– By Laurian Della –
I am usually a happy person. Not a confident person, nor a trusting person, or even an outgoing person, but usually a happy person all the same. Usually. Usually. Usually. I say this word because this champagne sparkle of a trait, this glimmering, defining characteristic of my entire being, has been noticeably absent for the past few months. The illusory little voice that lives inside my head (or brain, as normal people call it) was able to convince myself that this lack of my usual optimism was attributed to the grief that I felt at my mother’s passing, but if I am being honest with myself (Muahaha- take that brain. Don’t try to fool me, sucker!) I was unhappy even before this. Confession: I never fully settled into Medan. Yes, I established a routine, built relationships with fellow teachers and students from my school, and was a successful, passionate teacher in the classroom, but none of these accomplishments have rooted me to the city, my city. The sudden two-ton crimson brick wall of awareness hit me today as I was taking a four hour stroll through Medan- I have never allowed myself to be a tourist in my own city. I came to Medan with the intention to be a professional teacher and to make this bustling, less-than-verdant city my home. So I skipped the typical stage one of re-rooting your life- the sense of absolute wonder and amazement that one feels upon exploring a new place, and realizing that this magical heaven will be your new home. I relocated to Medan with the logic that I would be living here for nine months, so I must try as quickly as possible to integrate myself into my school and community, and to set up a consistent routine. I did not allow myself time to explore and, to be amazed by my surroundings (and to be fair, the surroundings themselves may have contributed to my failure to feel inspired. Cars, trash, buildings, and motorcycles. Not exactly the exotic Indonesia I was hoping for…) Enter this weekend: Forgoing all logic and rational thought, I decided to go on a series of four hour strolls through the city, looking at Medan through the eyes of a tourist, photographing every little thing (garbage, stray cats, cemeteries, bananas, more garbage, mosques, temples, churches, and the random object that I have no idea what purpose it serves, but it looks awesome so I am going to take a photo anyway) I perceived to be beautiful or unique. And simply put, I found my happiness again, my sense of wonder, and little stray bubbles of excitement. Exploring my city as a tourist has allowed me to feel the charm of its native citizens, the distinctive culture of each neighborhood, and to understand and feel connected with my home in Indonesia. Part of this newfound connection is the result of the city itself, but a fraction of this novel enthrallment with Medan is the process of capturing life. Photography has always given me a sense of control. I have power over what I photograph, how to portray it, and how to let the image serve as (or fail to serve as) a reflection of myself. Photography gives me choice, it gives me control, and it gives me power, while reminding me to be inspired by the beautiful chaos of the world spinning wildly around me. Photography is my happiness, and to explore this happiness, to root myself to my city, I am starting a photography project, “Through the Eyes of a Tourist”, where I catalog my city as a tourist would, with anticipation, with enamor, and with joy- with the intention of discovering my own happiness through art and exploration. In “Through the Eyes of a Tourist”, it is my goal to capture the distinctive life, voice, and culture of Medan by walking through the city for at least 5 hours each week, using photography to portray the street life and scenery of my freshly discovered city of happiness.
About the author: Laurian Della was an ETA placed in Medan. She graduated from Cedar Crest College in 2013 with dual degrees in Psychology and Art Therapy. Originally from Pasadena, Maryland, Laurian enjoys combining her interests in travel, teaching, and photography through employment and volunteer work as an English teacher abroad.