Wednesday, December 26, 2012

The Transition

My journey back to the States was interesting. My flight from Buenos Aires to Houston had the worst turbulence I've ever experienced. I'm embarrassed to admit it, but I was legitimately scared. My hands were shaking and the lady next to me had to pat me on the arm and tell me we would be OK. I've flown a lot, so I'm not sure why it bothered me so much but I was breaking out the Hail Mary's/Ave Maria in both English and Spanish while I clutched the rosary bracelet on my wrist...Luckily it didn't last too long and I was so tired that I was able to fall asleep a while later. 

In Houston my flight to Albuquerque was overbooked, so I volunteered to catch a later flight for a free flight voucher. Love when that happens! The only unfortunate part was that unknown to me, Matt, my boyfriend was waiting to surprise me in the Albuquerque airport. When I finally did arrive in Albuquerque, seeing him waiting there with a sign welcoming me back to the U.S.  was just what I needed to set the tone for a happy re-entry. 

I spent the next week in Albuquerque talking with Mary and the sisters about my experience, how I was feeling and how I should prepare for the transition back to life in the States. I was able to spend relax with Mary and even visit her hometown of Los Alamos, spend a day with Sr. Marilu in her kindergarten class, visit the kids and workers at Casa Angelica, visit with the sisters in both houses, go to Mass for our Lady of Guadalupe at San Jose parish and visit with the youth group at San Jose and impress them with my Spanish skills. It was a wonderful week and I think a good thing for my transition process. 

Near Los Alamos, New Mexico
Being back in the States, at least for that first week, felt a lot more normal than I was expecting. While I was still in Paraguay I imagined myself crying nonstop for the first few weeks. When the tears didn't fall I think I almost felt guilty. I was surprised at how easy it all seemed.

Leaving Albuquerque and the buffer of the VOICA house and sisters behind, life in the U.S. started to feel more real. I'm so happy to be seeing my friends and family, and I can't wait to see everyone I haven't had the chance to visit yet (I haven't even been home for two weeks and already I've been to my cousin's 30th birthday party, my cousin's daughter's baptism, to visit friends in Chicago, to visit a sister/brother-in-law in St. Louis, went to a caroling party with the parents, went to Springfield for Christmas with Matt's family, and celebrated Christmas with (most of) my immediate family, and celebrated with the Smith family),  but the reality of how long it will be until I see my people in Paraguay again is sinking in, as is the fear that I'll forget the things I learned while there. Living your faith is so much harder when you're back in your own element and face all the distractions of life in the United States.

 I now find myself crying the tears I didn't have in Albuquerque more often, but I'm determined to reintegrate into my old life while not forgetting the many things I have learned and experienced over the past year that have helped me become a better version of myself.  If you catch me on a teary day, I'm sorry and please don't think that I'm not happy to be seeing you. A huge thank you to everyone that supported me in my journey as a VOICA volunteer whether it was through your donations, thoughts, prayers, e-mails, letters, Skypes or reading my blog. It meant the world to me and helped me more than you'll know.

Un gran abrazo,


Las Despedidas (The Goodbyes)

As my grandpa informed me yesterday, I kind of fell off the blog the last few months. My only excuse is that I was too busy actually living my Paraguayan life, so I can't be too sorry, although I am sad that I wasn't able to share more about my beautiful goodbyes until now. 

Each goodbye I had was difficult, but I know in my heart that I will be returning to Paraguay (worst case scenario 2-5 years) so it luckily wasn't a forever goodbye. The friendships I made with the sisters, my coworkers and friends from youth group aren't just things I can leave behind. I treasure the relationships I made and the people I met because they helped me through the challenges and helped me become a better version of myself over the past year. I'll always miss them...

Goodbye party with JOMICA

Las tres amigas. Delma, Gabi & me
Ester & me. This girl is amazing! She works with the sisters almost as much as I did.

Goodbye in the tutoring classes with the adorable signs they made me.

For Hiliary with lots of love...
We love you Hiliary. Thanks for teaching us!
Showing off their end of the year gifts from the sisters and teachers and the coloring books I made.
Goodbye to my favorite little girl in the world, Nati
Some of the other girls from the home
Hna. Graciela, Sandra, Gladys, Lidia & me

The one and only Victoria...

Farewell lunch with the sisters

Me and the sisters showing off the bags I made
On our way to the bus station to head out

Goodbye to the sisters in Berisso in Buenos Aires!

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Me voy...

I can't believe I'm leaving Paraguay today. The last 10 months have flown by, and quite honestly I'm not ready to leave. I'll be taking a bus tonight from Posadas, Argentina, to Buenos Aires. I'll spend a day and a half in Buenos Aires with the sisters there before my flight leaves for the States on Thursday night. From there I'll spend a week in Albuquerque with the sisters and Mary from VOICA for debriefing, readjustment and evaluation. I'll be back in Missouri December 14. Please keep me in your prayers in these last few weeks of my mission. Thanks for everything and see you soon!

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Celebrations of Love and a Life Well Lived

Holy cow, I can't believe it's been so long since I last posted. Time is flying by even faster than usual now that I'm down to 16 days left (I leave Paraguay on December 4th and my flight back to Albuquerque via Buenos Aires leaves the 6th). YIKES!!! Since I got back from the Encuentro Latinoamericano I've been busy preparing going away gifts, doing a little cleaning and decluttering, but most importantly enjoying every minute I can in my ministries and with the great friends I've made here.

Last weekend Delma invited me to go with her to Pilar for her cousin's wedding. I was feeling a little stressed before going knowing that my weekends here are limited, andI feel like I have so much to do. But, like usual, I'm so glad I said yes. Pilar is about 4 hours away from Encarnacion by bus and a much smaller city. We stayed with her cousins, Mariela and Fredy, and I got my first experience of real Paraguayan living. They were so fun and welcoming, and I'm wishing them the best with their new family. They've been married about a year and are expecting their first baby girl in 2 months. It was great to meet all of Delma's family, although sometimes a little overwhelming since they speak Guarani A LOT (especially her aunt). I also got to meet my first American since I've been in Paraguay, Kari, a Peace Corp volunteer serving in the village where Delma's aunt and uncle live outside of Pilar. She's been here a little over a year and it was so fun to share experiences with her and speak in English (even though I'm already thinking about how much I'm going to miss Spanish when I leave).

The wedding and reception were beautiful and fun. It was very similar to a wedding in the States but there were some interesting cultural differences that were fun to see, too.

At Delma's aunt and uncle's house outside of Pilar.

Delma's cousin Mariela.

Kari, me & Mariela before the wedding.

We were planning on staying until Monday morning since the buses from Pilar to Encarnacion are limited, but when we learned that Madre Lucia, one of sisters living in Posadas, passed away we headed back early, and it was a miracle that we were able to make it. We arrived at the bus station at 2:20 in the afternoon to check to see if any buses were leaving later that day. The only one left at 2:30. In 10 MINUTES!! Luckily the bus company was understanding and waited for us to speed back to Delma's cousins' house to grab our bags and head out.

Even though I didn't spend that much time with the Madre Lucia, her passing away impacted me because in the short time that I did know her and in the stories I heard about her I know she was an amazing woman and changed a lot of people's lives just like me for the better. She spoke her mind, was a true Italian always making sure everyone had plenty to eat :) and based on her activeness and lively spirit you would never guess she was 80 years old. Saying goodbye to her really made me think of what an impact the Canossian sisters have made on my life and how much I'm going to miss being around them when I leave. Knowing them has changed my life for the better, and I will never forget what they've taught me. It wasn't all sad because we know that now she's in the best place she could be, and her faith and readiness to be with God was truly inspiring.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Encuentro de la Pastoral Juvenil Latinoamericana

When María José asked me if I’d be interested in volunteering at a week-long meeting for people involved with Catholic youth from Latin America about two months ago, I was excited about the experience, but I had no idea what kind of impact it would make on me. It’s amazing what one week can do and how much I needed this. Just another example of how good things happen when you’re being open to what God puts before you.

Our week began Friday/Saturday at midnight with a bus ride to Asuncion. We arrived at the bus terminal around 6 a.m. and were at the Salesian retreat house ready to begin our service around 7:00. The first two days were rough. Not all of the volunteers showed up so we had to work hard to cover their shifts. On the first day we worked until at 11 p.m. and I woke up the next day at 4:45 to work in reception and welcome participants arriving early that morning. Sunday the work schedule was about the same and the work was worse. I helped out in the kitchen, and the attitude in that area was a little less than pleasant. The employees/boss of the house definitely had their own schedule and way that they wanted things done, which wasn’t always communicated to us in the best way. After drying plates wrong I made sure to ask about everything, and after a bad experience making juice (everyone in the kitchen was watching me make it, not saying anything to me but then talking in Guarani and laughing) I was finally relieved of my kitchen service after a few tears. Thank God I didn't actually cry in the kitchen, and since I wasn’t the only one who cried either, I feel like it wasn’t just me being a baby haha.

In those first days there were definitely times that I thought, “What did I get myself into?” and, “I’m going to be here for a whole week?” However, when more volunteers came in and we had time to talk with the participants (a mixture of priests, bishops, sisters, brothers, lay volunteers and youth) the heaviness of the work went away. 

Each day began or ended with Mass or prayers. I loved going to the daily mass in Albuquerque and it was nice to get back into that habit. I kind of quit going here after lent except for Tuesdays since it’s so early (the sisters leave at 6:10 a.m.), but now that I’ve only got about a month left (can’t believe I’m saying that) and I can actually understand the homilies maybe I can stop being lazy in the mornings and at least make it a few times.

I was part of the general service team and we were in charge of cleaning in the mornings. Not the prettiest work but definitely needed. In the afternoons we helped the coordinators by setting up work spaces and getting materials ready. I’m grateful I got put in this area of service, not just because it got me out of the kitchen, because I was able to listen in on some of the meetings and got to experience more of the conference. At night there were cultural showcases of each region of Latin America. People brought their flags, videos showing off their country and culture, traditional dances, and food and drinks for people to try. It was so neat to be able to learn about so many different cultures in one place and be able to talk to people from so many different areas. I don’t know where else I would ever have an experience like this, so I’m really grateful. 

I was also excited that despite the various accents, for the most part I was able to talk and understand everyone. People even told me that my Spanish was good and they didn't know that I was from the U.S. right away. Language success!!! There were several participants from the US that attended and many others that spoke English. For the most part we spoke in Spanish, but it was nice to be able to talk in my native language, too.

The best part of the experience was without a doubt the people I had the opportunity to meet—a mixture of participants from more than 20 different countries and Paraguayan youth that served as volunteers. I’ve only been gone one day and I miss them already. It was AMAZING to be surrounded by people with such passion for the Church and Catholicism. I’ve never really been involved in any type of youth group minus the occasional trips with our small group from St. Mary’s back in Junior High/High School so it was refreshing and inspiring to be around so many people that are excited about and strong in their faith. Throughout my experience as a volunteer in Paraguay I’ve felt that my faith and relationship with God have fluctuated.  I feel much better than I did before I started my journey with VOICA, but even though I feel close and strong in my relationship some days, others I feel like I’m not doing anything to improve. This week was definitely the motivation I needed, and I'm excited to get involved in some type of Catholic group for young adults when I get back to the U.S. I'm also excited to HOPEFULLY be able to participate in my first World Youth Day next year in Brazil (that is of course if I have the funds).

The volunteers after our first meeting before the conference.
CAFASA where the retreat was held.

Giant ant hill.


Some of the volunteers: Nancy, Delma, me, Hugo, Alex and Emilio.
Cardinal Theodore McCarrick from the U.S. visited the retreat.

At one of the cultural nights.
At one of the morning Masses.
One of the priesst from Brazil after giving me my cross to celebrate WYD in Rio in 2013.
Each country set up a table to display information and share their culture.

On the cultural night for countries in the Caribbean. (Puerto Rico, Cuba and Curaçao)
One of the morning prayers.
On our way to begin our pilgrimage to Caacupe.

With Marilyn, one of my fellow US citizens.
With Leti, one of the coordinators for the Pastoral de Joventud of Encarnacion.

With Alex and Yari.


Jesus--this little guy joined us in the pilgrimage and Mass in Caacupe.

The group after the Mass in the Basilica in Caacupe.

Limbo! One of the priests from Honduras.
At one of the cultural nights.
Morning Mass

At one of our nightly meetings for volunteers.
Cultural night of Central America and Mexico.
With my new Godfather from Peru!
At the Mass ending the retreat.
The volunteers!

The conference officially ended Friday, and we left early Saturday morning (1:30 a.m.) for the Falls of Igauzu--this time, the Brazilian side. I wasn’t planning on going, partly because I didn’t think I would be able to enter Brazil without a visa, but I’m so glad that I did.  

Heading to Cuidad del Este and the falls!
Morning prayer at the seminary.
Breakfast at the seminary.
With Delma at the park for Igauzu on the Brazilian side!

With Angel from Puerto Rico. 

Notice the tail coming out of the trash can.
Me with Nancy, one of the other volunteers from Encarnacion.

Crossing the bridge back to Paraguay.
Cuidad del Este
Getting onto the other bus after ours broke.

Delma & Francis (Nicaragua)
Itaipu, the hydro-electric dam on the border of Paraguay and Brazil.

Mass at the seminary before the lights went out because of the storm.

Waiting for our bus after dinner.
To say that the border of Brazil and Paraguay near Cuidad del Este is relaxed would be an understatement. We walked over the bridge that separates the two cities and were never asked to present our passports. Yay for me since I didn't have a visa! I also got to witness contraband at its finest as people threw bags over the bridge and lowered them down to people that carried them off avoiding the Brazilian customs.

Even though I'd already seen the falls from Argentina, first with Caitlin and later with Mom and Grandma, the experience was great. The park for the falls on the Brazilian side is smaller and has different views than the Argentinean side, and it also gives you the opportunity to really feel the falls. I was spared a little bit since someone gave me their poncho after they were finished, but I definitely still got wet.

After the falls, we crossed back over the border into Paraguay and said goodbye to part of our group that had to return to Asuncion early to catch their flights. Shortly after, as we were on our way to visit the hydroelectric dam, Itaipu, one of our other two buses broke down. After the tour of the dam we headed to a Salesian seminary for Mass. After Mass we headed to a churrascaria for dinner where we thought our new bus would be waiting for us afterwards, but when we were supposed to leave there was no bus in sight. First we were told the bus was waiting for us at the seminary. Later we learned our bus wasn’t there and that we needed to wait one more hour. All the Paraguayans (and me and Edwin from the Dominican Republic) got off at a gas station and waited for our bus. People broke out the guitar and time passed a lot faster than I expected, and two and a half hours later our bus finally showed up. Oh Paraguayan time…
We arrived back at the retreat house a little before 5 a.m., slept for a few hours and then prepared to head home. It was a long week but an amazing one. Sleeping in my own bed after being gone for nine days was great, but what was even better was being woken up by my niños of jardín singing/yelling their morning songs. I missed them so much! Seeing their smiling faces, getting hugs and hearing their yells of “hola profe!” made my day. I also missed the sisters, my co-workers, Gladys, Sandra and Lidia, and my friends. As much as I enjoyed my experience with the Pastoral de Juventud de Latinoamericana, it sure feels great to be back home especially since my time left is limited...39 days. :(