Going Home

Bogotá is a cool city in every sense of the word. Past the cool museums and restaurants walk the cool Bogotanos, accesorized with scarves and jackets against the cool wind. And to remind me that I am in a cosmopolitan city, the service employees treat me coolly. Add in the fact that you occasionally encounter llamas on the sidewalks and it's clear that Bogotá is my kind of city. And yet, I'm ready to go home.

I want to go back to the USA, but I am not homesick, or at least I don't think so. Rather, I am more excited to begin my adult life than I am to keep traveling. I fantasize about Chicago a lot. When I wash the dishes in a mountain reserve, I envision my dumpy first apartment where I will organize my plates and bowls so well. When I learn how to negotiate another city's public transit system, I imagine myself as one of the locals who has it down, who is no longer awed by the view out the window and is nonchalantly reading a dense novel. When I meet an interesting stranger at a hostel, I wonder what it would be like if we were in the same city, if I could invest the time make her a true friend.

It's not that I dislike life on the road. My ticket from Lima to Pittsburgh isn't until the end of July. I'm still looking forward to the rest of the month, which if all goes right will include a trek through the Cordillera Blanca. I'm getting everything I wanted from travel: novelty, freedom to roam, solitude. I suppose I've had my fill and I want their opposites now: familiarity, freedom to nest, company of close friends and family.

The one thing I truly dislike is how transient relationships on the road are. Not just to individuals, but to communities. I'm ready to settle down long enough to build a career that can impact others in my field and to know my neighbors well enough to help them.

This week I gave English lessons to a darling 7-year-old girl named Sofia. Sofia likes to dance, but she was too abashed to dance in front of me and her other gringo instructor. On my last day in her neighborhood, I stopped into the little roadside shop her mother runs to wait for the bus back to Bogotá. She was pirouetting around the tienda to a cumbia song on the radio. At first she squealed and ran behind the counter whenever I looked, but soon she inisted I pay attention to her best moves.

Eventually, she sits next to me. Her child's Spanish a decent match for my beginner's Spanish, she asks, "Where will you go after Peru?"

"I will return to my home in the United States."

"Is it cold in the United States?"

"It depends. In the South it is hot, but in the North it is cold."

"Which one do you live in?"

"I will live in the North, in a city called Chicago."

"Is there snow in Chicago?"

"Oh yes, Chicago has much snow."

"Will you come back here ever?"

I don't know how not to lie, so I say, "Some day."

She hugs me. I ask, "What's the thing you say when you say goodbye to a person?"

"I don't know in English," she says, thinking I'm quizzing her like in class.

"Oh no no. I actually don't know how to say it in Spanish."

"Oh, Voy a estrañarte."

"Thanks, Sofia. Voy a estrañarte."

Ever the star student, she asks, "So how do you say it in English?" I tell her. Her arms still around my waist, she looks up at me and says, "I will miss you."