My time in Ecuador is slowly but surely approaching its end. Never did I imagine when I set foot in Quito on September 18th, 2015 that I would still be here almost four years later. But here I am. We have completed what we set out to do. Gonza graduated last month from university after a long and difficult journey. All of his paperwork is at the National Visa Processing Center and we are expecting his visa to the States to come through within the next few months. WorldTeach recently informed us that they are closing down our program in August. Everything is wrapping up. It is a bittersweet time: as we finally have more time as Gonza is no longer in school (no more weekend studying) and more money (he can work more), we are able to travel more and enjoy life more fully. Yet the future weighs heavily on my thoughts. Gonza and I are both struggling to remain focused on the present when we are on the brink of an enormous change. The circle is closing, as he says.
The million-dollar question is asked of us regularly as our departure nears: What are your plans? One year ago I had a solid answer. I’m going to move back home, apply for nonprofit jobs in the Bay Area, and spend the next few years there with Gonza (re)adjusting to life stateside before buying a house in Northern California and starting a family. It seemed the best plan: I missed my friends and family, I loved the Bay so much as a student, and I figured I could make it work. How hard could it be?
Then things began to change, both with external events and internal realizations. The first major disruption was when my sister decided to pursue job opportunities in the Pacific Northwest. This was a decision she made after experiencing a harrowing summer, narrowly escaping evacuation due to the ever-worsening California wildfires and wanting to avoid dire California climate predictions for the next century. Then my parents decided to sell their house and return to the home I spent my childhood in, and they might very well temporarily move to the Seattle area in the near future. When something you banked on as an almost absolute certainty changes, your perspective gets jolted. I had always assumed that my family would remain within a few hours’ drive of each other in Northern California. We would finally be reunited for Thanksgivings, Christmases, and Yosemite trips. Beyond that, my closest friends all love California and had indicated hopes for long-term roots there. But one of my friends is moving to Boston. Another might want to head to Southern California. Another might follow a partner elsewhere in the next couple of years. Suddenly the certainty that the Bay was where I could be close to everyone I care most about evaporated.
And when I started to research nonprofit jobs in the Bay Area, I saw salaries of 40,000. 50,000. Rarely anything over 60 for the type of work I was hoping to find, and as I learned more about cost of living, I started to wonder if I would even be able to survive there should I get a cool job offer. With a spouse and a dog sharing an apartment is an absolute no-go, and with salaries like that I couldn’t see a way to make it work. Not only are the salaries practically unlivable for international nonprofit work in the Bay, there simply just aren’t a ton of organizations. If I could magically create in myself a passion for tech, finance, or business, I would do it in a heartbeat. Perhaps it’s the result of being raised by idealistic teacher parents who encouraged me to follow my passions. Perhaps it’s because of the spark that was lit inside of me when I took that International Human Rights course in the Peace and Conflict Studies department at Cal. Regardless, suddenly the confidence that I would be able to find meaningful work and thrive in the Bay with my husband evaporated.
At one point a few months ago I broke down about the possibility of my entire immediate family moving to Washington. Gonza said, in his quiet wisdom, “We are a family now. We can’t make plans based on anything except what is best for you and me.” The painful transformations of adulthood–of realizing the impermanence of everything and the fact that reality often does not correspond to your dreams–truly sank in in that moment. We would have to forge our own path, whatever that may be. How lonely adulthood is. Thus we find ourselves about to move back to the States facing an enormous question mark. Where will we live? Beyond an initial stay with my parents while we get on our feet, we do not know. What types of jobs will we have? Beyond the desire on my part to work with international NGOs and on his part to work in a job that allows him time to pursue music, we don’t know.
Home is where the people you love are, they say. But sometimes the people you love disperse, and there is no longer that one place you can return to and find them. While coming to Ecuador was seemingly a big move, it was never intended to be permanent; going home was always an eventuality. In an unexpected twist of events, I feel that it is actually at this moment, rather than the moment I boarded that September plane to Quito, that I am on the precipice of truly forging my own path with Gonza at my side. I am applying for jobs across the country, and considering applying for graduate programs far and wide. I am spreading my wings once again to pursue my passions without knowing where they will take me. While I may be California-born, for the first time in my life I am questioning if I will ever settle down there.
Which is perhaps why the song Movimiento by Jorge Drexler is speaking to me these days.
Somos una especie en viaje
No tenemos pertenencias sino equipaje
Vamos con el polen en el viento
Estamos vivos porque estamos en movimiento
Nunca estamos quietos, somos trashumantes
Somos padres, hijos, nietos y bisnietos de inmigrantes
Es más mío le que sueño que lo que toco
Yo no soy de aquí pero tú tampoco…
We are a species in transit
We don’t have belongings–we have luggage
We go with the pollen in the wind
We are alive because we are in movement
We’re never still, we are nomadic
We are parents, children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren of immigrants
What I dream of is more mine than what I touch
I’m not from here, but neither are you…
For now, I will be working to make plans to follow our passions in the States without knowing exactly where we will end up. I am the grandchild, great-great-grandchild, and wife of immigrants and have always reveled in adventure after all. In the face of uncertainty, I’ll take comfort in knowing that movement and change have been part of what it means to be human from the beginning…and move with the pollen in the wind.