Fight the New Drug

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Wednesday, November 24, 2010

It's the hardest thing...

...I'll ever have to dooo. (98 degrees, anyone?)

Recently I've gotten a lot of comments from friends and family that it seems like I'm having the time of my life here.  That everything is always great, I'm happy, etc. etc.

Well, I guess this is my chance now to write about the tough parts, personally, for me.  I think it comes down to one thing: my desire to connect.  And that breaks down to three parts: desire to connect with the people here, desire to connect with people from home, and the desire to connect with "someone".

1. Desire to connect with people here
This has obviously been an issue since Day 1 with the language barrier.  My attitude about the language for the most part is that I only want to speak Spanish, I really don't like it when anyone speaks English to me because it feels like I failed, and consequently, I've gotten a lot better.  But there are times that the language barrier takes a toll on me.  For instance, I remember the first month here, I found my interactions with most people here kind of awkward.  I mean, it's hard enough to try to spark conversation with a stranger I don't know in English ("So....good weather today..."), but throw in Spanish and it's a whole 'nother ball game.  Your vocabulary and phrases that you know are limited, so it makes conversations very short.  So, not only are you starting awkward conversations, you're also spending half the time trying to figure out what the awkward conversations are about.  Great.  I remember there were days that first month where I was just straight up afraid to see anyone because I didn't want to awkwardly suffer through a conversation that I half-knew was about.

What got/is getting me through this?  Prayer, I suppose.  I remember that first week I made it to the chapel to pray just for 10-15 minutes to start the day, for God to be with me in conversation, for me to understand, and I accredit all the éxito (success) to Him for getting me through that week.  Every time before I enter a classroom whether to make an announcement or anything, the prayer I always send up is, "Lord, be with me."  And I remember to smile (#1 advice from Liz, my friend and volunteer who came before me).  I also trick my mind to think I'm a likeable guy and that the students (should) want my attention.  Ha, I remember my introduction presentations to the primaria (elementary school) classes I would get mad nervous before entering a classroom.  Then I would tell myself, "You're a big, bad, wolf, Mateo."  A line I got from Chuckee from Rugrats, a show I used to watch when I was a kid.  And the line would crack me up because it's so ridiculous that I often walked into rooms laughing, beaming, and smiling, and being a lot more relaxed.  A big, bad wolf. Iy, Mateo.

I think the biggest toll on me is when the language limits me to better connect and understand my students.  I remember one Friday in our youth group (Paxto) got together, and we were having a really good conversation about hope and darkness.  In the circle discussion, I could tell my students were saying something really profound, something really beautiful, but I wasn't catching it because it was so fast.  I felt like I was missing out on a special moment that I could've been a part of.  It's those kind of moments I'm here for, and it's those kinds of moments I don't want to miss out on.  I work on my Spanish every day so I don't have to miss more of these moments.

2. Desire to connect with home
Now obviously, there aren't language barriers with my family, but there are technological ones.  Back at home, I'm very much a spur of the moment texter or caller, and that liberty to do that has been shut down completely.  My friends and I at the house have learned that we have to be very intentional with who we keep in touch with and how and when we keep in touch.  My parents and I have got it down, 10:30 p.m. there time every Sunday and we've been pretty good about it.  But with my siblings it's tougher.  I call they can't pick up, we plan times, and then I can't.  And what's most frustrating is that even when we do talk (when I skype to phone, or skype-to-skype) half the conversation is, "I can't hear you, you keep breaking up, what did you say?"  The worse was when my entire family was at Melissa's house for my Dad's birthday, and I got to skype with all of them I was so happy, but they couldn't hear half the words I was saying, and I just couldn't have a conversation with them.  It was a week I was tolled out with language barriers at work, I was just looking forward to talk and be with my family, and I couldn't even have that functionally.  I just want to be able to connect.

3. Desire to connect with "someone"
Perhaps one of my biggest tolls that gets to me is my lack of connecting with someone "on the outside."  You know, many nights Jelly gets Tim, Tom gets Jeans, Brittany gets her bf Clint, I'm not really sure who Jordan talks to so maybe we're in solidarity with this, but sometimes at the end of the day I wish there was someone I could be sharing and confiding my adventure with.  Specifically, there is no one person I talk to more than anyone else when I reach out back home, and I guess sometimes I wish there was.  My Syracuse prayer partner Mike would be ideal or a couple of my best brothers from CUA, but these guys are hardly online, so I there not necessarily available, again with the whole intentional keeping up, topic.  Plus, I talked to Tom about this, and with guys, it's just different.  We are much more likely to sporadically call each other than make a big, planning fuss making sure we're online at the same time.  And I guess I could call them on their phones via skype, but then I feel like I'm intruding, or they might be busy, and the fact that we haven't talked in awhile makes it worse, so you feel like you have to make a big deal out of it when that's not really what you want.  I know, it's a stupid guy thing.  I can hear some of your eyes rolling as you read this.

What about girls, Matt?  Why not keep in touch with a girl from home?  Don't get me wrong, I keep in touch with my closest friends who are girls, but I intentionally make that limited.  For me, it's important for me to feel like I'm truly solitero (see blog "Love Life" about this), and I guess I just sort of resist the idea of keeping in touch with one person exclusively. It's something I've obviously done in the past, and for me if I went to a girl every time I needed someone to talk to, I wouldn't feel like I'm being completely single, like I'm using them as a clutch.  And maybe that doesn't make sense or I'm being too overly prideful, but that's how I feel and I don't think that feeling is going to change anytime soon.

On a side note...

These past couple of weeks, besides my birthday which was great, have been the poops McGee, which haven't helped problems 1-3. I feel like I've been sick for the longest time, having lost my voice the first week then catching a cold midway through last week that won't go away despite the medicine, Vitamin C, and sleep I've been getting.  It's really hard for me to get up in the morning (something I've struggled with a lot this year actually) because my students aren't here anymore, first taking exams, now literally on vacation.  It's hard to wake up to a day where you feel like you have no role.

Don't get me wrong, at the end of the day, I am happy here.  I just wanted to write this to show that I'm not always happy here.  I didn't think I was suppose to be anyway, nor is anyone suppose to be happy all the time.

Today is Tom's birthday.  I woke up for him.  After days of cold rain, the sun's out today.  I thanked God, I decided it was going to be a good day.  I forgot that days when I decide it's going to be a good day, they almost always are.



  1. Oye hermanito, aunque estoy al final (masomenos) de mi tiempo en sudamérica, me encantaría hablar contigo en algún momento (en inglés o español como quieras) por skype o por teléfono o email, no me importa. Sé cuán difícil lo de todo que has escrito puede ser.

    Porfa, qualquier cosa, sabe que estoy aquí con ganas de hablar, whether it be shooting the breeze or catching up or whatever. God bless, bro, and many prayers to you!

  2. Matt,
    Can you write about your favorite thing, too? Hearing about other people's experiences is helpful in my discernment in regards to what to do next! This post is one of my big worries about doing a year of service. Hope you've had some good moments of connecting with others!