I sat at the circular lunch table, surrounded by friends I’d had for years. Everybody was talking, but I wasn’t listening. The chatter seemed to buzz in one ear, and float directly through the other. I was uninterested.
“So for homecoming, do you wanna go get manicures and pedicures done together?” my friend asked me.
I looked down at my thinly-cuticled, uneven nails. They were ugly; a result of biting them for years. But it didn’t bother me. I didn’t feel like spending the money on a sheer coat of polish nobody would notice anyway.
I did the calculations in my head: 20 dollars for a manicure, and another 20 for the pedicure. Forty dollars, or 1,000 Cordoba. That’s enough to send Escarleth, my Nicaraguan host sister, to school for six months. Enough to buy 600 loaves of pan dulce or ride the bus through every department of Nicaragua — maybe even twice.
I tried to put my finger on why so many things seemed to bother me lately. I could almost smell the scent of the wet, green earth that hung in the air after the daily showers as I recalled the near two months I lived in Matagalpa, Nicaragua this summer.
I wanted to go back to my days spent teaching classes about children’s rights and gender equality, gutting chickens for dinner, milking cows and hiking mountains. I wanted to return to being “tranquilo”–the spanish word for a calm demeanor–that feeling of unwinding, drinking coffee, taking in the surroundings and just relaxing that became a part of my personality through the summer. All I wanted was to stay just a little longer.
But, sitting in the cool cabin of the United Airline Plane, headed for the U.S. was eerily familiar — it felt like those seven weeks had only been a matter of days, and I had no idea that returning home would challenge me more than my entire summer abroad.
On top of dealing with both Dengue Fever and a parasite, it was soon apparent that I was not the same person anymore. I struggled to find purpose in my old routine.
Seemingly inconsequential things started to bug me; nights out with my friends seemed pointless, advertisements on TV glutinous, even the five dollar price of Lucky Charms at the grocery store had my thoughts going on an angry rant.
Everything about my community here seemed frivolous. Everything seemed surreal. I was living in one of those picture perfect snow globes they sell at Hallmark, not the “real world” I had become accustomed to.
This wasn’t the world where children have to drop out of school because they can’t pay the bus fee, or where their dreams of becoming doctors and adventurers cannot be a reality.
I was trying to sort out my confused thoughts about society as I stared at the object in my hand. I wondered why people had become so attached to these. I had lived without one for almost two months, and I didn’t drop dead from social media withdrawal. Just then, it buzzed, and the screen illuminated, coming to life. I swiped across the screen of my iPhone and glanced at the blue imessages.
“Soph u there?”
I was always forgetting to reply to texts now. The instant gratification constantly in the palm of my hand gave me a feeling of dependency. I missed the freedom that came with “turning off” from the world of social media and exploring things other than my Twitter feed.
I replied to the messages anyway, shrugging off the negative thoughts that were like those rainclouds over the heads of cartoon characters. I had never been a pessimist before, so why was I starting now? I wondered whether my experience this summer was really that good for me, when sometimes I felt like all it did was reveal the flaws in the world and make me bitter.
I sat in my bed that night, and flipped through my travel journal. I laughed at all that I commemorated on those mud-stained pages in Spanglish and sloppy handwriting. I smiled at the memories, and cried at the pictures of my Latin American family I missed more and more every day.
Reflecting on my experience, I realized that I wanted so much for this experience to shape my outlook on life. But, it was up to me how I carried that out. I started to understand that while I spent my summer doing what I thought was fulfilling, meaningful and important, so did my friends and classmates. I needed to stop judging other people for not having the same perspective as me.
I guess I thought in Nicaragua I learned how to understand people with a radically different outlook on life than myself. But it actually took me traveling 2,753 miles back home to realize that no matter where you go nobody has the same opinion.
What is important to me is not necessarily what is important to somebody else, but that doesn’t mean their priorities are any less significant. It’s what makes us individuals.