Filed under: Paraguay
Talking about leaving Paraguay and finishing my service in the Peace Corps has left me with the biggest writer’s block EVER. I can’t seem to encapsulate into words what it’s like to have had my biggest dream and life goal for years- I think even before I was fully conscious of it- suddenly and completely accomplished. This is it: I am no longer a Peace Corps Volunteer in Paraguay, and the dream (and truthfully, at some of my worst moments what felt like a nightmare) has been fulfilled. I am back in the United States of America without a visible dent in my visage (except for a bit of a poochy gut thanks to too much fried meat and mandioca- definitely a recuerdo I did not want to bring back from Paraguay, but here it is nonetheless. Sit-ups, anyone?). Yet, while on the outside I pass by total strangers who see me as just another person, I feel as if I’m walking along with some invisible branding: Returned Peace Corps Volunteer from Paraguay. It was life-changing. Ask me about it.
For all of the parade and fanfare through every step of the Peace Corps application process: nomination, medical clearance, invitation, staging, training, and finally the Swear-In ceremony of becoming a REAL Peace Corps Volunteer, I must say that the act of ‘Swearing Out’ of the Peace Corps is pretty anti-climatic in comparison. Yet, it was a beautiful way to say goodbye. My training group, G-36, proudly assembled in the Peace Corps conference room at the office to be showered with accolades by our bosses and all of the staff. Our boss Elisa gave a long and lovely speech, praising each of us personally for specific projects we accomplished in our sites and on national projects. The Peace Corps Country Director, Emily, thanked us for our hard work and dedication as Volunteers for two years in Paraguay. We watched a slideshow of pictures of our two years in the Peace Corps as a G- trainings, camps, get-togethers, all with lots of good food and dancing. Our G-mate Sam stood up to say some words of thanks in fluent Spanish to the entire office, to Paraguay, and to our G. And finally, as is the custom in Paraguay, we received certificates of completion of service. When I got back from Paraguay, I of course had it framed. After the ceremony we were cheered on by our sister G and other Volunteers in the office, took lots of funny pictures, and ate some incredible good-bye cake.
G-36 Pre Swear-Out Ceremony
Our amazing boss Elisa praising each of us.
The entire Community Economic Development team.
Sam giving a thank-you speech on behalf of our G.
The best part of swear-out: Paraguayan cake.
Three generations of CED: G-36, our sister G, G-39, and our replacement G, G-42.
Stephanie and I
On Saturday morning, July 6th, I woke up with the heavy realization that it was my last full day in Paraguay. I wandered up and down the streets of Asunción, buying some last-minute memories of my soon-not-to-be home, eventually breaking down in a souvenirs shop and gasping through sobs to the store owner what a beautiful country she has and how terribly I will miss it. On the upside, it scored me an unintentional heavy discount on a gorgeous traditional ñanduti lace souvenir- just another homage to the kindness of strangers here. In the evening, I attended my last ‘Ahendu,’ a tri-annual concert put on by Peace Corps Volunteers and Paraguayans. Our band of G-36 members rocked out to a few songs, with me on drum-set. We had group shots and lots of dancing, hugs, and tears.
Repping with our G-36 shirts
Celebratory toast to our accomplishment.
G-36 band playing one last Ahendu.
And suddenly that was that: at 7 AM the next day, the Country Director graciously drove me to the airport, and before I knew it I had left Paraguay and the Peace Corps forever.
I am back in the United States, as I have been for two months now. Being home with family has been incredible- but it still doesn’t feel like the journey is over. It feels as if I am still in Peace Corps Paraguay and am merely on vacation. It’s strange not popping into the Peace Corps office. It’s strange not eating at Todo Rico or carrying the usual 30 pounds worth of groceries to the bus terminal. It’s strange not sitting on a cramped bus for 5 hours. It’s strange not seeing my friends or my Paraguayan family. Even though I’ve been back for two months, something feels so out of place. I think it’s that I’m still expecting to return to what I thought was home- except it is not my home anymore. And even though I lived my life for two years without hot water, air conditioning or heating, with washing my clothes in a bucket, living with tarantulas and mold and scabies and dirt roads and cramped public transportation and carrying everything everywhere and and and… with all of those hardships, there became a sort of comfort, tranquility, and slowness in that lifestyle that I miss terribly, and that life doesn’t seem right without.
It’s still too much to process for me that this incredible experience and adventure is over, but I know that I will come to understand and accept it at some point. All that I can and will do is be eternally grateful of the entire experience, for all that it was, even the bad. The Peace Corps may be over, but it is something that will live eternally within me forever. I may no longer be living in Paraguay, but it is a place I will carry in my heart no matter where I go. And wherever my life will take me in the future, I know that I will always have the lessons I learned from this experience to keep things in perspective and provide me with guidance.And for that, I am eternally grateful and so proud of myself for following and achieving my dream of being in the Peace Corps.
Thank you, Paraguay.
My Peace Corps Certificate of Completion
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