9 months. For me, and I would wager for the majority of Volunteers, there is a perpetual sort of countdown in our heads, ticking away at the 27 month commitment we made to ourselves, to our country, and most importantly, to the people of Guatemala. This isn’t to say that I was ever counting down the individual days, although I admit that on occasion, out of curiosity, I figure out how exactly how many I have left. More so it has to do with the definite, ephemeral nature of the Peace Corps experience. You come, you work, you leave. Maybe you extend, in which case you work a little longer, but eventually you still leave.
Last week a friend asked me if, once I left, I would ever come back and visit
– “You’re not gonna forget about your cuates in Guatemala, are you?”, he asked.
- “Of course not, I’ll definitely be back to visit.”
But will I? And more importantly, if and when I do, will it be the same? Will I be the same?
Everyone always says that coming home is the hardest part. Nothing changes, but you do. Your friends and family will be curious, but won’t really get it. True, true, and true. While my trip home was fantastic, the first thing I realized that I wasn’t quite ready to be back. The second thing I realized is that I will never again, if at all humanly possible, own an iPhone.
My trip home was a whirlwind 12 days, filled with friends and family, good food, and even a little bit of snow. It was amazing, but not in any of the ways I really expected. First off, and least importantly, I didn’t eat a single bite of peanut butter, despite my mom having stocked up for my return. I did, however, spend the week in sandwich heaven. The refrigerator is a glorious invention.
There were times I was bored simply because I’m not used to being able to do things so quickly or efficiently. I recall asking my mom, “Mom, if I wash these pants in the morning, will they be dry by tonight? I’m used to my laundry taking several hours, followed by several more hours of them drying.
“Eric, they’ll be done in an hour.” Oh yeah. Forgot about those other two glorious inventions, the washer and dryer.
More than anything, I was struck by how nice everything in the States is. How easy. Problems seemed so trivial after relating on a regular basis to people who literally eat native plants and tortillas as the majority of their diet, people who earn 5-6 dollars for a hard day’s work. Dogs pooping in our yard just didn’t seem to bother me. My dog poops all over the place, as do the rest of the animals in this country. What’s the big deal?
The US is incredible in that everything works the way it should. The highways are paved, water comes out when you open the tap, you click on the stove and out comes fire. Crazy. On one hand, it makes me proud to be an American. At some time in the distant past, the US was wilderness and frontier, and people died of diarrhea just like they do in Guatemala. Because of years of hard work, the US gradually transformed itself into the most affluent country in the world, a global superpower, a pillar of democracy. Ha.
But is it all really necessary? What do we lose when we gain all that wealth? To start, the ability to interact with one another. Back to the iPhone. If there was one thing I disliked more about being home more than any other, it is that in only a year and a half, the iPhone has gone from an incredibly useful gadget to an extension of everyone’s being. Put your phone down and talk to the people around you. Take out your headphones and talk to the people on the street. Technology is great, but so are people.
If I have learned anything during my time in Guatemala, is that the lifestyle we lead as Americans is not normal. The US is surreally wealthy, with so many opportunities and the freedom to do what we please with our time. It is really no wonder why so many people come to the States from other countries in search of a better life.
With Obama’s pledge to tackle immigration reform, I thought I would share my perspective on the issue. I should mention that these thoughts are my own and not reflective of Peace Corps or the US government, but they are less opinions and more objective observations, so I’m not too worried.
In Guatemala, the average day laborer makes 50 quetzales. This translates to roughly 6 dollars per day. In the United States, minimum wage is 8.50, if I’m not mistaken. This means that in one hour in the US, you can make more than a Guatemalan will make, doing back-breaking labor, in one entire day.
Now, put yourself in a Guatemalan’s shoes. You’re struggling to provide for your family, and you hear of an opportunity to make almost ten times as much money for the same work you are already doing. If you pursue this opportunity, your family will be provided for, you can save money to buy some land, start a business, and even build a house. You won’t be rich, but you can live comfortably. Naturally you’re curious.
Here’s the catch. You have to save 50,000 quetzales to pay a coyote to guide you across the Mexican desert. You may have to drink from pools of cow piss, run away from dogs and immigration police on motorcycles, even go days without food and water. You will have to sneak across the US border, find a job, and then work your ass off for years while sharing a cramped apartment with numerous, equally stressed-out others. Not to mention, while you’re there, you have to live in perpetual fear that the immigration police will find you and send you right back. You have no documentation, no health insurance, and you don’t speak the language.
Despite all this, I personally know dozens of people who have taken this risk. Some make it, some don’t. They are willing to risk so much for their families, to suffer unimaginably just to get to our country, and then to suffer more while there. I’m not arguing one way or another, in favor or against border security or immigration reform. All I’m saying is that I think it is unfortunate that most people don’t actually understand the situation. I know I didn’t. It can never hurt to think in terms of someone else's point of view.
Meanwhile, and forgive the abrupt transition…I have been really busy with work. 160 baby chickens hatched several weeks ago from an incubator that FAO donated to one of my communities. We have been working hard to vaccinate them and teach proper chicken coop maintenance, and as a result not a single one has died. My old counterpart was let go and my new one is great. He seems to really care about his work, and because he has a car, I can start to work in further out communities as well as the closer ones I already cover.
Rainy season has come and gone, and we are entering into the hottest, dustiest part of the year. Griffey is full grown and now has impregnated two, soon to be three, other local wiener dogs. Apparently I have a monopoly on the local, male dachshund market. In one week my group will no longer be the newest in-country. About time. Finally, I am really looking forward to having my family to come and visit in a little over a month. I’m excited to show them around the country, but mostly I can’t wait for them to see where I live and what I do, and meet who I interact with on a daily basis. Anyways, that’s all for now! Hasta luego.