as train number 167 slowly departs from hua lamphong station, i realize that i have nearly completed the first year since i was diagnosed with an infection that nearly took half of my sight. it was that one morning when things got blurry. i woke up with tears of fear, after i could not wash away the reality of a nightmare. the doctors gave me a mixed bag of stinging medicines and so began that never-ending journey, like the rivers of bangkok traffic that flow before each railway crossing. my only defense was a daily dose of poison. i had to hurt myself to heal myself. every fifteen minutes, every day, every month drip…drip…drip.
every possibility sounded like another worst-case scenario. its sounded like all the comfortable options were fully-booked, and i was left with a third-class seat on one of the pale-green cars that dragged behind. i kept a smile on my face in public, even though my mood in private was far from happy. i was stuck inside for the winter, to recover from something that would never fully heal. i was strictly a passenger and there was only one path from point a to point b, so i laid and listened to the music that made me think. after every three songs… drip…drip…drip.
the unforgiving, jerking stops of this train remind me of the nightly battle against the pseudomonas. i would force my right eye open just to let more of that unsympathetic liquid splash onto my cornea. my pillow was always wet from the streams of liquid that constantly rolled down my cheek, but i never even knew if they were true tears.
while i could deal with the physical pain, the pain in my head stung the worst. my vision was scarred, no thanks to me. my future in photography was in doubt, no thanks to me. my love of sports and hand-eye coordination were simply out of touch, no thanks to me. the girl i loved was gone, no thanks to me. i was stuck in slow motion, and everyone was on the express train, passing me by.
luckily for me, i am surrounded by my family and they tried their best to keep me standing. i have to apologize to them for my stubbornness while i dealt with the long path to acceptance of a scratched cornea. from day one, they told me not to listen when i was told that i could lose my entire right eye, at age 21. i never saw them shed those same tears of fear, even if i could not stop myself from breaking down amid all the possibilities.
it is a year later and look where i am. i am on a train to southern thailand with a best friend from college. i have the world at my fingertips and my confidence is back because i know that there is little that can stop me. while it may take longer for me to focus on the details, i am now more aware of the bigger picture. i can keep to myself while also standing strong, like those silent ushers that stroll through these train cars, with perfect balance of body and beverage.
my brother once told me that his motorcycle brought him to a place where his mind could escape. it was that time in his day when contact to his being ceased to exist. his senses sharpened for safety, but he let his thoughts zig-zag from lane to lane. his hands and feet worked in sync as his mind blasted out of this universe to a place where the complexities and complications……simplified.
with my own motorcycle, i, too, can escape from myself. i can look forward and see exactly what lies ahead of me, while not having to look back to know where i came from. i can let that salty, ocean air firmly grasp every pore on my face, as those rainbowed kites gracefully dance along that salty shore.
As the calming waves tumble just beyond my toes, I sit in silence with my headphones in, listening to my thoughts. There is no need for music or nonsense tonight. No need to listen to the constant negativity pouring out around me. No need for the unappreciative comments while we live lives that we truly should be thankful for. Nothing is perfect to everyone, because nobody has the same definition of perfection. Sometimes people need to stop squinting at the details and lean back to take it all in. To see the beauty in simplicity and differences. To feel the beauty of floating with the current. To stop comparing sea glass to broken bottles and to realize that there is so much more out there, just beyond those tumbling waves.
this past weekend was one of the best in a long time. it reminded me how awesome my friends are, and also how much i am going to miss each and everyone of them while i am halfway around the world. i will still be in touch over emails and letters, but that can never replace sitting, laughing, talking, and sharing a smile from within the same room.
today marks the beginning of the thirty-day countdown until i leave for six-month journey to southeast asia. one month from now, i will be heading towards a new chapter of my life. a chapter that already feels different than any from the past. for some reason, i keep finding myself thinking about the day i return home, rather than the day i leave home.
i can’t pinpoint what it is. maybe i am afraid of losing what i am leaving behind and coming home to changes i will not be ready for. the future always seems to scare me, even when i am told not to think too deeply into things. maybe it is just too hard for me to understand that certain things are uncontrollable, and should be left untouched.
i made photographs of these weekend memories to bring along with me. wherever i am in the world, i know i will be able to find some peace, looking at the funny faces, the comfy futon, and the delicious food that made this past weekend so wonderful. luckily for me, these photographs are untouchable.
before i begin, ramadan mubarak to you all.
it seems as though ramadan has come at a time of major transition in my life. my brother has moved out west, which has left a void in our summer lifestyle at home. my mom is down in philadelphia during the week, restarting her passion through profession. i am a couple months away from a five-month journey, before i begin an unknown life plan that lies afterwards. some friends are moving to bigger and better things. new jobs, new places, new lives. for some of my friends, it seems like we will be distant forever. most of our lives are spent in different time zones, and when we are in the same place, other forces seem to keep us apart.
even though i am far from being the model muslim, i take part in the traditions that come along with this month. for me, ramadan is a time for self-reflection and self-control. i may not pray five times a day or even go to jummah each and every friday afternoon, but i still see myself as a spiritual person. someone that can look within and understand the difference between right and wrong. someone that wonders why bad things happen to good people, while also understanding that everything happens for a reason. someone that gets turned off by the backwards thinkers in a world that seems to be upside down.
i have met children who have lost everything. their parents left them because of poverty. their homes destroyed within seconds of a landslide. their brothers and sisters slowly taken away because of sickness. they are told to pray, pray, and pray. and when they pray, they question where their prayers are directed. who is listening while their lives are slowly crumbling around them? why does the pain continue?
i don’t know the answers because i don’t think anyone truly knows these answers. some people may be more religious than others, but that doesn’t mean that they know the answers either.
i believe in peace. i believe in being a good person. i believe in helping others before myself. i believe in sharing, teaching, and putting smiles on faces. my views may differ from yours, but that’s ok. i am living my life, and you are living yours :)
It’s discouraging when you can’t do certain things at the same level that you have been doing all your life.
It’s over. Four of the best years of our lives. Lifelong friends and unforgettable memories. Each year was its own adventure in a book that cannot be rewritten.
We survived the disappointing meal plans and dirty dishes. We walked alone at night, expecting the worst as we turned down dimly-lit streets. We defied the crossing signals, and stood without worry in the middle of busy streets. We broke rules just to break them. We sat sober while others sipped SoCo. We puffed poison in the darkness, underneath that warehouse window where city lights flickered in the distance. We packed small sedans on trips to Saad’s, just to satisfy the weekly -itis.
We took bullshit courses that taught us the art of bullshitting nonsense for extended lengths of double spaced diction. There were classes that changed the way we thought and classes that changed our dreams. We disguised our artistic doodles with pointless class notes, as our eyes stole glances at cellphones and slow-moving minute hands.
The settings would change from block to block. We lived on campus and also in the neighborhood. We sat on stoops and slouched on sofas, pushing off school work until the very last moment. We learned that mistakes could happen, but we continued to make them.
In our first year, we met our best friends without even realizing. In our second year, we learned who was real and how to cook. In our third year, we pushed our boundaries further than ever imagined, and then began looking forward to the future in our fourth.
The characters that stayed close will hopefully always remain, even as this book comes to an end. They each have their own chapters, with their own stories to tell. There was a revolving door for some. We lost contact with a few close friends; some had left and some simply fell off the map. We always saw familiar faces in between classes: faces that we may never see ever again.
We were here when Philly finally won, although some of us were not fans. We were here when change took over our nation. We were here for basketball madness each Spring. We were here for the annual auto shows and monthly police shootings. We were here when those blizzards hit, introducing the idea of peace to a city that never knew it.
A bright yellow sign beckons the sale of cheap fried rice and spring rolls around the corner from the spit-shined steps where they sit. The stoop is active tonight. Catchy hit songs from upstairs apartments, accompanied by high-pitch laughter, fill the warm night air. Beedz’ fingers cling to the rim of a half-full solo cup, as he watches a group of walking advertisements, full of makeup and overpowering perfume, pass by. Group rating…zero, jokes Beedz as he extends the velvet ribbed hookah hose to the next eager hand to his left.
They have been coming to the stoop weekend after weekend for the last couple years. It is a place for them to unwind from the weeks of work, worry, and women. They talk mostly bullshit in between memorized verses that silence the silence.
There is something special about those five steps. They meet all sorts of people, from homeless men grasping exposed 40 bottles to drunk underage girls stumbling home in high heels. They can stare at the missing stars above and transport their thoughts to the places that live inside their memories. They can replace the meaningless drama with equally meaningless insults. They watch in embarrassment for the unsuccessful parallel parkers who successfully keep them entertained. They excite the neighbors whenever the hookah is put into rotation. Is there beer in that?
Beedz is the self-proclaimed trendsetter, who is never deeply involved with anything. Benhoff is never seen with the same girl, in the same sense that Hydro is never seen with the same snack. Moses is known for living in his own time zone, always a few hours behind and disappearing without a notice. Quag speaks his own version of a romance language, full of giggity and game, that has yet to yield results. Turtle contradicts his name, as he cannot stand still, always wanting to make moves. Nothing seems to phase Xpo, as he sticks to the essence of hanging out; lounging and laughing. Leem seems to always make a fool of himself from the top step, where he controls the flow of static beats from the boombox. Shabby’s senses navigate him from blocks away, towards the mint-grape tobacco; arriving at the perfect time for the puff, puff, pass.
The stoop is more than just a place to sit. It is where the block comes alive. It is a seasonal addiction that begins once the cherry blossoms begin to fall and the hood boys start to race down oneways on ATVs. The stoop is a small stairway of peace in a city that is never satisfied.
i just got accepted to teach in thailand next year. i now have ten days to figure out my life. (hopefully that one friend of mine sees this, and finishes their application this weekend)