One year down the road

A while ago I promised some accounting, and then never followed through. Sorry for the delay. For the four or five of you who read this, here you go.

I recently read a great blog post from a friend who just returned from South America. It left me reflective, which I guess is sort of a mixed bag.

A year ago this month I left Paraguay. There was little fanfare. It was the end of a week of goodbyes that was the forth in a string of a month of goodbyes. I gave my last hug and took a cab to the bus terminal. Sitting there, sharing tereré with only myself, I distinctly remember thinking, so this is how it ends, and how ironic, yet perfectly fitting, such subtlety was for the occasion. Three years and three months of my life.

That day, and the days that followed it, I thought at the time were a demarcation in the narrative of my life. A clear end to one story and the beginning of another, albeit unknown, thread. It’s taken me the past year to realize that pages are rarely flipped and new chapters simply begun so smoothly. There’s no new heading at the top of the page each time you start out – those are placed there years down the road to make sense of it all.

It’s taken me this same year, on three different continents and countless locations, to fully realize how much my time in Paraguay has shaped me into what’s here today.  And that’s where the accounting gets tricky.

There was so much learned in that time.  Some of it practical stuff I can look back and pinpoint. How subsistence agriculture works, how to keep bees, how to build an ox cart (just in case I ever need to make my way to Oregon in 1820), how to travel properly, how to cook a lot using very little, Spanish, Guaraní, how to raise animals…

Any list I could make of any of this of course fails to paint the whole picture, and that is the hardest part about this type of summary. It plays into that “how was it?” question in Tom’s post. It all can’t be summed up neatly. Especially the, let’s call them deeper subjects, that questions like that, or reflections like this, open the door for – a door that is usually tried to then be quickly pushed shut again. It’s usually this category where most of the things learned – most of those “takeaway experiences” people are looking for fall.

Like how to simply deal with yourself. It sounds crazy, but it’s a real thing. At some point something pushes all of us to have to deal with ourselves outside the distractions of modern life. No internet, not speaking the language, not knowing anyone, possibly being temporarily homeless, having everything you own in a bag or two, will force you to deal with you. It’s not that people back home don’t go through this kind of things too – life offers plenty of opportunity for it – but realizing it’s happening or happened I think is pretty unique.

You can see I’ve completely lost my ability to be succinct. Another mark left of those three years. But I’m pretty happy with it. During most of my first two years in Paraguay the round about way of handling things got to me a bit. I’d wonder, why is there a need for a ten-minute conversation before asking to borrow a hammer, or purchase some produce? But in time I came to realize, that other than just being the normal excuse of ‘the way people do things”, it turns out it actually enhances the richness of the interaction. It builds trust and confidence, and it fosters future growth in the relationship, making interactions down the line way smoother and more dependable. These are much needed qualities that I’d always just taken for granted. And there, is really the crux of it all. That thing most people probably know when they ask that, “what was it like?” or “what’d you learn?” question, but probably don’t want to have to confront: the enormous amount we take for granted.

“The futility of it all” would be an equally uncomfortable answer, but probably pretty good for a deadpan Andy Kaufman type moment at the next social gathering. The laugh would eventually be good, but it would miss the point, because it’s just not something people want to think about (again, back to Tom’s post, the news). During those three years the clarity of the uphill battle most of the world is facing was certainly put into perspective, but with the recognition of that struggle came something far more hopeful – a recognition of the kindness within people.

Which leads us nicely to the largest block on this balance sheet. It’s an entry that has me wondering a lot if it was my time in Paraguay or simply just three years of getting older that led me where I am. For certain, one of the most interesting parts of my time there was the exposure to such a huge variety of people and were it not for that, maybe I wouldn’t arrived with these views. So for that alone, I can only attribute this last lesson to my two years in San Blas and final year in Asuncion. I think it really takes a large and varied group like that to be able to see and witness the enormous capacity for friendship that people possess. For me, right now, that’s the biggest walkaway – people and the friendships we form amongst each other. Any empty porch and a few wooden chairs – if that – is all it takes to have a genuine experience. Everything else is just secondary.

So where does that leave me, one year back? Still trying to sum it all up. It’s just an impossible task – yet one I am enormously grateful to have.

Keep on working

I’m not sure if any of you noticed or had the chance to look at it, but a few months ago I added the “PROJECTS” tab to the top of the blog. The idea behind this new section of the blog is something I probably should have been working on from the start of my time working here in my community but various things have stood in the way of that happening until now. Better late than never though, right? Click on the tab above to check it out.



Welcome to the camp…

If you’ve made it this far, most of you know why you’re here. For those who haven’t been filled in – I’m moving to South America to serve  in the United States Peace Corps.  Paraguay actually. Yeah, that’s pretty much what ran through my head at first too.

As you can imagine, Paraguay is not on the telecommunication forefront – which is where this blog comes into play. Keeping in touch is hard enough even when most of us are just a phone call away – and while I’ll still be just a call away, the phone itself may be a little out reach. So, we’ll meet up here – my aim being to write regularly and download to the web I can. I’m new to the blogging world so bear with me as I figure it all out. My goals for this site, as always are big, but I think it’s best for me (and you) not to expect too much too soon. As much as I want this to be a way to stay in touch with you all, I think we’d all be disappointed to see it fall into being some sort of log of my daily events: “today I walked 10 miles to town; on Wednesday I ate monkey brain soup; next week I’m going to the city…” While that’s all well and good, I think we can do better. (But, no worries for those who want the day to day – I’m sure we can work something out).

I can’t promise to keep it interesting, light or funny, but I can promise to keep it as real as the world I’m headed into. Your input (and your patience with mine) will only make it more interesting, so go ahead and add that book mark and shoot the link to anyone I’ve forgot or who might be interested in checking out a window with a different view. I’ve got just about a month before I’m outta here – which should be just about enough time for you guys to find Paraguay on a map and read a few Wikipedia articles. There’s a few adventures planned for the meantime so keep in touch.