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The Return

Starting over in my home state of Indiana – a place more foreign to me than anywhere I’d ever traveled.

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By Jana DeBusk

Travel Writer

30 Apr 2020 - 6 Minute Read

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Adelante (onward),” I kept whispering, more for me than for my baby, rubbing my pregnant stomach through a steady stream of tears. The small airport was bustling as I placed my guitar and overstuffed backpack on the security conveyer belt. The low-hanging clouds hugging Colombia’s ancient peaks matched the heaviness in my heart, and as I boarded the plane, I inhaled deeply. I wanted to remember the taste of that air forever, a crisp mountain mixture of pine and plantains with a dash of tinto, the local caffeinated brew.

“Goodbye,” I breathed to the towering Yarumo trees and their Mesozoic leaves. Goodbye to the pulse of the cumbia rhythm, to the chivas (rustic party buses) and the strike of a metal brush on a güira instrument. Goodbye to the squawking loritas (small parrots) boasting of their freedom in flight.

Adelante. The plane ascended and I stole one final glance at the life I had built over the previous five years. Cambia, todo cambia (everything changes). In that instant, I left everything I had previously loved in the coffee triangle of Manizales, Colombia. The time had come to go back to a land more foreign to me than anywhere I’d ever traveled: home. It was in Fort Wayne, Indiana that I would give birth to my son, Rami, and start over as a 34-year-old single mom.

The airport in Manizales, Colombia.
Jana DeBusk
The airport in Manizales, Colombia.

As that reality set in, the looming anxiety was gargantuan. I had left the bland cornfields of the Midwest 11 years earlier, and tried my hardest not to look back as I made new homes in New York City, the Netherlands, and, finally, South America. When I left, Indiana represented all the clichés of American culture that had embarrassed me in hostel conversations: obesity, consumerism, and widespread racism. It was flat and white and known for limestone quarries, basketball, and genetically modified soy. Most recently, it was a state that voted for Trump – a red state – and therefore, decisively written off by an open-minded artist type like me. Who in their right mind would return to that after the diversity and freedom of world travel?

But my growing belly served as a gentle reminder that nothing is constant. My stomach fluttered as the plane landed, and I questioned whether it was the baby’s kick or my growing dread dancing in its turbulence. Melinda, my sister-in-law, picked me up in her large SUV and drove me to their apartment located, she claimed, in the “hippest” neighborhood of Fort Wayne.

As we glided past monotonous squares of farmland, she boasted of tree-lined streets with historic brick houses, an art museum, and the convenience of being within walking distance of a lively “downtown scene”. I was skeptical. “Come back, Jana,” she’d said some months earlier. “Live for free, for as long as you need to. Start again.”

You see, in a slow-moving, surprise twist, the man I’d called my husband for the past four years had turned out to be someone else entirely. I found his real birth certificate buried in a pile of photocopies. It was different than the one I’d seen – the one we’d traveled the world with, married with... Our entire union was based on a literal stack of lies. But I loved him. As more truths surfaced, however, so did his anger. His aggression escalated and the emotional abuse started to hint at something more. I was shattered. I kicked him out in January and discovered I was pregnant in March.

The road back to my roots would be complicated and curvy, but returning was my only option. After my recent discoveries about my husband, I wasn’t sure if I was even legally allowed to remain in Colombia. I couldn’t possibly bring a baby into such tumult. Moving home to be closer to my family was a chance to give my unborn son the life I had always imagined for him; a life of laughter, peace, stability, and opportunity.

My brother carried my whole past life, condensed into a couple of well-traveled bags, up the stairs to their apartment, while l wearily waddled into the spare room, carrying the beginning of an entirely different life.

“Ok, Indiana,” I resolved. “Let’s do this.” My brother carried my whole past life, condensed into a couple of well-traveled bags, up the stairs to their apartment, while l wearily waddled into the spare room, carrying the beginning of an entirely different life.

The days dripped by like an air conditioner on a hot summer afternoon. I was five months pregnant. Then six, then seven… I didn’t have a car, so explored on foot, but, luckily, we were within walking distance of downtown. I shuffled past the art museum, past bees busily flitting between black-eyed susans and towering sunflowers.

On one of my summer walks, a wooden sign caught my eye. Friends of the Third World Inc., it said. Intrigued, I opened the door and was immediately transported. A euphoric African drum circle called me out on my jaded preconceptions. Dazzling, beaded necklaces from Colombia and the smell of fresh Guatemalan coffee bombarded my senses, and I smiled. This is refreshing! Is this place new? I thought.

“Hello!” a messy, middle-aged white woman in a flowing tunic greeted me with a toothy smile. “Have you been here before?” When I shook my head, she explained that this non-profit organization had been empowering people to overcome poverty through a fair-trade marketplace…since 1972. Strange, I thought. I don’t remember seeing this before.

I guess one sees what they want to see, when they want to see it. I hadn’t noticed this before because, when I lived here before, my eyes were only half open to the world – and, more often than not, fixated on the boy next door or catching my own reflection in a storefront window. Travel has a way of widening one’s peripheral.

Street art in downtown Fort Wayne.
Jana DeBusk
Street art in downtown Fort Wayne.

Bikers and scooters zoomed by as I headed deeper into downtown. I ambled through newly commissioned street art installations that enlivened otherwise ordinary alleyways. I was thankful for a bench I found at Promenade Park, a sprawling new development on the riverfront. A little girl bounced along the water’s edge, while her mother carried a smaller child in a wrap. A woman in a wheelchair ate a bag of chips next to a family of four, eagerly discussing the new park… in Spanish. Two young women sat in front of me, whispering sweet nothings to each other and holding hands. Nobody seemed to notice how different they were from one another. They were all just waiting for something. Together.

Then I saw it. Movement inside three screened-in boxes on a nearby table. A woman spoke into a microphone. “Release,” she said, before the lids of the boxes swung open, and hundreds of Monarch butterflies burst forth into the open air. Rowdy applause erupted, along with a couple of ecstatic yelps, and it was done.

That’s us, I thought. It was the first time I’d grouped myself with the Fort Waynians. Some of us had been here forever, and some were new in town. A few of us had left, only to come back changed. We, like the Monarchs, were in constant motion; collectively metamorphosing towards a better tomorrow. These are my people, I thought. And this is my home.

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Travel Writer

Jana DeBusk is a Pop, Rock, and Jazz Singer, Recording Artist, World-Wanderer, and University Professor.

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