I have recently returned from another trip, one that saw me take the future-foreshadowing GRE, and unwind in the streets of Amsterdam and Copenhagen. While it has been a lengthy period since my last entry, too many things have transpired. I don’t wish to write about my whereabouts, but rather to depict the one fundamental bond that cements these things in my memories: the dancing eyes.
I’ve rode through the deserts of Israel; I have bused through the streets of South Africa; I’ve hiked the beaches of Turkey, and have stepped foot in so many more exceptional nations. When I tell people about my travels, of course the expeditions and adventures are the first thing to come to mind, but it is the peeps and the glares stamped on the peoples’ faces that draw the connection, that make the world full of parallels. The fact is, I am no expert. I could write a book on this – as for I have used it to make gut choices, gain a competitive advantage, define my apathy, invite women into intimacy, get away with embellishment, complete an interview, amongst many others. I don’t think I’ll ever understand every pair of expressive eyes, but I am learning as I go, allowing my mounting allure to guide me through the alleyways and interactions.
You may be wondering, why is this element so deep-rooted in my soul. I am now in my dreamlike 17th month in my Peace Corps service, each 30-day period replete with reflection, dissapointment, surprise, and bliss. I force myself to not just go through the motions of a day, but to swim in the depths of every circumstance and to float in the anonymity of every decision. And I have found that I don’t need to probe every startling sight or dubious occurance, as the answer is already present in the eyes of the partakers. A glance reinforced by an extra-strength handshake, a look that screams of vulnerability or glistens of honesty, a sublime smile that cannot possibly be forged. These are the non-verbal thank yous, the exchanges of acknowledgement and respect, the glimpses of hope, and the silent bawling for assistance. The language or location doesnt matter, our eyes are the permeable magnifying glasses into our soul with no safeguard available.
What kind of people do you call interesting? Ones that have worked their way up the ranks of a large company and earned a surplus of prosperity – Sure. Folks who qualify as world travelers and adrenaline junkies – Absolutely. However, the people who can fit their entire lives into two midzied suitcases, laborers who refuse to chase their dreams due to the obsession of security and routine have – in my opinion – own the eyes that radiate the most brutish, untamed stories. While shuffling through this Continent, including my own Moldova, I gave up the itineraries and atlas’ and relied solely on the silent publications embossed on the peoples’ faces. The expressions will uncover the story no guidebook or practiced nomad could tell you – all you have to do is look hard enough.
I think back to the robotic, aloof expressions of the dancing 7 year old girl sucking down a cigarette in Bosnia, her pimp of a Father watching from a few feet away. I recall the agony and grit of the Springboek players’ clenched jaws under the blazing sun on their CapeTown rugby pitch. I muse over the boy wriggling through the outdoor patios of Greek restaurants with an open palm, or the anamoly faced by the teenager selling drugs on a busy Senegal street. Their bogus smiles are as malleable as cheap plastic, a counterfeit story taking priority over their hopes and dreams. They are hard to view, but equally as difficult to forget. It’s the subliminal responses that reaches our gut and have us donate the change in our pocket or succumb to an aggressive defense mechanism. This story doesn’t vacillate all that much from our elderly loved ones giving way to old age or familiar contacts rippling through the story of heartbreak. Tired eyes, surrounding themselves with distinguished rings of experience resembling an authentic worn leather; Eyes inflamed with unshed tears, as sodden and distant as a souvenir snow globe; Programmed eyes showing the same pattern shake after shake, the same changing picture blink after blink. Often, we see these eyes and look away. Sometimes we mutely interrogate as to why they were present or why they ignite guilt within ourselves. Always, we adapt and counteract these lightless voids that rips a dagger of fear through our chests. Why? Our own taciturn screams in protest when trying to accept the reassurance of another belief, as it tends to even our smallest sources of doubt. Those eyes see just one escape, just as the blood from our hearts escape the same matching artery. Emotions swirl about in perfect unison and the blankness, as if they are trying to hollow out a mountain, pierces my heart with its dormancy.
Legends divulged by our eyes don’t always have to be grim to remain sketched in our minds. These same travels have rewarded me with splendid CouchSurfing relationships, fresh outlooks on my fight against xenophobia, and enough laughs to turn a beer belly into washboard abs (I wish). When I enter the home of a foreign host, our eyeballs work swiftly as we size each other up with equal candor and affability. Pristine stares portray raw interest and soothing reception. When I returned to my village, the eyes of those in my after school Emerging Leaders club were exploding with excitement. Their youthful, energetic peeks announced – without a word spoken – their impressive fundraising success while I was absent. It’s like enjoying an amazing picture book, when we read eyes of people in high respect, or ones whose company we cherish. The audacious and brilliant façade of a prodigy is irreplaceable. The daily presence of light in their eyes is used to assuage the despair. I wish we could all be comfortable in the presence of quiet. Animated and happy gazes can provoke such happiness – you know: the ones that make us think life is a circus and each act is more exciting than the previous. Even my students, whose loquacious eyes are too busy trying to mitigate the situation and find tactical advantage to listen to me, uproot laughter out of nowhere. On the day we celebrated Teacher’s Day, one of my wonderful 8th graders found me with a glazed and comprehensive guise painted on her face. At the moment she held out her floral offering, her eyes were decoding me as she recited how thankful she was for my courage. These are eyes that surrender trust, that can see through to the back of your head, through your spine and through all the bullshit we sometimes hide behind. This is why this element has become my guide. The dialect, the background, the color of the face they are stamped on doesn’t matter – it is the eyes that make us fall in love amongst vulnerability or take off when falsehood is detected.
I probably didn’t need to travel through almost 20 countries to dissect this affirmation, but it has made me fall in love with people and it has made sure I wear my heart of my sleeve, chase the rare passions in life. Now I see it in my own eyes, the two round objects, which have swelled to fit the mass of experience and become quite fervid. These facial objects are keen to succumbing to the tears that are prepared to surge through to the exterior. The love and exigent circumstances I have been a part of have made me an incredibly emotional man, and I have to believe its’ obvious through my visage. Over the last month, my eyes were squinted from stress and ignorant of the big picture. All over the world – I’ve been able to see – eyes will continue to dance to our personal beat, and that’s pretty damn cool. I could drown in the dark shadows, I could soar in the golden beams. This is why I took that dreaded GRE, and this is why I am traveling as much as possible; I know this is what I will be devoting the rest of my life to. The dancing eyes of people around the world, have told me the story of life: There is no shame in gleaming weakness and magnifying passion. We don’t need strengths to be strong.
(P.S. Check out the updated sections above – photos of my travels and projects in Moldova)