Ariel Powell '14: Major Changes in the Kingdom of Ariel

Ariel Powell was the 2014-2016 Shansi Fellow at J.F. Oberlin University. This is her first year narrative.

During my break from J.F. Oberlin, I did some traveling. First I went to India with my Japan co-fellow and then I popped in to America for a secret visit home. And throughout all that traveling I realized something(s) about myself that I’m not sure have fully come to the surface yet. I can’t tell you what exactly has changed about me but I feel it. I know it! Though, this shift of things in the Kingdom of Ariel does have at least one physical manifestation. It all comes down to the bathroom.

Now I won’t go into super raw detail about how my bathroom (and stomach/bowels and hygiene) habits have COMPLETELY been destroyed and rebuilt by my travels in India (though I can and will if asked in person; ever since starting Shansi my shame level has been dwindling) I will say that the chick that first got on the plane to start her Indian adventure is NOT the same one that eventually made it back to Japan. For one, I feel like I can go to the bathroom anywhere. Let me try to explain this in the most… not TMI way possible.

At Fuchinobe station, the train station closest to me (Tokyo close, meaning a 25 minute walk), there obviously are train bathrooms. Every single time I had gone to use the bathrooms at this station, not only were the squat toilets the only ones available but there was usually a bunch of pee (I think) on the floor and thousands of miles of toilet paper everywhere. It got to the point that even if I had to pee like never before, I would refuse to even go in there. And at other bathrooms I would refuse to use the squat toilet. This is Japan! Why would I inconvenience myself with almost falling to the ground when I could use a toilet from the future that would do everything but give my butt a massage? Come on.

But then I went to India. TOTAL. GAME. CHANGER. India was AMAZING for a whole multitude of different reasons that I would need to write a novel to cover but the bathroom situation totally blew my mind. First, squat toilets everywhere. Unless we were at the other Shansi fellows house or lucky, I was on the ground. If you could imagine my nose turned up at Fuchinobe’s bathrooms imagine my inner struggle the first time I saw a public restroom in India! There wasn’t poop lining the walls or anything (a lot of them were actually pretty clean) but going from completely sterile Japan to India was a complete adjustment. And this is all before I got sick and was shooting water and various other things out of…there. I can laugh about it right now but I can’t put into words the transformation that had to occur. I went from not willing to squat IN JAPAN to being comfortable squatting pretty much anywhere in India to having to both squat and solve complex physics equations in the hope that whatever was coming out of me would go in the toilet hole. I’m embarrassed about how uppity I was about bathrooms (and cleanliness in general but I’ll leave that for another time) before leaving! Like, seriously? Really? How dare I demand bidets!

Ariel, with co-fellows Anabel and Stephanie

I don’t want this to devolve into some wamp-wamp (pronounced wahmp) about privilege and being a Westerner and not respecting cultures and entitlement because that’s not my intention. Sure, I would say that those are important issues to be looked at, issues that I’m still and will continue to grapple with. However, I’m using these cutesy little anecdotes to illustrate how much traveling and this Shansi fellowship has begun to change me in ways I had totally not expected. I think something as simple as how one views using the bathroom is so insignificant day-to-day but when it changes it can have a huge ripple effect on other areas of your mind.

I was taken so far out of my comfort zone that I was forced to redefine where that zone actually was. I really needed that to happen. I’ve come to realize that I’m guilty of having blinders on. When I’m focused on getting something done, I’m stubborn and determined and it’s all good because of accomplishments! Nothing will get in my way! But the flip side of all that is if I’m in a bad situation, all I can see is that bad situation. If I were faced with a brick wall, I would try to run my way through it versus looking to the side and walking around the corner.

Then to be completely removed from everything that I whined about, all the little annoyances that I couldn’t get over, being just down in the dumps because of loneliness/not understanding Japanese (and not trying to do anything about it!)/not taking care of my body… I feel like things are much more in perspective now than even a month ago. Or even a week ago.

Anabel and Ariel in Meenakshi Temple in Madurai, India

Although sometimes it is uncomfortable to be faced with new ways of seeing the world, I am really thankful that I’m able to experience these things. I’m just excited. Not lose my mind, scream from atop Mt. Fuji, rip off my clothes excited, but I am looking forward to the future. I can honestly say I haven’t felt this bright about things in Japan for a minute.

So while traveling has been some of the most stressful, exhilarating, tiring, poopful (and everything in reverse!) times of my life, I wouldn’t trade those experiences and lessons for anything. Though I am glad that my stomach and its friends are finally back to normal and I can squat and not worry about being shot off into space.

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