A year ago today, I took my first breath of tropical air in Guyana. It was humid and heavy but still, I was full of excitement and wonder thinking about what my life was going to be like here. How far away will I be from the Amazon? Will I see monkeys in my backyard? Are the stars brighter out here? What things will I do? I filled my mind with wanderlust and curiosity based on things I’ve seen on social media, but mistakingly solidified them with stiff expectations.
When my service began, I was flipped upside down. I became bitter by disappointment only to later realize how fragile my dreams were in the first place. How fragile, perhaps, I was too at the time.
Around July/August time, this journey had left me bedridden for weeks. By anxiety, by depression, by uncertainty. This might surprise some of you due to how easy it is to fabricate my life with only the good parts of my service, but it’s true. I was thrown way beyond what I could handle and I wasn’t sure if Peace Corps was such a great idea after all.
I thought about going home. There would’ve been nothing to be ashamed of if I did, but part of me hoped and really wanted to believe that something good would come out of this, either for my community or myself. I decided that if by the end of my first year I still felt miserable, I’d go home. Now that I’ve completed half of my service, I’m glad to have stayed. Since then, I’ve developed diet education materials with a dietitian; I’ve discovered I’m not that terrible of a teacher; I’ve had the adventure of a lifetime enduring a 24hr bus ride through untouched parts of Guyana; I got to be a part of a moving Camp GLOW for over 60+ girls; I spent New Years in Suriname; and have had plenty of good memories in between that outweigh the bad.
The last 12 months have been both overwhelming and ordinary. Living in the second most developed town in Guyana, I can’t say my lifestyle has changed all that much from before. I live in a crowded town comfortably (or uncomfortably depending on the day) with running water, reliable electricity, and wifi at my leisure. Perhaps the things that have changed the most are myself and my perspective.
I’ve seen stuff I probably won’t ever share or find the words to explain back home. With less things to distract me, the realities of death and devastation and danger are harder to dismiss. Still, simplicity and serenity and solitude continue to brush beauty alongside life’s disasters and remind me there’s some good left in the world. Some good left in humanity.
In many ways, I’m not the same person I was when I started this journey. This place has shaped me to become more vocal, resilient, and creative and perhaps a little less defensive, presumptuous, and naive than before. I’m learning to listen more and to be less interruptive; to be gentle in my ways and less judgmental; to think before I speak, just a few of many things I wasn’t very good at in the US.
Being a stranger in a strange land has a way of humiliating and humbling you. You quickly realize you don’t in fact know everything (you silly American). In the process, I’ve lost a lot of my pride but gained something truly transforming within–something more compassionate and understanding of things peculiar.
Peace Corps certainly isn’t always what you think it is. Everyday isn’t full of something altruistic. Often it’s quite the opposite–projects don’t work out, people are being really difficult, resources aren’t available, no opportunities are present, or maybe you just don’t have it in you and washing your hair is the most decent thing you’ve done all week. I wouldn’t consider that saving the world, but sometimes that’s the greatest good you can do.
I know I won’t end diabetes or high pressure or bad habits in my community. I realize this now, but I’ve learned the value of trying without any expectation of the positive impact it might have. Sharing our ideas lead to conversations, and hopefully those conversations lead to some change.
Now that my feet are more familiar with the ground they’re walking on, I’m less exhausted. Immersing yourself in a new culture, whether you agree or disagree with its norms, is tough. There’s really no way to prepare for it besides purging yourself of all your expectations, letting go of what you know, and allowing yourself to learn something new. It’s frustrating and nothing is quite ever figured out, but despite how this country has scrapped and scrubbed my soul, it’s slowly becoming a part of who I am. I know that I’ll miss this part of my life when it’s over.
So if I fail to do anything else the next 15 months, I hope that I at least run full speed this second half savoring every moment with more warmth, more laughter, more love. For others and for myself.
Happy one year, Guyana.
PEACE CORPS COUNTDOWN: 15 months left of service