Diego Rodriguez Heads Home from Malaysia

*g’thunk* *g’thunk* *g’thunk* goes my bike as I cascade down the jungle. My hands, slippery with sweat, white-knuckle the worn rubber handlebars. I can’t see the end to this downhill through the thick layers of vegetation that blind me, but the metallic gargling my bike-chain is making tells me that I may not be seated for much longer. “At least it’s not raining anymore,” I think to myself while my front tire momentarily loses its grip on the earth. *thud* I can already feel the bruises forming from continuously landing back on the seat. The slope gives way to flat ground and I find myself rolling into a small clearing populated by two men on the porch of a shack. There’s a white cat by my tire and some suspiciously skinny chickens strutting around by a row of crops. Luckily, the mosquitoes that have peppered my arms and legs with bites must’ve decided that this pause in the jungle isn’t the place for them. When the rest of our caravan of bikers arrives, we set off again, back into the brush. I felt uncomfortable showing up unexpectedly into someone else’s front yard anyway.

Now, in contrast to that adventure, I’m sitting in a comfortably air-conditioned library typing out this blog entry (my computer kinda broke down the other day… :/). It’s perplexing, imagining that in such a short amount of time I’m going to be launched back to America, when I’ve been gone for so long. I think about all that I’ve missed, all the potential memories that I could have made had I not taken leave. Memories alternate to the ones I’ve been given at Epsom. I don’t regret missing the last month and then some of school, it’s simply a hypothetical question I’ve been pondering for the last couple days. “What if I hadn’t gone on exchange? Who would I be that’s different than who I am now?” I’d certainly still be Diego Eligio Rodriguez. But I wouldn’t be the Diego Eligio Rodriguez who lived in Malaysia. The one who thought running for two classes a week didn’t sound too bad, until he realized that sprinting up and down a hill six times tends to induce the desire to vomit. Or the one who is becoming more in touch with his differences from other people, and embracing the parts that make him who he is. I might’ve been the Diego who shaped up in Algebra class, had a really insightful People’s Project, or any number of other things. But who can know?

When I awake tomorrow it’ll be May 25th, 2017. That’s my birthday… or is it? Because May 25th, 2017 in Malaysia isn’t the same May 25th, 2017 where I was born. When I awake tomorrow, it’s still going to be the 24th in Martinez, California. My sister will be on the bus home from school, my mom saying goodbye to her students for the day, my dad still working at bike repairs, and my brother might be at work, I don’t really know his hours. But regardless, this will all be happening on the 24th of May for them. They won’t join me on the 25th until the clock here hits 3 pm, at which point my plane will be taxiing for take-off. So when can I celebrate? At morning registration in Propert house or with the people seated next to me on the China Airlines flight?

Yikes, looks like I sidetracked a bit… where was I? Let me check that email from Mark for some inspiration. “Would you recommend going on exchange to 9th graders or have any tips for them?” Well, it’s hard to recommend something to someone you don’t know. But yeah, I think as a general statement, I would recommend exchange. There isn’t one definite thing that you’ll gain on exchange. Most of the time you won’t even know what it is you’ll find. Maybe you’ll find a friend that you come back years later to see, maybe an eye-opening perspective change that’s gonna alter the way you view the world and the way you live your life. Hell, I met someone who was just here to put “exchange in Malaysia” on their college application and couldn’t give a rat’s hat about the former two things I mentioned. So it really is a smorgasbord of possibility, going out and living somewhere new. Your best bet stepping off that airplane is to dump your expectations like a ten-ton stone and brace yourself for what comes next. If you’re stuck at whether or not to fill out the application to get shipped off abroad, remember, you might never get an opportunity to do something like this again. Admittedly, that line of reasoning has led me to some questionable decisions, but it’s been worth it all.

I should probably start to wind down this entry, considering that I’m going on one-and-a-half pages and the library closes soon. So, lemme tell you about one last thing: home. Home really is where you make it and I haven’t been living there for the last month. My home is a little stuccoed brown house on 1950 La Salle Street, Martinez, CA (come drop by sometime if you ain’t too busy). It’s got a side yard full of chickens and a front yard full of flowers. It’s filled to the brim with animals; probably too many for our own good, but I love em’ all to death. The six rooms of my house are constantly transitioning between hey-we’re-makin’-some-progress and wow-I-didn’t-know-we-got-tornado-season-in-California, but I wouldn’t dare live anywhere else. My family is a melting pot of emotions, happy and sad. With five people at once, it often is tiring to keep up with who’s-feeling-what, but I know that my we’re always gonna be there for each other. What I don’t know, is where else on this 7 billion person planet I would find that. And that’s led me to one last decision for my journey in Malaysia:

I’m ready to come home.