I was made on a beach in Mexico south of the tourist town of Puerto Nuevo beneath a sky full of fireworks. That is how my parents would recount it, at least, every time that we passed the beach on camping trips to the Baja peninsula during my childhood. Puerto Nuevo is not such a new port anymore and all I really seem to hear about it is that the lobsters aren’t as big or as cheap as they once were. Nothing ever is. Still, that didn’t stop my friends and I from staying there for a weekend in July in a house the color of rust on a bumpy street labeled, “Vacacionistas.” The house sat in a tourist community situated atop a bluff alongside the ocean. Stairs cut through the sandstone down to the beach where the rubber edges of car tires poked through the concrete, washed clean by the steady crashing of the waves. The beach, in both directions, was carpeted with stones, a thick layer of rocks smoothed by tidal repetition. Every time a wave washed over them, it pulled a cavalry of stone back towards the ocean with the reverberating crack of a firework. For a moment, I legitimately thought someone was setting off fireworks. But the consistency of the swell gave itself away: the woosh of water followed by the impact of stone.
The first time I applied for a Fulbright Fellowship I began my Personal Statement with a sentence akin to the opening of this blog post. It was an attempt to establish some sort of personal connection to the country of Mexico worthy of receiving a one-year teaching assistantship. Needless to say, my conception did not prove entirely convincing, and I ended up in Mozambique instead of Mexico. The second time I applied for a Fulbright Fellowship, I didn’t talk about myself; I talked about Aikina Nachala Sevene, my host sister from Mozambique, in what was essentially an edited version of this blog post. As a result of that essay, and the accumulation of two years of experiences in austral Africa, the U.S. Fulbright Commission granted me a fellowship to return to Mozambique for nine months of creative writing. I leave in exactly two weeks.
The majority of my friends and loved ones in America respond to this news with a single word: why? Followers of this blog, and anybody who eats a meal with me, know that my first two years in Africa left behind physical consequences. San Diego, bless her heart, has been kind to me and my body now operates at levels equivalent to, or higher than, my pre-Peace Corps form. But I cannot stay. At various points in my life growth has been thrust upon me like an ocean wave that dragged me from a position of comfort and forced me into new depths of personal understanding. Mozambique, undoubtedly, was the biggest of those waves. She did not merely drag me; she broke me. She found the fault lines in both my physical and – more importantly – mental identity, and she ruptured them. And once I lay cracked and broken along the shore, she taught me how to rebuild myself. Mozambique made me into the man I am today. She taught me self-reliance. I feel just as at home along the streets of her capital or the backroads of her most isolated province as I do sitting at this cafe two blocks from my childhood home. I would not say (nor would my friends, I don’t think) that I’m a drastically different person, simply more comfortable with who I am and of what I am capable. I have seen myself emaciated, holding onto an enormous bunch of bananas for twelve hours in a bus oceans from home en route to a hospital, bleeding from the inside. I did, in a very physical sense, rebuild this body.
The beauty of that, and any, experience is the learning that accompanies it: I do not ever aspire to put myself in that situation again, nor do I think that I will. I know how to care for myself, and that basic understanding assuages any doubts about the unknowns of the next nine months. I find more unsettling the easy complacency that has become routine in my American life since returning home in January. Life in America is easy – transportation, laundry, cooking, cleaning, consuming – and, as a result, the amount of expectations increases exponentially, to the degree that free time evaporates. My weeks are dominated with tasks and my weekends spent chasing the next thrill. The past eight months represent the most carefree, irresponsible period of my entire existence: I drank, I got a motorcycle, I went to concerts, I met a girl, I crashed my motorcycle, I turned 25, I drank more, and suddenly my time ran out. It was a necessary hiatus from the personal and professional development of my life thus far, but I am disturbed by the ease with which such habits formed and how quickly they devoured nearly a year. I became a rock stuck upon the shoreline, worn by the restlessness of the tides, but never moving myself.
It’s time to move again. No more pretenses about moving physical mountains (just personal anthills), nor word play about diarrhea (that shit is real shit), nor illusions about the effect of this semi-permanent relocation on my relationships. The hardest part of leaving San Diego in 2014; the hardest part of leaving Mozambique in 2016; the hardest part of leaving San Diego again in 2017: physical separation from those to whom I’ve grown closest. Beginning September 5th, I will once again disappear from the collective formation of memories amongst my friends and family (in America). It is, however, the experience of that absence, the visceral loneliness I am sure to encounter, that generates empathy and allows me to write with a greater understanding of what it means to be human. That is why I am going back (more specifics in the new About section).
I chose to sandwich this post between descriptions of the beach in Puerto Nuevo because, out of all the possible memories from the last eight months, it encapsulates the moment in which I felt most human – the most at ease with myself, the most connected to those near me, and the most in awe of simple beauty. The rocks didn’t extend too far into the water, whose temperature in July rose to comfortable levels, and swimming was pleasant. Afterwards, we sat on the stairs above the water. Her hair, still wet after swimming, glimmered in the yellow light of the late afternoon sun and a thick strand fell across her eye. I brushed it to the side without thinking and the rocks rumbled on to the rhythm of the tide.