Friday, May 6, 2011

The Training Wheels Are Off

Tegan here: Hello beloveds! We are nestled at the foot of the mighty white rock for which the village is named. Sadly, or maybe fortunately, we have found our internet modem to be cowed by the remoteness in which we live. So be it. Once a week we shall trek to the nearest town to keep y'all up to date and to hear of the goings ons about Oregon and the world at large. Please accept this as our excuse for such a long silence.

In reality, the reason is that it is quite difficult to adjust to all of the changes with which moving here has presented us. Communication: wrestling with two new languages only to be told laughingly that we won't learn anything. Food: eating meat we saw hanging raw in the open for days and three meals a day of the same stale bread product, revamped by soaking in some pig lard. Also, our first morning in site, we were served pig head. For breakfast. Dwelling: a wooden shack with an unlatchable door which is regularly disturbed by the passing dog, chicken, pig, and town drunk. Hygiene: none. Well, some, but washing ones' hands in a bucket of opaque water inspires little confidence. Bathing: a nearby stream and some spousal bidet-action is involved. Laundering: similar to bathing, minus the bidet. Toilet: oh, the toilet. I will spare you all the details, but let's just say only liquids go down...ever. Labor: chopping, hacking, and dragging branches for cooking fuel, shucking corn, um, having all our meals prepared for us... which brings us to Dependence: this is perhaps the hardest, as it is not possible to shift to interdependence just yet, and we are relying heavily on the kindness of strangers for even our most basic of needs. For people who love hosting others and cooking, baking, and creating for them, it is strange to perpetually be on the receiving end.

Virtually everything here requires adjusting, shifting of perspective, and letting go of expectations and my sense of “normal,” as well as my sense of self. Imagine each of us as an intricate watercolor painstakingly painted over years and years. An experience like this is a splash of cold water that bleeds the colors and blurs the details. I am now squinting at the result, looking for what remains of the old and finding unexpected beauty in the the new.

Understand that none of this is to be read as complaining. This is precisely what we signed up for: the discomfort and challenge of down-shifting to a more simple, sustainable, communal, natural, and peaceful way of living. We have a vision of where we are going in this adventure, as well as our senses of humor and love of each other and life to carry us through the most difficult stretches. Quite the contrary to complaining, I hope to truthfully inform and elucidate you all of our life here. I do not want to simply gloss over the difficult stretches in our dispatches to you, our friends and family in the developed world. As much as I am in this to learn all I can from it, the educator in me demands that I share it so others can learn from it as well. I take this jumble of experiences like a handful of glitter and toss it in the air, leaving the wind to its task of blowing them to someone who will see their own reflection in each little mirror.

So, to tell you a little of the unexpected beauty I am finding here, please look upon our pictures and know that I am happy. Uncomfortable, stretching, blurring, changing, and happy.

Matt's turn: I have run the full gamut of emotions over the past two weeks. Sometimes within the course of a few hours. It has taken its toll on my body in the form of sinus headaches, pink eye, nagging cough, and lethargy. But things are looking up. Most of our difficulties were resolved by moving to a new location.

We started our journey in a house of seven (we were family members eight and nine) where there were lots of small children, farm animals, and unhealthy interpersonal (and interspecies) communication. We have since taken up lodging in a much larger, cleaner, and quieter space. We live with a single mom and her two kids, a 14-year old girl and 5 year old boy. They are certainly not rich, but they seem very happy. Although there is no running water, they go to great lengths to provide us with clean water with which to bathe, insist on doing our laundry, and keep the house meticulously clean. Also, the toilet is in much better shape and I no longer feel sick. The only downside is they are about half a mile from the nearest neighbor. While our time here is peaceful, we are certainly not as easily able to integrate into our community.

It is a constant struggle to balance my desire for independence and the unbelievable generosity of our community. How long do I try to convince our host mother that I can wash my own clothes before I give in and let her do them? When we visit the neighbor and she sets out a three-course lunch after we just finished a three-course lunch an hour ago, how much do we eat? How late do we stay up watching terrible Brazilian soap operas with the family?

We are searching for a home of our own for the next two years of our life and it has not been easy. Vacant homes in a community this small are few and far between. There is a big vacant home available, but it has been used as a cattle stall for the last few years and needs so much work it might be cheaper and easier to build a home from scratch. But where to put it? We know we want neighbors, but we don't want to live in someone's backyard (another option available to us).

A friend of mine compared the confinement of Peace Corps Training to being stuffed into a cannon; you will live here, eat this, sleep here, be at this place at this time and for this long, etc. After swearing in, the cannon has been fired and we are flying through the air, completely unrestricted, but looking for a safe place to land.

P.S. For the record; we have only been told once that we won't learn anything. And we didn't believe it for a second.


  1. I love it! Thank you for describing my experience more eloquently and maybe with less bitterness than I'm able to. I'm totally following you guys. Suerte out there!!!

  2. Wow, sounds really challenging. Moving to a new place is hard enough,but with all the language and cultural barriers, and physical discomforts...wheew! I am thinking of both of you with lots of love, I really enjoy reading your posts! Sending soothing thoughts to your bellies <3 iara