Poco a Poco

Things have certainly changed since last month’s post. How’s everyone doing? Does anyone else feel like they’ve been strapped to an emotional rollercoaster for the last month? Between job uncertainty, money uncertainty, health uncertainty, there’s been a lot of, well, uncertainty. I like to think I’m a person who handles life’s unknowns fairly well. However, Covid-19’s impact on our daily lives has been quite a test.

I reached out to my Peruvian host mom last week to check in. (I lived in Peru for 27 months while in the Peace Corps.) I wanted to see how she and my family there are doing during all of this. Peru hasn’t been hit too hard, relatively speaking, and my host fam lives several hours from Lima, which has had the worst of the pandemic within country borders. Interesting information: I learned that Peru is one of two countries (the other is Panama) enforcing Stay-at-Home orders by gender. Men can leave the house Monday, Wednesday, Friday. Women on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. Nobody can go out on Sunday.

Talking to my host mom reminded me of my time in Peru, spent living under her roof as an American volunteer. The Peace Corps enriched my life in innumerable ways. It also presented challenges I had to overcome on a near daily basis. In the beginning, it was the language that was my biggest hurdle. (New food and its effect on my body was a close second.) Early in my service, I attended local government meetings to make connections and see where I could be of help. However, at that point my Spanish was a major work in progress; I often left those meetings frustrated. I could hardly understand anything that was said and barely contributed because if I did manage to say something, I had no idea what my colleague said in response! I’d return to my host family’s house disgruntled with a pounding headache. Hardy (my host mom) would ask me how it went, and she could usually see through my fake answer. “Poco a poco,” she would tell me. “Poco a poco.” In English: “Little by little.” In other words, be patient. Don’t give up, everything comes with time.

And, eventually, it did. It took me 9 months to get a grasp on the language and reach a point where I felt confident and competent, but it happened. The same could be said for nearly every aspect of my time abroad. Everything took getting used to: being the only gringa within a three-hour radius; being asked why I wasn’t married or why I didn’t have kids every time I met somebody new; being laughed at in classrooms when my Spanish fumbled; feeling like I would never be at ease in a place where everything was completely different than what I was used to.

Each time I felt lost or too sad to try to work, I would remember that saying: poco a poco. I didn’t have to be fluent in Spanish after a few weeks. I didn’t have to achieve every goal I set for myself during my service. I didn’t have to know what was in the dinner I was served while visiting friends in the Andes. It was okay to not know. It was okay to take everything one day at a time, one hour at a time, even one minute at a time. Because I would drive myself crazy otherwise.

I was reminded of this phrase during these times we’re living in. Similar sayings grace billboards and newsreels on TV: This too shall pass. We’ll get through this. Alone Together. These are things we tell ourselves to remind us there is an end to this; another side where life will be what it was before. Though, not without some inevitable changes, whether we notice them or not.

When quarantine starts getting to me, when I can’t seem to write, or when I simply need a break, I remember to take a step back. Familiar phrases run through my mind, and maybe they’ll be good for anybody who’s struggling during these times.

Don’t be too hard on yourself.

Do take care of yourself.

And remember to give yourself a break.

We’ll get through this, poco a poco.

One comment

Comments are closed.