Tuesday, September 02, 2008

One Year Ago Today...

One year ago today, I was woken up at 5 a.m. by very drunk friends still in their party attire from the night before. They were carrying a bottle of whiskey and sporting carefree & content smiles. They stumbled into the hotel room to say their farewells, as I was an hour from departing Duke to fly from Durham to Miami to Quito, Ecuador. My hands were shaking and my stomach was in sailor's knots so tight I thought I was going to pass out every time I moved my body. They entertained me while I repacked my suitcase for the 20th time and Whit graciously accepted items I had only brought for the wedding. None of them had gone to sleep yet and most probably would have thought they were slightly obnoxious in their jubilant celebratory state, but I wholeheartedly welcomed them because if it had been any other way, I never would have left the hotel room that morning exactly one year ago today. I had no idea when I was going to see them next or what was going to happen in the next year, but I reluctantly embraced my decision and said farewell to people I would miss something fierce. I rolled my suitcase down the hall & into the elevator then into the opulent lobby. I took a good solid look around and silently walked out into the dark pre-dawn morning. A brief moment of relief overcame me when I settled into the taxi to make my way to the airport. This was it. This one event was something for which I had been patiently waiting for nearly a year. I desperately needed the change but a slight pang of worry rested uneasily on my heart, as I began to doubt what I was about to do. I kept telling myself how much I needed this trip but my efforts came across more like I was trying to convince a child broccoli tastes better than ice cream.

The flight to Miami was unremarkable except for the ever increasingly crippling anxiety, which was starting to make breathing more difficult. What was I doing? Was this escape going to make me feel any better? Why did I need this so terribly? I knew I was one of the few in the group of 40 who would be in the airport when I landed. I sheepishly looked around our designated meeting spot for some others while desperately trying not to vomit. I sat down to take it all in when I noticed a young man with curly hair who could have passed as my brother sitting with two females. One was on her computer and chatting. Her silver laptop had a sticker on it that read, "Eat more broccoli". How appropriate. I noticed the navy blue WT bag on the floor next to their luggage so I made my way over to say hello and to see if they were also part of the early bird crew. The second I introduced myself, one of the females stood up and said her name was Caitlin. She gave me the hugest bear hug, which shocked the hell out of me, then she sat me down like a concerned aunt and said, "Are you overwhelmed?" In that one instant, I was no longer alone. I took a huge deep breath and let out all the anxiety, doubt, and fear because for the first time, I was with people who were in the same game as I was. One year later, I can still see her face and hear the question that changed my entire being. I knew immediately I made the right decision and as the rest of the crew slowly poured into our conference room, I began to form friendships that would sustain me for the year to come and hopefully, for many more.

I sat next to Brookie on the plane ride to Quito. We became friends instantly, which was another relief. When we landed in Quito, the altitude hit me like a ton of bricks the second I walked down the hallway towards customs. My first of many challenges. Our directors greeted us and led us to the waiting bus. I sat with Jefe and chatted the entire way to our hotel where I bunked with Liz for the night...and that was that. The rest is history.

The speed of sound carried the time right by me. I have no idea who the nervous girl trying to escape heart break, boredom, and disappointment in search of a new life was. I know she was trying to help herself by helping others and did not make a mistake because she really did need that year. And if you asked her Sunday, Sept 2, 2007 where she'd be exactly one year later or what she'd be doing or feeling, or how her year in Quito, Ecuador was, she never would have told you the things this girl can nor could she have imagined...

Today a new group of volunteers is venturing into the unknown world of WT Ecuador. They are sitting in orientation at Hotel Embassy wondering what the hell is going to happen to them. One girl in particular will be greeted by Byron, Cristina, Wendi, and Francis who will happily accept her into their home and show her to the lovely green bedroom in the back. I was their first year long volunteer so I hope the new girl isn't tainted by anything I left behind... Tonight, she will crawl into the bed I slept in for nearly a year. She'll unpack all her belongings and put them in the drawers, the closet, and on the bookshelf. The sparkling lights of Quito will greet her in the evening and the glaring Andean sun will say good morning, as Cotopaxi winks from the south. Cristina will show her how to use the shower and how to wash her clothes. The girls will call her 'chica' until she's won them over with markers and drawings. As she sits on the end of her bed quietly thinking about her new world, I want to sit down next to her and give her a hug; let her in on the secrets of her new city and family. The places to eat, drink, dance, find solace, hide out, the telephone numbers of my friends already acquainted with the habits of Quito, and most of all, I want to tell her not to blink because sadly, it will all be over before she knows it. She might not find exactly what she came looking for, but she would have one of the most incredible years...

Some days I feel like it never happened, like I never stepped foot on the streets of Quito, as if it was all a dream I can only imagine, but fortunately, not today.

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