With my last day (tomorrow) looming large in front of me, I am left with a whole lot to contemplate (well, more than usual – I’m a thinker and my mind is constantly moving). For those of you wondering, despite my witty and lighthearted blog posts (you’re welcome), I’m not going to lie and say this experience as a volunteer was easy. Because it wasn’t; it was difficult. Really, really difficult.
But, this experience was also really, really beautiful. Volunteering with Voces y Manos pushed me far past the thick, black line marking the edge of my comfort zone. Here in Rabinal, I had access to a wider range of emotions than normally available to me in my familiar home of New Jersey.
I felt joy collecting mangos from the trees with my host sisters, and embarrassed when I ate a mango and threw up (three times) on the side of the road.
I felt stupid when I couldn’t follow a stream of conversation or clearly express my ideas in Spanish, and accomplished when I relaxed enough to communicate meaningfully (grammar be damned).
I felt tranquil listening to the wind rustle through trees at the Fundación School while surrounded by mountains, and hopeless seeing the Fundación’s milpa plants wilted and dead due to lack of water.
I felt accepted by the community when the Chiticoy bus drivers knew to point the “Canchita” (white girl) in the direction of the correct bus, and ashamed when “Canchita” was used as a cat call instead.
I felt giddy every time I bought and finished a pound (or two) of fresh strawberries. There’s no negative side to this, I freakin’ love strawberries.
I felt loved every time my host mom bought me apples from the market because she knew I liked them, and guilty when she heated water for my baths in the mornings and not for my host sisters.
I felt frustrated by the call of the rooster at 3:00, 4:00, and 5:00 am that I never quite grew accustomed to, and tenderness when the family cat crawled under the covers with me in the morning.
I felt loved when my host sisters laughed at my inability to eat oranges without spraying juice on myself, and irresponsible for eating all of the oranges on the property.
I felt incapable of intuiting social cues in larger groups due to language and cultural differences, and pride every time a stranger asked me if I worked at the Fundación and they beamed in gratefulness when I told them I did.
In sum: I’ve felt a whole lot over my short six weeks here.
I think what happened, really, is that what I’ve accomplished here has been a lot more subtle than crossed-off projects on long lists. More than anything, what I’ve accomplished is a softening at the edges, a personal shift I’m not sure that I completely understand yet.
I arrived in Rabinal thinking I was prepared for this volunteer experience. I wasn’t. But really, how could I have prepared myself? And (fellow thinkers, here’s a contemplation-worthy question), would I have wanted to be prepared for the breadth of beautiful and difficult experiences that Rabinal offered me? The greatest gift is that the intensity of these emotions, these experiences, surprised me in their depth of meaning and power to alter; they surprised me into shifting and growing.
Thank you, Rabinal and Voces y Manos, for all that you’ve offered me this summer. These experiences will stick with me long after I leave, continuing to soften edges that I didn’t know were there.