Weekly Writing Challenge: (Changes) In An Instagram
It was 2011 – the year of the Arab spring. Not a day passed without more news of protest, blood, violence, intervention, sweat, war, censorship, and occasionally even: hope. A friend of mine was about to board a plane to Egypt. She was going to spend a year in the middle of all the chaos studying Arabic and trying to stay alive. Unlike people born, raised and suppressed in the Middle East, she had the luxury of choosing whether or not to face the turmoil. She was aware of this and it’s probably why she didn’t back out in the end. This isn’t about politics, though. Not about injustice. It’s simply about someone’s life changing.
We were standing in the kitchen, snacking on left-overs, a bag of chips and a small container of peanut butter with chocolate chips that we’d just bought at Whole Foods. College dinner.
“Do you think they’ll let you go?” I asked her.
We were both on spring break and I was visiting her for a couple of days.
“There’s so much going on right now.”
She shrugged. “I keep checking the news – so far, I don’t know. I really wanna go, though. It seems to be the place I should be right now…”
I reached for a chip and we were quiet for a while.
I was about to board a plane, too. I wasn’t headed for a conflict area (unless that’s a term you’d apply to the European Union; I guess, some people would). After studying abroad for a year, I was going home – whatever that means. I wasn’t sure then, I’m not sure now. I stood at the check-in, hoping several things: that I still had enough money in my account to pay for my extra suitcase, that my entire luggage wasn’t overweight (obesity is a serious problem among luggage of all sorts, people should be much more aware of it), and that they wouldn’t have me check in my guitar so it wouldn’t get smashed by potentially overweight suitcases somewhere along the way. Thankfully, all this hoping kept me too busy to fully realize that I was just handing over my life (that I’d managed to stuff into two large bags and a bag pack, god knows how) to the well-dressed lady behind the desk in front of me. So I stood there, smiling blankly, watching my life disappear behind her. I might have seen one of my friends cry from the corner of my eye but I successfully ignored it, even as I went to say my good-byes.
“Do you think you’ll come back?” she asked into the silence. We had quietly moved over to the sofa in the living room.
It was my turn to shrug. “I would really like to…I don’t know, either. Let’s hope so.”
People always talk of hope when there’s nothing else to hold on to. It’s usually about the time they rediscover belief and prayer.
She looked at me: “You should try.”
I looked at my hands: “We should try.”
And we sort of hoped together.
I was probably the only person on the plane that wasn’t relieved when we landed. I didn’t applaud the pilot. I usually don’t because it really makes me feel silly. That day I didn’t because it really made me feel all sorts of things. As I waited in line to have my passport checked I simply started crying. Someone asked me whether I was playing the Cello, pointing to the guitar on my back, entirely ignoring the fact I stood there sobbing as if someone had just abducted my child or my puppy or even worse: both, and that I was just two breaths per second short of hyperventilating. People never cease to amaze me, and not always in a good way. “It’s a guitar” I mumbled while cleaning my glasses and double-checking whether I could see things in full color to make sure I hadn’t just landed in the middle of a Marx Brothers movie. Unfortunately, I hadn’t. I stood, in fact, in the middle of plain, old reality: close to broke and about to move back in with my parents, at least for a while. A seven-hour flight can certainly change things.
My friend had to spend the summer waiting for news. News of protest, blood, violence, intervention, sweat, war, censorship, and occasionally even: hope. News of the program that sponsored her studies.
Eventually, she e-mailed me “I’m going to Egypt in fall!”
I e-mailed her back: “Come visit then – I’m half-way home for you!”
Although I still felt uncomfortable with the term home.
I spent my summer waiting, too. Waiting to feel — real.
I subscribed to the New York Times newsletter to stay updated with the situation in the Middle East. To make sure my friend was studying Arabic and staying alive at the same time. And because I was looking for something — real.
I also got a side job: to occupy me until classes would start, and even more important, to earn some money. So I worked. I bought a ukulele. My grandmother passed away. I wrote a couple of songs. I went to my grandmother’s funeral and squeezed my mother’s elbow. I moved into a small apartment. Fall came and I still found myself cleaning my glasses from time to time, double-checking whether I could see things in full color. Just to make sure I wasn’t part of a movie. Unfortunately, I wasn’t. Only sometimes, it still felt like it. And I wondered what could possibly change that.
Prologue: Home is the Sailor.
I’ve just spent a week in Ireland and I’ve been meaning to write/blog about my adventures on the green island since I got back. Yet, I’ve been busy with work and somehow, my mind’s also been occupied with other things and stories that want out. Today, I finally have some time (or rather: I’m simply taking some time) to write and maybe, I can find a way to get it all out – I’ll try to let all the stories out at once and hopefully, they will get along with one another and peacefully play together without kicking, screaming, pinching and without me sending them into a far corner of my mind to take a time-out or call in a writer-story conference.
Oh, the places you’ll go.
I’ve always suffered from a chronic disease: cabin fever. The prospect of traveling – anywhere, really – has always had a soothing effect on my usually uneasy self. I love plane rides, train rides, even bus rides and bike rides. Next to ocean shores and mountains, bus and train stations and also airports are probably among my favorite places in the world (at least whenever I get to go somewhere or meet someone – seeing someone off is probably one of my least favorite things in the world, but that’s a different story). When I checked in my – apparently impressively small – bag, I felt as calm as I hadn’t felt in a quite a while. Especially knowing that this feeling would probably last the entire week – because what’s there to see in Ireland? Exactly. Ocean shores and mountains. And sheep. Many, many sheep (Bah bah baaah – that’s “I love Ireland” in Sheep; yes, I’m fluent).
Like most people, I have many habits. I need my coffee in the morning, I buy more books than I could ever read and I prefer to fall asleep to music rather than plain, dark silence. None of these are too bad (in my opinion). Another habit of mine, though: I smoke. I’m not a chain-smoker, at least, but still. I’m a stress-smoker. And I have been smoking way too much in my opinion, all through August and September, because I was stressed. Which is not an excuse. I’d like to kick the habit. I’ve heard it’s easier to kick any habit when you change your general routine. I didn’t touch even one cigarette while being in Ireland nor did I feel like it – it seems almost blaspheme to inhale cigarette smoke while being surrounded by sea air all the time. That being said, I’m back home now and general routine’s been rearing its ugly head since I got off the plane – and my only solution so far has been to blow cigarette smoke right into its face. Is it my unrest or really just a bad habit I can’t get rid off? Or is it the same in the end?
Few things feel better than standing on top of a mountain that you’ve just hiked up. Especially with the soft, leprechaun-green Irish grass beneath and the dark blue of the Atlantic ocean below your feet. Also, few things feel more awe-inspiring. One moment of negligent curiosity and you’re sleeping with the fish – or you find yourself inside one, meeting Pinocchio or Jonah, potentially. There are some rocks – the Skelligs – an hour-long boat ride from the Irish coast, we wanted to but in the end couldn’t climb up. Weather conditions made it too dangerous and thus impossible (let alone our personal condition after the boat ride – the sea was a bit rough that day; go figure the consequences). They are mostly famous because around 600, Christian monks built their monastery on top of the rocks. In fact, they built them from the rocks. I still cannot imagine how they managed to do that. How they defied nature like that. And how they defied it and yet somehow still respected it, worked with it really (instead of marching in and just destroying everything, like it seems to be in fashion these days – sorry the tiny environmentalist in me sometimes takes over, but it’s a funny and cute creature, I’m sure you’d like it. Kind of like the Lorax, just maybe not that fuzzy).
Epilogue: Home from the Sea.
I would have liked to stay longer (as always), but I’m back. And (as always), I feel more restless coming home than I do while traveling. Maybe I was a sailor in a former life (although then, I probably wouldn’t have become that seasick during the boat ride?). Home is the sailor, home from the sea – I found this quote on a gravestone in a small cemetery on a hill right next to the ocean. I really liked it and I took it home with me (okay, this is a metaphor but I also, literally, took a picture of it). Another option: maybe we’re all sailors and my chronic disease isn’t just chronic but also contagious and already wide-spread.