-Frances Mates, A Year in the World: Journeys of a Passionate Traveler
While homophobia exists everywhere, some places are more accepting than others. On my second day back in Boston, I saw two men walking down the street, holding hands in Cambridge. I pointed this out to my friend, Brenda, as we ate Indian food, and I breathed a sigh of relief. I wasn’t alone. I thought of my queer friends in Nicaragua. We are lucky enough to live in a relatively large city, but we fluctuate from stepping into and outside of the closet. When we’d go to concerts at our local women’s collectives, we felt accepted being ourselves. However, two men holding hands wouldn’t fly here. Yet. Boston isn’t 100% safe for queer people, either. I’ve been called a “dyke” in front of the Berklee School of Music after hugging my friend, Shelby (who also happens to have short hair), even though we weren’t together.
After my reinvigorating visit ended, I felt extremely uncomfortable as I passed through the security checkpoint at Boston Logan Airport. I teared up as my girlfriend and I exchanged just another “see you later” before we spend months apart. As I walked away, I wondered: Am I happy to go back? I felt ready, but I also felt scared. While wondering if I were doing the right thing, I remembered that few people are ever completely “ready” to make big decisions. They just jump in and hope things work. As soon as I returned to Nicaragua, I began reading Mates’ book in order to make sense of my mixed feelings. I’ve been comfortable traveling alone throughout my 20’s, but as a Peace Corps Volunteer, it’s different. It’s 27 months of traveling. I’m in limbo. I’m neither from the U.S., nor from Nicaragua. I’m always searching for a definition of my “true home”. While reading Mates’ book, the passage above stuck out to me. Despite the discomfort and hesitation that comes with traveling, I continue to gravitate in the direction of the airport.
When I visited home, people asked me, “How are you liking the Peace Corps?”. This is such a complex question to answer. On the night before I first left for Nicaragua in August, the Peace Corps Staff in D.C. gave us one warning: Be careful what you complain about to those you leave behind. Our loved ones just want us to be happy. Yes, there are countless annoyances in Nicaragua, like classes being cancelled because of the rain. There’s so much I take for granted, though. I’ve swum in a volcanic crater’s lagoon. I’ve won 3rd place in my first 10k race. I can calmly cook a breakfast of eggs, beans, and rice. I can take selfies in the park with excited schoolchildren. I can teach English lessons to my friend and single mother Rosa, who laughs as I explain that “six” is not pronounced the same as “sex” during our numbers lesson. In retrospect, a year ago, I’d be running out the door every morning while trying not to spill coffee on my shirt on the way to work. Unfortunately, when friends in Boston asked me how I was doing, I complained about the annoyances that I was happy to escape from for a bit. Dear loved ones: If I didn’t make you want to visit Nicaragua, I didn’t do it justice.
I love traveling. I am so restless that I could never see myself settling down, but I admit that traveling scares me like nothing else does. My love for traveling has heightened my understanding of the world, and has pushed me through uncomfortable situations. Traveling has also made me question why these situations make me feel uncomfortable in the first place. It’s this process of relentless self-discovery that I live for, and I hope I’ll help you feel inspired to grow from your own uncomfortable experiences, regardless of where you travel.