Excerpt from “Between the World and Me,” by Ta-Nehisi Coates:
“I was one wrong ticket from Vienna, Milan, or some Alpine village that no one I knew had ever heard of. It happened right then. The realization of being far gone, the fear, the unknowable possibilities, all of it -the horror, the wonder, the joy- fused into an erotic thrill… And at that moment I realized that those changes, with all the agony, awkwardness, and confusion were the defining fact of my life, and for the first time I knew not only that I really was alive, that I really was studying and observing, but that I had long been alive- even back in Baltimore. I had always been alive.”
Lately, I’ve been crying a lot. Silently, in solitude. I find pockets in my day and space to release the spillage of tears that build up from small reminders of South America. I constantly struggle with wanting to share everything with my loved ones and battle with fear of oversharing and borderline bragging. So I stay quiet. I quip about a few things here and there but not even I have encompassed the enormity of it all.
I’m crying right now. There are a few things that trigger the bursting nostalgia. Music is the first one, a single chord floods my brain with flashes of the Andes, of an array of colors stitched on a Quechua woman’s skirts, contrasting her tough skin burnt by the sun and flustered by the wind. I hear otherworldly instruments and I recall the importance of Pachamama, of rituals millennia years old highlighting the importance of protecting our mother earth and following the age-old guidance of the sun. I remember how cheap it was to walk into a mercado, with all its fruits and vegetables bumpy and dirty, straight from the ground offered at a jaw-dropping price I got used to very quickly.
While in Uruguay and Argentina the mercados showcased a different product, meat.
My first day in Argentina, I ate a fat burger facing a carniceria, and just in time for the storage of the meat. The man, with a shiny murderous knife, slashed through the muscles and pink, cutting away with such precision it was almost soothing. I stared for so long my burger got cold and he closed up shop.
The faces, the many faces. The smiles and generosity. The house of Ines, a mother of three, married young and living happily with her teenage love. Ines, who welcomed us with warm bowls of quinoa soup and coca tea, sharing with us that she was only three years older but had lived twice our age.
Jacky’s surfer’s bungalow, set 40 minutes away from Rio, in a calmer area with lots of sun and hammocks. Jacky’s loud laugh that reminded us our breakfast was ready. Jacky who converted her home into a hostel, welcoming all the cultures and always attempting to understand even the most foreign tongues. I funnily remember when my friend Lola mentioned we were like snails, all our belongings and homes were on our backs, that’s it. Or Manuel, with his strange demeanor that softened with conversation and eventually opened up a whole other adventurous being. Manuel, who owns the most beautiful hostel in Ecuador, right next to a raging but strangely calming river that faces a verdant mountain that was always breaking through pillowy clouds. I remember waking up and seeing a pair of orchids, right next to numerous avocados and orange trees. And the stupid cat that always tried to enter the kitchen, someone feed that cat, please.
These are just naming a few. These stories are just about 5% of my trip, only a shred of my memories.
When I was 15, I went on a volunteer trip to Romania with a group of teenagers from all over the country. On our last night, upon seeing everything we had, the mentors sat us down and had a very serious talk with us. The transition talk. The talk about our internal change, after just a mere two weeks. The talk about how our homes would be a culture shock, despite having grown up there and knowing every nook. They told us we were no longer the same, we had learned just a bit more about the realities of the world and how everything wasn’t so peachy and rosy for the majority of the people. They reminded us we were not alone, we had each other to ease into our societies because nobody else would understand what we felt.
And so I thank my current transition community. The backpackers of the world and to you I say, keep on exploring.