Slice of Life: A sense of humor and linen pants

I love that game my kindergarten teacher used to make us play during naptime.

“If you were stranded on an island, what two things would you bring?” she would ask.

Oh man. Just two things? What if I absolutely need my Eggy Crazy Bone collection, Bop It and my blanky? Oh, and I need Dunkaroos. At least 9 million Dunkaroos – a girl’s gotta eat, right? To bring my collection of “Junie B. Jones” books or “The Baby-Sitters Club”? Sigh. Life’s big questions.

We would be sitting in a circle, each of us squirming on the primary-colored three-tone nap time rug, eagerly waiting for the person before us to just hurry up and answer the question so we could deliver our uniquely brilliant answer.

“Bop It and blanky,” I announced euphorically to the group.

Your answer was supposed to reveal something about you. It narrowed down the two things you cared the most about in the whole wide world. As a kindergartener that had no concept of basic survival needs or the battery life of Mattel’s Bop It, I could simply not live without games and blankets – and alliterations apparently.

About 15 years later, I found myself at Rwandese border control playing a more grown-up version of the game. We had just driven nine hours from Kampala, Uganda in the hopes of reaching Kigali, Rwanda before sundown.

As we waited in line to add yet another stamp to our already stuffed passports, my friend Hannah turned to me and asked, “OK Ali, what would you bring if you were stranded on an African island?”

Innocent enough.

I thought rationally, as orphans selling souvenirs and men carrying bushels of plantains twice their size swirled around me. I would definitely need my malaria prophylaxis and would actually remember to take them this time. I could also forgo the tent, the blankets and most other necessities if I could bring my pocket knife.

But bursts of lightening over the Virunga Mountains quickly brought me out of my island reverie. The region was prone to tropical storms at that time of year and after we got our stamps, Hannah and I made a run for it. As soon as our Tevas left the small porch that constituted border control offices, I knew we were in trouble. The series of windy paths and gates scattered haphazardly were difficult to navigate. Just as I looked up to make sure Hannah was still behind me, I hit the last gate in front of our van with a large thud. Even among the chaos of the rain, no one seemed to miss my daring escape from the porch and my high-speed crash with the huge metal obstacle.

The noise of the crash rang throughout the offices and, along with the men with bushels, orphans peddling souvenirs and the members of my group, I could not help but double over in snorts and laughs.

As our van pulled away from the border, Hannah asked again, “Ali, what would you bring?”

“A great pair of linen pants and a sense of humor,” I answered as I wrung out the rainy dew from my jeans.

No Bop Its, no blanky and no Dunkaroos this time. At the end of this year, as I look back on what was a mishmashed disaster of my own creation, I cannot help but think I had gotten myself into a real-life version of the island hypothetical. Stranded on this GW island where professors and teaching assistants held me hostage with 40-page papers, and the demands of a high-profile internship kept me away from enjoying college simplicities, I could not help but feel like a castaway.

With my glory days of country hopping during the week and Nile River rafting with cute Scottish expats on the weekends over, I find myself trying to get used to this island that I used to call home. A sense of humor for every time a huffy businessman pushes me out of the way on the Metro and a metaphorical pair of quick-dry linen pants for every time I can’t seem to get through the storm of derivatives in my economics class are what have gotten me through the semester.

A sense of humor and linen pants can get you through some of the toughest times. It looks like it will be a while before I get off of this island, but I’m hoping my tried and true survival skills will ease the dull buff and blue pain. Maybe you can’t get off your island, but at least you have two of the best survival skills I know. As a castaway from my glory days of country-hopping and Nile river rafting, a sense of humor and metaphorical linen pants are what got me through this semester, my island.

After spending one glorious semester in Uganda and one semester dealing with the trials and tribulations of culture shock – that of two drastically different semesters – I can’t help but think that linen pants and a sense of humor might be all we need to get through a difficult time.

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