Laos, Part 3: Kuang Si Falls and Wat Xieng Thong

After our early start on our second day in Luang Prabang, we slept a little, ate some breakfast, and then looked into options for getting to the Kuang Si waterfall. We could go by tuk tuk (most expensive, but probably great if you’re traveling with a group), by van (cheapest, but on someone else’s timetable) or by motorbike (slightly more expensive than van, but with the freedom to come and go as we please).

We opted for the motorbike, and like with our Tasmania adventures, I gave Thomas the task of driving. This turned out to be an amazing choice. The journey there was beautiful, and we felt so much freer than if we’d been trapped at the back of a hot van with a bunch of strangers.

We paid the entrance fee to the waterfall and walked in and saw the most beautiful shade of water. I couldn’t think of how to describe the color, so I called it “cotton candy blue” but I think it really reminded me of the sort of pastel (probably Disney-themed) fruit snacks I used to buy all the time.

Do you ever see a picture of something, and you think “ok, I’m sure it’s great, but that photo has clearly been over edited because it can’t possibly look like that in real life.” Well, I’d seen a photo or two of the water/lesser falls, and I kind of assumed reality wouldn’t live up to the photos. But around every turn was a new surprise. First shock was that crazy blue water.

The falls were pretty crowded, but we hiked along the less traveled side, and I think we saw one other person. It was nice and cool, and we sat for a while and ate some mangos and sour cream and onion Pringles. A winning combination, I know.

Eventually, we got to what I realized were the actual falls. Photos can’t quite capture it, but I tried anyway.

Eventually, we decided to hike to the top of the falls. The path was very steep and dusty, so I had to be careful not to slip and tumble down.

We made it to the top, and as you can imagine, there wasn’t a lot to see. The best view of a waterfall is always in front of it.

We hiked down the other side, which was much less steep and much less slippery, and saw some waterfalls that honestly look like a digital rendering of a waterfall that Windows would use as a default computer background.

Then we found a place to swim. The color of the water makes it seem like it may be sort of warm or inviting. Don’t be fooled: It was freezing, at least until we fully submerged ourselves.

I wanted a photo in the water, so Thomas got out and took many. From different angles. For someone who says all the pictures look blurry when he takes them, he does a pretty stellar job, don’t you think?

Genuine hair touching moment
Absolutely atrocious posture
Squatting because the fish kept attacking me
Laughing because seriously, the fish could not stop trying to eat my legs

Finally, we left and rode our motorbike back to Luang Prabang. We meant to come back a little earlier and try to get some sunset pictures and some pictures of Wat Xieng Thong in the daylight, but it was pretty dark by the time we got back.

The temple is pretty stunning though, so I did my best in the low light.

Well, that’s all for now, folks. Sadly, our vacation has come to an end, and we’re flying back to China tomorrow. I’ll try to keep you posted on the more humdrum details of my everyday life, but I’m hoping that we’ll also have at least one more vacation that I can write about before we come back to the US!

Leave a comment if you want. I always enjoy reading them ❤️

Laos, Part Two: Sai Bat in Luang Prabang

Yesterday, I posted Part 1 of my Laos trip. I had really no plans or expectations going in; most of the stuff we wanted to do was in Cambodia, and we mostly decided to go to Laos because it seemed less touristed than Thailand and Vietnam. Turns out, Luang Prabang was really special, and I’m not even sure I can explain why. I love places that seem easy to explore on foot, I love being surrounded by nature, and I love being surprised by beautiful things. Luang Prabang had all of this and more.

Thomas and I started our day at 5-something a.m, when we woke up to observe the Sai Bat, or morning alms. During this ritual, people offer food to a procession of monks.

I have a lot of thoughts, which I haven’t quite figured out how to articulate. Firstly, I’ve been thinking about different definitions of the word “observe.” One can observe something by seeing it with their eyes, and one can observe something by feeling it in their heart, right? To observe a religion means to dedicate yourself to it and practice it, but we can observe other people practicing their religion. I have mixed feelings about this, because on one hand, seeing is one step towards understanding, but on the other hand, watching other people’s sacred religious traditions feels strangely intrusive. Photographing it feels even more so.

I don’t know. I try very hard to be respectful of others, especially when I am an outsider looking in. Observing, photographing (without flash), and even participating in the Sai Bat is welcome, at least according to signs I saw posted around town. And like Angkor Wat, Luang Prabang benefits from tourism…but to what extent is our presence doing more harm than good? How do locals, monks, devout Buddhists feel about swarms of tourists encroaching on their sacred practices, observing without truly observing?

I’m trying to think of an example that may feel relevant to most Westerners, but somehow much of the behavior I assume is disrespectful doesn’t have much direct equivalent in my mind. Maybe I’m overthinking it, but it seems to me that most of these places were colonized, and then gained independence, and are now being reentered by privileged citizens of colonizing countries who want to be a part of things that shouldn’t involve them anymore. I feel like there’s a fine line between appreciation and appropriation, and I don’t always know where that is.

Anyway, the only example I can think of is non-Christians taking communion? But even that doesn’t seem as problematic to me as the way that we may “appreciate” non-Western cultures and religions.

For example, many temples will allow visitors to enter them. Thomas and I went to a nearby temple after sunset yesterday to see if we could get some photos (it’s seriously beautiful.) I walked around to get a photo of one temple (from a good distance, so I could capture the whole building and some sunset.) Anyway, I got one picture, and as I took it I noticed that there were monks gathered inside, sitting on the floor. Then a couple comes up in front of me, walks up the steps, and proceeds to stand in the doorway taking pictures. When I say in the doorway, I mean a medium gust of wind could’ve pushed them inside and into the monks.

Now, I’m not going to pretend to be any kind of expert, but this struck me as pretty disrespectful. I’m already pretty iffy on my own behavior, but gosh, I like to think that my presence at least wasn’t disruptive? I literally would never have dreamed of walking up the stairs, let alone sticking my head in the door while people were in there. To what extent does this sort of observation lead to deeper understanding?

I’m asking a lot of questions that I don’t have the answers to. I guess we just have to try to be respectful within the boundaries we’re given. For this trip that’s meant dress modestly, don’t disrupt the procession, no flash photography. Don’t climb on the ruins, take off your shoes when you enter the temple.

I was initially going to write about my whole day, but I went on a bit of a tangent, so I’ll split this post and continue it tomorrow. Full disclosure, I did take one photo from the morning alms, but I decided against posting it (for the record, it was pitch black and the photo is not great.) If you’re interested in a visual, search for alms giving Luang Prabang and there will be plenty of images from people who were either here at a sunnier time of year or used their camera flashes.

I’m super excited about tomorrow’s post. It’ll be full of photos and very few of my personal opinions.

I will end with a the photo I took before the tourists stood in the doorway. If you look closely you can see the orange-clad monks sitting inside.

Laos, Part One: Mostly Luang Prabang

The first few days

After our days in Cambodia, we flew to Laos. We took a microbús to Vang Vieng, and fun fact, both Thomas and I experience motion sickness. We were traveling during the hottest part of the day, and we both felt terrible during the drive, but luckily neither of us had any unfortunate incidents. All we did in Vang Vieng was relax, but then we made our way to Luang Prabang in yet another microbús. This time, we got to drive through mountains, on bumpy, hilly, curvy roads. This obviously spelled disaster for two people who have histories of carsickness, and when we stopped for a bathroom/snack break about an hour and a half into the journey, I lay my head on the table, convinced that I wasn’t going to make it 5 hours without vomiting. For almost the entire journey, I cradled a liter of cold water, trying to fend off the nausea. Thomas and I didn’t talk for the entire trip, but when we finally got to Luang Prabang, we both said it was a miracle that we didn’t puke in the van.

Luang Prabang, Day 1

On our first full day in Luang Prabang, we mostly wandered around and explored the city. The city is pretty small (at least from my perspective) but it has dozens of temples. Compared to others I’ve seen, these are very…sparkly? It’s hard to capture the sparkle in a photo, but I tried.

Wat Pahouak

Wat Pathouak apparently has a pretty cool mural inside, but I didn’t go in.

There was a man pulleying coconuts down from the tree on the right. Maybe if you look really closely you can find him.

We wanted to go to the top of a hill (mountain?) to watch the sunset, but it was really cloudy so we decided to skip it.

I’ll write about day 2 in Luang Prabang in a separate post. It was one of my favorite days from this vacation!

Siem Reap: Exploring Angkor Wat

Thomas and I spent 3 days in Siem Reap. After the first day, which we mostly spent waiting to check into our Airbnb, we decided to rent bikes and explore Angkor Wat. We got a late start on day 2, but we found a bike rental place and shelled out $3 each for some city bikes (could’ve paid double for mountain bikes, but we’re cheap.)

As soon as I sat on this bike, I knew I was gonna have some problems. But we pressed onward.

Now, we were riding at the hottest part of the day, but we started the journey to Angkor Wat, which is a little north of the city. We got to the ticket checkpoint and were told that we were supposed to buy tickets at another location. The policía was very nice and suggested that we leave our bikes and take a tuk tuk. Penny pinchers that we are, we declined and rode to buy tickets. It was so far, but we made it, bought tickets, and then rode back to the checkpoint, and finally made our way to Angkor Wat. I’d been pretty cranky and frustrated because we got such a late start to our day and then wasted even more time on the most uncomfortable bikes in the world. We decided not to go into the actual Angkor temple yet, and instead made our way to Bayon temple.

After we passed through the gate, we were soon greeted by some friends.

By the time we got to the temple, it was sunset. We weren’t allowed to go inside because we arrived after closing, but we got a couple pictures outside.

We rode around for another few minutes to see some nearby temples, but then decided to head home and prepare for the next day. We stopped at a restaurant near our house for dinner, where we decided not to subject ourselves to the pain of biking one more day. We met a nice tuk tuk driver who offered to take us starting at 5 am, so we could get to Angkor Wat in time for the sunrise.

Fun fact: my phone didn’t calculate the distance that we rode on our bikes, but I calculated after and it was about 30 km. The terrain was flat, but oh my gosh was the bike horrible to sit on for more than 30 seconds.

Anyway, the next morning, we were greeted bright and early by our tuk tuk driver. He brought us to Angkor Wat and we ventured inside when it was so dark that we could barely see a few feet in front of us.

Slowly, the light started to creep in.

The place was packed with people, all waiting for the sunrise. The temples were built at different times, but most of them have been around since the 12th century or earlier.

One thing that crossed my mind as I was visiting this site is that…I don’t know, there are WAY too many people here. Compared to everything else in the area, it is expensive to come here, but the place is still absolutely packed, and from what I’ve read, it’s like this year round.

These structures are almost a thousand years old, and I’m honestly pretty shocked that people are allowed to just stomp around all over them. This archaeological site is expansive, and some of the ruins still have an obvious temple structure, while others are just a pile of rocks. Millions of people come through here every year, so what’s to stop the rest of it from crumbling? It seems like some effort is being made to restore and preserve it, but this level of tourism will have negative repercussions alongside the obvious benefits.

At one of the last temples we went to, we encountered some pretty steep stairs. Thomas opted out of climbing them, as he was feeling gross all day, but I was curious.

The trek up wasn’t so bad, but I assumed I’d come down on my butt.

Hi, Thomas!

Can you find Thomas down below?

When you get to the top, you see…more stairs.

So I climbed up more stairs and peeked inside.

And then, as I predicted, mostly went down the stairs on my butt. My knees just did not love the steep steps down.

I appreciated the next temple in part because it had become one with nature.

And I made a new friend. A teeny tiny kitten friend.

Anyway, we were exhausted and Thomas felt sick, and luckily we didn’t have to bike home! We sat in the tuk tuk and drank water and generally had a very pleasant trip home. If any of y’all are planning an Angkor Wat trip, my advice is to splurge on better bikes than we had, or be willing to pay for a tuk tuk from the start 😂 it’s been days and my seat areas still haven’t recovered.

Phnom Penh Day 2: The Island Tour

On day 2 in Phnom Penh, we had a tuk tuk take us outside the city and away from the tourist areas. We stopped at a few temples along the way, and I was impressed by the artistry of them. I’m generally impressed by any sort of painted ceiling, so I spent some time staring up at this one.

I haven’t studied a ton about world religions, but one common thread I see is the way that we try to understand the world through art. I’ve seen countless museums full of renaissance paintings of Jesus and angels and other biblical figures. We see statues depicting figures from various mythologies. A quote comes to mind: Ceci n’est pas une pipe.

Translated into English: “This is not a pipe.” Of course it’s a pipe! you may say. But it’s not a pipe. It’s a picture of a pipe.

I think about this a lot in the context of religious art. A picture of a deity is of course, not a deity, but it may help us to visualize and understand our belief system, right? At what point does art become idolatry? These questions are all constantly floating through my mind.

Anyway, some of the structures were not well maintained. Others were. I’m not sure how old any of these places were, because there was nobody guiding us around or telling us information, but it was kind of nice to just be there in the midst of it all.

Next, we moved onto textiles. I don’t know what to call it, but it’s a place where people make and sell things made of silk.

We started by trying our hand on the spinning wheel.

Thomas snapped this photo at the exact moment that I accidentally snapped the thread

We moved onto watching these skilled women make intricately designed scarves on the loom.

We got the hang of a super simple pattern .

And we met some silkworms and learned a little about their life cycle.

We hung around long enough to browse the wares, and before we left, we were offered some fruit and water. We met a family and their friend who was visiting. The friend is actually from Richmond, Virginia, so it felt like a small world, since Thomas is from the Richmond area. The world got a little smaller still when we learned that they all lived in Shenzhen (where we now live) before moving elsewhere in Asia.

After we left, Thomas and I finished our day at a restaurant on the river. We ate family style and didn’t necessarily love the food, but it was worth it anyway.

The next morning, we left our Airbnb at 4 am and headed to Siem Reap!

Phnom Penh Day 1: Everything Else

After we went to the killing fields, we went to Central Market, where we ran into a person wearing the same ugly Peace Corps shirt that we got before training. Thomas made a brief introduction and learned that she is a Peace Corps Cambodia volunteer, but we learned nothing else. We went on a long and winding journey to find food, and eventually kind of pointed at some stuff and ate (I wouldn’t say either of us were huge fans of whatever we ended up ordering).

Next, we went to the National Museum, where we weren’t supposed to take pictures of the art. It was basically full of Buddha statues. I’m sure we would’ve learned more if we’d been willing to pay for the audio guide, but we are still pretty pinche.

The National Museum building was pretty

Next, we ventured to the Royal Palace and saw some ornate structures.

The Victory Gate
This mural went around the entire perimeter

Even the door is incredibly detailed

I hope you enjoyed this brief photo tour. Day 2 in Phnom Penh coming soon!

Phnom Penh Day 1: The Killing Fields

I said I was going to wait a couple weeks to blog, but I figured it wouldn’t hurt to get my rambles down when they’re fresh.

On our first full day in Phnom Penh, we did quite a bit. We started at the day with a visit to Cheoung Ek, also known as The Killing Fields. This is a site where thousands of people were executed during the Khmer Rouge’s reign in Cambodia. We took a tour around the grounds and learned the history of the place through an informative audio guide. I felt like it was incredibly important to reflect on this dark time in history. One detail that I find particularly difficult to process is that because guns and bullets were expensive, the Khmer Rouge soldiers didn’t want to waste them on executions, which meant that these thousands of people were killed using farming tools and other weapons that could inflict blunt force trauma.

I won’t go into a lot of detail about the killing fields, and I didn’t take many pictures, but most of the area contains mass graves.

Now, the site serves as a memorial. At the center is this memorial stupa.

The inside of the stupa houses thousands bones of those who died (I think bones of about 9,000 people.) There wasn’t enough space for all the bones, but we saw many skulls, mandibles, humerus, and femurs. These bones are all catalogued by sex, injures, and other information. There are 17 tiers of bones. If I remember correctly, tiers 2-9 house the skulls. Most other large bones are above.

It was truly heartbreaking to end the tour with such evidence of the genocide. It’s especially heartbreaking because this was not the only killing field—over a million people were executed across Cambodia from 1975-79, and even more died of starvation and disease.

In preparation for this trip, I read Loung Ung’s First They Killed My Father, the author’s account of being a child in Cambodia during those years. I recommend it to anyone who wants to know more. The book has a pretty narrow scope, as it’s only one person’s story and not a history of the region, but I found it to be very well written, and I plan to read more books by other survivors as well.

Next time, I’ll share more of what we did on day 1 in Phnom Penh, but I think this is enough for one day.

Cambodia Comparison

So, we have officially been in Cambodia for a day! You may remember that I wrote a compare and contrast of China and Nicaragua (I actually wrote that in September or October but then forgot to publish it until January. Oops.) That ended up being more of a contrast, but today I just want to start the Cambodia chronicles with a quick compare and contrast between Cambodia and Nicaragua.

Pretty much immediately upon arriving in Phnom Penh, I felt a sense of familiarity. Before we even got out of the taxi, it felt so similar to Nicaragua, and it made me miss Nicaragua even more than usual.

In training, we got around mostly by moto taxi (or walking). You may remember all of Niquinohomo piled into one tiny moto taxi, really testing the limits multiple times per week. Anyway, there are moto taxis here, but in Cambodia they’re called tuk tuks. When we got to the airport, a weird series of events led to us getting a regular taxi. The driver wasn’t totally sure where our house was, and as we wound through the streets, I looked out the window and saw so many familiar things.

  • People driving motorcycles, often with a small child in their lap
  • Dusty roads (it’s the dry season)
  • Lots of little shops that we referred to as ventas and pulperías in Nicaragua

The similarities really went on and on. The buildings looked similar. There are animals wandering the streets (I only saw cats and dogs when we first arrived. We may have to get more out in the campo to see the chickens and horses wandering the streets like we had in Matiguás).

In the day that we’ve been here, I’ve reacquainted myself with my friend the mosquitero (mosquito net) and because there’s no air conditioning, I’m a big fan of the fans. In my room in Nicaragua, I had a fan pointed at me all day long, year-round. My daily routine included getting home and immediately shedding whatever clothing was required for the workday, because one simply cannot survive the Nica heat in jeans and a polo for more than a few hours a day. (I mean, Nicaraguans do it no problem, but I cannot tolerate jeans in a tropical climate.

I remember now how dirty and sticky I felt after even the smallest venture out into the heat. I often walked in Nicaragua, and by the time I got to my destination I was full of sweat. When I took a taxi, I was slightly less full of sweat. I’d often put some facial cleanser on a cotton ball and clean the gunk out of my pores at the end of the day. The first cotton ball was always a dark-brown/black. The second one was similarly gross. Only by the third or fourth did I feel like I’d gotten somewhat clean. I feel the same way here. It was 90 degrees and humid, and I could just feel the dust mixing with sweat and sticking on me all day.

Of course, I don’t want to compare my time in the Peace Corps too closely with this vacation. We’re staying in a very nice Airbnb, and we had our own personal tuk tuk driver today. We’re living a pretty sweet lifestyle, one that we absolutely never would have splurged for as volunteers. (Thomas and I always got INDIGNANT when a taxista in Nicaragua would try to charge us one or two dollars for a taxi ride across the city. “We live here! We know it’s only 50 cents!” we’d exclaim anytime we were in a tourist spot.)

God forbid the time when someone tried charging us to go look at the laguna. First they said that foreigners had to pay 20 cords (less than a dollar) and after we explained that we’d been coming here for months and we lived right over there, one town over and nobody had ever asked us to pay, he offered to let us pay the price that locals pay: 2 córdobas, or about 6 cents. We turned around and left.

The point of that story is that we have slightly released the tight hold we had on our wallets now that we actually HAVE money. Cambodia and Nicaragua are two very different countries, but I can’t help but lie in bed under this mosquitero and think back on my time in Nicaragua with a new level of nostalgia. I’ve appreciated a lot about China–hot showers, air conditioning, flushing toilets, food delivery, the metro–but I’d go back to sticky heat and cold showers in a heartbeat. I’m not sure that I’ll ever be able to explain the impact that Nicaragua had on me, but it still feels like home in a way that other places never will.

Anyway, it’s been nice to live temporarily in a place that reminds me of the home I had to leave. I’ll keep you posted on our travels (though probably not until the trip is over in a couple weeks, because typing posts on my phone is not ideal.

We should have internet in most of the places we’re staying, so feel free to shoot me a question and I’ll try to get back to you!

Nicaragua vs China: A Comparison

We’ve been doing a lot of comparing and contrasting in second grade lately, so I thought I’d take this opportunity to talk about some of the similarities and differences (mainly differences) that I’ve noticed between the people I worked/lived with Nicaragua and China.

One thing that immediately struck me is the difference in opportunities that people have here. Teaching will never be the highest paying profession, but for the most part, people in Nicaragua are born, grow up, work, and grow old within like a 10-mile radius. The people I knew in Matiguas had lived there their whole lives, taught at a school either in their town or in one of the local rural communities, and didn’t necessarily have any plans to go anywhere else, even within their small country. There were exceptions to that of course, but that was largely the norm.

Opportunity

When I moved to China, one of the first questions I asked most of my Chinese colleagues was if they were from this area. Almost all of them said no. We’re living in the very southern part of China, and my co-teacher is from way up north. Most people have similar stories. I think there are a lot of reasons for this, and one of them is technology. People in Nicaragua may have internet access, but it certainly isn’t easy to search for and apply for jobs online. I’m not even sure that most schools have an email address, or not one that is checked regularly. The few times that I tried to email someone at my school, I didn’t get a response.

I’m sure this isn’t universally true, because I recognize that I’m mostly interacting with people who have some position of privilege, but the people I’ve met have had so many opportunities to travel, at least compared to people in Nicaragua. Nicaragua is a country about the size of New York state, and most of the people I knew hadn’t traveled far outside their own communities, much less gotten on a plane. Many of the Nicaraguans I talked to would never stay overnight outside of their house, so they were limited to places they could travel to and from in a day. Keep in mind, my town was a 2.5-hour bus ride from the department capital, and about 3.5-4 hours from the country’s capital. Trying to do either one of those round-trips in a day would be taxing. (I think in two years, I only took one day trip to Matagalpa, the very first time I went.) My host family would, I think once a year, take a paseo to the beach (in León, like 6 hours away). They would leave on the earliest bus at about 3 a.m, spend the day at the beach, and then come back that same night. My counterparts dreamed of being able to go to Costa Rica or the U.S. to study English for a few months, but they haven’t had the opportunity to go yet.

Here, the country is gigantic, and people I work with were born and raised all over it. Many of them have worked, studied, or lived abroad. The kids we teach go on vacations to Australia, Paris, Japan. Some of them have houses abroad. Even some of the more privileged Nicaraguans I met didn’t have that level of access to the world.

Marriage and children

Similarly, while young women in Nicaragua were often married with children, most of the Chinese immersion teachers I know are single and childless. Based on my observation, it seems a lot more common for women to marry and have children later than they do in Nicaragua.

My Nicaraguan counterpart and second-best Nicaraguan friend in the whole world had her daughter (my first best Nicaraguan friend) at age 31, which was far far later than most. Teenage pregnancy is incredibly common in Nicaragua (I read that the mean age of a first birth is 19 years old), and just about everyone I talked to in Nicaragua was shocked that I didn’t have children. To be 25 or 26 years old like I was, and not have children? It was unfathomable. And to not even be married? Not have a boyfriend? The ship must have sailed for me.

Men

I guess that brings me to another difference. You may remember that I (and every other woman in Nicaragua) dealt with street harassment on a regular basis. Men hollering at us in the street, giving “compliments,” and generally feeling like they were entitled to our time and attention. Men in the park, men on the bus, men everywhere were constantly trying to strike up a conversation with me, and that conversation would always center on my marital status. Even when I started lying and saying I was married, men would still try to suggest that it’s totally natural for married people to have affairs, as if I’m going to say, “yes, bus stranger, great point. Let me just exchange some details with you so we can arrange a day to cheat on our spouses.”

Anyway, that doesn’t happen here. Are there gross men? Absolutely, as evidenced by the man on the metro who was trying to take pictures up a woman’s skirt. The difference is that the gross men are more secretive about their grossness, they don’t holler at me on the street or try to talk to me on public transportation. You may assume that it’s partially because they look at me and think, “There’s no way that woman speaks Mandarin,”  but I don’t think that’s the whole story. In Nicaragua, men would yell out cars and across the street. It didn’t seem to matter if you could understand or respond to them, the point was that they felt entitled to speak to us however they wanted. Here, people talk to each other and they leave me out of it. It’s magical.

I realize that so far all I’ve done is talk about differences, so this isn’t much of a compare and contrast, but it is very difficult to think of any worthwhile similarities. I still line dry my clothes, I still can’t flush toilet paper. Just about every other part of this experience is different.

I’ll keep thinking about this and build on this list if I have any more revelations.

3 Years Later

And just like that, it’s been three years.

On January 15, 2016, I wrote a blog post called “Predestination is bullshit, but this feels real.” I apparently didn’t share that one during my lead-up to the anniversary to Dad’s death. I don’t know why I didn’t post it. Was it intentional? Did I accidentally skip it, since I had posts on the 14th and 16th too? Maybe one of these days I’ll share it, but for now, I’ll share an excerpt:

For years and years and years—since before I started high school, for sure—I knew that I wanted to leave here. I always said I’d go to school out of state, or at the very least, a few hours away. I wanted to live in a big city…or really anywhere but here. So how did I end up here? Why did I end up here?

The whole post is about how I’d lived my whole life in one place, wanting to leave. I’d had plenty of opportunities. I’d gotten into dream schools out of state with generous scholarship offers for both undergrad and grad school. Yet there I was, in the same place I was born and raised in, for what felt like no reason. As I daydreamed about adventures and lost opportunities, I felt some regret. I felt happy with my education and the path that it had led me down, but why did it have to be here? It felt purposeless until January 2016.

Dad was dying. He’d been diagnosed nearly 5 years ago, but it didn’t seem like a big deal at the time somehow. I’d seen loved ones diagnosed with cancer. I’d seen them survive it and I’d seen them die from it. Somehow I assumed Dad would be in the former category. Looking back, I can see his optimism, his protectiveness, and his denial, all which played into my underestimating the situation.

Anyway, in January 2016, I had a moment of clarity and thankfulness that I’d never left my hometown. My hometown was where Dad was living, where Dad was dying. At the end, I saw him every day. I came into his house after work, and whoever was sitting beside him always got up and motioned for me to take the spot nearest to him. I held his hand. I talked to him. He responded to me less and less. I fixed his cannula. He was grateful and heartbroken that I had to see him like that. I loved him. I love him.

The point of this now-teary reflection is to marvel at how dramatically my life has changed since that moment. I never told Dad I’d applied for the Peace Corps, which I regret, but about six months after I sat beside him listening to his breathing, I was on a plane to Nicaragua. That was the beginning of a whole new chapter of my life. 2016 is a year divided into Before and After.

It’s crazy, that I haven’t lived in my home country since the year that he died. So much has happened both in the world and in my life since I was last able to talk to him. I think about the nights that I sat next to him, wordlessly watching the news, occasionally commenting on the craziness of the presidential campaigns. I think about my upcoming wedding and though it still feels unfair that he can’t physically be there, I’m more angry that he didn’t get to even meet Thomas.

It’s hard to put into words how I’m feeling. On one hand, my life has changed so much in the last three years that I want Dad to come see me as I am now, but on the other hand, I feel like if he were to come back to see me for 5 minutes, he wouldn’t be the slightest bit surprised with where I’ve landed. Ever since we were little, he’s had big visions of the things we’d do, see, and accomplish. I don’t feel pressure to live up to any of that, but I do wish I could have him here just a little longer. There are so many things I want him to see. I can close my eyes and imagine him saying, “Be careful,” just like he always did whenever I left his house.

Be careful. Dad believed that we were capable and strong and would do great things, but he also worried about us, and I worried about him. I worried about telling him that I was leaving to serve in Peace Corps Nicaragua. I worried about him worrying about me. I didn’t want him to worry about me in his final days; I wanted him to feel like everyone around him was safe, even if he wasn’t. By the time I finally convinced myself to tell him my plans, he was no longer able to have conversations. His health declined so rapidly in those last few weeks. I kept the secret.

So much has happened. In 2018 alone, I got evacuated from Nicaragua because of civil unrest, got engaged, and moved to China. It’s hard to imagine how much life can happen in such a short time, and how the last few years seem both like the shortest and longest of my life. I wish I could talk to Dad about it, show him pictures, and hug him on my way out the door. I wish he was back in Missouri missing me, wishing I’d visit more.

Three years. An absolutely incredible, terrifying, unimaginable, bittersweet three years.

I don’t know what else to say. These past three years have changed my life. I’m so grateful that I was physically present with him, especially in that last year, but looking back, it almost feels like a different lifetime.  

Anyway.

Miss you, Dad. I love you.