Thursday, November 19, 2009

I Have Carried You, and Now I Return


This will be my last blog post. It was 5 months ago today that I landed in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and now that I've returned to the United States, a little BsAs lives on in me.

Well, I suppose I should first talk about my arrival back to the US. After learning that I'd have to change airports in New York, it was pretty much smooth sailing and it was when I first landed that I was confused as to why the signs were in English and the people were talking it as well. In fact, when I asked people questions, I couldn't help responding "si," or "gracias." It had become automatic for me! When Michael and I were in downtown Chicago the other day, I thought it looked exactly like Winona. I know you'd say that was impossible, but I think it marks my cultural confusion.

One thing I must say is that right now, I do not exactly have a home. When people in Argentina asked where I was from, I said Minnesota, but that now I live in Chicago. However, that's too simple. I was born and raised in Minnesota, that's true, but I've spent less than a few months there for the last few years, and during the academic year I live in Galesburg, Illinois and I actually live in Wilmette now, which is a suburb near Chicago. When I got to the US, it was even more confusing, because I was living in Wilmette but I mostly lived in Galesburg, but I had just lived 4 1/2 months in Argentina, so it just all became a mess. WHAT I MEAN TO SAY IS... my roots are not planted anywhere. My possessions are completely split between three (formerly 4) places and if that's taught me anything, it's that I don't need much to live on. However, on an emotional level, I've come to realize that I want to start a community somewhere. One of the problems with living in BsAs was that everyone knew I was going to leave, so it was hard for them to emotionally attach to me without knowing they'd have to say goodbye, and I couldn't explicitly get involved in local groups because I was still trying to figure out the area. I really miss that sense of community, and I'm hoping that when I graduate, I can start establishing it wherever I am.

Coming back to a place that you're familiar with, and that hasn't really changed at all, is perhaps the most disorienting thing of all. You think it can't possibly be Chicago because if it was, it would have changed like you had changed. Even things in Michael's house are exactly where I left them... jaja I can't imagine what it would be like if I had first gone back to Winona.

While I was away, I also became painfully aware of something: even though we have at our disposal the technology to stay connected with people far more advanced than even a few decades ago, we are farther from each other than we've ever been. Think about it: when you see someone on MSN, you don't have to IM them, or even if they message you, you don't have to respond. In person, neither of those things would happen. I think people take for granted physical intimacy, even just a hug, and perhaps that's what I missed most. Words over the internet are almost never as powerful as they are in person either; you miss the tone, the inflections, the body movements, etc... I think this is another reason I want to establish a community for myself.

I can tell that I'm so much more confident in myself already. Petitioning for Planned Parenthood made it possible for me to approach almost anyone, but now I feel comfortable doing that in two languages. I also feel emotionally independent and stable. For me, that's a milestone in my life. I was raised with emotionally abusive parents (through which my siblings helped me enormously), and I've dealt with depression and anxiety since elementary school. I also had many bullies at school that the administration failed to protect me against, even after I came forward after years suffering through it. I can't explain everything here that I had to endure, how it affected my life, or how I overcame it, but suffice to say that I'm in a better place than I was before I left. Every year of my life, I become happier; and as someone who was finally given help in high school, at a point when I no longer knew what "happiness" felt like, I think I can count this as an accomplishment.

As I tried to explain to Michael, in the last month I found something that no one can take away from me: inner peace, if you can even give it a label. Don't get me wrong, I experienced some of the most profound loneliness of my life living in Argentina, and it wasn't the extreme sadness of my childhood but the knowledge that it was very difficult to fit into the culture. And it's funny, I kept waiting for the "life-changing experience" to kick in and transform my life, but that's just not how it works. It was in-between my moments of loneliness that I learned what I truly needed, and I think I narrowed it down to these three basic things: activism, nature and friends. All my life I have taken on the "underdog" role, as Michael pointed out recently, just because it's my personality. Because of this, I also know it will be impossible for me not to be politically active. I care too much about the world and its people to be silent and still! As for nature, I never realized how big a part it played on me until I didn't have it anymore. And of course, growing up in a nature sanctuary (as I have now realized Winona to be), I always took it for granted. But just seeing flowers and trees, and all that they symbolize, and laying in grass are things that I'll never see the same again. The last one, friends, may seem obvious, but it's true: I need people around me who care about me to survive. Internet connections are not enough! Thankfully I have a few people in my life now who are always looking out for my best interests. :)

Another realization is that there are at least 2 things you cannot explain: going away to college and studying abroad. Even if a college sends you every piece of literature they have, you visit the campus, you talk to students, you learn about the classes and clubs, everything, one can still not explain the freedom that accompanies it, or the new challenges that one will face. With studying abroad, even if the person is someone you've been close to for years, who has similar interests, who's going on the same program as you, still after all these things no one is able to explain what changes you will encounter by studying abroad. I'm sure it's different in each part of the world, but one thing I think all study abroad students have in common is that you have to either sink or swim; you can't half-ass anything anymore. You either put yourself out there or you flounder. When you succeed, especially in a place that doesn't speak your native language, it makes you realize you can handle even the most difficult situations in life.

I realized more times than I can count is that it was futile to take pictures to try to capture the moment. This is true of beauty, of course, when often nature causes an effect in human beings that only art can seek to imitate. But often there were times when the sheer overwhelming effect of being in that place was impossible to convey; for me, these places included the concentration camps and the marches along the streets of BsAs. I'm not going to say it was fortunate to lose my camera (because twice in a year is harsh), but suffice to say I wouldn't likely have taken pictures anyway.

Speaking of "losing" my camera, getting robbed taught me to be much more cautious than I ever was before. I know my upbringing in a small town is a major reason for my trust in other people, and subsequently living in a small college community where people often leave wallets lying on their desks without hesitation didn't help either. I never felt unsafe in Chicago, and I still do not, but for the future it will hopefully prevent this kind of crime from occurring again.

Something that I did not mention in my blog posts was the switch between host moms. Neli and I had come to be uncomfortable with each other, and I couldn't handle her telling me I had stayed up too late, or that I was bad for being on the computer, or nitpicking about one more thing in her house. I have never responded well to authority and though less than my parents, her approach to me caused me to rebel. Well, I moved in with another lady, Beatriz, who had had many students before me (I was Neli's first), and things improved immensely. She treated me like an equal, and if I spent a Saturday in my room or if I spent it out and didn't return until the late morning, she never chided me, and this made all the difference.

I meant for this blog post to be a lot longer and for it to come out a lot sooner, and I still have a list of topics that I want to write about, but I think there are some things you can keep inside you without losing them. That may have seemed impossible to me as I was growing up, being a writer who wrote for survival. But, I know I won't forget the memories that I created in Argentina--not only in my mind and body, but in my heart and soul as well.

Blessings to all.