Goodbye backslapping, thumb-upping, eye-winking and cheek-kissing. Goodbye rambla, joda, y raid. Goodbye Pistolero, Faragón y Cacha. Goodbye Chacho, Lucas y Super Hobby. Goodbye asado de tira, asado de tira y asado de tira. Goodbye Turismar, Nuñez, y Cutcsa. Goodbye all of the places, people and moments in this special country that defined this year for me and have given me faith in the past, present and future of humanity. Abrazo grande a todo Uruguay y todos los uruguayos.
Hello…well I’m not sure what America I’m returning to.
If you’ve been paying attention to the constructed set of random facts we call the newscycle, you probably believe that 2014 has been an awful year for America. And I do mean believe, because in an increasingly post-religious world, the news forms a foundation for our belief systems. In a macro worldview this could be true. Racial tensions are at their highest since Martin Luther King was still alive. The grid in Washington has gotten ever more locked. We’ve taken taxpayer money to fight yet another losing war in the Middle East. Russia flexes its muscles and talk of the Second Cold War goes mainstream. Questions about a growing police state and increased censorship continue. Ebola. Plane crashes. Campus rape. And the list goes on. The great unravelling is upon us, or so we’re told from on high. But spending most of 2014 in Uruguay, I’ve seen no signs of unravelling. In Uruguay, these events DO make it on the news. But there’s none of this on high factor dictating an overreaction. Granted it’s also because these events don’t directly affect Uruguay. There’s a bit of bickering about the declining quality of public education, public health and security, and rightfully so, but these problems are structural and will be fixed without any fear of the world falling apart. This is the theme of the year and what I will continue to write about and write passionately. How the stability, tranquillity, inclusivity, unity, humanity, and orgumilidad of no-nonsense, no-bullshit and all reality Uruguay and particularly its interior can help us overcome the great unravelling. And as a disclaimer, this has only tangentially to do with a president that donates his salary, doesn’t wear suits and legalized weed.
When it hurts the most about leaving is when you realize you’re talking in the past tense, here becomes there, us becomes them and now becomes then.
So, hello pluralism, hello family, hello Priuses, hello rainjackets, hello egg nog, and hello Marcus Mariota. Hello a place where perfectly pretty and common names like Florencia, Camila, Eugenia, Jimena, Fabricio, Federico, Gustavo and Agustin, etc.–or their English cognates–are reserved for elderly, artists and other specific demographic groups. Though then again, I’m not sure what people in the states are naming their kids these days…
Only these things I can be sure of given how much my mindset, my reality, my relationships have changed this year. Rather than the familiarity, it’s actually the uncertainty I’m looking most forward to about being home.
Sali de mi familia de tres milliones y vuelvo a mi familia de siempre. It feels like I’ve met more people in the last nine months than in the previous twenty-two years combined. And this is from someone who went to a liberal arts university and grew up in a family that runs in many social circles. You might say this is a function of breadth over depth. And yes, this is true to an extent. Partly because I travelled so extensively and so frequently this year, I did spread myself literally quite widely. The relationships I’ve made in Uruguay bear very little resemblance to those I’ve made previously. It’s less about common interests, deep conversation, and fuelled by boozing. This is not to say that Uruguayans are impermeable, shallow or weak drinkers. Because they aren’t. This year has been a chance for me to observe and one of the many benefits of observation is seeing how other people’s relationships work. But as I participant observer, that means I can make friends myself. Those friendships I’ve made in Uruguay are solid, genuine and built on trust and equality (much like the foundation of the nation itself) even if they’re not the kind where you stay up until 4AM sharing a six pack of 312 talking about Freud, Tallis, Confucius and Aung San Suu Kyi in the same sentence. Dando una vuelta en el centro y tomando unos mates en la escalinata waving “opa che” to people passing on their motorcycles may be short on substance and specific intentions, but it is void of pressure, pleasantly human, and reaps kinds of rewards that had never occurred to me.
In 2014, I’ve not been in one place for longer than three straight weeks. I have accumulated 16 stamps in my passport. I have slept in 50 different beds/couches/air mattresses/buses/planes. I have visited for the first time 14 different cities of over a million people. I have taken over 6000 photos. But I’ve not seen any of my family members besides my parents and sister, time with my oldest and closest friends has been limited to fleeting–though not unmeaningful–encounters like coffee dates, and I’ve not gone hiking in the Cascades. I’ve got lots of ground to cover—and recover—in the coming weeks, but it’s good to be home. 2015 will be less about the new and the itinerant and more about these kind of grounded moments. The caveat being that novelty and well-guided itinerancy still lie in my near future.