Tuesday, April 14, 2009

living on the border

The first weekend I was in Thailand, I decided to go to Ko Samet, an island four hours away from Bangkok, with the rest of the students in the abroad group. I remember the bus ride and the strange music playing from the speakers, the men tending the rice patties out the window, and how clear the water was when we finally reached the shore to take the ferry. Even though I was surrounded by palm trees and nice old women selling straw hats and colorful sarongs, I couldn’t shake the feeling of being so far away from everything I knew, and the context of my life that I’d relied on thus far. Yes, the jet lag hadn’t quite worn off at that point—but I was scared. I was halfway across the world and unsure of exactly where to put myself.
Sue, and British woman, owned the guesthouse we checked into that day. She gave us a locker and the key to our room (which was a hut with a mattress, fan and fly-net) and learned our names within five minutes. There is something so reassuring about someone saying your name when you have no idea where you are, a simple recognition easily taken advantage of in familiar settings. But even this interaction could not shake the nerves still weighing on my shoulders. The next afternoon, I checked my email, to find long messages from a few good friends and my mom. I didn’t open them. Just reading the subject line was enough to make me break down in tears. No one else was in the internet room except for sue, who read the newspaper behind her desk, her back facing me.
I knew I had to grab onto something near me, I had to give into my new surroundings. So I went to Sue, a woman I hardly knew. I tapped on her desk and broke down in tears. She hugged me and poured a cup of tea. She spoke of her daughters and how homesick they became when they traveled abroad. She said she couldn’t be there for them then, but somehow, being there for me at that moment made up for that. We don’t always get to select the people we’ve known the longest to be there for us when we need someone most. We have to make the most out of what’s in front of us, even if it is foreign. I realized that day that traveling, anywhere, is not about just seeing a place but connecting yourself to that place, realizing that if you open yourself up, you can be at home wherever you go. No matter how large and overwhelming the world gets, we have the opportunity to share the same ground.
The idea of having a place to store complicated feelings, and letting go of fear, regret, and blame, answered all of the questions that each post colonial author asked throughout the semester. We may not be able to control the world or our lives in a way that makes us feel comfortable, but we can choose which thoughts we live out and which battles we need to fight. The rest we can offer to the universe, and allow ourselves to be completely present. Gilbert writes, “Man is neither entirely a puppet of the gods, not is he entirely the captain of his own destiny, he is a little bit of both.” The balance between fate and free will may be a space to create a homeland, in both active living and careful surrendering. Gilbert’s insights remind me of the Serenity prayer: God grant me the serenity/ to accept the things I cannot change/courage to change the things I can/
and wisdom to know the difference.”
Gilbert’s idea of living on the border or “Antevasin” has been present all of the work we’ve read this semester. All of the characters are on the midst of societal or geographical change, trying to balance on a line of old world and new world, today and yesterday. Some have had the strength to confront the unknown and the constant changing, and others have not. In all cases, this process is never easy. As people, we are constantly strangled between our past and present homelands, and the foreboding idea of the future. Gilbert proved through prayer, meditation, and caring for the self, the homeland can only be attained from within. With this inner piece the individual can see the beauty lives throughout this chaos. Homeland is meant to be expanded and redefined, and is never constricted to one place. Through this expansion and open-mindedness, the world and the individual will grow.

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