By Catherine E. Norton
The global pandemic has made me reflect on my years of adventures overseas, my entire sixteen years’ worth of journeys that I was fortunate enough to experience at such a young age. Now, due to the pandemic, adventuring is something that I can no longer do anymore. During this trying time, in attempting to stay positive, I flip through my tangible memories. In order to do this, I look at my favorite items from these journeys, my favorite trinkets that bring me joy. My most precious possessions are in a drawer, and it’s a drawer full of scarves. Yes, scarves. Not what most high school juniors would consider their most precious possessions, but I adore them. My collection started as gifts for my family members from the faraway places of Thailand, Cambodia, Bali, Vietnam, and Hong Kong. Then, it became a way of remembering my travels. Each scarf I have represents a story, where I learned something new and explored a new culture.
“The Twins” are from Bali, bought as a gift from friends I didn’t know cared so much about my happiness. The scarves are very similar, both decorated with bright aureate filigree and floral patterns made to represent the culture they came from. The first one I bought was a deep forest green with spiky leaves and round petals formed in teal and cerulean print. It’s a light scarf, not too heavy, made to withstand the sticky Spring heat of the Bali street markets. The second one I bought is a royal purple cloth with dark garnet and navy flowers intertwined with golden diamond details. These scarves represent friendship to me, a time when I was pushed slightly out of my comfort zone and needed to find someone to connect to.
The smallest scarf I own reminds me of childish joy, the emotion I felt upon receiving it. I was on a school-funded trip to Cambodia to help teach English and arts and crafts at local schools for rural children. After three days of water-balloon fun and learning new dances, my class sang Bruno Mars’ “Just The Way You Are” to the local students. Even though they didn’t wholly understand our meaning, the shining eyes of the translator adults who did understand told me that the children would be told later. As a parting gift, a shy little boy came up and placed a pink checkered scarf around my neck. To this day, it still smells like the dark hands clad in red dust that gave it to me.
I don’t remember where I got my go-to scarf, but I think it was Thailand. The material is so thin it’s almost translucent, but the smooth aquamarine cloth adorned with violet flowers and black and white decorations transports me to a different place. Somewhere far away from where I am now -- some place where the sky is clear of clouds and I can feel the sun’s rays glowing on my bare arms. This scarf I wear when I go on an adventure that requires me to cover my head in modesty, and I often get compliments for it.
My favorite family vacation I’ve ever been on was to Vietnam. On a break from swimming in the pools overlooking the sea and dining on pho, my father, brother, and I went on an excursion to the local street market. All of us were on the lookout for trinkets that caught our eye to remind us of the trip, but it took me a long time to settle on something. When I finally saw it, I distinctly remember giggling with delight. The sheen of the material of this scarf entranced me as I ran my fingers over the ivory-colored cloth. In the center of the garment runs a transparent stripe, where salmon and bubblegum-colored roses are hand-sewn on in between grassy stems with elegant leaves. This scarf reminds me of that special time with my family and all the happy memories I have connected to it.
The next four scarves were all bought at a market in Hong Kong that overlooked the watery blue pier and beaches surrounding it. “The Pair” are a familiar set of colors: pink and blue. Both are decorated with tulips and daisies hand-sewn into the translucent cloth. These scarves remind me of independence, as even though my Dad was with me, I purchased them with my own allowance. I also intend to carry these scarves with me as I move through the world, using them to decorate my future living spaces and homes.
I think of the third scarf I bought in Hong Kong as my vivacious violet wrap. As well as being my favorite color, the embroidered floral pattern is unique and sewn to look like vines reaching towards one another, yearning for connection. I like to use this scarf as a conversation starter. “Oh that’s beautiful, where’s it from?” And then I get to tell the story of the bumpy bus ride on hillsides overlooking beaches and faraway islands that took my mother and myself to the daily market. Together, we traversed the cramped passageway in between shopkeepers calling out to us. It was truly an immersive atmosphere that I’ve never seen anywhere else.
The final scarf I gathered from my overseas adventures is a dark wine color. With tassels and an impossible pattern to trace with your fingers, this scarf completes my collection. It’s much warmer, made of a stiffer material, and I use it in the autumn when a chill snags the air. The scarf’s red color and sandy reversible side reminds me of summer nights spent cooking out on the beach, scavenging for driftwood to use in the fire as we listened to the waves crash.
Now, during Covid, I realize there’s so much I miss about the world overseas, like wandering down a new street, absorbing the sound of a new language, or trying new foods that look like nothing I’ve ever seen before. Fortunately for me, my scarves are there to serve as a reminder of all the wonderful trails I’ve blazed and all the exciting adventures I’ve embarked on. With the global pandemic still raging and the outside world now in lockdown, it seems as if my days of traveling the Earth are behind me. Still, somehow, every time I wear my scarves, I’m reminded of how interconnected we still are as people and that there are always new adventures to be found, no matter how small.
© 2020 by Catherine E. Norton. All rights reserved.
Catherine E. Norton is currently a junior at George Mason High School in Falls Church, Virginia. Besides reading and writing, she enjoys learning languages, trying new foods, and going on all sorts of adventures. After living in Mexico, China, Lithuania, Hong Kong, and the US, she’s written for Cool Minds Hong Kong Blog, various school magazines, and the Foreign Service Youth Foundation’s Youth Newsletter, Here, There, and Everywhere, in the Fall 2017 edition. She can be contacted on Twitter at @ce_norton.