Saturday, July 28, 2012

Tanto Tiempo

Deep down, I knew I would not avoid this moment. I hemmed and hawed and even put in precautionary measures, yet in the face of a litany of promises made to myself, I have arrived at the inevitable. Despite my best efforts towards the contrary, I have little alternative but to lead off this installment of “Rate of Exchange” with one hateful phrase: tanto tiempo, aka long time no talk.

There comes a time when nearly every Peace Corps Volunteer with a blog starts to neglect posting--and often at about the same point in our service. In fact, in our Welcome Book, Peace Corps advises us to warn our friends and families that a normal lapse in communication often comes around the nine-month-in-site mark. Our projects pick up, we get busy, and we settle in. Somehow things start to seem normal.

With the ability to adapt written into our DNA, humans can eventually acclimate to most any situation. Last October’s hassles now register as standard operating procedure and once odd sites seen enough times stop making an impression. No longer fazed by things that felt so strange a matter of months ago, these days I don’t really have anything to write home about. Nothing has changed, except me.

The Peace Corps’ adeptness in predicting these personal changes continues to surprise me throughout our service. During our first few months in country, our trainers spent a lot of time talking about the “Emotional Roller Coaster” that follows every volunteer. This timeline maps out two years worth of high and low points, often to the month.  Like many of my new colleagues, I found the idea ludicrous that a prophetic piece of charla paper knew my reaction to situations so far in advance. How could a stranger predict that in mid-January of 2012 I’d probably feel a little frustrated or that September of 2011 my life would fill with wonder and excitement?

Startlingly, their formula preaches the truth--and evidently applies to Peace Corps volunteers worldwide, regardless of assignment. Just within Paraguay, our sites, jobs, backgrounds, beliefs, and ages vary greatly. And yet this crystal ball works in each region where volunteers serve. How?

As a devoted reader of worldwide Peace Corps blogs, I’ve come upon countless entries starting off, “You know you’re in...” or “Only in...”  Funny thing, though, I can relate to most of the incidents on these top ten lists. Very rarely do any of the things/moments/attitudes listed occur exclusively within the Peace Corps post in question. Down here, in the heart of South America, I regularly find myself annoyed/tickled/flabbergasted by incidents supposedly unique to the Peace Corps South Pacific experience.

So, then, where lies the commonality? Do the countries where Peace Corps serves bear such a striking resemblance that their corresponding volunteers parallel each others' experience? Does development work look the same no matter where it happens?

Yet these countries do not look the same nor do their citizens act the same. More likely, it’s us. Our humanity unites every person on the planet, but could our American lens impact the way we react to life? As much as the United States stresses the contribution of the individual--encouraging the unique and rewarding those who have made themselves distinct from their peers--our American-ness links us. Regardless if we’ve spent our lives embracing or rejecting these values, they make up the core of our personalities. This shared upbringing resonates as we develop impressions of new cultures.

Travel and spending time with people from different places often teaches us that we have more in common than not. I’ve never felt more “American” than I do now, living in Paraguay. After years of training pushing me to set myself apart, perhaps this time away will show me that I have a lot more in common with my neighbors back home too.
In spite of the universality of the Peace Corps experience, we still have rare moments. For example, I don’t know another volunteer whose neighbor’s pet carpincho wears a child’s tank top on cold days and is best friends with a giant (and over-protective) dog.


  1. JOANNA:Too often the strong willed, prefer to raise a banner proclaiming,"BUT YOU DON'T UNDERSTAND, MY CASE IS DIFFERENT". Be thankful for equally as strong managers. Glad to see your blog is back.

  2. OMG! Who's carpincho is that and how can you steal one for me?!?

    1. Hake, Manuel. That dog considers himself Capy's personal body guard. :)