The Day After

Abigail Bethke - Ecuador


May 29, 2017

I wrote this blog post the day after I left Cañar in my notebook while we were all still in Quito. I didn’t get a chance to type it up that same day (parasites were slowly killing me), and I just imagined I would get back to it a little bit later when my stomach didn’t feel like it was tossed into a blender…

 

But I didn’t reopen that journal entry until May 29th. I think mostly out of fear…fear of dealing with all that emotion. It is really easy to turn the page on things when you don’t think about it and instead pack it all up for a cold rainy day. But that's how bigger problems get created, when you avoid the gooshy, heart breaky stuff. So here’s a peek inside my brain the day after I left Cañar, April 5th:

 

I think right now I just can’t handle how quickly it all slips away. One life to the next. Worlds change so quickly. Back in Cañar I had a life. I had a family that expected me for dinner and worried about what time I got home. I had responsibilities. I had students who waited for our classes to start and rushed to me in the morning to ask when. Back in Cañar I had friends. People I made plans with, who messaged me, who asked me to hang out. People who missed me and wondered where I was. I had coworkers who invited me to meetings and lunches and parades. I had people who included me in their worlds even if it was just a short amount of time. Back in Cañar I had people who knew me and waved at me as I walked by, stopped and talked to me on the street, and people who honked their car to greet me as I walked from one place to another along the curvy, cobblestone streets. I know people tell me that I will cherish these memories and carry them with me for the rest of my life, but how do I grapple with and share these memories when it is such an abrupt stop? I know it’s not “the end,” and I will see these people again, but in one ten hour bus ride, all of a sudden, my life is completely flipped. I’m floating here―in limbo―waiting for the new chapter of my life to begin while I lament the one that just closed.

 

That life in Cañar was mine. With people and responsibilities that really mattered to me. I got to the point with Global Citizen Year where I forgot I was in a program. Sure, at first my ties to Cañar were stitched by duty to my program. I went to school everyday in September and October because my program made me. Then I went home and sat in my room because I didn’t know what else to do, just waiting for dinner. Then I would spend time with my host family because of a feeling that I needed to interact with them. But slowly those different threads began to be sewn. I did things because I wanted to, not out of obligation. I made plans, I lost track that I was there with a program and that the things I was doing were initially based out of the initial sense of duty. I completely forgot.

 

Upon those duties, I started to build a life though…to fabricate my own world in Cañar. I forgot about my life back home and focused only on my community. And now to be taken out of Cañar, I just feel so lost. The life I know now is gone, and I’m not exactly sure how to go back or even understand the life I had before. I am still thinking about the people who were in my life in Cañar because that’s all I know. But now I’m not there with them, and they're not here with me, and it all just feels so odd. How can I just be pulled away from the people I cared so much about and who I shared a life with? I can go back and visit or message with them on Whatsapp, but those are only brief interactions. I can’t be there, present and living, for the period of time I was there. And right now I just have no idea how to grieve. The empty space I feel right now is just so immense because I’m in limbo between two worlds. I really don’t want to accept that the last one has ended, and I’m really scared to re enter the old one because right now it feels a lifetime away. I’m trying to be patient with myself, but I can’t help but to want all of this pain and emptiness I feel to go away.


I suppose a lot of those estranged emotions haven’t numbed too much either, the likely cause of my delayed response to this entry. It is something I really should work on: owning the experience. It is so easy to get lost in it all and forget. Avoiding all the intricacies of my year is much easier than taking it all head own. So when someone asks, “how was your trip?”―the typical reply is short and sweet. Actually, when showed my family a slideshow of photos from my year, I broke down during the car ride back with my mom. I had compiled of course well over a hundred photos (turns out it’s really hard to package a year up and wrap it in a nice little bow tie), so I had to breeze through them, worried they would get bored with the long stories. But on the ride back driving home, as I was alone with my thoughts, I began to weep. Then my mom turned to me and told me what I truly needed to hear: “Honey, you have so many memories and so much importance attached to each one of those photos, simply skimming through them upsets you because it devalues how much they mean to you. You can’t sum it up in a short slideshow.”

 

And that is so true. I can’t sum it all up in a sentence. That doesn’t mean I need to spill my entire eight months and emotional ups and downs on someone in a casual conversation either, but it does mean that I can’t devalue it, especially for my own sanity. I may be thousands of miles away now, but that doesn’t change the fact that it all happened. Even though it has been nearly two months, I still miss it all and still do feel in limbo sometimes. I bounce between the two worlds it seems, depending on the day. It's a continual process and test of my patience as I adapt to all the change in my life at the moment. No matter the time that passes since the day I left though, it really doesn’t change how I felt then and how much I missed it. I will always miss it and I will always be grateful.


Abigail Bethke