At 5:30 a.m. on Saturday I flew out of McAllen airport, leaving the Rio Grande Valley behind. It was definitely bittersweet. I was happy to be heading home, as I’ve been traveling for awhile, but my thoughts were still with the students and people I had met in the valley.
Now I am back here, getting ready to finish my last 50 days as a graduate student. And trying to figure out how to move forward, knowing what I know. The uniqueness of the Valley community, its culture, successes,and challenges, will stick with me for a long time. I wanted to stay behind, to develop a greater relationship with the community, and help with some of the problems I have become familiar with.
As I said in my pre-trip blog post- when you travel, you take your past experience with you wherever you go, and after a trip you are someone different because of your experience. In the beginning, you try to see into the future, to see what that journey will be like and how you will change. So how have I changed? What have I learned?
Well one thing that I didn’t necessarily learn, but better understood, was that you can’t judge a place at face value. There may always be something beneath the surface that only the people who know a place best, can tell you. For example, in Hidalgo County they have some of the most unique infectious disease cases that you can’t find in the rest of the country such as leprosy, dengue fever, neurologic tuberculosis and a strain of shigella that is normally food poisoning but instead infects the lungs. I never would have suspected any of that by simply walking around the community or looking at basic secondary data.
I also wouldn’t have known that when people in the Valley go to the movies they buy pickles and put them in their popcorn to flavor them.
I wouldn’t have known that the La Plaza shopping mall in McAllen is the highest earning mall in the country.
I wouldn’t know that the best place to get seafood is Dirty Al’s on South Padre Island. (try the fried shrimp, it’s life changing)
But now I know this lesson better. And every time I arrive at a new place, I will think to myself- “what awesome/terrible/interesting things is this place hiding? how can I look closer and find those things?”