*Special thanks to my nephew, Walter Pitts, for serving as today’s guest contributor. He recently returned from a whirlwind tour of Europe with friends, and following his journey via Facebook was entertaining and inspiring. I’m thankful he’s willing to share some of his adventure with you.*
Freshman year I applied for my passport at the Fayetteville post office for my trip to Belize with Engineers Without Borders. Today, I trudged down Dickson Street headed to the same post office with the cold burning my cheeks, a bit jet-lagged and more than a bit in culture shock. The most welcoming words I had heard all day were words like enthalpy, control volume, combined cycle, and a string of words about the accumulation rate’s relation to the conservation of mass. Sitting through the thermo review in power gen, it struck me how odd it was that I could not only completely understand the teacher’s words, but also that it would be possible to have a full conversation with any person I met that would last more than 30 seconds before my vocabulary became a limiting factor. I could make it last longer than a few phrases, than saying ‘good afternoon’, ‘thank you’, ‘I don’t speak Polish’, ‘you’re beautiful’, ‘how much?’ (Don’t worry, not in that order). Shaking some cold off, I grabbed a flat rate envelope and placed a dirty scrap of cloth into it.
Some of you will smile here with recognition; most will probably be a bit confused. This off-white scrap of cloth is a little something that has become endearingly known to me as the Adventure Bandana. A cheesy name given to a dollar bandana purchased at a Wal-Mart on the outskirts of the Smoky Mountains many years ago on a family vacation. I wore that bandana lashed between my bicep and tricep for the entirety of the trip, obviously looking very adventuresome, outdoorsy, and cool. There is a picture somewhere of me, in my long hair stage on this trip, flexing muscles with a man I met with a tattoo that he and a buddy had done themselves with some India ink and a needle. ‘Love Mom’ never looked so cool.
Since that trip the bandana has been with me through storms, up creeks, to the back of many caves, on death defying whippers, in death defying bike wrecks, sailing, floating, fishing, and a myriad of other adventures. It has been covered in blood and snot and more sweat than the great Bambino could shake a stick at. A book could be written on where all this bandana has been with me, but one day, a long time ago, I figured that maybe, seeing as how the bandana had served me so well, it could be something a bit more.
This is where the story and the essence of the Adventure Bandana really came to fruition. I started sending my bandana with my favorite people on their travels as a way to say that I was excited for their adventures and that someone back home had them on his mind. Heck, if I was going to let them get lost and take my bandana with them… The bandana definitely isn’t a good luck charm; if anything it’s the opposite. I’d say the bandana stands for just about everything Superman stands for and maybe a bit more. As I filled out my address label, an old man recommended a different envelope. I could sense immediately that he didn’t really care about what envelope I used but that he needed someone to discuss the merits of various envelopes with. How these people find me, I never know. I think it’s genetic. I think I got it from my mom.
With the long line I knew I was in for a long conversation. After he learned from me the vast amount of knowledge entailing only my major in school, he told me of his time in the Navy, his time at the Architecture school under Fay Jones and how he lost his job in Oklahoma City and ended up in Fayetteville doing odd jobs in drafting and Civil Engineering. I drifted off thinking of when, in Poland, we were asked by our Chilean friend, Maria, what the difference was in the word ‘trip’, and the word ‘journey.’ We concluded that a journey had something to do with discovering something new and that trip was generally a safer phrase to use in casual conversation to describe traveling. I sealed the package containing the bandana which had only recently been returned to me in Prague via Mr. Joshua Windsor, a friend of mine who lived just down the hall in Pomfret my freshman year. Josh had been studying in Cambridge and had
graciously agreed to let it see some prestigious education. Caleb Posey wore it in Indonesia, and Zach has some great stories with the Bandana in Egypt. It has been all over Western Europe and still has green oil paint on it from my first trip to Belize and sweat from my second one.
I drifted back into the conversation as the man told me that the word ‘job security’ was being taken out of the dictionary. The fact that this was actually two words didn’t strike me at the time, but it did strike me again that I could talk to a complete stranger without a phrase book. And then it struck me too how silly this whole adventure bandana thing was. I bought the darn thing at Wal-Mart; all that made it special was its stories, the blood and sweat, the places it had been.
Hmmm. I looked at the man again, nodding for the 50th time, and thought about a hospital, and a baby being born. Blood and sweat, the places that baby would go, its story. Then it really blew my mind that I was talking to another human being. I walked to the counter where the exact same snarky Asian-American woman who had taken my passport paperwork over two years ago was standing. This is where my international travel had started. It suddenly seemed very fitting to be sending off the bandana here.
The bandana had only been in my hands for two weeks, through Prague, Berlin, Istanbul, and Budapest, and it felt very satisfying to have it for such a short time. Now the silly scrap of cloth is headed across America to Andy, my roommate and best friend who will be leaving for Rwanda in a couple of weeks. Five something dollars lighter, I wished the lady a good day and told the lonely old gentleman that it was nice talking to him. To me this moment in the post office is the literal end of my latest journey, passing the cloth baton once more on to a friend and fellow traveler.
What I discovered that is new is up for debate, although I care very little what the consensus is. I may be jet-lagged and in intense culture shock, but in all honesty, this is the best I have felt in a long time. My belt is tight, clamping my loose pants to my waist, but I am full for now with memories, raising laughter in my stomach that moves down to my gut.
Blood and sweat indeed.