The lack of seasons here is really beginning to gnaw at me. In Wisconsin, the years are broken up, divided by temporal distinctions which mark and foreshadow the passing of time. Autumn is the beginning of pants and sweatshirts; it brings with it distinct, environmentally related memories: orange and yellow and red trees, crisp leaves underfoot, apple orchards, pumpkin patches, football games, Thanksgiving. It’s not that there are no such time landmarks here. There are holidays every month or two. But the sun sets everyday at six something; it’s a little chilly every morning, the sun comes out at some point, and there’s a chance of rain. Every day is pretty much the same weatherwise.
I find my own mind eager to latch on to memories of home; I find myself missing the seasonal distinctions which help me file away my Wisconsinite memories. It’s like this: in Wisconsin, the seasons act as colored file folders. When I go to the file cabinet to look up a memory, it’s in one of the red, yellow, or orange folders of autumn. Here, all the folders are manila. Of course, here, the cabinet simply doesn’t have much in it either.
Nor will it. A year can’t compete with 30. I look out the window of my Spanish class and I see a building vaguely reminiscent of a lighthouse. Suddenly, I’m hearing the peeping of seagulls agitatedly hovering overhead; feeling a cool, constant, perhaps slightly foggy breeze; and smelling the conspicuous absence of salt in the quasi-maritime scent wafting through the air as I think back on a ferry ride in Door County.
I pass a patch of cut grass here in Quito and I see myself squinting in the late morning sun of June, July, or August, as Tember lies relaxed but alert, head erect, ears at attention, eyes slowly pulsing shut and open as the hum of the mower and the summer heat lull her into a sleep that will never happen because being outside on a summer day is just too exciting enough. And I sweat slightly as I walk behind the droning machine, watching my path and in turn remembering my golf course summers, mowing greens and tees at 6:00 am, keeping my lines straight and uniform.
I miss smelling snow in the cold air, looking up to see it falling from the early evening darkness, feeling the soft flakes hit my eyelashes, hearing the dampened patter of my steps in the snow. Quito’s early sunsets return me to the waning light of winter afternoons. And a mutt of a memory, bred from Christmas TV specials and carols and nighttime winter strolls, crystallizes before me. I see the glow of holiday lights; I peep, in passing, through the windows of houses to see people sitting down for dinner; a vague, twinkling – perhaps the result of Salvation Army bells just within earshot, or maybe a Christmas carol sneaking through some momentarily opened shop door – gives me a little hope.
Obviously, I miss home. A year is feeling long. It’s time to fess up that this is how I’ve felt every time I leave Wisconsin for an extended period. It’s nice to have a home. But I also fear that I won’t allow Ecuador in, that I’ll avoid assimilating to the point of comfort. One of my narcissistic fantasies before leaving was that we’d be able to return to everything as it was. We’re conveniently coming back about a year later. We’ll simply pick up where we left, moving things back into the house (as if we were just cleaning it really, really thoroughly), mowing the lawn, watching the Simpson’s. Tember will still enthusiastically greet us every time we come home; the cats will lounge relaxedly around the house like they always have; farmers’ markets will continue every Saturday; and Madisonians will still be a little too self-righteous.
I have a tremendous penchant for hope. I can endure long journeys as long as that carrot is in front of me. We go home at Christmas; we have breaks in February and in the spring; we’re attempting to coax family and friends here. It would be easy to simply endure this year in Quito.
And of course, my first reaction (and probably most people’s first reaction) to such a prospect is “oh, that would be horrible; I/you should really try to ‘get the most out of this experience’.” But what does that mean?
I should clarify that I’m not dying of homesickness. It’s just that, as one would expect, this whole experience is starting to have its influence on me. And I’m simply stepping away from myself, as I tend to do quite frequently, and observing the change.
And the most interesting question I’ve encountered in my labyrinthine metacognition (ok, that’s just too much, right there. Stop it, please, Tim) is this one about “getting the most out of the experience.” Does it mean I should try to travel around Ecuador as much as possible? Does it mean I should get involved in all the volunteer activities I can? Does it mean I should talk with people on the street? Or does it mean I should establish a routine, live here like the foreigner I am, in slight discomfort, and then come home with a thorough understanding of what it is to move to a foreign country and live dreaming of home?
The thing is, getting the most out of the experience could be any of the above. Really, I don’t think I can go wrong. So despite my homesickness, I’m actually hopeful that I will get the most out of this experience. How can I not? Still, at this stage, I wonder, “to what extent do I allow the experience to change me?” And is that my decision?