You were the first. You are the place where this all started. Six weeks in Cusco was not enough to even begin to take in the bright and vibrant traditions combined with the muted reality of everyday. It was not enough to realize how far-reaching your impact on my life would be. Peru you are written on my heart, and in every decision I make. You didn’t just change me, you shifted my center. I saw God in the mountains that loomed higher than my mind could fathom, in the warmth of my host parents who loved me like I was their own and in the yellow lights of The Plaza at night-time I saw myself in a way that I never had before.
Dear Saudi Arabia,
I am indebted to you, for granting me clarity on a culture I knew so little of, on a religion that my country is sometimes afraid of, and a people group who we are often quick to misunderstand. I have seen you thrive in America and clash head-to-head with our irreconcilable differences. I’ve had relationships with people who have taught me generosity, shown me incredible kindness, and exemplified religious devotion that inspires me to be a better Christian. I have also had my validity as a teacher, as a student of political science, and my ambition questioned because of my sex. Yet I see beauty where many americans see fear, and when I think of Islam I think of the people who I have loved sincerely and who have sincerely loved me. Thank you for teaching me, both the good and the bad.
You are an island. You are intangible. You are so far and yet sometimes I feel like I have seen you face to face. I thought I was welcoming you into what I know, but instead you welcomed me. You are sacrifices to work hard and when that isn’t enough, to work ever harder. You are the heat of the summer, sitting in the library, sitting under the wide and shady oak trees, sitting in my kitchen, sitting outside playing cards as the condensation drips off my drink and is cold against my skin. You’re this song that I somehow have stuck in my head again, after all this time. You are silly, and wandering, and kind, and complicated, and you are an island in the sea of the rest of this world.
I have only ever seen you snapshots. Once in blur that I remember only from the photos, and once in burst of adventure that ended too quickly. Driving through rolling hills, small villages and a bit of snow until we were no longer within your grasp. You are a friend who is more like a sister.
You feel like another life. The easy life of my childhood, before I was the person that I am now. You are the sunlight hot on my shoulders, the salt caked in my hair, and the gentle rocking of the ocean beneath me as I hear the muddled voices of the people I love the most mixed with the soft and tangy sound of Bob Marley. My dad is the captain and he is invincible. The water is so clear and so blue, and memories fossilized in my mind before we knew that somethings in this world are not as kind as the sun that warmed my shoulders. You are innocent, still untarnished in my mind.
I am coming. You are magnetic and flashy and exciting. Soft colors, clean lines, cozy minimalism. When I hear you speak you sound like a friend. “Why do you want to come to Korea?” They asked me that in my interview. How can I explain that I have been embraced by a country I have never visited, that I connect with the culture in a way that even I don’t understand, and that when I study Korean, and when I make mistakes in Korean, I feel like I have discovered something that uniquely mine. I have loved pieces of you and soon I will love you entirely. You work hard, you try so hard, and in a way that I can never understand. There is so much pressure. But there is also joy and excitement and beauty so distinct from the joy, excitement, and beauty I have known before. Korea, you have been a friend to me and I am coming soon.
And to the countries that I have not yet known,
I want to understand. Be patient with me, I will get there eventually. I can see now how the cultures melt across the globe each influenced by the ones behind and in front of them. I am so, so thankful for this world where we are all different, and for this life that I can spend in an attempt to understand how we are also all similar.