The end of December marked 100 days left in my Peace Corps service. The mix of heart-break and joy I feel thinking about leaving Paraguay is beyond my power of words to describe. But, this moment is a good chance to think about why I came to Paraguay in the first place and where I could see myself in the future.
I came to Paraguay to grow. I came to help others, and myself, cultivate new skills and ideas by sharing—my dream is that Paraguayans have learned something from me over the past 2 years. Paraguayans have changed my way of being, from adding terere to my routine to warping how think about machismo. In the formal setting of my classes, I hope that some students grabbed something that they can use…whether it be how to put on a condom or a vague understanding that there are ways to see the world that are very different from their own. On a personal level, I look forward to life-long friendships with the amazing people I’ve met.
New Years 2014, I was getting ready to leave the USA for 2 years. I was excited and petrified. I wanted the adventure of living in another country for a chuck of time and I was eager to see what would come of my Peace Corps service. But, every single piece of service preparatory literature and every former and current volunteer I talked to said to try not to form expectations about Paraguay and what my service would be like because I could not know until I started. The fog about my future was chilling. I did my best to have a blank slate mind when I landed in Asuncion after an exhausting flight filled with raw nerves. I remember it was sunny and hot when I arrived in Paraguay. Everything here was new and exciting when I piled into the van that took me away from the airport and the world I’d known.
Since middles school, perhaps before but I don’t remember, the world beyond my itsy, bitsy town in rural Vermont held my interest. Places outside the borders—state, country, and continent—called to me. In 8th grade I began a love affair with Spanish, which continues to fester and prod me to evaluate every move as not only a personal or professional decision, but also a language choice. When I fell head-over-heals for Spanish, I knew that one way or another my path would meander beyond the land of the free and home of the brave to places whose values and virtues were unknown to me.
With fewer than 100 days left, I can say the hardest part is leaving. Leaving friends and loved ones. Leaving routines and places that are familiar. It is easy to float along doing what seems logical and secure. It is comforting to have a home-base, a set schedule, and a clear purpose. And, going abroad destroyed all those things for me. But, in their place equal, though different, pleasures germinated. I now know I can bend and sway and operate in foreign lands. I know that there are parts of myself that will always be true and strong; for example, I value honesty above all things and will never drink alcohol. And there are parts of me that will adapt to the environment, such as what I eat and how I spend time with people.
Volunteers like to ask each other, “If you knew what you know now about how your service would be, would you still have decided to do it?” My answer is a definitive “yes.” I would choose to come to Paraguay when I did in every alternate path of my life that could have been. This New Years, welcome 2016, I am not the lady I was 2 years ago. My biggest crop in the Paraguay season of my life has been me. I could not be who I am today without the laughs, frustrations, and pleasures Paraguay gave me. I am leaving Paraguay soon, I may only return for vacation (who knows), but Paraguay has a piece of my heart.
Am I achieving what I came here to do? Heck yeah, I just didn’t know in coming to Paraguay that my main accomplishment would be learning how to crack the hard shell of life and let happiness sprout wherever the wind takes me. We can not foretell the future, just as we can not guess the weather no matter what meteorologist try to make us believe, but Paraguay was the thunder before a storm. Bring it on 2016.