Collecting Moments
Ramesha Patel, Division 3, College junior #ws17e-s1d3

I am not the same having seen the moon shine on the other side of the world. My experiences are what differs me from others; I have acquired a curious, open-minded awareness of what this unknown world holds. These preceding 20 years of my life have been fulfilled through travel excursions on a whim beyond anyone’s dreams for I have seen the indescribable and I have experienced illusory adventures of a lifetime thus far.

August 4, 2006: “Beti, bahar kudi nai jana” Sweetheart, don’t go outside alone. This phrase was constantly bantered into my head every morning during my trip to Karachi, Pakistan. One afternoon I decided to venture out on my own to see what I had only caught a glimpse of through the rusty iron gates of my grandparents’ mansion. It was sunny and humid out, but the weather had begun to transform as water from the darkened clouds lightly peppered the unpaved roads. Just beyond the gates was an elderly man wearing the traditional cream-colored Pakistani ‘kurta’, a baggy outfit with puffy harem pants and a long, knee-length shirt. He was pushing a cart around selling roasted masala corn, a renowned Pakistani snack. My mouth began to water as I imagined the taste of the warm seasoned kernels. I swiftly began walking over to buy some and noticed a miniature monkey in a multi-colored, embroidered vest wrapped around his shoulder. I slowed my pace and cautiously approached him, keeping an eye on the monkey who seemed to be observing me just as intensely. I greeted him and purchased a sack of corn. My curiosity kept me in place as I slowly munched on my savory snack, staring at the monkey who appeared ready to snatch my snack for himself. “Apkipas monkey ku heh?” Sir, why do you have a monkey? He didn’t utter one word, but instead held his arms out, signaling the monkey to climb down. The little animal swung off his shoulder in one swift motion, landing on the asphalt with a small thump. He instantly began to turn in circles and jump and clap with a grin on his face; he was a dancing monkey. At the end of his performance, he vigilantly walked over to me with both hands cupped together. I peered down at the little animal as he raised his hands towards me; this was a way to ask for some sort of payment for his performance. I bent down and placed a pinch of kernels into his petite hands. From his perspective, he had just received a handful of food, although I had only given him about five kernels. Overjoyed, he began stuffing his mouth; I watched and thought to myself how simple it was to fulfill his heart with content. I thanked the man for letting me play with his companion and walked back to the house. At the age of 10, that was the highlight of my life.

April 26, 2014: There I was, standing dumbfounded before the entrance of the train station as I unremittingly tapped my travel card onto the machine sensor just as I had observed other passengers do. The locals-- some carrying leather briefcases, others a cup of coffee, a few with notebooks, and one particular man with a guitar in each hand-- hastily rushed past me in an attempt to avoid my stalled lane. Finally, a security guard walked over with a slight smirk on his face and demonstrated how to use my travel card; I had been tapping it on the wrong side the entire time. I sheepishly thanked him, while noting which side to use next time. “Okay,” I thought, “the hardest part is done.” Wrong. I approached the top of the metal stairs and felt a rush of confusion and panic enter my body. People were whooshing past one another on the platform, trains were departing within seconds of one another, and the monotonous voice over the loudspeaker was blurred out from the train whistles and commotion of footsteps and chatter. “Last call for brown line!” My ears perked up; I couldn’t miss that train. My arrival at the top of the stairs had been perfect as I rushed inside the train and took a seat on a blue tattered cushion near the window. The train began rolling forward and I became lost in my thoughts drifting past the streets of Chicago.

July 19, 2016: I squatted down onto a boulder near the shores of Playa Grande in Costa Rica and patiently waited. I ran my hands through the white sand, grabbing a handful and watching the grains fall through my fingers. The darkness of the sky progressively became brighter as the cobalt hues transformed into a muddled concoction, forming a rosy, glowing sky. The soothing sunrays began to warm my skin as it peeked through the thin clouds. The salty taste of the sea breeze brushed over my lips and whipped through my hair. The rhythmic emerald green waves crashed onto the shore leaving a thin trace of foam at my toes. I heard my name being yelled and snapped back into reality; they were here. I ran to where my friends were kneeling and saw hundreds of tiny, speckled creatures digging their way out of the sand in a hurry. One by one, a new head would pop up through the sand until hundreds were racing towards the shore. The baby turtles had arrived and the game of survival had begun. Watching the wonders of nature before my very eyes was a once in a lifetime experience and by far the most memorable. As the day continued, we went on a hunt for our new friend, Salvador, who sold organic coconuts on the beach. It had become a morning ritual to drink fresh coconut water for breakfast. Walking along the beach, I spotted him setting up his station for the day. “Hola, Salvador! Solo uno por favor.” Although I wasn’t completely fluent in Spanish, hand gestures and minimal words had gotten me far on my journey. He took a round, green coconut from the cart, grabbed his long silver machete and waited for me to step back. In one swift motion he chopped off the top of the coconut, inserted a straw and handed it to me. Aside from nature’s wonder I came across the friendliest people, also known as Ticos, who pride themselves on living “la pura vida,” living a pure life. Indeed, Costa Rica has taught me to live a pure life and appreciate every moment in its full intensity.

I have been blessed to experience much of what the world has to offer at such a young age. I am different than everyone else; I invest my time and money by traveling to create a mental journal filled with memories, while educating myself along the way. Materialistic items don’t interest me unless it is a way for me to remember the places I have enjoyed visiting. I feel happy while I’m gaining new experiences and insights, and challenging my boundaries. Travel is the perfect catalytic agent for happiness, as it has allowed me to experience the natural, cultural and manufactured wonders of the world. Being in foreign lands, it also continuously forces me to step out of my comfort zone - a great way to build self-confidence. I live life differently than others, thus creating a lifetime of stories and memories. Sometimes there is no next time, no time outs, and no second chances. It may only be now or never and I have constantly been challenged by the world. Traveling. It leaves you speechless, and then turns you into a storyteller.
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