Unconceivable

January 5, 2005

This is just something I came across in Sarah’s journal and as I was reading it I couldn’t believe how much I related to it. It’s very well-written and incredibly true. I couldn’t help but steal it ( with her permission of course). 🙂


One of 700… out of 6.5 billion

Here I am on the ship. All of my friends share my experiences with me. “Crossing the street in Vietnam” is something we all understand. We all know what “the voice” is. Many of us saw the Starbucks in the Forbidden City and the McDonald’s on nearly every street corner in Beijing. (Some of us wanted to cry.) We all have “hang loose” paraphernalia from Hawaii, chopsticks and scarves from China, Tiger Beer shirts from Vietnam, clothing and jewelry from India, wooden giraffes from Kenya, objects that were too expensive from South Africa, and soccer jerseys from Brazil. We know where people wear rice hats, and don’t confuse them with the Chinese. We can tell the difference from an Indian, especially a Sikh man with a turban, and someone from the “middle east”, whatever that really is. We have a newfound appreciation for languages with Latin roots. We can all bargain and haggle better than ever before. Hand sanitizer is a welcome and necessary commodity, and it feels odd to be able to drink from the tap. We recognize faces wherever we go. We now know what it’s like to be the one that looks “different” in a sea of faces. We know what it’s like to feel lost and confused, yet more in tune with the world than ever before. Suddenly the world is small, and we all understand. Suddenly all cultures are not so different… we all have family structures, we all have clothing, we all eat food. Everywhere I go, people speak a language. Everywhere we have been, a smile can lighten the mood. Pointing and arrows are universal. Everywhere we go, everyone has to make a living. Some have to try much harder than others. Now we understand just how much more.

We all go around the world on this ship, are released into new and foreign lands, and do what we do best: invade. Maybe it’s not exactly an invasion, but when 700 American college students are released into a single city within an hour, I don’t know what else you can call it. We all come back with the stories, we all come back with the souvenirs. We can identify apparel by the country it was bought in and likewise speak of time in terms of “when we were in Kenya” or “the day before Brazil”. “Nice shoes, did you get them in India?”

It seems that with 700 people experiencing the “same” thing, that what I am experiencing is not special. Since I am always with people who are on my voyage, everyone will understand what I am talking about. I feel that sometimes my experience isn’t as valuable as someone else’s, that I shouldn’t bother trying because somebody else could say it better. That my experience is not special. I’m only one of 700, a small fish in a big pond, right? That’s not unique. To top it off, this isn’t even the only voyage. 700 in the spring, 400 in the summer, 700 in the fall… that’s 1800 people a year. For, let’s say, 25 years… it would make it around 45,000 so far. One of 45,000? Not so special.

But wait a second. If there’s one thing that they won’t let me forget, it’s that there are well over 6 billion people on the planet at this very moment, and that number is rapidly increasing. 45,000 out of 6 billion? That means only one in 133,333 people have gotten to travel around the world on a ship while taking classes. Only one in 8,571,428 people are on our voyage. And I have had a unique experience… no singular person has been with me every single moment of every single one of these 100 days. I have had an experience that only 1 out of 6 billion people have had.

I guess that makes it pretty special.

Now, I need to get used to the idea that when I leave this ship, impressions of “crossing the street in Vietnam” and “rickshaw driver” and “discount, I give you special price” will no longer hold any meaning, nor will they be funny. Nobody will really want to listen to my stories, because in order for it to make any sense and have any meaning I’ll have to ramble on for hours… and nobody can listen for that long. I don’t think I can talk for that long.

This is what I’ve been told anyway, I haven’t yet had the opportunity to try it out. They say I’ve changed and I don’t know it. Have I? Don’t I? That almost feels like a challenge.

So really, I don’t know what to do now. Mostly I’m trying not to spend all of my brain power stressing over finals. I have a photograph of Zebras at a watering hole in Tanzania on my desktop, that I took. It’s unreal. The map of the world on my wall suddenly has so much more importance and meaning. I am so glad to have a concept of something so small that was once so unconceivably huge.


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