I should have understood that with adventure comes struggle, and no great experience comes from closing your eyes and imaging your own bed. Friedrich Nietzsche once said “what does not kill me makes me stronger.” What Nietzsche probably didn’t know when he spoke those timeless words is that he’d be offering kind words to a distraught fourteen year old girl, lost in translation.
I had not slept for over twenty-four hours when my eighth grade French class deplaned the flight from Porto Rico to Martinique. For the next sixteen days, I was determined to immerse myself in the Martiniquais ways and come home with the most beautiful tan that Tan Rio had ever seen. I threw my duffle on my back, and while a voice in the back of my head begged for a luggage reconsideration on wheels, I pushed it aside and followed my French teacher, Monique, across the pavement into the airport to meet our host families.
I cautiously stepped into my host family’s run down car, buckled my seatbelt, and bit my lip, waiting for the car to finally sputter into a consistent roar of the engine. We rode down the humble roads, past the beach, the tin roofed homes, and the banana plantations. That evening felt awkward. The family and I sat together, eating soup tentatively trying to embrace the moment.
The days to follow proved to be more than a surprise. Night one, I naively struggled to sleep as I waited through two hours of sleepless hallucinations. Day two, I had had my first allergic reaction: my face was the size of a bowling ball soon to be turned bright red with embarrassment and tears. Day three and a jellyfish wrapped itself around my body while snorkeling. Day six, I was stopped in an alley around eleven thirty at night by two big men. Day seven I was out of money, the host family had made it abundantly clear that they could pay for no more than one or two meals a day. Day nine; I had finally found a day to spend sprawled out at the beach with a book. No such luck. A boy in my class put a hermit crab down my one-piece bathing suit, sending me running into the trees, furiously yanking the suit off. As for that tan? Blacking out from heat exhaustion in the shade doesn’t exactly give your skin that bronze color you’d hoped for. However, day eleven and I had finally found a moment to breathe. My class had just zip-lined through the jungle and as we waited for the others to finish, we sat on the grass, eating peanut M&Ms, drinking cokes and watching the sun set. I remember that evening. The sky peeked out through the palm trees, the bright red sun laying down heat waves, blurring the hills. I remember the air shimmering, as if all the dust motes had been replaced with confetti. I had felt alone the entire trip, all my friends back in the U.S. But in that moment, I felt my world come together with Martinique, and things felt complete.
During my stay in Martinique, I think I learned more about myself than the island itself. I learned that no adventure goes as planned, and with each obstacle comes a new beginning. That knowledge is the door to adventure and without understanding yourself, you can’t try to understand your surroundings. Things may not always be crystal clear. Sometimes, all we can do is feel around blindly and remember: What does not kill me makes me stronger.
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