After leaving my school in Indonesia, I had dreams about the hall and the tower and the streets of Jakarta. Dreams of my students, sitting in the seats of my classroom, my co-workers rushing from place to place, the fluorescents of the school over bright and dream-warped in tone.
When classes restarted on August 1, I was happy to have another month of summer ahead of me— I was still in transition, not yet settled in my new apartment or hired for a part-time job—but after the first week of school passed, I felt more displaced than I had in a while.
Being back in the States is strange. I am out of sync and have felt more awkward than I can remember even feeling back when I first moved to Jakarta, although I know that must not be true. But there is something about being in place you are supposed to understand (but don’t) that turns up the confusion.
I am not supposed to be confused. I am supposed to understand, almost instinctually, what to do. But I am different, as I feared I would be, and I haven’t figured out exactly how to reconcile those differences.
I knew that something like this would happen—that the culture shock of being in America would make me feel strangely vulnerable and fill me with longing for the home I just left—so three days after I landed back in the States, I immersed myself in a different kind of culture—camp.
Camps have a culture of their own: songs, traditions, and foods all come together to shape a space that is its own little kingdom in the forest. I have been involved with a particular camp in the Huron National Forest since 2001, and so camp culture is no foreign land to me. Even though it shifts and changes like any other culture, there is something about camp that is constant– the cedar trees and trails through the woods seem to last.
Since being plucked out of the forest and dropped back into “real” American life, I have moved into a new apartment in Ann Arbor, where I continue to over-process everything about living in America and doing American things. As I write this, my apartment porch’s sliding door is open and I can feel an almost-cool breeze and I can hear the sound of the bell tower chiming and it seems to be the opposite of the call of prayer and the sticky smog-heat of Jakarta nights.
And I am trying to think of myself as “same” and not as “other” but I am not either and I don’t know if I want to be.