No matter how much time one spends some place it just never feels like enough. When it becomes time to say goodbye, I always wish for one more day; whether it’s one more day in Red Wing, one more day in the sun at Hermosa Beach, one more afternoon strolling through Milwaukee, or one more night on Water Street in Eau Claire.
Today that list gets a little longer, as I leave Rivera, Uruguay.
What stands out to me about all these places is not their beauty or charm, but rather the people who call these places home – and Rivera is no exception. Riverenses and their neighbors across the border in Livramento have made me feel welcome from the very start, and I’m incredibly fortunate to have gotten the chance to meet so many awesome people. As I wrote a few weeks ago, Rivera became home to me, and that’s what made getting on the bus today so difficult. I don’t have regrets, but that’s not to say I was ready to leave.
I would love one more game of hoops in the Plaza de Deportes, for example. Since the day I showed up there and introduced myself, the guys there always made room for me – inviting me to play in English, Spanish and Portuguese. The paint on the blacktop court had all but faded away completely, the net-less rim was a little short and bent slightly to the left, and it was easy to tell that the basketballs we used had been through thousands of games, but that didn’t matter. We had fun and I’m very grateful for the memories I made there.
I could definitely go for one more dulce de leche-filled empanada from Rey de las Empanadas, or a stuffed churro from the cart in the Plaza Artigas. And I could definitely down another chivito from Julio’s food truck in the Plaza Flores.
I will miss visiting the schools in Rivera and I must confess that I did kind of enjoy the near-celebrity status I obtained thanks to my blonde hair, blue eyes and strange accent. I was greeted by students nearly wherever I went and they often invited me to take part in whatever they were doing. In one of my final days at Liceo 6, the students talked me into playing one of their favorite games. It’s like ping pong without a paddle, and you use your head to hit a tennis ball over the net. I’m not sure who enjoyed it more: me playing or the students watching!
Especially towards the end of the experience, I enjoyed just walking down the street as I was bound to run into people I knew. It always put a smile on my face when I ran into students or teachers with whom I had worked. I’ve enjoyed being your gringo and have truly appreciated your curiosity, kind words and cariño. I had a blast working with you and learning from you all and hope you had as much fun as I did along the way.
When Thursday rolls around, I’m sure I’ll be wishing for one more Basketball Bilingüe meeting in Liceo 7, as it marked the day when we got together for an afternoon of English practice, hoops, and just an overall good time. I received many “good luck” and “thank you” wishes this past week, but none as genuine or as thoughtful as from this outstanding group of high schoolers, who gifted me a Peñarol soccer jersey, which they had all signed.
I’ll tell you all about Peñarol someday down the road, just know for now that their gift is one I will treasure for a long time. The video below – which I will use as part of a presentation and workshop I’ll be giving in the coming weeks in Rio de Janeiro – offers some highlights from our weekly meetings.
The professors at the teacher-training facility – the women with whom I’ve shared coffee, dulces and fofoca every Tuesday afternoon – also gave me a parting gift. Thank you Mirian, Elena, Laura and Sandra! To help me remember my time in Rivera, they gave me a chaleco (fleece vest) and boina (a hat similar to a beret). These items are staples of the Gaucho wardrobe and will forever make me think about my afternoons in the Uruguayan countryside.
I would love one more bike ride through the city and the surrounding countryside. Just this past week I discovered Cerro do Chapeau, a hill that provides a stunning view of pastures and vineyards, with the cities of Rivera and Santana off in the distance. My fun-fact for future icebreakers will forever be that I frequently entered Brazil illegally, as I crossed the border multiple times with each trek to el campo.
The bike rides were a little longer than usual this past week, as I tried to give myself some time to take in everything around me. This week offered some gorgeous sunsets, but as we all know, no matter how many sunset pictures you take, you never feel satisfied with the result. Compared to being there and experiencing a sunset in person, a photograph just doesn’t do it justice.
I can’t possibly include every anecdote over a three month stretch, and honestly many of you would stop reading if I told you about every detail of my life. I spent a lot of time just hanging out with my family by the fireplace, nibbling on torta frita or galletitas, and sipping on mate. But more than anything else, if I had “one more day” in Rivera, I think I would choose to spend it doing just that. Chatting, joking around, telling stories, etc. Nothing extravagant. Just good people sharing a good time.
I’m so incredibly grateful to have been taken in by this family, a group that has 100% spoiled me since day one. Realmente, no tengo las palabras ni en ingles ni en español para darles un agradecimiento suficiente. Nos vemos de nuevo muy pronto! While my time in Rivera came to a close, fortunately I am nearby for the time being and will be living with Guillermo (Payaso!) in Montevideo beginning in July.
And that’s the best thing about this transition. Sunsets are temporary. There are many more memories are left be made, and while I’ve grown very fond of Rivera, I am excited for what lies ahead. For now, I’m in Tacuarembó, Uruguay, a beautiful small city (roughly 50,000 people), and I’ll be here for two weeks. If its’ people are anything like other Uruguashos I’ve encountered, I know I’ll be in good hands.
A las ordenes.