It is hard to believe that we are already deep into March and I am talking about 2016 in the past tense. It seems yesterday that 2016 started and I was at Cajun Crawfish in Seattle with friends, donning my bib and gloves and eating seafood like gluttons. I left for Germany soon after, not knowing that I would be making three more trips in the next three months all over the US, mostly for faculty interviews.
2016 was a pivotal year in my life, and my career. It was craziness on steroids. I did a lot of new things, but more importantly, I had a lot of fun doing the things that I did. I ate rabbit meat in Malta and fried crickets in Mexico (and hated both). I almost got killed a couple of times, once after being chased by an angry donkey while hiking up a hill in Greece and once, when I got on a wrong train in Germany and landed up in the middle of nowhere at 2 am, being stranded at a desolate railway station for hours (I need to write about it). In the middle of a faculty interview, I managed to rip my pants and spent some time locked inside the dean’s office, stripped waist down, hurriedly sewing my trousers to be able to hang on to my dignity and continue with the interview. There was no dearth of adventure in my life. Amid all these little and not so little things, I will remember 2016 specifically for these reasons:
My grandfather’s passing: His passing not only left a deep void in me, but also made me face for the first time the consequences of my life choices of living away from the country, the land and the people, so far that saying goodbye would not be possible. He left behind a gaping hole in my heart that will never heal. I lost a person from my childhood, and there is only a handful people left from my childhood. I sometimes go through phases where I can sense him around me. Everyone from the family and extended family was at his funeral except me, his first grandchild. I haven’t found closure and I never will.
Losing my passport: Being robbed off my passport in broad daylight made me realize how paralyzing the instinct of fear is and how strong gut feelings could be. Although I would choose to be robbed off neither, if someone held me at gunpoint and forced me to choose, I’d rather they took my money than passport. A stolen passport remains in your record for a long time. I am often singled out for extra scrutiny every now and then. That incident in Athens shook me. Along with my passport and all my money, what I lost that day was my self-confidence. I felt small, and I felt violated. It wasn’t easy to think calmly in an unknown country I was visiting for the first time, being on my own. Losing a passport strips you off your identity. Suddenly, there is no way to prove who you are. There is no way you can board an airplane after that, even to your own country because without a passport, you cannot even prove what country you belong to. For a long time, fear had gnawed my insides. The feeling was very visceral.
Finding the job: 2016 was when I transitioned from finding “a job” to finding “the job”. It wasn’t easy and it took me a while to get there. It transformed things for me fundamentally, from working hard to fulfill other’s scholarly dreams to now working harder to fulfill my own scholarly dreams. Being faculty is one of the hardest things I have done in life. It takes up all my time and energy every single day. And that is exactly how I would have wanted it. I have a better understanding and much greater appreciation of my PhD adviser now. There were so many times I could not comprehend why he acted the way he did. Now, I finally do.
Moving back to the US: After two years of my linguistic exile in Germany, it was interesting to move back to the US once again as a resident and not as a temporary visitor. I have a driver’s license again. I have access to US Netflix. I am in the same time zone as many of my friends (or within a respectable time difference). I have a US number again. I can suddenly understand and be understood. These are little comforts that I had missed out on big time.
Traveling: 2016 will be my most well-traveled year. I traveled 16 countries (and 35 cities), 13 of which (countries) were new, and 11 of them, on my own. Paying monthly rent became a formality. I turned thirty five while hiking the forts of Dubrovnik and scaling the mountains of Montenegro. Visiting the concentration camps of Auschwitz was another significant experience. I took a cruise ship for the first time, all the way to Norway. I almost scaled the pyramids of Mexico. In terms of travel and experiencing places, there has never been a better year.
I am grateful for the many experiences 2016 brought me. 2017 has been relatively low-key so far. But I am not complaining.