A Semester in Uruguay: How Saying Yes Opened Me to New Experiences
By Kylie Jelley
With blurred vision, I took in my last sights of Montevideo. Yoshi’s host family rode beside us in a small turquoise camioneta.
His mother waved a red handkerchief out the window, and his brother let out the pitchy shrieks of an air horn, for five miles.
They waved, salty tears streaked their faces. I looked away. Brightly colored laundry hung from the window, contrasting against the nickel grey tones of the towering apartments. Birds flew in solitaire, and my heart was being torn.
We arrived at the airport. All 13 of our families gathered around us. When the Spanish attendants announced our flight number, I was lost in a daze of confusion.
I grasped on to Florencia, my host sister and fought to muster up the right words. I told her, “Te extrañaré, te amo, y gracias por todos.” (I will miss you, I love you, thanks for everything.)
I searched for my “mother”, Maria Carmen. When I entered into her arms, I couldn’t escape her gentle sobbing. Next I sadly parted with my “father”, then my neighbors and friends.
My cheeks were numb from besos, and my eyes all out of tears. I grabbed my bags and walked towards the plane.
I walked away in disbelief. The past two and a half months had vanished before I had the time to blink. My term abroad was over. In a few hours I would be back home in the United States, my home, which now seemed so foreign.
The plane took off toward home. And although I was suspended 40,000 feet in the air, my vivid memories brought me back down to the dusty streets of Montevideo.
Often overwhelmed by the rapid flow of Spanish questions that invaded my clarity, I could only reply with the simplest word I knew, “Si.” “Si” was the perfect response for any question. It always opened the door to spontaneity: rich food, culture and experiences.
I sat in a lawn chair in the bed of a truck as we sped through the city traffic. The radio was spitting out static Spanish reggaeton, while the salty breeze hit my lips and the foreign sun crisped my skin.
My hands clenched on to the rusty red metal. With a quick turn of the wheel, my chair slid about two inches letting out a piercing screech. Feeling slightly unstable, but thrilled by this unusually unsafe custom, I sat there unsure about where we were going.
We approached the “rambla,” where the local ocean tides mixed with the fresh water of the Rio de la Plata. The muddy waters, and the caramel colored sands stood still as a million bronzed bodies roamed the shores.
One word — “si” — and I was on the shores of Uruguay, wandering around the Spanish markets, or dancing the salsa in a line of Uruguayan natives.
It was as if a genie had been released from a bottle. Every time I answered with that Spanish translation of the word “yes,” I was granted every one of my unknown desires.
One word and I was on the streets of carnival. I could feel the rhythm of the ancient drums echoing inside my body.
I stood mesmerized by the glittering costumed, body paint, bright feathers and swift movements of the dancers. I could see how the rhythm of the native drum invaded the hearts of its people. The whole city poured into the streets as they watched the history of their culture unfold.
Each bead of sweat, callused hand, aching pair of feet portrayed an unforgettable passion. Carnival went on from nine to six in the morning. Hundreds of drummers came in waves between the decorated floats, and dancers.
There were men on stilts. Old men and woman and children marched for hours. People packed the sidewalks and watched from rooftops and peered out the windows of nearby buildings.
Vivacious colors swarmed through the streets one after another. Beauty queens rode on floats gracefully for hours.
It was unlike any parade I had ever been to the dancers stormed through the streets in skimpy native costumes full of sequins, and briskly shook their hips back in forth as they stood on two-inch feels.
Their face paint delicately ran down their faces with each bead of sweat. The drummer’s ardent eyes gazed ahead. The beat of the drum invaded me and left an eternal sting in my memory.
The passion spread through the streets like wildfire. The crowd fed off each best of the drum. It was such a breathtaking sense of nationhood.
Baby blue flags waved through the streets taking on a dance of their own. The culture seemed to have a unique rhythm, a slow pace, but rich and passionate.
Startled by the intense turbulence, my memories quickly fled. The plane jittered up and down, and the flight attendants’ carts rattled as they raced back to their seats to secure their seatbelts.
I looked out my window, watching the giant winds flitter. We quickly ascended about the clouds and the turbulence came to a slow fade.
I thought to myself, saying “si” to this term abroad allowed me to experience another culture’s rhythms and ways of life. One word and I had found a second home.
Kylie Jelley is a Journalism Major at the University of Massachusetts and an intern at GoNOMAD.
Read more about Uruguay:
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