The temperature was flirting with 100 degrees when I landed in Paraguay—more than a tad hotter than the frigid, snowy northeastern United States I had left just 13 hours before. It never ceases to amaze me how humans can traverse such incredible distances, such a vast spectrum of climates, in such a short period of time; that’s just the modern world, I guess. I was returning to my Peace Corps assignment after having spent more than 2 weeks in Pennsylvania, my first extended trip stateside since I landed in South America about a year and a half ago. My time home was amazing: the cold winter season, the holiday atmosphere, good food, better beer, and my friends and family.
But as I sit here, once again at home in my little brick shack in Paraguay, I am having trouble getting a grip on it all. These two lifestyles—that of middle-class, suburban America and that of rural Paraguay—could not be more different, yet I feel at ease and comfortable within both. Perhaps humans really aren’t meant to travel so far so fast; perhaps our psyches aren’t adapted to make sense of such complete and rapid change. Whatever it is, 2 weeks of culture shock is beginning to take its toll as I find myself enveloped in a sort of personal existential crisis. In reality, there is no time for such nonsense; the fields need tending, my garden is a mess, and now is the time to prepare myself for the myriad of projects that will get underway in March with the transition to fall.
On my first night home in Paraguay, we lost electricity. Such events are a commonplace and expected part of my daily routine here. My community finds itself powerless (and during these times, also without water) with increasing frequency. Just a few weeks in the States had spoiled me with a seemingly infinite supply of electrical energy, continuously available running water, and even the novelty of a clean indoor fireplace, serving mostly aesthetic purposes but consuming large quantities of natural gas nonetheless.
And as crazy as all of this is to consider from my perspective here in rural Paraguay, I cannot deny that American comforts are just as much a part of my life (if not more so) as the South American campo. I must admit, I might have stutter-stepped at first, but I quickly found my footing in the States, all too nimbly taking to Starbucks coffee and nice restaurants with microbrews on tap.
It’s like being two different people—not that either one is more honest or genuine than the other, but just that I have molded myself to fit into two seemingly polarized sets of conditions. The whole thing seems surreal, like an in-body, out-of-mind experience. But I am sure Paraguayans have a cure for that: a few leaves from the forest to sprinkle into a steaming cup of tea and sip slowly in the warm evening air. —Mario Machado