Going to the airport in Paraguay is likes something I’ve never experienced before. Well, really, it starts before the actual trip to the airport. I have never said goodbye to so many people, so many time before. The last two weeks have been filled with “Despedidas” (Going Away Parties) from dinners, to BBQs, to dancing, to trips to the movies. Every time we would go out, it was in honor of my departure from Paraguay. Then came the “real” goodbyes yesterday and today. When I saw good friends and we hugged and even shed a few tears, but it was never good-bye – it was always, well I’ll see you again tomorrow! I’ll see you here or there, I’ll come to your house, to the airport, to this restaurant, etc. Never a real good-bye.
Two weeks ago I said good-bye to everyone at least 2 or 3 times, between a last visit to the office to say good-bye to my colleagues, to a lunch with friends, to passing the afternoon and preparing suitcases with another. The day was dragging, my flight wasn’t until 6 PM and I had the entire day to worry about finishing my suitcases, cleaning the bathroom, vacuuming the room, making it to the office or to the restaurant on time. As someone who is a well-seasoned traveler, but who still has unreasonable amounts of stress relating to travel and arriving on time and having overweight suitcases, an evening flight in a country with endless good byes is an entirely new experience!
At first I was almost annoyed that everyone would “see me at the airport”. I didn’t understand why they felt the need to drag things out any further. We had already said our goodbyes, my head was already drained, my mind was already swirling. I wanted to just board the plane and close my eyes for a long restful sleep. But 3 o’clock rolled around and my coworker came to pick me up from my house, where I was waiting with my friend Nati and the Señora of the house, Sadie. It was then I realized I was grateful for the company.
Had I been in a taxi, the tears would have been rolling, and the sadness impenetrable. But as it were, I could check in my bags and have something to look forward to – seeing my closest friends arrive each in their own time with big smiles and big hugs and words of love to spare. Each new person to arrive (there were 5 in total) brought a new smile to my face and a new feeling of happiness. I now understand this Paraguayan tradition, which I learned today – what it means to feel truly loved by those close to you.
We sat around the airport café for about an hour until it was time for me to board, and even then there were more gifts given, hugs and kisses, and photos taken. I was too anxious to cry but my eyes began to water as I let them each know how much they meant to me. It wasn’t until I finally walked away to approach security that an overwhelming feeling of sadness and loss swept over me and the tears began to flow. I looked back to my friends, to my family in Paraguay, and put on a brave smile between tears and waved goodbye. That is when the realization sunk in. That I was truly leaving. That these amazing people who have entered my life would forever remain a part of this incredible episode of my life and while I will carry them with me to the future, our time together – the nights spent dancing or gossiping or comforting each other – are temporarily out of reach. It only further enforces the need to stay in contact with these amazing people that I now call family.
And as with all of my friendships these last few years, I realize that you never lose friends – that dynamics of relationships may change, but that the feelings of closeness and love don’t go away simply from the distance between you. For this I am grateful. I am lucky to have friends in so many places in the world that I still feel so connected to.