When you choose to live in another country for an extended period of time, leaving one place for another is something you eventually have to face. One place may offer that sense of adventure, while the other represents familiarity or security - going back to our ‘real lives’ is often a misrepresentation of what the experience gives us. I’ve been living in Peru for almost a year, and when to head back to NZ is something I’ve been torn about. Even though I have a return ticket, I always had the choice to forfeit it if I did want to stay.
The reality is that you will always miss out on something or on someone, because knowing that wherever you choose to call home, you just can’t be in two places at once. People have been asking me how I felt about going back to New Zealand, and for the most part it’s felt like a good decision for me. Not because I’m looking to go back to what’s familiar, but knowing in my gut that my happiness lies in knowing that I always have a choice. I can’t say if I’ll stay in New Zealand in the long-term, but for now, that’s where I feel I need to be.
On one hand, a year isn’t long enough. I mean, it seems like my life here is just starting - I’ve begun to form solid friendships and Huaraz really does feel like home. Last weekend, I spent two days in the mountains to climb Vallunaraju with friends. It had taken us almost three months to plan the trip (due to our busy work schedules) and as I stood on the summit, I had never felt more free in my life. That was the first time I didn’t have to be anything to anyone. I took a deep breath and said goodbye to the old me.
I think what we fear most about going back to our native countries isn’t about earning less or a higher cost of living, it’s knowing that we have changed. We fear that we’ll be pyramids trying to fit into a square, bringing home foreign cultures that have eroded our need for acceptance.
It’s the last week of August, and also my final week teaching English in Huaraz. The week has been full of goodbyes, a lot of hugs and smiling faces. Although there was one student who burst out into an uncontrollable loud sob when she heard that I wouldn’t be her teacher next month. I had to ask some of the other students to help me understand why she started crying. It was sweet and innocent, so each time she would burst into tears, I would hug her until she calmed down.
I have lived my life as an eternal optimist, and I despite these last three years, I think I still am. Maybe a lot more guarded when it comes to letting people in and to see me in my most vulnerable moments. There are parts I have kept hidden away, that can make me seem cold and detached at times, but for those who know me best, they know I need time to recharge my introverted batteries.
So, I have less than three weeks left in Peru. It seems surreal that I’ve lived almost a year of my life here - I will take with me so much more than memories of mountains, countless hours in buses and gigabytes worth of photographs. A piece of my heart will forever be in Peru. I don’t think I’ve met anyone who’s come here and left unchanged, it’s just that kind of place. The reality of leaving has hit me now, which gives me just enough time to be with those I will miss the most when I’m finally gone.
Ronna Grace Funtelar a thirtyish storyteller, creative, writer and poet currently working and traveling in Peru. A woman with a curious mind who lives for hiking mountains, outdoor adventures and eating pizza. She has a unique brand of optimism that is a combination of her great enthusiasm for life and cups of coffee during the day.