In high school, my brother (along with other students) were asked the question, “What makes Hawaii so special?” Everyone replied with the typical responses like the weather, the island’s beauty, whatever, but Larry replied, “If you took away the soft sand, the beautiful beaches, the warm sun, etc (enter eloquent words here), Hawaii would still be Hawaii because of its people. It’s the people that make Hawaii so special.”
I was proud of my younger brother’s brilliance and I’m happy to say that I’m now getting it. I’m starting to understand how much it is the people that make the place. Huntsville Alabama is a nice city, but my unpleasant experience with an apartment complex and my lack of friends doesn’t make me want to live there again. I feel the same way about Oceanside California, too.
My first month in Ecuador left me wanting to whisper the sage words of Gob Bluth (of Arrested Development), “I’ve made a huge mistake.” I’m sure it was a little culture shock, and by culture shock I mean going through learning about a new culture and language again! There were a lot of changes I went through, like after having a job after years of working at home, teaching again, the manic depressive weather, adjusting to a shared living arrangement, and eating food that didn’t agree with my digestive system or palate.
But I knew I also felt lonely. Not all the time, it wasn’t like chronic and ironically enough I had met a lot of great people, fellow teachers, who helped me make the transition from Thailand to here. Still, I emailed my best friends, “I don’t feel like I’ve met my people yet.” Because let’s face it, there is a wide variety of the type of friends you have and even though I was surrounded by good people, I wanted that philosophical and spiritual connection.
Traveling has strengthened my intuition, although, I could attribute it to age. A lot of countries have an age limit for English teachers so you don’t meet many folks over 40, but here there are no limitations and the staff is richer for it. I find myself immediately gravitating towards the older folks because I feel like they have a lot to offer. And I’d rather sit with a nice cup of coffee and get to know someone better than get down in a smoky club three sheets to the wind.
So when I heard that a fellow American who is traveling through on scholarship was 29 years old, I knew I wanted to get to know her better. In a world where the majority of expats are fresh out of college, Jamie is a treasured find. She’s also a fellow hermit like me which made me want hang out with her even more. And when we did hang out together I started to feel more grounded and carefree.
I also gravitated towards another Asian teacher (she’s the hapa one I previously mentioned) who is older like me. The funny thing about these two ladies is we didn’t hit it off immediately. But I just knew that I wanted to get to know them better and that would only come when it was just us. Another person changes the dynamic. But two – just you and me – well, now we can have conversation, now we can truly talk.
Of course, I have to add that younger people can want the same experience that I do. My friend Julia is such a gal. I miss our warm soy milk chats at Chiang Mai Gate Market. We both share a common history of losing a parent when we were children. And we both enjoyed taking pleasure in the ordinary in a foreign land. I also like to tell her that I like her because she’s mentally stable.
When I first moved here I went against my intuition and moved into a hostel long term. Where I really wanted to live was in a beautiful house that I saw just a few days after arriving. When the sweet old man opened the door to the available room and I saw the Snoopy poster over the bed (I love Snoopy), I saw it as my sign. Move in here. But I went against my where my heart was at, to listen to my head which told me that house was too far out of town.
It turns out that the hostel was a good place for me to start: to get my bearings, live near friends and make new friends, but when previously agreed upon privileges were taken away I saw it as my new sign to find a better place. We compromise in areas of our lives that we shouldn’t and this was one of those situations. Things were getting mighty uncomfortable.
So I sent out an email asking for help and a teacher living at the Snoopy house (who I hadn’t formally met) replied and now I’m much happier for it. Naturally, things are not perfect because I am a renter, but this move has allowed me to get to know more people that I would not have otherwise. I am also enjoying internet at home which everyone swore would be impossible to get in Cuenca.
I knew that as the hostel door was closing another possibility was opening. Through this experience I got to get to know both Jamie and my hapa friend better. They helped by translating and encouraging me to find something better. And the great thing about seeking something better is you never know what exactly that will be.
For me, it was getting to know my new roommates, teachers who work at another location, who I might not have gotten to know otherwise. Not only have they told me where to eat and go, they have been extremely helpful in domestic and academic matters. Granted we did it over happy hour, but we did it – we got philosophical by sharing the ah-ha moments that gave clarity to our lives.
So even if we never sit down and have another soulful chat I’m okay with what I have been given. For me this is what matters, this is what nourishes and feeds me, your stories, your struggles, and triumphs and the moments in which we are sharing, this is when the song enters my heart.
P.S. When I was waiting for Jamie to show up for breakfast, I sat in the park watching people go by. My former landlady walked up with a big smile on her face and I returned it sincerely. Any weird and uncomfortable feelings we had about me moving was gone; it was nice to catch up and get back to our original ways. Thanks for being late, Jamie.