There’s a lot of discomfort in the world, but it’s not all bad. Image by Flickr user Rocky Lubbers.
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“The need to travel is a mysterious force. A desire to go runs through me equally with an intense desire to stay at home…When I travel, I think of home and what it means. At home I’m dreaming of catching trains at night in the gray light of old Europe, or pushing open shutters to see Florence awaken. The balance just slightly tips in the direction of the airport.”
-Frances Mates, A Year in the World: Journeys of a Passionate Traveler
“How are you liking the Peace Corps?”
This is a complex question to answer.
I’ve been serving in Nicaragua with the Peace Corps since August of last year. I live off $306 a month. Yes, it’s possible!
Officially, I teach English.
I’m also a budget traveler.
I’m a queer Latina who, as a feminist, is passionate about women’s self-esteem. I teach women to be comfortable with themselves, but I’m always going to have uncomfortable experiences of my own to grow from.
The most recent uncomfortable experience I had was returning to Nicaragua after visiting home in April.
Where was home for me this time? Wellesley College.
While there, I realized how much I missed being around queer Latin@s. I use “Latin@s” as a gender-inclusive term. We understand what it’s like to be first-generation college students from immigrant families. We’ve also helped each other navigate the emotional and financial struggles of adjusting to an elite women’s college. We understand what it’s like to love our heritage despite homophobia within our communities.
After my reinvigorating visit ended, I felt beyond uncomfortable to start my journey back, crossing the security checkpoint at Boston Logan Airport.
Walking away, I wondered: Why am I leaving again?
I felt ready, but I also felt scared.
While placing my shoes on the X-ray belt, I remembered that few people are ever completely “ready” to make big decisions. They just jump in and hope things work.
Upon returning to Nicaragua, I read Frances Mates’s book in order to make sense of my mixed feelings. I’ve been comfortable traveling alone throughout my 20s, but the Peace Corps is different.
It’s 27 months of traveling.
I’m in limbo.
I’m neither from the U.S., nor from Nicaragua. I’m always searching for a definition of my “true home.” Mates’s passage soothed my doubts because despite my fears, I also gravitate in the direction of the airport.
While figuring out what I was doing with my life, I recalled the night before I first left for Nicaragua in August. Before heading to Reagan Airport, a Peace Corps staff member advised me to “Fall in love with Nicaragua as soon as you can. When you love someone, you forgive the little things, and there will be lots of little things.”
Forgive the little things.
Yes, there are so many little things, like classes being cancelled because of the rain. I’ve learned to forgive Nicaragua, though.
I’ve starting teaching English and girls’ art classes at a women’s group safe space. I’m only 24, and I’ve done multiple Peace Corps staff trainings on creating safe spaces for LGBTQ volunteers. I’ve created spaces for Nicaraguan staff to talk openly about gender and sexuality — for many of them it’s the first time they can ask questions like, “What’s the difference between being transgender and being gay?” without judgement. Many of them have never been given the chance to talk about these issues in an open, positive way.
Aside from giving workshops on gender identity and self-esteem, I’ve also swum in a volcanic crater’s lagoon. I’ve won 3rd place in my first 10k. I can teach English to my friend Rosa, who laughs as I explain that “six” is not pronounced like “sex.”
A year ago, I’d be running out the door while trying not to spill coffee on my shirt before work. Instead of mentioning this difference to my American friends, I mostly complained about the Nicaraguan annoyances I briefly escaped from.
Dear loved ones: If I didn’t make you want to visit Nicaragua, I didn’t do it justice.
I am so restless that I could never see myself settling down, but I admit that traveling scares me like nothing else does. Traveling has heightened my understanding of the world and pushed me through uncomfortable situations.
In this column, I’ll explore how, as a queer volunteer, I’m growing from the little things that make me uncomfortable.
I’ll discuss women’s self-esteem. I’ll share how you can travel comfortably on a tight budget. I hope I’ll inspire you to grow fearlessly from your own uncomfortable experiences, especially when they involve travel.
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