Tag Archives: volunteer abroad

2013, a summary (part 1).

IMG_6618 - Copy

2013 is a year I’m going to put in a box, tape up thoroughly, label “DO NOT OPEN” and toss in my attic.

Figuratively speaking, of course. Though if I could do it literally, I would.

2012 was such an amazing year that I could take my Facebook posts and pictures and organize them in such a way as to accurately describe my year. But 2013 was too dark for social networking and pictures to portray. It was kind of like 2011 in that bad things happened, but the difference was that the tragedies of 2011 created me. The tragedies of 2013 just tried, and failed, to break me.

So instead of a long list of cool stuff that I did in 2013, I’m going to reflect on it in a more abstract way about the things I’ve learned.

I’ll give it to 2013: it taught me a lot about life.

Martyrdom is overrated.

The beginning of 2013 ushered in a great many questions for me centered around, “How can I make the world a better place?” My perception of every person’s sworn duty to this world was to give relentless kindness and generosity toward others. I still believe that’s a noble endeavor, but like all goals, they need to come from a healthy place.

My drive to selflessness was spurred by the idea that I was an empty shell of a person, but I still functioned as a person, so I should thus work toward helping people who aren’t empty. That’s not really healthy reasoning, and I found that the more I gave, the more irritated I was with not being thanked and recognized. I saw myself so high and mighty as to be able to give without wanting anything in return, but what I was asking for in return was blind adoration so it would convince me that I was the saint I sought to be.

I did two acts of excessive generosity this year: one was amazing and I’m hoping to do it again this year; the other, although I don’t regret it, I wish I had handled in a different way.

Though I won’t discuss the latter (in short, do not give to the point where you can no longer help yourself), the former was my trip to Peru where I volunteered to teach English in a shantytown called Huaycan near Lima, Peru. My first experience volunteering abroad is really enough to be its own post, but to summarize, I learned that the most effective way of helping people is to instill in them a sense of community and equality. Charity is an interesting thing in that pitying people does not help them, and our perceptions of “the third world” being somehow worse than the first world are just wrong (the numbering alone implies we’re better somehow). Just because a group of people has fewer things and fewer luxuries does not make them poor. And just because a group of people live in a different way than we live does not mean they want to live like we live.

Because of this, I believe that volunteering is less about charity and is more a symbiotic relationship. Huaycan and the Light and Leadership Initiative helped me as much, if not more, than I helped them.

Family is underrated.

My family has always been my foundation. I owe every success in my life to them. But like all major influences, you only notice how powerful and important they are when they’re in jeopardy.

For years, I never understood the idea that family could ever be a bad thing. I never understood (and still have trouble understanding) the concept of individuality. Why would you be one person when you can be all the amazing people in your family put together? Why wouldn’t you want to grow up to become them? Why wouldn’t you want to hang out with them? Why wouldn’t you consider them your best friends? Why wouldn’t you listen to and apply their wisdom and respect them?

So when my family started changing, my worldview was turned upside down. It’s like the ground started moving under my feet, beginning with the passing of my father in 2011. And although the marriages and babies have been happy changes, they’re still changes nonetheless. So I’ve been adapting as best I can.

When my mother was diagnosed with cancer this summer, it was like being punched in the gut, but it was the wake up call I needed to realize that I need to stop focusing on helping everybody in the whole world and start focusing on helping the people I love most. I need to become the foundation they’ve been for me.

Instead of being the best person I can be, I’ve been working very hard to be the best daughter, sister, granddaughter, niece, cousin, and close friend I can be.

This realization of the importance of family led me to acknowledge that what family provides is a sense of community, which is something that I’ve noticed is missing with a lot of my friends who are all in this chaotic stage of newfound independence like I am. Community is such a powerful thing, one of the most important influences in the shaping of our identities, and when I noticed that so many people I cared about lacked it, I wanted to fix it.

So I started community meal nights. It’s a really simple concept: I cook a big meal and invite anyone who wants to come, and I ask $5 toward ingredients. We sit around my dining room table and talk and drink and have a good time, and a few hours later, everyone goes home. It’s a great way to introduce people to one another and make new friends, it’s a great way to try new foods, it’s a great way to feel welcome and at home. And I hope that the people who attend the meals enjoy them as much as I do, because I think they’re amazing.

Trust is a commodity.

Because I grew up surrounded by people who had nothing but my best interests at heart, I have a kind of naive attitude toward other people. By that I mean, I trust too easily. I trust that people who aren’t like me will always accept me for who I am and won’t judge me. I trust that I won’t get mugged or hurt by a total stranger. I trust that people aren’t using me for some malicious, ulterior motive.

Well, that should all be past tense.

It has been brought to my attention, harshly and in large and many doses, that people work very hard toward self-satisfaction, and for some people that means getting it at the expense of others. 2013 has repeatedly shown me that both total strangers and the people closest to me are capable of incredibly cruel deeds.

This is a lesson I’m still having trouble with. I went from trusting everyone to trusting no one, and now I’m chewing on the idea that maybe I can give my trust to only the people who understand the gravity of the concept itself.

As it has been described to me by people older and wiser than myself, one of whom was my father, that I have to get my head in the game. Because that’s what life is: a game. One you can win if you play your cards right. In 2014, I plan to strategize my life and live more intentionally in order to protect myself. In 2012, I convinced myself I was invincible, but 2013 beat the crap out of me to show me that I’m not.

Stay tuned!

Okay! So I hope you check out my last 4ish lessons of part 2 whenever I get a chance to write them. And because I don’t want to end on a sad note, I’m going to list all the good stuff that happened in 2013:

1. I traveled a lot! I went to Vegas, Portland, Peru, Baltimore, Ann Arbor, and Indianapolis.
2. I got a big promotion at my job!
3. I met a ton of new, really great friends!
4. I learned how to cook and bake!
5. I accomplished some goals! I kept a budget all year and I lived in the same place for more than a year (the first time I’ve done this in six years). Yay!

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Peru: day 4

I had one of the craziest nights of my life last night.

After I posted yesterday, most of the housemates trekked out for an excursion to Miraflores, a trendy little town in Lima. The ride there consisted of three combis over two hours.

Once we got there we pregamed at this hostel and met up with some friends of one of the volunteers. I wasn’t up for drinking, but I did order a Pisco Sour, the famous drink of Peru that has who-knows-what in it. So then I ended up shooting pool for several hours with a very charming Peruvian man at said hostel.

We packed ourselves into a taxi and went to a club on the beach. Considering the only club I’ve been to is my city’s local drag bar, I was surprised by how there was less moshing and more dancing. Less dubstep and more house. Less drag queens and more, you know, not drag queens.

And damn can Peruvians dance.

Everyone got pretty smashed (except me) and danced and danced and danced (even me, but not well). We even got into the club and VIP lounge for free because our charming Peruvian man knew everybody and we were also a troupe of female gringos.

Exhausted, at 2:30 half of us called it quits and rode a taxi home.

The best part of the night? The whole evening, drinks, taxis, combis, everything came to a total of about $17. If you know Spanish and want to backpack through a continent, you could last a year with five grand or less in South America.

Of course, I had to wake up super early today to teach a class in one of our furthest classrooms. I co-taught art all day though and it was super fun watching the kids be so creative.

4. A 3 year old boy ran into the classroom with a towel on his back like a cape going, “Whoosh!”

This evening I taught an adult English class which was also fun because they’re more motivated to learn.

5. Making all the students in my adult class go, “Arrrrrrgh!” to help them learn the American ‘R’ sound.

Tagged , , , ,

Peru: day 2

I’m finally here. And happy. The happy took a bit to get to.

As always, I find airports fascinating places for people watching, so the trip here was fun and enlightening. I finished Kerouac’s On the Road during my 8 hour flight which really helped put me in the right mental state for this trip.

I had no idea that airlines treat you nicer when you fly internationally. We got free TV and movies, two meals, and pretty much nonstop drink service. They also let us fill out the customs forms on the plane.

The worst part about the trip was that the airline broke my luggage. I’ll see what I can do about getting it replaced and keep you updated so that you’ll know how said airline handles such situations.

The house manager picked me up at the airport and we drove about an hour to get to the community of Huaycan. The traffic here is intense to say the least. Everybody honks all the time and fender benders are a frequent occurrence.

The house I’m staying at is a bright blue three story building of which LLI inhabits the top two floors. I’m in a room with two other volunteers (out of 11 who are staying here right now) and I have the top bunk which I’m not thrilled about but it’s fine.

Everything is covered in a thick layer of dust.

There is hot water but it only lasts a few minutes and you have to let it charge for 15 before you even get in the shower. I’m okay with cold showers though.

I walked around the town today and cannot adequately describe it without large hand gestures and a lot of “y’know?”s. There are stray dogs everywhere and dust and mountains and traffic and parades and bodegas and little shops and it’s just nuts.

It wasn’t until I had orientation that the cloud of fear and anxiety finally lifted and I felt really excited and happy to be here.

And the food. Dear lord the food. They have a woman who makes lunch and dinner every day and it’s authentic Peruvian cuisine and I just can’t even handle how delicious it is. Breakfast every morning is fresh bread and jam. Lunch is the big meal and dinner is more of a large snack.

I have my first class in a couple hours and I have to take public transportation to get there so I’m sure that’ll be an experience in itself.

Will try to write tomorrow.

Sorry for any typos and the lack of artistry in my writing. Tablet typing is lame.

Tagged , , , , , ,