Solo un Sol: Final Reflections
Studying abroad doesn’t last forever. We come home to our families and our languages and our customs and our ideas of personal space and our respective traditional sandwich spreads and our beliefs and our concerns and our pre-occupations and our lives. But, I don’t think that these things feel the same as they did before. People flow into and out of our lives, and it is sometimes easier to let them go than to look for them again and again.
After more than two months back in the States, sometimes my trip to Uruguay feels like a dream. I think a lot of life can feel like that; it is easy to forget experiences and to forget the people we meet or the emotions we felt.
Sometimes I see Uruguay in the sunrise. In powdered clouds of pink and purple I remember those daybreaks I watched alone in a city of a million people, when I felt like a drop in the ocean.
I feel Uruguay when a bus passes, and the street rumbles under my feet, and tall Spanish buildings sprout in the grass to my left and right, and my memory populates the sidewalk with pigeons and vendors popping scalding manis caliente.
I miss the closeness. Montevideo lives close. I interviewed my Uruguayan Culture professor, a man who has been to 51 countries and has explored the globe in such an unplanned and free manner that only a handful of individuals can say they did– a man I feel lucky to have learned from and blessed to know.
He told me the most dear and despairing characteristic of Montevideo was the city’s intimacy. It is hard to be anonymous; one can feel a bit watched, and word travels to affect reputation. At the same time, it is both one and many communities. Friends from childhood for life, familiar faces in doorways, friendly voices in corner shops. They lean in when they talk, move their hands, split their smiles wide, and in their animations seem genuinely to love being with each other.
Men, women, family, and friends greet kissing cheeks, and I wonder if that contact and mutual vulnerability doesn’t change how they can approach each other, how they allow themselves to feel and act. They dance cheek to cheek, they walk in crowded streets brushing shoulders, they mix at the feria talking over one another, and they live together side by side. When I left an elevator strangers would say goodbye. When I entered a kiosko I was greeted hello. I don’t want to live in a city, but I loved staying in that city.
Uruguay is moving into the future, with entrepreneurs and start -up companies and hubs of commerce and centers of manufacturing. The United States is unique, I have never been anywhere as big, bold, loud, free, mixed, or advanced. But it is easy to fall into the false belief that entrenched customs and traditional methods and ideas of properness and attitudes are “true.” Uruguay does things differently than the U.S. I hope Uruguay stays Uruguayan.
I don’t know where the world is going; I don’t know what will happen. I hope I get to see more of it. I hope I can feel the difference between them and us and continue to recognize the myriad ways of doing business and doing things and doing life. And I really hope that the world can see that we are all of us together, and on this drop in the universe we are so very close.