142 days ago I was dropped off in a pueblo called Bayunca and welcomed by a community of strangers. In a short 142 days, that pueblo has become my home and those strangers, my family. Unfortunately, I am writing today to share that due to a circumstance that is out of my control, I will be leaving Bayunca. I understand the reasoning behind the decision and I appreciate all of the support I have received from the Peace Corps staff. While I understand the decision, I cannot help but feel heartbroken. I put everything I had into becoming a part of this community, establishing relationships, building an English program, trying new foods, and celebrating traditions. One day, an elderly Afro-Colombian woman approached me on the street, gathered me up in her arms, planted a big kiss on my forehead and said, “Tú eres Bayunquera! La gringa Bayunquera!” It was then I knew I had been successful. It was my community.
I went out to Bayunca the day before yesterday to gather my belongings and say a quick goodbye to my family. I can honestly say it was one of the most emotional experiences of my life. It took all that I had not to cry, but I knew that would only make it harder. Everyone was with me in my room throwing stuff into suitcases and in less than ten minutes everything I own was in the car and my room was empty. As I was walking out the door a flood of thoughts ran through my mind. I wish I had taken more pictures. I wish I had spent more time listening to my abuelo tell stories. I wish I had learned how to cook more traditional dishes. I wish I had made more of a difference in the school. I wish I could find the words to explain how much this meant to me. I thought I had more time. I gave each member of my family a hug, holding on to my abuelo just a little bit longer than the others. Looking into their teary faces, I smiled and reminded myself ‘how lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard’. Watching out the window as we drove away, I cried. I cried for the love I feel for my family, the gratitude I feel for my community and for the lost opportunity for the people who made such a difference in my life.
The past four and a half months have been the experience of a lifetime, and I owe every moment and memory to the wonderful people of Bayunca. I hope that they know the profound impact they have had on my life and that I will forever remember my time living and sharing in their community, however short the time might have been.
While I was awaiting a verdict on whether or not I would be able to return, I received this from my host aunt:
Llegaste a nuestras vidas en un momento muy dificil, tu presencia nos ayudo a mitigar un poco la tristeza por la que estabamos pasando. Supe que debiamos aprender muchas cosas de ti; la sencillez, el buen genio y ese espiritu de servicio a la comunidad, admirable en un ser humano. Hoy si no regresas todos perdemos. Mi familia; una hija, hermana y tia, porque ya haces parte de ella. Los niños, jovenes y adultos de la comunidad; una puerta que se les cierra. Estoy segura que regresaras. Te queremos muchisimo.
The love that this family and community have shown me is something I will carry with me for the rest of my life. A piece of my heart will always belong to Bayunca, the pueblo I called home.
As sad as it is to close this chapter of my life, I can’t help but feel so grateful to have had the opportunity, and I am so excited to see what the next chapter has in store. I am a little anxious about starting all over, but I know that this is the path I am supposed to be on and everything will work out great. Tomorrow morning I am heading off to my new site and I will post details about that very soon.
Until next time….paz y amor.
P.S. I just want to give a shout out to the people who have supported me through this change over the past few weeks. My friends back home, my sister, my Peace Corps family here, and most importantly my parents. It is your love and support that fuels my positivity, know that I couldn’t do it without all of you
“Remember who you are and why you’re here. You’re never given anything in this world that you can’t handle. Be strong, be flexible, love yourself and love others. Always remember—just keep moving forward.”