This post was originally written by Tara in January 2011.
During my interview for this position, one of the questions I was asked to test my Spanish was something along the lines of “What does community mean to you?” At this point, I hadn’t spoken Spanish with a native speaker for any extended period of time in almost two years, so my stumbling answer was mostly a riff on a single very simple and imperfect sentence: "La gente se esta mirando". People are watching one another, always.
People smile at one another in the streets here, and they smile at me. This is very reassuring: it’s the kind of thing I can fall in love with about a place, and though it’s really simple I swear it was the reason I fell in love with my small private liberal arts college and applied only half-heartedly anywhere else.
Learning about the other side of this shiny golden coin, however, has been one of the most valuable parts of my small private liberal arts education. Even though I don’t know the details, I know that I’m stepping in, as an outsider, to a tightly-knit community. This is a place where most people already have opinions about one another, based on histories both personal and political that I don’t and won’t ever fully understand. My white skin and gringo volunteer gear (khakis, brown shoes, faded t-shirt, cheap plastic watch and woven textile headband) mean that most people’s first impressions of me will occur long before my first real impression of them. So it goes.
This is sort of a nerve-wracking dynamic, I guess. And I’m in a more exotic place than I’ve ever been doing something that is fundamentally very different than what I’m used to with an entirely new cast of characters. Yet, I genuinely feel more at peace and have a stronger sense that the here and the now is what’s right for me than I ever have, ever in my life. The only thing I’m really sure about is that I’ll mess up at least sometimes, cause that’s what happens when you’re young and idealistic and into buying expensive plane tickets to faraway places.
So it goes.