So here I sit, having returned over three weeks ago, back to the US and to school. It’s funny. Prior to leaving, I was expecting the shock to be on the front end of this trip, around the time I landed at an altitude of 13,000 feet in a country where people don’t speak English or live like I. Instead, I have found that landing in a country where escaping advertisements would require a life in deep woods, where people are always on time, and where bus rides are quiet because everyone is wearing headphones was far more shocking.
However, rather than lamenting my returning pains, I would like to instead return to my last night in Bolivia as I sat by a campfire to say my goodbyes and reflect on what the past six weeks had meant to me. Towards the end of the night, Emma asked the question that is asked of all volunteers on their last night: “How has Bolivia changed you?” Though perhaps a bit cliché, the question is certainly thought-provoking and definitely important. I am now going to share my answer, in part because I want you to hear it, in part because I think I need reminding.
I mean this in two senses. First, in the typical sense, simply due to the fact that everything seemed to take longer. I felt many days as if I were in Dr. Suess’s “waiting place” – waiting for buses, waiting for people, waiting for food, waiting for information, just waiting. However, I think more importantly I learned patience with myself. I often get frustrated with myself and my weaknesses and shortcomings. I learned how to be confident in the person I am now. I know an awareness of who I want to be or how I want to grow is valuable, but for the purpose of moving in the right direction.
2. Look for solutions, not problems
This lesson is one I learned through observing the way by which Emma and Rolando go about resolving issues in their home, volunteer program, and community. Below are blog entries by two other volunteers that I think capture well this philosophy and the incredible impact it has made on the local community.
3. Embrace Life
Unexpected things happen. Your cake bubbles over when it is not supposed to. Your bus doesn’t come. It starts raining. You miss your flight because you fell asleep (at your gate). You can either get irritated or fed up or angry… or take it in stride and appreciate the results. Make a friend. Do a dance. Smile. Life goes on and surprises happen.
4. Why walk when you can fly?
I have always loved this song, but now think it speaks nearly perfectly to what my trip and the people I met have taught me.