Friday, May 30, 2014

The Newbies Have Landed or A Beautiful Blur

Last Friday morning, 25 brand-spanking-new Community Economic Development Volunteers touched down on the tarmac at Asunción’s Silvio Pettirossi International Airport. The night before, following some minor confusion navigating American Airlines online flight status report, a small group of us resolved to gather just after the crack of dawn to meet their plane.

We're so excited, we're so excited, we're so... exhausted.
Balancing mate and homemade signs, it took everything I had not to hop up and down as our newbies sailed past customs and into the arrivals lobby. For the rest of the day, unable to get that scene from Saved By the Bell where Jesse gets caught taking the caffeine pills out of my head, I repeatedly and compulsively announced my excitement to anyone who would listen. Even a week later, I’M SO EXCITED that G45 has made it to Paraguay.

When preparing for arrival day, most of us in the office joked that trainees forget most of what happens their first day in. Something about leaving all your friends and family to hitch a ride on a red-eye flight headed half-way around the world only to then get dropped off in the middle of nowhere where you may or may not speak one of the languages and probably never even heard of the other doesn’t set someone up for success on the memory retainment front. I, on the other hand, have been reflecting at how the day unfolded all week.

G36 in the first of many group pictures.
After brief introductions in front of the infamous red wall where every new group of Volunteers in recent memory has their picture taken upon arriving in country, we loaded up three trucks and a small bus, and made our way to the training center. 45 minutes later and we hit the ground running. Trainees needed local currency, cell phones, ID photos--the basics to get settled in. This also included a quick informational session called, “10 Things You Don’t Know About Paraguay, but Should.”

Seasoned PCVs always comment on how attractive trainees look. Their shirts and pants are still coordinated and free of holes or stains. Their haircuts are fresh and hand-washing clothing hasn’t chipped all their nails yet. G45 proved no exception: they looked beautiful--and not nearly as terrified as I remember feeling.

Seasoned PCVs also tend to forget how far we’ve come since arriving in country. It’s a cliche we all enter into duty knowing, but never ceases to surprise us when it becomes clear. Many of us join Peace Corps because we want to effect change. In the end, usually we are the ones who leave different.
The training center staff sings their welcome to G45.

Some of these changes impact our core, others resonate in more benign ways. The things we now take for granted, once seemed strange. The situations that currently make us laugh the hardest, once scared us stupid. Most of us don’t even notice this change coming. By way of illustration, on Friday I very casually I told 25 people to relax because getting shocked in the shower is no big deal. Don’t worry about mixing electricity and water, in Paraguay we do it all the time. 

After three years and three days in South America, I don’t know where to begin assessing the changes Kevin and I have grown through, individually and as a couple. With barely three months left, I imagine a little more transformation may still force its way in. Hopefully, though, these last days won’t pass as quickly as that first one.

G45 loading up for the journey to the training center.
After our red-eye flight. It's been a beautiful blur ever since.

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