eight hundred and twenty-two

it has been
nine hundred and eight days
since i boarded that plane

nine hundred and seven days
since i stepped onto the tarmac
exchanging damp winters for hot
pressing heat
my first christmas in summer

eight hundred and sixty-four days
since i lit my first new year’s lantern
the paper catching fire
dangerously close to a neighbor’s house

four hundred and eighty-one days
since i stood in the back of a lumber truck
as it sped along the curvy hills,
my students jumping along to every bump on the road

i don’t know what day it was when i began to note down
the things that made me feel at home
so tired of
feeling like a foreigner
every small victory meant a step closer to being
part of the community

when was the day
the combi driver began to recognize me?
when did he stop for me
crossing two lanes of traffic, sliding open his door,
honking at me to get in
while I walked by lost in thought?

i don’t remember what day it was when
i walked into the panadería
asked if any of “las gringas” had bought bread today
the store owner correcting me with a stern:
“you mean las voluntarias
telling me we weren’t
foreigners visiting for a while
we were part of
tacneñas in our own right

i don’t remember what day it was when
i had no change to pay my bus fare
my feeling of panic and then
relief when a student’s mother
lent me 80 centavos

i don’t remember what day it was when
a student
cleaned paint brushes in our back sink
turned to me and declared
“i don’t want the new volunteers to come”
“¿por qué?” – why?
“i don’t want you to leave”

it has been many days since
i lived in the desert

many days since
i pulled cactus spines from my fingers

wrote a play in Spanish

descended one of the deepest canyons in the americas

caught seafood in the ocean with only a net

sang karaoke for three hours straight

got a parasite

witnessed one of the tallest waterfalls in the world

rode a propeller plane

danced at a discoteca

climbed an island in the middle of the highest lake

started a fire with nothing but embers and eucalyptus leaves

how many times did i
teach english
plan a mass in another language
take an overnight bus
practice yoga on the rooftop
travel alone?

how many days has it been since i
had a little sister?

how many days since i
became a resident of another country?

it has been eighty-five days since my last plane landed
i have spent eighty-five days holding my dreams close


i know i can no longer live within these memories

these days stretch out before me
uncertain yet
it is time for me to look forwards
not backwards

it has been many days since i lived in peru and
i am grateful

my heart warms for those who welcomed me into
their vidas
their ritmos
their fiestas
their casitas

i am grateful for the many days spent
in boredom
in quiet
in solitude
in loneliness

i am grateful
for the simple days and the complex stories
for the days in jvc
in community
at school
and being taught

i am grateful for the eight hundred and twenty-two days in peru

i am grateful for my life in tacna

thank you
whoever you are
for the invitation to grow

thank you for calling to me
lighting the path
on this unforgettable journey

Faith, Hannah, Kristin and I hug each other and pose at the beach.

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