Friday, August 13, 2010

The Post Script, after Peace Corps - Random Notes from a Random Time

Sometime in August...
I think I´ve seen myself before, years ago. I saw her while I was in training, lost, unable to speak, curious, overly camping-style dressed, full of questions. And I saw this girl across the room, and I heard her joking in Guarani, mixing in Spanish words to her English as if they were a part of her family, while to me they were still strangers I was trying to get to know. She had a confidence I had left in the United States. She looked comfortable in the strangest country I´d been in.

I feel like I was that girl today. I went to the training center to teach the trainees how to make ao po´i. I got a warm welcome from the trainers, I knew the coordinator and sat off to the side of the group, as if with the actors in a play. I even made the language trainers laugh. Those trainers who had seen me come in with the Spanish of a Paraguayan 18-month old. I told them that if I didn´t get the job I applied for in Paraguay, I was going to run around Bolivia "opapeve che plata", (until my money runs out). They laughed and laughed. Two years ago I was the butt of undecipherable jokes in Guarani. Now I´m telling them.

Other things have happened that seem like they should happen on my last week in town, as if they would be written into the last scene of a movie. Some people who listen to my Guarani podcast were really complimentary, which is nice. Plus Angelic bought me these earrings that only Paraguayan women wear. I feel initiated.

It occurred to me. "I did it." I was a Peace Corps volunteer. Done. Check. "I've always wanted to do that" became a careful "I´m thinking about doing that" which became "I think I'm going to do that" to " I'm going to do that" to "I'm doing this" to "I did it."

Where do you go from here? We wandered out of here as the longtime jailed wander out on parole day. Were you trapped, or were you freer in there than you are on the outside? Some went home and just laid down on their parent's couches. Some are traveling aimlessly until money runs out. Some are extending in Paraguay. Then there´s me.

Some time later in August...
You spend these two years changing and growing, becoming more Paraguayan. Integrating. By the time you've lived here two years, the culture has taken hold. You catch yourself in the mirror, bra straps hanging out, legs unshaven, wearing spandex shorts, and get some sense that you used to find these things offensive, yet you can't muster the feeling like before.

You see something, a green pepper, but the sound in your mind, the one that wants to come out of your mouth, is locote. When you have to do something, you want to say you'll do it si or si. When shit goes wrong, you just want to say Asi es la vida, and to say that same thing to your mother, you can't think of the words. This is the way it is for two years. Then you get on a tube with wings, and you wake up, and no one knows what Asi es la vida means, and furthermore, they think you're kind of an asshole if it slips out.

You aren't from Paraguay, and suddenly, you're aren't from America, either. We can't go back, and we don't know how to go forward.

All Peace Corps Volunteers leave the country with vouchers to see a psychologist.
I'm still in Paraguay. After the Life Plan Implosion and my unexpected not extending, the world shook under my feet, and I just needed to sit down a second. I realized that my culture is this tiny cult: Peace Corps Paraguay volunteers past their two year service. The ones who call delicious food heterei. The girls who know what it's like to have dated a Paraguayan. Those who know what it's like to fall out the other end of the Peace Corps machine and not know exactly what they've been made into.

I spent two years outside my culture, and now I don't know where to find a new one. I'm in this tiny twilight zone, ephemeral in both space and time, so I decided to give myself a minute to breath in it. I rented the apartment of a volunteer on home leave for a month. A month to sit still and say, "Ok, what the hell am I doing?"

I arrive at the Peace Corps office every day just in time for terere. The guard at the front makes sure to tell the others that I'm an EX-volunteer, and I get a red pass instead of yellow. I sit in the office with the coordinators, waiting for someone to suggest that perhaps it's inappropriate that I'm still there, but no one has, yet, instead support me and tell me everything's going to be ok. I prepare the terere, to earn my keep. They make fun of my red pass, and I pretend to sob, instead of really sobbing, which I save for later. Volunteers come in on their trips to the city, and they say, "So...what are you doing?" I have a variety of witty answers that I rotate. The most accurate being, "I have no idea."

I'm just another unemployed person. Suddenly I feel thrust into the world that I saw through the plexiglass of my protective Peace Corps container. My insurance, my paycheck, my plan. Paraguayans live in a scarier world, a world Americans know better, these days, where work is scarce and life is uncertain. I open 92 internet tabs of possible job leads. One involves wearing a costume on the side of the road and waving in customers. I close it with a shudder. I work on my computer until my head hurts from eyestrain.

People complain about their service, their sites, and I want to grab their little faces like Billy Madison grabbed that elementary schooler, and I want to shake them and say "Stay. Stay as long as you can."

I’ll move on, I will. Just give me a minute to focus my eyes, to remember English for Asi es la vida. I think it's something like, "That's the way life goes."

Monday, August 9, 2010

The end

Long story short: I decided not to extend.

So as of Friday, I'm not a volunteer anymore. I have no home. I have no job. I have no responsibility. I have no keys. Not one.
I'm in a hotel room, and I can barely move for everything that's around, as my friends pack up to go to Bolivia. My friends. My community. It's now like a town where everyone's packing up and moving out, as if there was a nuclear contamination. I'm sitting here, writing up my resume and a cover letter, trying to stay in Paraguay as a trainer, just for 4 months, just to have a little warning sign that my life is about to decompose before it decomposes, like it is now, suddenly. More like imploding.
I have whatever I could carry from my house, which technically is more than I can carry. Seven bags in all. I could ship stuff home, but I don't know where that is exactly. I don't know what country I'll be in next week.
"We're not Peace Corps volunteers," we kept saying outloud last night, when the conversation died down enough to have a thought. It's over.
Although I wish I didn't have to leave like this, hustled, I have to look at how the service itself was. It's over, and all the drama falls away, like water from rocks. That chick who gossiped about me, I don't really care. Those talks that didn't work out, I can barely remember. But the times remain. All the memories. We really did this.

It was amazing. Amazing.

What if I had chickened out? It would have been the worst mistake of my life, and I would have never even known it.