The closer I get to the idea of home, the less I want to return. I can’t decide if it’s because my parents visited me on two separate occasions here, or the fact that we’ve all been discussing what meals we will eat upon our return to the States. It feels so close, so easy to return, that I simply don’t want to anymore. My last days here are mellow – they lack the craze of writing papers or making it to class (more or less) on time each morning. There is a somber tone to our conversations as we recognize that they are some of our last together.
I am sin palabras at this point, struggling to capture everything here one last time.
Somewhere between the late night banter about Argentine politics and education and the ease in ordering café con leche virtually everywhere, I made a life and a home in Buenos Aires. It is in these final moments that I can truly call this place home.
I will miss the city nights, chatting with taxi drivers about our common love for the stillness of the streets at night, when suddenly they aren’t constantly flurried with people and the only thing preventing cars from gliding up Nuevo de Julio in one fellow swoop are the stop lights.
I will miss window shopping, discovering a thousand shoes on top of each other or the large asado meats turning around the burner so close to our faces I swear I can taste the smoke through the glass.
I will miss the squeeze in my ribs as I check my watch for the 20th time, acknowledging how late I am for the next obligation, trying to remind myself that the world won’t end if I show up at a different time than planned.
I will miss the grunge of this city, the paint-splattered subte cars and skate parks; the dog droppings on every street and pungent smell of vinegar walking by facultads after exams; the ability to order alcohol at noon on a Monday without getting strange looks. I will miss clenching my leg muscles on the 25 minute subte ride so I don’t lose balance because there are never empty seats; the many street vendors that place their items on your lap so you may consider purchasing it rather than immediately waving them away.
It is these moments that I will think fondly of, it is the people that I will never forget. The homeless woman I turned to see washing herself in a Bank of America ATM lobby, clad in nothing but a shower cap with the tall windows allowing everyone on the dark streets of Puerrydon to see her. The man who walked by and did a double-take upon noticing her, then stood and stared for a moment. The children who sell little prayer cards on the subtes to help support their family. The older women who refuse to sit down when offered a seat on an public transportation and the mothers, las Madres, that have welcomed me into their office to learn about their resilience. I will take home with me María Elena, Lucia, and Felipe – a loving family who allowed me to see another side of Buenos Aires, always patient with my Spanish and ensured that my stomach would expand at their dinner table. I will think back to mate-sipping park days and lunches in the computer labs, the last minute trabajo practicos and debates with fellow Flacsitos on all things Argentine.
No one mentioned the gut-wrenching tug at my stomach as I look around and wonder when I will return again, when I might receive such an incredible feeling of accomplishment like this again. No one mentions how empty you begin to feel, no matter how many “last time” foods you consume or deep breaths you take in. No one tells you that the pain is indescribable because you are looking forward to returning to family and friends, so the ache within your heart is constantly numb just waiting to erupt at the most inopportune moment. It’s the pain of not knowing how to explain your experience, not wanting to consolidate five months into “Oh yeah, I loved studying abroad in Argentina”. It’s the pit at the back of your throat as you give your last goodbyes and plead to your subconscious that these people and this place don’t fall back into your memories only to be taken out on a rainy day. You want them to hang and dry each morning on your back porch so you can gaze over them while drinking mate, letting the water flood your mouth as the memories flood you.
There were certainly days when all I wanted to do was go home. I do not regret those. Without them, I would not have grown so much here. I am not the same person who arrived on these crooked streets, dusted with a Latin flare. I can only hope that I will not fall backwards, but be held up by these experiences and the lessons I have learned – to push me forward, still searching outside of my comfort zone. I constantly pushed myself and everything I once thought I knew, in hopes of truly accepting the challenge of Argentina. Sometimes I lost control and let life take a turn for once. For this, I am extremely thankful.
I wish I could better explain this conundrum of leaving. I wish I could find the right words and place them perfectly in a row, just to share what I have experienced. But that’s the magic of life and experiences – you have to go out into the world and see it for yourself. So until then, I am without words.