I am from a small coastal town in New England. When I think of my childhood one of the first things that comes to mind is the ocean — days spent on the beach or fishing on our family boat. My whole life has somewhat been shaped by the ocean and I consider it my rock. The salty cool air brings me a sense of peace and reminds me how small I am with its never-ending horizon while reinstalling my confidence to maneuver such a large and powerful entity.
While beginning this journey I collected a group of quotes that I could look to during hard times. In this group there are many quotes about ships leaving the harbor, but there is one in particular that sticks out to me: “One does not discover new lands without consenting to lose sight of the shore for very long time.” This rings true 100% to my experience and means even more to me because of my love for the sea. In the physical sense I miss the ocean and being able to be so close to something that brings me serenity and reminds me of who I am. In another sense I have left my “shore” for a “very” long time. 8 months is a significant period of time and each day I am reminded of how long this journey is. Although there are (still/only depending on the moment) three months left, some days I still wonder if I will make it. How can I bear to be away from the people I love for a moment more? And other moments I wonder how I will say goodbye to the people and life that has helped me transform and learn more than I ever could have imagined.
These “new lands” are also physical and metaphorical. I am living in a beautiful valley in the Andes mountains- very different from a flat town on the ocean. I have hiked a volcano of 15,000 feet, picked fruits and vegetables on farms that continue for miles, rafted in the rain forest, surfed on the Pacific and will head to the Galapagos, Amazon jungle and other new places in the next few months. These physical experiences I know will stay with me through pictures and mental memories for the rest of my life. On the other hand, I would consider “new lands” to be everything I have experienced and learned during this journey. Whether that’s learning about educational systems in developing countries, wearing indigenous Ecuadorian clothing in a parade, eating guinea pig, teaching nutrition or speaking Spanish, I consider these experiences- big and small- to be my new lands.
A week ago we had our third training seminar during the time we have been in our communities. I was most excited for this one because I knew I would be seeing more Fellows (20 plus my own regional cohort) and it would be on the beach. When we arrived I immediately headed to the water and swam for hours, feeling a sense of peace I only get from the ocean. Our seminars were informative and I was able to take much of it back with me to Imbaya. We surfed, did yoga and enjoyed each other’s company for four days although I could’ve stayed for much longer. But the thing that will stick out to me most was a unique experience I had. We were all walking along the beach when we found a baby sea turtle. Some Fellows continued walking and some watched it struggle over pebbles and through waves to reach the ocean and begin it’s long journey. Through my knowledge of marine biology I knew that its mother had left after laying the eggs and they may never meet up again, so human touch has no impact on their life. After watching it make progress towards the ocean and get pushed back with each wave, I decided to pick it up and carry it into the ocean. Holding a creature I had never seen in real life before, I studied its small head, intricate shell and long soft limbs. I wanted to stare at it for hours to watch the way it moved and swam. But once I got past the waves I let it go. It started to sink a bit but I saw it begin to swim towards the big open ocean.
As I stood in my soaked clothes, I felt filled with joy. I was able to see this tiny creature that would (hopefully) grow into a large, beautiful animal off on its journey. It reminded me of the struggles I had to overcome in my first few months and the help I received from the people around me to get to a place where I can be progressive and continue on my own journey of life. It also reminded me of the importance of keeping our eyes open. I had dreamed of traveling to a tropical island one day just to protect sea turtle eggs and help them return to the ocean, yet I had stumbled upon an opportunity when it truly was not expected. When I returned to our hotel and told the manager about it, he told me he had been living there for fifteen years and had never even seen a baby sea turtle. Needless to say he was envious.
Looking back to leaving home, my comfort and my loved ones, I am proud of the courage I had. It is not easy to leave everything you know and start on a journey you virtually know nothing about. But each day takes courage as well: pulling myself out of a moment (or many) of homesickness, learning to respect other’s beliefs even if I don’t agree with them, and reminding myself to stay present. So this “consent” to loose sight of my shore took more courage than I knew I had but each time I step back to realize this I feel more and more proud and know that it is paying off.