As of next Saturday, I will have spent 1 year so far serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer here in the country of Paraguay. A lot has happened in the last year of my life-- personally, emotionally, physically (gotta love those tropical parasites), spiritually, intellectually, and in every other way imaginable--but its hard to really put a finger on most of it. Without trying to be esoteric or evasive, I must say that when you are on the inside as a PCV, inside this strange world, living your sort of alternative-reality as a temporary visitor in the lives of other people, the subtle (and sometimes even the tectonic) shifts and changes are often hidden in a cultural, linguistic, geographic stupor. The questions like “where the fuck am I?” and “what the fuck am I doing here?” don’t have a time or a place inside a brain that is, on a day-in and day-out basis, running the programs and moving the body through the functions of survival. You automatically stop trying to make sense of everything or figure it all out, you just accept your new reality, modify the program and keep on keeping on.
The hardest part of this whole experience for me has not been adaptation to this world I am currently (if not also momentarily) occupying, that hardest part has been seeing my other life, my real life, my life that I left and will return to, changing and progressing and not being able to do anything about it. I wake up every day, I do what I need to do in order to get by, to be productive and do my job, to feel happy and content with my current self-imposed lot. Then I get a phone call from home, from friends or family, and that world back home is changing. People are living there lives without me. Hopefully, this doesn’t sound narcissistic or too self-gratifying, I honestly don’t mean it in that sort of way. But just think about this: you live your entire life connected to a certain number of people, the you take a 2 year hiatus from seeing, interacting and all too often even communicating with them. Its strange and unfortunately, on those lonely nights in the middle of nowhere in some third-world country, its unsettling as well.
Eventually, I am going to go back to my life at home (my “real” life, as I sometimes say) with the benefit of this amazing experience that I am currently having. Nothing good ever came easy--tell me about it. In the meantime, those things that were once constant in my life, are going about themselves all the same. Its almost like I have walked out the door, left the house, and now I realize that maybe there is no room for me to take when I come home. Maybe I could bum on the sofa of my old life for a few days, but those people and those things that once had space and time for me have found other occupants--renters, or sub-letters, or maybe even they’ve sold the real estate all together.
The hardest part of that notion is that I haven’t found another place anywhere else. Where I am now, what I am doing, its not like I have moved on. Sure, I am comfortable, but this is not my home, I don’t belong here, I haven’t found another life, just a temporary state, a transition between parts of myself. So I am liminal for the time being. Not me, but not someone else. Not at home, but not entirely lost. Not forgotten, but slowly, not remembered as often as I might hope. And maybe that in itself is part of the delusion of sitting on the fence somehow outside of my lives but not entirely outside of myself--the loss of identity, though language and isolation and relativity, and yet the discovery of entirely new facets of myself.
I have always thought myself a simple person. But I am not. No one is. The best thing to do is just talk slower, ask more questions of yourself and other people, and listen to happy music. In this sort of personal and social vaccum, where I live right now, nothing is clear but everything is visible, in many cases for the first time. Its like swimming though yourself and waiting waiting waiting 2 years between breathes. Its like slow-motion touching the bottom of the ocean and kicking off the sand, kicking against the water, shooting back up to the sky, eyes closed but you are seeing everything in those suspended moments underwater, and you know that any second now you are going to break the surface and the sun will be shining still and the air will be cool and god-given and then everyone will be waiting for you. But for the time being, you’re still swimming, if thats what they call this ungraceful flailing of the arms and legs.
So that’s where I am, 1 year in the deep. Changing my little world, this little microcosm, one awkward moment and one unintentional moment of perspective at a time. See you on the shore my friends.