The following post was written by Global Gap Year Fellow Ambar Khawaja.
My three months in Nepal were a blur, with some of the most amazing and difficult experiences of my life juxtaposed next to one another. I experienced physically and mentally draining periods like I never had before, one of which occurred my last night there.
I cried on my flight out of Nepal, at the airport during my layover, and once I had reached my new apartment in Vietnam. I felt an overwhelming sense of being lost and had no direction in life, like I was floating and watching my actions go by like a movie. I turned into the person I never wanted to be. I thought to myself that I did not come to Vietnam to barely hang on to my sanity by a thread. I thought for the first time about going home.
There is a switch in my brain that controls the flow of my emotions and I had turned it off as a self defense mechanism – blocking out the negative feelings, but along with them, the positive ones too.
I wanted to experience the positive. I took a gap year to experience the positive; but life has a way of bringing unexpected obstacles at inopportune times to teach you something.
Turning this switch back on was not easy. First came the negative feelings. It took many phone calls to people who reminded me who I am at my core; many hours looking through old photos to find the ones that captured my smile in its purest form; and many pages in my journal reflecting on the parts of myself that I disliked the most. It took moments of anger at a person who wronged me and caused me to be shaken up.
Yes, I did not like who I was in these moments, but like my mom always says: I must stare at the darkest parts of myself in the mirror and recognize that they are still parts of me. Only then can I go back to working on being the person I love.
A few days after doing this, I woke up and realized I had the apartment to myself. Something inside me said to play some music, so I decided to dance. I got some strange glances through the window, but I let my lanky arms swing around as I began to feel energy rush into my soul for the first time in a long time.
I had flipped the switch back.
That same day, I decided to go out for a run. I am calling it a “run” in this blog because this is what I did in my head; truthfully it was a half-walk-half-jog. I experienced my surroundings with all of my senses. With each step, I was more grounded. I saw the lushness of the nature surrounding me, the unique colors and architecture of the buildings I passed. I felt the thick, humid air on my arms and face, and the raindrops begin to fall on my skin. I saw a woman drop something from her bicycle and I returned it to her. We exchanged the purest form of human communication: smiles reaching the eyes, exchanging an unspoken “thank you” and “you’re welcome”. I remember seeing an old couple going for a walk under an umbrella. I remember a girl riding her bicycle one-handed while drinking a Yakult.
Just one night before I wasn’t sure I would get back the feeling of unfiltered joy. Yet here I was. I paused, said “Alhamdulillah,” and thanked God for this life I am living.
This day was a reminder of the strength I have in myself to continue forward. We all experience hard moments, and they should be normalized. It is about finding what grounds you again and brings you back to why you began the journey in the first place that matters, so that you can one day get up and dance and feel the joy life has to offer.
I’ll end with a Vietnamese quote I recently found, translated into English: “That you might, when leaving your house, fall upon one hundred happy moments.”
I hope you find those happy moments.