By: Chelsea Parrott
Travel writing is something I’ve been doing for awhile now. It’s something I’ve always loved. The concept of someone else reading my words and being able to imagine even half the joy I experience while travelling is beyond words. Wanderlust runs deep in my veins and writing just goes along with it; a natural pair.
So explain to me why I am having such difficulty writing this post. I’ve done it dozens of times, about all different subjects, every single time I travel. And yet here I am, sat in a hotel room in Nanchang, eating ramen and viewing the city lights…and going on twenty minutes of the worst writer’s block of my life.
What’s the problem? The problem is I’ve never been ASSIGNED a blog post. I’ve never been told, “Hey, you gatta do this thing. And your deadline is two weeks.” It’s not an unfair or unreasonable request. I’ve cranked out a fifteen page term paper in a single day so this should be easy. Except it’s not.
I’ve been in China for eight days. And for those eight days, I’ve experienced something absolutely incredible every day. I’m a detail writer – I like imagery. But imagery is not conducive to an overview of eight days. So we’ll go with the one that changed my life (dramatic, I know. Bear with me.)
About a week before I arrived in New York City for orientation with the Global Autism Project, my employer gave me a grant for my master program. There was a rigorous application and interview process and ultimately, the company only have out two grants.
So I got the grant. Go me! But a week before I got the grant, I was going on job interviews. In fact, I went on several. I was unsure of whether I want to remain in this field, with this population, and/or doing direct work like I do. I didn’t know where my life was going to take me or if this was the right path for me or if all the years of schooling would be worth it. And then I went to China.
China is a lot of things. It’s busy and loud and chaotic and messy. I can say exactly two things in Mandarin, soap is a precious commodity, and I had to master the art of the squatty-potty (without taking my pants completely off!)
But China also possesses an indescribable quality. It’s so unique, I struggle to find the words to express what I see and how I feel. There is no other place in the world like China. And a large part of that is the people. Sure, China is beautiful. There’s something so intriguing about the unadulterated commitment to tradition. Prayers at temples, the lucky colour red, and special
meals are just some of the traditions I’ve witnessed and been a part of. But more than that – more than the culture or the country – is the people.
A short walk from the hotel and up four (yes… FOUR) flights of concrete steps, is our main hub of activity. The members of my team huddled together around a table with fruit, water, and instant coffee. We were briefed on the day before being divided into pairs. My team leader and I squished into a different room so small that our knees were touching. We fanned ourselves with our notebooks, the shared distress of hiking up four flights of stairs evident. However the anguish (again with the drama) dissipated quickly when a young boy was ushered through the door. Dressed in a light grey sweater and simple khaki pants, the child was hesitant. His teacher prompted him to say hello and then immediately began the session. But the child still seemed unsure, frequently looking over his shoulder at the strangers in the room. With a little more prompting, the child said “hello” again. But then, the atmosphere changed. Instead of being cautious of my movements to avoid startling the young student, he was suddenly in my arms. Intrigued by my lip stud, the little boy gently touched my face and then played with my hair.
The child had done a complete 180. Why did he suddenly feel safe enough in that environment to approach me? What had I done to convince him that I was not scary? Perhaps it was as simple as the child wanted to escape the demand of the session, thereby deeming me an appropriate distraction. Truthfully, I don’t know what the case was. And that’s the beauty of it.
Humans are very strange creatures. We do very strange things and act in very strange ways. That oddity – the strangeness that IS human behaviour – is it for me. That’s it. That’s my “why”. Why do I spend hours upon hours writing and rewriting behaviour programming? Why do I sacrifice sleep and a social life for school work? Why do I put up with the physical and emotional stress of this field?
This is why. Being stuffed in a room that’s a little too warm, wearing a shirt tucked in (which I strongly dislike), and trying to keep up with a translator…and having that amazing interaction with the student. The entire event only lasted maybe a minute. But that one minute reminded me of why I do this work and why I know this is the field for me. That one minute is also what assured me that I am not ready to move on from my current job. I’m not ready to leave ABA behind. I’m not ready to do something different. I’m ready to commit to this.
I’ll return home to Boston on Sunday, October 27th. Grad school starts Monday, October 28th.
Let’s do it.