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Neither Here Nor There

One of Maggie's last days with the niñas of San Antonio Aguas Calientes, Guatemala. Maggie Kirkpatrick

After returning from Guatemala, Maggie finds herself trapped in post-travel purgatory.

I never feel as vulnerable as I do when I am in airports.

Other people tell me how much they love them: the excitement; the ambience of journeys about to be embarked on; being surrounded by loved ones reconnecting from across the planet; and strangers united by the common interest in going somewhere else.

However for me, that is the part that I seem to focus on—the fact that what I want is to be somewhere else. I feel anxious, nervous and completely at the mercy of the people that I hand my passport to, or take my shoes off in front of, or weigh my luggage for. To me, the airport is somewhere I do not want to be; I either want to be where I am departing from or at my destination, and the airport is the necessary in-between stage where I may get lost, held up, arrested, cavity searched or rejected. I may miss my flight or my flight may be delayed deferring my departure.

Airports are to me what airplanes are to those who are afraid of flying—the place where everything could go wrong.

I do realize how terribly negative this sounds. Yet no matter how much I travel, it's not a feeling that I can shake. I look around the airport and see dozens of other people who, I can tell, share this sentiment with me. Puffy-faced, red-eyed and energy-depleted, they do not want to be there either. It is a mandatory stop on our journey; it is somewhere you must go to get to the place you need to be.

Airports are to me what airplanes are to those who are afraid of flying—the place where everything could go wrong.

Now that I'm back home, I have reached an airport stage of my life—limbo. I'm between a place I loved and the strange, unknown of whatever lies in the future. Only now, I don't have a destination on the horizon. Mostly it is exciting; an opportunity to direct my life the way I want it to go. It's a luxury. But inevitably redirecting my life is going to take some time. I have days when I feel like I can literally do anything I want to, and other days when I don't see the point of getting out of bed.

I recently re-read the first article I wrote for Verge, which summarized why I was leaving for Guatemala. I felt an irresistible pull to Latin America, initiated when I went to Ecuador in 2010. This connection was strengthened even more in the past year. So many people have asked me “then why come home?” and naturally I've asked myself the same things many times.

The job that I had was rewarding, liberating and it made me feel like I was doing something worthwhile. Unfortunately, it wasn't financially sustainable, but the catch-22 was that that was part of the reason I loved it so much. I loved what I was doing so much that I didn't care about the money. I would have done it for nothing. (In fact, I did do it for nothing. In my spare time, I volunteered teaching English and writing a curriculum. It felt like an investment of time that would continue helping people after I left.)

Now here I am, back in Canada. It frustrates me and discourages me that in another country I had no problem paving my own path. I returned on account of student debt, yet, here, the place where I spent tens of thousands of (the government's) dollars on my education, I cannot obtain employment doing what I want to do. Even though I proved myself braver, stronger and more capable than the average person by dropping everything and moving to Guatemala for a year, I am now 27 and “behind” in life, according to society.

But I've never really cared about what society thinks of me. In fact, I feel slightly irritated by the person society wants me to become. I am at the age in my life where nearly everyone comes in twos and then the two make a third, and so on and so forth. I love children and I love my friends and I love the children made by my friends. I'm not saying that I will never want that, but after coming back from Guatemala I can't help but sometimes feel that I could do more for the world than bring another human being into it. So here I linger in the in-between stage, hoping a gust of wind will take me where I need to be. Of course I know life doesn't work like this—at least not for me. The only gusts of winds that push me forward come from my own lungs, leaving me breathless and gasping for air from a desperate attempt to make the right decision.

This limbo stage is a common feeling for people that have spent time abroad, and then go home and try to fit back into a life that is no longer theirs. I say, don't. Don't try to fit in. Don't go backwards. Don't conform. You are not the same person as you were before you left; relish in this. Now more than ever your perspective on understanding different cultures is needed in the world. Share it. Encourage others to travel. Bring others with you! Bridge culture gaps and unite all corners of the planet. Because we have to understand one another to help one another. And you can help make that happen.

Sitting in the lounge of the airport stage in my life, I feel the same as I do in every airport; vulnerable as hell. But soon I will be airborne, and the exhilaration of going somewhere brand new will make me completely forget this feeling. Until I do it all over again, of course.

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Published in Work Abroad Blogs
Maggie Kirkpatrick

After falling in love with Latin America on a solo trip to Ecuador in 2010, Maggie Kirkpatrick studied Spanish and Latin American studies in University. She is now living in Guatemala, where she writes for Verge and manages volunteer projects in small towns surrounding La Antigua.

Website: beautifullyinsane.com

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