Peace Corps, I am learning, teaches you to miss things. Of course, there are the obvious things – your family, friends, and easy access to high quality ice cream. But there are also many others.
There are the things you miss that you don’t have, like hot water, cell phone service in your home, and a bedroom that doesn’t smell like sweaty feet (I can’t help it, I suffer from chronically sweaty feet here in Panama). There are the stupid little things you miss, like long showers in your brightly lit bathroom and not wondering how many bugs in your room will bite or sting you. There is the food you miss, like pizza, home cooked casseroles, and basically any meal that doesn’t include rice and beans. There are the things you miss that you can’t do, like going on a long walk with your mom, scrolling through the news on your plush oversize couch, or going out for drinks after work with friends. There are the things you miss that you used to hate, like grocery shopping and cooking your own meals. There are the things you didn’t think you’d miss, like driving – even, and sometimes especially – those multi-hour road trips. There are the places you miss, like your mom’s cheerful and welcoming dining room, and your blue, cozy, and just-for-you apartment that now exists only as a memory. There are deeper things that you miss too – things that were lost and things you haven’t missed for a long time.
But slowly, over time, you feel a change. You begin to adjust to your new life – the one you used to think of as living without, but now realize is simply living differently. You appreciate the wonderful cold showers on a hot afternoon and adjust to the cold showers on chillier evenings. You appreciate cell phone service when you have it, but also appreciate the pile of books you’ve been able to read, the conversations you’ve had, and your ability to avoid scrolling through life. You don’t notice the bugs or your sweaty feet after a while, and soon beans and rice become a delicious meal you can’t wait to walk home for. You appreciate the opportunities you have to connect with friends and family and catch up, but you also appreciate your new community and your budding new friendships. You remember that soon enough you will be moving out of your host family’s house and be grocery shopping and cooking for yourself, and you will likely begin to resent it again. You begin to appreciate the lovely chiva rides to the city, when you can tune out, listen to music, and enjoy the beautiful scenery around you, instead of driving. You find new favorite places – a path where you can find cell phone service, a hidden field where you can enjoy the quiet or dance your heart out, and your family’s front porch. You realize that maybe what you lost you didn’t completely lose after all, and what you hadn’t missed for a long time wasn’t worth missing.
And as each day passes, as you feel less pangs of missing and more heart tugs of appreciation, you begin to find home among the steep hills, cow pastures, and winding dirt roads. You stop noticing what you don’t have and start living happily with what you do. You reflect that this new life is for growth and learning, and that after two short years, when you are back, eating high quality ice cream daily, what you will miss will be these moments and this different life.