Apr 262011
Authors: Phoenix MourningStar

Spring has always been a tough time for me, be it the looming end of the school year, change of season or a lack of summer plans. But for some reason, as most people come out of their winter funk, I sink into a less-than-enthusiastic disposition. Yet, after talking with a few other students and staff around campus, I’m not the only one.

One thing that does pick me up is thinking about stories of misadventure and travel to odd places. One particular instance resurfaced while talking to a group of middle school students about passion, drive and living a life with eyes wide open.

The discussion moved from the reason why I dropped out of high school to what I like to do now. As we spoke and shared stories, I took mental notes about the level of interest and energy students had about my non-academic activities. Certainly while we are in school, one of our least favorite topics is school, especially if you happen to be a middle or high school student.

I told them about my “hobby” of ending up in places through strange circumstances. The example I used was ending up in Tbilisi, Georgia in 2008. The story usually ends up something like a tangent to an academic talk about the work I was doing for the World Health Organization in Geneva. It was late July when I first had the country of Georgia shoved in my face when protesters in front of the United Nations were calling on international intervention in the dispute between Russia and Georgia. Russia was being accused of bombing civilian centers and using cluster bombs.

At the time, like many Americans, I had to do a double take to be sure it wasn’t the southern U.S. state of Georgia at war –– an embarrassingly long look at a map clarified where the conflict was taking place. My work at the WHO would end in late August, and I would return to CSU, report my work and continue on to the next project before heading to the U.K. in early October. By this time, having been back on U.S. soil and struggling to keep my travel plans in order, the story of Tbilisi faded. It wasn’t until a much-needed break while in London that a conversation about Russia relit my interest in visiting a “conflict zone.”

So how does one end up in Georgia? Most people call a travel agent, get visa clearance, buy a flight and head off on their way. Somehow that is just too easy, so I end up taking the word of a bloke I chatted up in a pub over fish-n-chips. Two days later, I’m walking down a sketchy back alley with an address written on a bar napkin.

“200 British pounds (or about $375 U.S.) and we can have your visa to Moscow in 10 days –– for another 75 pounds it can be done for “express service”.”

A little dodgy but other than being detained in Moscow for 5 hours, questioned heavily, threatened and nearly deported –– then fined and fined again ––, for having the wrong entry date on my visa, things really went ok.

From Moscow, Tbilisi was just a hop, skip and a jump of more misadventures through Ukraine to get first-hand accounts of the bombings, the recovery, the political tension and unrest in the capital city. I found myself the guest of two non-governmental agency workers from France and England who were working desperately to get the word out about the humanitarian relief needed.

Spring seems to have a way of bringing an array of change with the shifting of seasons. But take note from some wise middle school students: Let’s keep our heads up and remember that that there is more to life and school than those silly grades can measure.

Phoenix Mourning-Star is a graduate student at Colorado State University. His column appears Wednesday in the Collegian. Letters and feedback can be sent to letter@collegian.com.

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