Today marks my one-year anniversary in Paraguay. It’s a happy day, and also a reflective one.
Has the time flown by? Yes and no. There were times in San Pedro where I’d literally watch the minutes on wristwatch tick away. There were also entire months that passed so quickly that I could barely catch my breath. Now I’m here in Caacupé, learning how to navigate my new community, my new role, my new contacts. I have so much more in my toolbox this time around and for that I’m grateful.
Now is the time that Peace Corps volunteers do some serious self-inventory. What have you accomplished in your service so far? What types of relationships have you built? Where do you see yourself at this time next year? Are you still happy you joined up?
In terms of accomplishment, I feel that I’ve grown a lot during my time in Paraguay. That response is stereotypical, and with good reason. I’ve learned how to manage awkward encounters and handle gossip and walk with my head held high while men hiss at me. I’ve learned to wash my own clothes without a machine and cut weeds with a machete and kill tarantulas with a squeegee. I’ve learned how to cook well with limited ingredients. I’ve learned how to drink tereré in the shade and talk about nothing for hours. I’ve learned that I can live well and happily without a lot of material things. I’ve learned that popcorn and whiskey are sometimes an appropriate dinner option. But I think the most important thing I’ve learned so far is how to advocate for myself. I never realized how important it was to develop that skill, especially as a woman. I’d still be in San Pedro, unhappy and unfulfilled, if I hadn’t stood up for myself. I only wish I would have done it sooner.
Workwise, I honestly don’t have much to show for myself. The reason for this is partly situational and partly personal. I hope 2012 proves to be much more fruitful in that respect, because I really do believe that education, with an emphasis on literacy and creativity, is this country’s ticket out of extreme poverty. It’s an uphill battle, especially when many involved in this country’s educational system have been so beaten down that they use apathy as a shield against years of disappointment and broken promises. Development work, by its nature, is slow and oftentimes frustrating. However, I feel that Caacupé will be much more receptive to some of the ideas I’ve been sent to promote.
I feel very lucky with the number of friends and contacts I’ve developed over the last year. I’m starting the process over again in Caacupé, but as I mentioned earlier, this time around I have much more cultural literacy. Plus, I’m not nearly as scared. Bad stuff happened and I’m still standing. I’ve already weathered a storm and I’m more confident in my ability to do so again, if necessary. But I really hope I don’t have to.
Next year, I hope to look back at my time in Caacupé with pride. I hope I’ll leave this place a little better off than when I came. I hope I’ll have some semblance of a plan for what my life will look like when I go back home. I hope I’ll continue to be happy.
And as for the last question, yes, I’m still glad I joined. Definitely yes.