This last time I was in Nepal I had an experience that has been sitting heavy in my heart and I just want to share it. Especially today when I was feeling real sad.
There were about 20 new girls at the shelter we support in Nepal this time when I showed up. All victims of sexual assault in some way – some raped, some trafficked, all violated in indescribable situations that no little girl should ever have to face. We also had a girl with another baby, which puts the baby count at 2 for us. I freaking love babies. See my joy at having a little one to squeeze while the mama eats dinner or dances or whatever else that teenage girls should be doing instead of dealing with a baby that came from her rape.
Her uncle raped her, then forced her to marry a random guy to cover up the pregnancy and then the guy who married her was so angry that the baby was a girl he began beating her and abusing her and her new little girl. Girls are very second class citizens in this part of the world. So we ended up with this little mama and her 10 month old squishy little babe. The mom is so sweet, shy, and beautiful.
One of the days we were having activities at the shelter and I had bought tons of henna to play with. Everyone was drawing henna on each other, Nepali music was blasting off the new speaker, and everyone was giggling and twirling around waiting in line to get their hands or forearms decorated.
I had done one forearm pretty dang well, which was a surprise to me and to the girls that I had been hiding my secret henna talent (that I had no idea I even had)! Henna lasts like a month so it’s a lot of pressure not to mess up too bad and give someone a month long ghetto looking forearm. I had drawn a small crowd of little voices repeating, “Me! Suzanne sister, me next!” And I took the next little hand in line and started drawing. After a few girls had come and gone, it was this little new mama’s turn and as she sat by me it was the most excited I had seen her. I loved seeing her so happy and so I excitedly pulled up a couple pictures to see what design she wanted. She smiled big and pulled up her sleeve and handed me her arm.
It was covered in the worst scars I’ve ever seen on a forearm. Hundreds of healed cuts from her elbow clear to her hand from cutting. It caught me really off guard because you usually don’t know everyone’s story completely at the shelter and I had no idea she had cut. I didn’t miss a beat and kept smiling at her big happy smile and started drawing but inside I was dying. I realized she always wore long sleeves and she was pretty new so I just hadn’t noticed before it was right in my lap. I drew little circles and flower looking designs right over those deep scars and it took everything I had not to cry. How unfair life was to this girl. How much pain had she dealt with alone. Her little arm laid in my lap as we covered those scars with something new and beautiful and I loved her so much I thought my heart was going to explode. She had had to hide a lot in her young, little life.
Sometimes when I people watch I think about the pain that is walking around me hiding and it makes me feel so bad. I just wish I could know so I could help. I wish we had to wear little gauges so as you walked up to someone you could see that their pain odometer was really high and you could be like, “Oh hi I was going to ask you about ____ but it looks like you’re having a rough day so what’s up? Should we go get ice-cream and sit outside and be happy together for a bit? What do you need?” But instead we all hide our scars and walk around and no one knows. It’s so hard to be vulnerable when you’re sad. “People like fun and happy people!” we tell ourselves. If I’m lonely and then tell people I’m lonely everyone will just pity me.
This happened to me today. I had a horribly lame day and everyone that reads this will think I’m the lamest. But it was how I was feeling and just couldn’t be strong Suzanne. Instead I was lame Suzanne. Did you know that I’m so extraverted that it is almost a joke. I just had to take a personality test for my master’s class and I scored like 98% extraverted. I would kill to have some introverted parts. Seriously. Sometimes when I have to be alone I actually cry. Sometimes when I think about other people being alone I cry haha. It’s honestly so ridiculous but sometimes when I tell people that in person I start to tear up as I’m thinking about people being alone and then we both laugh at how amazing ridiculous but how amazingly true it actually is that this is my reaction to something so many people actually like. My mom said when I was little and we would see people eating alone I would start crying and she would have to reassure me that they probably had huge families at home and were just enjoying a nice break with some much needed “alone time”. Little Suzanne and big Suzanne can’t even comprehend this. In fact, I’m tearing up right now as I write this. Someone help meeeeeee.
Anyways. I often get told things like, “Wow. You must be so independent to travel the world alone.” Which makes me laugh because if you knew me I am such a dependent person it’s a joke. When I travel I’m alone on the plane and that’s about it. As soon as you hit ground outside of America (at least to the places I usually go) I am surrounded by people and make friends before I even leave the airport. In Uganda my best friend is David. He picks me up and never leaves my side. In Nepal it’s Muna. In each country I have or make a best friend that stays with me international style, meaning we eat together, work together, shop together, sleep in the same place so you wake up with friends, the works. I think it’s actually made my extraverted ways worse. And with HELP International, my job for the last 5 years we have a strict buddy system anyways abroad so honestly the only times I’m really alone are in America. The culture of America is so different. There isn’t the community here that I crave. Americans (where I live at least) leave their house in their personal car and go to their job and come back in their personal car and stay inside and watch TV or whatever. I miss everyone being outside and in each other’s business and eating together communal style and public transport that is normal and not weird.
When my monster cyst tried to kill me and I was on bedrest for a while recovering, my phone went off all day long from people abroad. Wanting to know who was taking care of me and what I was eating and what was going on. Muna in Nepal called me over and over again and couldn’t understand why no one had moved in with me to take care of me and was aghast at the lack of people around me. I hadn’t even noticed really until she pointed it out – how different my recovery would have been in any place other than here in America. It’s just cultural and I know that, and I had great friends here text me and ask to come over to visit and bring me things I needed, but she wanted to know why someone wasn’t literally sleeping by my bed and cooking me every meal and bringing me tea every hour. Bless her. I honestly would have loved to fly her to me and I would have loved having her because I would have believed her when she said she wanted to be there like that for me.
Me and the beautiful Muna
Today I was feeling really sad. I wanted to go to church but I felt soooo stressed about being alone. I know people at church though, so I got ready and tried to get up the courage. The girl I usually text and try to be around is on vacation so I felt a little more nervous. Usually I can hype myself up about going places alone and then I’m totally fine because I basically just have the attitude you’re only alone until you start talking to someone, but it was a hard lonely feeling day so I hoped I would find someone I already knew.
I walked in and there were a few empty rows and then a row of people with one seat by them. I walked over bravely to the row with people and asked if anyone was sitting there by them. The guy sideways looked at me and grunted no and I sat down. You know when you have put something in motion and you just can’t get out of it even though you want to bail because you can tell you weren’t wanted? It was awkward. Maybe he thought I was going to hit on him or something… I tried to make sure my phone backdrop of me and my boyfriend was visible to maybe simmer his concerns but he didn’t take his eyes off some game on his phone.
After church I tried to ask his name and thank him for letting me sit by him, but I couldn’t really understand his grunted answer and then he just looked at me and looked back at his phone. Ouch. Okay next class. As I walked out I saw someone I know. I gave him a hug and started walking with him to class but then he stopped to talk to people I didn’t know and I felt lame standing with him waiting on him because I hadn’t come with him and so I tried to be brave and walk to class. It was like a bad movie. I sat alone and watched people file in hoping to recognize someone. Usually I’m really good at this because I just sit by someone else who is alone and make friends with them but today there wasn’t anyone alone in the room but me. I even recognized someone and tried to yell her name a few times, but she didn’t hear me. And the guy in front of me turned at looked at me like I was a loser (you know when you’re sad and you probably are reading into people’s RBF too much? That’s probably what was going on tbh but in the moment I felt sad and dumb and ALONE. Initiate small panic inside.) I saw someone else I kind of knew and the same thing happened. In the end I was still alone on this row of empty chairs as class began and I just missed the feeling of being with people that love you. I missed my boyfriend who calls me 80 times a day but lives 5,031 miles away in Amsterdam and being able to go to church with friends and roommates and living in the same city as a family member and having my community of people that expect everyone to be involved and invited to everything.
Me explaining to Arabs how American’s have friends we don’t talk to every day:
Suz: “I got to talk to my friend ___ last night! I haven’t seen or talked to her in almost a year so it was really great.”
Aesa: “She’s your friend? Why haven’t you called her in so long?”
Suz: “Ummmm. I don’t know I guess because we’re both busy?”
Aesa: “But if you like her and she’s your friend why wouldn’t you call her? You should talk to your friends all the time.”
Aesa sends me multiple selfies a day and video calls me a million times a day so I can pretend I’m there and I miss him so much.
It’s just such a different world out there. And I’ve been in that world instead of this world so long and I love it so much that sometimes today I just am lame. I ended up leaving the class and going to my car and calling Aesa and sobbing and he laughed and told me nice things and cheered me up, but it was a long, ugly cry.
I just wanted to say to my friend I saw in the hallway “I’m feeling stupidly sad and lonely today can I stick with you today at church even though we didn’t come together?” I know he would have said yes. He’s super nice. But I couldn’t get the words out. They stuck in my throat and I pulled down my imaginary sleeve over my scars so no one could see them and instead smiled and walked away.
Please don’t hide your scars from me if you have them. I will sit with you and help you draw some new henna to make them beautiful and help you know that there is nothing to be ashamed of. It’s beautiful that we’re all so different. My introverted friends will laugh at this post and think to themselves that being alone is heaven and I’m a nut job but I’ll still cry if I think of you sitting alone at Cafe Rio so make sure you avoid me if you’re needing some quite time.
I’m fine. But I had a sad day. And I wished I was in Nepal, or Greece, or anywhere where I would have a million people who would let me sit by them for no reason and who would make dinner with me or have me come be with them for no reason.
Love you all. Thanks for reading ❤
3 Comments Add yours
Ugh, you just read my heart, Suzanne. You put into words so beautifully how I feel about my place in the world at times. Sometimes I feel more connected abroad, in a culture that is not my own, than the life I live. Thank you for being you, and an amazing inspiration!
Maybe friendly people can carry a smiley ID around their necks, encouraging others to connect!
Everytime someone is rude or looks away, I wish them a happy day. I never stop greeting people anyway.
Sometimes, I will say that we would never treat you like this back home.
Busy peoples lol!
Just be yourself. We can change things…
From your wodrs I feel your love …I feel your emotions…I fell your courage….I read your words and desire to be a better person…I feel close to you when you share from your heart…I love you!!! Kathy