“¡Kyle!” exclaimed a certain six-year-old.
I sighed and turned my head to see Franco poking his head through my door. After an hour of playing with my host siblings Ani and Franco, I had tried to slip away for a break. Franco decided that ten minutes was sufficient.
I smiled slightly and asked, “Si Franco, cómo estás?”
“¡Quiero jugar!” he responded.
“¡Franco no puedes entrar!” Lucas, their twelve-year-old cousin, said, appearing behind Franco.
I was a little frustrated. I knew it wasn’t a defining YAV moment that I chose to slip away and sit quietly in my room, but I just wasn’t exactly in the right mood. I’d spent the morning alone in the house and had felt an unexpected weight of homesickness and loneliness. Between that and my slight illness, I had felt distant and chose to remove myself. Plus, Ani had been too scared to look at me the night before. They would hardly miss me if I put self-care first this time.
Naturally, I was completely wrong. I smiled and told Lucas not to worry.
“Está bien,” I said, “Pero tal vez vamos a ir arriba.”
I tried to move us upward, but Franco was very keen on looking in my room. “Ve tus fotos,” Lucas explained.
I asked Franco if he’d like to see the photos of friends and family I put above my desk. “¡Sí!” And so I lifted him up and explained the 11 photos. He did not ask any questions, but seemed happy enough.
I was touched, but still felt distant. I just couldn’t seem to muster the energy to be present.
I was thinking about other ways to catch a break as I brought Franco back upstairs to the kitchen when Ani appeared. Scared Ani, who wouldn’t make eye contact the night before. She was crying and said something that I could hardly understand.
Then she took my hand and led me with a soft confidence up the stairs. It was clear, I was meant to stay. Thank God I have spent years building up barriers to emotional responses so I did not let out the sob that had caught in my throat. Ani wanted me there! There was a mix of emotions and thoughts at play, but the dominant one was: “Try really hard to be present, stupid.”
And so we played. And played. We solved the same two jigsaw puzzles at least ten times each. They showed me their room and all their toys, ranging from a bunch of plastic cutlery to a duplo truck set. I pushed them around on a tricycle. I lifted Ani up so she could touch the ceiling and be the tallest person in the room. Lucas pushed the couches together and we imagined that we were in a boat. Each of us took turns being the captain.
On that note, a huge thank you that Lucas was around. He is an expert. He had a game for every situation. He could turn any tear over a small matter into a burst of giggles. He shined with confidence as the cool, older cousin. At the same time, at no point did that seem to go to his head. He loves being present and having their trust. He is a fantastic kid.
I’d like to say that I never felt another pull to slip away. That would be a lie though. I attempted to leave once to head to an internet café, rationalizing that I had to communicate with Jenny about a few things. In reality, those things could wait. I was seeking the known while struggling through the unknown.
I brought up the possibility of heading out the door and Franco wanted to go with me. Lucas suggested that that would be alright, but I was not sure if Paco and Celia would want that. Plus, it made no sense to bring Franco with me if I was attempting to get away. So I stayed and I am happier for it. I feel stronger for overcoming whatever sentiment was pulling me away.
And I also sense more love is present here. Paco and Celia were thrilled to learn that we played all day, though they understood how tired I was. We were able to chat over dinner about their children and their lives in a much more familiar way. They laughed when I explained that this might have been the hardest day of my YAV year. (Honestly, sustainable agriculture will be a breeze compared to those three rays of sunshine.)
So went my first day. I’m delighted that they want me around and hopeful that with time I will feel less distant. It won’t be a linear process, but overall I’m hopeful for a strong connection between myself and mi familia ayacuchana.