Hecho a Mano: My Return From Chile

I stepped out of the Denver airport terminal and the cold, fresh Colorado air washed over me and filled my lungs as it flowed over my skin. I was home after six months in Viña del Mar, Chile. Waiting for my ride, I sat on the grey concrete and stared at my sneakers. They were hand woven from llama wool, dyed every bright color you can imagine, and are soft as slippers.

Un viejito (an elderly man) with wrinkled hands and a crinkled smile had sold them to me in Viña del Mar’s marketplace. His name was sewn under the label that said “Hecho de Mano en Chile” (Handmade in Chile). Each of his sneakers were perfectly unique – even the two within a pair were slightly different. The stripes and diamonds of color fade in and out of each other and a few loose threads stick out from the side; pink fibers I hope never unravel.

Chile was color to me and I see it in my shoes now. The magnificent red sunsets over the coast and beckoning trails of blue and white through Patagonia. People who openly hug and kiss everyone. A freedom in time and space to find my own vibrancy. I suddenly felt at odds with my home country and was struck by how much I would miss the adventure of discovering Chile and myself.

“Tranquila” (calm down) I say to myself – tranquila – Spanish has a way of making everything sound smooth and romantic. Words like cariño and me das pena just don’t exist in English, but have vague translations of love and value. I wondered that if no longer using them to communicate, I would somehow lose part of myself. It was as if, by stepping back into America, I severed the me that was in Chile – the part that lived to see, taste, speak, and feel a new aspect of existence daily. The part that greeted strangers with a kiss and spent long lunches at the beach instead of rushing off somewhere. Chile had been a warm place of acceptance and growth, and, so far, Colorado was just cold and windy.

Studying abroad is no easy path. I had the lonely days, the culture shock moments, and the often infuriating role of a female in a male dominated culture. But, everything was vale la pena (very worth it) in order to have an experience of a lifetime.

After all, I had been waiting for it nearly all my life. I discovered my mom’s box of treasures from her semester at sea when I was just a little girl and promised myself I would study abroad too. I wanted her wise strength, the kind that comes from seeing the world, and I felt the need to create my own mysterious chest of treasures. It wasn’t an easy dream, but when I got to Chile I soaked up every second with eyes open and sneakers on the ground.

Now I was back. I half-heartedly peeled myself from the sidewalk. My ride still hadn’t arrived and I wanted a chicken sandwich, but I couldn’t get past a few bites because it tasted fake and salty. Ugh! No more fresh baked bread and vegetables from the market everyday! Tranquila …

I went back to the comfort of staring at my shoes. Blue thread against pink – an ocean sunset. Brown against gold – the Atacama desert. Triangles of icy white and green – Patagonia. Neon yellow thread against red – lights of a discoteca. It was all there, a tapestry of Chile woven around my feet; feet that had walked so far and carried me through so much these last few months. Looking at the blazing mix of color, I can feel the freedom and hear the rich language. My study abroad experience was over and Chile was far away, and yet, it wasn’t. It would always be with me and not just on my feet.

An Old Life But A New Me

I saw my ride coming along and I popped up to grab my bags. In that moment, I decided that my tapestry sneakers would carry me onto many more adventures, some in an old life with my new self. Wearing them would be like a cariño for my feet and would remind me to never deny the parts of myself I discovered in Chile.

Coming home was one of the hardest adjustments I’ve had to make in my life. I still ache for Chile even after months of reverse culture shock characterized by accidentally starting conversations in Spanish, awkwardly kissing everyone, and sometimes feeling really depressed. But, now I can don my Chilean sneakers, hand-woven with all the colors of the rainbow and know my adventures did not end with Chile, they began. I plan on returning to South America to work with youth in the next couple years.

Kayla-Autumn-MyersAuthor: Kayla Autumn Myers
Kayla Myers graduated from CSU in May of 2013 and is now working as a Youth Advocate. She hopes to have her next overseas excursion this year doing development work through an international internship program. Kayla finds her soul outdoors and finds her joy dancing to live music or going to her favorite yoga studio or tea house.

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