Since the dawn of time, (or at least the 37 years she’s been teaching) Ms. Fels’s  “significant experience” essay has been a hallmark of the back-to-school season. It’s not just about the grade (5/9—Thanks, Fels) but a chance to finally answer that age-old question: “What did you do on your summer vacation?”

Well, here’s what I did.

I went to Paraguay for volunteer work.

You’ll find that when you tell someone that you’re going on this type of trip, it will usually be answered with a “Wow, that’s going to be a life-changing experience!” I’d love to say that it was and that I am now one with the earth, but it wasn’t and I’m not.

Right before we left, everyone sat in a circle with a candle and shared an important lesson they’d learned.

What I learned in Paraguay was to never trust a Paraguayan with directions.

The story of that sage advice began late one Friday night when my host brother, Edgar, asked me to participate in a soccer tournament.

The grand prize was a pig.

I cannot play soccer and I have never been one for the sport, so I suggested my project partner, Daniel, who played for one of Arizona’s foremost soccer clubs.

Given the conciliatory position of entrenador (trainer), I, Daniel, and Edgar—and our crack team of whoever-happened-to-say-yes—marched off to sweet victory.

The tournament was in the neighboring village of San Augustine, a place I had been told was a very, very long walk. Fortunately, Edgar knew a shortcut.

This shortcut took us on an odyssey through barbed- wire fences, fields and streams. We emerged an hour and a half later, hot, sweaty and covered in stickers.

Nevertheless, we fought hard in the tournament, with us (or rather them, as I later learned that entrenador was only a fancy word for snack carrier) winning two games straight and a spot in the finals, which consisted of a series of penalty kicks.

Victory was in sight, and all Edgar had to do was make this one last goal.

Not even close.

It would have been nice if it had been blocked by the goalie, but Edgar shanked that ball so far to the right it almost hit the man selling ice cream.

Gone was the pig, and with it my only chance at bacon in six weeks.

Having blown it so spectacularly, we ducked out of the tournament as quickly and quietly as we could.

To add insult to injury, Edgar informed me that because it would be too dark to take the shortcut, we would have to walk home on the road.

I was, of course, upset. For how long could a road be if its shortcut took an hour and a half?

We arrived home in 25 minutes. Before dark.

And that’s how I learned my life lesson. All without singing “Kumbaya” too.

 

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