The last few months have been a lot of preparation for ending my Peace Corps Service and transitioning for the next stage in my life. It has also been the holiday season and I was able to celebrate Thanksgiving over the course of a whole week. It started with a trip south to another volunteer's house where about 10 of us prepared and enjoyed our own Thanksgiving feast. This year did not include any Turkey but there was some traditional food such as stuffing, mashed potatoes, pumpkin pie and green bean casserole in addition to the summertime foods of coleslaw, barbecue pork ribs and chicken and jambalaya cooked by our Gulf Coast native host. It was all super delicious and got us nice and full for the following day spent next to a beautiful 100 foot waterfall. Immediately following this was the Lady Gaga concert in Asuncion. I cannot say that I would ever attend one of her shows in the US but considering the price of the tickets and the amount of volunteers that went I had to go. She put on an hour and a half long show that featured a giant 4 story castle and a bunch of monologues in English that basically only the Americans in the audience understood. She really could have used a translator to help her connect a little better with the Paraguayans. The day after her show I was off to my friend Josh's site to cook another Thanksgiving feast for his teachers. Between the two of us we threw together an 11 dish meal over the course of 7 hours. There was very little resting and whole lot of sweating as the two of us were slaving away over the gas stove trying to get everything done in time for an 11:30 lunch. After all the effort the Paraguayans seemed to love the meal and learned a bit about American tradition as we explained what Thanksgiving means to us. Once this excursion was done it was back to site for me to go on one more field trip with some of my Professors to the famous Lake Ypacarai and now here I am preparing to pack and leave the place that has been my home. I will be leaving behind a lot of clothing that in reality is worn to the point of not being socially acceptable in the States but my neighbors will happily use and give away to other families. I am leaving my dog, Leon, who has been my faithful companion for most of my service. He will stay with my neighbors who have basically adopted him already and feed him at least twice a day with table scraps. I will be leaving behind several American flags and plenty of NY sports apparel that hopefully will be around for years to come.
The official countdown for my return to the United States of America has ticked down below 14 days and I have only a few more days left in 8.000 Bertoni where I have lived for the past 24 months. I am currently doing my best to wrap things up with Peace Corps and my house as well as saying goodbye to the people who have been my neighbors, coworkers and family for the past 2 years. Once I do leave a new volunteer will be living in my community from the Agricultural Sector. The hope is that the new volunteer will continue to work with the farmers of my Aquaculture project and help to further develop the fish farm as well as whatever other project that the group would like to pursue. However, every volunteer is different and each one will discover new opportunities in the community that the previous volunteer never realized. I have been saying this the entire time of my service, as the volunteer before me primarily focused on the local school in my community and even lived in the school. Early on I decided that I wanted to reach out into the community a little more and work with farmers which resulted in my aquaculture project and various small agricultural activities with various members of the community. I did continue to work with the school but in a minor role sometimes teaching an English class or giving an environmental themed talk. After a few months in my community I was approached by an NGO that asked me to teach a computer class in a school about 5 miles from my house and I agreed to it as long as that school would feed me on the days that I taught. Shortly after I was requested to teach a computer class at another school about 4 miles away and I agreed to it as well. These two other communities were further away than the normal zone a volunteer works in but I was happy to help teach the kids a very useful skill set that most of Paraguay is lacking. As a result of my working in these two communities they will each receive their very own Environmental Action Volunteer. That means that my little area will have three volunteers for the next two years and the hope is that they will collaborate together to accomplish much more than I was ever able to. Looking back on my service I have a lot to be proud of, I accomplished things that I never imagined myself accomplishing. I learned a new language (I am now trilingual), I taught a ton of kids to use computers, I built energy efficient wood-burning stoves, I helped to make the dietary and financial futures of members of my community more stable, I lived in a strange place for 2 years and yet there were so many things that I was not able to accomplish. My women's group never was able to attain its goal of raising chickens for egg production, my youth group only lasted a month or two, I had failures at planting green manures. My failures are mostly my fault from either lack of experience or lack of time and I feel terribly that I did not put more effort into making them work. However, everyone has their limitations and I learned a lot and more about my own limitations as a human being. That does not mean that I don't feel terribly guilty about letting people down because I do but I can live with it. I am not perfect but I did try my best and that is all I could do. Sometimes things just do not work out. I have built some lasting friendships and gotten to know some wonderful people whom I will miss a ton. So now is the time to say goodbye and letting them know that I leaving and I do not know when I will be back again. In one of my schools I have been replaced by a Paraguayan computer teacher which was the ultimate goal of mine all along. However, it was very sad because it cut my time short with the kids and when I visited afterwards they would come up to me and ask why I was not teaching them anymore and that they liked me better and if I would come back next year and teach them again. I was not expecting this reaction and I had an awful time explaining to them that I was going back to my home and family and that they have a new teacher now and a new American that will be working in the school. It was the first time that I realized how much I am going to miss this place. In my site the people are used to the coming and going of volunteers as they have had quite a few over the years and they now know they will get a new one so it is not as big a shock or even as big a deal. That makes it easier on me as they understand my goodbye is for real but obviously still very tough. Overall, I am proud of myself and what I was able to do over the course of two years.
Now it is time to go home and be with my family and friends for the holidays. After that.....the sky is the limit.