This page has moved to a new address.

The Big Finish

In the "Cult of Escapism": The Big Finish

Thursday, November 1, 2012

The Big Finish

This is it, my final blog post related to my Peace Corps service. I never told you faithful readers about the days leading up to leaving site, nor, aside from a diatribe in the airport about talking to strange children, how it feels to return to Amurica. I've seen too many fellow volunteers keep a solid blog and then get back to the States and forget to finish it. So read on, reader, and together we'll finish this blog properly.

Two days before I left my site, my counterpart, Juan, officially invited me to my going away party, which five other people had accidentally already told me about (surprise!). Leading up to that day, most of the families I was closest with had already had me over for good-bye dinners, which involved absurd overfeeding and lots of questions about airplanes:

“So how long does it take to fly to your country?”
“How do planes fly through the air like that?”
“Will you take my baby home with you?” (Seriously)

Juan speeching at the despedida
The day of, I arrived on time (1:00pm) and there were three people (surprise!) – none of whom were Juan. A few minutes later, Juan called and told me that I might be better off coming back at around 5:00pm. Ha. At least he told me.

Once it finally got going, the despedida was a classic Panamanian event, which meant that I sat at the “table of honor” at the front, and the arriving people would come over and greet me and then sit as far away as possible (seriously, some people pushed themselves up against the fence in back, rather than sit in the empty seats next to me; do I smell that bad?). After these warm arrivals, classic Panamanian event can be broken into three parts:
  1. Speeches
  2. Food
  3. Ridiculously loud music

With Lionel and Lorena
As a Peace Corps Volunteer, you must master the discipline of sitting through verbose, off-topic speeches, without fully listening, but listening enough to develop your own flowery speech for later. Sure enough, the despedida began with speeches from every possible community authority that the coordinators could think of inviting. At least two of the speakers had no idea what I had done in Soloy in the past two years, but that absolutely did not stop them from rambling speeches. I prepared my own while the others spoke, taking notes on the back of my hand. As I partially listened and partially planned my own speech, I reflected that entering Peace Corps, I was most concerned with my lack of Spanish, and there, two years later, I was giving another impromptu speech in Spanish. Felt good.

Anyway, the food was good, the music was way too loud (as usual), and I even did a little dancing (fairly unheard of for me during my service). Perhaps the best part of the despedida was seeing how many people came, partly for the ego but also because all the faces reminded me of different memories, experiences, and emotions from my service. There were also about five people I'd never seen in my two years – they must have realized there was food (Panamanians will sit through anything to get free food).

The weirdest part was walking home afterwards and realizing that I was leaving the community the next day. WTF?! Two years just went by? After years of considering Peace Corps and imagining what it would be like, and now it would be just another long memory. Bizarre.

Las Lajas
Headed Out
The days after leaving Soloy, I slowly headed east towards Panama City. One last night in David; one last night at the beach; a quick stop for some surfing at a different beach. Then a week in the City, getting signatures at the office, closing grants, and pooping in cups (no intestinal infections!). Sixteen other volunteers closed their services that week with me and it was nice having them around. It's difficult to describe how it felt between leaving Soloy and leaving the country, but I suppose “surreal” describes it pretty well.

Now that I've been back in the States for two weeks, I'd like to say that I've regained my composure and emotional stability, but really I've just put all the memories and swirling emotions into a mind closet and closed the door. I'll get back to that door eventually, but for now I just want to enjoy seeing my friends and family.

Here are a few things I've noticed about Americans (at least, middle class, urban, East Coast Americans):
  • Total perceived dependency on smart phones. Before I left, smart phones were just becoming a thing, but most people still had a flip phone or something similar, which meant that we walked around perfectly fine without mobile maps and restaurant apps. My first two weeks back, I didn't have a phone of any kind, so I was just calling people that I wanted to meet up with using Gmail (free calling nationwide, btw) and setting up a place and time. You know, like we did in the 90s, and the 10,000 years before that. And every time, the person I was about to meet would say something like, “I dunno, I don't think this is gonna work. How are you gonna find me without a phone?” (except you, Ila, you believed). That's the point of time and place. Are we suffering massive memory loss, beginning the day before you purchased an iPhone?
  • Note the sizes - WTF?!
    People are on time! Keep it up!
  • What's with shoes here? I bought two pairs the other day and one was size 10 and the other size 8.5. That's a big difference!
  • It appears to be federal law to own a smart phone – I think I've seen one flip phone in three weeks.
  • Kudos, Boston, on being so good looking – both the city itself and its people.
  • The media is ridiculous. Like, RIDICULOUS. Can we all just boycott CNN and Fox and CNBC for a few months, so they can chill out a little bit?
  • iPhones are awesome. That's not an observation about Americans, but I just got one and figured I'd share.

Also, I just want to say, my God this is a great country. So clean and organized, and so, so rich. While I do look forward to returning to Latin America in a few months, I'm glad I get to enjoy America for a while.

In that vein, let's do this real quick:

Food, football, fantasy sports, flat screen TVs. Fit population, food that isn't fried, friends and family. Tasty beer, timely transportation, Thursday night football. Sweater weather. The red and yellow and orange of New England leaves. Sushi. Couches and beds that don't lay on boards. Hot. Showers. 100% juice. Iphones and the silly, addictive apps you can so easily download. Those people I love and haven't seen for two years. So, so much more that I'm happy to have.

Big Finish
So what am I doing now? My next move is a community-based adventure travel guide that uses Peace Corps volunteer sites as tourist destinations. During my service, I realized that there are tens of thousands of communities in the world that want to benefit from sustainable tourism and tens of thousands of travelers that want to see more authentic, unconventional destinations in the countries they visit. So myself and two other returned volunteers from the Panama program are connecting those towns with those tourists. So if you've enjoyed reading this, follow my next adventure starting my own company and traveling the world (literally) at (I'll be blogging for it...). And next time you plan a trip, plan it with us.

Thank you, reader, so much for reading this blog for the past two years. It has been fun to write and I appreciate that so many people have actually consistent read it. If you're a friend or family member, thank you for your support throughout my service – I love you all. If you're a Peace Corps applicant or even mildly considering doing Peace Corps, I'll say this: do it. That simple.

Take care of yourselves, readers. Peace.



Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home