When I walked into the grocery store today I was greeted by a huge display of mangoes.
As I looked up at the mountain of Platonic, palm-sized fruit, I tried my best not to think about Paraguay. I rushed to gather a few into a bag but when I smelled their tangy sweetness and felt their soft skin for the first time since I left South America, it drew me right back and down into a flood of memories. And right there, in the middle of the produce section at the local Rockville Giant, I became hopelessly lost in a stifling Paraguayan afternoon, swimming in an ocean of my own sweat, punch drunk on summer fruit, and high on hand-rolled cigars. For a brief moment, I was once again sitting on the porch with my dog as we polished off diner, gnawing at bones and surveying the night as it slowly descended on the forest. I was sitting with an old man, sipping tea and talking about the weather. For hours. For days. For lifetimes.
And in my mind there is no music. Just a few words and crickets and birds, a crackling fire, screaming cicadas, howling monkeys, and when it storms, the tremendous drums of heaven.
I walked out of my house this morning with the sun in my face and for a second, before my eyes adjusted, I thought I was back in the jungle. I thought that somehow I had been dreaming this whole time and that today, finally, I had woken up at my home—a small little shack surrounded by pasture and swamp and forest that smells like sugar cane with the northern winds and rain with the southern. Instead, I opened my eyes to suburbia Americana and I knew that if I did not get out of this place soon it would kill me. Through its comfort, its unadulterated comfort, it would kill me by means of complacency and nothingness and sheep-like apathy.
You see, I know my time in Paraguay was far from perfect. In fact sometimes it almost killed me, quite literally. Still, I wonder how much of life we surrender with the ease of modernity, of progress. We express ourselves in 140 characters, finding cheap pleasures in consumerism and commodities—bought and sold—and living vicariously through fictional characters on TV.
This is my hell.
While I don't want to idealized my time in Paraguay with its slew of hardships and challenges, it was a level of existence I had never previously experienced. It was liberating and empowering, in a very Walden-esque sort of way, because no matter what happened, good or bad, it all came down to a few basic things: me, the few people around me, the weather, the necessities of survival, the necessities of sanity, the natural world, and my own mission and convictions. All of these things were at least a little more comprehensible and visible without the chaos of this collective, social American conglomerate.
My time in Paraguay was like time spent in love. A fever-like insanity, as much from the heat and the struggle as from actual disease, in which you loose track of both time and space. But it was also nurturing and fulfilling, showing me parts of myself and the world I had never previously known and graciously giving me time to mull them over. It was day and night, summer and winter, and everything in between. I froze, I sweat, I laughed, I wept and I did so all with an audience of trees and an endless sun.
I have as much desire to return to Paraguay as I do to be in love again. That is, despite all my inclinations towards personal health and safety, I want it so desperately sometimes it hurts. But like love, wanderlust cannot be captured, it must surrender to you on its own accord and in its own time. And so, for the moment, I wait—hideously disfigured in a strange world that I no longer recognize, caricatured by the skin-deep facade, hollowed out by a disconnect from nature.
Either way, something is going to kill me, I know that. Its just that I want to die in the right way: with singing birds in my ears and love in my heart.