this entry is a little jumbled but I needed to write about everything and if you like reading my blog then you probably won’t care, so thanks for that! and if this is your first time reading my blog then my bad, I have a lot of emotions and you can just deal with it.
I have officially been in Colombia for one year! Time is a man made construct and it constantly confuses me. Wasn’t I just saying goodbye to all the people I love and getting on a plane to go to a country I had never been before with a bunch of strangers? Trying not to ugly cry on the plane even though people do it all the time and who cares? That whole “it feels like yesterday” cliche is 100% true. Now I’m sitting here in my little room, writing this with the window open, fully aware that mutant like bugs could potentially come into my room at any minute. I just put anti itch cream on a suspicious looking bump on my foot and basically thought nothing of it, except that now my foot doesn’t itch anymore. My water filter was full of bugs yesterday before I cleaned it. And I feel pretty content.
But before I got to feeling this level of okay-ness, I had to go through both a figurative jungle of emotions and an actual jungle. Full of howler monkeys. And tiny gnats that bite.
On December 20th, I got to travel back to the states to see my parents who moved to Atlanta from St. Louis right after I left for Colombia. This is the longest I’ve ever been away from home and the longest I’ve gone without seeing my family or friends. I finally got off the plane in Atlanta and basically ran through the terminal where my parents were and teared up when I saw them. We walked outside and it was FREEZING (45 degrees).
It didn’t really hit me until we left the airport that I was actually in Atlanta, not St. Louis. A city I had never even visited, which is where my parents now live. Some people probably don’t think that’s necessarily going “home” for the holidays, but I do. While St. Louis is where I grew up, what made it home to me was my family and friends. I’ll always love St. Louis and appreciate it for all it is, but home to me is where my mom has her morning coffee. Or where my dad smokes cigars and watches John Wick over and over (and over) again. A lot of people have asked me if going home to a new city and a new house was weird, and it really wasn’t. The new house has all the same things in it. The pictures of me and my brothers when we were little are still everywhere. The lit up Christmas tree in the new family room felt the same. My new room has the same Minnie Mouse pillow I’ve had for probably twenty years. It’s a new place, sure, but all of the same feelings are still there. I got to be with all the people who love me unconditionally. I got to take as many hot showers as I wanted and sleep in a giant bed, and I think I ate my weight in all of my favorite foods.
While it was inexplicably amazing to come back to the states for two weeks, it was honestly a little heartbreaking to leave again. I was anxious, sad, and really conflicted about returning to Colombia. I felt so torn. Being here is so eye opening and rewarding, but it’s really emotionally difficult too. I wasn’t ready to leave again, but I’m not sure I would ever really be either. To leave everything you’re comfortable with behind and choose to be challenged every day is really tricky. It’s hard to leave your parents, siblings, and friends again. I cried less this time, but I felt even more sad. I let myself feel what I was feeling, but I kept moving forward too. I found myself thinking about saying goodbye to my students, friends, and family here in Colombia and had to think about something else because I was tearing up about that too. Basically, I was just a giant blob of emotions for 3 weeks and it took actually getting back to my house in my site to (kind of) get over it.
So that was the jungle of emotions. I also stayed in the real Colombian jungle for 3 days with one of my best friends at a small Airbnb in Minca and it gave me the clarity I really needed to dive back into my service. We slept in a little cabin in the mountains, surrounded by crazy wildlife and got to spend time with some really incredible people. We hiked down the mountain to a waterfall, heard howler monkeys howling about who knows what (being a monkey? having fleas? still not sure), and ate amazing food. We also had some truly inspiring conversations with the hosts of the Airbnb, who are both American. They came to Minca on their honeymoon and fell so in love with the area that they decided to stay and build an Airbnb/farm hybrid called Finca la Frecuencia. Tala was born in the Middle East but grew up in the states, where she met her husband Jesse. I felt really at home with them and found that I could talk about my struggles with my service without judgement, which I really appreciated. I could talk to them about anything and it was honestly therapeutic. We left that little peaceful space in Minca and I felt more level headed than I had felt in a while, even though I had some new bug bites I didn’t have before.
Having my friend leave the next day was really hard and I found myself trying to keep it together on my way back to my pueblo. I got back onto the same bus I always take home from Cartagena with the sun streaming in through the hot, dusty air. I tried to make room for my big REI hiking backpack, but I just ended up putting it on the floor next to me. The bus filled up and we started on home, bumping over potholes and dodging people on motorcycles. An hour later, I was in a motocarro heading from the town where the bus stops to my site. As we entered Villa Rosa, I waved to people and some of my younger students ran alongside the motocarro, waving and saying hello. I paid the driver and lugged my bags into the house, where my host mom yelled with joy that I was back and gave me a big hug. After settling in, I walked around town for a little bit before dinner. I had been gone for three weeks and everyone I talked to was so excited to see me, wanting to know how it had been being back in the states. I felt a big surge of appreciation while still feeling sad about leaving home for a second time.
This week, I get to spend time getting ready for class again with my counterpart and with the other teachers at my bachillerato. I have a lot of ideas about being involved with my community this year, and I’m really excited about my projects with my students. Do I daydream constantly about food from home and it being so cold outside that I can smell snow? Of course. But I also appreciate all of the little things about being here, like sharing recipes with my host family, watching a movie with the neighborhood kids, and the fact that I can ask just about any Colombian for help when I need it and they go above and beyond to make sure I get what I need.
I’m really thankful that I have something that makes saying goodbye so hard. Now, if only I could figure out a way to make it just as hard for spiders (like the one on my wall right now) to get in my room, that would be ideal.