Radia Lahlou '18: Got a Lot to Say but Mostly Just Want to Say Thank You!

Radia Lahlou is the 2018-2020 Shansi Fellow at Shanxi Agricultural University.  This is her second year narrative.

I love nostalgia. I love reminiscing. I love the warm yet somewhat melancholy feeling that comes from looking through old photos, retelling stories with good friends, or eating food that reminds me of a past time. So imagine my horror when I returned to Taigu after a long summer break to find I had left my journal, my entire record of the year prior, on a flight from Chicago to Beijing.

            Now, given that I have just expressed my deep love for warmly remembering the past, it may come as a surprise that last year was in fact the first time I have journaled consistently for more than a couple of weeks. Consequently, I was particularly attached to my records, as they represented the emotional and tangible rollercoaster of new experiences that summed up my first year as a Shansi fellow.

            Although initially distraught, I took the loss as a sign: a new year, a new experience, a blank slate. The semester to follow was indeed new. Since I was the last remaining teacher from the year before (my senior fellow and 3 other co-teachers completed their work in Taigu at the same time), I moved from the usual red, historic home of the Shansi fellows (pictured below), to a new apartment a five minute bike ride from the main campus. As the last remaining teacher, I preferred to live alone to allow the four newcomers the space to live and adjust together. Plus, the apartment I currently reside in is sick-- wood floors, gas stove (no hot plate!!), and a cute little balcony overlooking the train tracks (the only downside to the apartment is the blaring sound of the train passing through at 2am).

My roommate (2018-19) Jesse, standing in front of our home with his bike Spring 2019, film

Living alone, although occasionally isolating, has been a true test of my personal sense of discipline, motivation, and leadership. This year, there is no Jesse popping his head in my doorway to ask if I want to lesson plan at a coffee shop together, no Brendan (my senior fellow) coming over from the other red house 30 seconds away to go for a walk, or to help me order food in Chinese. Going from being the person who knows nothing about China, Chinese, or teaching English from being the person who is supposed to know the most within our cohort, I was definitely worried I wouldn’t be able to live up to the expectations of others (or myself)-- in fact, the last few entries in my lost journal looped around these fears constantly. I’ve been pleasantly surprised, however, to find the relationship between the new teachers and myself to be strong, and my ability to take care of myself and stay on top of my work while still making time for fun to be fairly consistent.

            Of course, this was not without a few bumps in the road-- for example, the first month of living alone I absentmindedly started a kitchen fire (it still baffles me that we don’t have smoke detectors…), had nights where I wouldn’t start lesson planning for the next day until midnight, and often didn’t sleep enough (or too much). But I also hosted dinner parties, learned about digital artwork, wrote children’s stories, and began to really take my Chinese studying seriously. I bought a new journal and reflected upon my emotional state at least weekly-- even through difficult times, I couldn’t help but feel incredibly lucky for my community, my job, and everything this fellowship has taught me.

Our sweet little cohort of teachers, the best dinner party hosts out there. From left to right: Maya, Lepriya (my junior fellow), Jessy, Cleo and Me.

Boom, our eternally loved cat (I thought perhaps some of his past owners might appreciate a picture)

A digital art piece I made for a friend’s birthday in November.

A blurry picture of me and my wonderful Chinese teacher, Jenny (Liang Ping, 梁平), at the Christmas party Maya and Jessy hosted this year. Our friendship and teacher-student relationship is one of the best things to come out of this year! She’s an incredible teacher and person-- I also teach her daughter, Rebecca, english!

Although I still have a semester left as a Shansi fellow, I am currently completing this report in my kitchen, in the USA. I mention this for the sake of keeping historical record: it is February of 2020, and the world is in the midst of a scare from the 2019 “novel coronavirus” (2019-nCoV) first identified in Wuhan, China. At the time of identification and subsequent scare, I was on a backpacking trip through Vietnam, Cambodia and Indonesia, only returning home on February 10th (the semester was supposed to start on February 14th). It’s been interesting traveling during this period of time, and getting to hear perspectives from all over the world (it seems to be the most popular conversation topic amongst travellers). Although I do believe that many news sources and dialogues on social media regarding the virus are often more inflammatory than necessary, I am glad to be home, at least for the sake of calming my family’s worries. I am saddened and disappointed to see the responses of racism and anti-asian xenophobia (even within China, it seems people in Wuhan have been ostracized) revealed through fear towards the virus, and hope that attention can be shifted to focus instead on supporting victims of the virus and in improving responses to public health crises’. This vice article talks more about this topic, and I recommend it as required reading for anyone. There’s also this great collection of notes, a compilation of resources addressing coronavirus racism.  

 

In addition to coronavirus uncertainties, this year’s backpacking trip brought with it quite a few troubles-- a stolen wallet, food poisoning, and a sketchy hostel, to name a few. However, it also fostered great love and friendship, for it is often in moments of great uncertainty when we learn who we can rely on. Floating on my back in the ocean and looking up at the blue sky on Gili T in Indonesia, I was overwhelmed with a sense of gratitude for both the known and unknown. I was leaving for the USA in three days, a reality I hadn’t even entertained 10 days before, I was running out of money, and I had just gotten over a terrible bout of food poisoning. I didn’t (and still don’t know) when I will be returning to China, or how this moment of uncertainty will affect the foreseeable future. But floating there, under that blue sky, I knew that whatever happened would happen, and I was glad to know that regardless, I would be okay.

At Angkor Wat in Cambodia with friends, from left to right: Mackenzie (Beijing Fellow 2019-20), Jessy (co-teacher), Hana, and Me.

On Gili T, posing with Jessy, my co-teacher

At a museum in Jakarta, Indonesia at a Yayoi Kusama exhibit with Andrew (Beijing Fellow 2019-20)

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