As the white van packed with twelve people rounded its final corner on the hour-long journey to the Kuang Si Falls from Luang Prabang, Laos, I breathed a sigh of relief. Getting there hadn’t been easy, but, after one visa mix-up, nearly twenty-seven hours of travel, stops in five different cities, and one new year’s celebration in Singapore, I had finally made it to my destination, the Kuang Si Butterfly Park in a quiet village near Luang Prabang. When I think about it, though, this journey didn’t actually start when I walked in to the Detroit Airport a few days ago. It began far earlier, nearly a year ago, with a phone call that I received in the airport at Dar es Salaam. It took me 13,000 km back to my home to organize the care of a sick relative, through two months scraping by as an Uber driver, and eight months as an emergency room technician.
As I sit here in this guest house, nestled in the Laotian country side, the roar of the falls echoing through the valley, again 13,000 km away from home, I feel as though I have mental clarity for the first time since my phone rang in that airport on January 25th, 2018.
I realize now that my time in the US was marked by perpetual anxiety and a near constant state of restlessness. It think it was hard to adjust take on so many new responsibilities so quickly. It didn’t help that I returned to the same city that I predicated half of my Bonderman application on trying to escape. I had to adjust from a period of absolute freedom and growth to idling in the only place I didn’t want to be. At least that’s how it felt. And reconciling that dissonance is probably one of the greatest challenges I have faced during this whole process. I can’t even say I was successful.
Of course, my time in the United States was not all bad. Because I returned early, I was lucky enough to see many of my friends graduate from college, and I was able to spend a significant amount of time with some of the closest people in my life before they all scattered to the wind. I got to watch a loved-one regain their health and independence. I forged new relationships and met new people who I would have missed otherwise. I even got to explore New York with fellow Bonderman, Kelly O’Donnel, and pretend like I was back on the road.
But, every day that I spent as an uber driver or emergency room technician, meeting med students the same age as me, watching doctors and nurses do the assessments that I wanted to be doing was a poignant reminder of the clock that had started ticking away. And that restlessness became twofold. On the one hand, I wanted to get away from my home town, to feed my hunger for new horizons. On the other I wanted to get started with the next chapter of my life: to start saving for retirement, to pay down my debt, to move on with my education. I had to admit that all of those objectives would be most easily completed by staying where I was.
For a time, I even considered forfeiting my Bonderman funds and just moving on. A thought, that when viewed from the clarity of these river banks, the serenity of these deep green valleys feels absurd. Looking back, I can’t believe I ever considered giving this up. I realize now that no one is immune to complacency. It is a reminder that without taking fulfilling risks in life you jeopardize your sense of freedom. That, for me, is the very source of my will to live.
I sit here, in a darkened room in the early morning as the sun is just beginning to rise. In a few minutes, I am going to get up and take the first step into a new day of my life, with a renewed sense of energy and a curious excitement about the world.
It is my goal and a priority of mine to curate this experience as well as I can. On this leg of my Fellowship, I am going to be twice as reflective and journal twice as much. If you’re still reading thank you for joining me on this adventure. I hope I can make it as interesting for you as it is for me.
Peace and Love from Laos,