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Sunday, December 29, 2013

Beginning the Transition

       In my last few days in Paraguay I had several people ask me whether or not I would continue writing in this blog after I returned back to America. To be honest, I always thought that this would end the day I left Paraguay. The whole reason for writing it was to give people insight to the work I was involved in with people in my community, and to provide some general information about a country not often thought about on a global scale. I hadn't even considered writing about the transition back mostly because those would be ramblings in America, not Paraguay. The more I thought about it, however, the more I realized that all those ramblings in Paraguay had left an indelible mark that would dramatically influence my decisions when I finally returned. While I still haven't figured out what the experience of being a Peace Corps Volunteer in Paraguay is in the long and short terms, I know that it had to of done something that overtime will hopefully become clearer in my mind.
       After traveling for 3-weeks through Bolivia and Chile I left Santiago at 10:10 PM on December 19th. It wasn't until I was sitting at the gate that a flurry of emotions hit me that I had been suppressing since I had left Paraguay. Aside from the Paraguayans I would miss there were countless other people, things, and places that kept popping up in mind. Would I ever seem them again? Would I be able to go to that place in the future? When, if ever, will I go back there? Those feeling were compounded with the emotions of seeing my family for the first time in two years. I think I almost broke down on the plane several times just thinking about it all. Thankfully a women in front of me had a panic attack about the plane tacking off, and wanted to get off. Seeing that interaction, and the hundreds of movies available to watch on the touch screen TV's were enough of a distraction to get me through the first leg of my journey. When we arrived in Atlanta the phenomenon of being in America for the first time since I left in September 2011 really started to hit me. I never thought that I could be overwhelmed by a modern bathroom, but as I entered the facilities in the Atlanta airport I was taken aback by the fact that you could flush toilet paper, the facet automatically spit out hot water, and a seemingly old fashion paper towel dispenser turned out to be an automated machine that spewed the perfect amount of paper toweling to sufficiently dry my hands. I was much more used to no soap, freezing water, and minimal toweling at best, so having everything work in that efficient manner overwhelmed me a bit more than I thought possible. After braving the modernity of the bathroom I started heading for my gate, and was exposed to American morning television programming for the first time since I left.
       As most morning shows go, this one was a myriad of pop culture trash stories intertwined with national and international news. There was a two minute bit on some guy saying racist comments from this super popular television show that I had only heard of in passing called Duck Dynasty. Then there was a 30 second update on the brewing civil war in South Sudan followed by a three minute breaking news piece about a theatre in London collapsing during a performance where nobody died. I understood that news is meant to appeal to the people watching it, but having come from a place that was lower down the development scale I was saddened by what my country saw was important information. That's not to say this particular news program was most well informed show on TV, but it being my first exposure to American media it was a bit overwhelming.
       When I finally saw my parents for the first time the emotions finally boiled over, and it hit me that I wasn't going back to Paraguay. Seeing the city where I grew up for the first time since I left was pretty incredible. Cincinnati has gone through numerous development projects since I left. There are all sorts of new apartments, bars and restaurants in several areas where there was previously nothing. There is a large casino in the middle of downtown. Houses and buildings that I passed on a daily basis growing up are sometimes different colors. Supermarkets, bars, restaurants, and stores have more choices than I could imagine, and I have often found myself getting overwhelmed by those choices. All technology seems to be put in place to simply to make things happen faster like having your check split without even asking. I was so used to struggling through who owes what when the bill comes that I sort of missed the incipient banter that inevitably followed resolving the check. In Paraguay, if I found a stout beer I would literally scream out loud. In America, every bar has at least four choices all which are slightly different. The way we interact with people is also remarkable.
       The way we as Americans interact with each other is peculiar to me now, and I finally understand why Paraguayans thought I was so strange on some levels. We have this instinctual ability to ask extremely directed questions at each other. To me, it seems more like a mechanical process to produce the desired result as quickly as possible. Drawing out emotions in conversations that are meaningful is a talent that not many of us process. Since I've been home, granted its been a week, the first time I see people that I haven't spoken to since I left they ask my two questions in this order: "How was it?" and "What are you going to do next?" It's not rude, its just how we interact. The questions are general enough that I could ramble for hours, but instincts tell me that I have to have a short an concise answer. Before we left Paraguay we had a closing of service conference that had a secession about transitioning home. In that time we discussed elevator speeches in which we gave a five minute summery of a good story, a challenge, and a funny story from our service. I, for whatever reason, haven't quite figured out the perfect way to tell that story, but I have a lifetime to figure it out. I hear all the time that people don't care about what you did, and that the hardest part of transition is that seeming lack caring, but I don't think it's that simple. It's not that people don't care I think it's more they don't have the capacity to understand in that moment. I view it as my responsibility to get them to care, to show them that this something meaningful to me and that if you're willing to listen it can have some semblance of the same meaning to you. It's getting to that conversation that has been the hard part because those two years that I spent in Paraguay were two years that other people spent doing interesting things as well that could've been as meaningful if not more to their lives as my experience was to mine. The conversation is reciprocal, and it is a skill to be able to illustrate how my experience relates to others. This has been a crazy week and I am still figuring out what it means to be home again. All I know at this point is that things seem eerily the same, but strangely different and recognizing the differences has actually been quite fun so far.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you, Thomas, for sharing all this. I agree...continuing to muse on what you have seen and felt and how you are experiencing life these days will continue to inspire others and keep you grounded in what is important to you. Life is indeed a journey and you are still on a path where everything you see will somehow be informed by your amazing experience in the Peace Corps. Welcome to all the rest.