Girl with long hair sits on cliff over beach

Last week, I flew to Mexico. 

I’ve been in the United States for four months. Even before I left Malaysia in May, I’ve been working on my long-term strategy to get back. 

It’s been a lot of waiting on documents and decisions and funding and my visa.

In the meantime, I’ve enjoyed nature, started at a new Crossfit gym, visited family and friends, read, worked, wrote, re-learned how to shoot a gun, fixed my psoriasis, and really did a lot for my mental and physical health.

I also made a new website: https://thebookshelfabroad.com/

[More on my return to the U.S. here.]

The Patience : Impatience Ratio

While this has largely been an enjoyable experience, I’ve noticed a trend I have when it comes to waiting: I am excellent at practicing patience. I can wait for someone or something for much longer than I expect. I feel totally calm. I am even enjoying my wait. La la la. 

And then, I feel an itchy feeling. I’m still happy. I am still calm. I am still enjoying my wait. But I know something is bubbling in me. La la la. And also, hmm… What’s that feeling? Let’s ignore it. 

And then one day I wake up and my patience is completely gone. Goodbye.

So, about two weeks ago, I decided I was sick of waiting to hear from Malaysia. I just needed to move. So I found a quite cheap direct flight and went down south. It was sort of a form of protest, the travel version of going to the bathroom at a restaurant so that the food will come. 

Maybe if I go to Mexico, Malaysia will contact me about my visa (spoiler: They did not).

Other words for Nostalgia

Gwendicita ca. 2010
Tulum, Mexico

I visited Mexico once before back in 2010. It was more or less a typical college spring break trip—beach days, drinks with friends, visiting Mayan ruins, enjoying blue skies away from the Carolina chill. But, at the time, before all my adventures around the world, this was the best trip I had ever taken. I guess something about that trip stayed with me. (A more typical form of nostalgia)

I didn’t know Spanish when I came to Mexico in 2010. I learned it much later when I did my Argentina-Colombia life hopping back in 2017-2018. At the time, my Spanish got quite good. Now, it’s rusty but still good enough to be repeatedly asked where I had learned Spanish and told I spoke really well. (Thanks guys :D)

Somewhere between misgendering nouns and telling people to just call me “Wendy” (because Gwen is way too hard for Spanish speakers), a very different form of nostalgia started poking at me.

Buenos Aires, Christmas 2017

In fact, I’m not even sure it’s really nostalgia. It felt like waking up the part of me that lived in South America years ago, a person I always felt I broke off before I fully breathed life into her. 

Leaving South America back in 2018 felt confused and rushed. It wasn’t a calm and confident goodbye, but a frenzied and panicked one. I didn’t give my experience there the time and space it needed. I never could settle down. I never fully soaked it in and let it be. I was always hopping around the continent and between apartments, feeling incredibly restless.

Finding myself thinking in Spanish again makes me feel connected to who I was a few years ago. I can once again listen to the inner voice that comes out when I think only in Spanish.

Eres soltera o casada?

Tulum 2021
(same hair, bigger biceps)

So much of our identity is tied to communication.

In Spanish, I find myself simplifying very big life stories to flippant jokes—

“Are you single or are you married?” Is a common question I’m asked in Mexico (and Malaysia, and China, and India).

“No.”

“No?” 

“No.”

“No boyfriend?”

“No.”

“Porque no?”

“Too much drama,” I tell them with a smile. It’s a very specific smile, a kind of smile I remember smiling a lot when I would speak in Spanish. The Mexican people I talked to seemed to like this, but I doubt I’d answer this with such banter in English. 

On the flip side, in Spanish, I sometimes find myself describing much heavier, deeper emotions for everyday topics when I don’t have the right word. 

I once wanted to tell someone I thought being a waiter would be “taxing,” but I didn’t know the word taxing in Spanish. He kept offering simple Spanish words that just felt too simple, too trite: difficult, hard, tiring.

“Tiring for the soul,” I said. 

“Wendy” in Colombia, September 2017

So much of my identity in English is my precision in language, something I desperately lack in Spanish despite being conversational.

So in Spanish, I smile and laugh in a bigger way. Maybe it’s a way to open myself up to the conversation. Maybe it’s because there is so much of me I know I can’t communicate in Spanish, so I feel the need to show with my expressions–my body language–that I am open to connect, despite not being able to glide through the language with eloquence.

Whatever it is, being “Wendy” once again almost felt like connecting with an old friend. 

Maybe we don’t have a word for that in English. Maybe it’s just some sort of nostalgia of the soul. 

(More Mexico, 2010:)

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3 Comments

  1. Good post. Fun to see “you” 10 years ago and now.

  2. Linda Diane Smith-Christmas

    Looks wonderful!

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