What I am thankful for this year

Below is an email I wrote to my family due to my absence  & wanted to share my thoughts on here as well

Happy Thanksgiving Family! I hope you are all gathered around the table enjoying one another’s company and celebrating the many blessings we all have, especially the blessing of one another. On this day, Little Susie or Big Jimmy always requests us to share what we are thankful for within the past year. Due to my absence I wanted to share with you all what I am thankful for… because even if I am a thousand miles away you still cannot get rid of the monkey in the family 🙂.

This time last year, I was enjoying the thrill of senior year at Miami University with my 7 housemates/best friends, in which we all wondered where we would be in a year. None of had a clue, as we created career ideas to share with relatives over Thanksgiving break, and my dream of joining the Peace Corps still seemed far-fetched. As I reminisce on last year’s family Thanksgiving, memories begin to form of goofy conversations with my favorite people, pumpkin pie, beer pong in the garage, Big Jim’s rum cider, football games, the little one running around in scary masks, the comfort of the fire and the tender goodbye hugs to one another before the food coma nap begins. 

To my surprise, my dream of serving in the Peace Corps came true. Thus, I will be celebrating this Thanksgiving with the 57 other volunteers on our last day in training, before we all head out alone to begin our 2-year service in Peru. Today, I am overwhelmed with gratitude for the experiences, places and people I have encountered not only this past year but throughout my 22 years of life.  

I am thankful to my training host family to opening their home and their hearts to me, while patiently teaching me the Peruvian culture, lifestyle and values.  I am thankful for my host mother’s favorite phrase, ‘poco a poco’ (“little by little”), which got me through the times of frustration when I was unable to communicate my wants or my needs. I am thankful for their non-judgment when I admitted I had the runs, or just needed a hug because I was feeling homesick. I am thankful for my host brothers for running and playing soccer with me, and being my friends even though I can’t juggle a soccer ball for shit.

I am thankful for the Peace Corps, and its historical resilient development efforts across the world. I am thankful for the Peace Corps staff, for teaching and supporting us through several lessons and asking us questions many of us did not want to ask ourselves. I am thankful to be serving the US government in this unique capacity, and hope to fulfill the expectations of many people and ultimately my own expectations.

I am thankful for Spanish, and the humbling experience of feeling helpless when unable to communicate properly, thus realizing how many people must feel when unable to speak English in the US. I am thankful for the constant corrections Peruvians make of my poor Spanish grammar, and the stressed importance on annunciating certain accent marks. I am grateful for the Spanish-English dictionary that is my daily reference throughout conversations. I am thankful for the patience of strangers on the street who helped me find my way around town and answered my silly questions.

I am thankful for water – cold water, hot water, and running water. The most basic resource will now be limited in my everyday life, which makes me grateful for the cold showers that wake me up better than a shot of espresso. I am thankful for headbands that hide my greasy hair when I do not feel like jumping in a freezing shower. I am thankful for baby wipes that instantly clean off my sweat and dirt from the walk home. I am thankful for buckets and flip-flops, which will serve as my new showering tools in under a week.

I am thankful for earplugs that block out the many noises on the street that would otherwise wake me up in the middle of the night.  I am thankful for Advil when the Spanish headache kicks in after an overwhelming day. I am thankful for Aji sauce for adding flavor to the mound of daily white rice I receive. I am thankful for the local bakeries and bars, which have served as our pick-me-ups during training. I am thankful for the power of music transporting me back to favorite moments and places when missing home. I am thankful for unexpected letters from home that brighten my day.

I am thankful for wonderful friendships, ones that I have had sense I was one-year old, since college and ones formed here in Peru – they all have their immeasurable value of mutual love and respect. I am extremely thankful for modern technology, which allows me to communicate with my favorite people on a weekly basis.

…You didn’t think I would forget you all did you?

I am thankful to all of you, the core foundation of a steady family throughout my life is the best gift in my life. I have taken this aspect of my life for granted, because I had the privilege of being born into it. I am infinitely thankful for the beauty of having various friends, mentors, leaders, and perspectives all within my large family of parents, siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins, second cousins and the spirit of our grandparents that paved the way for our family. I am thankful for the many second families, best friends and mentors who have supported me in numerous capacities and who know me better than I know myself. 

Mom and Dad, words cannot express the immense gratitude I feel to call you both my parents. I am thankful for your contagious energy, wise words of advice, patient listening, corky comedy and ability to party at 59. But I am most thankful for your ability to be my best friends and parents at the same time. Thank you for instilling a hunger for adventure in me, and supporting me in my travels around 23 countries and counting. Thank you for allowing me to chase my dreams, and supporting me along the path I could not have paved without you both. I am extremely grateful for witnessing the magic behind your strong marriage, and hope to one day mirror the love, admiration and respect you have for one another in my own relationship. Thank you for showing me the importance of staying grounded even when you have fulfilled uncountable life successes. And lastly, thank you for teaching me humor and weirdness, and not taking anything to seriously. You are my backbone, and my funnybone J.

To my crazy sisters and brothers, I am thankful for being the youngest to the three of you. I am truly spoiled to have three mentors, role models and best friends that have pushed me to be a better me my whole life. Nick, I am thankful for your outstanding patience and sound advice when dealing with three crazy younger sisters, and perfected skill of creating kick-ass jingles at the drop of a hat. Ashley, I am thankful for your contagious thirst for life, but more notably your crazy arm dance and sass. Chrissy, I am thankful for your pensive perspective on any situation, and your goofy laugh that can always make me smile. You all helped change my diapers, taught me the ins & outs of school (both academically and socially), snuck me alcohol and shared profound life advice. I am thankful for your unwavering support throughout my life, and pushing me forward even when I doubted myself. I strive to develop many of the admirable qualities you all possess one day, and I am grateful to have looked up to all of you. Keep doing you chooks.

I am thankful for Ohio, the place that will always be my home. I am thankful for Midwestern kindness that can only be described from experience. l am thankful for the beautiful change of seasons that remind me that adapting to change, rather big or small, is very possible and a necessary part of life . I am thankful for the dirty rivers and lakes that served as my escape during the unbearable summers. I am thankful for the cozy couches that served as my hibernation spot during the frigid winter. I am thankful for my redbrick home, where the green door opens the thick memory book of my 22 years of life.

Thank you does not begin to express my gratitude for everything in my life; from my past and current experiences to all the wonderful influential people in it, I feel like the luckiest young women in the world. Thus, I find it tremendously fitting to end with this quote from the founding president of the Peace Corps, John F. Kennedy:

“As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.” – JFK 

Tomorrow, I will finish my three-months of training and will officially become a Peace Corps Volunteer. I will be moving to my permanent community located in the northern desert of Peru to begin my two-year service to begin combating child malnutrition and teen pregnancy. I do not know what lies ahead in the years to come, but without a doubt I know it will be challenging.

I hope to redirect all of my gratitude into action throughout my service, and learn from the new community, culture and job I am about to immerse myself into. I also hope to share many aspects of myself, which is been formed by all the people, experiences, and places that I am grateful for. I must remember  ‘to expect nothing and appreciate everything’, thus continuing the unique US tradition of thankfulness, because there is always something to be thankful for.

Eat an extra slice of pumpkin pie for me 🙂– you’ll thank me later ;). I love and miss you all.

 

Cheers,

Jamie

p.s. Please feel free to share what you are all thankful for via email too!

Life begins at the end of your comfort zone

This statement has never rung more true to me after my site visit to the small village, Chatito, where I will be living for the next two years. It was an overwhelming yet inspiring week, and the first test of many to come within the years ahead.

VIlla Chatito - the Plaza de Armas and church in my site
VIlla Chatito – the Plaza de Armas and church in my site

I arrived to Chatito, after the 18-hour bus ride from Lima, which sits in the scorching hot desert of Piura in the north of Peru to be welcomed by hundreds of friendly community members, who light up the dry and sandy streets where they live, work and play. To my surprise, they began a welcoming parade for me where I was introduced to numerous people with hugs, kisses and signs welcoming me into the community. We walked from the municipality building to the health post, where I will be doing the majority of my work throughout my service. The mayor presented me to the community, and also thanked Kelly, the prior volunteer, for her dedication and hard-work that has positively changed the community. Afterward, I was asked to speak, which I attempted to show my overwhelming gratitude for their welcoming, but I am not confident if it came across with my broken Spanish.

The parade of people that welcomed me into my community!
The parade of people that welcomed me into my community!
The inicial who had a welcoming for me and gave me the sweet sombrero as a welcoming gift :)!
The inicial who had a welcoming for me and gave me the sweet sombrero as a welcoming gift :)!

The parade ended with all the community members accompanying me to my new home, and directly into my quaint room. I entered from the backyard where 8 cows, 2 horses, 30 chickens, 15 turkeys, 10 ducks and more live directly outside my window. I learned of my living conditions, such as only having water 2 days a week, which means we collect the water in tubs around the house to use the other 5 days of the week. I will be bucket bathing outside in an enclosed area right by the chickens, along with using the toilet in a structure outside as well. I will be living with a family of 8 including 2 grandparents, 2 parents and 4 younger siblings (15 year old girl, 12 year old boy, 7 year old girl, and a 2 month old baby girl) who exemplify the power of a supportive family.

My backyard full with animals and my bathroom!
My backyard full with animals and  also the location of my bathroom

As the community members stood in the common-area, I received a call from my mom back home. Excited to share the news of the grand welcoming I had just received, I excused myself to take the call. I was hit with the sad and surprising news that my beloved Grandma Jeannie had passed away from congestive heart failure. It was one of the most emotional moments of my life, as I was taking in all the exciting information about my new life but also knowing I had lost one of the most influential people in my life as well. I was filled with regret and shame that I could not be with her during her final moments, but remembered how blessed I was to spend a whole wonderful week with her this summer. I decided to keep the news to myself until the following day as I needed time to process it individually.

My new little host sister, Ariana and I
My new little host sister, Ariana and I

The next day I shared the news of my Grandma’s passing and I found support through the experience through my family, socios and the current volunteer Kelly. The days carried on in which I continued to meet with numerous community members at the health post, high school and municipality whom I hope to collaborate within the coming years. It was encouraging to see how Kelly has already changed the community, and I hope to continue positive change in my own manner. It is inspiring to see a community that is genuinely open and excited for more positive change in their village, and I hope I can help in anyway possible.

My new host mom, Marcela and baby sister Bianca
My new host mom, Marcela and baby sister Bianca

Overall, after the crazy couple days in site I am excited to begin my Peace Corps service. As I only have five more days in my cozy trainee lifestyle, I cannot lie that I am scared out of my mind for the next two years that lie in front of me. But then I remember, this has been my dream for the past four years and I am lucky enough to be living it. And I also remember my favorite quote… “if your dreams don’t scare you, they’re not big enough” which remind me that I am on the right path.

So here we go life…let’s begin.

My wonderful Grandma Jeannie and I this summer
My wonderful Grandma Jeannie and I this summer

In loving memory of Grandma Jeannie, one of the most inspiring women throughout my life, you will truly be missed but never forgotten. Thank you for always supporting me in my hopes and dreams, and showing me the power of being an independent women with an assertive voice. I know you will be with me throughout the coming years, and I hope to make you proud up there. You have made a lasting impact on your family, friends and strangers and your legacy will continue to live on through them.