Disclaimer: The content of this website is mine alone and does not necessarily reflect the views of the U.S. Government, the Peace Corps, or the Government of the Republic of Ecuador.

© 2019 by Arielle M. Benjamin

Matthew 5:16

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Dwelling Place.

August 8, 2019

"Home" has become an elusive concept for me.

 

For the first seventeen years of my life, Home was the 3rd floor apartment in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, followed by the 1950s-style single-family home in Queens Village. It was brick and mortar; 3-bedrooms, 2-stories, a garage, a finished basement and an unfinished attic. It was a kitchen my Dad (with a little help from his friends) renovated with sheer ambition and lots of time.

 

When I left for college 13 years ago, I don’t think I saw it as much of a transition as my parents knew it would be. I look back on that final summer as a resident under my parent’s roof, having NO idea where life would bring me today, and not fully realizing that the very definition of home would change. But one thing would remain: Home will always be a place of refuge, a safe haven of peace.

 

(S)he who dwells in the shelter of the Most High

will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.

I will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress,

my God, in whom I trust.” 

 

- Psalm 91:1-2 (emphasis mine)

 

I just did the math: My address has changed FIFTEEN times in the last thirteen years. I’ve switched dorm rooms, moved for internships across country, and even to another continent. Needless to say, the idea of home as brick-and-mortar has ceased to be my reality.

 

The day I left NYC for the Peace Corps!

 

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I came to Ecuador in part thinking that it would make me feel more American; as a child of an immigrant mother and grandparents, I thought it would be my duty (lol) to showcase a side of what it means to be Estadounidense in a place that still thinks all Americans are White people (and, I learned the hard way that even some White Americans couldn't believe I was one of them, too). I wanted to claim an entire country as my Home, my fellow Americans as my people. Or maybe I wanted my fellow Americans to claim me as one of their own. A lofty goal, in hindsight.

 

Because when I consider Home as a place of refuge or a safe haven of peace, I realize that the United States is neither. Hatred for the unknown “other” is weaved into the very language we use to describe anyone who does not reflect the American Dream… in other words anyone who is not white, rich, speaks American English as a first language, culturally Christian, or straight. I cannot put my hope nor identity in that.

 

Needless to say, being here has taught me that Home is not synonymous with citizenship or patriotism or national pride. Instead, I’ve decided that life has taken a more risky path: a quest to find Home in my people, in my relationships, in my community. Home is a story with plot-twists in every chapter -- a unique story that I am very proud to share alongside my fellow Peace Corps Volunteers.

 

Mis Manabestías en Puerto Lopez <3 

 

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Perhaps this is why I thrived as a Peace Corps Volunteer for the past 27 months. Without realizing it, I’ve become very good at fully investing the best parts of who I am in others, and when done well, it allows me to thrive in new spaces, embracing new cultures and adjusting to new rhythms. Of course, this comes at a cost; giving too much of my best self to a lot of the wrong kinds of people have left me brokenhearted often and sometimes I had to find my way out of the throes of bitterness and back into the freedom that sharing genuine love offers. But over the years, through lots of trial-and-error, I’ve gotten way better at choosing the right kinds of people, and not being too hard on myself when I realize that some just aren’t meant for me.

 

Home, as I define it these days, is represented by my sphere of influence. Home is in the friends I’ve made, in the community partners I’ve been able to build alongside, in the family who has had my back and supported me through all of life’s ups and downs. This address will never change, and for that I am grateful.

 

 My Bailoterapia Club surprised me with a going-away party last Friday!

 

-- 

This month, I’m returning to that brick-and-mortar, 1950s-styled, single-family building in Queens Village as a resident for the first time in 13 years. Yes, it means I’m changing my address for the SIXTEENTH TIME, but honestly, I am thrilled about it. Maybe this time I’ll be able to fully unpack my suitcase of vulnerability along with my clothes and hair products and Ecuadorian recipes. Because for the first time in a long time I’ll be able to have a physical safe haven in the same place where my emotional safe haven exists, 24/7.

 

Besides, sixteen time’s a charm, right?

 

But ultimately, I’m seeking to dwell in the presence of God, because in God’s presence there is fulness of joy and a promise of pleasures forevermore, even if it means I’ll have to keep redirecting my mail to somewhere new.

 

"Because you have made the Lord your dwelling place

-- the Most High, who is my refuge --

no evil shall be allowed to befall you,

no plague come near your tent."

 

- Psalm 91:9-10 (emphasis mine)

 

It’s time to start packing up.

PJ Party with my Host Family in Tumbaco (Quito) a few weeks ago <3

 

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