The Northern Coast

The Northern Coast
The Northern Coast--photo by Zack Thieman

Monday, February 17, 2014

Moving along; subconscious and conscious battles

There was a long time when I first got to Peru when my dreams hadn't quite caught up with my physical location yet. They preserved home in this perfect technicolor world that I could visit at the end of each exhausting day. On more than one occasion I would wake from a dream in which I had just been dining at my favorite restaurant, laughing with my boyfriend and friends, or walking the grounds of my parent's home, and I wouldn't know where I was. My mind had travelled so far away it would take a second before I realized where I was and what I was doing there before I would feel the deep pains of homesickness sink in.

After some time in site this started to change. Peru would make its way into my dreams in small ways, never fully taking over. The trash-- the miles and miles of trash I would pass on the drive to my site-- made its way into my dreams first it seemed. It sprinkled the periphery of everywhere I went. It progressed as other things changed. I would be "home" in the US, but the houses would be adobe or concrete. I would walk down the street of my college town on the crumbling, sometimes non-existent, sidewalks I walked everyday in site. I would speak Spanish with random strangers that would pop into a scene with my family, or I would be riding a combi with my boyfriend. And in time, my dreams were all Peru. Suddenly nothing in my dreams was free of some distinctly Peruvian feature.

Dreams are so personal and individual, but there are always the common stress dreams people get, like public nudity or teeth falling out. Peace Corps seemed to have its own. A common stress dream many volunteers had during service, or a variation of, was the "I went home and didn't tell anybody" dream. I would dream of these less-than-24-hour trips back to the US where upon arrival I would realize I hadn't actually told anyone back in Peru I was leaving, making my visit the ultimate illegal vacation. Peace Corps had invaded my dreams so much that I couldn't even dream of a visit home without the proper paperwork.

Now that I've been home for about seven months, I'm realizing the odd reversal of all of this. Peru still exists in my dreams, in some form, every single night. Sometimes it's in the architecture of the buildings, a lot of times it's in the dirt roads speckled with trash. A random stranger, if not my host family, will still require me to speak Spanish on at least a weekly basis. A lot of times Peru exists in the people I knew there, visiting my dreams to remind me I left them behind. Literally, they complain about me leaving them behind, which is so apropos to Peruvian culture.

I even have a regular stress dream that seems to be the sister to my previous "going home" stress dreams from service: I've finished my visit home, and it's time to go back to Peru to finish my work. Like I'm still a volunteer and this whole time I've been home it wasn't to stay, and I was always going to go back to Peru to keep working eventually.

Last night I had the ultimate of these stress dreams. I arrived in my regional capital and it was like the second I got there I realized I hadn't brought presents for anyone. I had spent all this time in the US and I hadn't brought anything back! ¡Ingrata!

It's a really bittersweet thing. The dreams feed off of my worries; I'm visited by visions and people that ask me why I left them behind--or make me ask myself why I left it all behind-- and they break my heart a little. It's like a different kind of homesickness. But even though it kind of torments me, I'm afraid to stop dreaming about Peru. I'm afraid once I stop dreaming about it, I'll start forgetting about it. A large part of me is very afraid to lose not just the relationships and Spanish, but the small things that made Peru and the experience so incredibly unique.

I received a letter from one of my fellow RPCV's from Peru 17, and I feel like she put so perfectly what I had been thinking but couldn't quite put into words. She wrote:

"I guess part of me is afraid that I will lose that piece of Peru that I promised my community, and myself, that I would llevar en mi corazón para siempre. It's a strange fear. Obviously I will never forget Peru and everything I gained and learned from the experience. But how do I move on without leaving the little things that made the experience what it was? After all, one of Peace Corps' best lessons is that it's the small stuff that matters most."

My dreams seem to be that part of me speaking out; I want to move on, but I don't want to leave it behind. I want to honor my Peace Corps service and Peru and the relationships I formed and the lessons I learned, but I also need to live here and now. And like I said in my last blog, it's becoming a process that is much longer and in-depth than I ever expected.

Honestly, I don't know when Peru and the people I associate with it are going to stop invading my subconscious. I imagine the process will be like the process while I was there. It's very possible that in a year's time there won't be any of Peru in my dreams at all. And that thought makes me sad. But it's nice to know I'm not alone in this feeling, and I know that even if the dreams stop I'll always have others to remind me of what I'm so worried to forget.

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