I wrote this post while traveling to Ecuador. I’m now in my host mother’s home in Riobamba and can tell that the next six months are going to truly impact me! This is good. More on my time here later. Here’s my sad, admittedly kind of sappy post on leaving loved ones behind:
It doesn’t matter how far in advance we plan journeys like this; I don’t think we’re ever really prepared for the feelings that come with departure day. I’ve had the desire to spend a significant amount of time in South America for years. I committed to working with TEV in March. I started writing in this blog in August, knowing it would be used to update people back home. In other words, I was well aware of what was lying ahead. It’s never until your hands and feet start going through the motions that your mind has been dreaming of that all of that planning becomes real. Last night, after a day spent finishing final tasks I wanted to accomplish before leaving (including having my car repaired, getting new tires installed, and writing an ad to be put on Craiglist- the car needs to go), spending some time with Jeremiah on his birthday, and having a nice “last supper” with my parents and Jeremiah, I put my hands into this work of leaving. And in those hours of packing, this all became so real.
I almost always leave packing to the last minute. It’s such a bad habit; one that has resulted in many frantic, exhausting nights of packing until the wee hours of the morning, getting a couple of hours of sleep, then walking through airports the following day in a zombie state. This time, however, I vowed to do better. On Saturday, a full three days before d-day, I began to pack! I made a thorough list, chose which clothes I would take (often, for me, the most time-consuming part of the packing process), and put in a good three hours. Perhaps I had finally learned! The problem was that my packing spree was put to a halt by my Saturday night plans, Sunday got away from me, then it was Monday with all of its car-fixing and sentimentality for being my last day at home/ Jeremiah’s big day. Somehow, it was 10:30 pm and I hadn’t touched my suitcase since my valiant start on Saturday. After three hours of decision-making, sorting, counting, and fighting with zippers, all my bags were packed*, but I felt far from ready to go.
While I was in my room frantically trying to finish packing, Jeremiah was sleeping on my basement couch (we all know that there is no help that a packer can receive from another- it is a one-man job). He was the one who would be driving me to the airport at 2:45. At 1:30, I stared at my large purse, backpack, and two suitcases, all neatly stacked by my front door and felt a train of emotions hit. I headed down to the basement and, with tears streaming down my cheeks, snuggled up beside a sleeping Jeremiah. It was in the teary hour that I laid there in the dark, with Jeremiah’s arm around me, that I dwelled most on how hard it was going to be to leave.
As much as I’ve been looking forward to this, when I committed to the idea of traveling and immersing myself into another language before settling down, I had it planned in that order: travel, settle down. By settle down, I mean meet someone and settle into a career- basically start acting like a grown-up. The especially fun thing about what I mean by travel is that my Spanish language and culture quest does not end after Ecuador. I am coming back to the US in February for just a week and a half so that I can attend the University of Northern Iowa Overseas Teaching Fair. If I secure an international teaching job, I will be out of the country, with visits to the states, until my contract (most with international schools are for two years) ends in the spring of 2014!
I never meant to fall in love before this overseas experience. I even recall excitedly making a list during the spring semester of my senior year of college. On it were possible avenues I could take to reach life in South America, steps I would need to take to make the trip (in my case now, trips) possible, and even a list of possible ways my goal of venturing to South America and gaining fluency in Spanish might be shattered. On that last self-cautioning list, I wrote and underlined “Do not fall in love!” I had been on enough trips with love-struck friends to know that if a part of one’s heart rests with another, then as long as the two are not together, both hearts ache. Basically, my girlfriends with boyfriends always seemed to me (and I’ll be the first to admit that I had absolutely no idea how they really felt and judged them with little empathy) to be too homesick, too sad, too distracted to really enjoy themselves on their travels. I was ridiculous to think that a. I could control something like the timing of love, b. love could hinder me. Sure, it’s harder to say goodbye now, but I have someone I can report to, someone who will kiss me in the baggage claim when I come home, someone who likes me enough to give me freedom to spread my wings like this. There is only pain in separation because the bond is strong, and I wouldn’t change that for anything.
Jeremiah and I groggily rose at 2:30 ( I don’t think I slept for more than 15 minutes) and were ready to leave in ten minutes time. If I had kept my composure up to this point, the following would have cracked me. We reached my front door, ready to head into his car, and I looked up the stairs at my dog of ten years: Tabooli. Although Jeremiah had slept soundly during my packing hours, this loyal companion kept her sad eyes on me with each item I folded and placed in my bags (Tabooli believes packing is a job fit for two). She has been mine long enough to know what suitcases mean. As I stood at the door, on the verge of tears, I called to her, hoping to hug her goodbye. But she just sat, with the saddest posture, at the top of the stairs, as if she was saying “Not again!” I called to her again, this time actually crying. But she remained motionless, staring at me in a way that said “Just leave already. Get it over with!” So I did. The entire way to the airport, I asked myself what on earth I was doing.
This was the hardest departure day I can recall ever having. I thought I was immune to homesickness. If I’d have obeyed my underlined warning against falling in love, it would have been an easier day. But the pain I felt today just reminds me of how lucky I am to have someone I love enough to really miss. Someone who loves me enough to stay committed to me, even when I’m all the way in the southern hemisphere. I’m promising myself and all of you that I will not cry myself to sleep each night or spend my precious time in Ecuador pining for good old Topeka. I know that this is going to be an amazing time. It’s just that right now, I’m on the plane, probably over the island of Cuba at the moment, and until I get some much-needed sleep and see those breath-taking Andes tomorrow morning, I feel like I’m entitled to dwell on this homesickness. It’s taken me twenty-four years to feel, after-all.
*After writing that post on simple living, I feel compelled to confess that one suitcase didn’t cut it- to my surprise, however, both bags were checked for free- this was a delightful surprise!