Saturday, September 21, 2013

Farewell to La Libertad (and epilogue)

Here are the notes from my final morning in La Libertad, my 24hrs of travel from the village to my apartment back in New York, and everything in between. This won't be my final entry in our blog, but my final one initially composed while actually in Colombia.

3 July 2013 620am

It is 620am and I am on a boat leaving the village I called home for the past 8 days. There are 10 of us: a mother with a sick baby, Ben, three sons/workers to help with supplies, Gustavo, his daughter, and David. The boat is low in the water like the fog is low in the forest. The breeze blows through my dirty hair and sticky clothes and I feel refreshed though I am not at 100%. Yesterday I got some form of heatstroke and had to sleep most of the afternoon. I still feel like someone or something is squeezing my ribs tightly so I can't breathe deeply but I'm a little better. No stars in my head right now. Last night we had a small dinner and I sang a few songs. I cried too. The hospitality I've been shown, help I've been given, humility I've learned. The love I saw and felt, from parents to children, siblings, cousins, and everyone to me. There is a part of me that wonders if the feeling of not being able to breathe is my heart breaking after all I saw and learned this week. I'm never good at leaving – whether I'm the one going or being left behind. I've done it plenty but it never gets easier. I'm hoping I won't have to check my backpack from Leticia to Botoga because I won't make my flight.

24hrs from now I will be on a train from JFK to my apartment – if I make my flight – and there I will shower and sleep and wash clothes in a washing machine and snuggle with my cat. I will rest for two days before going back to work where I will speak English and work with the general public.


I will not be woken early by obnoxious roosters. I won't hear the peal of children's laughter at 6am and, surprisingly, not be the least bit annoyed. I won't play duck duck goose with eager village children. I won't be cooking on an open fire and failing miserably nor washing clothes in water from the Amazon river. I will be eating fresh vegetables for the first time in a week, but I will not be eating them in a group. I will sleep in a real bed with a fan to cool me and unlimited clean drinking water but I will be sleeping alone in my apartment. I will have a shower and clean hair but no wild baby monkey to sing along with me.

I won't see millions of stars every night or the mist rise over the jungle in the morning nor will I sing to the children in the afternoon. No cuddling my baby dog Cani, swinging lazily in a hammock, or buying beautiful handcrafts from the women.

It is time to go home to what Ben calls our “vida aburrida” - our boring life, where I do such “important” things all day to make enough money just to get by. I really, really hope I pass my diplomat exam and can begin my “vida de aventuras” soon.

I also want to save money for visits. I did realize just how many things I don't need while I was here. Who is luckier? Me to live in the biggest city or the villagers to live in Paradise? We both struggle with money, food, and what others need or want from us. We are not so different after all...despite how here they live alongside the animals, we are all still human.

David is going to stay the day with me in Leticia because the men need to return at 11 and my plane is not til 630 so I don't want to be alone and sick with all of my things for that long. I am grateful he can stay with me, but sad I will eventually have to say goodbye to him too. I'm grateful to Ben for starting this project and being so knowledgeable, understanding, fun, and kind. He has lived a life of adventure – and continues to do so – and I wish for the same for myself.
For is time to get ready to go home.

I am alone in a hotel in Leticia with soaking wet hair, 3 backpacks, and a stomach illness. We're fairly certain it's heatstroke again so we decided to put me in a hotel to shower, drink, and rest while the men find the supplies they need to take back to the village. I already had to switch rooms because the first toilet wouldn't flush but I'm proud of myself I was able to handle the issue alone. I'm not thrilled with myself being sick. Rapid heartbeat, nausea, etc. :(

Also on the trip over our motor stopped so we had to wait for another boat to come get us and pull us to Leticia because we had no oars. What an adventure! It was curious – we had no oars, no radio, no way to call for help. Another family in a motorized canoe was driving by and Gustavo flagged them down. They tied our chain to their boat and hauled us all the way to the mechanic in Leticia, no questions asked, no payment expected. Once again, that sense of community that I find so lacking in the States was extended to us and got us to our destination safely.

But, I'm here, I'm safe, I'm resting, and I think I'll be able to leave and get home safe. By this time tomorrow I should be in my own house showered and resting. Happy for that but very sad this adventure is behind me already. Seriously, how on earth can I go back to daily life now? And how can I try not to forget what I saw, what I felt, what I learned, while I'm stuck in the rat race?

It is 10pm and I am alone in the airport in Bogota, soaked in sweat from a fever that broke once I boarded my first flight, where I left everything and everyone behind in Leticia. We went to a drogueria (Colombian pharmacy) and I got some random Colombian drug to stop my stomach issues before the flight but I'm not sure how much they're helping. Strange, I now feel like I have a real reason to save more money – so I can move to Colombia. Honestly, this too would bring me a life of adventure, whether or not I'm able to become a diplomat. The challenge for me will be finding a job with the language barrier but I'm getting better and better each day. In fact I'm thinking more in Spanish when I have to speak or read and I'm remembering more words.

The flight out of Leticia was long delayed and I felt incredibly sick. A fever held me in its grasp and I couldn't do anything but wait. David was already gone back to the hotel. No internet service and no phone service, and no way to get water in the waiting area. So I waited in pain and discomfort, but once aboard I was okay.

Once we landed – on time, thankfully – I left the plane, exited the airport, and found the international terminal. It was much closer than I expected and though it wasn't as empty as Ben predicted, it didn't take long to get through immigration and security. Since I had been able to carry my maleta on from Leticia I figure I'll do the same now. I'm fine with gate checking – I just want to make it through.
My plane is delayed and I'm exhausted as this is by far the latest I've been awake since I arrived in Bogota for the first time ten days ago.

For now, it is nearly time to put my tired, sad, dirty, sweaty, unshaven, achy body on a plane and take a nice long nap until I wake up in my city.
My life is full of adventure.

One final memory from the village I haven't written about yet, last night we piled into a house porch and watched a poorly dubbed movie with a host of other families. The TV is small and runs on a generator and I don't think they have many movies to choose from. Children ranging from breastfeeding infants to grandparents were all there, the kids laying on the floor with limbs all over, dirty feet in each others' hair. Couples lounged lazily touching in the heat and the teens watched from a platform behind. I was able to understand most of the movie and the main character's name is Sarah so the kids had a field day with that. Again, the mix of ancient humanity and today's technology was so strange.

After that entry my final flight began boarding and I left Colombia to return to New York. I ended up going to the doctor the next morning (after sleeping 28 hours straight) and not being allowed to go back to work for another few days. They're still not entirely sure what I had, but it was some type of cyclical fever, coming and going, and I still occasionally have woozy spells now when I overdo it. So, it wasn't heatstroke, but for anyone considering a trip to the village, make sure you drink your water anyway! I can't imagine dehydration compounding whatever it was I was fighting that week – but I'm certainly glad it waited to hit me until I was already leaving the village, so I got to enjoy my entire stay.

Since I've been home my priorities have shifted some, and I've started putting plans in place to change my life. I'm taking my diplomat exam in 3 weeks, though the odds are stacked against me, and trying to plan one day at a time since I don't know what life will bring to me.

Amazon Pueblo will be having another fundraising event this winter and I'm hoping to arrange to be able to attend. I've been able to give out most of the village-made jewelry gifts to those who donated toward my trip. My photo album (of over 500 photos) has traveled to friends and family with me, to tell stories and share images of what they helped me experience. The photo album will be going to Ben to bring to La Libertad since he will be returning before I do, and it will stay there.

Ben remained in La Libertad for about another month after I had to return and he's got stories of how much things progressed once they had the right materials. He'll write about the development of the project and how our goals have evolved. I'm looking forward to continued involvement in this nascent organization and helping to bring this wonderful community to a place of sustainability and dignity.


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