Today, we explored two craft markets in Ezulwini Valley, one of the few true tourist things we’ve done while our class has been in eSwatini. I bought a candle for my best friend from home and a small stone elephant with an engraving for my boyfriend. For myself, I got a post card to keep in the pages of my journal, some stickers to add to my laptop, and two bracelets- one with a pretty, beaded pattern in eSwatini’s colors and the other with a stitched ‘ESWATINI’ to circle around your wrist.
I have been trying for a while now to figure out the best way to remember a place. Last year, when I left for college for the first time, I took everything I could fit in the car and left the rest of my stuff, unmoved, in my bedroom. But when I returned for winter break, plans were suddenly in motion for my family to move very far away. An insurmountable task was in front of me: reduce my possessions to a couple boxes to put in storage and whatever I could fit in a dorm room.
In a week’s time, I went through 18 years worth of well-loved shit. Old clothes were the first to be sifted through. Then, the souvenirs. Magnets, photo booth strips, newspaper clippings, medals, ribbons, ticket stubs, wristbands to amusement parks and county fairs, pointe shoes, and art projects spanning from second grade to my senior year. A tiny jewelry box with literal garbage off the street that my best friend had lovingly gifted me in the second grade. A guitar pick that I dived to the ground for at my first ever concert(Boys Like Girls 10-year reunion tour). And so many more things that I don’t have a story for: an unremarkable turtle from one of our vacations to Florida, assorted piggy banks from a weird I’m-going-to-collect-piggy-banks phase in middle school, a plastic sheriff’s badge from a friend of a friend’s halloween costume years ago.
Most things got thrown away. A few were carefully organized and boxed; photos and newspaper clippings slipped into labeled files that I will hopefully go through someday. But the process of emptying out my childhood bedroom changed the way I approached material things. As you can tell from that list, for most of my life I was a step away from having my own episode on Hoarders. But each thing, at some point, was special to me. It was a way for me to make my memories tangible; I could turn them over in my hands and see the way years aged us both.
But like the unremarkable turtle, most of the things lost the specialness as my new important moments crowded the old ones out. And I simply don’t have the space to keep everything.
So I’ve been finding new ways to remember, beginning with souvenirs. I don’t have the space for a large bowl or a desk trinket from every country I’m lucky enough to visit. But bracelets? They are small, mobile, and when the country’s name is on it I know it’s impossible to forget where I got it. Magnets can be kept on the mini-fridge in my dorm. Postcards can be protected inside books. Stickers are fun and last a while. And in place of more knickknacks, I have filled up four journals with honest scribbling whenever I have the time to record my good days, my bad days, the things I’m thankful for and the things I never want to forget. I still hoard digital photos- but at least it doesn’t weigh anything.
And I make a point now. Whenever I am experiencing something truly, truly special, I pause. And I breathe. And I slowly look around. I take note of how my skin feels under the sun or against the wind; the way the ground slopes under my feet. I do my best to try to commit it to memory, exactly as I experience it. I can close my eyes now and picture the forests in Comayagua from my view in the rickety truck bed while we navigated the mountainside. I can see children running towards me in a field on top of a plateau above the caves of Mango, a cow in the near distance drinking out of a small pool of water. I can tell you exactly how I felt gliding down the river Seine at sunset and the slight chill in the air.
It’s not perfect. The ripeness of these memories won’t last nearly as long as I wish it would. But it’s something.
We leave eSwatini in three days. I have my bracelets, my stickers, and a funny postcard. I have a new perspective on every film I’ll ever see. I have new friends, new life advice. Way too many photos. A video that I made with my friends that will hopefully encourage some people. And when I close my eyes, I can see a lion cub pawing at my feet, its fur soft beneath my hands. A herd of elephants a few feet away from me. Sundown outside of Mountain Inn with a cheap bottle of wine. The dome of Sibebe Rock under my feet, and the walk down while the sky turned orange and pink. 11 people laughing at a dinner table.
Maybe the bracelets will be discarded and the memories will fade a bit. But the collecting is worth it. And it would be impossible to forget how much I loved being here.