Photographer Anna Paige Gibbs
Who she is: High school student Anna Paige Gibbs embarked on a magical journey the summer before her senior year—and learned some important life lessons.
What she does: “I think I swallowed too much independence, I tell my parents, as I sit Skyping with them for the fourth day in a row. I’ve only been away from them for four days now, so this has become a ritual: Me feeling blue, connecting with them via Skype, them making me feel like I can make it through to the next day. Tears, giggles through tears, and then the goodbye until tomorrow.”
Why she does it: “Let’s consider the facts,” she insists. “This is the first time that I have been away from my family. The first time I have been in a foreign country. The first time I really have had to fend for myself. And while it is everything I thought I wanted—I lie here reconsidering my 17-year-old aspirations.”
Growing Up One Click at a Time
By Anna Paige Gibbs
High School Senior
“I think I swallowed too much independence,” I tell my parents, as I sit Skyping with them for the fourth day in a row. I’ve only been away from them for four days now, so this has become a ritual: Me feeling blue, connecting with them via Skype, them making me feel like I can make it through to the next day. Tears, giggles through tears, and then the goodbye until tomorrow.
Weak, right? Maybe. But at least we all got a big laugh out of my comment. And truthfully, I don’t care if anyone thinks I’m being weak.
At least I can laugh at myself as I lie in an unfamiliar bed, nauseated and exhausted due to a combination of jetlag, dehydration, and this weird Middle-Eastern stomach bug that I seemed to have picked up from a hunk of watermelon that I bought at the beach in Tel Aviv.
I close my eyes, and try to get a fix on the situation. Let’s consider the facts: This is the first time that I have been away from my family. The first time I have been in a foreign country. The first time I really have had to fend for myself. And while it is everything I thought I wanted—I lie here reconsidering my 17-year-old aspirations.
Of course, everything was different on Aug. 12 when I kissed my parents, brother, and boyfriend goodbye at Reagan National. Carrying too many bags, and my trusty camera (which I go nowhere without), I boarded the flight bound for Tel Aviv. Once in the air, I was even more psyched about going out of the country and seeing the world. I couldn’t wait to experience new feelings, smell new smells, taste all that life has to offer.
I knew I was going to be safe. After all, I was heading to Israel to stay with the family of the French foreign exchange student who had visited my family several times. Tel Aviv is where their summer home is, and it looked amazing from the pictures—right on the beach, big and modern. I couldn’t wait to land.
Plus, I knew my friend would show me the ropes. She had spent most of her life traveling around Europe with her family, and I wished I had that experience—and her guts! She visited us in DC when she was 13, never having met us before, by taking a bus from her home in Strasbourg, to Germany, then flying to Dulles airport—all by herself. Such courage!
And now, as I sit in her lovely spare bedroom in Tel Aviv, I realize she really knows things I don’t. Yes, I wish I was more like her. But I am not, and frankly, I am just not equipped to travel abroad by myself yet. I am overwhelmed.
I try my best to rally. I follow the lead of my friend, and head to the sandy beach to swim in the warm Mediterranean Sea. The sand feels just the same on my back as it does when I go with my family to the beach in Bethany, Delaware. The water is blue and beautiful, and for the first time in hours I am calm.
For the first time in days, there is no sense of angst—unlike the way I would feel after we leave the beach. We walk down to the Shuk Ha’Carmel, which is a Middle Eastern flea market.
I have not yet exchanged my dollars for shekels and am not planning to buy anything. But as I scan the treasures of this outdoor market, I spy something that my 13-year-old brother, Dylan, would absolutely love. So, I pick it up to get a closer look. Excited, I move to show my friend what I have discovered.
But before I can move an inch, the owner runs over and grabs me by the arms, screaming in Hebrew. Petrified, I respond, “I do not understand! In English, please!” And he yells back with an angry, strong accent, “You steal from me! Thirty-five shekel!”
I attempt to hand the small, seemingly unimportant object back to him and apologetically tell him I am unable to buy it because I have no shekels. But he refuses and forces my hand away, so I’m still holding the object. Chaos ensues as more shoppers close in, taking his side when they realize the situation. Apparently, people quite often try to steal from the flea market—and I am caught in the tide. Not knowing how to make it stop, I hear myself screaming—begging for help.
Thankfully, a local woman walks over and explains to the shop owner that it is a big mistake, and will not happen again. I put down the object, and fast as I can, I walk away.
Reflecting now, back at my friend’s house, while I don’t appreciate the ferocity of the shop owner at the Shuk, I see the beauty of his passion and intensity.
I was intimidated, yes, but I am falling in love with the power of the people I saw in Israel.
My next cultural experience comes when I visit Jerusalem. My friend is also sick from the bad watermelon we ate, so her mom takes me to see what turns out to be most beautiful city in the world.
I am exhausted but beyond excited to travel to this magical city. I pack an overnight bag and we hop in the taxi for a one-hour ride. Unfortunately, about halfway there I start to feel sick to my stomach. Determined not to let it get the best of me, I take deep breaths, drink some water, and will myself well.
No luck. Thank goodness, a bathroom is nearby when we arrive. I get to see the Wailing Wall and a few other attractions. But the stomach virus gets the best of me. The only option is to head back to Tel Aviv.
I feel terrible about getting sick to my stomach, and for being so very homesick. All I want is my own mother to cradle me as though I were a small child; let her make me rice and tea and give me American medicine. But, she is thousands of miles away, and having her try to comfort me via Skype only makes it worse.
So today, I am a total mess — and I don’t care. For 17 years, familiarity had been by my side; comfort had been by my side; my parents had been by my side. Suddenly, I am alone. No matter what I thought that I had achieved in terms of maturity, I realize I have a long way to go.
My parents know this, too.
I am scheduled to go back to France with my friend and her family, but it seems like too much to spend another 10 days on my own. My parents agree, and decide my adventure will take another turn. My dad, who has never been out of the United States, got his brave on. He decides to fly over and meet me in Paris.
What an amazing gift. It’s about now that I realize how truly blessed I am.
But first I have one more adventure on my own. With my French friend, I fly to Strasbourg, France, and the next day I take the most beautiful train ride with her mom to Paris.
We ride past the fields and through the gorgeous countryside, which is so amazing that I am reluctant to close my eyes for fear I will miss something spectacular.
Once in Paris, I am treated to a tour around the city and what may have been the best meal I’ve ever eaten. My friend’s mom and grandmother are my companions at this Parisian cafe, and after a salad of hearts of palm and a plate of cheese and french bread, they insist I try the creme brulee. How can I resist?
I then am given another gift — a midday nap at the grandma’s flat. This apartment is also a feast for the eyes. All dark red and oak, it is decorated in a fashion that I have only seen in French movies. As I sit down on the bed, I melt into the cushion and am asleep before I know it.
Two hours later, I am awake, refreshed, and ready to receive a present that I’ll never forget: My dad is here, and he’s waiting for me!*
I will forever remember the moment I saw him. Feelings of relief, joy, and pride in what I have accomplished overcame me. His warm hug told me he knew exactly what I was feeling, for he was feeling it, too.
And, the second flight of my adventure began. For the next six days, my dad and I explored Paris. He is an artist, and his passion for what he was seeing was contagious.
We did an insane amount of walking, experiencing, smelling, tasting, and photographing a magical place that neither of us had seen before. We each snapped more than 1,000 photos, for everything before us was a photo-op.
By the end of the magical week, we had seen the expanse of Paris from the top of the Eiffel Tower and the Sacré-Cœur Basilica.
We saw Notre Dame and the Seine River, visited the Arc de Triomphe and the Louvre, where Mona Lisa entranced us. We were both astounded by the spectacular beauty that we found in every sliver of France.
When we land at Dulles Airport, I see myself in a new way.
First, I practically fall into the arms of my mother and brother, who are waiting with a red balloon—my favorite color, and one of my favorite movies.
But I am speechless. How can I explain to them how much I had learned in the three weeks that I was away from home? Could I ever express the immense appreciation that I have for my parents—or tell them how lucky I know that I am to have them?
I also want them to know how truly proud I am of myself—my ability to handle foreign airports, defend myself from angry, aggressive men, transfer money, and speak a little bit of two new languages. After tasting delicious, sweet and spicy parts of the world—I am a different person.
The evidence of all this growing up is perhaps best expressed in the weight of my suitcase. It is about 10 pounds lighter than when I left. I must have been carrying about 10 pounds of anxiety. It’s all gone.
For more information about Anna Gibbs’ photography — including the image of Lady Luck (right) that won her a Silver Key from Scholastic — visit www.AnnaGibbs.com.