As many of you know, I’ve been living in Cuenca, Ecuador with my husband for nearly two months. We rented an apartment, arranged Spanish lessons and learned our new city. Yet, as an international educator, I write about re-entry regularly and create tools around cultural adjustment and reflection. Every minute in Cuenca has informed my work.
As I’ve been thinking about re-entry before I even left the US (“home”), I have decided to share about my personal thoughts about my own re-entry.
I’ve been sick with some sort of bacteria or parasite for nearly two weeks. We took a fabulous trip to Ayampe on the coast and ate more “mariscos” (seafood) than we thought humanly possible. We watched the ocean waves massage our spirits, adding to the “tranquilo” (tranquil/peaceful) way of life here in Ecuador. The sunsets took our breath away. A day trip to Isla de la Plata to see the patas azules (blue-footed boobies) and
to snorkel was certainly a highlight. I’m not sure if it was something related to the shellfish, fruits or simply using the tap water back in Cuenca as of late to brush my teeth (Cuenca has relatively clean water, but I later learned the pipes are being replaced throughout the city).
Regardless, I’ve felt like crap and have spent more time in the baño these past two weeks than I did for my entire stay here in Cuenca. Sorry to be graphic, but as travelers know, part of the risk we take when we live a global existence and jump on planes is that “shit happens.” And it did.
When you don’t feel well – and in this case REALLY unwell – you simply want to be home. Home takes on a new meaning; in this case it has become glorified by the fact that back in the my “home” in the US, I can drink from the tap without much risk, throw toilet paper in the actual toilet instead of the bin or that I can call a doctor in English and know what to expect.
Feeling a bit better today, after my third attempt at medication to resolve whatever is going on, I am craving food that feels familiar. Despite my intense love of empenada verde and jugo (juice), I found myself with an intense desire to eat brown rice pasta with Italian infused olive oil, loaded with vegetables and parmesan cheese. The homeopathic doctor that I saw today in Cuenca really performed miracles and has me on a liquid and vegetable diet until I see him again on Monday. Yet, today’s re-entry emotions make me want vegetables – at least today – from HOME. The ones I don’t have to worry about washing with purified water.
Home is such a tricky word when I’m processing re-entry. Right now I’m planning for the return, but while I’ve been here in Cuenca, it has been home. Many people have asked my husband and I if we “live here” in Cuenca because there are so many retired (and working) expats here. “Gringos” as they are called, yet not in a derogatory manner, but simply as a way to define them as North Americans from the US or Canada. We never quite knew how to answer this question. We considered this city our “home” because it is where we live at the moment. Our goods are in storage. We have no property in the US at the moment, just a lease waiting for us upon our return.
Yet, when I’m sick as a dog, home is the US. It is my bed. It is my bathroom. It is my kitchen. It is where I can pick up the phone and speak English. It is where I can call my doctor and know that she will be there.
And the past few days, because I’ve felt so dang unwell, I’ve wanted to be home. Very unlike me at this juncture in the journey as I have hated the thought of leaving here, but when “enferma” (sick) … home is home is home.
Note: If you’re interested in processing re-entry, here is our tool – Beyond Abroad: Innovative Re-entry Exercises.
About the Author: Missy Gluckmann is the founder of Melibee Global. She and her husband Tony are living in Ecuador for 2 months so that they can both learn Spanish. They also intend to try every variation of gluten free empanadas de verde that they can get their hands on! You can learn more about why she built Melibee Global and her background here.