Over the course of my study abroad many friends and family members have asked if I am homesick. It was difficult for me to come up with an answer to this question initially and now I think I’ve finally figured it out. As with many things in life there is no simple black and white answer. Have I been homesick? Well, what is a home anyway? Webster defines it as the place where one lives permanently. What if you’re like me? You consider yourself a nomad, or someone who is constantly moving from place to place. Well, Webster offers another option: a place where something flourishes, is most typically found, or from which it originates. Except I run into yet another dilemma: all three of those places are different. I originate from Birmingham, Alabama, for the past two years in the States the place I could most typically be found was Atlanta, Georgia, but that place is now Buenos Aires, Argentina, and the place where I flourish? I believe that I flourish in many places, if not everywhere I am. Of course I miss my family and my friends, certain routines or habits, and favorite restaurants, but do I miss the United States?
Over the many long bus rides or trips to cross borders people inevitably have their passports in hand at some time or another and it seems to be the norm that everyone wants to trade passports to see what other countries’ passports look like. After receiving mine back I spent a few moments in quiet reflection flipping through the pages and the answer finally occurred to me: I believe that I miss a United States of America that no longer exists. Or if it does exist, it exists for few and is no longer true of the entire country. For those of you who have never had the pleasure of seeing a U.S. passport, know that of all the passports I’ve flipped through, ours is the most elaborate, the most artistic, and the most inspiring. Within the pages there are background photos of the Liberty Bell, the Declaration of Independence, the Mayflower (or some other initial colonizing ship), a bald eagle, buffalo grazing on grass in front of snow-capped mountains, a steamboat cruising down a river, a farmer clad in blue jean overalls plowing the ground using a hand-held wooden plow pulled by oxen with wheat in the foreground and a homestead in the background, wild West cowboys herding cattle on horseback with mountains in the background, a coal-burning, black-iron train, a black bear with a fish dangling from its mouth, an Indian totem pole, among others.
Accompanying these various images are quotations across the top of the pages under which entry and exit visas are stamped. The quotations range from excerpts from the Declaration of Independence, to things said by various presidents like George Washington and Theodore Roosevelt and revolutionaries like Martin Luther King, Jr. My favorites are these:
“Whatever America hopes to bring to pass in the world must first come to pass in the heart of America.” — Dwight D. Eisenhower
“For this is what America is all about. It is the uncrossed desert and the unclimbed ridge. It is the star that is not reached and the harvest sleeping in the unplowed ground. Is our world gone? We say “Farewell.” Is a new world coming? We welcome it –and we will bend it to the hopes of man.” — Lyndon B. Johnson
“We send thanks to all the Animal life in the world. They have many things to teach us as people. We are glad they are still here and we hope it will always be so.” — Excerpt from the Thanksgiving Address, Mohawk version
Despite the election of Barack Obama in November and the renewing spirit of America, I still feel like America is missing her original spark, her original charm. The good old homestead is fading into the background and I feel that I have a nostalgia for a country and a time that I never knew. Perhaps I lived a little too vicariously through Laura Ingalls Wilder’s book series Little House on the Prairie growing up.
But now, as this incredibly exciting, life-changing chapter in my life comes to an end it is, as most endings are, bittersweet. I did not, as most people do, fall in love with this city at first glance or in a matter of a few days. I was enthralled with it for the first few weeks and then after that my feelings vacillated between love and dislike. This is unusual for me because usually I fall in love with cities immediately. New York City? Check. Washington D.C.? Check. Savannah? New Orleans? Atlanta? Check. Check. Check. But Buenos Aires and I? We had to grow into our relationship and as my time narrows down to a close I realize all the things I love about this city and that I will miss dearly when I’m gone.
Maté. Parques. People playing guitars in the parks while drinking mate. San Telmo. Submarinos. Children. The inability of anyone to drive in a traffic lane. Palermo. Cuisine. Architecture. Girls playing hopskotch. Little girl outside the fruteria. Cafe culture. Mis amigos. Being surrounded by Castellano (Spanish). My host family. One word: medialunas. The kindness of people here. Public transit. Subte línea A. Colectivos (I´m joking, sort of). …This list could go on forever.
Also, as I have travelled around the country on weekends and during the last few weeks I have been able to see the larger picture of Argentine culture and life. From the pampas, to the Andes, to Tierra del Fuego, I have to admit that the rest of the country won over my heart before the city did. For me the phrase cannot simply be, ‘Mi Buenos Aires querido,’ but rather, ‘Mi Argentina querida.’ This country and its people will forever hold a very dear place in my heart, having been my home for five months. I do not know when I will be back, but I do know that it will be hard to stay away for long.
As I write this I’m not quite ready for this to be over. It’s difficult knowing that the next time I’m here the experience will be something completely different. I will not be 20 years old, meeting Argentines on a college campus, and have the sole responsibility of passing my classes. Hopefully I will still live life with arms wide open and be able to make new friends as easily as I do now, but we all know that experiencing something when you’re 20 is very different from the same experience when you’re 25 or 30. And I guess, as is always the case, time moves too fast and endings never happen when you’re ready for them. But here’s to goodbyes and the next chapter of my life with the many more exciting adventures it is sure to hold!