I quietly drank maté in the morning with my mother, just the two of us. She has always been the most defining person of my service, taking care of me, feeding me, advising me, loving me unconditionally, despite the extreme differences between us. We sat, listening to guaranias on the radio and silently passing the guampa between us. These are the moments I always relished with her and I could tell that both of us were breathing in this exchange, this last time when it would be just her and me, doing what we’ve done for two years and enjoying the presence of one another without anything really needing to be said. She stood up to walk to the stove and as she passed by, she reached out and simply smoothed out the hair at the back of my head. In that effortless, motherly action I realized that everything I had thought about saying goodbye to her, to my family, my house, my community was wrong. It would not be easy.
I have never let tears fall as easily as I have in the last two weeks of my service in Oga Ita. They started when I put my key in the door for the last time and it seems as though there has always been something else to say goodbye to since then. I could barely choke out “gracias” to my host brothers and Lalo looked me right in the eyes and said, “fuerza, hermano”. Strength, Brother. Twenty minutes later, as I stood on the bank of the stream in between my house and Chara’s, I dropped my bags and turned to see my mother already sobbing and shaking and I have never hugged that woman as strongly as I did then. “Che memby… che memby…” was all she could say. My Son. Two years is a long time and I spent every day with these people. They are my family in a sense that no one else could possibly understand except for another Peace Corps Volunteer. I have never felt such sadness saying goodbye to a group of people and to know that they too, felt sadness to see me go makes it all the harder to do so. However, I am Chance Wilcox and I lack grace and tact, so such a sad and elongated goodbye was immediately interrupted as I grabbed my bags, sobbed a final goodbye and promptly slipped and fell into the mud. My mother and sister-in-law could barely decide if sobbing or laughing was appropriate, but I consider it an extremely appropriate final moment of my service, considering all of the ridiculous mishaps they’ve watched me get into. That was it. It was the finishing, the goodbye, the despedida and what seemed like the end of the most incredibly powerful experience of my life. Oga Ita is now part of my past, but also part of who I am today. And for that, I’ll never forget it.
But it’s not entirely over.
I enter the third year of my service. I am one of the few and the brave to apply to stay for another year with Peace Corps.The last two years have been a rocky road with some very low moment, but, more memorably, some incredible highs. Paraguay is beautiful, its people have shown me nothing but love, given me everything they could have possibly given, and filled me with so much fuerza that it seemed the obvious choice to extend my service for a third year, give back, continue the momentum from my service, and stay in the country I’ve grown to love. However, my work will be different. I am now the volunteer coordinator for the environmental sector, providing support for both environmental volunteers and the environmental sector staff. No longer will I live in my tiny shack backed up against my family’s yerba plantation in Oga Ita. There are no more runs down red dirt roads or mid-morning terere sessions with my host mom. I am now an Asunceno, with an apartment near the Peace Corps office, a desk and a user account, a commute to the Guyra office one or two days a week, and real scheduled days. This isn’t terrible. After two years of my normal service, I welcome a little bit of structure, of normalcy, especially in a city that I love. Asuncion is not Oga Ita. They are antitheses, functioning at different levels. But I’m excited for this opportunity. Oga Ita gave me so many adventures, life-changing experiences, relationships, good days, bad days, emotional roller coaster rides, and so so much love. But so will Asuncion. New people. New Paraguayan customs. New adventures and roller coasters and experiences. I embrace it. It is not time for me to leave Paraguay, but it is time for a change.
Note: With this change in my service and my life for the next year comes a change in my blog. It has a new look and I might change the tone or subjects of my posts, as well as frequency, as I have better access to computers and internet. Here’s to more chance encounters in 2017!