It really wasn't an ideal time to travel, just coming back from a month-long jaunt through Southeast Asia and all. Besides a lack of money, October is one of my favorite months in Manhattan. There's something nostalgic about the juxtaposition between the cooling weather and warm autumn colors. The changing leaves speak peace to me, which leaves behind a homey residue.
But I hadn't seen Stephanie in nearly four years. As one of my closest girlfriends, something urged me, "Go! You need this." So I saved my pennies, bought a plane ticket, and now here I am.
Steph and I met in the fall of my junior year at Fredonia State University. I was the arts editor for the campus newspaper, and she was a writer/photographer. From the first story of hers I edited (an eloquent and risque write-up on that year's performance of "The Vagina Monologues"), I had a feeling we'd be instant friends. So I asked her to dinner.
Most people have dreams in life. Unfortunately, everyday nuisances - paying bills, making relationships work, taking care of kids, coping with the subsequent stress and lethargy of these things - tend to get in the way of realizing them. Right away I knew Stephanie was different.
"I want to explore the world," she said. I don't remember the places she rambled off at the time. But I recall a unique fervor in her blue eyes, like the inside of a flame. This girl's gonna do it, I thought. It gave me courage to pursue my own dreams of traveling and writing.
She lived in Fredonia for a while. And then her hometown of North Tonawanda. But she wasn't in either for long. With a British father and American mother, she was curious about the other half of her background. So, a few weeks after graduation, in 2007, she moved to London. There, she started a now-acclaimed blog: littlelondonobservationist.wordpress.com.
I arrived Thursday afternoon. We were sitting in the living room, drinking tea and listing to the rain scratch her fingernails along the windows.
"Why do you like it here?" I asked.
She smiled. "I love the freedom, the diversity of cultures, listening to hundreds of languages being spoken in the streets, the opportunities that living in a large global city opens up career-wise, the ease of travel from here, the markets, the street art, street style and street photography inspiration, the crumbling Georgian terraces and history everywhere," she said. Overall, she's attracted to this city because it thrives on people who come and go.
I've always admired the comings and goings in Stephanie's life.
She's had boyfriends who were American, Korean-American, British, British-Indian and Columbian. In 2011, she left London to live in a rural village in Colombia called Mogotes for six months (it's nestled in the surrounding Andes mountains). She stayed with her then-boyfriend's family on their sugarcane plantation.
When she wrote to me and told me what she'd done, I was wordless. I considered my petit, blond-haired, blue-eyed friend in the midst of cocaine country. "Is it safe?" is all I could muster.
"It's fine where I am," she said nonchalantly.
Suffering from constant food poisoning (due to the unfiltered water, unpasteurized milk, the daily beheaded chickens from the backyard) and living with her boyfriend's zealously religious family who didn't believe in hot water, she lost 20 pounds. But she doesn't consider her time there as unpleasant. She met a woman who made handbags from a plant called "fique" - it has long spiky green leaves and comes from the pineapple family.
"The process the plant goes through before it becomes a bag is intense and involves many other members of the village," Steph explained. Inspired by the sense of community and the outcome of these beautiful products, she set up a business called Made in Mogotes to help sell their products abroad (www.madeinmogotes.etsy.com).
Although she considered staying in Mogotes long term, she knew she was a city girl at heart. Steph moved back to London last November.
I met her current boyfriend Saturday night. He is from the Canary Islands in Spain; they've been together for eight months. The three of us spent the evening discussing life and past/future travel plans over dinner and drinks. The potential of them moving to Brazil was brought up twice.
So many people hold tight to what's familiar; they fear change. I understand why - the unknown is scary. But what Stephanie and I have realized is that it's useless to try and prevent change. Once you accept this - once you realize you can depend on yourself and go with the flow rather than against it - all things foreign are less off putting.
On Tuesday I'm headed to Dublin to visit another friend. I'm sad to leave Stephanie so soon; I have a feeling we're going to be in different countries a lot in life. But that's all right. Whenever we do find ourselves in the same neck of the woods, I know it'll be as it's always been between us. Like the changing leaves, this knowledge speaks peace to me.
Sarah T. Schwab is a Sunday OBSERVER contributor and Fredonia State graduate. Send comments to
or view her Web site at www.SarahTSchwab.com