Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Pre-Travel Woes

Every day that goes by gets me closer and closer to what I wanted to do--that is, be out there, on my own for the most part, and experiencing the world. Now that I've got some time off before I leave for South America, there's not much else to do but think about what's to come, and as it would turn out, worry about it.

I'm not usually a big worrier. I read The Tao of Pooh in 10th grade, and it kind of changed my perspective on rushing through life always running from task to task. Of course, there are always things here and there that will cast that aside, but in general, I try to keep an open mind. I can't remember getting nervous before I left for 5 months in Europe, but rather excitement at the prospect of a great journey. That's why I find it so troubling that I'm now getting more and more worried with the countdown to Ecuador.

I will be gone for close to a year. It's hard to say exactly for sure how long until I get down there and sign a contract with my school, but it will be in the range of 11-12 months. First was the issue of where I would be living and teaching. Would there be other Americans near by? Would I be in risk of diseases? Would the crime in the city be high? Now that I've found out which city I'll be in, Machala, the only piece of the puzzle left is finding out what family I'll be living with. Still, nothing will really settle the issue until I get there and can inspect it for myself.

But every day now, I spend a little more time just thinking in silence, trying to appreciate what I now have which will soon be gone. I look all around my room at things that have been there for years, yet I've never paid much attention to. I look at all the posters I've accumulated over time. The little stains in the wallpaper. The imperfections and grooves in the ceiling. The exact placement of objects on my desk, as I've left them for the last ten years. Soon, all I'll have to go on is my memory of it, and I want to remember it perfectly.

The last couple of days I've been waking up around 11, going to the gym, and then just finding things to keep me busy. I like to sit out on the deck and look at the trees blowing in the wind, given that there would actually be a nice, sunny day out of this rainy month we've had. I've always loved sitting on the deck and just thinking, looking at the side of the house or the trees in the back. I try to stop time whenever I'm out there and just let it last a little longer, but I always know that soon enough, it's time to get back in the house and do something else. I wonder if I get an opportunity to sit on a deck or stoop in Ecuador, what will I be looking at?

Adding to the pressure of moving from a modernized country to a developing country, being away from family and friends for an extended period of time, and the very real possibility of running out of money well before my year commitment is up, I now also have to worry about my health.

My program includes Global Underwriters' insurance, yet I'm not sure of exactly what they'll cover. It's described as a supplemental insurance, but since I'm no longer a student, I won't be covered by my father's plan starting in October. Should I get sick, I could be in some trouble. Worse yet, after spending $400 on vaccinations, I still need to fill a prescription for Malaria pills. While trying to do so today, I found out that I would only be allowed a month supply, and the rest would cost me upwards of $700. After calling the insurance company to haggle, the best they could offer me was going back to CVS every day for 10 days to get a month supply each time, at a cost of about $300. There is no way I can afford this. Not on a budget that requires me to cover the cost of most everything.

So now I also have the burden of trying to rationalize my health versus money I don't have. I wanted to get some life lessons, and it seems that they have already started. I don't want to keep putting burdens on my dad to help out, but I might need a crutch of some kind in order just to make it through.

I'm not going to lie, I chose to volunteer with WorldTeach because they had so much to offer, had a great reputation, and are affiliated with Harvard University, which I take to mean they are a solid organization. However, I feel a bit agitated with the way I've been finding out at the last second of these extra expenses. I'm OK with not making money for a year, even having to pay to volunteer, no matter if everyone else says I'm an idiot. I just wish it would have been laid out more clearly during the application process that on top of the program fee, there is also the cost of vaccinations and Malaria pills, which are all but necessary.

In retrospect, it does no good to think about what could have been, because I'm going to Ecuador no matter what, and I'll go into it with an open mind. Yet I can't help but think that it could have changed things if I'd have known just how much I would have to be putting into this project. This isn't just about me going to teach English and learn Spanish, it's also about me learning about how to deal with real life situations and growing as an individual in ways that I couldn't have in college or in an entry level job. I can see that I'll be getting down and dirty from the start.

Maybe it's just a precursor of things to come, these uneasy feelings. Life isn't always laid out with a blueprint, and things are often not as rosy pink as brochures will make appear. Or I could just be getting cold feet before the big jump. I know one thing for sure, I don't like the feeling that I have. Before taking trips in the past I've been excited, eager, indifferent, and listless, but never depressed. Now I find myself fighting to remember why I want to do this. I know in the back of my mind that there was a time, months ago, when I was extremely excited about it, and I knew exactly why I wanted to do it. I can't quite remember why right now, but I'm hoping that once I get there, it will all come back to me.

For now, I'll just have to keep taking it all in, saying goodbye to friends, preparing for the pack, and doing my research. With every great adventure, there must be a minor problem. Life is a series of valleys, and the ups and downs are a part of the process. To avoid them is to avoid reality. There can be no happiness without the sadness, and all I can hope for now is that I'm getting the depression out of the way now, so that I may be completely and utterly thrilled to arrive in Quito in T minus 2 weeks.

1 comment:

Justin said...

Jon,

Your pre-departure jitters are not unfounded. You must realize that this is different than studying abroad for five months because there are holes in your safety net, so to speak. Holes filled with guerillas, malaria-carrying mosquitos and venemous snakes. That being said, you signed up for an adventure and you will most certainly have one! You need to keep in mind that an adventure entails a challenge. Good and bad experiences. I had the same worries before I left. Too much time to think will make you paranoid. There would be unforeseen expenses no matter what you did. Lord knows I was slammed with numerous fees and other pay-outs when I arrived; that’s part of the screwing that any foreigner takes when s/he travels to a new land. Furthermore, recruiting agencies lie to potential teachers. This is an almost universal fact. They lure you to a country on a promise like a politician vying for a vote, and once you’re there, you can’t readily escape. This is ok. Come to terms with these facts and you’re ready to start fresh. It sounds like part of your anxiety stems from where you chose to teach. For this, I can offer little advice. I will say that your ability to adapt will be tested, but I know you’ll persevere because you’re chock full of true grit, as the good doctor would say. Short of being stabbed to death or wasting away from amoebic dysentery, you can survive anything. You’re a journalist, goddamnit. You come from a long line of truth-seekers -always remember that. You are braver and ballsy-ier than anyone you know because you’re willing to face the unknown and throw caution to the wind. Godspeed, my friend. Send me a dispatch when you surface in the jungle, I can’t wait to hear all about it.

-Justin