The Peace Corps never tells you how hard it will be to leave the community you’ve called home for the past 2 years of your life. It’s so hard that I felt it was impossible to even write about it, and so I kept putting it off. But everything deserves a proper ending, no matter how difficult, so I’ll do my best to convey my final week in Caazapá.
I don’t think I’ve ever felt so emotionally drained as I did during the last week in my site, even though it was by far the most incredible week of my service, and probably one of the best and most memorable of my life. The littlest things would send me spiraling into a blubbering mess: packing, realizing I had ‘3 days left,’ walking down a street and wondering if this would be my ‘last time going down this street,’ etc. My Paraguayan friends started to make it into a game to count how many times I cried over a five-day period. We lost track after the second.
It’s interesting to reflect on how much leaving this time period in my life has affected me. First off, I’m not the biggest crier, yet I found myself welling up over the tiniest things. Every day as I got closer and closer to finishing my service in Caazapá, it came with such a sense of foreboding and anxiousness that I had never experienced. It was as if I didn’t believe life continued on after the Peace Corps- strangely enough, I remember feeling very much that way at the end of high school. Both were similar in that they were huge chapters in my life ending. Second, I can’t say that these past two years have been the happiest of my life- far from it, I would say that while it’s been an incredible and life-changing experience, it’s also been the most challenging, frustrating, and at times, isolating time period. Yet while I initially felt an immense sense of relief and happiness at coming back to the United States at the end of my service, as the days got closer and closer I felt more apprehensive and sad to leave. And while I had felt through most of my service that I had fistfuls of time, more time than I knew what to do with than ever before- the last two months of my service flew by so fast that I blinked, and it was gone. And saying goodbye had never been harder in my life.
Things went by in stages in my final week. I found myself wrapping up all of my classes.
Finishing my final World Cultures Class
My 6th Grade Students showing some love
Teaching my cooperative some sales strategy to promote their newest product, honey packets
My final ‘Build Your Dreams’ Entrepreneurship Class
My friends at the local University invited me to a goodbye party.
Bombtastic pizza made by Marlene
Then my local VAC-mates (Peace Corps Volunteers that live close-by to me) threw me a good-bye party in Caazapá.
All of us immediately passed out on our super comfy beds… before going out to rage it in Caazapá, that is! And by rage, I mean eat dinner and have a beer.
I made a quick trip to my homestay family’s house from training to visit them one last time. There were lots of tears.
My homestay family showing off my gift- some favorite pictures.
Then my training group, G-36, held a little going-away party for all of us at a retreat outside of the capital, which I popped by for the first night before heading back for my final weekend in site.
Gathering together to eat a ginormous and delicious meal prepared by chef Kevin.
Inhaling said food.
Oh yeah, and then this happened.
Love you, G-36.
My contact Carlos and his wife invited me over to their house for one last carne asado.
Mouthwatering carne de chancho- grilled pig. Possibly the best I have ever had.
Carlos and his wife Doris peeling a typical Paraguayan dessert- yummy oranges, which you suck like a juicebox.
And then my neighbors threw me a little goodbye party with- you guessed it- more carne de chancho.
My wonderful neighbors/homestay family for the past two years in Caazapá.
Meanwhile, I spent my days packing up my house as it slowly turned into a depressing shadow of its former self.
My boxes that I left for my follow-up Volunteer
Kitchen, sans table or any posters/pictures
My kitchen, without… a kitchen.
Taken on my last day in my house, my finished ‘Messages of Love’ project.
I had to say good-bye to my wonderful kitten, which was one of the hardest moments of saying good-bye.
Oh my Harry! I love you so.
Danielle, a Peace Corps Volunteer that lives by me, graciously offered to take care of him.
Then, the cooperative held a little good-bye party for me. There were a few speeches and I gave a brief summary of all of the work I did in Caazapá over the past two years. My contact Carlos presented me with a wonderful certificate thanking me for helping the Production department (certificates are big in Paraguay).
Good-bye fiesta at Cooperative Ycua Bolaños
I finished painting the World Map I had been working on for months, and then cried when it was finished (typical at this point).
Then, on my final day, I handed in the keys to my house. I didn’t take any pictures because it was too sad to see my house so barren and cheerless. When my landlord came to collect the keys, I really lost it. I wandered up and down my street like a loser visiting my neighbor’s houses and wailing that I no longer lived in Caazapá anymore while they all hugged and kissed my tear-stained face, whispering things like “Te quiero mucho, che muñeka” (I love you very much, my little doll). My neighbors and adopted Paraguayan family cheered me up by dancing to ‘Gangnam Style’ in their living room and feeding me glass after glass of wine mixed with Guaraná soda. After I was sufficiently calm (and drunk), we raced around Caazapá, up and down the center of the town, and they helped me bring my bags up to Denis’s house, where I was spending my final night.
I spent my final night in Caazapá the way I loved best: with Denis and Liz and our other friends Gracia and Joaquin, blasting Paraguayan music, eating carne asado, drinking wine and coke, watching movies, and running all around the city taking pictures in all of our favorite places.
Celebrating my final night with typical rico carne de chancho and spicy chorizo.
Lying in the middle of the road in Caazapá at 2 AM
Me and Denis
Me with my best friends.
We didn’t go to bed until 5 AM, which was pretty pointless since I had to get up at 7 AM to catch my final bus out of Caazapá. Denis, Liz, and Gracia all drove me to the terminal as we passed through the main avenue one last time (at this point I was mentally willing the tears to stop streaming down my face). The ticket salesman, a young Paraguayan who always flirted with me mercilessly every time I got on a bus, looked dumbfounded as I popped out of Denis’s car, laden down by three very heavy bags.
“Are you leaving? For good?” he asked incredulously. My throat was so tight that all I could do was nod.
At the last second, my neighbor and Paraguayan mother Mari showed up, and we sobbed and hugged, as I clung to these truly wonderful friends that had changed my life and made my experience in Paraguay so worthwhile.
Paraguayans have this saying: you come to Paraguay crying because you don’t want to go. You leave Paraguay crying because you don’t want to leave. Peace Corps doesn’t tell you that leaving will be one of the hardest things about this experience. But it’s also in those moments that you realize how incredible and special it all was, how worthwhile and enriching of an experience you had, and how every moment from then on will be a reward from those 2 years you lived and served in the Peace Corps.
Surprisingly, I didn’t cry on the bus ride out of Caazapá, and remained dry-eyed through the last 5 hour bus-ride to Asunción I would ever have to take. I felt incredible. In that moment, I felt like the most blessed person alive.
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