Two years ago today, I arrived in Guatemala. Two years ago today, I feel as if my real life paused and I embarked upon some crazy journey of self-realization full of lessons in compassion, understanding, strength, self-worth, desire, and drive. This paused section has been so incredibly unreal yet so painfully real at the same time. I feel I will unpause my real life as an entirely new person. While I am still fundamentally and very much the same Amanda, I am so much more Amanda than I ever knew possible. And I am excited to be this and grow from this exponentially more aware and conscientious point evermore for the rest of my life.
I’m sitting here eating no-bakes, my Gran’s very amazing recipe and my most happy food of all foods, as my first meal at 1:30pm today. I woke up at about 4am feeling feverish and achy in my entire body, for who-knows-what-reason… not the first of this type of day here in Guatemala. I’m sure, as I know how appreciating your food is good for everyone, that these no-bakes will cure me—full of sugar as they are. So, feeling sick as I was, I got to fijate que my ladies this morning, whom I was supposed to accompany on one of their many campaigns to give eye exams and sell eye glasses, eye drops, energy-saving light bulbs, solar-charged lamps (which are ever-so-useful here where electricity is scarce in so many of the remote villages these ladies do campaigns in), and water filters. I was feeling too ill to help them today with their inventory and sales and be the “gringa” publicity they so appreciate having. But, they got to do it ON THEIR OWN today!! These two ladies, Romelia and Flory, are members of one of the women’s groups I have worked with since about a year ago and have really blossomed since they began doing these campaigns in May. It is amazing to see two women from the campo step up to learn a little business and take charge in doing so. Thanks to Soluciones Comunitarias, they have become entirely new people. YAY! One piece of gratifying work I can say I helped achieve here. And very gratifying it is, indeed.
Well, the entire week has been full of fijate que’s, since I was supposed to give a charla on greenhouses, give two charlas on HIV/AIDS, and accompany these ladies this morning for their campaña. The greenhouse charla was put aside for my studying for the GRE’s (which I take next Tuesday – YIKES), and the other two because the educadora I work with at the Centro de Salud had too much going on and one of our communities decided to have a día deportiva and play futbol all afternoon instead of learning—of course. But, having had the two years I’ve had, this week was just fine. I mean, I really need to study for the GRE’s, and I wasn’t feeling that well, so I decided not to get upset about all the fijate que’ing. It’s life, here, we roll with it.
Besides, earlier this week, I was put at ease and relieved of my resentment and regrets for all of my service. As I was proudly showing my counterpart how I’d formatted the business plan that we were supposed to be working on that he kept telling me he didn’t have time to do with me, he said, “wow, Amanda, that’s great! You’ve done such great work… I feel BAD and sad that I haven’t made that much time to work with you while you were here. You’ve had very valuable things to share and it’s a shame we were so busy and couldn’t make the time.” I have spent countless hours tormenting myself on the undone work I came here to do and my frustration at how DIFFICULT it has been to find my work niche here. I’ve felt like I haven’t tried hard enough or have limited myself too much out of fear for not being able to succeed. I suppose the last sentence wasn’t totally nullified by my counterpart’s acknowledgment of his faults in this whole process, but my relief came in realizing that I really have made an effort and have brought forth very valuable things to share. It wasn’t all my fault that this has been SO hard for me. At least now I can go home knowing that I made an honest effort and really was appreciated while I was here. That is the best kind of thing to know about something as challenging as the Peace Corps, in my opinion. ALSO, the people I work with at ADICTA have JUST THIS WEEK started to write their sales and purchases down in our registro. I told them that I would no longer do it and that they HAD to remember, since there was no one coming in to replace me or to do this job for them, and they would never know whether they were gaining or losing money if they didn’t. They also would never know how many sales of whichever products they’d made in any particular year when people ask them this information because they’re trying to help them grown. SO THEY’RE DOING IT NOW! And they kept saying, “well, we’d better record this so Amanda doesn’t regañarnos.” J You’re damn right.
On the other side of things, my personal relationships in Guatemala, with Guatemalans and other Americans alike, have been so incredibly gratifying and real and humbling and strengthening. My host families here are so wonderful… I feel so entirely at home with them that I forget I need to speak Spanish when I’m around them and find myself saying things in English to them, expecting them to respond. WHOOPS. I love them so much, and I feel very much that it is mutual. My host mom, Sarita, was granted her travel visa and is going to accompany me home on September 30th. SEPTEMBER 30TH. So soon. She will spend a few days with me and my family before we accompany her to San Francisco to visit her brothers whom she hasn’t seen in I-don’t-know-how-many years. She has even toyed with the idea of teaching my family how to make paches, which are tamales made with potato instead of cornmeal. SO delicious. The tamales they make here are not like the Mexican ones we buy in California… they are very soft and have only a little bit of meat inside (which I feel we can augment in our potentially new California version). So I am excited and looking forward to this lesson from my chiquita momma Sarita. My other host family, Joe’s host family, have been visiting the states for years and I look forward to hearing from them and making plans to see them when they come to Los Angeles in the future. I tease my momma Alis that I will drive her from LA to Sacramento so she can see my home – she tells me she will spend the entire six hours holding on for dear life because she is convinced I can’t drive. Maybe she is right. In any case, there is real love in this part of my world. I will always hold it as a very dear part of me.
My Peace Corps friends, as I have mentioned innumerous times, have been my saving grace. Thanks to Peace Corps’ buying us phones and giving us a plan where we can talk to any volunteer for FREE, I have spent hours and hours talking to my friends about all of our woes and happiness, and call almost every day just to say something that’s frustrating me or making me happy. Is this interdependency good? I don’t know. But it has been nice to have that type of support. In any case, they are amazing people and because of how hard this has been for all of us, we have grown tremendously together. We know each other in a way that two years could not possibly allow most friends in the United States. One’s fellow Peace Corps trainees/volunteers are almost guaranteed instant family members. They will never leave my heart. Lucky for me, three of my closest Peace Corps friends will be in Sacramento (!!!!) so I will get to continue this relationship I’ve so grown accustomed to. I can’t wait. I can’t wait to do it in my REAL life. J
So next week is our COS (Close-of-Service) Conference. The day after my GRE’s (AHHHHH). I am very excited, as it will be the first time my group will be intimately reunited in about a year. We will talk about resume building, job hunting, graduate schools, and the cultural re-readjustment we can look forward to upon our return to the United States. It is easy to think how happy I will be when I get there, but hard to imagine how hard it will be at the same time. A completely different lifestyle in a completely different place than we’ve had to accustom ourselves to these past two years. But, as dad’s booming words of wisdom said, life WILL go on. J I am happy I have such a great family and network of family-like friends to return to. Anyways, this COS Conference is something we look forward to our entire service. They will end it by giving us lunch as a THANK YOU for all that we have done and what we have given of ourselves and our lives over the past two years. We finally get the chance to look at ourselves as having done something grand instead of as strugglers painfully trudging through this trench of really thick mud. And through someone else’s eyes, too. That’s always a plus.
So, as I prepare myself to leave in a month and a half, I appreciate knowing my house as MY house, even with the mushroom growing on my kitchen wall (I’m sorry, I don’t have a camera because of unmentionable personal faults) because of how rainy it is outside and how the construction of this country does a poor job of keeping the inside environment of your house dry. I appreciate the people I’ve met, even if I have constantly felt like an outsider here, for their gracious hospitality and open, genuine love of everyone. I appreciate the delicious foods I’ve tried (including my new and TERRIBLE love for ketchup AND mayonnaise on my French fries), even if they have given me the most unspeakable of intestinal issues. I appreciate the work I have learned how to do under the most challenging of circumstances, even if most of it never fully came to fruition… only most of it, though; not all. I’ve appreciated having the countless hours necessary to finally decide what I want to do for the rest of my life, even if it will take me years to achieve it. I appreciate having learned how to have a peaceful relationship with food, even if it did take me about 40 painful extra pounds to do so, 25 of which are now gone. It is all good, now. It is ALL good.
Thanks to my beautiful and very gracious friend, Leili, I was given a little new insight into things. She asked, what do you and what don’t you want when you come home? I was allowed to answer however I saw fit.
What DO I want (or, what do I look forward to):
- Being with my family
- Getting to know and growing with my two norteamericano Godsons J
- Continuing my spiritual path in a more direct and immediate way, instead of being pushed through it in a totally unfamiliar and challenging way (which has been a benefit, of course)
- Being with my friends who have proven, against all consejos that most personal relationships from the states fall away during your Peace Corps service, they REALLY are my friends… I am so lucky
- Feeling like my work is useful and contributes greatly to whomever I work for, and being appreciated for it
- Feeling like I belong instead of constantly feeling like I’m being looked at and listened to as an outsider who could never possibly fully understand the context of life in this place
- Having the space to be ME, all of the time (at least, feeling more comfortable doing so)
- MAKING MONEY!!!!
- Having my very own car and being able to DRIVE again
- Inhabiting soundly constructed buildings where there are no leaks, mold, or mushrooms on the walls
- Baking in ovens that AREN’T gas and that WON’T explode on your hand and burn the shit out of your fingers and burn all the hair off your hand and forearm
- Living in a place where electric companies can’t just decide to triple charge you one month and then cut off your electricity if you don’t pay it (UGH!)
- NO MORE FLEAS, please
- No bolos slamming drunkenly and half asleep against my metal door and having it resound very violently throughout the house as if a meteor has just crashed on my roof, without falling through the roof, miraculously… or not having to step over them as I try to get INTO my house, smelling their awful stench of 40-day-old pee and who knows what else… or listening to them barf outside my door, including the symphony of gut-wrenching and gagging
- No more “ch-ch’ing” and feeling as if men KNOW they have some kind of advantage over me because I am a woman
- No more people feeling like it is okay to call me gorda to my face
- No more people saying that they CAN’T because they are used to free hand outs and don’t want to or know how to try to do something themselves
- No more being let down by how difficult and slow-to-come-to-any-sort-of-fruition development work is (especially because of all the free hand-outs that take away from peoples’ understanding of their own capabilities to create their lives the way they want them)
What I DON’T want (or what I am afraid of):
- To be re-confronted with how difficult it is for people and how fearful they are to really open themselves up to others, and how everyone has to try so hard to prove themselves to others instead of know that they are wonderful just as they are (like Guatemalans so miraculously know here – I think) and be let down by humanity and its faults
- To constantly wish I were in a different, better place, as I have spent so much time doing here
- To be dampened by the low economic environment and low morale because of it
- To feel lazy in a fast-paced America after having had the time and space to take my time and space here
- To not be able to afford my OWN place—living alone has been such a saving grace
- To feel alone because no one understands the changes I have gone through
- To feel alone because boys there are just as silly as boys here and because everyone around me is in a relationship
- To be around people who are so absorbed in their Smartphone lives they can hardly put the things down, and therefore not able to fully enjoy the company at hand
- To listen to America lie to America about how to fix its life, when the answers are so simple and internally located
That is all. I will see you in a month and a half. ThankGOODNESS. I love you.