“Trust me, though, the words were on their way and when they arrived, Liesel would hold them in her hands like clouds and she would wring them out like rain.”
– Markus Zusak, “The Book Thief”
My storytelling is notorious. I ramble, mention unnecessary details, forget words, launch into irrelevant rants and forget what I am talking about. So when I return home after my nine months abroad, I am dreading the inevitable question: “So how was it?”
I have spent my semesters this year in Ghana and now Serbia, and have traveled to Tanzania, Germany, the Czech Republic, Bosnia & Herzegovina, and Kosovo while abroad. Even if I were able to find the right words, how would I begin to answer that question?
How can I possibly tell my stories? How do I explain discovering my inner strength when my body quit on its way up the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro? Or waking up in the middle of the night to a bright landscape that resembled Mars more closely than Earth? How do I put words to the quiet moment I spread my friend’s ashes on the summit? And I have no idea how I will put words to the joy I felt during my months in Ghana. Are there words to describe sitting on my front porch while Accra woke up, drinking black tea and eating bread and jam? And the endless dancing, how will I relate that? Or the nights eating jollof rice and drinking Club beers under the stars, laughing? I don’t know how to talk about the dark, still moments in the female dungeon of Cape Coast Castle. And how can I explain the pain I felt leaving a newly discovered home?
I am still finding my stories in Serbia. Last night I tried to explain to my Serbian host mother what I have learned from my brief time in this place. I tried to explain how I’m starting to truly understand that peace is a privilege. I tried to tell her about how the layers and connections between conflicts have started to become tangible to me. My time here has left my words and stories even more jumbled up. There is so much to talk about, there are so many ways to tell and hear stories – the stories I attempt to tell and the stories told throughout time and the world. In a week I will leave Belgrade and go to Sarajevo to spend a month studying the stories the city tells about the three-year siege it endured.
I have always loved stories and words but I never know quite how to use them to explain myself. I am always bursting with things to tell the world and things to tell about the world. I love to travel because I love stories. When distant places, people, conflicts, and history become tangible, it is unlike anything else. I am filled to the brim with the beautiful and horrible parts of the world and my experiences help me understand humanity just a little bit more. I think I am inching closer to finding my words and like Liesel in “The Book Thief,” when I do I will “wring them out like rain.”