Am I the only person who feels like the New Year actually starts on February 1st? That January is a transition month, a limbo period, between the old and the new?

2020 is finally over and done with, but what does that even mean?

Did we think that all of the hardships that we faced during this unprecedented year were going to end the day we flipped the calendar to January 1st? Because they didn’t… And a month into 2021, they still haven’t…

We are still in the middle of a pandemic.

People are still losing their jobs, homes and loved ones.

People are still having to facilitate distance learning for their children while also navigating remote work.

People are still being forced to put themselves and their communities at risk because they need to work to survive.

We still can’t socialize, we still can’t travel, and we still can’t make plans for the future.

America is still divided.

Mental health is still suffering.

Errrr, I mean, Happy 2021 everyone!

Despite that intro, I can appreciate that the New Year symbolizes hope and a fresh start for many, including myself. The start of 2021 also aligns with a huge life transition for me- I left Medellín and am back in Chicago. I haven’t posted much about my homecoming yet because I’m still processing it.

I expected to struggle with the cold, snowy Chicago winter.

I expected to struggle with not being able to see my friends and family right away because of the pandemic.

I expected to miss the person I spent almost every second of 2020 with.

What I did not expect was this overwhelming sense of grief that I feel right now. It’s as if I’m in mourning. Mourning a difficult, yet beautiful year that only existed because of a very specific set of circumstances that will never be again.

Before I can fully move into 2021 and open myself up to what it has to offer, I have to reflect on my 2020 experience.

I spent this limbo month we call January, doing just that…

A 2020 Overview

First, I must acknowledge that I was in a highly privileged position last year. I was able to self-isolate in Medellín, Colombia while teaching English online. I went into self-isolation with another human so I always had someone to hug or chat with in person. Medellín has a high functioning and affordable delivery service for everything under the sun, so I rarely had to put myself or others at risk to meet my needs. Medellín, known as “the City of Eternal Spring,” has beautiful weather year round, simply stepping out onto my balcony was a mood booster. For all of this I am thankful.

Now let’s get into it…

When things first started to get “weird” in mid-march, I thought it would last a month or two, tops. (HA! How naïve was I?) I was ignorantly, yet blissfully unaware of the severity of the Covid-19 pandemic. Did I even know what the word “pandemic” meant? I don’t think so.

I was actually pretty excited when the first 19 day quarantine was announced in Medellín. I had just been offered my first full time teaching job abroad and was a little nervous to start. The quarantine seemed like a surprise opportunity to rest and prepare for the new life full of responsibility that awaited me.

Plus, Michael (who I had met in Guatemala back in January) had just come to Medellín to visit me. He decided to stay through the quarantine instead of jumping on a last minute flight back home to Canada. We were excited to binge watch TV and experiment with new recipes during our unexpected extra time together. I thought in a few weeks, maybe a month, everything would open back up, I would start my teaching job in Medellín and Michael would return to Canada, as originally planned.

19 days turned into 9 months real quick!

Michael and I left Colombia together on December 22, 2020.

As of this writing, the language center that hired me to teach English is still closed.

I Wanted to Settle Down in Medellín

I had originally come to Medellín to “settle down.” Not in the traditional sense of that phrase. I didn’t intend to anchor my career, buy a house or get married in Colombia, I just wanted to slow down for a bit, make a few connections, be part of a community and really immerse myself in a foreign culture.

By the time I arrived in Colombia I’d already spent three years living nomadically. My life in America had been split between Las Vegas and Chicago, I spent 10 months backpacking through 5 different countries in Asia and 5 weeks in Guatemala studying Spanish. Living like a nomad was no doubt exciting, and an essential part of my travel story, but I was ready to be still again, to befriend coworkers, know my neighbors and to make a little money. When I got to Medellín in February of 2020 I immediately found everything I was looking for- a great job, a super cute apartment and new friends.

I was set.

Covid Hits Colombia

When my mom suggested that the Covid-19 pandemic might affect my new job, I thought she was crazy. She wasn’t. The language center closed the week I was supposed to start teaching. I wasn’t upset though because, as I mentioned before, I thought everything would be delayed for a few weeks, then go back to “normal.” I was actually a bit relieved because I was nervous about starting a full-time job for the first time in years. It felt like the universe was giving me a little extra time to prepare, relax and enjoy some extra time with Michael, who I was growing quite fond of ;).

By May, reality set in.

The pandemic was going to last much longer than I had expected. The government quarantine had been extended, the borders were closed indefinitely (meaning both Michael and I were “stuck” in Colombia), our visas were about to expire, my new teaching job was completely off the table and I was barely making enough money teaching English online.

Not only did I not get to “settle down” in Medellín like I’d hoped to, my life had become more unstable than it had previously been. This is so crazy for me to put in writing because the 9 months I ended up living in Medellín with Michael is the longest I’ve consecutively lived in one city, with the same person, in years.

So why was it so unstable?

Well, for starters, at any given moment I never knew how much longer I’d be in Medellín.  Every couple of days I oscillated between thinking we’d be stuck in Colombia forever and fearing that we’d get kicked out of the country with no where to go. This made committing to apartment leases complicated and stressful. We moved 8 times.

It seemed like the self-isolation rules changed by the minute and I never knew if I was breaking one. Not knowing Spanish did not help the situation. I was constantly translating the news, trying to keep up. We had to follow “Pico y Cedula” which meant we could only go grocery shopping one, sometimes two, days per week, based on the last number of our ID cards. And only one person per household was allowed out at a time. For several months we weren’t even able to go outside to walk or jog. Even when things started to open up in late summer, there were curfews and total lockdowns on weekends and holidays. I was stopped by the police twice while going to the grocery store (once with Michael and once by myself) and to this day, I don’t know why. (Although I have theories that I plan to write about soon).

In September some international flights started to resume. An announcement was made saying that foreigners in Colombia on expired visas (which we both were at this point) had until October 31st to either renew their Colombian visas or leave the country. Fed up with life in lockdown, I was determined to leave the country. Plus, even if I wanted to stay, the immigration office was not even open to process visa renewal applications.

Leaving the Country Was Our Only Choice

We planned to go to Mexico (one of the only countries accepting Americans and Canadians at the time). We couldn’t decide where to go in Mexico though. Mexico City had good weather but was expensive and didn’t seem to be taking the pandemic seriously. Puerto Vallarta, Cancun and Puerto Escondido were all on our list but we weren’t sure if we could handle 90 degree days long term and again, they didn’t seem to be taking the pandemic seriously. ( Side Note: Going home to Chicago or Montreal was not an option for either of us at this point, for a variety of reasons.)

In early October, thinking our time in Colombia was coming to an end, we decided to leave Medellín and spend our last few weeks in Santa Marta, a city on Colombia’s Caribbean coast. While Santa Marta was a wonderful change of scenery, we both knew immediately that we are not people who can live in hot, humid climates long term.

We started to plan our move to Mexico City.

But I was still uneasy about the expense and the lack of biosecurity measures they had in place. The more I researched, the more I doubted that Mexico City was the place for us. Surprisingly, I wished we could just go back to Medellín.

Luck was in our favor!

While we were in Santa Marta the immigration office started accepting renewal applications online. After jumping through a few hoops (nothing in Colombia is straightforward or timely) and paying $30USD each, our Colombian visas were renewed for another 3 months. We headed back to Medellín.

I couldn’t believe it… After all that time I’d spent wondering if I’d ever be able to leave Medellín, I was excited to be going back, determined to appreciate my last few months there.

If at the beginning of the pandemic, someone could have told me that I’d be locked down in Medellín for the next 9 months, I might have been able plan accordingly and get comfortable. I think about all the things I would of done differently (like not leaving behind all of my spices and dried beans in the Airbnb in Medellín when we left for Santa Marta). But as we all know, that kind of foresight would have been impossible. It also would have completely changed my 2020 narrative. Maybe if we’d known from the beginning how long the lockdown was going to last, Michael would have hopped on that last minute flight to Canada back in March? That would have been a bummer.

The years I spent living nomadically prior to 2020 helped prepare me for the unpredictably that came with the pandemic. However, choosing to live like a nomad and therefore having an unpredictable life is completely different than when a pandemic forces instability upon you while you’re attempting to settle down.

So Let’s Talk About What I Didn’t Accomplish in 2020

I see people posting about all of the things they accomplished in 2020. Many people accomplished things in spite of the pandemic while others accomplished things because of the pandemic. These posts made me question myself. I started to think “I could have and should have done so much more this year!”

When I first looked back on my 2020 experience I just saw “wasted time.” I would teach English online for a few hours most mornings but that was my only true commitment. Theoretically I should have been able to accomplish a whole bunch this year…

  • I could have a written at least one blog post per week, lord knows I have a long list of ideas I’d like to explore.
  • I could have taken several free online classes (like the Open Yale Courses on African American History and Capitalism that I started in the spring but didn’t finish).
  • I could have gotten another online teaching job.
  • I could have learned Spanish online (instead of being bitter about not being able to continue classes in person).
  • I could have maintained a regular meditation and yoga practice (instead of completely avoiding both most days).
  • I could have worked out everyday (again, instead of completely avoiding it most days).
  • I could have written a whole damn book.

But I didn’t. Why?

As 2020 moves further into the past, I can see that my understanding of time is clouded by the productivity driven society I come from. Westerners, Americans in particular, base our value on our productivity, our income and other tangible gains.

We don’t tend to acknowledge what are dealing with mentally and emotionally, prioritize self-care or value rest. Up until very recently, I looked at rest as something I needed to earn. Since I wasn’t accomplishing anything that I deemed worthy of rest, because I felt lazy, I rarely gave myself permission to rest in 2020.

I left 2020 feeling unaccomplished, yet extremely exhausted.

2020 from a Mental and Emotional Perspective

Now I can see that during all that “wasted time” in 2020, I wasn’t doing nothing. I was dealing with A LOT mentally and emotionally…

  • I was constantly navigating stress, anxiety, and instability.
  • I was trying to manage an unprecedented global health crisis, in a country where I didn’t speak the language or trust the police.
  • I was perpetually unsure if I would face repercussions for being in Colombia after my visa expired, yet I couldn’t leave.
  • I was grieving the loss of my first “real” teaching job abroad.
  • I was trying to budget limited funds not knowing how long I’d be “stuck” in Colombia without a fulltime job.
  • I was stressing about not having health insurance.
  • I was worried about my friends and family because the pandemic was being handled so poorly in the USA.
  • I was constantly explaining and defending Black Lives Matter.
  • I was grieving the loss of several relationships that I had to walk away from (2020 certainly exposed people’s true colors).
  • I was feeling guilty for feeling anything other than thankful because I know so many people had it so much worse than I did in 2020.

I was worthy of rest (and grace) but didn’t think so because I wasn’t using my time to learn a language, launch a new business or write a book.

How ridiculous?

Acknowledging that my value does not increase or decrease based on my productivity/ income, that I need to prioritize my mental health/self-care, and that I am worthy of rest regardless of how “productive” I am, are my most important accomplishments of 2020!

But I Actually Did A LOT of Cool S*** in 2020

I was able to look beyond that goofy productivity narrative and realize that I actually did A LOT of cool stuff in 2020:

2020 Highlights

  • New Years 2020- Spent quality time with my bestie and her baby in downtown Chicago
  • Spent one month taking Spanish lessons in Antigua, Guatemala
  • Hiked Cerro de La Cruz (several times) in Antigua, Guatemala
  • Visited Monterrico, a black sand beach town in Guatemala
  • Hiked, and camped out on, Volcán de Acatenango, where I watched Volcán de Fuego erupt
  • Kayaked across Lake Atitlan, from San Pedro to San Marcos (Still my favorite activity of 2020, thanks Michael)
  • Hiked La Nariz at Lake Atitlan at sunrise
  • Volunteered for 10 days at a Vipassana meditation center outside of Medellín
  • Secured a job as English teacher at a prestigious language center in Medellín
  • Visited the small town of Guatepé, Colombia, near Medellín
  • Celebrated my 31st birthday with an incredible (and strenuous) day hike to “El Ventiadero” in the mountains west of Medellín
  • Hiked Cerro Tres Las Cruces (I accidentally cheated by hiking up the back access road. After seeing how steep and rocky the real trail was, I was so thankful that I did.)
  • Explored Parque Arvi several times, including once by electric push-bike
  • Visited Pueblito Paisa in Medellín
  • Visited Museo de Antioquia in Medellín
  • Visited Comuna 13 in Medellín with all the Colombian tourists (very few international tourist were in Colombia at the time)
  • Went Scuba diving for the first time in Taganga, Colombia
  • Visited Jardin, a mountain town outside of Medellín
  • Saw the Christmas lights in Medellín (most notably in Envigado)
  • Visited Parque Explora in Medellín
  • Visited Santa Fe de Antioquia, a small town outside of Medellín
  • Hiked Cerro Pan de Azucar
  • Celebrated Christmas with Michael and his mom in Florida

Books I Read (Listened to) in 2020

  1. Open Veins of Latin America by Eduardo Galeano, Isabel Allende
  2. How Not to Die by Michael Greger MD, Gene Stone
  3. Last Night I Dreamed of Peace by Dang Tuy Tram, Andrew X. Pham
  4. The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin
  5. Sistah Vegan by A. Breeze Harper, Pattrice Jones
  6. Aphro-ism by Aph Ko, Syl Ko
  7. Discourse on Colonialism by Aime Cesaire
  8. Pablo Escobar: My Father by Juan Pablo Escobar
  9. State and Revolution by Vladimir Ilich Lenin
  10. Caste by Isabel Wilkerson
  11. Native by Kaitlin B. Curtice
  12. Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer
  13. Socialism… Seriously by Danny Katch
  14. Hood Feminism by Mikki Kendall
  15. Capitalism by Arundhati Roy
  16. The Man Who Sold America by Joy-Ann Reid
  17. Feminism Is For Everybody by bell hooks
  18. When They Call you a Terrorist by Patrisse Khan-Cullors
  19. Big Friendship by Aminatou Sow and Ann Friedman
  20. The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga
  21. The Communist Manifesto by Friedrich Engels & Karl Marx
  22. Assata by Assata Shakur
  23. Freedom Is a Constant Struggle by Angela Y. Davis

(Some were a re-listen… I love to listen to powerful books more than once).

Movies I Watched in 2020

  1. The Harry Potter Series (2001-2011)
  2. The Lord of the Rings Trilogy (2001-2003)
  3. Burning (2018)
  4. Parasite (2019)
  5. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)
  6. The Platform (2019)
  7. Monos (2019)
  8. Y Tú Mama También (2001)
  9. Queen And Slim (2019)
  10. Persepolis (2007)
  11. Ponyo (2008)
  12. Castle in the Sky (1986)
  13. The Truman Show (1998)
  14. The Matrix (1999)
  15. Porco Rosso (1992)
  16. V for Vendetta (2005)
  17. Friends with Money (2006)
  18. Okja (2017)
  19. Tune in For Love (2019)
  20. Coming to America (1988)
  21. Lion (2016)
  22. Sully (2016)
  23. First they Killed My Father (2017)
  24. Casino (1995)
  25. La Vendedor de Rosas (1998)
  26. El Camino (2019)

(There are loads more but these are the ones worth a watch that I can recall right now).

Series I Watched in 2020

  1. The Wire
  2. Insecure
  3. Atlanta
  4. The Pacific
  5. Generation Kill
  6. Roots (original miniseries)
  7. Breaking Bad
  8. Better Call Saul

Vegan Recipes I Mastered in 2020

  1. Ajiaco Soup & Arepas
  2. Lentil Marina Pasta
  3. Huevos Vegans de Garbanzos
  4. Ginger Garlic Noodle Stirfry
  5. Chickpea Potato Curry
  6. Lentil Mushroom Stew and Mashed Potatoes

(I hope to link recipes soon!)

Blog Posts I Wrote in 2020

  1. Why I’ve Been Avoiding Yoga Studios
  2. Checking My Vegan Privilege
  3. How a Hangover in Bangkok Led to Studying Spanish in Antigua
  4. Quarantine in Medellin
  5. Day to Day Life Quaranined in Medellin
  6. A Book List
  7. Medellin Self-Isolation: A Photo Gallery
  8. Black Lives Matter
  9. The One Where I Turn 31
  10. Confronting Family and Friends Who Oppose Black Lives Matter
  11. 2020 Vision Board
  12. Happy November! An Update
  13. Domicillio Vegano Medellin

Habits I Maintained 

  • Veganism. Despite living in a meat, butter and cheese loving country, and with a man who I swear is addicted to cheeseburgers and bacon, I stayed vegan!
  • Non-Drinker. I did not pick back up a drinking habit in 2020. I had less than 5 beers all year.
  • Writer. I wrote 668 typed pages in my journal, 10+ blog posts and a handful of Instagram novellas.

Mental, Emotional, and Social Milestones

  • I watched my mental health slip in 2020. Prior to 2020 I had convinced myself that I’d gotten my anxiety under control, on my own. Not quite. I have a lot of work yet to do and have decided to look into getting therapy in 2021 (advice on doing so is welcome).
  • I was given the opportunity to navigate life with another human being for the first time in a LONG time. Compromising, connecting, and sharing with someone else was beautiful, messy, intimate and necessary for my growth. I have no doubt that Michael and I were meant to spend 2020 together.
  • Having the time to video chat with my friends and family, especially my 2 year old nephew, allowed me to not feel so far away from home. After a year away he knew exactly who I was when we reunited.

Work Related

  • I continued to teach online with VIPkid in 2020.
  • Thanks to an ITA Instagram story takeover, I gained two students from Medellín who I am still teaching to this day.
  • I did several haircuts while in Guatemala and Colombia 🙂

Had you told me these would be my only sources of income for the entire year when the pandemic first began, I would have freaked out and said “THERE IS NO WAY I’LL MAKE IT!” … But I did.

Cultural Immersion

Despite not getting to settle down and immerse myself in a new culture like I wanted to, I still got intimately familiar with a foreign city, country and culture. I hate when people say I must not really know Medellín because I lived their during the lockdown. While I didn’t experience a lot of what I might have had more things had been open, I got to see a very raw and real side of the country and it’s people. I was often the only non-Colombian tourist when I did venture out. I followed several Colombian politicians and journalists on social media and read the news often to keep up with the latest pandemic regulations. I learned more Spanish than I otherwise would have simply because I had to to figure out what was going on.

Here’s to whatever 2021 has in store for me!

PS. Wear a mask. Limit social gatherings. Think about others.