Author: Emmett Galles
Tags: Europe, Semi Finalist, Volunteering
As the plane leaves the runway, I look down at the Chicago skyline below me. The skyscrapers comfort me with their developed construction and urban characteristics. When clouds mask my view, I settle into my seat, hoping that I made the right decision to travel to the country of Latvia.
When I wake up on the third day, I slowly open my eyes, hoping to see the ceiling of my room at home and the posters on my wall. When I make my procession downstairs, I look outside of the window at the tea plants growing in the soil, wishing that I could instead see my front lawn with the swimming pool in the background. When I look around the small table on the porch, I don’t look at what the country of Latvia is, I look at what it isn’t.
After struggling through another day, I trudge my tired body upstairs to the bedroom to read my book, hoping to pass the time in Latvia while avoiding confrontation with the host family. When I’m asked to come downstairs, I painfully set down my book and half-heartedly agree. At the bottom of the stairs, I look out the window with a shred of hope, but am turned away when the plants meet my eyes.
As I’m led into the kitchen, I see the mother and grandparents of the host family inside, smiling as they talk to each other. When I sit down, the mother asks questions about America as I color a book with her daughter, surprised at some of my answers as I describe the culture I consider normal. When I continue to talk about America, I begin to see how ludicrous my life must appear to the host family, just as their life appears to me. When I look outside of the window on my way upstairs, I decide to look for understanding in their world, just as the host family did with mine.
The next day, we take a walk across their farm near the town of Cēsis to look for wild strawberries. On the walk, I learn about how tea is more than just a drink in the morning; it is a spiritual and cleansing elixir. As we pass different herbs and flowers, the host mother informs my mom and I what role they play in the making of different teas. When we reach a clearing, it was as though we stumbled upon Mother Nature’s sanctuary. From the unmowed grass to newly bloomed flowers, my breath is taken away as we make our way across the field. Throughout the remainder of the day, I learn more about the herbs, flowers, and teas that come from right outside of the house windows. When it is time for bed, I look behind me as I walk up the stairs, taking my time to look outside of the window that faces the farm. Instead of a swimming pool, I see the tea plants waving in the wind, congratulating me on opening my heart to their home.
As the plane rumbles off of the tarmac, I look down at the trees and fields that surround the airport. I nudge my mom as I remind her about how I spent my first days cooped up in the bedroom with my book, refusing to give Latvia a chance. When we climb higher in the sky, I lose sight of the airport as it becomes a small dot surrounded by forests and valleys. As the clouds cover the windows, I close my eyes, smiling, as I relive the memories made in nature’s hideaway.