The realization that my last month on my bridge year was happening, the days rushing past me like flirty girls, flitting and giggling, waving but never stopping, caused an existential crisis. I began to question the whys, hows, whats of my being in Ecuador, in my neighborhood, with my family. I returned to the idea of the White Messiah Complex, which we discussed extensively during Fall Training. I may not identify as White, but I represented White Culture. I was from New York, a city many of the people I met oohed and awed over. I was able to go to a top university, able to do this bridge year.
As I helped to peel pods away from peas, I couldn’t help but look around me and think that this is their life. I’d chosen this life. I got to live it for a few months and then go back to my privileged lifestyle. I felt guilt. Shame. There was no escaping the fact that while this experience was for me, for me to learn and discover and grow, when I leave, I’ll be leaving behind all these wonderful people. They ask me about the United States, about the differences I saw, about how much something cost me. Their questions were peppered over me, creating a blanket that I’d worn as protection. They’re curious. They are as invested in my experience as I am. I told myself. But once I left, it would all go back to normal. There was truth in that statement, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that what I was doing was inherently wrong. I was coming into a community, taking on their way of life, adjusting to their food, their culture, and then leaving. It felt sinful and dirty.
As I thought about how I could possibly reverse my thoughts into a more positive light, I reflected on all the experiences I’d had with my host family. I remembered how when I first came, my host mom would tell anyone who listened that I took my coffee black. I remembered my host sister buying me a poncho with llamas on it because I was freezing. I remembered my second host sister giving me a cute paper robot she had made. I remembered my host brother teaching me a song in Spanish on the guitar. I remembered my host dad trying desperately to squeeze a declaration of faith out of me. As much as I could hate myself for adjusting and wedging myself into their lives, I couldn’t forget the kindness and love they had shown me, at the time a mere stranger.
The more I struggled with my bridge year coming to an end, with leaving to go on with my life as they did theirs, the more I thought about what it meant for me to be there and what my family meant to me. I stumbled upon a song that summed up exactly what my experience meant and answered to a certain extent, my qualms with leaving. “Something Good” is a song from the musical Wicked that Glinda the Good Witch and Elphaba sing as their farewell song. I can’t quote the whole thing, but I’ll include some of the lyrics that mean the most to me.
I’ve heard it said
That people come into our lives for a reason
Bringing something we must learn
And we are led
To those who help us most to grow
If we let them
And we help them in return
It well may be
That we will never meet again
In this lifetime
So let me say before we part
So much of me
Is made of what I learned from you
You’ll be with me
Like a handprint on my heart
I’m not entirely sure what I was supposed to learn on this bridge year. I haven’t transformed into this perfect adult that I thought I’d be when I first decided to take it. I’m far from it but my Ecuadorian family has taught me so much about being a family, about working for a collective cause rather than my own personal agenda. I’m not sure what they learned from me but I hope I have affected them as similarly as they have me. I know I will come back to Ecuador, to my new family. And even if I didn’t, I would carry them with me, their handprints embedded on my heart, as I try to find my own path, there to remind me of where I came from.