I've always referred to our Sumatra expedition as being in three chapters.
Chapter 1: Pre-expedition planning, paperwork, funding, grant writing and general preparation.
Chapter 2: Expedition. Making it happen.
Chapter 3: Post-expedition presentations, photo sorting, story development.
We are now in the early phases of Chapter 3. It's semi overwhelming but also extremely exciting- getting to share what we have discovered.
Looking back on my time in Sumatra, it's difficult to believe it happened. It was so out of this world, so foreign and strange at times, but at other times it grabbed my heart and made it feel close to home.
I learned an immeasurable amount throughout this trip. It can't be quantified or even put into words, really, because I'm still not sure everything I have learned. What I can tell you is that it will deeply translate into how I live my everyday life, the patience that I have developed, the interest and respect that I have generated, and the immense amount of confidence that I have in trusting my soul.
Both Chris and I at times agreed, "I feel like I can do anything now." And that's the feeling that carried us through during the difficult sections of the expedition. And oh, when it was difficult, it was difficult.
Having to consistently make difficult, weighted decisions was a test of our ability to focus on the immediate future- an extremely hard task for me to do (and it was good practice.) Being challenged for the majority of the day made me exhausted and the process of how to divide and conquer, communicate effectively and fight through frustration was a sharp learning curve, but a good one.
I would love to sit down with every single person in my life and share my experience over a cup of steaming Sumatran coffee and listen to their travel experiences.
I can tell you that many people who go on expeditions make it look like a cake walk, and I felt like I stumbled and tripped through mine, but I know I'll do better next time.
I am so thrilled to start exploring the world, and searching for the unexplored parts, like much of what we saw in Sumatra.
I can tell you that photographically, I felt pressure, but when I got to shoot photographs of people, I felt like we exchanged pieces of our soul.
I stepped over rubble from what used to be houses, found spoons and cigarette cases, clothes, and keys tucked into plants, all of which used to belong to someone, 7 years ago.
I communicated without using a language.
I made important life decisions while staring at a completely different constellation.
We flew home in style with business class tickets, slept on airplane seats that folded down into beds, and finally, at last, made it home.
American soil is beautiful.
One day I'll return to Banda Aceh.
It's been almost 11 months planning this expedition, and for an hour or two in transit home, I started to worry that this was it. It's over, it's done, it's almost completed. When I told Chris this, he looked at me like I was crazy. And it's true, I have a problem with trying to look too far into the future. So when I wake up and when I feel myself looking too far ahead, I say again and again to myself "be here now."
Another thought that drifts through my mind again and again are the words: new life.
Seeing the other side of the world, everything there was new, different, changed from what I knew and learned. Now coming back home, I feel like I have new eyes. I see things and people in a different light.
So waking up extremely early this morning (still trying to get over that 11 hour time difference), I went for a walk in the sunflowers. They smiled and grasshoppers jumped across the path as I walked around them. Bees flew and collected and the air smelled of sage. It felt like home.
More than anything else I learned, I found that home can be found anywhere. The laughing children that want their photograph taken, and then laugh again and again when they see their face on the back of the screen. It's hearing a Bob Dylan song when you are 11,000 miles away from the places you knew. It's recognizing someone familiar in someone you just met. And it's connecting with people in a wholehearted way that is unforgettable.
I'm here in Indonesia, and it's our last day in the country before we depart to the US.
This trip has challenged me mentally, emotionally, physically, and photographically. There were days that I felt that all we did was fight for the photographs we wanted and ended up empty handed. But we are leaving feeling fulfilled.
I'm now full of experiences that are embedded in the smiles lines around my eyes, and I know that my heart has seen the other side of the planet.
I'm walking away with a lighter step in my feet, and increased patience.
I'm flying away with more questions than answers about the world, and more understanding about myself.
And finally, I know that I care deeply about this project and the people I've worked with.