On October 23rd, 2018, my host family and our family’s best friends/neighbours finally had the chance to go to the famous Khong Lan waterfall.We had been making plans to go to the waterfall for months prior but there were complications such as me falling ill or them having work. I was ecstatic to see this special place everyone had been talking about.
The journey only lasted about an hour and we started down winding hills and through the wood. When we arrived, we parked further down the hill leading to the waterfall so that my host sister and her friends could swim in the little stream. I began to unpack for our picnic area when my host father stopped me and suggested I go to the waterfall. I was in shock at first, not thinking I would be going by myself. I double-checked that it was okay and then I hiked up the hill and through the entrance.
I had been used to sweltering air and a cacophony of wildlife in my town, but here, it was far different. The environment was misty– even a little chilly. The thrashing sound of water beating across the rocks and the birds chirping a melody unheard to me made my heart feel still and slowly propelled me forward. The nature was virtually untouched by tourists, probably because most visitors were locals. I sidestepped through families playing in the stream leading up to the top. I heeded the many caution signs but my sandals frequently and momentarily slipped through the uneven, slimy rocks. I remained unwavering in my goal, to see it as close as possible. I found myself separated from the visitors and trekking up an unmade path until I spotted a big rock ledge only feet away from the waterfall itself. I made a leap from the puddle I had been standing in to survey my next move and rested at my final stop on a rock after about twenty minutes of walking.
The mist, now just water, soaked my hair and clothes and for the first time in months, my heart felt still. I felt immensely hopeful looking up at this great being, unrelenting and teeming with life. I turned to the side and looked down at the people laughing and enjoying the stream below, hearing no noises except the nature. I felt a swelling feeling I hadn’t felt in a long time– clarity. So many times I wondered why someone would send me, of all people, here or tried desperately to be the perfect exchange student. Right then, I knew that in that moment I was meant to be here and I wasn’t turning back on my dreams, no matter what. I deserved every opportunity I could get, because I wouldn’t waste them. I had climbed this winding, even dangerous, path myself and I was proud. Here, while my parents and younger brother were sound asleep in their warm beds, I was alone almost 9,000 miles away at the edge of the most spectacular thing I’d ever seen. Here, I was stripped of my city girl eyes and gave into the glistening uncertainty of natural life that couldn’t be more different than the man made industrial Chicago towers I had previously been enthralled by. Here, there was no distinction between me and the people down the path, despite our countries, languages, and cultures. We were all tiny and temporary in comparison to this mind-blowing nature. On that ledge, I let go of my judgments, my hard feelings against people who hurt me back home, and my self-doubts. There was no anger, no sadness, no fear, no plans, no time. Only the birds and the waves. The sun crowned on my drenched hair and I breathed in the seemingly new air one last time before edging back down the path. I grinned at the thought that here, I can make a better life.