Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Time to Say Goodbye: The Last Post

For a few weeks now, I have been waiting for it to hit. “It” being reality: I am leaving. It mystified me to say I have lived in South America for 700 some days, and in my final days, I had yet to really feel like I had internalized it was drawing to a close.

Saturday my moment of realization came. The center hosted a despedida, a going away party for us. From a soccer game of Gringos vs. Ecuadorian dads to fun and games with the kids to most moving of all, a program full of dancing and singing, poems and meaningful words of praise and love from the people we have worked with all year long. “We have no money to give you proper gifts for all you have done,” explained one individual, “and so we give you all that is us through our song, dance, and word.”

At the end, we were surrounded by laughter and tears. Kids came and wrapped their little arms around our necks and legs, some cried, others said thank you. Many did their best to put into words how much they loved us and would miss us and in their innocent child like way, pleaded with us not to leave or at the very least, “nunca me olvidas.”

And it was all very moving, all very real, all very final. I’m coming home and instantly fear set in. I don’t know what home is anymore, because home in my heart is my life in Ecuador. I’m hugging people and talking to them and now wondering if this will be the last time I get to do that. What’s next for these children I have grown to love? I many never know. That’s hard. People ask when I am coming back here, and I don’t know what to tell them. Invitations are being passed out left and right to visit this family and that family one last time in their homes, and there aren’t enough days to meet all the requests.

A lot of things finally clicked Saturday afternoon. The most pressing was that I am leaving and my time is limited. Now what do I do with it? The next thing was that this transition back home will not be as easy as I had silently hoped it would be. Living in a foreign land has made me foreign and perhaps even a bit odd. A friend doing JVC explained her thoughts on her experience to me saying: I will have to reintroduce myself to everyone I once knew because they won’t know me anymore. I don’t know what awaits me when I get back, I don’t know if who I have become can sustain who society will call me to be. I’ve already faltered on this, and I haven’t yet returned home.

This much I can say: I made a decision a little over a year ago to leave a program in Chile that was not working out for me and come to Quito for a year. In the two years I have been gone, I have experienced the single handed worst year of my life and simply the most incredible year of my life. What they hold in common is the love both given and received that allow me to say I have had two life giving years of growth.

As I say my goodbyes, I reflect on that frightening decision to come here, and with much uncertainty surrounding my current status, I say without doubt or trepidation, it was the single best choice I have made since graduating college. And so, thank you Working Boys Center, thank you to the wonderful people of Ecuador, thank you to my friends and family back home, and thank you to the members of the center who, with nothing to offer but song, dance, and word that have filled my heart with a soundtrack, movie, and moving poem by which to remember this inconceivable experience where I lived amongst an incredible people. No te olivdare.

Seeing as how I leave Ecuador July 18th, this is most likely my last post. I will do a few travel specials after this, but nothing service related. I can´t guarantee I won´t pull a Brett Farve, but I´m pretty sure this is it. Thanks for taking the time to read it and God Bless!

Getting mugged at our goodbye party by some of my favorite students.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Living in the Moment

Living in the moment. I’m almost two years into this moment, and as I think of one of the things I am most ashamed of, it’s this: I’ve yet to master just living in the moment. It feels like for months now, I have been living in Ecuador with my eyes set on my future.

I heard a saying: if you wait for the future, it comes. If you don’t wait, it comes just the same. And so what is this obsession with my future that I can’t put on hold? I’m in one of those moments I truly should be alive and present to, and I can’t will myself to do it. When I’m not at school, not around the kids, my thoughts drift to the future, my legs wander to an internet café. First it was for job searches. Now with that out of the way, apartment searches and whatever else can shamelessly occupy my mind.

And the only thing that somewhat comforts and consoles is knowing I am not alone. Tension has risen amongst the house as uncertainty looms over us all. Exasperated stories that begin along the lines of “when this ends, I don’t know what happens next” are the norm. Some have jobs or school to return to, some know what city they will call home, and yet, all of us realize at some inherent level- we can only prepare so much for life post-Ecuador.

My obsession with the future persists as a means of external validation. On one hand, an obsession with the future allows us the security of knowing that we are always upward bound. Who wants to believe they have reached the peak and have nothing further to look forward to? Focusing on the future is a way of reassuring ourselves, comforting ourselves, that the best is always yet to come. But how much do we void ourselves of the pure joy the current moment is ready to offer by doing that?

Dare I say that after two years of this game, I have yet to master what I have always known it to be about? Just be, the rock on my desk says, and at times, I have done anything but that.

People back home will invariably ask the question that frustrates me most: “how was it?” They ask about your life experience, your year, as though it is nothing more than a meal or movie. The answer is so much more complicated and long winded then what the seeker truly wants to hear. But maybe despite it all, I will have an answer to give them, one that satisfies me with its depth and satisfies them with its brevity. How was it? Love and failure, that’s how it was.

It was two years: it was the best year of my life and the worst year of my life and it spanned across three countries. It was learning how to love and be loved, and it was the constant failure to do that and so much more as much as I would have liked. It was watching the poor stumble and seeing my own stumbles in theirs.

What did I learn? To see the humanity in every statistic, to see my own reflection, the best and the worst that is within me, in those who remain unseen. The struggling single mother, the ten year old shoeshine boy, the alcoholic father, the fifteen year old aspiring female doctor: all my students, and all my teachers. It was here a people with nothing more than their love and their failures taught me about how to rebound from my own failures, and how to truly utilize my love. And while I couldn’t always live in this moment, it is my hope that for the many moments ahead in my life, it is these moments that will shape me and ground me in that which I have always known it to be about: failure, and love in spite of it all.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Some Fears About Transition Back to the United States

Transitioning from South America to the USA these are some pressing concerns I have:

1. Costs. A liter of beer costs $0.80 here. I don’t want to think how much a 20 oz. bottle of beer costs back home. A gallon of gas in Ecuador- $1.50. No, I don’t have a car so this means nothing to me, but it will at least supply me righteous indignation when I do have a car and pay $4.00.

2. Food. Here, fruits and veggies that are cheap and junk food like KFC and McDonald's that’s expensive. The last time I bought a bushel of bananas in the United States- it didn’t cost $0.20. Prices are going to kill me!

3. English. The other day a crazed dog attempted to attack me. This is the second time in Latin America I have had to get physical when a dog attacks I might add. I was proud of myself when I began shouting Spanish obscenities at the pinche perro! It will be weird to speak English all the time and not have to worry if I am using the right “for”- an incredibly pressing concern in my day to day life here in Ecuador. Or, what happens that first time someone upsets me and I mumble something to the effect of “you’re such an idiot and I hope your store closes down” forgetting that everyone around me speaks English now too. Ooops.

4. Busses. Call me crazy, but I’ve taken rather fondly to the challenge of boarding and getting off busses. It slows down to about 5 MPH and you grab the sidebar, hop and pray for a successful landing INSIDE the bus. Getting off, it’s much the same. The bus slows down, you survey the ground to make sure there are no obstacles such as potholes, and you jump/run cartoon style off the bus. Also, bus fare is $0.25 and they will even give you change for a $20 should you need it. I realize about 99% of my readership has never taken public transpo in LA so they have no idea just how incredibly cool it is to get change on a bus fare, nor do you realize how affordable $0.25 is!

5. Celebrity status. If I return to LA, I’ll simply just be another one in twelve million. My life here is the closest I will get to being a celebrity. Everywhere I go on the C.M.T. campus, children shout my name, wave excitedly, and sprint from all directions to jump in my arms and hug me and ask me to throw them playfully in the air. I’ve even perfected a wave any red carpet walker would be envious of. All that ends, and I am back to average Joe status. Plus, let's face it. Here, I hug any kid I want. If I try and do that in the United States, I'll be that weird guy.

6. Pay. The other day I jokingly told Madre Miguel I felt underpaid. She responded that if I felt that way, she’d double my salary. Before you get too excited, remember I make $0. You do the math of what that is doubled. 0X2= I hope you can do this better than two of my students who tried the other day. Alex Rodriguez, star of the New York Yankees, made more money than the 33 man roster of the Florida Marlins- at least before the H. Ramirez deal. There is really no relevance between my pay and that of A-Rod other than it is a cool stat to spout out to whoever will listen and it does make me sick.

7. Speaking of Nicknames, A-Rod is cool but I think I’ve managed to one up even that. Everywhere I have been in South America, my name, Patrick is most commonly translated not to Patricio but to Pato, coincidentally the Spanish word for duck. As much as I hated it at first, I have grown rather fond of Pato and will have an incredibly difficult time not necessarily returning to Patrick, but returning to the most commonly used name, that which I loathe the most: Pat. Why do I hate Pat? Three words: Saturday Night Live. So cut a man a break: Patrick, Furlong, Pato, Patricio, even duck if you must, just no more Pat!

Who would have ever thought going back home after two years who be more difficult than leaving home in the first place? And yet, so as to not be totally depressing, I am excited about some really good things. I am really fired up about my new job with an organization called City Year, a job which I start immediately upon return. I am excited to have baseball replace soccer, a micro-brew replace a Pilsener. I’m excited to watch Scrubs season eight, sit on the beach, and run 10k’s at something less than 9,000 feet above sea level. And of course to see friends and family! So in a round about way, I’m so nervous, and so excited, and so confused as to why A Rod makes more than all the Marlins combined and doubling my salary still leaves me with a net income of zero.