A year ago this month I swore in as a Peace Corps Volunteer and came out to Upire for the first time. I remember it like it was yesterday—seeing Upire for the first time and my new home, crying myself to sleep that first night wondering what the hell I had gotten myself into, and spending the first month of service in utter confusion not only because of the language barrier but because of the drastic change in lifestyle in addition to schlepping to every house, every event, anything I could just to try and “get in” with the community. It seemed like those days would just never end, that I would never get used to life here, and I would never quite be “in” with my community. But then out of nowhere, in a blink of an eye, I find myself half way done with my service, and moving into year dos. And boy have things changed since the beginning.
My mom asked me numerous times before I left for Peace Corps, “Do you think you will come back a different person?” I always replied, “Probably, but who knows?” I think I always assumed I would change. Probably from those hundreds of blogs I read with posts similar to this one documenting how much the person had grown and learned in two years in the Peace Corps. Sorry to be lame and copy their idea, but it makes sense to reflect especially at the half way point. Besides, we all use Peace Corps for a little self-discovery and self-reflection.
So, am I different? I still don’t know if I am different in the way my Mom meant. I don’t think I have had some strange personality shift or dramatic change in behavior since coming here over a year ago. I am pretty sure she’ll recognize me just fine when I get home. Well, I might bring back some weird habits, different food obsessions, and random and ridiculous stories to share with everyone back home (I am sorry in advance for talking only about El Salvador for probably a year after I return). But I am sure those things will begin to change and disappear after while back in the states. There is something more permanent, however, that is very different since coming here a year ago. It’s my relationships and my relationship to relationships.
One thing I have learned since coming to El Salvador is that one of the most important things in life is our connection to others. I think it is one of those cliche lines that we think is obvious, but don't really understand. Although, now I think I understand. They told us in training we would do nothing until year dos because we had to spend the first one building trust and relationships. I doubted it during training, but has proven to be quite true. Not only that is our human relationships that define us and make life worth living. When I first got here to Upire I did not know a single soul. Not only that, but I was “The Gringa.” I was new, different, and an outsider. But over the past year I have spent hours dedicated to changing this relationship with my community members not only to be able to work with them on projects but also for myself. I did not just want to be here surviving, I wanted to enjoy it, and feel truly happy living here. Finally after a year, I can say that Upire is home now. I feel it when I get off the bus and return here after being away even for a day. The fresh, cool climate, the friendly faces in the street that always greet me, and knowing that my people have missed me is what makes life here special. I feel comfortable, safe, loved, and a part of the community. And that is the feeling I have been waiting for since the beginning: to feel like I belong here. Without the people and the relationships I have made in a year I am not quite sure I would ever feel like I belong here in the slightest. I know because I often dream about going home to the states and I truly cant wait to return to the land of comfort, freedom, and familiarity, but it is the people who keep me here enjoying this experience and worried about the day I have to leave them. It has been said that home is not some place, it is someone. I agree. Home is about the people. What good is a place if you don't have friendship, family, or love?
It is strange to write about the necessity of others. I often believed that I was an independent, free, powerful woman and that I did not really need anyone else in my life. Furthermore, even if I realized I need others, I would never admit it out loud because I treasured my “take no prisoners, bad ass mentality, where I didn't need anyone.” But part of growing up is losing things like losing your pride, admitting when you are wrong and have some growing up to do, and facing your weaknesses. And part of Peace Corps is truly learning how hard life is when you are alone. So, I am not scared anymore and I will admit it openly to everyone…
I can’t do it on my own. No matter how strong we are, no matter how brave, and no matter how wise, we all need the help of others, even yours truly. Whether it is a few hundred people in a rural community in El Salvador, a group of close volunteer friends (more like family), friends and family in the states, or a dog, our lives are made by the connections we make. Right now for me Peace Corps life, living abroad doing aid work, and “making a difference” is not just about me. It is about me being here with others and what we do together.
Here is to year dos and all the people I love around the globe.
|mi familia salvadorena|
|My group celebrating our year in at Parque Imposible. I love these guys!!!!Brothers and sisters I never had.|