The day I felt most successful in Paraguay was the day I fixed my sink, fixed my toilet, taught 5 hours, and then tutored someone in English. But, it wasn’t the teaching or tutoring that made me feel like a champion. There is something incomparably gratifying about fixing things all on my own.
A simple joy derived from working with my hands on tangible things stems from my roots. My father is a carpenter, furniture maker, set builder, scenic designer, and general jack-of-all-trades when it comes to buildings things (petty much any medium). My mother is an artist (painter and sculptor) whose dabbles (and dives) into costume design, house building, furniture making, and set design. My stepfather is a furniture maker who also builds houses, fixes just about anything, goes logging with his horse, and changes his truck’s oil on his own. My stepmother, she’ll try to tell you she’s not crafty, but she knits, draws, and knows more about remodelling than she lets on.
A lot of what I do in the Peace Corps is intangible. I teach life skills. I teach English. I talk about health theoretically and US culture. I try to set an example for all the young women who cross my path. But, aside from the occasional breakthrough—like when one of my youth answers a question with an answer so profound it makes me pause or one of my students strings together a good sentence or two in English—I don’t see results.
On the flip side, when I fixed my sink and toilet I instantly saw my success. One minute my sink was clogged—so obviously I took it apart and in doing so discovered a critical screw was stripped (from years of abuse) and I couldn’t put it back together—hours later it was functioning better than it had before I tampered with it. As for my toilet, the connection between the pipe that brings clean water into the toilet every time I flush and the toilet itself was demolished. Every time I flushed there was a jet of water. The water was only clean, which was nice. A trip to the hardware stone, lots of explaining and acting out what I needed, and I came home with all I needed to fix everything. Whoop! Done. Master carpenter right here, in the middle of Paraguay! Take that Mr. Machismo.
I can get all fancy with my talk of and work in social marketing, behavior change, and capacity building, but it will always come back to the same thing. The day I changed the lock on my door with just a knife I was ecstatic. The day I fixed my sink and toilet, I could have taken on anything. I can fly as far away as I want, but I won’t forget my roots. Not for nothing.