It’s hard to believe that one year ago I was wrapping up my last day in Huaycán. I was mentally, emotionally, and physically exhausted from all the goodbyes, goodbye parties, and cognitive dissonance arising from the fact that this place that had become so familiar and like home was no longer the place I lived. On July 1, 2013, as I said goodbye to my fellow volunteers and got into the taxi which was taking me to the bus station, I was speechless. My brain just could not process that I had left Huaycán for good; while I am sure I will be back to visit next time I’m in Peru, the reality is that I will only be passing through.
Luckily, I had a 21-hour bus ride to Chile ahead of me, which gave me time to process and adjust to my new life as a backpacker. The decision to immediately start traveling helped me bypass the grief over leaving all those kids that I loved and a community that had welcomed me. My trip was blessed by luck, love, and amazing companions. The nearly five months of travel showed me that I was completely connected to the flow of my life. There is nothing so empowering as living your dream.
When I finally returned to the US, I knew I had changed. Even still, reverse culture shock, the pressures of rejoining American society, and a brutal winter threatened the good habits and internal shifts I had developed in my time away. However, as I’ve mentioned, I’ve recovered nicely and continue to grow into a better version of myself. As I recently wrote to a friend, “we’re only human, we do get disappointed, we do react in ways we’re not proud of, but the path to [inner] peace is choosing to get back on it every time that happens.”
So here I am, one year after volunteering. What does my life look like?
- I live in a city that I love in a centrally located apartment with minimal possessions. I got used to having so little in my year and a half away that I am slowly but surely reducing my possessions to only the essentials and things that bring me joy.
- I have a job that I enjoy with supportive coworkers and managers and I have finally achieved my last formal educational goal for a while by finishing my TESOL certificate. I have wanted/needed to do that since 2009!
- Inspired by people I met during my travels, I have some new business ideas that I am very excited about. Details to come.
- Health-wise, I decided to continue eating Peruvian-style – I generally eat eggs or avocado for breakfast and try to eat a larger lunch and a small dinner. Now that it’s summer, I eat a ton of fruit, just like I did in Peru, except instead of mango and granadillas, I’m eating local berries.
- Activity-wise, I am proud to say that I have kept up my regular yoga practice. As you see in the photo above, my “yoga studio” was my mat, my computer, and my Shiva Rea DVDs. I still practice at home at least three times a week, and I am still so thankful that I was able to find refuge in yoga during my year volunteering. My body still feels amazing. I also go salsa dancing fairly regularly (and here I can actually dance bachata, which has yet to make it to Peru). I wander the streets of Somerville and Cambridge about as often as I wandered through Miraflores and Barranco. I really miss hiking, but hopefully I’ll be able to go again soon.
- As far as “new” activities, biking around Easter Island and San Pedro de Atacama inspired me to reconnect with my long-neglected bike! It helps that almost all of my friends here are serious bikers! I have only been back on my bike for a week, but I’m obsessed. Cambridge is much more friendly to biking than it was a few years ago, and I love exploring the back roads of my neighborhood and the bike paths around the area.
- I am also super excited to report that I continue to read voraciously. I read almost every night in Huaycán and it rekindled my love of reading. Reading in the park is still one of my favorite weekend activities. I am hoping to read 30 books this year!
- In terms of travel, I have slowed down in order to replenish my funds! I went to Winston-Salem, NC in May for my brother’s wedding, and I’m going to DC in September to celebrate a friend’s wedding. I’m hoping to make it to NYC to visit my friends and their new babies sometime this summer. I’m dreaming about a cross-country road trip or another overseas adventure, but for the moment, these are dreams and not yet plans.
As you can see, leaving everything behind for 1.5 years has only brought more joy into my life. My friends and family have welcomed me back, and I continue to integrate the insight I gained from volunteering and traveling into my daily life. I am a happier, healthier, and more grounded person because I chose to change my perspective and deeply experience Huaycán. Was volunteering perfect? No. Was I a perfect volunteer? Also no. But did I do the best I could with the resources I had? Absolutely. At the end of the day, that’s all we can ask of ourselves or anyone else.