Photo courtesy of Red Wing Digital
December 19, 2017
With my head propped aside the window, I felt the subtle vibrations as the plane made its way across the tarmac in preparation for takeoff. Eyes resting, I sensed the plane come to halt. We had reached the runway and I took a deep breath in anticipation.
🎵 Volvé a tu casa cuando quieras,
Siempre te esperan a cenar. 🎵
Return home whenever you want,
They always await you for dinner.
One of my favorite No Te Va Gustar songs came to mind as I prepared for the impending journey. I shuffled through my songs and pressed play, hoping the strumming of the guitar would calm me down a bit.
The hair on my arms stood up when the plane lurched forward, and the emotion hit me all at once when we took flight. A dip of the wing provided me one last glimpse of La Paz. I felt my eyes well up and lip start to twitch as I reflected upon what an amazing adventure I had just completed.
And although my eyes were fixed on the massive, snow-capped mountains to my left, I wasn’t thinking about all the beautiful sites I had gotten to see, but rather all the incredible people I had gotten to meet along the way.
🎵 Pensé que estaba solo y no era cierto
Si tengo con quien quedarme a festejar 🎵
I thought was on my own but I wasn’t,
For I had many with whom I could celebrate.
It was a moment I’ll cherish for a long time, a subtle despedida to South America and an abrazo de lejos to all the people who had made my nine month adventure so special.
During my days in Brazil I learned that there existed a word in Portuguese to describe the sensation I was feeling; They call it saudade.
The tears in my eyes didn’t form because I was sad to be leaving South America, necessarily. And saudade doesn’t provoke a desire to relive a particular time, either.
If I had to name the feeling I was experiencing I would describe it as an overwhelming sense of gratefulness, of accomplishment, of satisfaction, and of nostalgia. There’s no one word for it in English, but it exists and if you ever made a move across the country l’m guessing you’ve felt it.
I’m guessing it’s similar to what you might feel when you leave from a job you treasured very much. I have to imagine there’s a feeling of overwhelming gratitude, yet while you may have loved your job you probably couldn’t invest another forty years into the career.
Even if you enjoyed every second of work, so much so perhaps that it didn’t even feel like work, I think you get to a point where you recognize that you can’t hang on forever. And as I reflected upon my fondest memories from the last nine months, which were some of the best of my life, that’s how I felt.
It was a unique position to be in, stuck between hasta mañana 🇺🇸 and hasta la próxima 🌎, and while I was more excited than ever to finally be heading home, I can’t say I was in a hurry to end an experience that had been so overwhelmingly spectacular and fruitful.
🎵 No te preocupes
No vuelvo hasta mañana 🎵
Although I won’t be home til tomorrow
Home is waiting for me. That’s the next move. I have a wonderful family and incredible group of friends that I haven’t seen in nine months. I have a nephew to meet and we have Christmas to celebrate. A white Christmas, as a matter of fact.
Plus, I have a classroom and about 500 chiquilines waiting for me, too, at Highland View Elementary School. Yes, that’s right! I accepted a Spanish teaching position in the Milwaukee suburb of Greendale. I start January 2.
Truly, it would be so much more difficult to leave South America if I didn’t have such an amazing place to go home to. When fellow backpackers in La Paz asked me about the next destination on my itinerary, it was with a smile I told them I had reached the end. I was going home.
Now I get to start telling the stories and sharing about all the wonderful people and places I encountered during my 285 days in South America.
The novelty will certainly wear off eventually, but for the the time being I get to have some pretty fun conversations with people. For example, on my final plane ride the woman next to me struck up a conversation that started something like this:
– 👩🏻 So, did you spend the weekend in Philadelphia?
– 👦🏼Actually I spent the weekend in Bolivia.
– 👩🏻 Wow! How long were you down there?
– 👦🏼 Well… actually I spent nine months in South America.
– 👩🏻 …
That’s where the questions begin. Uruguay? Fulbright? Impressive! What made you choose Uruguay? Can you point out Uruguay on the map for me? You must speak Spanish, right? Did you get to travel around South America? Did you feel nervous at all traveling on your own? What kind of foods did you eat? What was the weather like? Is Uruguay a cheap place to live? Did you see many Americans in Uruguay?
I imagine I’ll have quite a few conversations like this over the next few days and weeks, but I’ll never get tired of telling you how much I loved Uruguay. I will always be happy to tell of my travels through South America, just please don’t ask, “How was your trip?”, because I won’t know where to begin.
Actually, if you really want to hear more about my experience, let me get you a coffee sometime, or better yet, I’ll make you a mate. I can’t wait to have the chance to catch up with all of you whom I haven’t seen in so long.
It’s quite surreal to be so close to home. Months ago when asked how long I’d be staying in South America I vaguely stated November or December. Once my flight was solidified I would say mid-December, which evolved to the nineteenth, and then it was Tuesday, and then all of a sudden it was tomorrow.
Well, now it’s today, and I’m about to take off. Two hours from now, after my fourth and final flight I’ll be in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and within a couple of days the eight of us will be back in the Newman family living room.
There’ll be a fire in the fireplace and Uruguayan wine on the table. We have Wheel of Fortune to watch, Catan to play, and a whole bunch of catching up to do.
A las órdenes
Algo bueno: All of you, thanks to each and every one of you for your support, prayers, and kind words the past nine months. You‘ll never know how much it has meant to me.
Algo malo: My return trip itinerary as a result of a delay and missed connection.
– La Paz (1 hour) Santa Cruz
– Santa Cruz (7 hours) Miami
– Overnight in Miami Hotel
– Miami (3 hours) Philadelphia
– Philadelphia (2 hours) Milwaukee
Algo curioso: During my lifetime I have left Uruguay more times (4) as many times as I have left the United States.
Algo sabroso: The Sheperd’s Pie awaiting me tonight in Milwaukee, Grandma Fogarty’s recipe.
Edit – December 24, 2017
Feliz Navidad and Happy Holidays my friends! I have enjoyed having the chance to see friends and family again, and still have many more people to see! Merry Christmas!