In a previous blog, I mentioned how much I had loved camp growing up, and how much it influenced me. What I didn’t mention was that, my first week away at camp, I spent the first afternoon huddled in my bunk crying. I was paralyzed by homesickness until some cabinmates came in and invited me to play go fish.
It’s so lovely how life works, that you grow and change after every experience, becoming completely unlike what you were before, while still holding that former self within. 8-year-old Tabitha was afraid even to venture to the craft cabin alone; 31-year-old Tabitha doesn’t think twice about jetting off to the other side of the world or plunging to the bottom of the ocean. My life has been a series of experiences that have helped me build this independence, though it wasn’t always pleasant. When I left to study abroad in France my sophomore year of college, I sobbed as I went through security and turned back to wave goodbye to my mom. In Madagascar as a peace corps volunteer, I spent my 23rd birthday sulking alone in my concrete house while all my college friends were tailgating at the OSU-Miami football game back home. But now, I feel comfortable wherever I end up, and I go with the confidence that, even if something more exciting is happening at home, I’m exactly where I need to be. I’m so grateful that I have been able to build skills that help me feel as comfortable in the jungle of Indonesia or on the streets of Paris as in the hills of southeast Ohio or on High street. Actually, I probably feel more comfortable when traveling – every person you meet gives you the chance to reinvent yourself, and every new situation brings the promise of adventure.
This trip to Indonesia has certainly delivered on that promise – I saw things on this trip I had never seen before, and that I didn’t know if I would ever see in this lifetime. It began on the plane, when the stewardess looked out the window, shrieked with joy, and called me over to see what she had seen: the Aurora Borealis, visible as we flew over the north pole. She rushed down the aisle, showing everyone, visibly beaming. I asked her later if it was the first time she had seen the northern lights, and she looked at me perplexed and answered “No, almost every week.” Maybe seeing them just never gets old, but I think she loved being able to share the experience with her passengers, for many of whom this was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I was as delighted by her reaction as by the Aurora itself!
Then, the camps took me all the way to Papua, the Malukus, and Northern Sulawesi. Papua, the eastern-most province in Indonesia, shares an island with Papua New Guinea, which is no longer even part of Asia. The Malukus perch between the waters of the Pacific and the Indian Oceans. I felt like I had been carried to a land that was “in no one continent and in no one sea,”* but truly on the edge of the world. Had I gone any farther away from home, I would have gotten closer. After a day spent scuba diving with my friend Jessica in Ambon, just as we were getting back to the resort, maybe 100 dolphins swam alongside our boat, jumping and twirling out of the water. They played and swam within 100 yards of the boat for a good 15 minutes before continuing on their way. The boat captain and dive guides were as thrilled as us; despite taking tourists out weekly, they said they had only seen so many dolphins a handful of times.
Then, I traveled to Bunaken, one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen, with mountains rising from the sea and coral walls sinking to the bottom fo the sea. To complete my trilogy of stunning sights, and to balance out the vast, atmospheric phenomena and Disney-esque animal migration, I got to see my first seahorse while scuba diving here. He was a tiny little guy no bigger than my pinky fingernail, and pure white. I would have swum right by if my guide hadn’t pointed him out as he clung to the coral.
All of this has helped me to feel that I lead a really charmed life. I’ve had so many incredible opportunities, but I don’t feel like I have gone out and chased them – I feel like they have just come to me at the right time. This trip to Indonesia kind of fell right into my lap, in fact. Through all the years, though, the most important thing that I have learned is that who you are with is more important than who you are. When I think back to this trip to Indonesia, I’ll probably remember the aurora, the dolphins, and the seahorse, but I’ll also remember the people I shared those sights with. The charming students at the camps and my talented fellow counselors will loom even larger in my memory. Those girls at camp so many years ago taught me a lesson I still am learning today: there is always a new friend to be made and a new relationship to be built, if you just accept the invitation.
*Laurence Blair, Ring of Fire