Friday, July 30, 2010

The last month of my life...

Over a month ago I embarked on my first visit back to the US since arriving in Guatemala. Leading up to the big trip everyone urged me to prepare myself for reverse culture shock- shock at how clean the US is, at how good it smells, at how efficiently things are run- but after an unexpected mouth gaping moment induced by a wall stacked with American magazines (pop culture overload I guess) at the Newsbeat airport shop in Atlanta, I easily fell right back into the swing of things.

My vacation began with a good old fashioned cross country road trip. My sister Danica was moving from DC to LA and I gladly offered myself up as co-pilot with one stipulation, she would have to teach me to drive stick shift. To be fair, she had no other option since her Suburu is a manual. We practiced my shifting abilities a few times in the parking lot of Mi Casita (the first meal I had back was Mexican- go figure) and although I was no Earnhardt I managed to share driving time without blowing out the transmission. Our route went from DC to Savannah (charming little picture perfect town) to New Orleans (I can’t speak for the rest of NOLA but the French Quarter was alive and kickin’) to Austin (now I know why everyone raves about Austin- A-MAZING) to Balmhorea, TX (um yeah, West Texas, nuff said) to Tucson (I got the best pedicure ever there) to Los Angeles (home sweet home). Danica and I had a great time exploring each city, eating local fare and rocking out in the car to Belinda Carlisle and Katy Perry (we couldn’t escape that California Gurlz song- but it was fitting).

Back in LA I got to grab sushi with the girls,
hang out with Ty at the Warped Tour (wish you had been there Kamille!), watch World Cup with old soccer buddies, enjoy my mom’s birthday dinner with the family and do a couple nights out in Manhattan Beach. As my stay progressed, slowly but surely I realized nothing stateside had really changed. My friends were dealing with the same old drama, the ribs at Johnny P’s tasted just as delectable as they did last year and even Justin Bobby was still on the hills (really MTV? so disappointing). Being back in the states was such a treat but I guess the grass is always greener and after my two weeks romping around the US I was ready to get back to Guatemala.

The Sunday before my departure I was soaking up one last day of fun with my friends down in Manhattan Beach when disaster struck. Kelly, Alexis, Danielle, Kirsten and I decided to partake in a friendly game of beach volleyball. OK, sidebar, anyone that knows me knows that I don’t do a “friendly game” of anything- I’m much too competitive by nature. So in this game of volleyball, when I saw a return ball about to hit sand I dove for it. Unfortunately, so did Kelly’s fiance Joe and we collided, or more precisely, my face slammed against the back of his head. My face went completely numb, my mouth was full of sand and I just started touching my nose and running my tongue along my teeth to make sure they were all still there. Alexis ran over to me and I asked her if there was any blood. The response was affirmative and was confirmed by the newly formed red droplets dripping from my fingers. I remember Alexis saying “Let’s get her to the hospital” and just thinking, “Oh my, I can NOT deal with this right now.” In all honesty, I was more pissed than scared. My perfect last day had just taken a turn for the worse. It didn’t help knowing that getting injured while serving in the Peace Corps is a process. Volunteers are supposed contact the appropriate medical officers before any care or medical services are rendered and there I was in my bathing-suit, no Peace Corps insurance card, no Peace Corps phone numbers, no nothing. Luckily, I had the best friends in the world taking care of me. They all rushed me to the urgent care and before the doctor had finished cleaning and dermabonding my nose Danielle was on the phone with Marjie at the DC headquarters getting all the insurance procedural information for me. Danielle also was the one to pass along the message from Marjie that this incident had put me on medical hold. I could forget about flying back to Guatemala the next day.

The urgent care physician didn’t have the ability to confirm if my nose was indeed broken so I had to wait a few days for the swelling to go down and then make a trip to an ENT doctor to get my nose looked at again. That Thursday I went with my Dad to Dr. Lee’s office in Thousand Oaks. I thought I was prepared for any outcome- either he was going to tell me the nose wasn’t broken and i’d be on a plane back to Guatemala that night or he was going to tell me it was broken and i’d have to live with it (i don’t think Peace Corps pays for nose jobs) and i’d be on a plane back to Guatemala that night. Since I’m tired of writing, (I’m out of blogging shape after taking a month off) I’m going to share my doctor’s office experience via an email I wrote to my girl friends after returning home from the visit.

Hey girls,

Just got back from the doctors- most traumatizing experience ever. He
performed a closed nasal reduction which basically translates to
"break nose back into place". I think the whole ordeal was worse than
when I actually broke my nose in the first place. The worst part was
that I was awake during the entire procedure- first he stuck long
needles up my nose to give me local anesthesia, then he grabbed these
huge metal prongs - long enough to do a frontal lobotomy, shoved them
up my nose and started thrusting my nose back into place. So
excruciatingly painful and all the while i'm hearing the cracks and
pops. When he was done molding my nose he pulled up a mirror and says,
"doesn't it look better?". I look at my poor face, nose blotchy with
black and blue and yellow and red, blood starting to run down my
nose again and my cheeks all puffy- i looked so awful I responded,
"um, not really" Then he bandaged me up and put a little plastic
cast over the bridge of my nose. I was in shock. I’m pretty
sure I left the office hyperventilating I was so traumatized.

That was at 9am. I'm feeling a lot better- i've been reassured by
everyone that after the swelling goes down its going to look back to
normal- I just can't get the picture of the way it looked in the
mirror out of my mind. Also, the Peace Corps has been really helpful
and accommodating- that Marjie is a gem. The doctor wants to do a
follow-up next week so i'll be hanging out at my parents for a little
longer. Looking on the bright side, i'll have all the time in the
world to study for the GRE.

So thats the update, not pretty but i guess it could always be worse
right? At least I still have all my teeth!

That pretty much says it all. The following three weeks I spent at home recuperating and studying for the GRE (I did manage to make it out, nose cast and all, for the 4th of July).
What I haven’t mentioned yet is that before the accident I was supposed to go back to Guatemala on June 28th but I also had a second trip back to The States planned for July 16th-27th to take the GRE and go to my friends Ally and Jon’s wedding. I was still on medical hold up and through my second planned vacation and therefore, still able to take the GRE and attend the wedding. I was finally medically cleared to go back to country on July 28th. On the 29th I was on a red eye back to Guatemala.

My dad always complains that in my blog I tell a story but don’t explain how my experiences are effecting me on an emotional level (that is what you get for having a psychiatrist as a father). So I’m going to use the end of this post to share some of my more internal thoughts.

The last few days leading up to my departure from California I started getting worried about coming back to Guatemala. I knew that the prolonged stay in the states would make the transition back to my much slower paced and less luxurious life in Guatemala all the more difficult. To explain, being in the Peace Corps is like being on an emotional roller coaster. When I’m here in Guatemala, although few and far between, I do have very lonely days, days that make me miss my life in the states, days that make me yearn for the personal connections I have with friends and family at home, days that leave me empty and in need of that sense of oneness and belonging that being in a foreign culture prohibits. These days of solitude are then counterbalanced by days of extreme bliss, days that make me feel like I have a purpose in life, days that make me feel loved, days that make me whole. My life here is characterized by this mixture of extreme highs and extreme lows. With that said, I’ve been afraid that coming off the heals of such a wonderfully (minus the broken nose bit) “high” trip home, I might experience an exaggerated “low” when I get back to my site.

Luckily, a couple days ago I called my host mom and Eslin to tell them i’d be back in Casas Viejas this week and hearing their enthusiastic voices on the other end of the line say they miss me and that they’ve been waiting for me to come back reassured me that the transition won’t be as bad as I’d imagined. I also get to see some of my favorite PC people Kamille and Trish before heading back to site. Trisha/Pati/The Dish was medically separated back in March/April and was recently reinstated so her arrival has been a LONG time coming and of course, I can never get enough of my Kamille! All of this has helped turned my fears and anxieties about returning into excitement. I am also eager to get back to my town, walk around the streets, shop in the little mercadito, visit my family and Coop socios, lay in my hammock and most of all get back to work. I did leave my Coop in crisis and although I know they have been surviving and will always be able to survive without me, I still have the desire to do what I can to make their work and lives a little better.