Sometimes I still can’t believe I’m not in Bogotá anymore. It feels so crazy that our time there is finished, because it seems like we just arrived. In the end, I was surprised at how difficult it was to say goodbye to a place that I’d only lived for 15 short months.
There were alot of reasons I wasn’t quite ready to go. I knew I’d miss the people we’d come to know and love there. We had become great friends with some of our neighbors, who were so kind and patient as we learned Spanish. Our church family, who welcomed us with open arms, loving us so well despite our inability to communicate much at the beginning. The long-term Colombia team who celebrated holidays with us when we were missing home, answered so many cultural questions, and encouraged us as new missionaries with young kids on the field. Our amazing Spanish professor who spent hours with us every day, filling our brains with a new language and loving us even through the stress. The nannies who cared for our children while we were in class and taught us more about cross-cultural friendships than anyone else as they observed our day-to-day lives in our homes. And of course, the other families in the AIM program, who walked with us daily through the most stressful season of life we’ve had to date. They became family. The goodbyes were hard.
But for me, there was another layer of complexity involved in saying goodbye to Colombia. I wasn’t just leaving a place I’d loved for 15 months — a sweet little townhouse, a neighborhood I’d started to call “mine,” a familiarity that had taken months to forge. I was leaving Colombia… Luís’ home. His birth country. His roots.
It was different than the way I felt about taking the twins away from their birth country. For the twins, they’ll always have a piece of Mississippi in their lives, because they have me. I can’t separate my life from my Mississippi upbringing, and no matter what, my children will always experience pieces of Mississippi culture no matter where we live. I carry it with me wherever I go, and even if my children never actually live there again, it will be a part of them; they are being raised and nurtured by someone with Mississippi running through her veins. I am the link.
But I can’t do that for Luís and his birth country. I lived in and loved Colombia for 15 months, but that wasn’t nearly long enough for the culture to permeate who I am and the way I live. It wasn’t long enough for me to deeply understand and feel a part of the culture, to have it resonate so deeply with me that I count it as part of my identity, to be able to accurately pass it down to my children so that they feel like it’s a part of them as well. Hopefully Peru will be that way eventually, but that takes YEARS to forge–a lifetime maybe. And though I will try as hard as I can to preserve the pieces of Luis’ Colombian heritage and history, I know I can never do it fully. In many ways, when I flew out of Bogotá a few short weeks ago, I felt like I was severing the link, and that breaks my heart.
But then, that’s not completely true. I may have moved away, but Colombia will always have a piece of me. Not only because I will always remember my time there as a season in which the Lord stretched and changed me in painful and beautiful ways, but because Colombia gave me my son. Colombia will always be a part of me, because it’s a part of Luís, and I am now inextricably tied to it. I couldn’t let it go if I tried. Instead of me providing links to his roots for him, he’s the one who provides it for me.
So even though we said goodbye to Colombia, it wasn’t for the last time. My children will always grow up with Colombian food and pieces of Colombian culture. They’ll always hear me talk about the beautiful Colombian people and the experiences we had living there. We’ll take them back as they get older, so that Luís and his siblings can develop their own memories of and love for such a beautiful country and heritage.
Now that I think about it, maybe goodbye isn’t the right word after all.
See you soon, Colombia.