Editor’s Note: Anna Metzger, a Lay Missioner in Bolivia, reflects on the contentment she has experienced through living a life of simplicity and solidarity in Cochabamba.
Simplicity is a core belief with FMS, often coming up in conversation between the FMS community and appearing frequently in blogs. Throughout the past two years, I have leaned into the idea of simplicity in many different ways. The more I continue to learn about myself, the more I stop and reflect on how simplicity has shaped my life during my time on mission.
There is the obvious answer of learning to live with fewer material items, having an emptier calendar with the ability to do things on the whim (as is very customary in Bolivian culture), and relying on public transportation and my own two feet to get places around the city. The not-so-obvious answer is the desire in my heart to simply stay put. Yes, I have traveled back and forth to the States for different reasons, but the travel bug that used to always grab my attention has been slowly fading away.
Before joining the FMS Overseas Lay Mission program and coming to Bolivia, I was always on the go and constantly planning my next adventure or trip away. My roommate once told me, “Anna, I feel like I live with your sister Molli and Melissa (our other roommate), and you just kind of come and go.” I laughed, knowing how true that statement was! Yes, I was established in Louisville with a full-time job, but every chance I had to get away I was on an airplane to visit a friend in another state. I craved travel, and I absolutely loved exploring new places, especially the outdoors with beautiful landscapes. While that enjoyment of exploration and being outdoors still exists in my heart, it no longer pulls at me to get up and moving.
I used to want to travel the world and experience all the different places and cultures. But ever since I have been in Bolivia, that desire has slowly faded away. I would still love to experience other cultures because I recognize the richness each community has to offer, and I believe we can learn so much from other people, places, beliefs, and customs. However, it is simply no longer on the top of my bucket list. My mindset and heart desires have shifted for a couple of different reasons:
I have found a place that has stolen my heart.
I have only been in Cochabamba, Bolivia for just over a year, and yet I feel completely at home here. From almost the very beginning, I have felt very comfortable with life here. I feel myself. I feel energized and my heart and mind feel complete contentment. How can one feel so comfortable and at home in a culture so very different from their own? I don’t know. I cannot explain the paradox taking place inside of me, but one thing is true: I am home in Bolivia. Do I miss my family, our traditions, and the comforts of being in Kentucky? Absolutely. There are, of course, people and things that I miss about my home country and hometown. Yet, at the same time, my entire being feels the utmost contentment being settled here in Cochabamba, Bolivia.
Many people in the world do not have the opportunity to explore new places in their own country, let alone other places. Some people only have the option to stay where they were planted for countless reasons. The two reasons that are most evident to me from the people I have encountered are migratory status and finances. One can easily get a passport but, for many places, you must also obtain a visa. This is not always an easy process, especially for one wishing to go to the United States. So many people have dreams to go to the United States, even just for a visit, but it is a challenge to get there. While legal processes stand in the way, so do finances.
For me, going to Salar de Uyuni (the salt flats in Bolivia) wouldn’t be that hard because I have the financial capacity to do so. But for my Bolivian friends, that is an expensive trip. Even though it is a tourist attraction in their own country, they can’t even afford to make it there themselves. Yet, that doesn’t stop the excitement and joy they experience for others who get the chance to go. They always say, “You have to go to Salar!” They get so excited for you to see the wonders of their own country even when they can’t go themselves. Their joy for others is beautiful.
Feeling content in Cochabamba and knowing this is where I am meant to be diminishes the travel bug that always ate at my heart. I am happy with my simple life in the city; working during the week, exercising when I can, and spending time with loved ones on the weekend. I don’t feel the need to experience anything else, which surprises me. Initially, I was so excited to be in South America and have the opportunity to travel to so many different places and see cool places. However, since being here, my desire has simply been to enjoy each moment with the people in my life in Cochabamba. And because I truly enjoy each moment with my Bolivian friends, I can empathize with them and be content sharing the same life together. They can’t get up and travel, so I don’t have the desire to.
Will I travel every once in a while and experience different places around me? Absolutely. However, that aching desire no longer exists within me because simplicity has taken over. For that, I am very thankful.
Reflection: How can embracing simplicity lead to contentment in your life?