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One year…

Exactly one year ago today I was on a plane heading to Patagonia… I had finished my two years of service in the remote village of Apyragua, Paraguay… I had my official swear out ceremony as a Peace Corps volunteer, I fit my life belongings into less than two bags… I was a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer.

Honestly, I left Apyragua and never wanted to look back. It was a bittersweet departure. In the end, I focused my time on the few folks that really took the effort to know and understand me. I let go of the relationships that didn’t. I felt the burden of guilt for my disdain for the folks that saw me for what I had rather than who I was… My need for everyone to accept me was gone; I couldn’t be the bigger person and let their comments and requests for my belongings roll off my back. I didn’t want a going away party… I slipped out one early morning and was dropped off at the bus station in the pueblo.

Over the past year I have thought a lot about the burden of guilt. More than anything I wanted my service to end on that pitch-perfect note, with the best response to the question, “How was it?” and being able to say, “It was great!” In my thoughts and pondering, I connected guilt and forgiveness. I thought that if I forgave the folks who challenged me in such a difficult way, I would stop feeling so guilty for having so many struggles in my community.

The power of forgiveness is incredible. When I decided I needed to forgive and let go, I found out that I was allowing me to forgive myself. I allowed myself to think fondly of all the people, without the negative feelings that I had been carrying. It opened up the idea of returning to Apyragua someday to visit. And I think about what that would be like. I would visit all people; be kind to all regardless of our past struggles. I would forget and forgive the hard times and laugh and embrace the good ones. I would still remember my broken Guarani the best I could… And there would be traditional guitar playing and moonshine drinking and so much laughing…

. . . . . . . . . . .

I never knew how much personal growth would come out of this experience. I now have the ability to look at myself and recognize my strengths, but also fully take responsibility for my weaknesses. I allow myself to admit my faults and figure out ways in which I can be a better person.  Read:  It’s always best to come out of a situation knowing that you have been the bigger, better person.

One of my strengths I never want to lose is my ability to find gratitude in so many things; even smallest gestures, moments… I have found as time goes on my gratitude has started to fade and it worries me that I will forget what is important in the big picture and what is and isn’t worth worrying about.

Another strength I have acquired is the ability to let things go, which sounds a lot like forgiveness. There are developing-country problems and there are first world problems. There are daily struggles and there are life struggles… Where do we choose to focus our energy? When it is best to take a deep breath and let it go? When I find myself getting frustrated by ridiculous things, I always need to come back here and remind myself: the sun always comes up tomorrow, everything passes in time, and the level of the problem is probably so insignificant; I should let it go.

I cannot leave out the art of “living in the moment.” This is something that I trained and trained myself to do when living in Paraguay and the time was ticking at a ridiculously slow rate. I trained myself to only think about where I am in the present moment and to not muddle my mind with worries of the future. The future is unknown and therefore pointless to worry too much about! Heck, we could die tomorrow, therefore we might as well focus on living every present moment to the fullest and with the best intentions set!

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Other than significant personal growing over the past year, I have been absolutely ecstatic reconnecting with my family and friends. My community in Bend is phenomenal. Everyone in my life has helped me readjust to our culture and remind me of all the wonderful things I sacrificed for so many years.

My enthusiasm for the outdoors continues to thrive. I have been fortunate to go on some amazing trips to Yosemite with my family, several climbing trips in the west, hitting up all the local gems for mountain biking, SUPing, kayaking, snowshoeing, nordic skiing, and hopefully soon snowboarding! I am extremely fortunate to have a job in the outdoor industry that not only helps outfit customers, the company also encourages me to get outside as much as possible. And that, I do.

I’m psyched to have “food freedom,” where I can drive to the grocery store to buy whatever I want, regardless of how heavy it is, and drive straight to my front door and deliver my groceries! Somewhere along the lines of not having a variety of foods, my culinary artistic side of me was compromised, but I’m slowing getting my desire to cook and bake back.

And the hot shower… enough said. 🙂

. . . . . . . .

A few days ago I received a message from my best Paraguayan friend, Andrea. She and Marcos are making their marriage official today. So much of me wants to be there with her and her family to celebrate in true Paraguayan style… a little traditional music, some wine, a lot of laughter… It breaks my heart to miss such a significant moment in a dear friend’s life. One day I envision myself hiking up that big hill, unannounced, and surprising all of those Apyragua folks. Magic. 🙂

And, I can still speak Guarani. Añe’e porati!

Sadly, I envision this to be my last blog of this incredible adventure… unless a few years down the road make it back to Apyragua and have updates from that tiny farm community 🙂 I hope you all have enjoyed my journey over the past few years and am of course grateful 🙂 for your support and interest. Graciamante! 🙂

 

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Returning home!

Welcome Home banner made by nephew Carl and his folks :) SO cute!

Welcome Home banner made by nephew Carl and his folks 🙂 SO cute!

I’m back!

So many people have asked me what it’s like to be home. I’ve been keeping a list of the things that initially, and continue, to catch my attention during this transitional phase, integrating back into American culture. I’ve also just started feeling a bit more accustomed to being back, and just started reaching out to catching up with folks. So forgive me if you haven’t heard from me, and please feel free to give me a holler, as my contact information is the same. I know I am excited to hear from each and everyone of you!

Here’s what’s catching my attention back in the US:

  1. Toilet paper now goes INTO the toilet. I know, sorry, maybe Potty Talk should have been left in Paraguay, but this was my first struggle. Which was one of the first habits that I struggled to break when I first arrived in Paraguay. Reverse!
  2. Being able to be myself! Being comfortable in my own culture, where there is no more language barrier nor cultural barrier.
  3. That said, speaking English! I wanted to say “hola” so many times after returning… which in the Los Angeles area wouldn’t be that odd… but I was thrown for a loop for the first week.
  4. Being anonymous in our culture. No one asking me where I’m going or what I’m doing and that is just so nice 🙂
  5. Hot shower. I am fully enjoying being reunited with the guaranteed hot shower everyday. And when the hot water tank is empty right before I want to shower, I say, “No big deal, I know how to bucket bathe!”
  6. Washer and dryer. Wow. So fast and easy to have clean clothes!
  7. Time change. The 5-hour difference took me a week to get used to. I was getting up at 4:30am and crashing by 8:00pm!
  8. Food and exercise. Finally being comfortable running at whatever hour wherever I want to run and eating a plethora and large quantity of vegetables!
  9. Cell phone etiquette. I’m new to the smart-phone-in-America thing and still am trying to figure out the appropriate balance of cell phone usage. I’m not going to lie, I fully appreciate information at my fingertips!
  10. Watching TV. I know, don’t tell anyone, but perhaps it’s just part of the cultural integration. But I’ve watched more TV this week than in two years. Out of sight, out of mind, right?

But of course there are things that I miss about Paraguay, right? Yes. There are. A few things I have missed terribly regarding the Paraguayan culture.

  1. Laughter. Paraguayans laugh about everything and are very humorous. America seems so… serious. I miss making silly jokes or just laughing at the small stuff.
  2. Tranquilopa. No worries. All is good. The laid-back lifestyle of Paraguayan personalities are very aspiring. In America, we’re kind of uptight about a lot of things, on a schedule, in a hurry, not flexible… but in Paraguay, things roll at a slower pace and life appears more stress-free.
  3. Stuff. We have too much stuff! America has too much stuff! And so many stores to buy that stuff! That’s my opinion 🙂 I miss the simple, uncluttered lifestyle of the remote Paraguayans; using the existing resources to make things work instead of buying more.

All said and done, I’m happy to be home. I’m so happy to be in America.

I spent two weeks hiking and exploring Patagonia, which was phenomenal! It was wonderful to be reunited with family over Christmas in Pasadena, California. Now I’m visiting my younger brother, Troy, in Grass Valley, Northern California. I’m eating SO many vegetables, doing lots of exercise (went to yoga last night a block away! I love yoga classes!), and just easing back into things. After getting many logistics figured out, I anticipate being back in Bend in 3-4 weeks. And will hopefully be reunited with some other clothes, because… I’d love a change from the same clothing that I’ve been wearing for the past two years and that are full of holes, stretched out beyond restore, faded, and permanently stained by the red dirt!

I hope everyone enjoyed the holidays with friends and family! Thanks for being a wonderful part of my journey!