After two years and five months on foreign soil, I am finally back home!
I've been back now for a couple weeks – and I apologize for the length of time it has taken me to put up a blog. After living at a slow pace over the last couple years with so much alone time and free time, I feel a bit dizzy at times trying to keep up and juggle the intricacies of American lifestyle once again. I am very happy to be back in the United States though.
The best part of being home is the ability to see friends and family. I have been indulging in good beer and whiskey, good food, football, big screen tv's, hot showers and hot tubs, easily accessible and fast internet, dishwashers, and people watching.
The last couple of weeks have been a lot of fun. A benefit of being gone for a long time and a returning Peace Corps Volunteer means people are willing to buy your food and drinks. In fact, in the Miami airport, in between flights, first thing I did was order an American beer. A lady saw my Peace Corps patch and inquired about it – then she shook my hand and said, "Thank you" to me for my service and offered to buy me another beer.
However, I can't say that readjustment has been pain-free. My first social event in Washington DC brought on a severe hangover that lasted an entire day…and the food portions are so large I can't move after eating!
The differences between my life here and my life in the Peace Corps are too many to list – and I haven't been back long enough to establish a routine…and I don't know what I'll be doing yet. The US is an amazing country though; I am lucky this is my home to return to. Being gone for a good amount of time and living within a different culture allows me to compare and contrast the differences – positives and negatives. Peru was an amazing country with their fair share of problems…and the US is an amazing country with our fair share of problems.
One of the main aspects of readjustment is that everything is different and amplified to me, while it's normal to everyone else. The portions of food seem larger than before, the marketing seems more relentless, the people seem way more stressed out and concerned about trivialities, the waste seems more reckless, the "news" is more biased, incomplete, and sensationalized than before, everything is competing for attention, and the variety of everything seems endless. Life appears so hectic. Sometimes I think a simplified metaphor for life today is a dog chasing his tail – one difference here in the United States is that the dog makes three circles for every one circle they made back where I lived in Peru.
Another aspect of readjustment deals with the romanticism of home versus the reality of home. While away and living as a Peace Corps Volunteer, one can't help but romanticize the idea of home and being back into the world you know…and they never match completely. Some aspects are better than I thought and others are not as exciting…though since I knew to temper that romanticism, it hasn't been that bad.
At times I feel a bit awkward as I get back into the American groove. Putting on nice clothes feels weird. Walking into a bar or restaurant and not being stared at by everyone is nice but being exotic is fun. Meeting someone new and not kissing their cheek if they are female feels rude. Not bargaining for the price of things feels like I'm getting taken advantage of...or paying a lot more for things that were so cheap in Peru is annoying. Having things operate so efficiently is awesome and the friendly service makes me feel like they're up to something. The fact that so much of our food comes packaged is a bit disturbing...but being able to eat any ethnicity of food that I want is incredible.
Long story short – I'm very happy to be back. I don't know what my plans are yet – and I'm about to start getting the process of searching for it underway. The last couple weeks were solely for enjoyment…now comes reality.
"The problem is that I arise in the morning torn between a desire to save the world and a desire to savor the world. This makes it hard to plan the day." E.B. White
I finished my service within the Peace Corps today and will begin my trip home tomorrow! I'll be taking around two to three months and traveling back by land (primarily). I hope to continue posting blogs on my way home – though they will be sporadic.
The Peace Corps adventure has been long, more arduous and more fun than I expected. While I've been here, I experienced very unique emotions that will be difficult to experience again, partly due to novelty but also due to the unique and unrepeatable situation (when else will I have a good excuse for not showering for two weeks?). Having you on the other end of my blogs has helped me through my time here immensely.
Thank you very much for sharing the Peace Corps with me. Thank you for all the nice comments and positive reinforcement along the way.
I hope that you enjoyed the blog. I tried to be very open with myself and with you through my writing. I'm certainly not the most gifted or educated writer and I appreciate you letting me share my thoughts and for continuing to read. I've tried to keep it fun while including ideas, observations, and some personal perspectives.
Thank you to everyone who has mailed me packages. I was very surprised that so many people took the time to put together care packages and put them in the mail. Even the simple letters or cards were a thrill to receive. Thank you to: Mom & Dad, Peg Dobrozsi, Heather DeBerry Haynes, David Lemon, Kristin "Llama" Franke, Beth Keifer Florea, Jennifer Lemly, Autumn Houston, Molly Mattessisch, Ashlee Miller/Ben Davidhizar, Aunt Bev, Sarah Roeske, K.L. Canupp, Josh Caplan, and Eric Longen. Thank you.
Special thanks to my Mom and Dad for all their phone calls and support.
A big question that every Peace Corps volunteer asks themselves is about the success of their time served. However, analyzing one's time is difficult to do for a number of reasons…especially as one is preparing to leave; there are just too many emotions swirling around.
Overall – I would say, yes, my experience has been successful to those in my community, the artisan association, and to me. Thinking back on the two years I can't help but smile and a feeling of warmth overflows in my veins. I am proud of the work I've done, the tough times I've endured, and that I took advantage of my surroundings. I didn't hold back. As time distances this experience, I imagine my fondness will only grow.
Once I get back, I apologize if I accidentally throw toilet paper into the trash can, kiss you on the cheek or a person you might be introducing me to, show up late without thinking it's a big deal, or encroach upon your personal space without realizing it…those are just a few mistakes I imagine will happen as I get back into the American groove.
I came into the Peace Corps without too many expectations and tried to limit my preconceived notions as much as I could. I didn't want to show up with the mentality that I had the answers or that my/our way was best. Many times, there are good reasons for the way things are – even if it doesn't make much sense to you in the beginning. My goal was simply to figure out the goals of the artisans and community and help them achieve those. Some goals were achieved, others weren't. Many things we didn't set out to achieve but did.
Upon finishing Peace Corps, every volunteer writes a "Description of Service". I'll include that here – though I don't imagine it will be much fun to read since it reads a bit like a resume and has to follow a general format (like referring to yourself in the 3rd person). But, if you're interested, you can find it below - and below that are some more pictures.
Once again – thank you all for sharing this experience with me. Hopefully, I'll see you soon!
Formal Description of Service:
Jacob Edward DeBerry was invited to be a member of the ninth group of Volunteers to serve in Peru, and the sixth group of Small Business Development Volunteers, since Peace Corps' return to the country in 2002. On June 6, 2007, he began an intensive eleven-week training program at the Peace Corps training center in Chaclacayo, near Lima. The training included in-depth Spanish language courses, a macro- and micro-level orientation of the economic situation in Peru, nonformal education techniques, an overview of Peruvian culture, politics, and history, and field-based training exercises with communities in the region. As part of the training, Mr. DeBerry spent a week in the rural Andean town of Chiquian, teaching and assisting with a week-long business simulation for the local college. Mr. DeBerry was also elected to serve as the treasurer of and coordinated social events for his training group.
On August 24, 2007, Mr. DeBerry was sworn in as a Peace Corps Volunteer and assigned to the rural Andean community of Tarica, in the department of Ancash, serving as the only Small Business Volunteer in the department. He was assigned to work with the artisan association "Joyas de Barro", comprised of 18 artisans specializing in ceramics. Mr. DeBerry worked to improve the quality of life of the members’ families by increasing the sales and profits of the association. He also assisted other associations and individual business owners in the area.
Mr. DeBerry's primary responsibilities and activities included the following:
Finance and Accounting
• Instructed the artisans in basic accounting principles, financial reporting, bookkeeping, inventory controls, and profit distribution.
• Trained the artisans in the use of cost analysis in order to price their products more appropriately and increase their profit margins.
• Advised the artisans on bank accounts, bank loans, and the risks associated with accruing debt.
Business Development, Research, and Planning
• Worked with the nongovernmental organization Competividad Ancash/Technoserve to bring Peruvian business consultants to the artisan center to teach basic business principles, the Peruvian marketplace, and the quality standards and protocols required for exporting.
• Trained the artisans on the importance of quality control and fast turn around on orders while maintaining quality. Introduced the concept of having a stock of popular products on hand to decrease the time from receiving orders to the delivery of the products.
• Assisted the artisans in developing three-month, six-month, and yearly work plans.
• Helped to establish and clarify short- and long-term goals for the association.
• Advised the artisans on product research and how to prepare for upcoming handicraft fairs and exhibitions. Taught them about different tourist seasons and how to cater to different categories of customers.
• Served as a consultant to a local hotel on its restaurant menu, décor, and overall environment.
Marketing, Communication, and Networking
• Developed marketing materials to increase the orders and overall visibility of the artisan association.
• Instructed the artisans in different sales techniques and how to build rapport with potential customers.
• Photographed and cataloged products in order to standardize and organize merchandise for two artisan associations plus several individual business owners.
• Advised three different artisan associations on product design and how to market their products to tourists.
• Assisted the artisans in realigning work teams and work schedules.
• Helped to formalize the artisan association into a legalized small business, and helped organize the leadership team.
• Conducted workshops on teamwork, leadership, and conflict resolution.
• Acquired and installed a computer at the artisan center.
• Trained the artisans and youth in the use of e-mail, Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Internet Explorer/Firefox, providing them with the skills to conduct business research, communicate with clients, and organize data.
• Managed the planning, research, and design of the artisan association's website.
• Provided computer technical support and taught basic maintenance techniques.
• Helped the association in the general production of products, including the making and transportation of clay, the assembly of products, and the firing of the products in the oven.
• Taught English courses three nights a week to 15 students between the ages of 15 and 25, focusing on vocabulary, basic grammar, and conversation, with the goal of increasing the students’ employability. The classes ran continuously for over a year.
• Taught English courses two days a week to six students between the ages of 8 and 12 for a two month period.
• Tutored students of all ages in English and provided them with assistance on their school work.
Health and Nutrition
• Advised the local market vendors on the benefits of incorporating more vegetables and meats into the local diet, and persuaded them to offer more vegetables at their stands. Instructed community members on the proper cooking of vegetables.
• Lectured students and community members on the importance of throwing garbage in the proper receptacles, the damage of discarding plastic onto the street, and overall respect for the environment.
• Participated in summer learning activities with youth of the town through the artisan association.
• Performed educational and comedic skits with other Volunteers in the region to teach basic hygiene principles and gender equality. The Volunteer group traveled through Ancash department giving skits at local schools, reaching over 500 students.
• Tutored children in school subjects to increase their understanding of the topics and improve their grades.
• Taught disciplinary procedures to over 200 parents, focusing on positive reinforcement, active listening, and patience.
In addition to the above activities:
In order to communicate and integrate into his community more effectively, Mr. DeBerry attended two weeks of Quechua language courses, completing 60 hours of Quechua training. This helped Mr. DeBerry integrate more fully into his community, which was bilingual Quechua-Spanish.
Mr. DeBerry was elected twice to serve as a Small Business representative to the Volunteer Advisory Committee, a forum for Peace Corps/Peru Volunteers and staff to work together to resolve problems, improve practices, and propose new initiatives. Mr. DeBerry was selected to chair the two meetings. As such he was responsible for compiling the agenda and leading the meetings.
To fulfill the third goal of Peace Corps (helping promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans), Mr. DeBerry maintained a blog and posted weekly updates on work, cultural observations, recreational activities, and pictures of his service. His blog received over 500 unique computer hits.