When I interned in Jordan during the summer of 2010, I hiked Wadi Mujib in Jordan, a slot canyon with crystal clear water that gives (some) life to the Dead Sea. The canyon walls towered and narrowed above me and my friends, enclosing us in a geological wonder filled with life and coolness in an area normally so sterile and warm. We clambered over rocks and waterfalls, forged tiny pools, and had our feet picked clean by tiny fishes at the end. It was wonderful.
I returned to Provo following that indelible summer and, eager to repeat my slot canyon experience, hiked the Narrows with another group of friends. Again, the same closed space, the relentlessness of the timeless water wearing down the rocks, spectacular cliff walls, and so on. Again, it was wonderful. But, I distinctly thought to myself as we neared the end: why did I have to go to Jordan to experience this for the first time when something so similar was in my backyard?
The formation of that question has since marked me. I've spent years abroad and passed countless hours studying other cultures and languages, but how well do I know my own culture? Do I understand what makes my people, the Americans, the Mormons, the Juchaus, the neighbors, the classmates, the coworkers tick? Have I explored my backyard? It begs the question, can I truly understand others if I don't understand myself?
When I look back on my travels in Morocco, Jordan, France, and Israel, I realize that the greatest joys often occurred from the homecoming: from seeing friends and family again after a long absence. Of course, I missed my Arab/French friends and family, but I missed more my family and my friends. I've realized recently that my deepest joys in life do not stem from a thousand brief if meaningful acquaintanceships but rather from the deep, emotional attachments I form with family and friends. It's these experiences, so painful and raw at times, that have taught me about love, adventure, and the human experience.
Similarly, as I explore my own community through projects such as Humans of Provo, I find a wealth of human experience in my community, an area of study I had previously dismissed as too "common" and "ordinary." Art and culture and diversity can be found in our community; the whole gamut runs through my neighborhood. You can find what you want here despite the seemingly monolithic facade. A culture and a language that I speak fluently but do not understand fully is right here at my doorstep. I've come to realize that my culture is just as exotic and foreign to an Arab or an African as theirs is to me. Somehow, that ups the coolness factor of it.
Please don't misunderstand: my experiences in Jordan, Morocco, Israel, and France have opened me up in a way that no other experience could. I've learned about piety, ritual, and family from Arab Muslims, the joy of life and death from Africans in France, and skepticism from the French, to name but a few of the lessons I've gleaned abroad. I wouldn't trade that time for anything. And I still want to go abroad, to live abroad, and to expand my repertoire of the world's religions, cultures, and people.
But, I recently can't help wondering if what I've been looking for- adventure, love, diversity, art, culture, the human experience- has been here all along.