– Miriam Adeney
Five weeks showed us many sides of our mother country, though of course no single experience could ever begin to encompass the bird's nest of complexity that is “America” (North America, ehem, the U.S. to be exact). In our hearts it was family and friends that brought us "home," longing again in some way to feel familiarity as opposed to the constant newness and challenge of Cuenca. Our sensory appetites also had desires that swirled around in our minds as we had entire conversations with people about “what we're going to eat” along with the unrivaled beer choices that awaited us. Finally, at the end of July we arrived at O'Hare International Airport at three o'clock in the morning, exhausted and excited, to the warm smiling face of my father. We were back.
I couldn't resist the pull in the end. For almost ten months in Cuenca I'd bought little; the resulting mix of a very modest income, frugal mentality, and lack of clothes for tall people in Ecuador. Suddenly my credit card was worn with use, buying everything I would need for the next year. I don't regret the purchases, but once the shopping started there seemed to be no end. It opened a floodgate of “necessity” where my mind could amazingly justify just about any purchase, and the pull was constant. I stepped away from myself a few times to try and understand this strange new stress of needing more. I decided it was dangerous.
Lynsey, on the other hand, thrived on the familiarity of Chicago. She had been missing a place where “things are easy,” referring mostly to the lack of a language barrier and not being harassed by cat-calling men. There are some liberties that women sacrifice in Cuenca when it comes to independence and even safety. In Chicago, Lynsey reveled in the ability to go off on her own with a feeling of confidence. In Cuenca, this confidence is a challenge that doesn't come so easy, and I imagine requires time, patience, and frequent frustrations to acquire. As a man, I don't experience much more than gaping stares, but I now understand the sacrifice Lynsey is making here in that regard. I'm lucky to be with a woman strong enough to work through it and find a way to cope with the machismo that's real in this culture. I'm lucky for tons of other reasons, too.
Lynsey also found deep comfort coming back to a place where design is not only accepted, but appreciated and sought-after. Cuenca is a newborn baby in the design world, and Lynsey has found it hard to find people with the same eye for quality as she has. This would be like me coming to a place where people don't appreciate the outdoors - a scary prospect. In Chicago, Lynsey wandered art museums and felt not alone in her chosen path. It's a hope of hers (and mine) that in this next year she will find those few people (they are here, there just aren't many) who value design and be able to do some quality work here in town. After all, design is her passion and profession, and without room to grow we may outgrow Cuenca.
For both of us, seeing people was, of course, something we were looking forward to most on the trip. We wanted to be filled in on ten months of life, of progress, of change, newness, or whatever might fill such an expanse of time. Some had big news of houses, family, work opportunities, vacations, hobbies, etc. with excitement and hope under their voice. Others reported “same old,” with a touch of soft resignation that made my heart cringe. The way we shared our experience varied greatly as well, and made me think a lot about how humans relate to one another. With many people we barely spoke of Ecuador, a strange and even uncomfortable feeling for Lynsey and I. It often felt as if we were transported back into a situation before we had left, and expected to be the people we were nine months ago, which obviously presents some difficulties. We longed to share something about our experience. I know people care, as they care for us, but still I experienced for the first time what it feels like to be misunderstood.
On the other hand, many indulged us with curious questions and we felt a relief to be reconnected to our life in South America. It was generally friends and family who had traveled, but even others who genuinely wanted to know how the heck somebody could live down there. We were glad to share, and glad to feel a bond between the many versions of “home” floating around in our heads.
A highlight of the trip for me was reconnecting with some of my closest friends in the places I treasure most in the country - its outdoor spaces. We climbed for three days in Kentucky's Red River Gorge, sweatily working our way up great sandstone walls in the midst of beautiful wooded hills. America's natural places are unparalleled, I think in the world. Nowhere I know can a country claim so much diversity of landscapes and protected land, of course thinking back to the idea that national parks themselves were “America's best idea.” I contemplated and appreciated this anew while enjoying these places. Beyond the Red River Gorge, our band continued down to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park for a 75-mile trek on the Appalachian Trail. Much of my heart and love for wild places lies in the Smokies, and to see them again with old friends was a special treat. Though the trail itself is a relentless battle up and down the varied topography, my lungs and legs were enjoying it all too much to even hurt much. Trail conversations seem to always cut through the fat (that we so often chew) to the heart of things. I finally felt the reconnection I'd been longing for the entire trip, and in my mind I felt like I could keep walking for a long time…
In the end, we're grateful for the family and friends that went out of their way to make us feel “home” and welcome again. Coming “home” is not always easy, for a million reasons, but the brief moments of connection made it all worth it. We know it's not easy for every one to understand why we've decided on this life, as it's equally challenging for us to understand the things we see back home. Either way, bonds deeper than understanding keep those divided by distance together, and step by step we work our way closer to the middle. It is comforting to know that people will accept us back with open arms, but, nonetheless, the life we chose awaits us in Ecuador, our “home” for now, a place where we're learning, growing, and figuring out how to make the most of this life.
Now, it's back to Cuenca for year two, a year that will certainly unfold in its own new way. What lies next? Good question, and we will be sure to let everyone know the moment that future arrives - all in good time.
Can't wait to see our next round(s) of visitors - start working on that Español!