So…how was it?

Next week I’ll be attending my Peace Corps ‘Close of Service’ conference, and in two months I’ll officially end my service and add an ‘R’ to my PCV title – Returned Peace Corps Volunteer. I will say goodbye to my home of the last two years and start a new life and job in another place. I have started to feel the familiar anxiety that comes with big transitions…when I look into my future it’s an obscure vision, filled with huge question marks and the occasional panic attack. Much like when I left for Peace Corps almost exactly 2 years ago, I feel a constant range of emotions that change every 12 minutes, approximately. I am excited to move on to new opportunities, terrified about what the future holds, dreading saying goodbye and proud to have (almost) successfully completed my Peace Corps service. I think that’s why I felt the sudden need to revisit this blog after such a long time – transitions are scary and exciting, something that’s interesting to write (and read) about. Everything in the middle is just…life.

But speaking of life, I have been trying to prepare for the questions I know will be coming my way from friends, family, and acquaintances…”so, how was it?” “What was it like?” “What did you do?” I have been rehearsing answers to these inevitable questions in my head, trying to come up with a brief yet somewhat coherent elevator speech that somehow conveys my 2+ years living in coastal Ecuador. How can I possibly come up with a way to explain the blood, sweat (oh my god so much sweat), tears (a lot of those too), joy, frustration, confusion, pride, anger, and fun that has comprised my time here?

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I can tell short anecdotes that communicate various emotions and experiences to you, my audience, like the time a student left a cardboard box on my front porch with a giant iguana inside as a thank you for teaching English classes, or the time my counterpart carried me on his back over a flooded road because he didn’t want me to get sick from the water.

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I could tell you about holding community meetings where the parking lot was for horses, and seeing families of 4 plus family pets balancing precariously on a motorcycle speeding down the highway.

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I could explain the frustrations of not being able to hold classes indoors because chickens are harassing the students and pigeons are pooping on everyone’s heads, but not being able to take the kids outside because cows have taken over the schoolyard.

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I could describe the long nights spent in a pool of sweat when there is no electricity and the fan isn’t working, and the hundreds of bucket baths when there was no running water.

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I could mention the disappointment of having no one show up to the charla I spent hours planning, or the pride at seeing a group of moms work together all day to build a fence around the new garden at their kids’ school.

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I could tell you about the many births, deaths, baptisms, graduations, and birthday parties I’ve witnessed and attended, or show you the giant ring of keys I’ve somehow accumulated from the various offices, schools, and foundations I’ve worked in.

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I could show you pictures of my hikes in the Andes mountains, tubing down a river in the Amazon, and swimming in the pools of breathtaking waterfalls.

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I could tell you I’ve just killed my third laptop charger, my poor computer is struggling so hard to stay alive for me because it’s clogged with the thick layer of dust that covers everything here, and I don’t have one item of clothing that doesn’t have a hole in it because living here is just kind of hard on your things.

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I could explain how much it makes my day to hear little kids screaming “Tía Raquel” or “Señorita” at me when I walk down the street, or the weird sense of joy I get from standing outside and gossiping with neighbors.

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I could tell you about the time I broke down crying in front of a room full of teenagers, or about the time a little girl chased me down after class to list all of her life goals she didn’t have time to explain during her presentation.

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I could complain that all the websites I normally used have inexplicably switched to Spanish, but secretly I kind of like it. I could show you my bruises from trying to pretend I can keep up with Ecuadorian kids playing soccer on the beach (spoiler: I can’t).

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I could vent for hours about how frustrating it is that it takes 12 thousand years to get anything done because everyone takes 3 hour lunch breaks, but I’d be lying if I told you I won’t miss my afternoon naps.

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I could tell you about late nights closing down the karaoke bar belting out Spanish love ballads, pretending not to understand when old ladies ask me to marry their 45-year-old sons, and lounging on the beach for countless hours.

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I could tell you about the 9 (NINE!!) incredible friends and family members who have visited me here and shared unforgettable adventures in my adopted home.

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If you ask me how Peace Corps was I will undoubtedly pull out my phone and start showing you endless pictures of breathtaking sunsets that I watched over the Pacific Ocean a 3-minute walk from my apartment, and then I will force you to watch a progression of pictures of my dog, Luna, chasing crabs on the beach.

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The truth is, when you ask me how Peace Corps was, I don’t know what I will tell you. Peace Corps was simultaneously the most incredible adventure and the most difficult job I’ve ever had. Am I glad I did it? Hell yes.

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4 thoughts on “So…how was it?

  1. This is a wonderful post. I am going to forward it to my grandkids, perhaps it will encourage then to experience the world.

    Best of luck in the future. I suspect that you will be succesful no matter the path you choose.

  2. Rachel this is AMAZING!!! What a great post, I want to cry it’s so beautiful! My favorite part was when the moms built a fence around a garden at the school. Or about your computer being covered in dust. You are such a wonderful writer and a wonderful person!!

  3. Rachel, You had me crying from the first paragraph and I didn’t stop! What amazing experiences and what an amazing, compassionate, insightful, powerful woman you are! Love you, Susan

  4. Just re-read this post, as a mother’s day gift to myself! I know that you poured your heart and soul into your work in San Vicente. You’ll never, ever forget this experience and it will continue to form you. I know you know this, but I’ll say it again…you can do hard things! I want to hug you so bad it hurts. Love and more love…

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