Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The Other Side

Though the title may insinuate this post is about the other side (as in "I live here, in Guatemala, where you can see the other side of life"), it is really about the other side of my life as a volunteer. Somehow I have failed to mention what a large portion of my volunteer life is all about... me. I know that sounds bad, but really, it's easy to become self absorbed from the hours of 5ish until I fall asleep. So, my purpose here is to give you a peek through that window.

If I were a hypothetical Peace Corps recruiter, and after I told you all about the work, the people, the culture, the language, the bouts of illness, and so on, I told you that you would potentially be all by your lonesome every single day for up to 6 hours, what would your internal response be? If someone would have mentioned that to me before I came, I know the hesitation meter would have shot up a bit more than it did. However, after a little accompaniment atrophy, my lonesome night life has been a blessing in disguise. I can't really say if it's doing any wonders for my social skills, but having to constantly entertain myself is something that I now look forward too. I just purchased a set of acrylic paint in tubes. I'm so excited to paint something, or anything, anywhere in my house. I just finished my first oil painting.
It's on the wall by my door, and I can't help but look at it all the time. I bought the paint down in Huehuetenango from a semi-obscure store that was filled with painting supplies. I'm pretty sure it's some sort of furniture paint, but I used it anyway. It's a nice desert scene, complete with orange sky, sunset, hopeless clouds, and a silhouetted plateau and giant cactus that sprung accidental and unrelenting runners towards the floor. I artistically concluded the the running black paint was a search for life in a dreary desolate void. Perhaps I made a subconscious statement about the difficult journey of a deeply impoverished cumbre man that takes you through a Mexico that is hostile to Guatemalans, a desert cross that is hostile to any living organism, into a country that can have hostile tendencies towards immigrants, so that his family might be able to get itself up on at least one leg some day, but really, it's just a bunch a paint on a wall that didn't turn out at all how I imagined due to my complete lack of skill as an oil painter. The point of it all was to entertain myself. So I buy cool shirts that I would never wear for Q1 (12 cents) at the PACA (Guatemala's version of goodwill), and nail them up on my wall. I watch TV shows on my computer that I never would have watched otherwise. (Sidenote: If anyone is a prospective PCV on their way to Guatemala, invest in an external hard drive.) I draw silly or serious sketches. I write. I play my guitar. I record time capsules for myself with my webcam. I read, but not enough. I Google Talk to friends. I make stencil art with spray paint. I build unstable bookshelves. I cook experimental meals with strange combinations of ingredients. I stare at maps. I think about doing push-ups, which may actually happen once every couple of weeks. I pontificate my glorious return to the States, and my assuredly painful realization that it won't be as glorious as I imagine (they all say the re-adjustment is the hardest part). I watch excruciatingly slow feeds of ESPN Gamecast to keep up with my Mavs, Rangers, and Cowboys. I Wikipediate. I swing imaginary ninja weapons around my body, preparing myself for the inevitable action movie scene where I encounter a group of 50 black belts who attack me one-at-a-time. I pretend to be Cliff Lee pitching hacky sacks at my cinder block wall against A-Rod. If I want to, I just lay down on my foam bed and stare at my nylon covered ceiling. The last couple of things, I know, are a bit childish, but that's just what happens to a person with too much free time. I look at it as finding my inner child, and more importantly keeping sane. Never in my life have I had this much free time, and yes, I do use some of that time to work on charlas, or activities to do with my groups and schools, but for the most part, it's my time to be me. There isn't a Peace Corps Volunteer on this planet that hasn't found just as many ways to entertain themselves, at least I imagine so. It's one of the things I feel I will miss when it's all said and done.

It's strange, but having this other side to Peace Corps life is somewhat of a perfect and unusual balance. We spend our days teaching, hiking to teach, trying to figure out ways to make a difference, talking to people about real issues, serious problems, and local gossip, giving ourselves and what we can give, and our nights (not all of us, but many) are spent alone in a self absorbed seclusion. It's just another part of the experience that will change us all forever. I hope my abundant free time now doesn't transform me into a future hermit, but I'm sure after another year of this (did I mention that I'm officially half-way through my service which means I have almost exactly one year remaining?), I'll really come to appreciate having company too.

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