Reflections On My Service as a Peace Corps Volunteer
It’s been over a year now since I finished serving as an environmental conservation volunteer with Peace Corps Paraguay.
Yet, it still feels like yesterday that I was waking up to the sound of howler monkeys singing their morning duet, gardening with the kids in my community, and sweeping the sapos (toads) out my house as if they were giant golf balls (this provided me with endless entertainment).
The number one question people tend to ask me when they find out that I served in the Peace Corps is,
“What was it like?”
While this question seems simple on the surface, it is one that stumps me every time its asked... My mouth undoubtedly struggles to find words as my brain erratically scans the array of experiences that define my service.
I usually get so overwhelmed by the rush of memories, and the emotions that surface from those memories, that I can no longer organize my thoughts. It’s almost like a message pops up in my mind and says,
“Error: Memory Overload!”
When this happens, I usually end up responding with something nondescript and short like,
“It was very weird.”
Side note: my inability to describe my time in the Peace Corps is totally my own fault... I definitely fell asleep during that one training at our Close of Service Conference that covered the “Elevator Pitch.”
The “Elevator Pitch” is essentially this 5-minutes-or-less summary of someone’s entire Peace Corps Service.
I guess it is supposed to be helpful in job interviews… perhaps a way to avoid that glassy look in peoples eyes when you find yourself rambling on and on about all the crazy shit that happened to you? Who knows?
Anyway, the whole idea of a less-than-5-minute summary of my time in Paraguay baffled me.
I’m supposed to sum up the most challenging, rewarding, and life-changing 27-months of my life in 5 minutes or less? How the fuck does that work?!
Apparently, it still baffles me because I haven't figure it out.
To this day, I still can’t comprehend everything I experienced.
Some of the shit I went through... I buried deep down. So deep that it may not make its way to the surface for years to come.
So here we are 1 year, 3 months, and 18 days later and I still haven’t figured out the answer to that famous question.
I’m definitely getting closer and here’s what I’ve come up with so far:
Serving in the Peace Corps was hard.
Some of the experiences I had in Paraguay cracked the foundation of my soul.
During those moments, that I struggle to describe, I was forced to look inward and assess the infrastructure used to construct the version of myself I had come to know.
Suddenly, there I was... starting to shine a faint light on the deep dark crevices of my being. I began to notice that some of the bricks laid to build me weren’t of my own design.
I found that many of these bricks were made by the media, my parents, my friends, my teachers at school…society in general.
They weren’t mine and they did not belong to me.
I realized these pieces of my foundation were causing me to look at life from a perspective that had a very limited view.
One thing that Peace Corps service does well is stripping you of the innocence associated with ignorance.
You're forced into a way of life that is often much more difficult than the one you’re used to.
You live and experience the realities of millions of people living in developing countries worldwide.
With the truth being that some of those realities can be unforgiving and extremely harsh.
During my service, there were moments when I couldn’t properly process or understand the truth of the realities that I was facing.
I couldn’t clearly see it...I couldn’t for the life of me translate the cultural shift I was navigating or interpret our differing realities.
It didn’t fit into the frame of the narrow window through which I was peering out at life.
The moments where I caught myself squinting, desperately trying to get a better view of the situation, inspired me to question everything.
Who was “I”?
What do “I” believe in?
Was “I” who “I” wanted to be?
A severe disconnect between my actual, ideal, and ought self began to form.
Which, as you probably would expect, led to suffering...and whole lot of it.
So much suffering that, I believe, it manifested itself into a physical form… one that caused me to be medically evacuated to the states to have back surgery.
Yet, somehow…I made it through.
I faced and overcame some of the greatest challenges in my life and it wasn’t without lots of blood, sweat (sooooo much fucking sweat. Paraguay is hot as balls), tears, and self-doubt.
But now, as I look back on it all, I am certain I wouldn’t change a thing.
I am eternally grateful for my service in my swampy paradise.
I wouldn’t be who I am today without it.
Peace Corps Paraguay, and the storm of experiences it provided me, started me on a journey of self-discovery.
It forced me to tear down a structure of self that I once thought to be solid and indestructible.
I had no choice but to rebuild anew with intention and purpose.
I built with my most authentic bricks made by my own personal experiences.
It would be a big fat lie if I tried to say that I’ve successfully built a whole and complete version of myself.
I’m under construction and if I’m being really honest, I’ll always be.
However, I’m happy with the progress I’ve made and I look forward to my continued growth.
As time passes and I am able to uncover the little nuggets of wisdom hidden throughout my service, I’ll probably have more to say about it.
Pero por ahora esto es suficiente.
Below are some photos from throughout my service