Thursday, November 3, 2011


Peace Corps... in colloquial terms... is one hell of a ride. Yes, I realize that I would be growing and changing and becoming more mature no matter where in the world I would have been or what type of trabajo I would have been doing, but there is something about living in this country, constantly fighting cultural battles, coming to terms with my own American-ness, the ups and downs of language acquisition, seeing poverty face on (and living there but still feeling separated from it somehow), and being violently ill frequently that when combined has made my mental health... well, go nuts. I know what lowest of the lows and highest of the highs means now. I had an idea before but now I've LIVED it. It's every moment: the "I've want to QUIT RIGHT NOW" times and the "I feel so connected to this community and everybody in my town loves me" times. The extremes are so extreme. This journey has turned every easy going stable even keeled peace corps volunteer I know into a bawling euphoric crazy person mess. En serio. Why, just this past week I was elated and excited about Halloween and newbies coming, felt awesome and competent at teaching geography/Mapamundi in INABIF, then felt like the worst teacher in the world as the kids in Antipayan chewed me up and spit me out for two hours and then two days later I cried my EYES out for no good reason for two hours. No joke. There was really no reason for it. I'm officially crazy. As I always so eloquently put it two hours before ending any hike or any endurance adventure: "I'm DONE!". Peace out. Completely checked out of the building. Done.

It doesn't matter if you've already been here for two and a half years. It doesn't make it any easier and you never know when feelings will strike.

With that said, I feel like, this year I have taken epic trips which serve as appropriate metaphors (NOT smilies... there's no "like" about it) for my time here in Peace Corps. The best metaphor? The climb to the summit of Ishinca Mountain. Let me explain:

Never in my life did I think I would even THINK about climbing a mountain. Ice? Snow? Pick axes? That's the stuff of The Weekly Reader, my friend. What I read back in 2nd grade from the safety of my desk on the coast of California in elementary school. But alas, when you date a mountain guide and you live in the Andes and everybody else is doing it... well... it all the sudden becomes feasible in your mind (I already explained I'm going crazy). So, Raul took Christie and I over Fiestas Patrias to climb the "easiest" of these montaƱas... Ishinca. The three hour only slight up hill walk to base camp wasn't so bad so I was feeling pretty good about the whole thing. We went to bed by 6 pm anyway, ready to wake up at 1 a.m. to start the trek.

Base Camp "I could walk on snow all day!"

After sometime you feel yourself get into a rhythm. I liked walking through the night, not being able to see anything ahead, only your current footstep mattered and once I started keeping a steady slow pace things were ok. Once we were close to the ice I have never felt that COLD. HOMBRE. It sliced right through the 3 pairs of pants I was wearing (SNOW pants mind you) and it was starting to get steeper. When we reached the ice, out came the crampons (the spikey things you attach to your shoes to be able to walk on snow). I was very nervous and did not believe those spike shoes would prevent me from falling. But, hey! Those things DO work, who'd of known? And when we got onto the ice I felt SO elated! I could walk on snow ALL DAY LONG! (I'm pretty sure I shouted that out loud). I felt secure and pretty strong and WOOT. The top didn't look all THAT far away!

Spike Shoes and Pretty Views

Cut to 3 1/2 hours later... Tired.... leg muscles shaking... confidence lacking.... nerves setting in... the summit was still a ways a way and it looked like we had to climb two ice walls in order to get there. That's when I sat on the ground and literally was ready to call it a day. I wouldn't have gone up there. Would have been just content enough with the beautiful view to say "DONE!" if it wasn't for the fact that Christie was also tied to my rope and really wanted to get to the top (we were very close after all). So. I just had to keep going. There was no where else to go but up (you getting the metaphor now?).

I call this one: I'm DONE!

Cut to the very last bit. Climbing (or scrambling and crying in my case) up the snow wall to the top. Halfway up my nerves were so gone that I just stood, shaking, tears pouring out of me, screaming like a small child, could not. would not. continue. Just leave me here. pitiful. I just apparently had to get it all out of me for a good 5 minutes and then I just kept going until we made it. It felt so rewarding (although I was still shaken) to be there and to have done it. 9 hours of uphill paid off- but it wasn't done yet. There's always still the bajada (going down) and Raul wanted to go down the other side of the mountain which meant we had to be lowered down with a rope, over a crevasse and then jump backwards. Oy. I was done. No mas. I was so ready to just live on the top of Ishinca for the rest of my life. But I was forced into moving and seriously.. there is nothing like the feeling of sweet sweet relief. So much so, that that feeling stayed with me for basically the rest of the way down the snow. SO happy to be alive! How beautiful is this earth! Etc. Etc. :)

The summit!

Then we reached the gravely rocks. Frustration sets in, I'm definitely not a mountain goat when it comes to going downhill. So I decided to get creative in order to solve the problem and get down faster. I literally slid on my butt for a good 15 minutes (those poor pants.. so many holes) but I did get down faster! It was effective! I don't care what Raul says. For the last hour or so we literally ran (it wasn't so steep). The end was in site, the weather good, the trail not too slippery... and we BOOKED it! The whole experience felt like a WONDERFUL way to cap off my two years in Shilla. It WAS my two years in Shilla.. just in... a 13 hours span instead of 27 months. I don't need to explain the comparisons, right? Some things, like the crying, can just be cut and pasted from the mountain to my room. :)

We have to do WHAT now? The End.

Peace Corps is like a marathon.... see? Similes just aren't as good! I guess what I'm trying to say is... if you want to know what my last two years have been like, go climb a mountain? Yeah. Go climb a mountain. Your own personal mountain.

Abrazos desde los Andes,


  1. Dear Emily,

    Thank you for sharing this striking and truthful metaphor of your time in the Peace Corps. Incredibly proud and humbled. That's how I feel right now after reading about your journey.

    Love you!

  2. Emily all grown up? I miss you, write a book and feed a llama. Recuerda, it's sticky yet refreshing.