Having been back in Austin for a week now, I’m inevitably confronted by questions regarding my recent trip to Chile. “How was it?” “Did you have fun?” Personally, I shy away from asking these questions of other people. When they’ve had a life-altering journey it’s impossible to articulate such an experience.
My journey wasn’t life-altering. It was weird. I took a 17-day break from my life in order to start researching my dissertation topic. And in the process I interrupted the lives of everyone I encountered, except for the nice people at the bed and breakfast in Viña del Mar. It’s their job to have interruptions. My aunts, cousins, 96 year-old grandmother as well as scores of professors all had their daily winter routines disrupted by my presence. Most of them didn’t mind. But it definitely made me feel out of place. Especially since six months earlier I had been to Chile to get married. There’s nothing stranger than returning as the solo bride.
But perhaps the strangest part of this trip was figuring out what to do with the pessimism that has tainted daily life in the U.S. for the past several years. In the nearly two decades I’ve been traveling to Chile I’ve never seen people so optimistic: about jobs, the economy, family life, etc. As much as I wanted their optimism to be contagious, it wasn’t. I was an alien struck with sticker shock at every turn. They thought nothing of dropping $30 per person for lunch.
It’s so tedious to talk about money. Being a good girl, this is a topic up there with religion and politics that just isn’t discussed. But when people receive a less than enthusiastic response to their inquiry regarding my recent time in Chile, I feel that a disclaimer is in order. How can I politely say that it was nice to be in a place where people weren’t constantly worrying about how long they’d live paycheck to paycheck? Is there a kind way to say that although I didn’t feel as though I fit in, I didn’t really want to come back to long summer days where it seems that +12 hours of sunlight are simply an excuse to talk ad nauseam about every financial dilemma facing you, me, the nation as a whole?
Maybe I’m a child in denial. If so, I want my summer back. Or at least, an early winter where hibernation is a viable option.