I’m lying under the fullest sky of stars I have ever seen. That’s the word – full. As in, brimming. As in, gushing, spilling over itself with cosmic energy engines, massive spheres of plasma that appear as polka dots on nature’s canvas. The sky is teeming with stars, it’s overflowing with pinpricks of light gently pushing their way into sight. Every minute, every chilly minute as I lay in this soft grass with my arms wrapped around myself, handfuls more appear, but I know – because of how high in the hills I am, because of how far from light pollution I am – that it’s actually hundreds. Maybe even thousands.
I lay with that thought, my eyes dancing in the dark, for what feels like hours.
And when I wake up the next morning, it’s to the sunny hills of tea country. There’s a swing in the garden whispering my name and a couple of rambunctious monkeys in the nearby trees, eating the same kind of fruit I’ll soon have for breakfast. My mom and her cousin, who are visiting me for a week, are sitting in chairs nearby, reading and enjoying the morning sun.
I am so ready to greet this day.
I recently finished a novel in which the protagonist’s zodiac sign was Aquarius. This was important because water, for as long as she could remember, had been a significant part of her life. From the day she was born (in a bathtub), she recalls being in, near, around water. The sea, a family’s lake house, the backyard during a rain storm, arms outstretched — she couldn’t get enough of it. Water came to shape her whole life.
What are the things we can’t get enough of? You, me? What do we keep coming back to, where do our hobbies, jobs, conversations, idle moments point us? What doesn’t let us go?
I’m so used to getting my hands dirty, to interacting and acting and reacting on an everyday basis. I’m used to in-your-face requests and friendly head bobbles and ethnocentric insults; to being cheated on the bus and to graciously accepting my daily cup of milk tea from the old man who runs the cafeteria where I work; to squaring off with a cow in the middle of the narrow road who won’t let me pass even though I’m late to lecture on J.D. Salinger. Standing in front of thirty 21-year-old Sri Lankan university students three times a day energizes me, and reading a fantasy fiction manuscript written by a third-year English Honors student who values my opinion inspires me. I’m four months in as a Fulbright Fellow teaching English Literature at a Sri Lankan university, and although my detailed syllabus might convince you otherwise, I begin each day thinking, WHAT am I doing with these students and HOW do I know if any of its working?
I may be used to giving it all I’ve got most days, but I’m still figuring out how to determine if I’m being effective. Being effective as a university-level foreign teacher who only recently graduated with her B.A.; being effective as an American abroad tasked with spreading cultural goodwill; being effective at not getting dengue and malaria and typhoid (okay, so I’m pretty sure I’ve been effective at that). I’m on break between semesters now, so I’m reflecting on my role here, on what things I should do differently when I begin teaching again at the end of March, on how I can best serve my students and do my job. My fellow Fulbrighters provide plenty of inspiration, and even when my days don’t start or end in ways I like, I never forget why I’m here and how fortunate I am to be doing what I’m doing.
Even if some days I feel like this: