Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Lessons Learned...Another Year Later

An entire year has passed since I left Guatemala. Though “leaving” marked the end of my time in Peace Corps and the end of my 27 month commitment to Guatemala, I’ve come to realize that that part of my life never went away, and thankfully, never will. After a year of attempting reintegration, I’ve come to resolve that intentionality meshes those two lives together quite well.

Much like when I finished Peace Corps I’ve come up with a list of 15 parallel lessons that my new American life has taught me over the past year and continues to teach me.

1. Everyone I encounter comes from a different place - a different background, a different culture, another geographic location, or may have prospered with a different set of values. The challenge isn’t whether or not I can accept that, it’s how well I can work alongside that.

2. During Peace Corps, I learned that it’s always worth taking risks. In the past year some risks failed with disappointing results; some risks prospered with fruitful outcomes. It’s worth taking the 50/50 chance.

3. Systems confine me. Labels suffocate me. Bureaucracy threatens my authenticity. If I believe something, I must own it and express it.

4. Good friends are synonymous with family. Relationships are fluid. At the end of the day, I most value the people I love.

5. I have lots of undeserved privilege. I have to leverage that privilege for the common good.

6. I feed off the energy of others. If I’m around happy people, I’m a happy person.

7. Weird people lend me weird stories that make me weird. It’s symbiosis.

8. Purging my life of too much stuff frees my mind and as Mumford & Sons might add, “Awake[s] My Soul”!

9. I live in one of the fastest moving and efficient places in the world; still, I’d much rather take the long route, have the lengthy conversation, or find a distraction to restore my faith in meaning.

10. Three of the best adjectives I learned from day one of Peace Corps were “patience, flexibility and enthusiasm”. And those make the all the difference.

11. My ideal life would be perfect, but it's the messiness that makes it life.

12. Extra validation, encouragement, or good will are always worth the effort, wherever there’s someone to receive it.

13. I can cry over missing people, but reunions make me smile.

14. While I had to be accustomed to alone-time in Peace Corps, I’d much rather follow another piece of Mumford & Sons’ best advice, “Don’t leave me alone at this time, for I am afraid of what I will discover inside.”

15. Very few steps of reintegration have been easy, but I would have never known I had loved something so much, if I didn't miss it when it was gone.

In the past year, I’ve had four addresses, four W-2s, spoken two languages consistently, made purchases as big as a car and as small as a new “costal”, re-established my presence in the U.S., and asked bigger questions of myself and others than I had ever considered. This is the life of an RPCV - year one.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Word a Day, 2009 - 2011

From January 6, 2009 to March 26, 2011, I did my best to write a word to sum up my experiences of each day in Guatemala. Sometimes, my emotions were easy to define and other times, they were so standard that I would have reused the same word over and over. Peace Corps is a constant flux of emotions from day to day and moment to moment; one minute I'm more frustrated than ever and the next is the best of my life.

In the end, I know myself better - my strengths, my weaknesses and my goals. Peace Corps has been one of my most formative experiences and without the good and the bad the ending would have been different.

Words to describe my days as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Guatemala:

anticipation – comprehension – comfortable – exciting – grinding – exhausting – crazy – ridiculous – frustrating – happy – irregular – annoyed – variable – hilarious – joyful – adventurous – nervous – satisfied – rested – thankful – terrified – sick – energized – marginalized – organized – funny – anticipating – exhausted – unwelcome – communication – leisure – limitations – reunited – stuck – sad – reflective – refreshed – stimulated – prospects – up-beat – lethargic – nauseated – rollercoaster – patience – surprised – determined – intense – worn-out – loved – slow – ripped-off – successful – excited – reconnecting – re-enchanted – breadth – luxury – travel – celebratory – complimentary – sick – worn-out – normalcy – organized – communicative – nightmare – upset – field trip – solidarity – exhilarating – broken – enduring – compromising – waste – re-prioritizing – defeat – accomplished – intimidating – tired – content – relaxed – validated – annoyed – pensive – studious – careless – favorite – prolonged – lugubrious – spectacle – busy – fever – diarrhea – touchy – re-evaluating – sorting – sympathy – shock – instable – effort – blast – rough – scattered – cooperative – wet – visualizations – trying – hopeful – tasks – expensive – overwhelmed – reconnect – catch-up – fluency – conscious – isolated – frivolous – illogical – disciplining – awe – reunited – consequences – worthwhile – satisfied – whirlwind – eloquent – sleepy – integrating – punchy – stares – effort – faith – focused – generosity – argument – lonely – lethargic – reunited – quality-time – habits – values – understanding – pulled – constricted – typical – liberated – bittersweet – joyful – genuine – refreshing – pithy – respect – infected – limits – meaningful – community – exhausted – distraught – exerting – content – confined – daunting – relief – hope – driven – improvising – defeated – angry – improved – pleased – forced – misunderstood – order – awkward – dazed – freezing – haggard – fed-up – jovial – clean – apprehensive – hot – dragging – laughter – ecstatic – smooth – highlight – efficient – shocked – memorial – aches – hostile – freebies – irritated – surprises – lazy – outgoing – petty – fallout – exertion – surmounted – renewed – robbed – fulfilled – criticized – cozy – rushed – ambiguity – trials – delighted – experiences – available – wild – perplexed – sly – sociable – reclusive – intentional – ordinary – comical – special – recovered – balanced – chatting – adapting – perspectives – parallel – controlled – confident – cumbersome – assessing – melancholy – overjoyed – aggravated – habit – persuasive – friendly – positive – pushed – competitive – bonding – still – justifying – dazed – experienced – unusual – poor – laboring – upbeat – dumbfounded – binge – downtrodden – sluggish – nostalgic – incorrigible – scorching – jam-packed – examination – relaxed – viscous – joking – crash – normalcy – washing – trapped –frantic – hopeless – grieving – gone – grounded – luck – pulled – reflective – strategy – purpose – bureaucratic – intelligent – known – stride – worn – draining – lifeless – authority – scattered – ethics – progression – careless – inspired – complaint – comfortable – flexibility – worthwhile – killed – ignorance – unsettled – counseled – weak – educational – risk – sour – pleased – regressing – hugs – catch-up – blessed – feat – funny – standfast – torrential-downpour – drying – simple – used – overwhelmed – inarticulate – nebulous – restoration – deadlines – disenchanted – rapid – chill – debriefing – corrupt – balancing – excluded – wet – efficient – rude – vigor – adventure – salty – moving – articulate – defeated – passive-aggressive – ignored – sought – agenda – purposeless – bitches – order – reacquainting – serendipity – meaningful – social – disdain – cover-up – emotional – breather – apathetic – adventure – zombie – expressionless – mindless – solutions – daring – repair – soul-searching – redefining – resourceful – bonus – bifurcated – community – culture – traps – pain – minutes – political – cathartic – peers – identity – moderation – forced – pretentious – connecting – admitting – unresponsive – organic – finals – comatose – locked – illogical – impatient – puzzle – endurance – explaining – hospitalized – contact – lounging – determination – noise – flaky – precarious – foraging – debate – petrified – indulgent – confined – competitive – boxed – planning – festive – justice – guardian – gaunt – relief – culminating – enamored – spectacle – legend – exchange – awe-inspiring – letdown – obsessive – recharged – bros – nostalgic – reckless – low-key – blocked – hidden – liberated – closer – fruition – creative – candid – connected – barfed – fulfilled – unreciprocated – resigned – unsatisfied – waves – heartbreaking – inklings – anxious – capstone – firsts – traversing – trust – separation – restless – story-telling – carefree – unity – untamed – sleepless – rushed – end – irritated – celebratory – tears

These faces all say it all...or most of it.

Lessons Learned

Graduating from college, I said that those were the most important four years of my life up to that point. “Graduating” from Peace Corps (that’s how we joke about it anyway), I might say that these have been the most important two years of my life up to this point. And somewhere down the line, something else might come along that will irreversibly change me. Regardless, if I break certain segments of my life into chunks, I can more easily think back to what I thought before and what I think after.

Since doing Peace Corps, I have learned:

1. Every person does his or her own part to contribute to the world. Not everyone will contribute the same, but everyone’s part keeps things in working order.
2. It’s always worth daring. Most of the time, the most gutsy moves turn out to be the greatest successes. Acting wisely and looking foolish are not mutually exclusive.
3. Confidence is golden. The more confident I am in trusting my instincts, the more authentically I can carry out my life.
4. Friendship has no age limit. My closest friends are often 20-years-younger than me or even 40-years-older than me and both perspectives are fresh and wise in their own ways.
5. The world is filled with problems and there is no way all of them will go away through the efforts of any single person. It takes lots of people doing their parts to support even a single person and even more people to challenge or defeat a greater issue or problem at hand.
6. Sometimes I can be altruistic, lots of times I’m selfish.
7. I’m a strange person and so is the next one. And that is what makes people interesting.
8. Material things are material and will inevitably break, get lost, or lose value down the line, so it’s more important to invest in the intangible. Community triumphs.
9. Efficiency has its place and so do prolonged events with no end in sight. Being completely present is usually the most effective means of working and living.
10. My life doesn’t have to follow a specific timeline. Everything usually falls into place at the perfect moments. Patience is a discipline.
11. I can endure more than I thought—from boredom to trauma.
12. Life and death are inevitable and I am not invincible.
13. Maintaining a relationship is a job, whether it extends across countries or a few neighborhood blocks. Part of the maintenance includes communicating, sitting in silence and solidarity together, laughing, crying and being reliable.
14. I can be alone and be comfortable being alone. So much of college centered on constant contact with others and so much of Peace Corps centered on constant contact with “me, myself and I”.
15. Thinking back on it all, I wouldn’t change a moment, because each moment brought me to thinking what I think now.

It’s gone incredibly fast and suddenly it’s ending. It’s been a wild ride!

And along with thinking a little differently in respect to life and how I want to live it, after 27 months in another country, everybody looks a little different for the wear. Two years is a long time, but it wasn’t 15?! My departure on January 6, 2009 was a lifetime ago.

Friday, February 18, 2011

The Photo Collage of the Last 120 Days


My site-mate of a year-and-a-half finished her time in Peace Corps last October.

Todos Santos feria: first celebrating Halloween as an ayudante and the next day celebrating All Saints Day with a fellow PCV and the first female rider in a 400+ year history of the horse competitions.

The bat caves in Lanquín, Alta Verapaz and the picturesque Semuc Chempey.


Thanksgiving in Campur, Alta Verapaz: cleaning the duck, cooking the duck and eating the final product on a plate for three.


Santa comes to a kids' camp.

"'Tis the season." Washing and drying the Santa suit (Note the volcano in the background - Christmas in Guatemala.)


Celebrating Christmas with my Guatemalan family and fully celebrating the opportunity to stuff my face with tamales.

Reunions with family and friends: my sister and brother-in-law, my friend from Peace Corps Peru and a friend and former volunteer of Peace Corps Guatemala.

Our final Peace Corps conference with my training group of January 2009 (dressed Guatemalan [with serious faces] and with our Peace Corps bosses).

Riding the Ferris Wheel with friends at the San Se feria.

Solitude. No single landscape in Guatemala is the same as the next.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The Last 120 Days in 30 Statements

I don’t think I could even narrow it all down to 30 statements and still describe it all, but for the sake of my readers’ attention-span, I’ll do my best. As a preface, I can say that these last three months were hands-down the most insane (and 50 other adjectives) months of my life. And that is what makes for great stories. These are the highlights:

1. Celebrating the end of my site-mate’s service in October and going to goodbye parties on a nightly basis, giving me party-gut-rot (lots of food…all the time).
2. Making a day-trip to Honduras and visiting the Copán ruins with my site-mate and her two friends as a last-hurrah before returning home.
3. Briefly visiting the U.S. for the first time in 13 months to celebrate the wedding of two friends.
4. Dressing up for the very American holiday, Halloween, and pretending to be an ayudante (helper – the guy who takes your bus fare).
5. Witnessing another year of the Todos Santos horse races to observe All Saints Day and watching two female PCVs compete (the first females to ever ride in its 400+ year history).
6. Hiking from San Sebastián to Todos Santos with a fellow PCV (in short, we crossed a very big mountain).
7. A visit to the hospital and a chance to catch up on the “Must See TV” that I haven’t seen since 2008.
8. A trip across the country to the renowned tourist locale – Semuc Champey.
9. “Spelunking” in a cave with bats circling my head. (That wasn’t just chance; we paid to do it.)
10. Foraging across a mountain for ducks to be slaughtered and cooked in a toaster-oven, Thanksgiving morning.
11. Celebrating Thanksgiving with other PCVs, eating dinner at 10:30PM and sharing that for which we were thankful in 2010.
12. Reuniting with my sister and brother-in-law for a whirlwind adventure across two countries and sharing the exciting and challenging parts of daily life in Guatemala.
13. Seeing Tikal for the second time (the first time in 2007)—still awe- inspiring.
14. Visiting Caye Caulker, Belize.
15. Making a round in the “camp season” (school vacation) and playing team building games with kids in San Ramón, Totonicapán at Camp K’amal B’e.
16. Dressing up as Santa Claus at Camp K’amal B’e, courtesy of a PCV friend who passed the costume down to me before he left last spring. Santa danced to “Dynamite” by Taio Cruz and “Manos Arriba” by Don Omar.
17. Seeing my friend Jared for the first time since 2008, as he progressed back to the U.S., after finishing his service in Peace Corps Peru.
18. Celebrating Christmas with family from afar through an email chain, explaining donations we had made in honor of Advent/Christmas to organizations each of us treasured for different reasons.
19. Celebrating Christmas my Guatemalan family and friends. The agenda: wait until midnight, light firecrackers and eat tamales.
20. Roasting marshmallows on Christmas Day.
21. Celebrating New Year’s Eve (Christmas Eve, part II) with the same family and friends, forcing down four tamales in one night, bringing my final count to 15 tamales eaten between Christmas and New Year’s.
22. Hiking from Todos Santos, Huehuetenango to Nebaj, Quiche, crossing challenging terrain, seeing beautiful and remote places, and getting to know the group of PCVs with whom I hiked, a little better.
23. Surviving the end of the Todos Santos to Nebaj hike with a bacterial infection and enduring a six hour bus ride to find a resolution with a lab test. Cipro is magic.
24. Completing my final Peace Corps meeting and celebrating with the compañeros (my fellow PCVs) who did it with me. We got through it with the support of each other!
25. Enduring my last town feria (fair), staying up into the wee hours of the morning, riding the Ferris Wheel more than desired and surviving street-food with a stomach of steel.
26. Hosting two PCVs to witness the feria with their own eyes and stealing the show with one at that was the town dance, turned competition. Signature move: a running start into a slide across the dance floor.
27. Reuniting with a good friend who finished Peace Corps last March and was back in Guatemala researching. Reveling in the good ol’ days (of 2009 and 2010)!
28. Sending off a close PCV-friend with sushi, sake bombs and lots of pictures.
29. Sharing moments that organically happen with PCVs and Guatemalans in the present, or friends and family over Skype, or by myself in the solitude of fresh air, a good book, or my own daydreams.
30. Bringing the finale at our final Peace Corps meeting with my presentation of our evolved faces over these last two years, set to the music of “Changes” by David Bowie. We’ve all aged 15 years for the better or worse!

What a ride! Five weeks to go. Time is running short.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Christmas Anticipation in Guate

As always, a lot has happened since I last posted (which is why I was busy not posting), so I will be sure to write some kind of synopsis of that last three to four months, very soon. It's been a whirlwind to say the least.

Nevertheless, I'd like to send my greetings to everyone in my support network from afar. If it weren't for letters, emails and visits from friends and family back home, my time here would not have been nearly as balanced and impacting in deciding how I hope to live my life in the U.S. and knowing the people by whom I want to be surrounded. Furthermore, if it weren't for the Guatemalans with whom I live and interact on a daily basis, I wouldn't have learned nearly as much. I'm grateful for all of you and I am excited to reunite in 2011!

Merry Christmas. Happy new year. Be well.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Still here...

It’s been over five months since I made my last post. If I was in college, I would have completed my longest stint abroad with little to no contact or update stateside. Here, I blinked and all that time just slipped by. While everyone in the U.S. is beginning a new school year, marked by new responsibilities and more structure after the long summer days, here in Guatemala, we’re wrapping up the school year and moving into the dry season, which is a welcome relief to see days completed with clear skies and sun.

I can’t cover it all; rather, I’ll make a semi-manageable list of some the anecdotes from the last five-plus months. I’ll do my best to record some highlights.