Why Am I Here?

This past weekend was the first time I asked myself, “why am I here?” Not in a re-thinking my decision sort of way, nor in a I’m-crazy sort of way, nor in a I-want-to-go-home sort of way; simply, contemplative. I’ve never been in a situation in my life where I am the minority. I’ve always lived in predominantly white communities, where all or nearly all of the inhabitants speak English, who are for the majority middle-class, and who are fairly well educated. I’m not saying I’m normal as in average and mediocre and boring, but I have been pretty normal as far as fitting in with my surroundings. Here it’s different. I do get stared at. I do get pointed at. People on the bus don’t want to sit next to me. And I am very weird, sometimes in an interesting sort of way and sometimes in a more scary, avoid-that-girl sort of way. But none of this makes me feel uncomfortable.

Last weekend I had a bought of the “why am I here thoughts” though I can’t seem to remember where they came from. I know why I am here, both by the motivating factors and by the results of my process of elimination. It’s simply the best choice for me at this time. I couldn’t find a job that interested me and that would help me with the career path I was interested in. Nor did I really know what path I was actually interested in in the first place. I couldn’t find a job that would allow me to support myself while living in California. I didn’t know where else in the US to find the things I wanted and needed. I knew I didn’t agree with the Western Culture, with materialism, with the mindset of the majority of Americans. I knew I wanted to experience something different, some other Culture that would make me think and reflect and really come to see what life can offer outside of the United States. I knew I wanted to work; not just travel around. I knew I wanted to stay in one place long enough to build a community. I knew I wanted to live in a small town where community building actually took place, not where it was just talked about. I knew I wanted to do some sort of work and learn new things that would benefit me later in life, be it for a job or just personal enjoyment. The Peace Corps was the best I could find to offer me these things.

At this point in my journey I have only reinforced the belief that the Peace Corps really is the best I could find to offer me these things. That has not stopped me from wondering more, really, how did I get myself into this situation? When I graduated from high school, I expected an “ah-ha” moment, in which I really knew that I was done. This didn’t occur until I started attending college. After graduating college, my “ah-ha” moment didn’t occur until I watched all the other college students get on the bus to go to class without me the next semester. And I expect that my “ah-ha” moment here with the Peace Corps will take a proportional amount of time to occur. Sure, I felt emotional leaving from SFO to fly to Washington D.C., and I felt excited when we landed two days later in Guatemala City. I was shocked staying with my first host-family and speaking only Spanish for the first time in three years, and I was again shocked (all in good ways) when arriving here to stay with my three-month training family. But none of those experiences felt, well, strange. I was truly expecting to feel pretty weird, anxious, scared, nervous, and a host of other feelings with such a change of culture, climate, and living conditions. But it never happened. And I think that is one thing that’s really confusing me: why don’t I think this is odd?

Perhaps I’m just not that much of an emotional person in general. Or maybe I’ve only had the good experiences so far that don’t make me question my motives or make me think going home would just be easier. Because those thoughts are so far from my mind. I know it’s going to get tougher and more frustrating, but I think they have done a pretty good job, basically, of setting us up for disappointment. Preparing us for disappointment would actually be more accurate. They tell us that we’re not going to succeed in everything we try for. They tell us it’s going to be hard work to become accepted into our communities. They teach us and train us with 45 years of presence in Guatemala of all the tricks we can use, and they provide an incredible amount of support both for job-related queries and personal needs.

I think I’m doing good here because I know the reason I’m here is for me. Sure, I’ll end up helping a lot of people and communities and the environment along the way, but the real reason I’m here is because I believe I have more to gain than I have to share. This definitely is a reciprocal act; what I’m gaining by living with and learning from this other culture isn’t really “taking from”, as in harming, anybody. Similarly, what I have to give and share isn’t harming me in any way. It benefits all parties, if not equally, than at least mutually in a good way. That way of thinking is how this culture works here in my pueblo in Guatemala. This is what I’ve always believed though many people in the US don’t understand it, or don’t think about it enough to actually make those practices useful. Here, it works. Here, I’m happy. And the answer to my second question, “why don’t I think it’s odd?” must be, because this culture is not odd to me. It’s how I’ve wanted to live all my life, and now I’m surrounded by people who get it. I feel more included and more normal here that I ever have been.

I would never say that I didn’t have fun with my friends and family in San Diego and the Bay Area, because of course I did. I had a great childhood, a fun time growing up, and a really unique college experience. I was definitely happy, but at the back of my head I always felt like something was a little off. As if my brain functioned in a totally different way than everybody else’s. The things that were important to me weren’t as important to other people and I had such a hard time trying to describe those feelings. I do have to disclaim that I have a few friends, and I’m sure you know who you are, who do think in the same manor as I do and for that you should really know how much I value our friendship. Simply the act of having a conversation with somebody who could tell me “yes, you got it right, I totally understand you, I think the same things, I couldn’t agree more”, who could validate my thoughts and confirm in me that I’m not the only person who believes the way I do, has been so valuable to my sanity. So, to all those who have had that sort of conversation with me; thank you!

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