Wednesday, December 31, 2008

travel, language, and passion/or restless at five a.m.

Well, it's 5:47 and I might get to see the sun rise. But I can't sleep because I can't stop thinking. I don't even know where to begin this, I don't have the slightest clue at all, because it's a hundred different things. It's that Colombia still has my heart, and I miss it with all of me. It's that I want to go everywhere, learn a ton of languages, have my culture be a mix-and-match of all the places I've ever been and loved and lived. I told a friend of mine over the summer, before I'd ever traveled anywhere farther than Kansas or Florida, that if I could do anything, anything at all, all the stuff aside that's supposed to keep us domesticated (that seems awfully harsh to say, but really I mean it in regard to only my own desires and honestly it's not exactly the right word) and living the somewhat standard American life--that if I could do anything, all of that aside, it would be this: I'd pick five countries. Five different languages, five different cultures. Five, of course, being a number off the top of my head, and it could be three or fourteen. And in each place I would live for a year--hardly any time at all, but totally, fully immerse so that the culture would become a part of me, and I'd come out speaking the language to some degree. Now I know it sounds crazy ambitious, and oh you can't learn a whole language in a year, they say, but who cares, it's what I want and even if I couldn't I'd be well on my way. And of course, knowing myself, I probably wouldn't get past country two before I decided how fully in love with it and its people I was and just lived there forever.

I'll tell you--a week into Colombia and I didn't want to leave, not ever. And it was my first time out of the country, I was completely immersed in a language I knew about four words of before I left, just crash-coursing and soaking up every bit of Spanish I could, and as soon as I got back everyone told me that's what happens to everyone the first time they go somewhere. They want to stay. Maybe that's true, I don't know. If it is, then I don't love Colombia any less.

When I got back from Mexico a week or so ago and everyone was asking how it was--well, the first thing I would say was dry, because it was just pretty dang dry there. And because the truth was I didn't love it the way I loved Colombia, and I felt bad saying that. My trip to Mexico was okay, and there are a lot of reasons for that, and the experience itself was very different from the one I had this summer, particularly with the people. And so this is a very biased perception, and to say how I felt about the country is very different than how the experience was for me and it's all sort of mixed up in there. Only, I keep feeling like I have to defend it. Like, even if I really liked Mexico, if I didn't love it the way I loved Colombia, well--what?

And I say that because if you spend any time around me at all you know it goes something like this, beginning in this past June: I'm going to Colombia! I'm so excited! Nope, don't really know any Spanish but I want to learn. A month later: Basically the greatest thing I've ever done. Colombia this, Colombia that, it was only a month but it was incredible, I didn't want to leave, the hills in Guatavita, Monserrate, no quise irme, oh man I learned a ton of Spanish and I don't want to stop, I don't want to forget, I can't wait to go back. A few months later: Still can't wait to go back, but all of a sudden I'm restless, and what about study abroad, is it too late? Oh man I'm going to Ecuador! Or no! Better, what if I do missions? Bolivia, I'm going to Bolivia! Well, no, I'm going to Romania and I'm pumped about that, and then after I graduate, what? Well what about the Peace Corps? Or one of those programs where you teach English? I'm thinking Northern Africa or somewhere around Syria or something like that. Or back to South America? I don't know, maybe, that would be amazing, but so would just about everywhere else. And I still have to learn Spanish--poco a poco, but I won't be happy until you can drop me in any Spanish-speaking country or restaurant or movie showing, whatever, and I can understand it and respond in it and then I'm thinking so much in it during a day that that same night my dream is in Spanish. And then you'll hear me singing Fito Paez songs or Juanes just because when I get excited about something I get really passionate about it and it's all I'll talk about all the time. Example: poor Alicia. It's how do you say this? And why does the se go there? And why do you pronounce it this way here but that way between two vowels? And listen, my r's! I could always roll them, but not at the beginning without doing this weird thing with my mouth and listen, I can do it now, every time without pausing or adjusting. And then about a hundred questions about pronouns until--slowly, maybe, but surely, I really am getting it. I can understand really well (particularly Colombian spanish, I'll tell you what, Mexican spanish was hard as heck for me to understand), and my writing and speaking will get there, are getting there.

I'm as impatient as can be and I just would rather be dropped into Colombia or Chile or Argentina, or I don't know, about eight other places on top of those, just dropped in there for six months on top of these six since I've started learning, because I know if I did that I'd come out speaking, and it's so much easier (easier meaning harder, and more of a headache/mind-exhausting thing, based on that first month in Colombia, but for me at least, more natural) than studying grammar rules in a book when you learn them by hearing them over and over again and in the end, maybe I won't be able to explain them, but I'll be able to use them. Sort of like in English. Even though I keep tense shifting and using run-ons and fragments and forgetting punctuation and all kinds of stuff, but that's the way I think, so there you have that I suppose.

And anyway, it's not just languages. I am restless. I'm ready to be gone from Wilmington and seeing everywhere--and not just touristy seeing it, but really living in places, immersing. And not that I don't love Wilmington. I spent a lot of time with my grandparents down here growing up, so it's sort of like a second hometown. Roots and wings, right? I can't make up my mind where I want to go or what I want to do, but ever since this summer, I just want to go everywhere.

Growing up it was my cousins and family speaking Russian, it was my mom speaking to people in German in grocery stores (not fluently, but of course I didn't know that then). It was how I loved hearing them, how I wished so badly I could speak it and then for a little while, I would read everything I could on it and practice with anyone who would tolerate me. It was my first foreign language class in high schooland how French sounded and how you could trace the words back to the Latin and the way related to the Latin derivatives for English words, and the same for Spanish. You mean the use the same root for the verb /to cross/ and the noun /cross/ in Spanish too? I don't know why, but that's incredible to me. I love that kind of stuff. It was when I went to New York City, and my favorite part was hearing about seven different languages on one block. And then in Houston after my flight from Leon, how the family in front of me kept switching back and forth between Spanish and Hebrew and English, and possibly Portuguese, I don't even know, it sounded kind of like it. But they were thinking so fluidly in each of them that it was one dialogue, languages changing mid-sentence. Craziest thing I've ever heard in my life. And there I was thinking, that is incredible, and I want to be able to do that. But I'm only a native speaker of English, and you know what they say, but this is what I love, how can I at all be limited? I know about Chomsky, but I also know about being passionate, and how if nothing else language and words are what I'm good at and more importantly, they are what I love, so I will be fluent.

But about being restless. About wanting to go everywhere and hear all these languages and see all these places and remembering the way Bogotá smelled and how in Irapuato there was something similar, and I couldn't place it, except when I told my professor, she said she knew what I meant, that it was something about Latin American cities. I want to be in Lima one day and recognize something in it, even my first time there. And I want to spend a year somewhere in North Africa and remember how it was dry and dusty in the state of Guanajuato too. And then Russia, with my cousin. And the hills of South Africa, Alan Paton and Nelson Mandella's love of the veld. And maybe the mountains of Romania will remind me of Colombia the way the sound of Bogotá from Monserrate reminded me of the ocean. I've said more times than I can count, but I want to go everywhere, and it's bigger than I could possibly imagine, because how could I possibly do all those things and still have time for everything else?

Here's the thing though: I don't know yet--and get back to me in a few years, I'll tell if you I was right or not--but I've got a hunch about something. I'm going to see so much. And it's all going to be a million different things at once. I'm going to go places where there's supposed to be this huge culture shock--like seeing the shacks on the way to Santa Marta and the farm in Guamo, but it wasn't like you'd think. The people lived more simply and they were happy and it wasn't tragic just because it wasn't like here in the States. But if I go to Bucharest while I'm in Romania, I'm going to see street children, and my heart is going to break, I know it already. And never in my life have I seen anything like that. But at the same time, in Colombia, Alicia's brother and sister were wonderful and incessant, always running around and jumping off things and grabbing my face and talking to me in Spanish as if I understood every word of it and acting like kids, just like they do here. And when I looked at the Caribbean for the first time--the sand was black, but back in Wilmington, I too have an ocean. I'm going to see things and experience things I've never even come close to imagining before, things that are going to floor me and change me forever. But, I think, also in everything there's going to be some of the same, one place or people that I found somewhere else too, and people are people, not countries or ideas. I won't love everywhere--I didn't love Mexico. But the things that are most amazing to me about Colombia--I'm going to find pieces of those exact things in places totally and completely different, and hopefully by the end of it all start to put together a picture of the world.

So hold me to this, every word of it, because I love it and I want it and I don't want to settle for anything less.

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