Kaleb Rogers is a Community Economic Development (CED) volunteer serving in a pueblo in Atlántico, Colombia.
I’ve been feeling good lately at my site, so good that it’s been awful. In pre-service training, they tell you that service is going to have ups and downs; they’re correct. They tell you that finishing your service and leaving will be difficult; that’s also right.
With three months left in the pueblo that I’ve called home for two years, I entered a new stage of my service—prestalgia—that is to say: nostalgia before leaving. It’s like a honeymoon period, but in reverse – a bittersweet flame that burns brightly but will inevitably go out.
It feels good.
It feels good to enjoy site, to exit on a high note. It feels good to see some of my projects really flourishing. It feels good to see people show me that they’re happy I’m in their lives one way or another. Hearing Doris or Daniela say ‘Kaleb no te vayas!’ or the portero tell me that ‘this is my school too’ makes me feel like I’m where I’m supposed to be. It feels good to sense the strength of relationships grown strong purely out of gross time aged together. It feels good to have my friends and family confide in me, trust me with their problems, and share with me their burdens. It feels good to look at someone who may have once seemed foreign to me (and surely me to them) as an old friend. It feels good to belong, to recognize my town as the bus approaches it, and to relish in the strange looks the Barranquilleros give me when they see the gringo stepping out into the campo, into my home. Unfortunately, that’s not the whole story.
It also feels bad.
It feels bad to think about leaving. It feels like the last day of summer camp, or how one feels after becoming overly invested in a great book that ends abruptly. No, it feels worse. It feels bad to think about how pueblo life will go on without me when I’m gone. It feels bad to think of the good times (accomplishments, fun classes, mamando gallo) happening without me.
Likewise, it feels bad to think of solidarity through bad times—cursing electricaribe when the power goes out, riding one’s bike home through an aguacero, and—of course—the insufferable heat. It feels bad to think of this experience as a little morsel that I got to try off a sample tray before ordering something else, an option not afforded to my community. It feels bad to think of all the things that feel good now, and how I’m about to uproot myself from them for an indeterminate amount of time. It feels bad to know that time blunts all pain, and that the longing I feel now won’t last as long as it should. It feels bad to likewise know any longing felt in my community will also dull with age.
Unfortunately, I’m not sure there’s a remedy for such feelings. The only way out is through. I can try to take solace in the fact that the bad is mostly rooted in an anticipated absence of the good, or a sign that I have spent my two years of service doing something that I’m afraid to lose. It’s the toughest job you’ll ever love. Turns out they were right about that one too. Regardless of the mental gymnastics and contortions in which I try to twist myself, it seems that I’m going to be stuck in this rut till the end. You can’t change what you feel, but you can change what you do. I can change what I do. I can savor each moment until the end, I can spend time with my community, and I can keep working for all the things I am so terrified of missing. I can spend as much time as possible with the people I have grown to love, and tell both them and myself that I’m going to come back. Most importantly, I can not forget.
Preserving memories can be hard, though. And, if you know me, you know that mine is quite selective. Therefore, I’ve made a little cheat sheet for myself (or as they say here a machete) to help me not forget my pueblo. I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t mostly for me, but feel free to read on.
I promise to never forget:
- Sitting on Zunny’s porch and talking about politics with her and Diustin.
- Samuel playing with our dog Tommy on the patio.
- Riding my bike past the avocado vendor (and often buying three at a time!).
- My entrepreneurship students selling their products in the plaza wearing their uniforms and name tags.
- Doris unapologetically answering my every question in class.
- The white street dog Can coming up to greet me every time I come home.
- The pink sky as the sun sets over the Río Magdalena.
- Lida cooking my beans if I leave them out to soak overnight.
- Giving hand hugs to Daniela, Franchesca, Ariam, and Elys.
- Emerleidis’ kickass attitude.
- Spoiling my GLOW girls with snacks, bracelets, and tee-shirts.
- June’s smile, frankness, and innocence.
- The bachillerato and the sounds of my students calling my name as I walk the halls.
- The Suan bus, and how it provides me with peace and solitude on hard days.
- Reading for hours in my family’s hammock.
- Aguaceros and children playing in the rain.
- Waiting for the bus perched on the Suan bridge and enjoying the breeze.
- The pain of choosing students for an entrepreneurship fair in Barranquilla because they’re all so damn good.
- Laying in my bed texting other PCVs on WhatsApp.
- The way my stomach drops at the sound of a fan turning off.
- The bicicoche driver calling me Russo instead of Gringo everytime he sees me.
- My friends at Ara that always joke about me working there to pay for my groceries.
- All the trees in Suan.
- Riding my bike through the cool night while people walk the streets.
- Talking with Karina when she comes over to visit.
- Painting with Marelbis.
- All of my other friends at site that have made these two years worth writing down.