Bring on the AdventureIt is Monday night, a few days before taking the oath to become a volunteer with The Ambassador after a seemingly long 3 months of training. Tonight, I was called by host father, Domingo, that dinner was to be at his father’s house since they were celebrating one of the nephew’s birthday. Even though I was on a crowded chicken bus looking forward to go back to my room, I was happy to know that I was invited to the celebration.
As family gatherings at Grandpa’s has been on my favorite times here during training. These family gatherings sometimes can get over 20 people, so I do not talk to the family much when I am there due to my lack of Spanish. I usually end up playing around with the countless grandkids running around the concrete block house half built with horses and cows outside. But the warmth can be felt without words spoken. They always welcome me with a chorus of salutations. Sometimes I sit in the kitchen as the women prepare the big feast around a wood burning stove. I sit quietly by the side as the relatives share stories as if they have not seen each other for years when it probably has been only hours. The kids always try to pull me away to play with them, whether it be hide and seek or just tossing the ball around. The adults all make an effort to talk to me and include me in the conversation. And when I speak, the room all seem to go quiet as if I had something important to say. But they know better as my Spanish does not allow me to say anything profound.. But nevertheless they make the effort to listen and give me a chance to talk. No matter if the meal is at home or at someone else’s house, my host mom always remembers that I do not drink coffee with my meal as it is the custom here, and always brings a glass of water for me. Little details like things amidst over 20 people running around the dinner table, always reminds me that they treat me like part of the family.
So I walked home tonight and reflected on my stay with Raquel and Domingo in Magdalena for my first 3 months in the Peace Corps. I thought about how in a few days I will be sworn in as a volunteer and somehow overnight develop the wings for me to leave this nest of Raquel and the Training center. And how soon it will be Christmas, the fireworks are already going off in celebration. I will be at a little village that is totally foreign to me. Hemmmm.. How will my Christmas be without my family and friends? Even not with my Guatemalan family which I have grown to appreciate. I think about the time when we arrived September 1st into Guatemala. We arrived at the Training center and after a few welcoming words, we were basically put into a minivan in small groups to be delivered to our host families. I remember riding in the van, basically horrified but did not notice since things were happening so fast. The only familiar faces in the van were other new volunteers I just met in Miami a couple days ago during orientation. The van drove into small neighborhoods and would occasionally stop to drop one of us off. None of it was recognizable. The houses that they had us staying at looked like slums by US standards – un painted walls, unfinished walls, aluminum sheet roofing. The driver and escort dropped us off one by one and drove off. When it came to my turn, I was scared..I can’t even speak Spanish and I am supposed to live with this family for 3 months!!! Don’t I get to meet them first and make a choice? Don’t I get to stay in a hotel for a few days to get my bearings!! What if I don’t like my family? What am I suppose to eat every meal..Where do I sleep!! The escort (later figured out it was our Spanish Teachers) yelled to me get out of the van.. But who the hell is this escort!! How do I know to trust this person that is taking me to some unknown house.. She knocked on a steel door and someone opens a little panel behind the door to see thru.. The steel door opened and I walked into a brick wall and concrete floor building, everything unpainted and dark looking. I hate to say this, but I thought maybe I was going into a prison cell or something. Or worst yet, maybe I was part of a human trafficking scheme that included the Peace Corps as a front. I was trusting my life to complete strangers, led by one stranger to another and then dropped off at some unknown location. These were my feelings just a few hours of arriving in Guatemala and as I was introduced to my host family three months ago.
These memories all of the sudden became fresh in my mind. As I walked home from dinner at Grandpa’s, I thought how I have grown to enjoy dinner with them.. And how strange that I was so scared when I first arrived at the home. If my next two years will be as comparable to the relationship I have built in my short time here in the home of Raquel and Domingo, I will have experienced what I expected of the Peace Corps. Even with all the criticism that I make about training, I have gained a lot during these 3 months. Think back about how intimidated I was, now I am being sent to a site in a few days for 2 years..where it is a little village with no electricity, no running water, no bathrooms, no phones, no tv.. no nada!! Before I had to worry about where I am staying.. now I know I am staying in a run down cabin like house which basically has a stove and bed with a wooden wall separating the too. Before I did not know who the family is. Now I will have to introduce myself to the whole village as I am the only foreigner around. Before I had the support of peers and training center everyday…at my site, I will be 10 hours away from the training center and Peace Corps office, and 3 hours away from the nearest volunteer….shit, we all have grown to get used to our cellphones which we used to call each other to have a beer or chat with my family back in Taiwan or friends in the States. In a few days..I will have none of this.. Let the adventure begin…finally.. with so much anticipation.. I can’t believe the time is finally here for my true Peace Corps experience to begin. But as a friend told me….be careful of what you wish for……stay tuned for the my adventure into the Peace corp… But my thoughts will be with Raquel and Domingo who have welcomed me not only into their homes but also their country when I was a frightened Peace Corps trainee..!!