Salty Water

Toluwani Roberts - Ecuador


September 23, 2017

This blog post is inspired by my tears.

I have cried more this week than I can remember crying this whole year. I didn’t cry when I left New York City. I didn’t cry during my week at Stanford or during my week in Quito. I didn’t cry for my mother and my father and my friends and my city because I know what it is to miss those people and that place.

Salty water has found its way into my eyes when I have felt the unexpected. When my emotions catch me by surprise, and overwhelm my heart.

1. The first time salty water found its way out of my eyes was around 11 am on Sunday, September 18. Twenty one fellows out of a group of 50 headed north of Quito to Imbabura, our home for the next six months. The other 29 fellows had left for the south at 6:30 am that day; I was there to say goodbye. However, the lack of their presence hit me when I was on my bus without them a few hours later. Having gotten an hour of sleep the night before, I took two seats for myself. I lay with my back to the window, headphones in, blasting Frank Ocean and Mac Demarco and The Japanese House, deep in my bag. In silence and in solitude, as the coach bus rumbled slowly through the winding dirt roads toward Imbabura, I cried. I wrote in one of my journals that day, “I’ve been crying on this bus because I have so much love for ppl & I won’t be with them to live that love”

2. I had arrived at my new home, with my new family. Not everyone was present, so it was my mother, sister, younger sister and I that sat down for lunch. In hunger and joy and satisfaction, I downed my potato and chicken soup. As I sat there listening to conversation, salty water welled up in my eyes. I didn’t let them drip, lest my family think something was wrong with me. There was water in my eyes because in that moment I was overwhelmed with the possibilities of being there: the relationships to build, the music to move to, the food to make and to love, and the hugs and the laughter. My whole future was sitting in front of me.

3. I stood, my body soaked in water, on a rock next to my host mother, watching the children shout for joy and splash around in the body of water in front of us. Two streams of water splashed down in the water like small waterfalls. I watched my abuelita in spirit perform an indigenous ritual to cleanse my host sister of bad energy. She had just did the same for me. Salty water found its way into my eyes because I had just received the blessing of not only watching a sacred ritual but participating in it. I had just received the blessing of childhood fervor and energy, present all around me. I had just received the blessing of belonging.

4. I sat in my room a few hours after the ritual, after attempting and failing to read. I could not calm my mind. A wave of loneliness swept over my soul and left a few droplets on my cheeks. I had experienced something so beautiful and my friends were not there to experience it with me. I knew they would love it. I knew they would be moved by it. But for them it would only be a story that they hear from my mouth, until the time comes for the next ritual. I could not be comfortable reading alone and being alone because I am not yet comfortable where I am. I had the privilege for the past week of sharing my Ecuador experience with my Fellow friends and suddenly they were gone. I realized all over again that I had to be alone and immerse myself in my community because there is so much to learn from people that I have not yet connected with.

After my tears, I was able to focus on the book I was attempting to read. I picked up Sister Outsider, a collection of essays and speeches by Audre Lorde, and adopted a few words of wisdom.

“… as we come more into touch with our own ancient, non-european consciousness of living as a situation to be experienced and interacted with, we learn more and more to cherish our feelings, and to respect those hidden sources of our power from where true knowledge, and therefore, lasting action comes” (Poetry is Not a Luxury, p. 37).

More than anything, I appreciate salty water. These tears are part of living. The overwhelming sea of emotions I’ve felt keep me present. They remind me that I am here.

Love and gratitude are the strongest feelings I’ve felt and they have moved me to tears. People have moved me to tears.

“… when you find people who start from a position where human beings are at the core, as opposed to a position where profit is at the core, the solutions can be very different” (Trip to Russia, pg. 28).

When you start from a position where human beings are at the core, as opposed to a position where self profit is at the core, the experiences can be very different. I am not here just for me me me. I am here for community, to connect with others, to expand my circle of love.

“For there are no new ideas. There are only new ways of making them felt” (Poetry is Not a Luxury, p. 39).

There are no new experiences. There are only new ways of making them felt. Love and gratitude and “living as a situation to be experienced and interacted with” are not new ideas. Pachamama rituals and energy cleansings and gap years in Ecuador are not new ideas. But I feel them differently. And I live them differently. And that is why I am here.

Note: All emphases in the above quotes were placed by me.


Toluwani Roberts