05 November 2013

don't cry for me, argentina.

... the truth is i never left you. (well, not yet.)

{part 1: don't cry}

i've accomplished so much and grown so much here in argentina. i've learned how to live independently and been absurdly proud of myself about the littlest things: figuring out how to get a (free! public!) yellow fever vaccine, planning travel on my own, picking up clothes at the lavandería across the street. and work has been such an incredible challenge: hearing the horrible backstories and trying to engage, teach, and befriend, all as i attempt to reconcile how the luck of my birth allows me to be traveling across the world at 17 while they are recovering from abuse and serving jail time at the same age.

the same backpack i packed heavy with folders and pencils every day last year carried me through weekends all over argentina, exactly the adventures i dreamt of as i cried over literary criticism essays on my most stressful nights in high school. this trip was better than i could've even imagined as i painstakingly planned that elusive gap year that always seemed so close to happening but impossible to fully commit to.

i loved this time on my own. it was liberating to buy bus tickets, book a hostel, and just show up in a new city without a plan, somehow always figuring out how to make the most of our time there. it was incredible to travel with my best friend and to make new friends, both argentinian and extranjero. i've missed my family, but i've grown up a lot. i'm moving on, and i'm looking forward to the change. but i will always be changed by argentina.

also: i hope this doesn't echo my goodbye-myanmar post too much; i honestly haven't revisited it while writing this but some of the sentiments are probably similar.

{part 2: for me}

it's time to go home. "home" is an easy word to throw around, but this is really going home, not back to córdoba after a long weekend or to your college town after your first thanksgiving break or to the city you lived in for a couple years of your childhood but haven't visited since.

it may seem a self-centered worldview, but it's hard to reconcile the fact that all these "homes" - and everywhere i've ever been - keep existing, the people in them living, breathing, experiencing, while i'm not there. but they have for long before i was born and they will for long after my last visit.

and i can't believe that such disparate places exist in the same world. no matter how expensive and exhausting travel seems, there's still something magical to the fact that with a sum of money and a couple dozen hours you can have moved from one place to another completely distinct one, just like that.

even while i'm not in them, these places hold a piece of me or at least a piece of my life, my memories, the person i was and the life i lived for the time i was there. the changes i went through, the things i learned, the experiences i had that each helped chisel away my developing sense of self into the person i am today.

it's so easy to get wrapped up in the world of the present that you forget it's just a blip in the journey of your life, in a place that you may never return to or that you may someday make a permanent home, with some people who will become lifelong friends and others just another acquaintance on whose facebook wall you write "happy birthday!" once a year as you scroll through social media on your iphone.

but that's okay. each of those people shapes you, each place changes you, each experience teaches you, each memory comforts you. your perspective is forever altered. and you can't live everywhere at once, so you'll never feel totally whole in one place because you've made your home all over. but you can't live in anything but the present. the present should be everything. you might as well envelop yourself in what you are doing, embrace the ups and downs, be grateful for each opportunity, make this situation your everything, at least for a time. that is where happiness lies.

that's what i've tried to do here in argentina: seize every day. enjoy even the unpleasant bits, or at least recognize their value. let the experience teach me as much as possible. aprovechar - a spanish word that doesn't translate well but means to take advantage of, enjoy, use to the fullest. it feels crazy that this second life of mine, my argentina self, actually has to end, though i've always known it will. at least i can know that these two and a half months will always be a part of me, even when they are no longer in my present or in my future, rather relegated to my past.

i made the same new year's resolution in 2012 and 2013:

look to the future,
treasure the past,
live in the present.

and i think that's exactly what i've done in argentina. i can't be sad that it's over; i made the most of it while i was here.

{part 3: argentina}

for me, argentina now is so much more than a picture in a guidebook or a famous movie-musical starring madonna could ever convey. argentina is standing up on a packed bus to give your seat to the tired young mothers and rickety old women who need it more. it's the tango milongas that fill up dance clubs with twirling couples on a wednesday at midnight. it's the majestic andes and the acres of vineyards below. it's crowds of tourists at evita's grave and an empty tourist office in córdoba capital. it's cheek kisses with everyone as you walk in a room. it's vos instead of tu and always chau, suerte, never adios. it's living in the memory of violent dictatorships and exercising new democratic freedoms in every possible forum, whether streetside protests for abortion rights or "fuera monsanto" graffiti on a concrete wall. it's when "hanging out" translates to "tomando mate," with mate being the bitter herb tea with its special cup and straw, constantly refilled with hot water and passed around, whose traditions are the only cultural homogeneity shared by the whole country.

argentina is empanadas at a corner shop, fresh alfajores from the feria, sunday night family asados, friends sharing cheap beer at a plastic table in front of a kiosco. aerobics to the thumping beat of reggaetón in localizada class at the crowded gym. wide capital-city streets and narrow waterfall walkways. double-scoop dulce-de-leche-covered ice cream cones by day and the smoky choripán truck open all night. the blue and gold of fútbol-themed houses in la boca and the red clay that cakes over everything in the rainforest region. glamorous city girls in platform shoes and rural kids playing street soccer in fields of dust. mullet-haired boys skateboarding with their friends in front of patio olmos and the lone worshipper praying in the pews of the cathedral. dreadlocked, fully-tattooed rastafarian travelers and classy little men in hats who look more like literary characters set in the 1920's than real live people.

i can't wait to come back and see it all over again. there's so much i haven't seen, so many details i'm sure i've missed. some day i'll be back - maybe to backpack and hostel-hop, but really i'm hoping it'll be with my family, so i can share this diverse country with them and we can explore the north and south together, travel from the city to the country and through everything in between. it's been a great ride.

chau, argentina. suerte. te extrañaré.

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