How the time passes, how we always seem to find ourselves waking up in November and asking ourselves "how did this happen?!", I will never understand.
At this point in my journey, Ive been out of the country a total of 6 months, within it for 12 days total between three trips. For most of the travel time, I've managed to maintain a healthy level of excitement and ambition and sense of adventure. I've seen, done, learned, and grown more than I could have ever imagined. But this week, after returning from a class trip to the Galapagos Islands (post to come on that.), I hit a wall. This week I've struggled with the most intense, overwhelming homesickness and desire to be once again within the borders of the U.S.A. A homesickness so strong, it's almost debilitating, sucking me dry of motivation and inspiration.
I started this blog to document the progression of the story of my life (hence the name, The Next Chapter), after reading a book that convicted me to live my life to be told one day as a great story, to the credit of the Author who has filled the lines, pages, and chapters that are the moments, days and months of my life. (A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, by Donald Miller). As with so many things that start with good intentions, I think I got a little bit lost a long the way. It started as an earnest pursuit for a greater story, for a life lived to its full potential (John 10:10). I got lost in the visible, lost in what images my camera could capture, and lost in the high of mountain top experiences and weekend expeditions into the wilderness, addicted to a drug that could give me only a temporary fix. I realize now that all these trips are a gift, not a destination, and I fulfillment comes with acknowledging and thanking the Giver, not just accepting his gifts without regard.
Often after I share a photo or a post about a recent adventure, I receive comments like "I wish I had your life" "Your're so cool!" or "I'm jealous of your life." Now, though it's lovely to receive such comments, it also didn't feel quite right. Here is what I realized:
1. "Coolness" is such a lie. I'm SO aware of how awkward I am, how uncomfortable I am in group settings, and how totally, completely uncool I am. The fact that others would think I am cool for the couple pictures I post or couple blubbering words I write makes me rethink what "cool" is. It's so subjective, and completely based on the image that you want others to see, the image that one projects onto social media outlets. My Instagram account isn't an accurate representation of my day-to-day life, it's the highlight reel that I want other people to see. If I were to make it more authentic, more honest, I would post pictures of the bus I take to school every day, packed with people until the doors barely close (#claustrophobic #cantbreathe.), and show you a picture of my alpaca socked feet in bed at 10pm everynight (#grandmastatus)
2. In some way, shape or form, I'm jealous of your life. Pumpkin spiced lattes, football games, fall colors, sweater weather. Thai food. Winston-Salem. Family. Friends. The freedom to leave your house and not constantly feel like your personal safety is at risk.
3. You can't compare your inside life with someones outside life. I heard this is a talk I listened to online, and it struck me as profoundly true. Don't compare your internal fears, loneliness, and insecurities with someone else's external successes, adventures, and social life. You have no idea what their insides look like, and know all too well what yours feel like.
For the purpose of honesty and transparency, I wanted to tell you how uncool I am. To tell you how, though my life is incredibly blessed and I am beyond lucky to have gotten to do the things I've done this year, I have struggled and wrestled and gotten beaten down by so many things more than ever. I'm lonely. I'm tired. I'm homesick. I want to go home.
One of my biggest struggles here is feeling unsafe. I've learned to call as little attention to myself as possible so as to go as unnoticed as possible, wearing layers of loose clothing, tucking my long hair into a beanie hat every day I go out, but still everywhere I go I get disgusting stares, crude comments, fake Chinese words, and men who lean in way too close as they pass me. I hate it. I feel disgusting, permanently in danger, and always on edge. It makes me so angry that these men have the power to make me feel so helpless and trashy, but when it happens 5 times a day and has changed the way I dress and carry myself completely, and has prompted me to lash out physically against several of these men (oops, sorry I'm not sorry you got in my personal space. That bruise will heal, sir.) it's impossible to ignore.
Until recently, I think people thought I was exaggerating. I was even told by an Ecuadorean woman it was "my fault" for being "pretty", and that if I was ugly nothing would happen to me. But on two separate occasions this week I was walking around with friends, one a girl, the other a guy. I had told them about my troubling experiences with men in the street, but it wasnt until they walked around with me in the city and saw it for themselves, they finally realized what I had been saying all along. I could see from the expressions on their faces that they finally understood.
Yesterday walking home I saw two men attack and rob a German couple on a principal street here in Quito, about 20 feet behind where I was walking. The perps walked right past me, and about 10 seconds later I heard them hit them, a loud SMACK. I turned around and saw that the men had the couple pushed up against a fence, demanding their things. I am so thankful that they didn't see me, a solo girl, and that I got away quickly and made it home, spooked and sweaty and shaken, but safe.
I trust that there is a purpose and a plan for all this, but sometimes it is so hard to see it.
One day I'll look back on this experience and understand why I had to go through it everyday for 5 months. Right now I don't, but right now is temporary. These last few days have been rough, I wish this post ended with more resolve, a profound metaphor or life lesson or something like that, but right now, I'm still a work in progress. I just wanted to be honest, for all ten and a half of my readers to know that though my outsides look like I'm having a blast and living a travellers dream (which, I am, I swear. Outside the city, Ecuador is AMAZING.), my insides still have real struggles, that life, though rich and beautiful, still has its rocky, terrifying, and lonely parts.
And don't worry, next time I post, I promise to have more pretty pictures (: