Thursday, February 9, 2012

Staging and Arrival in Paraguay

Today is my first day in country as Peace Corps Paraguay Trainee.

I had avoided creating a blog until this time because of my self-critical nature in regards to my writing and because of my belief that what I would have to say couldn't possibly be that interesting (yesterday I saw a I saw a goat...).  However, after speaking to several other volunteers with blogs, I realized that I should not be self-conscious to write because I am not attempting to sell the next New York Times #1 but rather share my life with those back home whom I care about and can't talk to on a regular basis anymore.

On Tuesday, I said goodbye to my family at the Philadelphia International Airport and flew to Miami for Staging.  I ran into two volunteers on the shuttle to the hotel.  Each new trainee I met seemed just as open and eager as the last.  The tone of the night was distinctly friendly with each person genuinely interested in getting to know each other.  It had been a long time since I was in a situation of meeting a group of new people in which they didn't expect something of one another but seemed to just enjoy the meeting.

We had staging the next day, full of ice breakers and group activities and seeming all too much like a company's team-building retreat.  The information was useful and gave us an opportunity to get to know each other and the Peace Corps policies better.  At 6:30 we left for probably the longest (time-wise) journey of my life. All twenty-eight of us loaded onto a bus with 80+ pounds of luggage each.  We weaved through what felt like eighteen gates of the Miami Airport.  We took a nine hour red-eye where the food was fine and my sleep was a good as can be expected in almost no personal space.  Following this, there was a four-hour layover in Buenos Aires where I drank very good cafe con leche and learned some new card games.  The least enjoyable part of this layover had to be changing and trying to make myself look less homeless in the airport bathroom.

Next, we took a fairly small plane to AsunciĆ³n where the flight crew was courteous but the turbulence was enough to warrant some Tylenol and Pepto Bismal. After another two hours, we disembarked and met our Country Director and other Peace Corps Paraguay staff in a much more muggy but not unbearable Paraguay.  We went over logistics and rearranged our bags and crammed ourselves and our carry-on luggage onto a passenger bus made for 30 people on a good day.  Traveling through the streets outside of AsunciĆ³n to the retreat center was one of the most exciting parts of the journey.  We started a game awarding points for being the first to spot roaming cows, chickens, horses, mopeds and funny store signs.  It was on this part of the trip that the reality that I would be living in this country for the next two years finally hit me.  To say that I was overwhelmed would be an understatement.  It is not just the dramatic change in living conditions and culture that I will face, but by the current onslaught of new experiences, sights sounds and especially introductions and interpersonal relationships that I am currently living.  I am both excited and scared at the same time.  I know that this entire experience will be worth it in the end but right now I will try to ease my anxiety by enjoying each moment focusing on one day at a time.

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