Friday, August 26, 2016


I have a secret to share. I can share it with you now that I'm about to go home. Here's my secret: Every single day that I've been away I thought about home. Every single day in Peru I've had at least one moment a day where I grow melancholic and miss my home. Maybe it was a food I missed or a person I hadn't spoken to in awhile. I'd always have one moment (maybe longer) where I'd think about home and miss it intensely.

Which is fair. Dallas is incredibly valuable to me. I was born and raised there. My family's there. My friends are all there. Every time I think I know Dallas it surprises me. From the new Arts District to White Rock Lake I missed that place, my home.

At first I thought I was being ungrateful for missing home. I thought that part of me would much rather be home than here in Peru. I wasn't wrong. But it's not wrong to feel that way. Part of leaving a loving home is missing it when you're gone. Once I accepted this feeling of loss home became some sort of end goal. At the end of everything I would come home. I would return triumphant and change the world. Which.... is a little grandiose. I day dreamed too often this year of coming back. When I read the news sometimes I felt like I needed to be back. I needed to mourn with my country, my state, my city, my home, my friends. Other times I felt like I'd done enough and seen enough. There was no further purpose to being in Peru. I could go home and call my YAV year a success. That was in January. When I traveled I often thought about how close I was to going home. I had to shut that thought out of my mind or else I would never enjoy myself on Copacabana beach in Rio de Janeiro. 

Home occupies a strange place in my head: a weird amalgam of daydreams, memories, and sensations. Home is where the State Fair and their fried twinkles are. Home is where my dog Loki rests. Home is where chlorinated pools are the best way to cool off on a hot day. Home is where the tacos are fresh, margaritas can't be compared, and some of the best sunsets are. Now, at the end of everything home is... well, it's home. 

But I have another home now too. A home in Moyo. A home where movies cost 3 soles on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday nights. A home where soccer games on Friday end in 2 soles bets. A home where Mama might cook every meal but at least once a month I get to try something new (and shrivel under her watchful gaze as I potentially ruined her kitchen.) I have a second home. Truthfully I consider many places home: the USA, the State of Texas, Dallas, Marl Germany, Moyobamba Peru. 

Home then, as we all probably know, is where you feel loved. We have people who surround us and show us they love us. We feel at home. Safe. Logic follows that if God loves us then God is home. The semantics are so vague though there's plenty of room to argue. I think it's better to say: Home can be made anywhere on this world, so long as you have love. 

I have lots of love for Moyobamba. I'd even say in the most cliched way possible "I left a bit of myself there." But now it's time to return to my first home. It's time to go back. I have had the greatest adventure of my young life (thus far) and am unlikely to forget it. I hope you have enjoyed reading about the adventures. I've enjoyed living them. I have to go now. I have a plane to catch. If you see me around feel free to ask me about my YAV year! I'd be happy to tell you. To all my friends and family who have patiently waited for me: I'll see you all soon!

Thanks to everyone for reading! Have a good life! 

- Daniel -

A Broken World

When I left for Peru it was summer. A robust and hot August I made the most of by enjoying cool drinks late into the evenings with my closest friends. I had just come back from a backpacking trip. The Supreme Court legalized gay marriage while I was gone and I thought that was pretty great news to come home too. The distant murmurs of political candidates, their demagoguish appeals to middle America, and the steadying drum beats of war were far off. Very few young people I knew were taking this presidential candidacy seriously this early in its game. There were bigger problems to worry about: Trayvon Martin, ISIS, an Oscar season full of white people. The rumblings I ignored as I flew down to Lima, Peru only grew though to the point where I couldn't help but listen.

I've been gone one year. In that year America's suffered through more than 5 high profile mass shootings (not counting the ones we don't get to hear about.) France was attacked not once, but twice. Several black men died at the hands of police officers in questionable circumstances. A presidential candidate, on a nationally televised debate, made lewd comments about the size of his hand and proceeded to bully other gentleman (and not so gentleman) politicians into a candidacy run. Great Britain decided to pull out of the EU on false promises of restricting immigration and maintaining a new national identity. There was a failed coup in Turkey, Syria's still in the middle of a civil war, a Yale swimmer raped a woman and received probation, and the Oscars were still full of too many white people. I know because I watched it. I watched it all happen. I saw painful videos of these events taking place. I felt like my world was being torn apart slowly around me as I watched from a million miles away.

The last straw was Dallas. Last last straw really I should say. My own hometown. Rocked by a shooting motivated by vengeance against a corrupt system. Did you know Dallas police were trained in de-escalation? They were one of the model police forces across the United States when it comes to NOT putting a bullet in an arrested person*. Then three men got together, picked a peaceful protest, and fired at Dallas police officers. I skyped my parents right when the standoff was happening. They were a little wide-eyed like me, but calm since the police now had control over the situation and we're doing their best to prevent anyone else from getting hurt. I remember feeling completely impotent. I wanted to be there, to be home. It's not like I could contribute anything but just being back home amongst my friends and family I could express my rage better, my grief better. I wanted to punch my way through the walls of my Peruvian home. I was numb the next morning. There was little I could say to my Peruvian family or coworker's that they could fully empathize with. That was one of the most powerful times I truly felt alone.

The world feels broken, now more than ever. Part of that is exposure. I started reading a lot of news. The more I read the more I became aware of all that's going on around the world. In fact, everyone's more aware. When the Dallas attack happened I watched a man stream video of the stand off live via Facebook. We're all more aware of violence, fraudulence, corruption, and danger. It's part and parcel of having this connected world. Another part of this is: it's that time of the political cycle. A presidential election always divides the people. Because we are so connected opinions become ubiquitous and everyone trades on cheap political memes. I've seen more than enough stated opinions on social media to drive a wedge between myself and that person. I know not to engage online. It's a forum designed for people to feel affirmed, not challenged. If I can't voice my concern where can I go to? Whom can I speak to?

A British man I met in Arequipa explained the Brexit vote to me. He said, very simply: "the people felt like they were working for their government and it should be the other way around. The outsiders voted to leave just as a screw you to the government. They didn't think they'd actually leave. They thought London would vote enough to keep them in." They didn't feel like they had a voice. They chose to scream in outrage and vote Leave.** 

It's scary. What we say and do might not affect the world we live in. A carpenter in New Jersey might vote for anti-gun laws but he might ultimately feel powerless as gun lobbies prevent the legislation from passing by convincing Texas or Arizona to vote against. That carpenter feels helpless. He did his civic duty. What more can he say? If you think that's bad imagine being African American or Latino or Asian American where your words don't matter at all or imagine being a woman where your words are worth 78 cents on the dollar and more if you look good.

Looking at my country from the outside in creates a sense of helplessness. It's the time for it I suppose. But I didn't leave my home and spend a year in Peru just to return home and feel hopeless. If there's anything I've learned in my YAV year it's that good reform takes time. Make no mistake I advocate for reforms all over the place. I want justice for the black communities who have been criminalized and who are being exploited for profit (once again.) I want no more mass shootings. I want the world to be safer and I want to go to movie theaters or night clubs without the fear of being fired upon. I want women to be treated as equals and for the institutions that deny them that privilege to understand what it feels like to be valued at less than your full price. I want stricter environmental protection laws to save our planet. We have no idea the trouble were in for if we don't do something. I want all these things and more because I want the world to be filled with more love. I want less brokenness. But it's going to take time.

Jed said something I don't think I'll ever forget. Advocacy work is daunting. He explained to me that many advocacy workers work "not so much to defeat the darkness but to show the light everyday." You can't think about it in terms of wins or losses. You have to think about it in terms of love. How much of God's love have I shown today? In what ways does God's love manifest itself in these tangled issues? It calms me down and helps me realize one key lesson from my YAV year: you're not always going to effect a powerful change, but your presence has much more value than you can ever know. It means a lot not just to work towards change, but to exist inside these conflicts. Who knows? Simply by interacting with others engaged in this problem (people who may be on opposing sides to you) you can effect a change.

I was scared to go home. I was scared I'd say something I advocate for and lose a friend or upset somebody. I was scared my country might change into a warped, twisted version of itself. I was scared the world is a much more dangerous place. As anyone can tell you: acting on your fear is partially how America got to where it is now. Instead I choose love. Advocate through love and never expect to create a tidal shift. I understand not just the state of the world around me, but also how I can act to change it. I'm a part of something bigger. I can contribute to these causes little by little, a voice of one amongst many.

- Daniel

*im not saying Dallas PD are perfect. My dad gets plenty of cases (as a lawyer) where he might disagree. What I'm saying is that, compared to the rest of the other 49 states, Dallas was exemplary.

** I'm not here to comment on the Brexit vote other than the sentiments behind the Brexit vote are extremely similar to the feelings of middle America today.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

The Last YAV

Somebody fact check me, but I think I'm the last YAV of the 2015-16 class to go home. All the international YAVs have seen their families. All the national YAVs have wrapped up their years and moved on. Everyone's moved on except me.

It's kinda cool! Like calling yourself the last gunslinger. Except I don't wander anymore and I don't mete out justice by the hammer of my colt .45 revolver. It just means I'm the last of my class to go home. I don't doubt the YAV office has their eyes on me. Like Mark Watney from the Martian. I survived my time. Now all I have to do is get home.

If you think that's crazy get this: three days after I leave the new YAVs arrive. I like to consider it an example of real life dramatic symmetry. I get a weird sense of closure from it. The wheel keeps on turning and a new set of YAVs begin work where I once was.

Having survived my own YAV year I can tell you I'm not worried about being forgotten. My first few months in the office my coworker's confused me with previous YAVs. They kept calling me Spencer and Andres until I asked them not to. I'm not worried about my memory fading into obscurity. Instead I take solace that another YAV will be picking up work I once did. Currently, Paz y Esperanza is working to build a school specifically for deaf-mute children. When I was there they had just bought the land and gained their land title. When Emily gets there they will have a groundbreaking ceremony. Little by little the work continues.

I now get to join another group of individuals: the YAV alumni. I belong to those "seasoned generals" of service years and help future volunteers the way they guided me to where I am now. YAV alumni. It has a pleasant ring to it. A network of people who understand what I went through. People I can directly relate to. Not just young people! Richard, the YAV program coordinator, was a YAV. Jed, my site coordinator's husband, served a YAV year roughly around the time I was born.

Please don't confuse what I just described with a fraternity. Trust me, Greek life has nothing to do with YAV life. What I mean is that a YAV year isn't something you just do and come home. It changes you. It's fair to say any time spent abroad changes you, but a YAV year is different. It's a year of service not just learning. It's a year of intense immersion. It's a year of trial and challenge as much as celebration and joy.

My YAV year led me to deeper understanding of my faith and a more refined sense of self. I can't describe to you all the ways I've changed. I'd have to be home, back in my regular context, to find out. I'm not home. Not yet. Soon though, I can start the next phase of my life. It's time to move on. I will always remember the change I've experienced through my YAV year. Once a YAV always a YAV I think. I can't wait to no longer be the Last YAV and join my friends in the States as a YAV Alumni!

Sunday, August 21, 2016

What It Means To Be A YAV

Serving a YAV year has been one of the singularly most intense things I've ever done in my life. I was challenged physically, mentally, spiritually, and any other way you can think of. I love that aspect. I wouldn't trade it for the world. It's taught me a LOT about who I am and what I believe. It's put me in a place to be able to finally express my thoughts and opinions at the grown up dinner table without feeling childish.

Being a YAV you live on the edge more often than not. You sit there on a line between the privileged populace and those who lack the very privileges you enjoy. You undergo a lot of paradigm-changing. You join new cultures, new families. You see the world from a completely different perspective. You learn just how deep those privileges really run and that can be a wonderful moment. YAV's pretty great!

What you also have to understand is that being a YAV means giving up your time. Being an international YAV means you sacrifice things from your home. Maybe I'm not being quite clear. So let me put it to you this way.

In my 1 year of service I missed: 4 funerals (1 was unexpected), 3 weddings, 3 Graduations, 2 children being born, and 1 well, year. Don't get me wrong, I knew what I was signing up for when I said yes. Shaina can tell you how her older sister had to reschedule her wedding because Shaina accepted the position. It's not like anyone neglected to tell us. We made a conscious decision knowing we would be missing out on these events.

I remember when my best friends wedding happened in the States I was bummed out. I couldn't say why until I saw the photos on Facebook and realized I missed the wedding. I had squared away all these problems with my friend long before I left, it just sucked that all my friends were at this wonderful moment and I was abroad, in Peru. But that's the deal. That's part of what you get when you sign up. If you're lucky you get to see friends or family the second half of your year. I haven't seen my family since they visited me in March and my friends since I left for Peru. I miss them a lot and I miss the events that happened. It's easy to feel like the world has passed you by.

But there's a second part the YAV year teaches you. By being gone and having to vacate your friends daily living the value of their/your presence is made painfully apparent. You get the chance to see which people keep up with you. Despite the world turning your friends won't leave you behind. That's where the value is in being gone.

A YAV year is not an easy thing. It is not something you casually do. It can show you a lot and one thing it's shown me is just how much everyone matters to me. And I mean everyone. When a friend drops out of touch it's difficult. There's no way to know what they're up to or how their feeling. It's scary. I take solace in the fact that God put me here as part of his plan. I may not know entirely what I'm doing but he does. Better than most. The best I can do is find the value in each moment He brings me to. Especially when the world turns.

To my best friend Alexander Fine and his lovely bride Victoria - you guys are a wonderful pair. Complimenting each other in all the best ways. I've seen a lot and learned a lot and I can't wait to share it with you two. I wish you both eternal bliss and good fortune. I owe you guys a drink. I'll see you in ~5 days!

- Daniel Pappas -

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Back Again a Blog in (maybe) 6 Parts

You thought I was gone didn't you? You thought that even though I explicitly titled my last blog 'This Is Not My Last Blog Post' that I'd forget to continue writing after my travels and just let the blog fall by the wayside as I readjust to normal life. Well, don't worry. I'm not home yet. In fact I have about 6 last days (as of today) in Lima after all the backpacking. That's six whole days to reflect, pray, and catch up on Netflix. It's a great chance to write too. So, since I have next to nothing planned for the next six days expect 6 last blog posts. That's my goal.

I took a month to travel partly because I wanted to and partly because I thought some time in between my YAV year and going home might help me readjust. Maybe there would be time to process it all. Except I was traveling so there wasn't really time to process it all. Just enough time to take a picture and look at it later. Now that I'm on the home stretch I'm a whole jumble of emotions.

I'm excited to finally be home. The completion of a moment I've been waiting several months for. I'm sad to leave Peru behind me. I call this country my home and I feel a bit like I'm leaving family and friends behind even as I return to my family and friends. I'm anxious. America is a divided country. Especially now. Nobody comes back from a YAV year and doesn't have a polarizing opinion or two. Recently though I've been feeling nervous. Nervous for many things. I'm nervous to go home and answer the same questions over and over again. I'm nervous people will stop listening to me since all I can ever say is 'well when I was in Peru...' I'm nervous that some of the things I enjoyed back home won't carry the same satisfaction it used to. I'm mostly worried that when I get home, who I am (and I have changed over this last year significantly) will change my relationships with the people I treasure. I don't want to lose a friend but I can't rationally ignore a dissonance I feel for the sake of a friendship.

Granted it's unlikely to happen since my closest friends and I get along well. We agree on a great many things, but it's safe to say a YAV year changes everything. I guess really I should be excited since that means there will be whole new elements to my relationships to explore and discover.

I took a break between home and YAV so I could see my YAV year from a third person point of view. A warm up act to living back home you might say. Here are some highlights of what I saw:

- It sounds easy but it's not. My YAV year pushed me and challenged me in literally every way humanly possible. On paper it sounds professional. Out loud it sounds relaxing. Don't mistake either of those for what it really was (and what I intended it to be) incredibly hard.

- I've been gone from home for a year. It's a lot for any human to handle. I thought I would handle it better than most but I had plenty of days where I didn't want to get out of bed because then I couldn't day dream of being home.

- yes. I actually went into the rainforest. I hiked long trails, slept in hammocks, and ate local banana-leaf wrapped fish. It was an adventure at times!

- It was also a lot of office work. I learned a lot about just working a 9-5 and seeing what it takes.

- Climate change is real and we have to do something about it. We don't have a choice.

- even if you don't believe climate change is real you have to admit we should institute safer environmental protection laws. We can NOT be dumping waste back on to our world. That's equal parts ignorance and sloth.

- I didn't make a huge change on the large scale but on the small scale among my family, the children, and tribes I met.... I feel like I changed the world.

Yes these are all a few things I picked up along the way. Would I do it over again if I had to? Absolutely.