Thursday, November 1, 2012

Returned Peace Corps Volunteer

So…I’m home!  I’m sure you’re all very confused and thinking, “but Nicole, you said you were planning to travel forever and never come home?”  While that was indeed the general plan, I was extremely busy and stressed up until my Close of Service date on October 17th (which is why I haven’t written an update in so long and I’m now overwhelmed getting ready to write this).  Throw an infected cyst into the mix and I kind of broke down and decided to go back to New York for a while.  The new plan is to get my grad school applications in (I only had time to put together my Fulbright application while in Guatemala) and then do the Central American adventure I had planned.  Or maybe Asia instead?  That is to be determined when I can get my head around traveling again.

I’m not really sure where I left off in the last update.  My last two months of service were kind of a whirlwind.  I went hiking a few times in Nebaj.  I helped out with sex education workshops with the Paz Joven youth (young adult) group in Cunén (they gave me a bunch of pretty sweet t-shirts).  I volunteered as a translator for an artisan fair in Antigua hosted by Agexport, the national exporting association; we didn’t work very hard but made lots of new friends and went to many fancy cocktail parties!  While there, I saw a volcano exploding.  I enjoyed the festivities of my third Independence Day in Guatemala.  I taught a bunch of kids some dances in preparation for that day.  My dream came true when I got to ride on top of a micro because there were no seats inside.  I bought some traditional clothing.  I helped give sensitivity trainings to Peace Corps staff.  I evaluated the schoolchildren on what they’d learned from me.  I facilitated the construction of a warehouse for storing onions.

That last one was pretty awesome, though definitely the biggest stressor.  Getting things done in Guatemala takes a lot of time and an immeasurable amount of patience.  Construction began late and was behind schedule the entire time.  Most of the materials were delivered on time, but the cinder clock guy was missing for a while and then he ended up not being able to complete the whole order.  Then we needed more things that we hadn’t originally budgeted for, like double the amount of cement.  True to form, I was running around like a crazy woman, this time in a country where no one is ever in enough of a rush to run anywhere.  But I am very happy to say that it all worked out, more or less.  We inaugurated the warehouse on one of my last days in Cunén and the only thing they had left to do was to finish putting up the shelving units.  And it was a great inauguration!  Lots of speeches, food, and dancing :)  I had shown up wearing a traditional Cunén huipil (blouse) and dress pants; the ladies all looked at the huipil admiringly (it is beautiful) and the pants disapprovingly and quickly whisked me away to dress me in a corte (traditional skirt), which they generously gifted to me.  (I didn’t buy a corte on my own because I didn’t think I would ever wear it again, but the one they gave me is made of a wonderful wool that could be very useful for the New York winter!)  The highlight of the afternoon may have been the photo shoot of me and every person in attendance individually, during which my smile rapidly faltered lol.  At the end of the party it was very difficult to say goodbye to everyone.

There were a lot of goodbyes all around.  I had the artisan groups, the other farmers groups, and the schools (the kids in Los Trigales bought me a bunch of adorable presents).  Host family, extended host family, Zumba ladies, friends, neighbors.  I was surprised how many people cried (though not me because I am emotionally stunted).  Though I did surprise myself by freely handing out my American phone number.  We’ll see who actually cares enough to buy saldo to call me, but I will welcome those calls.  As ready as I was to leave Guatemala, I was not willing to leave it all behind. 

And how can I?  Two+ years there have affected and changed me in so many ways.  Physically, my legs are stronger from hiking, my stomach and lungs weaker from everything polluted that I ate and inhaled, I have innumerable scars, I have a tattoo.  I became one with nature…well, maybe not, but I actually experienced nature and liked it!  I’ve grown up a lot in the way that seeing so much poverty and suffering will do to you.  I’ve become much more independent and confident, fulfilling many personal goals.  (It’s funny; I used to hate doing adult things by myself, like going to the doctor or jury duty.  I mentioned that recently to a friend and said that I still hated doing that.  And then I realized what I’d done over the last 2 years and just shook my head.)  I’ve also made lasting friendships and conquered Spanish (well, almost – advanced medium!).  Please keep this all in mind when you see me in person and I’m super awkward and weird because I don’t know how to translate all that to life in the U.S.

Anyway, soul-searching aside, after COSing together on October 17th (and after a fancy pit stop in Guatemala City), Stephen and I headed to the jungles of Peten for a week of hiking.  I’m not sure that I was ready for what I’d signed up for.  Leaving from Carmelita, the last village on the edge of the forest, we walked about 100 kilometers over 2 days to reach the archaeological site El Mirador (“the lookout,” so named because it is home to La Danta, the Mayan world’s largest pyramid).  We were accompanied by a lovely German couple and an Italian guy, which astronomically decreased the chances of Stephen and I killing each other!  The jungle was beautiful and the site very cool, though largely uncovered, unlike other Guatemalan ruins like Tikal.  I was disappointed that we only had one day to explore the site, considering that the other 4 days of walking were so exhausting.  Let’s just say that by the end, covered in blisters and bites from all kinds of insects, I was very happy to be back in civilization!

Now I find myself back in FREEZING New York City.  Stephen got me sick and I arrived last Thursday with no voice and have been fighting a cold on and off since then.  My parents were away in the U.K. when I got back (they had planned the trip far before I changed my travel plans), so it didn’t really feel like home until they got back on Sunday.  Then came Hurricane/Superstorm/Frankenstorm Sandy, which luckily pretty much skipped over our part of Queens, but left billions of dollars of damage in other parts of the city, Long Island, and New Jersey.  As a result, I haven’t left my house all that much and I don’t have too much to say about readjusting to life here.  I shower less than everyone else and still get overwhelmed when hot water comes out of the faucets.  I had to train myself to use tissues rather than toilet paper to blow my nose.  I’m still getting used to living with other people.  I almost had a meltdown in Whole Foods (though to be fair, I’ve always hated supermarkets).

With various social events coming up, I’m sure I will have many entertaining stories of my new life that I will probably share with you.  In the meantime, thank you for following my crazy Guatemalan adventures!  Photos to come later because there are way too many.

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