I couldn’t find rubber boots that fit my abnormally large feet, and was reduced to wearing my shoes that were insufficient to cope with the dangers of the jungle. After I “choppear”-ed a plant at its base, a spiny vine took vengeance on my face. It rained and my machete was wet. I was tired and hungry.
And then just before lunch, and I mean just before, I had the unfortunate luck to intrude in the home of red ants. They are tiny, about the size of the adjective I just used to describe the ants, and, contrary to common belief, they don’t bite. They just pee highly concentrated acid all over your skin. And by the time I had realized that I was in an anthill, some of the brave ones had reached my belly button. I dropped my machete and ran to a hose (ants don’t like water). I proceeded to become wetter than I already was spraying myself down, all the while being “bitten.” After my dressed bath, I walked into the house for lunch, contemplating what I had done to end up in a place that had more dangerous things than I had ever encountered in my life.
Apparently, I was visibly beside myself, as Nathan walked up to me and calmly asked me why I was upset. I complained to Nathan – ants, mites, machetes, whatever. Nathan responded to me by explaining to me a custom of a native tribe of the Amazon. As a rite of passage for boys approximately my age, they coat a banana leaf in a sticky resin, and proceed to coat the leaf with ants. As the ants struggle to break free of the resin, the leaf is wrapped around the arm of the boy, who must withstand the acid of the ants with arms outstretched and without crying out in pain. After that, they are allowed to move on the next “rite of passage” (read: torture).
More infuriated than before, I proclaimed that my rite of passage, as an American, was that my parents bought me a car to drive around. And then I stomped off.
Well after the aforementioned lunch, I had calmed down (food always helps). I started thinking: What is the American rite of passage? And just as importantly, when does one become an adult in the Western world? Few would argue that it is before the age of 16. So has America designated 18 as the age at which one becomes an adult? Sure, we are allowed to buy porn and tobacco, but there is nothing that tests the worth of the person as an adult. At 21, we are allowed to buy alcohol and officially are able to do all legal things in America (except for rent cars). Yet, again, no test.
And then I got scared then I would never become an adult until I subjected myself to an Amazonian device of moralized torture.
But, I suddenly realized that my time in Panama is my rite of passage. I am volunteering to work for something that I truly believe in, I am learning about multiple cultures and hopefully will learn a language, and I am trying to grasp the relative poverty of the people here. They all sound like adult things.
But I don’t feel anything like an adult. My mom told me that this experience would be life changing before I left, yet I feel like the same person as they day I drove out of Telluride (albeit a little bit tanner, stronger and better at Spanish). At this point, it is impossible for me to imagine returning as an adult. So, I will stick to the wisdom of a particularly astute English teacher: you are not an adult until you have kids. At least that gives me a while to figure it out.
Grayson Zulauf is a 2007 Telluride High School Graduate. He was accepted to Dartmouth and is deferring for one year in order to partake in the Pinhead Internship with Earth Train in Panama.