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Photo by Celia Mitchell (2015/16 Semester Photo Contest Entry), Indonesia Semester.

A Strange New Normal

A few mornings ago, as Duncan and I crowded around the outlet to read our parents Field Notes on the program house iPad (hi mom and dad!), we found ourselves distracted by Photos of the Week and Field Notes from other students on other courses in other places. Being on week three in this city and almost a month in this country, I had forgotten this was a program, not just my school and my life. By this point, the tiny, crowded tuk-tuks we pack into to Patan or Jamal seem so normal and “everyday” that I’ve practically forgotten what it’s like to ride in a car, much less drive one. My group-mates feel like my family, my family like some of my closest friends and my neighborhood like the only place on earth that I have ever lived. Many of us have already established our regularity in tea houses and certain shops, but our presence in this country runs so much deeper. This place, although otherworldly compared to our previous homes, is so strangely familiar; as if my soul has been here a thousand years before I arrived.

Although vibrant, interesting subjects are ridiculous abundance, I have only taken 20 photos this trip thus far. Not only am I often too shy to ask young children or monks if it is okay to take there photo, but it also seems strange to photograph what is so familiar and normal to me – burning trash piles on every street corner; overcrowded tempos and goats on top of buses full of young students and old, tired men; hundreds of fresh boxes of vegetables lining the block (always accompanied by the neighborhood stray dogs or two… or ten). It all seems so normal. Even the stares at my whiteness are normal (and even spareser) now. I feel like a local here. Really, I am a local here. As beautiful a thing as that is and as many Dragons goals as it accomplishes, I find that it carries a lot of weight as well. When we discuss development in letures and other class forums the same question always arises of not only “what is development?” but “who drives development?” The answer is almost always the same: locals. Without local involvement, nowhere can ever development, not in any way. For me, this conversations begs more and more questions about my role here, at home (if I ever return, I might stay here forever), and in all the places that life may take me from here…

Is it fair that I get to choose where I establish myself a local when so many people have no say or flexibility in their life’s location? Does this privilege necessitate a different responsibility? To what? To whom? What responsibility do I have to the places I go and the loving people I meet when I know a fancy Ethiad flight will carry me above and away from these rooftops in only 50 short days? Whatever it is, how do I pursue it? It’s an endless spiral at times. Interesting, important and challenging (in a good way), but endless. In fear of catching you all into this spiral, I dare not carry on with rhetorics much longer… but I do ask something of you:

Being parents, as many of you are, or friends from their various communities that we each come from, you are likely sitting at home as you read this (maybe even over a cup of tea or nice bourbon). You are probably all pretty comfortable; in your homes, maybe your car, perhaps even outside by the fire… I ask that you think about this comfort, something so many others don’t have (and likely never will). Think about the things around you. How many of them are truly necessary? What significance do they hold? What did it take you to get them? And most importantly, what would it take and what would it be like to let them go?

I strongly believe this is one of the most important processes that we are all going through now: the process of physically, emotionally and spiritually freeing ourselves from the unnecessary, the destructive, and the unintentional. By doing so, space opens up within us and around us for the lives we want to lead and arguable the most important attainment of this journey: who we want to be.