Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Things left behind

There are some things that you never can fully appreciate until they are gone.

Camping with my best friend in Great Smoky Mountain National Park last weekend, I began to realize what some of those things are. As we hiked through the woods at Deep Creek and took a long walk along Sukota ridge, I began to really see the flowers and trees that make up the beautiful forest in the Appalachian Mountains of our state. How beautiful the flowers are, how the light that filters through the forest trees makes a kaleidoscope of the ground so that strolling along the trail feels like I’m turning that kaleidoscope and its crystals are changing shape and size. During our time in the woods I began to really want to know the names of trees and flowers and learn more about them, something which I have never felt previously in all my time living in those mountains and hiking along those trails.

For the second time in my life, just like last year when I was in Italy, I won’t have the opportunity to see the leaves change color over the ridges and down in the valleys this fall. I won’t get to hike and see the reds and yellows and oranges float down in the air around me. I won’t feel the first cool drafts of fall after the hot summer, and I won’t get to go to the music festival near Asheville that I miss so much.

My best friend Alex next to our campfire.

Some things seem to last forever until they are over, but when they are over it seems like they flew past.

Things like my college career, the last week with my parents in our small but cozy house, my year in Italy, the hikes my friend and I took in the woods last weekend, my final travels through Europe to Paris and Amsterdam, a few glorious days on the Outer Banks soaking in the sunshine, a train ride along a river flanked by red tile roofed houses and dolomite cliff faces. I really felt like I had all the time in the world to do everything in college and put it off, I felt like I could travel everywhere I wanted to with a year in Italy no problem and put off going to Assisi, Sicily and Sardinia. I felt like I would have plenty of time in the last month and a half in NC to hang out with my parents and friends. But no, time slips away from me, and I feel now like I do after a long train ride: astonished to have arrived in this spot at this time.

The departure date on which I will take off for Togo from my home in the U.S. draws closer with the passing minutes, and while I know that I will be leaving many things behind over here I try to think of what I will gain when I get across the Atlantic. Instead of thinking of getting on the plane as a stopping point like I did when I left for Italy, I’m trying to think of it as a starting point, a beginning instead of an end.

I will miss people: I will miss my mom and dad so, so much. I will miss my best friends and all the friends who have moved on to careers or jobs or across the country or across the world. I will miss food: oreos, kung pow tofu my dad makes, tomatoes from my mom’s garden, pizza at IP3’s, peanut butter, bagels, granola, pancakes, apple cobbler, BLUEBERRIESSSS, pesto, and the list goes on. Perhaps a lot of this will be in Togo, but it will all be more difficult to make or take longer to find the ingredients and it won’t be the same as eating it with the people I love. I will miss air conditioning and electricity and the green futon that I bury myself in every night at my parent’s house.

But maybe I will find more people to share time with, laugh with, eat and drink with when I get over there, people from a different place who speak yet another language. Maybe I will find food that tastes awful at first but will learn to love by the end. Maybe I will learn to not only cope with the loss of immediate access to the internet or a light switch but learn to enjoy getting up with the sun and going to sleep when it sets. Maybe after a few months of sweating all over myself every night I’ll get used to sleeping with the heat.

Thing is, I don’t know, and I’m not gonna know till I get there.

I’ve got a great job description that goes along with my assignment as a Natural Resource Management volunteer, but apparently all that’s expected of me could change while I’m overseas. I feel like I’m passable at French, but there is no telling until I sit down to dinner with a Togolese family. I feel like I’ve learned a lot in an out of the classroom over my college career, but this is a bit further out of the classroom than I’ve been before.

The fact of the matter is, I’m going. I’ve made up my mind, and yes I can turn back but by jove I’m not going to. I’ve got this vision of my mind of doing research on water purification methods in the developing world in the future, and going to work in one seems like the best next step to take. Most of my friends have graduated now and are beginning to teach children or start jobs or other great things. This is where I’m going, and as far as I can tell it’s the right path for me.

Un po’ in italiano:
Ciao a tutti! Sto per partire per Africa: vado in Togo il 17 settembre. Sono un po’ triste xhe’ mi mancheranno molto i miei genitori e i miei amici negli Stati Uniti, ma vorrei fare bene per il mondo e questa opportunita’ in Africa e’ la prossima cosa da fare.
Sono appena tornado da casa mia nelle montagne di North Carolina e adesso sto festeggiando molto con i miei amici alla mia universita’! La mia vita e’ piu’ facile in questi giorni xche’ posso capire quando altre persone parlano e loro possono capire me, ma mi manca molto la lingua italiana. In Togo dovro imparare parlare francese con i togolesi e un altra lingua locale che non ho mai studiato. Francese, la lingua d’amore, e un po’ differente in Africa, ma dai provero di parlare in modo amoroso dopo il mio soggiorno in Africa.
Ho passato due settimane con i miei genitori nelle montagne di North Carolina, e mentre ho mangiato bene in Italia mangio meglio a casa mia che ho mai mangiato in Europa. Mia madre ha un bellissimo giardino con pomodori magnifici e dei pepi deliziosi (non ho mai imparato pronunciare delizioso). Ho fatto trekking molte volte con mio padre. A lui piace molto guardare gli uccelli e io sto imparando, ma bisogna molto pazienza per farlo.
Il weekend scorso ho fatto campeggio con il mio amico caro a questo posto nel ‘Great Smoky Mountains National Park’ (Il Parco Grande delle Montagne di Fumo???). Abbiamo provato di pescare ma abbiamo fallito! A un certo punto abbiamo visto i pesci nel stagno sotto un ponte. I pesci hanno nuotato vicino la verme alla fine della fila, hanno guardato la verme, e poi hanno girato in modo arrogante e non hanno mangiato la verme! Merda!!! Gli altri pescatori hanno preso moltissimi pesci, ma noi no. Dai, ogni notte abbiamo bevuto moltissima birra e abbiamo cantato alcune canzone americani.
Mi sono laureato adesso dalla Universita’ di North Carolina nel campo delle scienze ambientali. Oggi ho fatto un discorso con molti student del primo anno per dare consiglio di andarci a Bologna, e parto fra quasi una settimana. Ho molto paura e sono triste, ma sono felice di cominciare finalmente il mio soggiorno in Italia.
Per favore, leggete il mio blog! Mi mancate tutti voi, e spero che tutto va bene in Italia!