I arrived home in Paraguay several days ago. As I stumbled off the plane in my red-eyed, early-morning stupor I remember the heat just hitting me. It felt like a fat man had just sat down on-top of my head. It was Paraguay--just as I had left it almost 2 and half weeks before. Of course, things couldn’t change too much in such a short period of time and I hadn’t expected them to. If I’ve learned anything about Paraguay, its that change is slow, except in the cases of occasional military coups or unconstitutional presidential impeachments. What had changed during my brief respite stateside was not Paraguay but me and the head-space I had been occupying for over the past year.
I have lived in Paraguay for something like 1 year and 4 months, although at times they all seem to run together in a sort of heat-induced haze. I remember leaving for the first time, off to spend the next 2-plus years living the idyllic Peace Corps life and enjoying the wonderful tropical weather (oh, how naive I was). At that time, I was off on an adventure, without a good conception of how long and difficult those next two years would be and ready for a change in the hum-drum monotony that had become my college life. In a way, I was also running from the stress and chaos of what was, at that time, a totally unrealistic and trying relationship with a girl I had met but 8 months before; although this relationship would last another few months, I found it surprisingly more manageable and agreeable with 4,000 miles of oceans and continents between us (as you would likely deduce, she did not feel the same).
Other than a trip to Cuba last May and a 4-day respite in the states following this amazing experience, I had spent all of my Peace Corps service up to that point within the borders of Paraguay. With the exception of short, monthly trips to the capital city of Asuncion, my world was even more restricted to the distance I was willing to ride my bicycle from home in the paralyzing heat, making roughly a 10 kilometer circumference around my small community of Guido Almada. It had been such a long time and such a consuming experience up to that point that I no longer thought of Paraguay as if it were some study-abroad experience; it had become, it was (and still is) my life. For all intents-and-purposes, Guido Almada and by extension Paraguay is my home. This is where my life exists (for the next year at least), where my neighbors and friends are, where I have a strong support system, and where I continually progress through the trials and beauty of my day-in, day-out.
So needless to say, going back home to visit the US for almost 2 and a half-weeks for the holiday season was going to come as a bit of a shock. It did. I had expected this to a certain extent and had even begun loosing my shit a little bit as we descended into Miami International Airport. I was de-boarding when my torso began shaking like a twig--it was like I was hungry, but also full, but anxious and ready to run if things got too crazy too fast. It didn’t feel like I was coming home, not until I stepped out of the terminal, greeted by a gust of cold wind, my mother’s arms, my little sister and one of my best friends in the world.
The next few days were wonderful and warm and beautiful, although all the while a part of me was struggling internally to get a grip on the strangeness of it all--the contrasts between these two lives, both of which were mine, but neither of which felt real any longer. It was like I was two different people, but the same bodily vessel. I missed my dog in Paraguay, my good friend Don Zaccarias, I even missed the food (the fatty, carb-rich, oil-saturated Paraguayan campo food). I found myself longing for the solitude and peace and quiet that comes every sunny morning or every wine-and-cigar-filled night sitting alone on the porch of my little brick shack.
Still, it was glorious to be home. To eat my mother’s food, hearing her sing Christmas songs. To converse endlessly over beers or cups of coffee with my father, who will always be my father, but as the years go by, becomes more and more like a best friend. To annoy and pester my little sisters till they threaten to tell on me (although secretly, we know they love the attention and the affection). To sit with my best friends and bull-shit about life and retell those infinitely entertaining stories of our childhood--almost all of which we spent together. I had forgotten how much I loved and missed these people, how truly blessed I am to have them in my lives, how shattered I would be to loose any of them, and how much they missed and loved me in return. Perhaps, I hadn’t forgotten such things, just put away somewhere so I could get on with life in Paraguay and not be burdened ceaselessly with nostalgia. This as well was my life. My friends and family, my support structure, my stories and memories, the things that have defined me, and an unending pool of love and affection.
I am writing this now while sitting, once again, on my porch in Paraguay. I have re-traveled the many thousands of miles that separate me from home only to come home once again. It has been surprisingly difficult to re-adjust to my life here (although, to be fair, I have only given myself 3 days so far). My head-space has been severely twisted and turned. I am here for about 11 months more (just under a year) and while this might sound like a lot, I know it will be gone before I know it. These past months since I first arrived seem to have flown by almost before I realized it. And to think that at times I thought I would never last the week. Here I am, well over half-way done and in reality, already on my way out. I am not running for the door by any means, but simply trying to be realistic with how I proceed in my work and my personal life from this point. It is a weird place to be in your head, straddling two different parts of your life, waiting, living, occupying one life in a way that seems like only biding time till you can re-join another. Where does that man begin and I end? How do I rectify such seemingly polarized and foreign part of myself? Time, perhaps, and maybe a bottle of wine and some good conversation with a friend. Cheers.
Until I come home, wherever that might be,