It’s the most curious thing! Long before I knew who John Denver was, one of his famous songs used to come on the radio almost every time I travelled long distance away from home. The chorus would go something like:
“Am leaving on a jet plane…
I don’t know when I’ll be back again.”
The first time it happened I said to myself: “Well that’s a neat coincidence!” Then the next four times it happened, it really piqued my interest. So I decided to dig up some information about the song and what I discovered or rather the impact of what I discovered was, well…simply incredible! But maybe I should digress a bit before sharing my discovery as I let that revelation condense into the right words.
So at the moment (of writing this post) am far…far…far away from home. These boring dull four walls, uncarpeted floor and solitary window make up what I’ll be calling home for the next six months. No, am not describing a prison cell, but rather my hostel room. Comparing this to my actual home, several hundred kilometers away, is much like comparing a cube to a tesseract. One of them is infinitely more complex and interesting than the other. They exist on different levels of dimension and must therefore never be compared.
It’s the price some of us have to pay though in the quest to fulfill our need for knowledge and to become meaningful in society. We travel far from home, sometimes across borders and do our best not to think back. It is hard to explain the roller-coaster of emotions you go through during that whole time but I think I may have managed to atlast nail down the pros and cons points of studying away from home:
Pain of separation. I get calls from my folks back home almost every week. The theme of our talks is mostly consistent. However beyond the usual ‘we miss you’ messages, sometimes I get something like: ‘we still see your ghost hanging around the house, rummaging through the empty fridge, or lazing around in the sitting room.’ When you’ve been the only child of a single mother for a really long time, the pain of separation can be overwhelming, and they don’t make it easy when they make those kinds of calls.
Home seems like a different planet. Everything happening back home seems to be happening on a different universe and leaves you feeling left out. I’ve missed a fair share of my cousins’ and childhood friends’ weddings because I was stuck at college studying for an exam or in class. Worse is when you hear news of a funeral. You can’t help but pray every second that everyone back home stays safe and healthy just a little longer so you can see them again.
Cultural divide. This one’s a doozy. Even shifting a few paces right here In Kenya, the land of 40 tribes, means having to acclimatise to a really different way of life. Making conversations with locals means throwing grammar considerations out the window most of the time. There are a hundred different slang names for the same thing so shopping can sometimes be a royal pain. At one time, exhausted from repeating the proper Swahili name for something I was looking for, I had to search for its photo online and rub my phone’s screen up the shopkeepers’ faces for them to finally get me.
On a positive note though, studying far from home presents the following unique opportunities:
Chance to grow. For some reason I can barely sustain an interest in anything useful or creative when am back home. Throw several hundred kilometres between me and home, and suddenly I want to learn all the programming languages that exist out there, I want to learn and be fluent in a new language and am juggling several plot lines in my head for a short story that I want to write. My mind switches on just like that which presents me a very significant opportunity to improve myself and help me grow into a more useful individual.
Chance to grow UP. Am lucky enough to have found the right bunch of friends out here, around whom I can still be goofy every now and then but who when the time calls for it, can switch into serious mode with no fuss. Far from the distractions of home and close relatives, I find it easy every day to come into my own. There’s no one to coddle me and stand up for me when am in difficult situations, so every experience I go through is an opportunity to learn and grow up.
Fresh start. Leaving familiar territory means beginning with a clean slate. You get to make new friends with no worries about whether they will judge your past mistakes, simply because they have no need to know about your past mistakes, unless you decide to run around campus or town shouting it to everyone, in which case have fun you miserable weirdo.
Now back to John Denver, whom the universe strived so long to bring to my attention. He dropped out of college doing a course in architecture to take up a career in music. At the time of his death, John Denver was an accomplished songwriter, singer, actor, aviator, philanthropist and environmentalist. So popular was his music that one of his songs was adopted as one of the official state songs for the state of Colorado. He was something of an over-achiever, some would say. Then he died, tragically, while doing something he was passionate about, flying a test aeroplane.
What this discovery essentially did was remind me of what I am most afraid of: settling. I strongly feel everyone should share in my fear. We tend to settle for less than what we are capable of. We settle for what others project as the limit of what we are capable of, what we apparently deserve.
So many times we hear of folks who are forced to compromise between their happiness and what the people around them want for them. There is rarely a middle-ground established in such cases and they end up settling for something which makes them miserable forever. Whoever among us who finds themselves in this inextricable situation, where you are tied down to a job or study course which dumbs down your creativity, listen to the message the universe wanted me to hear: ‘NO ONE holds a leash on your happiness. No one should have the power to stop you from being what you want to be, to do what you are most passionate about.’
If you can be Muhammad the lawyer, the writer, the artist, the daredevil or Jane the schoolteacher, the illustrator, the thrill seeker then be that and don’t settle for less.
Once you have achieved that, look beyond the tiny radius that makes up ‘ME’ world and strive to inspire others to be better. The more people you affect in a positive way, the more fulfilling your life will be. Most likely, you’ll find yourself doing this naturally, as one Mikhail Pokhorov once said:
“When you have gained a certain amount of experience, you find that a desire to help all people arises in you.”
To that end, here’s hoping this blog will be a good start for me. Your comments, critic and support will be much appreciated. Love you all and thank you for reading.