by Janna Elwell, Greenheart Travel Volunteer in Chile
It was hands down the worst day of my entire trip. I had known that the final goodbyes were inevitable, but I did not fully understand the searing pain it would cause me to have to walk away from the life in Malloco that I had grown to love. When I woke up that morning, I numbly packed (er, stuffed is more appropriate) my suitcases and lined them up by my door. After making sure everything was in order, I immediately went to the houses of my morning students and instead of heading toward the library went out to the play area. What started out as me and my stubborn little Satka, my strong-willed Yazmin, and my cross-eyed sweetheart Steven soon turned into an entire mob of kids running around, laughing, playing, simply enjoying the beautiful day outside. My heart swelled as I watched the pure joy shine across the kids faces as they all attacked me in a tickle fight, the utter carelessness that rooted from the true sense of childhood. I lost track of the amount of times that I had to sit down as I realized that this would be the last time I could watch them like this, overcome with the strong sense of protection and attachment that I had grown to feel for them.
We continued to laugh and play throughout the entire morning, extending even further into the afternoon. I refused to leave their sides for a single second. My heart sank into my stomach when I looked at the clock and saw that it was 4:00…I would be leaving for the airport in exactly one hour. It was almost as if it were on cue: the tears that had not come the days prior all came at once now. I began at one end of the hogar, stopping in each house to say goodbye to the tia and her kids. I cried as they each hugged me and wished me the best, regained composure as I walked to the next house, and lost all control again immediately upon walking in the doorway. This painful procession continued until I had made my way through all 10 houses, but I had saved the hardest goodbyes for last: my sweet, incredible, beautiful students.
I sat down one-on-one with each of the kids I had personally worked with over the course of the two months that I was there: Yessenia, Satka, Yazmin, and Steven. I cried as I tried to explain to them why I was leaving and where I was going, and their confused gazes only made me sob harder. The innocence of their minds prevented them from understanding what was going on, and especially why on earth I was in hysterics as I was. My precious Steven even pointed to the volunteer house when I explained to him that I had to go back to my home, where I lived: “But Tia…your home is right there!”. I realized that all I could do was nearly squeeze the life out of them as I hugged them one last time, making each of them promise me they would never forget about me or how much I loved them.
Maja and Silvia helped me drag my suitcases across the mile-long stretch to the bus stop, each of us trying to say everything we felt was left to be said. Once we finally made it to the bus stop and my bus pulled up, it was just as if it were a scene out of a movie: I stuffed my suitcases onto the already overcrowded bus, paid the driver, and stepped off to say my last goodbyes. The three of us then stood there embracing in tears, wishing each other the best and making promises to stay in contact while the bus driver impatiently honked at me to board the bus. I found it to be impossible to fully explain to them the significance they held for me; without Maja and Silvia, my experience would have been nothing.They became my family, my best friends, my sources of love and support. They taught me nearly all of my Spanish, they encouraged me to travel to Peru, they took care of me when I was sick, and they were there every single day for me to talk and laugh with. I did my best to express this to them during those last rushed moments, until after waiting until the last possible moment I finally had to pull myself away and get on the bus.
During the entire bus ride to Santiago, the car ride to the airport, the extra day and a half that I stayed in the Santiago airport due to a cancelled flight, and the following 10 hour plane ride I kept thinking of how I could possibly explain to everyone at home what I had experienced. Honestly, I can share every single detail of everything that happened, I can share photos of the incredible people that I met and the beautiful places that I saw, but nobody will ever even come close to understanding what my time there really was like for me. I can only encourage every single one of you to go out and do something similar, find some way to expand your view of life and do it. There truly is a whole other world out there just waiting to be discovered. I never could have imagined two months could pass so quickly and yet be filled with so much. Not a day has gone by since I’ve been home that I haven’t thought of los ninos y las tias de Koinomadelfia, the genuine people of Chile, or the beauty in South America as a whole. I brought back a heartful of memories and faces I will never forget, unbreakable friendships, and experiences that neither words or photos could ever describe. In exchange, I left a piece of my heart in the beautiful country that I grew to call home. This truly was a chapter in my life that I will carry with me until the end of time, one that I will forever be grateful for.