Amurrica.

August 23, 2013

I have been back in the United States for nearly one month. Although I’ve been jetting around and haven’t exactly settled in San Diego yet, there are a few things I have observed about my readjustment so far.

1. I cannot cross the street properly. Cars waiting to turn right on red hate me for my nervous indecision, because I still assume anything with four wheels WILL hit me.

2. I cannot flush the toilet properly. I keep panicking when I actually drop my toilet paper in the toilet for fear that those four squares will clog the entire city’s plumbing.

3. Picking produce at the grocery store is revelatory. I am used to scouring endless land mines of rotten tomatoes and repulsively bruised mangoes that unsuspectingly ooze fermented juice all over my hand only to come away with nothing because everything is spoiled.

4. No matter how safe the city (seriously, Fremont and Cambridge?), I still walk around on survival/attack mode. My code red cynicism is still alive and burning.

5. Speaking of attack mode, orderly lining up has become a foreign concept to me. Any time a queue is formed, my instinct is to rush forward, elbows out. Apologies to the grandma at the grocery store yesterday…

6. Taking showers and lying in bed may be commonplace routines, but for me, they have become awe-inspiring highlights of my days. I am pretty sure I have thanked the Lord for shower curtains, water heaters, H2O that doesn’t smell like sewage, and real mattresses more than anything else…even time with B.

7. I heard this one from many a Peace Corps returnee, but I am still shocked by the excess of choices and options and how easy it is to spend money here. The credit card may be America’s greatest weapon.

8. Last Sunday was my first week back at Existence Church, and I hit culture shock so hard. More on this to come, but, GEEZ, money everywhere.

9. The more I travel, the more I LOVE San Diego. What kind of crazy person would ever leave this paradise heaven-land?!

10. Food is delicious.

July 015The end of an era.

If I had been pulled over by police on Monday afternoon, I surely would have gone straight to jail. By no small miracle, we managed to cram twelve whole children into the Rav4 and there was not a pocket of space to spare. Somehow we chugged our way across Mariscal Lopez unnoticed and made it to the warm enclave of the C family home to celebrate the very last day of Lo’s Kitchen.

I always knew it would feel this incredulous in the moment, but it truly is hard to believe I am finally on the tail end of my Paraguay commitment, reflecting back on a year and a half of cooking workshops. As a token of my enduring love for my faithful crew and a last ditch effort to ensure they won’t forget me too quickly, I compiled two years worth of recipes into a keepsake cookbook for each individual. Prior to space formatting, the tome was fifty plus pages. That is not only a lot of paper, but also many weeks of developing culinary skills and seeing the Lord’s goodness manifest in the establishment of deep rapport and trusting friendships.

What a blessing it has been to take something I deeply enjoy (food and consuming it) and turn it into a ministry opportunity, which against all odds blossomed into one of the most fulfilling aspects of my time in Paraguay. The Lord has been gracious over the last month in generously giving me glimpses of the fruit resulting from seeds planted over the past two years. This cooking class clausura was one such instance, and I am thankful for the affirmations that this season has not been in vain.

After lunch and an exhortation to my students to keep up the cooking, I started packing the kids back into my car. Just before T squeezed in, she thanked me for the cookbook. She sheepishly continued, whispering in the same breath like one big, hurried hashtag, “I-didn’t-like-the-fried-rice-but-lasagna-was-my-favorite-you-changed-my-life.” and dashed into the car for cover.

I could not ask for anything more.

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Ratatouille 009Love this picture and these girls.

Somewhere in the mix of discussing hamsters, rats, and lipstick, I realized that I have arrived.

Generally, the progression of time is an essential requirement for meaningful relationships. Now nearly two years into my Paraguay stint, many of the friendships I have established have finally stepped beyond the threshold of superficial. Bantering fluidly back and forth with the girls about life and love at cooking class last night felt so natural. It was a proud moment of accomplishment and belonging, but one, of course, tempered with tinges of regret that I am also leaving in a month.

Still, I am thankful to be departing with memories of easy conversations about the monumental and the mundane. In spite of the anguished tears and white hairs and nightmares accumulated over the months, I am grateful to know that Asuncion, against all hope, as become some sort of home, complete with friends, family, and comforting meals shared around a smoking space heater.

Ratatouille will always be a warm reminder of these times.

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Writer’s block has been holding this blog entry hostage for the better part of the week. Should I slant about how all the kids have insane spring fever (even though it’s winter) right now and are crushing on anything that breathes? Or that I caused a student to break out in hives as a result of this week’s workshop dish? Or that new students appeared because I randomly met one kid at the park on Saturday, who then showed up at church on Sunday, saw a Lo’s Kitchen announcement in the church bulletin, and proceeded to bring his brother as well?

Or I guess I could mention all of them.

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