On so many mornings while in Ecuador I would awaken and, before opening my eyes, think that I was in my bedroom in Framingham. Each time I would drearily lift my eyelids to be reminded that I was in fact, still in my host community. Sometimes this excited me, others it was devastating, and sometimes it was just another day. So when I woke up for the first time in my bedroom after returning from my gap year, I was wholly overwhelmed by the underwhelming moment. A moment that I thought I had wanted for so many months was finally here, and I was not excited; nor was I devastated. It simply was another day.
Since coming home I have often been surprised by my emotions. I have just finished the biggest thing I have ever committed to. I have learned a new language, found a new family, and established myself in multiple new communities. I have grown in ways that I still cannot see. However, everything here, at home feels the same. The pace, routine, and characters of my life at home have continued on to the same tune. I have easily fallen right back in like I was never gone and like my seven months in Sayausí never happened. But then of course, I remember a funny night at the dinner table with my host family, a day in Cuenca with my best friends, or I have a conversation in Spanish, and I am immediately reminded that this big, awesome, life-altering thing has just happened to me and I can never return to exactly how things were before.
So my big question is, does Sayausí feel my absence like I feel the absence of Sayausí in my life? I know of course, that I am one temporary person in my community’s lives. I am a blip on the screen. An insignificant and tiny piece in a huge, incompletable puzzle. I also know that I am a piece nonetheless. You cannot exist without touching other people's lives. This doesn't have to mean extraordinarily, just in an average, I remember this person, type of way. My host family has over forty members. I was not necessary to make a room feel full, but so many of them have assured me that my piece is missing now, they feel like their puzzle is incomplete. In integrating into my host family and building so many loving relationships, I have left a hole where I used to be. So many birthday parties, family dinners, and church services passed before I even existed in their minds, and so many will pass now that I am gone. The difference is that now I exist. I exist in their past, present, and future, and they exist in mine.
At least once a day I think about the man I knew least extraordinarily of all. He was not a member of my host family, not someone I worked with, not someone whose name I even know. He is however, one of my favorite people. Everyday I waited for the carpool to pick me up for work on the same street corner. For seven months I watched the same faces hustle past me to go to work each day. Only one however, ever took the time to acknowledge me. The first few times the man in the grey truck passed by me, I thought nothing of it. I didn't even really notice. Slowly however, daily head nods turned to smiles, smiles turned to waves, and waves turned to honks as the man drove past. Every morning we looked for each other. We waved and smiled completely unaware of where the other was going, or who the other person even was. In the craziness of my seven months this moment was one of consistent happiness for me. Some mornings, when I could barely will myself to get out of bed, this man kept me going. I thought of his wave and smile, and didn’t want him to have to wonder where I was. This man, is a piece of my puzzle and I became a miniscule part of his. I wish I had the chance to tell him how much he meant to me, but I think we both had a small idea of how lightheartedly important we were to each other.
To answer my own question, Sayausí will remember me for as long as I remember it. For as long as I still talk to my host family members and friends, for as long as I like community members posts on Facebook, and for as long as I keep it in my heart. Maybe the reason I feel like my gap year never happened is that it has already become a piece of my puzzle. The pieces have already found their spot and I do not need to figure out where they fit anymore. I worried that I fit too well back at home because I thought that meant I couldn’t find space for Ecuador. However, in my short time back in Framingham, I am absolutely sure that there will always be space and so much love for Ecuador in the crazy, unfinished, and confusing puzzle that I call my life.