Every day, I stand in front of two hundred high school students and ask them this question: What will your story be? I pose this question as part of my job. As a cultural presenter, my job is to drum up excitement in traveling by telling Spanish classes about my experiences.I lead the students step-by-step through my life in Ecuador. It’s a simplified version-how could you fit nine months into 50 minutes?- but I try to keep the spirit alive. Every day, six times a day I show pictures of my siblings: Monica, Veronica, Jhonny, Nataly, Mateo and Francis. But Aurora is the real star of the show. Like this blog, and like my life, Aurora took center stage without me noticing.
I start with this question because I know my audience. High school students are very interested in themselves, so why not begin with a question about them. But also, I like to get them thinking about their lives as something they can control. Something they can create. And because I am a writer. Everything makes more sense to me in narrative format.
“Today we’re going to talk about this question,” I say to the students, gesticulating behind me. “What will your story be? And what I’m talking about here is your life story. In five years when you’ve graduated from (insert high school name) and return, what to do you want to tell people you’ve been doing? Or in fifty years, when you have kids and grandkids, what kind of experiences do you want to have had that you can share with them?”
Usually they give me blank stares at this point.
“I know that’s a big question for the middle of a weekday. So I’ll start by telling you a little bit about my life story.”
And then I go from there. Every day, over and over.
Today I sat down for a quick lunch with Jeff at an Indian buffet.
“This is the longest I’ve consecutively been in the states since January of 2012.”
“How long is that?” He said
“Three and a half months.” I replied.
Since leaving for Ecuador in January of 2012, I have been in and out of airports all over the world. My life has revolved around making trips happen, whether that is program coordinating for Tandana, leading a group from Seattle, or just traveling with friends; my eyes are always cast forward. My day to day life has been based on upcoming trips. I have worked 10 jobs in the past 12 months, many concurrently.
Yes, my taxes are a mess.
Yes, this is exhausting.
But I have made steps to attach myself to the fertile ground of the northwest. I have a house, a odd two story home on Belmont that my roommates and I affectionately call “the tree house”. I watch full series of shows, I show up to cross-fit. I run miles. I work full-time, and I talk about my family.
I love my job. I love storytelling, and that is essentially what I do. But sometimes it wears on me. I miss them. I really, really miss them.
I’ve written about this feeling before, the heart in two places feeling. I remember walking up the cobblestone streets of Panecillo, days before I left and thinking:
“How can I leave? I have worked hard to plant my heart here, in this ground. And now I am tearing it out. Why?”
Melodramatics aside, it can be hard constantly revisiting old memories. I think about them all the time. I write to Jhonny and Vero on facebook, I attempt to call Aurora on skype. But this isn’t the same. Truth is, I don’t know when I can afford to visit again. And this eats at me. Yes, because of these people I have grown and I have changed. I am better from knowing them. But what about them? I just left. And I don’t know when I can do back. What do I do now?
Right now, this is what I do. I speak enthusiastically to students about these people. I talk about Aurora; her quiet humor, the way her life has been shaped by being an indigenous woman. I talk about Kichwa, about shamanism, about abuelita, mal aire, about what the flesh of guinea pigs tastes like. I try to make kids laugh, but I also try to push them. I will not stand in front of them and say that traveling is easy. In fact I say the exact opposite.
“Traveling doesn’t change your life because it’s easy, or because it’s beautiful. Traveling changes your life because it challenges you. It pushes you in ways you don’t expect. Traveling changes your life because you meet new people, have conversations you never expected, and face parts of life that can be scary. But you do it. And that’s why you come back different.”
And maybe that’s what I need to remember. Maybe that’s all I can do. Maybe it is enough to stand if front of thousands of kids every month, look them in the eyes and ask them: