The post-GLOW effect post-election

One of the toughest parts of my work here is sustainability. The idea that when I leave, my friends and allies still have someone who makes them feel empowered, gives them a space to be themselves, encourages them to keep the work going.

This is especially true in the context of camp GLOW, which is probably my favorite part of my service. We give girls the opportunity to leave their communities, travel to a new place, and spend the week feeling empowered and surrounded by other empowered and empowering people. They arrive at camp timid and leave sassy and determined to affect change in their communities.

But then, so many of them return home only to find that the environment couldn’t be more different from camp. In their own homes, they are actively disempowered. They are faced with machismo culture, from both men and women, so harshly and heavily that what they learned at camp, what they hoped to teach their peers, takes a back seat. What was supposed to be unifying at camp has now become isolating.

They leave camp thinking “I can,” and come home only to be told “You can’t.”

I had never related to their struggle until this week.

On most days, I feel empowered to speak my mind. On most days, I am not afraid to be myself. On most days, I feel safe, knowing that the US has my back. In the past few months, that has been nearly every day. I felt better about myself knowing that people around me were going to help me elect the first female president. I felt less alone in my “crazy feminist ideology.” I felt like I was seeing what I teach here in Paraguay being carried out in the U.S. Gender equality was one step closer to feeling real…one step closer to shattering the ceiling.

But this week, I felt like the girls in the campo. This whole election cycle, despite its insanity, has made me feel more empowered and unified in my hope and faith in Hillary Clinton. While Donald Trump’s attempts to knock me (and all women, and all POC, and all immigrants, and all people with disabilities, and all LGBT people, and all Muslim people) down, I took stock in the goodness and love that I found in my liberal bubble — youth, PCVs, my family — and trusted that the racist/sexist/homophobic/islamophobic cheeto would be defeated.

But apparently we were all away at summer camp, while the rest of the U.S. (ok only 49%…) accepted bigotry and hatred.

I am coming back to the states knowing that enough people to decide a presidency do not see me or many of my loved ones as valid human beings who deserve basic human rights.

I have been dealing with a lot of machismo and sexism being thrown my way lately — most recently yesterday when I was waiting for the bus — I was watching Hillary’s concession speech and crying behind my baseball hat and sunglasses when a man drove by me, told me to smile more and threw a carton of juice at my head. So this loss hits me even harder knowing that so many people just threw juice cartons at the heads of every non-white, non-male human in the U.S.

I know that in April I will come home and join the fight and fight harder than I ever have before. But for now, I am so deeply saddened by what happened this week.

I took a walk this morning, after hiding in my house for more than 24 hours, and felt weak, carrying the burden of being the Token White Person in my community — “How did he win?” “Is everyone in the U.S. racist?” “Will I ever be able to visit my sister again?” “Is he going to get rid of Peace Corps?” are just some of the questions I’ve been asked so far today. Being an ambassador of the U.S. is hard enough…this makes it near impossible.

I know when I go home I won’t really feel like a Paraguayan girl post-camp. I know I am more privileged than that — I will be surrounded by allies; I am privileged enough that this presidency likely won’t impact my day-to-day. I am, theoretically, one of the lucky ones (not nearly as lucky as white straight men but luckier than most).

In feeling absolutely terrible, literally sick, I have been playing my most recent conversation with my dad over and over in my head. He kept it together on election night to talk to his kids about how we’re going to be ok, how he is on our side, and how we should feel empowered to get out there and advocate and fight for change. He took our hysterics (ok that was probably just me) and helped us to remember that we aren’t lame ducks and that we are probably now more needed than ever. (Although I hope he knows we’re never gonna make any money…)

It made me feel incredibly grateful for having an ally in my house. For having someone who understands how much this election hurt me personally. As much as I love my Girl Gang and talking about these issues among my peers, hearing these words coming from someone who could easily NOT relate, NOT understand, and NOT give a shit (not as my dad but as a white dude) made me feel so fucking lucky. I am so grateful not to live in a house divided by political ideology.

I hope other white men like my dad speak up and tell their daughters that they aren’t alone. Tell their sons that they need to step up to the advocacy plate. I hope for a culture of change and for the most privileged among us to help the less-so.

I hope that this wave of anger and hurt and passionate activism is sustainable, like a good Peace Corps project, and that in the face on the most severe adversity we may have ever seen, we don’t fall in line and become complacent.

I hope summer camp lasts year round.

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To the Bad Hombres of Paraguay

 

 

Note: I’ve been really angry lately. At men, mostly, and the culture that makes it ok for them to treat my friends and me like total garbage. So I’m breaking my hiatus to get this out of my system.

If you have to start a sentence with “I don’t know much about this but…” and close it with “sorry for being condescending,” you probably shouldn’t have started the sentence in the first place. We will talk about your mansplaining behind your back for the next week.

Most of us don’t really give a shit what you think…so when you tell us that we’d look prettier if we grew our hair out/got contact lenses/wore more/less makeup, we don’t think “Oh I’ll get right on that because I want to please my man,” we think “go fuck yourself, I don’t do any of this for you.”

We’re curious — when was the last time cat calling got you laid? Does it ever work? Do you ever say “Oh man, I’m so glad I invaded that pretty blonde’s personal space and made her feel unsafe on the street while she was walking home because she totally took the bait and now we’re gonna start a family!” Never? That’s what we thought. Fuck your machismo. The street is just as much yours as it is ours, and we would like to go to the grocery store without being asked to “darte un beso por abajo” and being run off the road when we say NO.

We are capable of getting on the bus ourselves so please stop grabbing our asses to pull us up the last step. Speaking of buses please stop sitting so close next to us, since when is whipping it out in the seat next to me supposed to be sexy? It’s not. Stop doing that.

If you are a male gynecologist we didn’t have a choice but to see because the female gyn is on vacation, you don’t get to ask us about our love lives. We’re in a very vulnerable place, up in the stirrups as you’re placing our IUDs…but you asking if we’re getting said IUD because we’re “sexually adventurous” is really asking to get kicked in the face and we’re in prime position for that so I’d watch out if I were you. And maybe also, as a medical professional, recognize that a woman’s choice of contraceptive method generally has nothing to do with men?? Just a suggestion.

Stop cheating on your girlfriends. Break up with them. And when you do, be honest. Don’t pull any of that “I’m messed up and you deserve better” bullshit. Tell us you can’t be trusted to keep it in your pants. Your douchebaggery-disguised-as-nobility is not actually very well disguised so you might as well just own up to it.

If we see you every day for three months, two years, however long, make a goddamn effort to learn our names. We probably know yours because we pay attention. Names are a whole lot more helpful in explaining who you’re looking for than “la gorda” or “The pretty one.” WE ARE HUMANS TOO OK?

Our benevolently sexist friends might “try to help” and tell us to fight back or ask “well why don’t you tell Gustavo?” Remember that we don’t fight back because everyone knows where we live. Remember that if we called Gustavo every time this happened, we’d be on the phone every day. Remember that we’ve accepted aggressive street harassment, blatant sexism and machismo culture as the norm, and unfortunately, we need YOUR help to make it stop. So if you wanna be an ally, by all means, be our guest, but don’t tell US how to manage the situation we’ve been navigating since before we all got boobs.

XOXO,

The Nasty Women

 

La musica nos une

My best friend B once told me that she feels less far away from people when she knows what they’re listening to. And I was reminded of that this week as I saved a bunch of people’s spotify playlists. I’m listening to Jacob’s “folk” playlist right now and every time a new song comes on I smile and it’s like a little piece of my dear friend is in the kitchen with me as I’m cooking my lentils or writing my grad school apps. Molly’s “some type of way” playlist has been an anchor in my service and I listen to it any time I need to feel something other than what I’m currently feeling in that moment. I follow my friends as their music tastes transition from chill summer vibes to heavy fall tunes and somehow I feel slightly more connected to you. When I need to dance it out, I put on Monique’s “hipshakin” and dance around my kitchen with my host sister. I am both home and homesick when I listen to your tunes but it makes me feel just a little bit less far away, knowing that we all are listening to the new Bon Iver right now. I even feel like i know Barack Obama a little better for having listened to his summer playlist. Literally, thanks Obama.

So in the spirit of making the world a little smaller, this is a collaborative Spotify playlist. “Oñondivepa” means “everyone all together” in Guarani. Add what you can’t get out of your head, what made you cry on the metro the other day, what you last danced to in your underwear. If nothing else, indulge me, please! And maybe we’ll create a really kickass playlist that will be the soundtrack to everyone’s next road trip. Who knows.

 

A play by play of a typical day

“Today is a good day to have a good da.” -someone whose words are now all over Pinterest.

I realize I never really told y’all what I actually do…so here’s what a good day looks like.

5:45 a.m. — The sun wakes me up. I say no thanks and go back to sleep.

7:05 a.m. — My alarm goes off. I say no thanks and press snooze.

7:15 a.m. — My alarm goes off again. I say ok ok I get it and get out of bed.

7:17: a.m. — Is it really already 85 degrees? That doesn’t bode well for the day. I might melt. I pour myself a glass of cold brew coffee and bring my book out to the porch to say hello as the kids who are late to school walk by. Warm mornings remind me of summer camp, when we all got there kind of early to drink our coffee together and secretly plot how to get Adam yet another Melon Head. It’s the kind of warm that promises a toasty afternoon but the morning is so pleasant you can’t help but bask in the sunshine and let it melt the ice in your coffee. These mornings make me homesick for summer in California. But maybe someday they will make me homesick for Paraguay. Who knows.

8:00 a.m. — decision making time. Do I run now, before it gets too hot, or wait until sunset? I decide to run now because there are a lot of people out during sunset and I like to pretend I’m invisible / hope that no one sees my abysmal attempt at running

8:15 a.m. — slather my body in sunscreen and hope it doesn’t all melt off with sweat while I run. Press play on “This American Life” and set out trottin’. Ira Glass is talking about getting thrown into the deep end of the pool, literally and figuratively. Naturally my mind goes to the pool, jumping into Grammy’s pool when I was four — my parents’ discovery that I was a mermaid. Being pushed off my first starting block because I was scared to do a real start. 500s at practice. How is it that my body did that every day for ten years but now I am jogging at a snail’s pace and contemplating death? Make a vow to swim every day when I get home, get those ripply back muscles back. Zone back in on the podcast…have no idea what’s going on. Wave like a lunatic to a group of kids who are trying to catch frogs in the creek.

9:00 a.m. — Overshoot my house on purpose so I can say hello to one of my favorite families. Mama Cristina is working in her garden. Our normal banter ensues:

Mama Cristina: HOOOOLA HAAAAAANNAH! QUE GUAPA!! (she has a big voice, the kind that is necessary when you raised four sons)

Me: Holaaaa gracias!

Mama Cristina: You look skinnier! Are you in love? Do you want some beets? How about tomatoes? Cilantro? (she hands me veggies she she points them out. She’s never really waited for my answer.)

Me: Wow thanks!

MC: Ok now go take a shower, you stink, then come back and drink terere with me.

Me: ok byeeeeee

9:45 a.m. — Awkwardly do cool-down yoga on my patio while passersby stare at me.

10:15 a.m. — Take a cold shower because that is the only option.

10:30 a.m. — Call Kaitlyn. Listen to her gush about her recent vacation. Feel no FOMO. This is weird, I think to myself, had this been a conversation in the states a year and a half ago, I would have felt jealousy bubbling up in my soul. My friends went on an amazing trip without me and I couldn’t go! Que pena! But instead I’m blissed out just hearing how happy Kait is. If you let the FOMO get to you out here in the campo, you’d never be happy. And it feels good to be happy for other people’s happy.

11:30 a.m. — Cross the street for terere with the host family. Auxi and I are wearing the same shirt. That’s embarrassing but kinda cute. Abuela is shelling beans, which she has been doing for three days. I offer to help but she swats my hand away telling me it calms her nerves. I don’t know what Abuela has to be nervous about but I say ok and sip the terere Auxi hands me. She put leaves from the lemon tree in the water, and it has that peppery after taste I’ve come to love.

12:30 p.m. — Speedily inhale whatever Abuela made for lunch…wonder why Abue has been cooking lately because we always complain about how her cooking gives us diarrhea. Maybe I should start cooking my own lunches? I’m too broke for that. Remember that I have to pay rent this weekend.

1:00 p.m. — Slather myself in sunscreen, hop on my bike and head to the school.

1:05 p.m. — Regret what I ate for lunch.

1:10 p.m. — Arrive at the school. I’m greeted by middle schoolers running toward me shouting PROFE HANNAH! PROFE HANNAH! One stops to hug my sweaty self. “we’re so happy you’re here!! What are we talking about today??” Think about crying because this is literally what I dreamed about when coming to Peace Corps — kids stoked to learn with me.

1:30 p.m. — Finally quiet the masses and start teaching. Today’s class is about sex and gender. Spend 10 minutes explaining that we’re not talking about sexual intercourse but biological sex. Like male or female. So like man and woman? No. So like masculine and feminine? Nope… My favorite profe comes in and explains it in Guarani. “OHHHHHHHH” the whole class says. Now they get it. Except for that one kid in the corner who is too busy making paper cranes.

1:45 p.m. — Single out paper crane kid and make him summarize what I just said. Watch his face go from calm/cool/collected to potentially going to pee his pants. I sure showed you, crane boy.

2:30 p.m. — Leave class. I think they got it? I can never really tell if they’re just indulging me or if they actually get it. Slather myself in sunscreen and hop on my bike.

3:00 p.m. — Get home.

3:01 p.m. — Make popcorn

3:02 p.m.  — Start personal statements

3:10 p.m. — Fall asleep staring at the same sentence I’ve been trying to rephrase since yesterday.

4:15 p.m. — Wake up to being attacked by mosquitoes.

4:30 p.m. — Cross the street to help Lorena make empanadas and listen to her gossip. “This is just between you and me but…” she always starts. Paraguayan women are like hairdressers in the states. They know all the secrets and they share all the secrets. She asks me what my secrets are. She knows I have none. Asks me for the umpteenth time if the male volunteer who visited last weekend is my boyfriend. Tell her no for the umpteenth time. Roll my eyes. She doesn’t believe me.

5:00 p.m. — Call Kaitlyn again. Tell her all about paper crane boy and what I ate for lunch. She listens and responds like I’m telling her I won the lottery.

6:30 p.m. — Throw whatever vegetables I have in the pan. Crack an egg.

7:30 p.m. — It’s dark. Time for bed. Put on Parks and Rec and watch until I fall asleep.

Ridin’ the Bus

I lived in a college town where the bus was free if you had your student ID. There was an app you could download to see where the bus was, if it was on time or not. If the bus was too full, it would drive past you but there would be another right behind it to get you to class on time. It was a pretty sweet system.

The public transportation system of Paraguay is exactly like that.

And by that I mean…they’re both buses.

The colectivo is the primary mode of transportation for most South American countries and Paraguay is no exception. If you’re hoping to get from the campo into town, from one city to another, or from one side of Asuncion to the other, colectivos are the way to go. They’re cheap, easy and only break down when you’re in a rush.

Being that EVERYONE rides the bus, from CEOs to nuns to crazy drunk people, it’s a pretty interesting social experiment. It’s also where you get the best deals on things like sunflower oil, socks, chipa and can buy tea that promises to cure your colon cancer and lose 50 pounds within a month. Sometimes people bring their chickens/dogs/goats on the colectivo. It really is a hoot.

I’ve been reading Gloria Steinem’s My Life on The Road these past two weeks and I love the way she tells stories of her encounters with Grade A crazy people on the road. I wish she would come to Paraguay to see the people on the buses here. But for now, I’ll try to shed some light on some of my most interesting point A to point B adventures.

  • On one of my first bus-riding experiences, from the Peace Corps training center to Asuncion, someone’s goat ate the hem of my skirt. The owner apologized profusely and offered me chipa as payment…I said no thank you and I never wear skirts on the bus anymore.
  • Jacob and I were sitting on the bus chatting in English when a man turned around and asked us if we spoke Spanish. We said yes, and he yelled at us for speaking in a language the rest of the bus didn’t understand.
  • I was on my way to being on my way to Bolivia, where I was meeting my site mate on a COS trip. I was picked up by a female ranch hand in a brand new pickup. She was heading to Tobati to visit her boyfriend, who she said she liked because he let her boss him around. “I like being in charge,” she explained. “You do too, don’t you?” I laughed because this woman had never met me but she knew that of course I liked being in charge. “You’re that feminist that lives at Ña Lili’s, aren’t you?” she asked. Well. yeah. We continued the conversation and she let me explain to her that feminists can also be heterosexual women and that she sounded like she was a feminist and by the end of the ride she decided that we were both goddesses and that men were blessed beyond blessed to have us in their lives.
  • In Uruguay, the buses are organized and there are designated stops (much like every other civilized country). Being PCVs in Paraguay we thought you could flag it down on any corner and hop on. A kind Uruguayan man stopped in his tracks to teach us how to get on a bus.
  • On my way from my community to Asuncion, I hitched a ride with an Evangelical pastor (is that the right word??). He had heard from someone that I was Jewish and spent the 20 minute ride from my campo site to the highway explaining to me that my people were very “rude” for not accepting Jesus as the Messiah. I told him it was an interesting perspective that I had never thought about and also I wasn’t really Jewish but thanks so much for the ride. Then I said God Bless and I left.
  • On that same trip, I got on an unusually crowded bus for a Saturday with my GIANT backpacking pack. There was one empty seat, which no one bothered to inform me was broken…the base and back were not connected, so when I hoisted my pack onto it, the back of the seat and my pack fell onto the sleeping nun behind me. I put my pack in the aisle and sat up very straight so as not to fall on top of the nun again. When the Chipa lady came on, she tripped over my bag and I witnessed the only chipa avalanche known to man.
  • Heading home from Thanksgiving with my site mate, we didn’t sit together because we spread out on multiple seats. As the bus filled up, a creepy gross drunk man sat next to me. When I wouldn’t acknowledge him (I turned up This American Life and let Ira Glass distract me), he stood up and put his hands in his pants. He approached my site mate and asked for my phone number, thankfully Andrew told him we don’t have phones. He asked my name, Andrew replied “you don’t need to know.” A pregnant woman sat down next to me and insisted I just give him my phone number so he would leave me alone. (“He just wants your phone number!” she said, as though these aggressions are accepted and normal) He continued to stand, hands in pants, staring at me as we passed through town after town. I started wondering what I would do if he was still on the bus when we passed my house. I pulled out my phone thinking I’d give him the Safety and Security Officer’s phone number when he pulled his hands out of his pants and put them on my face. The bus driver stopped the bus and threw him off.
  • I was heading back home on the bus and had fallen asleep. When I woke up there was a woman with six chicks on her lap and chicken poop all over both of us.
  • I had been out of site for two weeks and was dying to get home. When we got into the pueblo the bus driver made a pitstop to pay his electric bill, buy groceries and pick up some whatever at the hardware store. I could have walked home in the time he spent dilly dallying around town.
  • Every once in a while musicians come on the bus to busk. One day a rapper was on the bus and their usual schtick is to rap about the people on the bus. His line about me? “This white librarian would be a lot hotter if she brushed her hair and took off her glasses.”

The bus is an adventure in and of itself, but it definitely goes on the list of things I WON’T miss about the ‘Guay.

When there is no Target…

Mba’eichapa!

The closest “real” supermarket to me is about 70 kilometers. In my Pueblo, I can find most things I need, but when it comes to luxuries like deodorant or nice face soap or moisturizer, I generally wait for a care package or create my own. I just took a shower and literally everything I used was some kind of home remedy and I think that’s pretty cool, so if you’re ever feeling too kaigue to get your butt to Target and want to try some Peace Corps home remedies…here are a few of my go-tos

What I’m out of: Deodorant

What I use instead: Tea tree oil and baking soda.

I learned this from another volunteer. I am not one of those who refuses to use anti-perspirants. Mostly because I am a sweaty person and it’s generally a million degrees here so why make me and everyone around me suffer my stank. Back in the day when I swam I used to sweat the smell of chlorine…man I miss that. But nowadays, when my mommy-sent Costco pack of Dove deodorant has called it quits, I sprinkle baking soda and a couple drops of tea tree oil on my pits and voila! I am less stinky than I would be otherwise…at least I hope so.

What I’m out of: Exfoliating scrub

What I use instead: Coffee grounds

Since my neighbors refuse to build a chicken coop, my many attempts at starting a garden have been thwarted, so my used coffee grounds were going to waste. I started using very, very finely ground coffee mixed with Cetaphil on my face last summer when the combination of sweat, dirt, sunscreen and more dirt was too much for the mild cleanser alone. For my whole body, I mix it with Dr. Bronner’s peppermint soap and get my scrub on once a week. Bonus points: coffee brightens your skin, makes it feel all tingly, and helps me wake up.

What I’m out of: make up remover/moisturizer/conditioner

What I use instead: coconut oil

How I love coconut oil, let me count the ways. A very kind human recently sent me a TJ’s jar of it, and I can find it here at the weekly farmers’ market in Asuncion but it’s kinda pricey. I very, very rarely wear makeup here, but my mascara is waterproof (either my mom accidentally sent me waterproof mascara, or she knows that I am the biggest crybaby in the world and didn’t want me to weep black tears). Since those makeup removing wipes create waste that I usually have to burn, I try to avoid buying them. coconut oil on a washcloth wipes it off no problem and also smells way better. I can’t afford lotion (except for the free sunscreen given out by PC doctors) so post shower I’ll rub a lil coconut oil on my skin. When my hair was falling out in chunks (cheers to my first shower with ZERO HAIR LOSS this week!!!!!) I mixed coconut oil, avocado and an egg every week until my scalp wasn’t dry and cracked and scary. Coconut oil also makes your cookies taste better and can be combined with the coffee grounds for a real treat-yo-self scrub.

What I’m out of: Shampoo

What I use instead: baking soda, apple cider vinegar

I tried to embrace the whole no-poo lifestyle but it ultimately led to my massive hair loss (about 50% of my hair). But still, when I’m in a pinch and my hair demands to be washed, this does the trick. Just make sure you use conditioner or you will have a “scalp that looks like you stuck your head in a tatakuaa.” (direct quote from the girl who cut my hair last month)

What I’m out of: spot treatment/benzoyl peroxide

What I use instead: tea tree oil

I have been singing the praises of tea tree oil since I used it to treat my horribly dry chlorinated skin and hair. But honestly, my skin has never been better. Every night before I go to bed I apply it on my face like you would a toner or astringent. It makes my eyes water but it makes my skin tingle and it’s also a natural mosquito repellent so that’s an added bonus!

What I’m out of: patience for the heat

What I use instead: peppermint oil

Peppermint oil is magical. Everyone needs it in their lives. Apply it like perfume — a dab on each wrist, the back of your neck and it’s a magical cooling agent for your whole body. If you’re feeling fancy put some on the bottoms of your feet.

What I’m out of: Drain-O (does that even exist here?)

What I use instead: Baking soda + vinegar

The fourth grade science class volcano is a lifesaver when it comes to cleaning out my pipes. It also kills mold and helps me clean my “floors”

What I’m out of: Wheat flour

What I use instead: “oat flour”

When I make pizza dough or bread I like to use half wheat flour but that requires hauling a 5kilo bag from the city on my bike…so I’ve started throwing old-fashioned oats in the food processor and using that instead. Works like a dream. Tastes kinda nutty. 10/10 would recommend.

What I’m out of: laundry detergent

What I use instead: Dr. Bronner’s + Baking soda

Dr. Bronner’s should pay me for how much I praise their products. My life is better because I have had a pretty constant stock of peppermint DB’s since I got to Paraguay. It’s biodegradable, multi-purpose, and feels tingly (can you tell I like feeling tingly?) I had some pretty bad allergic reactions to laundry soap here in my first few months. Hand washing my clothes was literally giving me chemical burns. So when I throw my clothes in my washing machine/bathtub (ok it’s a bucket), I use my trusty DB’s, a few spoonfuls of baking soda and sometimes a little vinegar. Also, my clothes smell like peppermint. Can’t complain there.

But that’s not to say I wouldn’t welcome any of these luxury items showing up at the post office sometimes soon…in case you were wondering 😉

The new normal

This morning I sat on my porch drinking coffee and playing guitar as tranquilo as could be, while my neighbors across the street butchered a pig. A year ago the human-like cries of a pig being slaughtered made me shiver in my soul. Now, it’s a sign someone’s celebrating.

“Who’s birthday is it?” I called across the street.

My friend calls these moments of pure Paraguay, the new normal we’ve grown accustomed to that will never ever be normal again, but for now, is almost comforting.

I’ve changed a lot in the past year and a half, in ways I didn’t necessarily expect to. I think that’s part of what drew me to the Peace Corps, that how I would come out on the other side was a complete mystery. But since we’re in the dawn of grad school app season (more on that later), I’ve had a lot of time to be introspective and think about how Paraguay has changed me both for the better and the…Paraguayan.

I am self sufficient. That’s not to say I’ve become self-motivated…I haven’t. But I make nearly everything from scratch, brew my own Kombucha, mend the ever-multiplying holes in the inner thighs of my jeans…if I need something, I figure out how to acquire it myself. My carbon footprint has been cut to nearly zero. There is almost zero waste in my house.

My skin has been thickened by gossipy women and cat-calling dirtbag men but I have not let those things harden my heart. In fact, I’m pretty sure I’m even more prone to melting like a popsicle at beautiful things, kind things. I have embraced my unrelenting love of love despite efforts to pretend like I’m cold and dead inside and unmoved by puppies being friends or people getting proposed to.

I have chilled the f*** out.

I am comfortable in silence. I can also talk to anyone about pretty much anything, in a language that isn’t my own, so I can say chau to my old fear of small talk.

I will eat almost anything. Even fried intestines.

I talk about poop, a lot.

I am more appreciative.

Probably most importantly, I know what I want to be when I grow up. My time in Paraguay has really challenged me to figure out my role in eradicating injustices and inequality in the world (lol, don’t burden yourself with too much responsibility there, Han), and I have a much clearer understanding of what that is. Anyone who knows me knows I’ve spent the past 24 years saying “I’ll figure it out.” For the first time, I have a vision for my future, and I’m excited about it.

I am ready. I forget that I’ve already had two birthdays here, so most of the time I still think I’m 22, but 22 year old me who left California almost 18 months ago was such a chicken. She didn’t trust herself. Peace Corps, and Paraguay, have taught me a level of self-acceptance I never thought possible or necessary and I am constantly in awe of how unafraid I am…to fall in love, to let things go, to dive deep, to try new things.

And I have nine more months to see what else I’ll add to this list…