Part I: An Introduction
My life is so far off the beaten path now that I find it useless to try to explain things to people back home; people who are still where I left them three years ago. I’ve written in the past about my struggles to reconnect with the place I left, my disheartenment at the general attitude, and the loneliness I experienced trying to fit back into the box I had never fit in even before I began traveling. However, I know that there are good people everywhere, and although I tout my love of different cultures and people, I do find the occasional pearls amidst the old friends and acquaintances from the States.
We begin texting or talking and- yet again- there again is that barrier. It’s more than the passing of time that has put so much history between us. It’s more about the fact that as my story has changed, my thoughts have changed. What I believe, what I’ve learned, what I’ve come to understand- those are the things that build the barrier. And unfortunately, I don’t believe that barrier is possible to break with stories, explanations, or photos. People have to experience things to truly, genuinely understand.
In my opinion, spending a year going to school in a different language, in a different country would expand anyone in more ways than I can write down. Driving through the mountains of Chiapas for 17 hours and peeing in a ramshackle hut made out of tarp on the edge of the cliff for 5 pesos will change a person. Realizing that no Mexican bathroom provides toilet paper (let alone the tarp-hut) will also change you.
You go into a situation as the person you are, you live through the experience- whether it be years, months, days, or even seconds, and you come out on the other side effected by that experience in some way.
I believe that problem with our modern society is that we are making cookie cutter kids. They’ve been rolled out onto the cookie sheet and pressed into the same mold. The mold never changes. They never have a new experience.
Kids grow up in cities and outside cities and live their childhood and adolescent years on the same soil: going to schools with children just like them, packing lunches or eating at the cafeteria, taking classes and doing homework, playing sports and learning piano. These aren’t bad things.
But are we teaching our youth to take risks?
By denying them the opportunity to experience things outside their (or your) comfort zone, what are we saying about activities and situations that aren’t part of our kids’ “normal” life experience or what they perceive to be “accepted” in society? Are we weighing the effect of giving them a cookie-cutter life, only distinguishable by the minutest details such as their numbers in school and the instrument they play in band? How will this effect what they believe about people and places that don’t play by the same rules as their world?
I’m not trying to say that my way is better, or that people are wrong to do what they do. I just believe that people aren’t experiencing enough change in their lives, and that this is detrimental to who we are and who we become.
The end goal of all this change I’m asking for isn’t about simply having compassion for the deprived children in third world countries- there are deprived people in every place. People think, “I already have compassion for those kids and I live comfortably where I am. Thank God they’re not me.” We are human; any decent person would have compassion for another suffering being, and it is very easy to talk about how unfortunate suffering is. But do you really understand? Do you know what it’s like? Do you have any idea what you’re talking about- really? Do you care?
The only way you’ll ever know is if you go and experience it. I’m not saying you should starve to feel compassion either, but I am saying that you should go out and live. The pictures of Palenque in my third grade textbook were nice, but squinting my eyes against the harsh sun as I trudged to the very top of the ancient Mayan pyramid? Now I understand. Now I see, now I feel, now I know. And the strange thing is that I’m happier for experiencing Palenque, instead of just seeing a picture. I delight in recounting the adventures we had there, and sharing about the amazing innovations of the pre-Hispanic Mayan civilization. They are one of the smartest civilizations of the Western Hemisphere, and I love learning about their culture and contributions to medicine and science.
Talking to people from my grade back home, I find that many are still at OCSA. Friends from my neighborhood are at Wilson, Milikan, or Poly. They are beginning to look at college. They walk the same halls, they eat from the same menu, they gossip with the same people. They have the same routines.
What’s worse to me is that some have no desire to change. They are comfortable living in that middle ground: never too hot or too cold. I think that this stems from a lifetime of people telling them, consciously and inadvertently, that the life they live is the right, best way to live. They follow the herd and live fine lives; never knowing what it is to sleep under the stars, or feel the butterflies rising in their stomachs as they free fall down a tropical waterfall into the shimmering pool below. And I guess that life isn’t for everyone. But I think we need to offer that choice to everyone, and without the knowledge that there is a different life out there, most people will live feeling that what they have is all (or the best) that life can offer. There is no right life- we are all unique- so why are we following some cookie-cutter life some system thought of? Why don’t we go out and experience the world to find the things that we want in our own life?
I am graduating a year early with over 28 credits- far more than a senior would need to graduate- this July. I have traveled throughout Mexico and lived in three different cities and two different countries over the last three years. I have visited over 50 different cities in that time period- all around Mexico, Belize, Europe, and the States.
With all those amazing experiences came all lot of struggles. But I know that my siblings and I are better people for them. I would prefer to live high and low than exist in the middle.
I have seen the homes and museums of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera. I have visited the Mayan ruins in Palenque, Tulum, Coba, and all around the Yucatan. I have been to the folkloric ballet in Mexico City. I’ve gone swimming with crocodiles and sharks in Abergris Caye. I owned a bunny in Guanajuato and learned that they poop literally everywhere. I fell in love with crossfit in Playa, something that I would’ve never had the exposure to, time, or money for in the States.
The thing is that I cannot begin to enumerate the past three years I’ve lived, and the people I talk to back in the States sum it up in a sentence or two because it is essentially the same. From my experiences with them, as a generalization, they aren’t excited about how they live. It’s about what they have to do to fit into that society- that world.
What if we removed them from that society, and those particular obligations? Would they continue to uphold the same routine they have simply because it’s what they are used to, or because they enjoy it? Would they shed that routine, those activities for something newly available? What would they do if no activity was unaccepted, or “uncool”, or required to make their college applications look good? How do they really want to spend their time?
Who are they? Who will they become?
Our actions define us to society. Actions dictate physical appearance, personality, and the things we spend our time doing, and that is how we label people. (“You know Carrie?” “Who?” “The math genius girl with short hair who works at the animal shelter?” “Oh, yeah.”)
If our society dictates the boundaries of our actions, then we are products of where we come from. Who would we be if we didn’t have a society- or if our society’s viewpoints could be compared to what life is like in another society? Remove the idea that what one group of people accept is all that is acceptable, and the world opens up.
I strongly believe that the product of having those experiences makes us better, more versatile people. The more experiences we have, the better speakers we are; the more interesting we are; the more we discover about ourselves; the more we put ourselves out there the more victories we can have to be proud of; the more we can determine our likes and dislikes; the more we can understand about the world and types of people and cultures around us.
I wouldn’t have ever lifted a barbel if I was still going to OCSA: between the long school hours, early morning commute, the hour commute back, homework, and exhaustion at the end of it all, I wouldn’t have had the time to even think about doing anything outside of school, let alone have the energy to move my body after.
Traveling around, a friend introduced me to a box here in Playa where I now have a strong community that treats me like family, and have experienced the pride of winning competitions to the dedication it takes to get there. I have a job that is allowing me to pay for my flight to LAX to go to Coachella this April. I work forty hours a week between the physical hours at the juice bar on Tuesdays and Thursdays and the website and social media I created for them. Here is a link to the website I made: pranabewell.wordpress.com.
I go out on the weekends to wakeboard with my friend at his private marina, where he taught me to wakeboard on the cable when we got tired of going off the boat. I can walk to watch soccer games at the field behind my house, meet friends at the beach or for drinks on the beautiful main strip of town. I visit a friend, the owner of a superb coffee shop where the coffee is handmade, to get my afternoon pick-me-ups. We go to Tulum, spend the day in the Mayan village Chanchen, have brunch after church in Paamul, snorkel, paddle board, bask in the sun, read classic literature by the pool, study history about the places we go, etc, etc, etc…
Maybe teens are into fashion and social media because those things are constantly changing, while nothing else around them is. They are searching for experiences- for change. To reiterate, I’m not saying that my lifestyle is better or the right way. I’m saying that as individuals, we all need to live an individual life, comprised of individual experiences. As beings in an constant internal and physical state of change, our environment needs to be changing as well to keep up with our shifting existence.