morning anyway. It’s the floor of dorms I live on with the canteen (cafeteria) at the end. Each meal is served there, along with tea time during the week.
For the sake of storytelling, here’s how my first few days unravelled: the first day was crazy. It was all sorts of awkward in a bizarre language that I did not spend as much time practicing this summer as I had planned. My cheeks were stuck in a goofy smile because I had no idea what to say, who to say it to or how to react but I knew people were friendly so I used that one smile as my reaction to everything I encountered. I slept from my early morning arrival until dinner, where I finally met two of the other volunteers. They had only arrived the day before, but it felt like they had years worth of experience compared to the boatload of awkward that was still pulsing through me. I had no idea how powerful socialization could be, but I met the other two volunteers soon after and some simple English conversation was exactly as healing as everyone told me it’d be. The next few days were pretty slow-motion, just adjusting to places and people for the first time. Among us interns, we have a good group, which is great because that was really what I crossed my fingers about. Two other girls were brand-new, like me. One Dutch and the other Israeli. The others are near their six week mark, both American. Granted they’ve only been here a little while, their know-how and demeanor makes them seem like old wise souls next to my new awkward self. For the past year, I really hadn’t been referencing the Dominican trip all that much, but since being here, it’s all I’ve thought about. I can hardly help but draw comparisons and contrast the two experiences that are entirely different in nature. Apologies if I do it in excess here. The group-dynamic has been especially interesting. Our nine-person tribe that trekked through the DR had a few very close leaders. We had more in common than we realized and spent most of our time with each other. Here, we share the uncommon desire to leave home and volunteer for this Sri Lankan NGO, but everything about our backgrounds is completely unique. We’re constantly sharing and exchanging stories and cultures from our different homes and we’re all setting out down different Sarvodayan paths for different purposes. Yet, we’re stuck together in our own kind of weird family whether we like it or not. And I think we’ll like it.
Anyway, it’s been a very interesting few days. I have undoubtedly been challenged in ways that terrify me yet feel really, really good. I feel alone, but not lonely. I have been longggging for that sense of comfort that the elder volunteers have already achieved. There is such a learning curve that I find myself wanting to be further along just so I can appreciate this weird new part without being IN it anymore. I’ve impressed myself with my ability to acknowledge these weird culture clash moments of akwardness and anxiety as good, healthy, learning experiences that may give me some content for an essay or interview question down the road. It’s normal and ultimately incredible to be able to put oneself in such a strange new land and feel out of place. The scariest thing is that I’ve been submerged in theory for my whole 15 years in the good ‘ol American education system and this is the very first time I am on the practice side.. for real. I’m doing EXACTLY what I’ve told myself, and others, that I want to do and can hardly think of a better situation to fit my ambitions. What if I decide I don’t like it? What on Earth will that kind of responsibility feel like? I’ll be leading (if I’m lucky) projects in a way that all “real-world” professionals do in that thing they call the workforce. Yet, I still feel completely unprepared. I feel like I am taking on exactly what I think I want to take on with absolutely no idea how to do that. Yet I understand that I’m not supposed to and that somehow everything is still okay.
WHAtever. I’m just going to try to grow up in a cool way. With any luck, I can re-read these posts in a few months and feel some sort of wisdom. Happy September you guys. Thanks for humoring me as I become this existential 21 year old in an overly aggressive attempt to find inner peace. Speaking of which, here’s a cool picture of the Buddhist temple in my back yard :)