It has now been a full month since I officially swore-out as a Peace Corps Volunteer. My life as a RPCV has already been exciting as I took on travel north through South America and along the Andes Mountains. Just last week, I finally returned after 2.5 years to the USA.
Since my return I have told many stories, had a lot of my favorite New Mexican foods, and met up with old friends, colleagues, and family. It has been a wild return home, with little time and much activity. With my new job starting soon in Northern Ireland, I have had a lot to prepare for and catch-up on. Friends have gotten married, babies have been born, my sisters have both graduated from high school/university respectively. Some people have moved altogether. I feel like I know everything and everybody just like it was yesterday that I last saw them, and yet somehow I hardly know them at all. It is an odd feeling. My life has of course moved on in the last two years, I have seen and experienced so much. My whole worldview has shifted in ways that I still have trouble fathoming now. The world has moved on too through- without me. Sometimes home can feel just as foreign as the other side of the globe; I even at times still struggle with the language. It is bittersweet, coming home. It is so nice to be here, but it is also nice to know that I too am just passing through.
Most people that I talk to have taken a genuine interest in my Peace Corps life; they've sat through my random stories about the crazy bus rides, roasting marshmallows with my youth group, and how the comedor came to be. Others are just as satisfied to say hello and pick up the usual conversations anew. It is amazing how you can just slip back into the routine. At times it feels like I never left, maybe I just slept for 2 years. At times I get to relive the adventure.
During my short stopover I decided to visit my hometown high school and talk with the International Club and the AP Spanish class. I knew many of the teachers back from when I was a student and found it easy to set up some short-notice presentations to focus on Peace Corps' Goal #3: sharing our host culture with Americans. Still a little lost after the long plane rides home, endless laundry, and packing I wasn't quite sure where to begin explaining Paraguay. So, I popped open my suitcase and pulled out the only thing I could think of clearly in that moment: terere. What better way to describe a culture than through the pastime I took part in so frequently throughout my service? Tranquilo, community, refreshing. Packing a few artisan goods, a flag, and a map of South America I was ready to go. As I wandered onto campus with my big termo, guampa, and yerba in hand I felt oddly giddy. Not only was I going to be sharing one of my favorite activities with these kids, but I was about to go back to where this whole thing got started in the first place. It was here, in this very school, that I first heard about Peace Corps. Ever since that day now over 12 years ago, I made it a life goal to join. It was my turn to be inspiring.
The kids were restless at the crack of dawn first period, and they inquired with a smirk as they came in the room if I was the substitute for the day. Haha- learned that lesson, and NO- I clarified. We were off to a rocky start already it seemed. I introduced myself as a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer having lived in Paraguay the last 2 years and began a rudimentary introduction to the country's geography, flag, population, etc. We discussed Paraguay's use of both Spanish and Guarani and rather reluctantly the kids repeated some greetings, "Mba'echiapa- Ipora, ha nde?- Ipora, avei- Graciamante." I was excited, they were doing well...and, I think they were bored. But then I pulled out the terere and began to discuss the culture of Paraguay- tranquilo, community, refreshing. We passed around the guampa and learned the vocabulary for all things mate; suddenly the room came alive! Maybe it was just because I felt better with terere in hand, or maybe because this was something we could all feel good about- either way the room burst into questions and excitement. What started as a rather dull conversation about Paraguayan statistics turned into chisme and storytelling. My 20 minutes turned into nearly an hour. By the end a young man asked me, "I want to study mechanical engineering, can I do the Peace Corps too?" I thought of all the volunteers that I'd heard of from the 1980s that had set up entire water systems for countryside communities and our agricultural engineers working daily in the fields to help farmers improve production and conserve their soil, "You bet, there is a place for everyone in the Peace Corps." To my delight he responded, "I'm so in"!
Maybe in 10 years, one of those kids really will join the Peace Corps. Maybe not. I don't even remember the name of the guy that visited my high school class so long ago now and told me about the Peace Corps, but he inspired me. Maybe, just maybe, I too can inspire a new generation to take up the challenge, step outside the box, and join the international community in a way that touches hearts and minds forever.