The Problem of Plaster

Darcy in England

Image Credit: Darcy Christoffersen

 

It was my first day in England and I was already bleeding.

I had just endured a 24-hour travel day that consisted of two six-hour flights, a three-hour layover in-between, a two-hour bus ride to York, and all with about four hours of sleep. I was exhausted, hungry, and I was feeling overwhelmed at being outside of the country for the first time.

And now I was bleeding. I am not entirely sure how I’d managed to injure myself after only a few hours in the country, but it had happened—most likely from me getting a papercut or hitting my finger on the edge of a door (that’s a common one). Regardless, I was bleeding and I couldn’t find a Band-Aid.

I walked up to one of the York St. John Global Guide, students at the school whose job was to help international students adjust to their time at York, and asked, “Excuse me, do you have a Band-Aid?”

She gave me a blank stare and replied, “What’s a Band-Aid?”

In my sleep-deprived brain, I stupidly replied with, “You know a Band-Aid. Like that thing that goes on your cut when you bleed to stop the bleeding.”

She and I stared at each other for a moment. Neither one of us entirely sure what the other was thinking. I literally had no idea how to describe a Band-Aid, as I had never tried before. Everyone I had ever talked to knew what it was. I turned to my best friend who was there with me to ask her how she would describe what a Band-Aid was, but before I could, the Global Guide stated, “Oh! I know what you’re talking about. But, uh-I don’t remember what it’s called.”

She then turned to another Global Guide and tried to describe to him what I wanted. He appeared confused and shook his head, so I said, “A Band-Aid?

He also stared at me, as if trying to figure out the answer from my blank stare. After our stare-down, he shrugged his shoulders and turned to another Global Guide. This time though, she knew what I was talking about.

When I said that I was looking for a Band-Aid, she said, “Oh a Plaster?”

Plaster.

What a freaking weird name to me. When I think of “plaster,” I think of an art supply, or something that is used in a DIY house project. Not something that you used to stop the blood rushing from my finger.

But that was just the beginning.

Throughout my time studying abroad, I would see many more differences between America and the United Kingdom.

For example, there was an event hosted by the Global Guides that celebrated different countries around the world. The American table hosted the game: British English vs. American English. From “trash can” to “rubbish bin,” “fries” to “chips,” or “cotton candy” to “candy floss,” it was kind of amazing to see how, although both countries speak English, some simple words could differ so much. I remember there were many times that I asked for “fries,” and the British person taking my order would automatically reply, “chips?”

I distinctly remember another time where I struggled with the differences in language. I was at a restaurant in my early days at York, and I was unsuccessfully looking, like my life depended on it, for the bathroom. I was embarrassed to ask anyone where the bathroom was (because I didn’t want to seem like a dumb American), and I figured that that it would be easy to find. I was wrong. I spent a solid five minutes walking around the restaurant, searching for the stupid bathroom.

Eventually, my need to go pee outweighed the embarrassment I felt about searching so hard to find the stupid bathroom, so I asked the waitress. She stared at me, almost like I was a puzzle that she didn’t understand, and then pointed at a door that said “WC.” At that point, I didn’t care what the words meant, I just wanted to go to the bathroom. But, I would later find out that the WC meant “Water Closet,” aka the bathroom. This proved to be another of many instances, in which I struggled to overcome the language differences between British English and American English.

And it all began with me asking for a Band-Aid and them giving me a plaster.

 

By: Darcy Christoffersen

Heart of Two Homes

Image Credit: Claire Pillsbury

Image Credit: Claire Pillsbury

It was at the Portland International Airport.

Ten ‘til midnight on a snowy evening in mid-December, and I sat curled around my laptop, breathing in pumpkin spice and black-bean coffee from the Starbucks next door. My fingers swiped over the keyboard, filling in a graduate school application due the next day, while I trapped my cell phone between my ear and shoulder and talked a frantic friend through his first time driving uphill on ice. My back to the frost-glazed window, pressed against it from head to hips so that the bite and the cool seeped in through the worn patches in my jacket – kept me awake.

Four hours of sleep had left me like a frayed nerve, twitchy and raw. Held loosely together by plans and necessities and what seemed like a god-ordained level of stress, all bloodshot eyes and shuddering fingers and–

I just wanted to go home.

South Carolina was about a five-and-a-half hour flight from Portland, as the crow flies. Eight-and-a-half if the crow had to make exchanges in Chicago and Atlanta to get there. It would be a long red-eye capping off an even longer day, but I was at my gate and on time, waiting to take off so I could touch down in my hometown by the time my dad woke up the next morning. So I could step right out of the airport and into the fold of his huge, warm arms, his dopey grin shining down on me, all white teeth and crinkles around his eyes. I hadn’t seen him in person since last January, and the two-thousand miles between us – the three hour time difference – ached in my chest, low and throbbing. I wanted to see him.

But, even so, I kept thinking about it: a half-woken daydream of dropping everything and making my way down to the bottom floor of the airport. Catching the last Red Line train out and hopping on the 57 bus back to campus. Shoving open my dorm door and stumbling through the dark and the warmth and the scent of stale sausage burnt into the carpets. Slumping down onto my bed, face-first and starfished. Sleeping for weeks. For months.

I just wanted to go home.

And that was the problem. Oregon was steamy soup and plastic Christmas trees, rainy naps and a caramel mocha melting the chill off my fingers. South Carolina was golden wheat fields and mist-cool air, sunset silhouettes and a step-family I loved and feared. Home and not, home and not. Caught so perfectly between them that, at times, I felt like I had no home at all. Just waypoints.

I swayed to the right, side pressing into the stiff, navy nylon of my suitcase. The yellow polyester of my laptop bag, sandwiched between. My life and living, distilled down to two carry-ons. I could tuck them under my arms and walk for miles, if I had to.

Packing wasn’t hard anymore. I’d learned how to do it at age sixteen, after my parents divorced and I split the days of the week between their houses. I made a system for hedging a life between two places and lived it, every day, until I had everything whittled down into four bags that I toted between two houses.

And I remember that late-summer afternoon, the sun on my back and warm dust brushing my cheeks as I hovered in the open door of my car’s backseat. As I stared down at those four bags, barely filling half the bench, and realized that I could take them anywhere. That whatever place I stopped in could be my home just as much as either parents’ house. That my real home amounted to an armful of items tucked in canvas bags and the waving hands of my family as I once again drove out of sight.

The woman at the counter came over the gate’s PA system then, calling for the pre-boards and first class. I saved the application file and shut my laptop, telling my phone-friend to pull over and call his dad to come pick him up and bring him the rest of the way home. He’d come far enough.

With trembling hands, I tucked my laptop into its bag and fastened it closed. The black canvas straps slid threadbare beneath my fingers, a touch more familiar than the down of an old quilt or the burnished handle of a favorite skillet. It pulled the breath from my lungs; one part solace and two parts longing.

I wanted to go home.

Throwing the strap of my laptop bag over my shoulder, I grasped the handle of my suitcase and stood up, stretching.

Time had passed since I was sixteen and empty. I’d distilled those four bags down into two now. My second home was across the country. I only moved between twice a year, and only ever on planes. I know now what a home was not: South Carolina, Oregon, and the two bags I carried with me. Not the place you lived, nor the people you loved.

Something more than all of that. Something deeper, or something else.

I stepped out into that drafty jet bridge at midnight, a suitcase at my side and a bag on my shoulder. Breathed in the crisp smell of frost that swept the sleepy haze away, steadied my shudders as I braced against the chill. I remember looking out through the bridge window to see the stars and snowflakes studding the sky and thinking to myself:

I didn’t know what home was, then or now. But I knew that I would step onto this plane. I would keep fighting and working and searching for home.

And someday, weeks or months or years in the future, I’d be standing under this sky again. Staring up at stars and snow – chest full, hands steady, eyes clear. Looking up at this very same sky, and knowing that I’d finally found it.

 

By: Claire Pillsbury

Visiting Lisbon as a Dumb Teenager

Image Credit: YouTube.com [Renard frak, Top View of the Tower]

Image Credit: YouTube.com [Renard frak, Top View of the Tower]

When I first arrived in Lisbon I noticed three smells. One was cigarette smoke, from the streets of a city that smokes like America did in the 50s. The second was espresso, from the carts that sit and steam on every street corner. The third I couldn’t place, something slightly sour and bitter, like if the smell of broken rock was somehow soft and mushy as a jack-o-lantern in December.

My father was there for a Rotary International conference, having just been dubbed president by a secretive council of elders that met on Thursdays at lunch in the back of the Corvallis Country Club. I had little interest in that, and a Che Guevara t-shirt that I was very proud of, so I got a week with which to scamper around a city that I didn’t know had been freed from the hands of a right-wing authoritarian dictatorship during the Nixon administration. There was a lot I didn’t know.

I was sitting in a large public square that had probably been used for some revolution or other, trying to choke down a bica (espresso, one of the first words I learned) when I saw an honest-to-god protest break out. An ordered group in green tee-shirts unrolled a long painted canvas reading JUSTIÇA PARA BRASIL! Beneath it, for my benefit I assume, Justice for Brazil! My father had just learned the secrets of the camera hidden in his iPhone, and was taking pictures as the protestors, each with a Brazilian flag painted on their face and printed on their shirt, chanted in Portuguese.

When my father left for the convention center, I was free to talk to them without risking him scooping me into a forced and embarrassing picture with some uncomfortable revolutionary.  I learned via French, the only shared language between me and a young political science student, that the Brazilian government’s decision to host both the FIFA world cup and a Summer Olympics had led to a horrific exploitation of laborers made possible by the high unemployment rate. My new friend’s father was a day construction laborer who was being charged a third of his daily wages to simply take the bus to work. The funding that had previously gone to the public transit system, she yelled over the press of the crowd, was going to the increasingly racist military crackdowns on crime-ridden neighborhoods. The discourse that pervaded the higher echelons of the government was akin to “taking out the trash”, with the idea that the inhabitants of the favelas were an embarrassment who needed to be safely swept under the rug or imprisoned before the international community arrived in force. I was fascinated, partially by the insight into the dark side of FIFA and partially because she reminded me of Hermione Granger.

The idea that soccer could be anything but an international bonding experience was shocking. I’d always seen it as a sport perfectly in line with my teenage globalist ideology, as dictated by Coca-Cola ads of African, Latin American and European children running around having a good time, oblivious to words like “corporate colonialism” or “sweatshop labor”. The evidence to the contrary was in front of me, telling me about the eight builders who’d died from unsafe conditions and the thousands who were kept in the most abject forms of wage (and in some cases literal) slavery.

When we left, we connected through Los Angeles, and took a train into town during our layover. In one of the stations I noticed a familiar smell, the one I hadn’t been able to name in Lisbon. Rare in the streets of my college town, but common enough here. Sacks of garbage overflowed from the dumpsters, souring in the heat. I still miss the smell of coffee, cigarettes and garbage sometimes, when I forget the blessing of clean cool Oregon air.

By: Wynton Davis