I like to orient myself. When I first arrive in a new place I immediately feel an overpowering need to understand where I am. I do not mean this in a philosophical, ideological “Where am I, help me” sense. I mean I quite literally need to know exactly where I am in relation to rivers, roads, landmarks, the ocean, etc.
This need began in high school. I would spend hours driving around Raleigh discovering how roads connected and guessing new routes to old haunts. I turned down roads I had long driven past, curious about where they ended up and who or what could be hiding in these unassuming side streets. Much to my gas tank’s ennui, these drives often spilled into the night, hidden behind excuses of “Oh I need to run errands.”
This need did not end with college. At Duke I once again spent hours meandering through the Duke forest, turning down gravel backroads in Durham, and exploring the county limits. This exercise has a dual purpose. One: I get to truly understand where I am and I don’t feel (as much) like I am just a tiny floating speck of dust in a giant vacuum. It gives me a sense of place. A sense of ownership. Not only do I know what roads connect with which, but I also know what these roads contain. I know about the mesmerizing expanse of power lines on Johnson Road. I know about the worn down Coke mural on the wall in Andrews. I know that one window simply reads “Horse feed, Dog feed, Fish feed.” The other purpose of this exercise: Peace of mind. This time alone in the car helps me think, reflect, and relax. I consider myself a rather talkative person. I do not often sit in silence when in a group of people. When I am in my car, orienting myself, it’s just me. Silence. And loud Rihanna probably.
What does this have to do with my summer of service in Georgetown? A lot actually. My need to orient myself began the moment my car full of Triangle-rs squealed down Fraser Street laden with 3 bikes and a lot of nerves. I immediately needed to understand. Where was our house in relation to the water front? How far were we from the ocean? What was south of us? What was north of us? How are the paper mill and the steel mill in relation to one another? To the town? To the harbor? Where had we driven last summer in Georgetown when visiting the older BN’s? Where was I?
After the past 10 weeks, I believe my orientation is complete. Through a series of bike rides, solo drives, and staring at maps when I should have been working (whoops), I think I understand. I have driven to Andrews. I have driven up and down 17 to the north and the south. I understand the way the roads connect and the neighborhoods transform in the shadow of the towering mill. I know where the road ends and the end of the tracks begins again. I know that if you drive past the YMCA and past the landfill and past the jail, you find the best place in the world to watch the sun set.
This summer, however, a new type of orientation obsession has set in. As the popular saying in our house goes, “I can’t NOT be a sociologist.” I have oriented myself to those around me. I have taken time to not just understand my fellow BN’s at face value, but to understand why and where and what they are. I will share some things I now understand (after some serious orienting) about my biscuit heads.
Taylor is a mother. Ali is an old soul and loves puzzles. Barak has a high pitched laugh and loves Shubham more than I have ever loved anyone. Annie is extremely resourceful. Gabi has a dark sense of humor. Jack is wise and loves rap. Catherine is observant and has read everything. Shubham is the king of back handed compliments. Khalid loves sour candy and is one of the kindest people I know.
Taylor cares about people so much and is easily messed with (cue Shubs and Barak). Ali is an incredible listener. Barak has a keen sense for what is polite and correct and appropriate. Annie is pensive and liberal as hell and uses the word “beautiful” in a way I wish I could. Gabi is sensitive to her community, handling the shooting in Charleston with grace and with emotion. Jack is incredibly thoughtful, always up reading and meditating when I rise early to go on a run. Catherine is always thinking of others, always asking “Does anyone need anything while I run to the store?” Shubham refuses to accept a compliment because humble is his middle name (we are all still talking about his butt in those jean shorts). Khalid is the best “Pizza” dancer I’ve ever known and has turned every tough situation into something to smile about, responding to every request with “Word.”
I have oriented myself to these people in many ways. Whether it be by guessing things about them based on their favorite author or latest book recommendation or by simply watching as they go about their daily schedules. By seeing how everyone handles a tough day at work or a long 3 week stint without seeing family or another bout of botched Wifi. Or simply by lying on the beach at night, staring at the stars in silence, letting the waves roll up on our feet. I feel like I know where I am.
Front Street is straight down Congdon with a left after the church. The paper mill and the steel mill hug Winyah Bay and create my favorite view and go-to insta/snap story. The Dunbar Community and Browns Ferry intersect at the world’s most annoying left turn. There is a beautiful, boarded up old home tucked in the shade behind the hospital. The kids of 808 N. Congdon are smart, interested, thoughtful, kind, annoying, loud, obsessed with Sweet Cups, fans of the Food Network, and Beautiful and Nice. Service, Leadership, Community. Oriented in Georgetown, SC n’ Durham, NC we work and we play. I know where I am.