Once upon a time, Kelli and I were spending Spring Break 2007 in Guanajuato, Mexico exploring the little nooks and callejones of that delightful colonial city.
We went to a bar (we were freshly 21) and had a couple drinks. As time wore on in the bar that night, I became ever-more intrigued by the bartender who’d served us. Bartenders don’t normally intrigue me unless they’re male, tall and handsome, but this one was different: she was very blonde, very short, very American, and very clearly living in Mexico.
Before we left, I made the decision to approach the very-blonde and very-American bartender to pester her with questions about how, exactly, she’d managed to find herself living and breathing in Guanajuato on a daily basis. It boggled me then; the whole notion of ex-patriot lives in foreign countries was so foreign and strange and alluring. Sure, I had lived in Mexico once, but as a student. There was a start date and an end date and a legitimate visa to go along with it. This girl was clearly making a living there, renting an apartment, slangin’ with a group of Mexican friends, just existing in her own Mexican life. I wondered, How does someone just pack up and move to a foreign country and become a part-time bartender and English teacher?
The notion isn’t so strange to me anymore. In my trips and journeys since that Spring Break trip, it has become apparent to me just how easily, and oftentimes unexpectedly, one can find themselves rooted in a city or country different than the familiar hometown. It’s oftentimes unplanned – you go somewhere, fall in love, make a decision to go back, and then see what you find. Look at us for examples: none of us knew any of the people or opportunities that would find before we got here. There’s no craiglist ads or facebook groups to join for this type of thing. It comes from daily life in a place.
In fact, perhaps as an homage to the Great Irony of the Universe, it seems that I as well will become a very-blonde and very-American bartender here. The bar where Amanda works, the Garage, wants me to join the staff. I agreed to one or two nights per week (making it my fifth job), but it excites me for a number of reasons: the money, the side-stepping of full-time commitment, the access to playing MY music with LARGE speakers, a great boss, working with a friend, and, of course, the delightful nod to that moment in my life where I so desperately wanted to be that girl living abroad, picking up opportunities like change on the street, making it work even though so far from home and my culture.
I think it is a healthy and essential practice to think back on our pasts and find those memories from youth when we were looking ahead with dreamy eyes and hopeful sighs, and remember those small things we hoped for, grasped at, and find the ways in which we have manifested them or accomplished them throughout our lives. This of course doesn’t apply to some of the more grandiose dreams – obviously I’m not an astronaut OR a mermaid now, even though I always wished to be both of those things.
But when I think back to the things that I most wished for or aspired towards, here is what I see: I see a young Shannon hearing Spanish on some early-afternoon court TV show and becoming totally captivated, wishing so badly to be able to speak the language like the woman on the TV. I see a young Shannon enchanted by history from a young age and wanting so desperately to see pyramids and mummies in real life. I see a coming-of-age Shannon being affected by an experience abroad and vowing to move back abroad someday, somehow.
Those are just some of the things that I remember from my childhood/young adult life that I can trace like lines on map from my formative experiences to where I am today. These things are easy to forget, but realizing that maybe we are exactly where we always wished to be makes for a much more meaning-full and profound journey on this planet.