Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Packing for Peace Corps: Making the Cut

I can’t hardly believe it; the earth has made its way around the sun once again and another group of Peace Corps Paraguay Community Economic Development (CED) Volunteers is learning just how little fits in 80lbs worth of luggage.

El Centro Cultural de la República el Cabildo (The Cultural Center of the Republic) welcomes you to Paraguay!

Last year, I put together a more or less exhaustive list of essentials. This year, I’m thinking less literally. Everyone has things they bring with to Peace Corps that never get touched. Things that seemed like a great idea back home and never leave your suitcase in country. Everyone also has things that they wish they brought with. Here’s a simple quiz to help you make the right decision.

Answer yes or no to the following questions:
  1. Does the item in question fit into your bags?
  2. Does the item bring you joy/comfort on a regular basis?
  3. Is the item replaceable?
  4. Is it legal to cross state lines with the item/check it on an airplane/bring it into Paraguay?

If you answered yes to ALL four questions, pack it.

I thought FOR SURE that the card game I loved three years before leaving for Paraguay (but sat on the shelf since) would get worn out during my time here. It’s small, cheap, and lots of fun. I’ve broke it out once. So much for sensible. On the other hand, sometimes the seemingly strangest items yield the highest return.
Ahendu's Wall of Brass

Case in Point: Taylor’s slack line
In a million years I would have never considered packing a slack line. Then again, I never used a slack line in the States. However, when my rock-climbing, fitness guru friend broke this item out at gatherings everyone went crazy. One of my only PCPY regrets is that I never got to see a señora try it out.

Case in Point: Accordions, bass guitars, didgeridoos, and trumpets
You can find cheap guitars almost anywhere in the world, but other instruments may prove more elusive. I know PCVs who have taught trumpet lessons and others who plays bass in Paraguayan rock bands. If you love music, how better to share your culture with new friends?

Case in Point: Costco tub of taco seasoning
In our house we love to cook and good food is important. Before my host dad passed away, one of my favorite things was to cook American treats for him. From cookies to ice tea to black bean burgers, he tried (and loved) everything I served him. (Never mind that my host mother still believes that I do not know how to cook.) In the short time we had together, our kitchen provided a comprehensive introduction to the United States.

When it finally comes time to fill up your suitcases keep the two philosophies of Peace Corps packing in the back of your mind: Bring whatever you need to make you happy or take this opportunity to live simply and leave it all behind. (The longer you serve as a Peace Corps Volunteer, the less these will seem like mutually exclusive concepts.) Peace Corps is not an exercise in suffering, but it is an incredible opportunity to live differently. If you’ve never walked more than a block without noise canceling headphones, leave them behind. (Or maybe just save your iPod for long bus rides.) Bring things that help you engage and remind you of home. Don’t bother with those items that give you distance from the people around you. And if you sleep best with soft sheets, pack them. They’ll feel great under your scratchy mosquito net.

This dog would prefer if you left your didgeridoo at home. This cat would prefer if a dog wasn't in her bed. We can't always get what we want.

Monday, April 28, 2014

When Great Trees Fall

On March 25, 2014 we lost one of the world’s great citizens.

Nearly five weeks ago, Peace Corps Paraguay Volunteer Porter Knight passed away in his host community. A quiet man, neither chatty nor boastful, Porter did more to improve the quality of our environment in his 28 years than most of us will in 80. Innovative, strong, curious, passionate, a little goofy. Kevin says that Porter embodied what men strive to be. A cruel twist, many Volunteers learned more about him in the days after his death than they had gathered since his arrival in Paraguay. In a ceremony under the mango trees that one of his dear friends assured me he would dislike (too long, too much fuss), we shared, we cried, we laughed. We got to know him better.

Most people will never understand the bond that occurs between Peace Corps Volunteers. Even people who knew him only a little are devastated. He was one of us. He is one of us and our hearts are broken.

Though we spent mere moments together, his legacy--his model, his example--will endure. Mr. and Mrs. Knight, I am so sorry for your loss. Half a world away, we honor your son. We love your son. We miss your son. Thank you for sharing him and his bright smile with us.

During his service, one of Porter's G-mates read Maya Angelou's "When Great Trees Fall." 
Be and be better. For Porter existed.

All donations to the Porter Knight Memorial Fund will support approved Peace Corps Partnership Program (PCPP) projects in Paraguay that focus on the environment. To contribute, please click on the following link: