Wednesday I got off the flight in Lima. I sunk into a ball on the ground waiting for my luggage. My whole life airports have represented adventures, different cultures, and amazing times that have defined who I am. For the first time ever, I hated that airport. I was so tired of that airport representing so many goodbyes. I was in bad shape after leaving my friends and family back in Ollanta.
I called Penny and headed to her house. She was exactly who I needed to see. I was not doing well and she needed a friend as well. She made me lunch and went into her room to rest up a bit. I headed to the beach. Lima is actually gorgeous from December to March. It wasn’t the dreary cloud cover I am always used to during the summer months. The sun was out and the beach was beautiful.
I sat for a few hours just staring at the water. It was the same stretch of ocean I had been looking at 6 months earlier the night I found out the motorcycle was to be released and I would be leaving. How much I had changed! I listened to a song on repeat that I haven’t heard in a long time, yet seemed strangely relevant.
Beach in February, alright
Okay, a few hours are enough...
I went back and had a great talk with Lolo, and Penny ordered pizza for us while he went to a high school reunion. She and I stayed up late drinking wine and trading stories. I got up at 6:30 to catch the taxi and felt way better. Time with Penny was the perfect bridge between the people I left behind and the ones I was headed to that day. Thank you!!
Back in the airport my spirits were much better. It is time to go home. I couldn’t help but think about what everyone was doing back in Ollanta. I wanted to be there helping where I could, but I am now needed along a different path. I checked in and looked at my ticket. I had seat 1A.
I asked the man, and he said the ticket was booked in business class. He also said that meant I had access to the VIP lounge. I used cheapOair.com for the ticket, and it was $200 cheaper than all the other sites. There is no way I booked that business class. Now I don’t believe in karma or anything like that but that is the second time I have come home from a service trip and magically got upgraded to first class. The VIP lounge was amazing. Think about the contrast, 8 months of rice, potatoes, intermittent showers, crowded combies, everything that is life down there, then walking into a lounge with unlimited food, drinks, flatscreens, fast wireless internet, showers, beds, soft leather couches, and even a machine that squeezes oranges right in front of you for juice. It was fun being in there with dirty motorcycle jeans and tire sandals while everyone else had suits on. I wandered in a daze for a bit then went nuts on the food. I made a bunch of extra sandwiches and stuffed them in my backpack along with fruit. I called my sister on skype and just sat for a bit.
That's right, first class baby.
Returning was surreal. My phone worked in Miami and I called my parents. I then called Jeff and coordinated the next few days of being home and visiting. But while waiting in line to check in life crashed around me again.
The two couples behind me asked each other about their vacations. One was a week cruise and the other was a week in the Keys. They talked about the food, how it was only okay, they talked about airlines not compensating passengers when a flight was 5 hours late, having to snow blow the driveway back in Minneapolis, etc. They didn’t ask me about my trip. It is probably better that way, I did not offer. How can I explain to a couple of regular couples living normal lives what I had just been through? How I was just happy I could drink from the water fountain let alone complain about the lobster on the cruise? I miss everyone back in Ollanta terribly. I hope this will pass or I am going to have a rough next few months. Maybe I am not cut out for life in Grand Haven. But it is such a great city and full of some really kind and unselfish people and I love my job. I’ll be fine in a few days I hope.
Who can I talk to? Who can I share this with? How does one live with everything that I have gone through? I suppose the answer is to hold it all in. It makes me think of a line from Goodwill Hunting. Sean is telling Will about his wife who died of cancer.
Will: And you don’t regret meeting your wife?
Sean: Why? Because of the pain I feel now? Well, I got regrets, Will, but I don’t regret a single day I spent with her.
I am feeling a lot of pain, leaving the project, my friends, my community, but I don’t regret a single moment of this trip.
The whole VIP thing ended as well. I was put back in coach for the last two flights, so I got to sleep on the floor in Minneapolis waiting for my 6 am flight back to Lansing. That food I took in Lima came in real handy. I practiced what I would say if someone asked. I was freaking out, time alone is not good when you are dealing with loss like this. I really needed someone to ask me where I was coming from.
“In June of 2011 I left my house in Michigan on a dirtbike and rode to Texas. I shipped it to Lima and traveled across the country to a tiny village in the Andes where I taught math at a dormitory for young girls who wanted to continue their education past high school. I fell in love with the town and made strong connections with the people there. I also took a few motorcycle trips to Chile and other parts of Peru. I have very close friends there. I am a wreak. I am on a roller coaster of emotions. I could not be happier for what I experienced over the past 8 months, but the pain I feel is sharp. I have left my community, project, and even a relationship. Now, I am headed to back to my old life, a place with my original friends, family, and students. I begin teaching on Monday. The shock of being back, getting ripped away from those I cared about, being thrust back into my former life, is overwhelming. I will be fine once I am in the presence of those who care about me, but these two days of travel are a new kind of challenge I have never felt before. Thanks for asking.”
Haha, I struck up a conversation with a young woman and she eventually did ask right before we boarded. I said something similar to the above paragraph. She said, “Oh, that’s nice.” Then she called her boyfriend and we didn’t exchange another word. It helped me put things in perspective a little bit. I need to stop thinking about my life, deal with it, and focus on what is next, namely getting ready to teach on Monday.
We flew directly into the sunrise as that final flight soared toward Michigan. The symbolism was clear. It was the dawn of a new day. I must now begin a new life in a familiar situation. I need to replace the part of my heart I left in Peru. My second job when I was in high school was washing rental cars for Avis at the Lansing airport. I knew it well. It seemed appropriate it would mark the end of my journey. My parents, sister, and Jeff would be waiting for me.
Or is Ollanta my home?
At this point I don’t know or care, it was just great to see them.