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How do you make meaning out of something seemingly so senseless? For we must find meaning in death, otherwise life would not be worth living. There is a Spanish phrase I have since learned since living in Latin America that I have used often to describe my transition here, but that I feel fits even more perfectly now: poco a poco. Little by little. Day by day. As anyone who has suffered loss knows, grief is not a door you can open and close at will, but a wave lapping a shore — at times overwhelming and suffocating, at other times a gentle reminder of the fathomless unknown waiting beyond.

And one can have many waves, of varying strength, throughout a single day. Sometimes we are able to meet them with a paddle, while at other times we let them drown us. Such is the nature of pain. I do not have an answer of where we go from here. We will each take our different paths on the road to healing, and at different times. Some of us will walk this road for the rest of our lives, because for some, there is never true healing from an event like this.

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The most we can do is accompany each other along the way, as we each find our individual meanings in his passing. Some days we will be strong enough to bear the weight of this burden, other days it will be all we can do to crawl, the cross God has given us to bear crushing us from above. For me, my cross has taken on the form of regret. Regret that I let these past few years slip by, never reaching out to him to make sure he was alright, regret I was content simply checking in on his social media every now and then. For that Garrett, I ask for your forgiveness.

You were a bright light taken away from this world too soon, and you will be dearly, dearly missed. If I had to take any meaning from your passing, it would be that — to never let so much time pass between me and people I care about again. Life is too short to not fill it with the people and things you love, and to not tell the people you love that you care. As for now, all I can do is give my thanks.

To you, thank you for being such a good friend to me all those years. You were like a brother to me, and I will never forget that. And I thank God for letting you live your dreams. Though your time here on Earth was short you really did live it to the fullest and for that you are an inspiration to all of us — to living our own dreams, to never losing hope, and to meet every obstacle in life with a smile and some killer dance moves. Garrett Soumakil Freer, rest in peace dear friend.

And until we meet again, may God hold you in the palm of his hand.

Killing Michael Jackson songs with his stellar dance moves. And for vacation I had the wonderful opportunity to travel to Bolivia with two friends who are also volunteers here in Tacna, Peru. And three of those days were to be when I was planning on traveling. So, after many talks with the teachers at Miguel Pro, giving out exams and grades earlier than normal, making sure I had subs for the classes I would miss…it somehow all worked out and the Friday before I left I was cleared to go!

Vera, Genny, and I on our first bus to Desaguadero. That very next night I was on a bus and on my way to the border of Bolivia! Climbing about 10, ft. We made it to the border around 5 a. Getting into Bolivia was a little more complicated. My friends, who are from France and Germany, got through with a simple stamp. Thank you US international politics. Twenty four hours and four busses later we arrived, exhausted, but proud of ourselves for having figured it all out on our own without much planning beforehand.

After a day of rest in Uyuni, we signed up for a three day tour of the south-western part of the country. It started with a full day excursion to the famous Salar de Uyuni — salt flats that had once been part of an ocean but has since been separated and evaporated, leaving behind a vast plain of salt. It was incredible!

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It was flat for as far as the eye could see, with sudden blue mountains rising in the distance. It was so large you could not see fully across it and at times it felt as if we were literally driving on the roof of the world, with nothing but white salt below and blue sky above. We of course took very touristy-photos and ended up eating lunch right there, sitting on the salt, in the middle of the flats, with no one else around.

Salt…for as far as the eye can see. The afternoon was spent climbing to the top of what once was an island, but is now just a large mound of earth rising out of the middle of the Salar. By that time we were stripping layers, as at about 15, ft. The vista from the top of Isla Incahuasi.


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It was a weird feeling, sitting there on salt stools, expecting it to crumble beneath me but having it remain permanently solid. But as the sun had now set and there was no heating, the cold began to seep into my bones.

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And it was a bitter, dry cold. One I could not escape, no matter how many layers of clothing I had on. They ended up being one of the best parts about the tour. Sure, the sights were beautiful, but being able to connect with new people in my own language for the first time in eight months was a sigh of relief. As great as it is connecting with people across cultures and languages, I had forgotten how… easy it was to relate to someone when you come from a similar language or cultural background.

I found myself making obscure references as in quoting lines from Disney movies and not only being understood, but being laughed at for the joke. Even if only for three days, I was reminded that my usual method of humor which is lost on so many Peruvians is still there inside of me, even if I use it very infrequently here.

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While I still believe most things about human nature trump linguistic and cultural barriers, I have to say, Harry Potter references are just not the same in Spanish. So for that, for reminding me a little of a subdued part of myself, I thank them. I also thank them, and my friends Genny and Vera, for putting up with me the last two days of the tour, as it is then that I fell sick.

I have never had altitude or motion sickness before, but something about climbing over 3, ft. I spent most of the day in and out of sleep in the car, and struggling to find energy as we stopped and visited all the sights. But sights they were! Then it was off to stop at a laguna flamingos inhabit. The water was so clear and blue and still you could see the reflection of the mountains in the distance on the semi-frozen surface, as pinkish-white flamencos waded through the shallow pool, looking for food.

It was so strange to see them up there, at almost 5, m. Usually one imagines flamingos in places warm and tropical, but here they were, in the middle of the Bolivian altiplano. Flamingos…at above 15, ft. Who would have thought? The water was so still you could see the reflection of the mountains in it. This is a Laguna whose waters have been colored by the volcanic minerals and that have thus turned the water red. It was stunning, and though I have never been, I felt as if I had been transplanted into a scene somewhere in Iceland, with the rough, brown mountains rising along the horizon.

Then it was on to our hotel for the night. Next thing I knew I was racing to the bathroom, where I spent a good portion of the night having it come out both ends. So much for Coca leaves. I tried getting some food into my stomach but ended up throwing it right back up into my soup bowl right there at the dinner table but, as the Brits joked, at least I made it into the bowl.

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Waking up at 5 a. Never again do I want to have bowel issues where the only bathrooms are squat toilets, holes in the ground, or rock piles.

Not exactly ideal when it comes exploding out almost without warning. Still, I tried to enjoy myself as much as possible. Our first stop on the third day were the geysers at dawn, which were incredible to see, spouting fumes into the air against the soft, golden sun. And their fumes were so much warmer than the biting morning air of the altiplano.

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Then we headed off to some hot springs, and my bowels luckily held it together long enough for me to enjoy a twenty minute spell in their warm waters. The rest of the day passed mostly making the six-hour return to the town of Uyuni. We made stops along the way, at more rock piles, at small towns, until finally arriving to the pueblo around p.