We can hardly believe it – in less than two weeks it will be time to move on!
When we came back from our trip to Mendoza, somehow it was already January, and that surreal feeling that the world is moving out of your control was just starting to happen. Now it is in full motion – time swirling by faster than expected, the list of things to do and time to do it wrestling with each other. Boxes to mail home, music and movies to download (no laws on that here), pictures to back up, iPod to update, laundry, saying goodbye to our favorite places and people. The fears and doubts of this trip – what next? Uh, like, where should we go? Home? Continue on? And the hardest questions – how and why.
Buenos Aires and the little side-trips we’ve made have been fun, some of it, even great. We both wish we had done a few things differently…spent only 3 months here in the city being the major one. Convincing our friend from Portland to take back a bag of fall clothes and souvenirs for us another. Having the newest edition of the Lonely Planet so our budget wasn’t blown to pieces. And the usual suspects are all around us: I wish I’d studied more Spanish, taken more classes, gone to the climbing gyms sooner, made a bigger effort to find a church community. But, it’s time to just remember the best, try to put into words and cohesive thoughts the lessons we’ve learned, and move on.
And speaking of the lessons we’re learning, why don’t I share a few, before I get into the thick of things?
Being fully present in the moment. I like my friends at home; I don’t like making new friends much and I don’t care for acquaintances. I’d rather save my energy for those deep relationships that sustain me. This has some validity, I think, but it’s also quite wrong. Here, the only friends we can hope for aren’t going to be forever, and we can choose to run from that, or embrace it. Eventually, I gave in, and I remember one moment, in the most unlikely of places (a bar) someone I had just met, shared a vulnerable history of a twisted past. I was shocked that he would share something so personal to near-strangers (and no, it wasn’t the alcohol talking) and was inspired by it. This is a lesson I’m always being taught, re-taught, and reminded of, but it was refreshing to revisit it here.
Interruptions and Slow Walking. Life here is always being interrupted. Strange, sudden government holidays, people coming and going, power outages, traffic jams, subte strikes, you name it. The Type A part of me doesn’t like when my plans “get messed with” and I don’t like when things aren’t efficient. But, it happens here, and people have the great flexibility to just make the most of it, and I too, am slowly learning. Related to this is the fact that people here walk like tourists at the Space Needle. They walk painfully slow, randomly stop with no warning, and are generally irritating. But they’re never in a hurry; they’re enjoying the walk, and they’re smarter for it. Not only because they’re not allowing stress to enter their realm, but because when you walk slow you don’t get as hot or sweaty. I enjoy my slow saunters to and from work, and enjoy taking the bus even if it takes longer than the subte (it has better views). I’m slowly learning not to think about tomorrow, or later today (though I still think planning has a place), but just enjoy the now.
Listening and the art of communication. Having to learn another language has many benefits, but I’ve recently been reminded of one I’d never paid much attention to before. Listening. I can understand a lot more Spanish than I can say, in the moment. I can read books, I can watch movies, but I can’t always respond before the subject changes. I was painfully reminded of this the other night at a bouldering gym with new friends; I could follow their conversation, but by the time I thought of the correct way to say something, the topic had changed. Now this can also be a lesson in letting go of perfectionism, too. But, listening. I’ve always admired people that can get shy people to talk – who just listen and ask questions, rarely talking about themselves, expect to sympathize or relate. I try to do this, and fail miserably, when I’m speaking English. In Spanish, I find myself listening for long stretches of conversation, being forced to ask questions to clarify or get more information, and rarely talking at all, much less about myself. And its quite refreshing, and something I hope I can apply to my daily life and interactions back home.
Related to this is communication in general, something I absolutely hate learning (I am a firm believer that one should be allowed to communicate in their natural manner, and that anything else is cheapened), but I do it for my marriage and for my work, and, well, as a general life/social skill I guess. I am not a good communicator, by any means. Learning other languages helps with this on a social level, but being, what sometimes feels like trapped, in a so-so city with your spouse in one room, forces one to learn communication in a different light. Its been difficult, but its also something we never dedicated enough time to in the States because we were “too busy.” Well, now we have worlds of time, and its been interesting to see just how different we are, and also to see just how easy (and hard) some of the fixes can be. These are lessons we’re just beginning to learn, but I hope they continue, and that God grants us the grace to do so in a loving manner.
Future “Plans”: the how
We’re not sure what the plan is yet (can you believe that?! Me not having a plan, less than two weeks out?! This trip must really be getting to me!). I bought tickets to spend a day in Colonia, Uruguay Friday to get another stamp to brag about in our passport (it happens, even if you try not to), and consequently renew (hopefully) our tourist visa for another 90 days so we don’t have to rush out of here. After that our general, sort of plan is “go to Patagonia” but we’re not quite sure how to go about that. We have some ideas, and we’ll probably end up buying bus tickets to Bariloche next week and hoping it all works out. We’ve heard rumors its can get expensive down there, which I find strange, as I mostly just want to hike around and look at stuff, maybe even camp if we come across equipment, but we’ll just have to see how it goes.
The idea after that is to make it all the way down to the tip of the continent, Ushuaia, and then? “Up through Chile” however that works out. There’s been talk of volunteering on an organic farm (WWOOFing) along the way, talk of staying at YYAM bases to save money, of hitchhiking and couchsurfing. Dreams of making it to Bolivia and Peru, to Guatemala, Mexico, and Cuba. That is to say, we really don’t have many answers on the “how”s of the trip, but we have this, perhaps naive, faith that it will all work out, for better or for worse. Should be interesting.
As for when we’re coming home, well, a recent chat with a friend, among other things, reminded me to keep that on our radar. We’re still not sure. There’s been talk of packing up and calling it quits directly from Buenos Aires, or directly after Patagonia, depending on the budget. There’s been more talk on trying to hold out until at least May or June, and there’s been some talk about coming back in August or September, “if all goes well.” There’s also been whispers in the back of my head of staying…for as long as…?; of course I have no idea or plan yet, but if some opportunity came along, well…if I can get my cat down there it’d be hard to pass up. But, no such opportunities exist for us as of yet.
Doubts and the Why’s
As for the “why,” this is more difficult, and I’ve actually written an entire separate blog about it, which I still haven’t finished. I keep asking myself, is this worth it? Why are we here? Why did we do this again? We could be at home, with my cat, having a normal life where I can eat all the cheap, spicy Mexican food I please and hang out with people I love everyday. So, why are we here, spending all this money? Is it just to learn a language? Just to experience a culture? Haven’t I done that already? Are we actually doing what God wants for us, or are we doing some mumbled, half-assed version of what God wants? Why can’t I be given clarity, or peace? We have an idea, a romanticizing idea, of this great exploratory travel, where we spend hardly any money and meet great people and have revelatory experiences along the way. Not only has this been done before, it’s very hard to do in today’s world. So then, what’s left? We’re not with a church…we’re not missionaries…we’re not with any kind of program…we’re not in any kind of commitment. I like these things because they lend me structure and security (but are those false?), but here without those things on this trip, I am haunted and full of doubt. I try to have peace that it will make sense someday, that some opportunity will come along and it will be great, that when it’s all said and done I’ll say, this was the trip of a lifetime, totally worth it! But most of the time, I just feel overly privileged and lost.
Tyler and I have been talking a lot about this tension I have, and many others have as well. We grew up in what some would call a sort of legalistic, hyper-emotional Christianity. If we didn’t do our devotionals every day, if we didn’t cry at worship and retreats, we were bad Christians, riddled with guilt, our relationship with God nearly salvageable. Sounds silly now, but that’s what it felt like, in many ways. So, later in life, as the classic cycle goes, we rebelled. We’re all about the emergent church, we don’t need structure, we don’t need rules, it’s all about the heart-relationship, and that’s personal. While this has many benefits, it’s not quite right either. Because of this, I see many friends who live in hip “communities” with a lax mission, many of them eventually “realizing” they don’t need the Christian faith anyway. A slippery slope, either way. And thus, the circle comes ’round again, and I find myself saying, spiritually (and let’s be honest, physically) I’m a spoiled brat. I barely have an ounce of spiritual discipline (and I always eat exactly what I want). I need to take some things from that legalism (the discipline side) and add it into that flexible emergent stuff, and see what happens! Well that’s all great, but, how do we add in the discipline to this, very lax, emergent-style trip? We get the obvious (read our Bible and pray, duh! and yet, that seems so hard), but..what else can we do? And how do we keep the balance of freedom/grace/discipline without it turning into that old enemy legalism? An interesting journey indeed…
After all is said and done, I’m still excited about some of the lessons I/we am/are learning. And I comfort myself with the fact that God can use any experience to His good, and that even if we’re doing things the wrong way (have I made a grave mistake?!) we’re still learning important lessons, and they’re still going to be used in some awesome way in the future, and someday we’ll realize all that.
Thoughts? Comments? We always appreciate hearing from everyone (we also got quite a few Christmas cards – thanks!).
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