Wednesday, January 16, 2013

My Life in a Brazil/Nut/Shell

I recently listened to a podcast on haiku, and learned that the three-line, 5-7-5 format that we learn about in school is actually just one way to do haiku, and technically doesn’t transfer very well from Japanese to English. The important part is really summarizing the essence of a moment in a few words.

This is similar to the six-word memoir, originally started by Ernest Hemmingway (For sale: baby shoes, never worn.), which is the six-word line that can capture the essence of an experience. We did this once in the Peace Corps (thanks to Herre´s brilliant idea), and mine was something like “Destroy Ego, Build Self-Esteem; Nothing better.”

I LOVE this idea. Being succinct, saying so much with so little, etc., is the highest form of writing. I´ve had several people lately mention that they miss my blogs and that they´d really like an update about what is going on, and I agree. So I figured, well, if you´re going to write something and make up for months and sometimes getting on years of not publishing anything, it better be good for the big comeback. So, why not the highest form of writing?

So below is a list of six-word haiku essays that sum up my experiences over the last few months.

I stayed in Paraguay for 2 months after swearing out of the Peace Corps and was contracted to create marketing plans for 2 self-sustaining agricultural schools. It went amazingly well!

Chaco? Pshh, I can handle that.

Working hard, I can finally breathe.

I´ll just change lives real quick.

I can´t believe that actually worked!

And then it was time to leave the life I’ve deeply loved and been building for 3.5 years.

Say goodbye? Wait, I’m not ready!

Cry with families, party with friends.

No, you can’t post that picture!

What to do? Brazil sounds nice.

I stayed with my Brazilian family, my Uncle Roberto who was an exchange student with my family when he was in high school and my Aunt Tania and cousins Thiago and Carolina, for 3 weeks in Sorocaba when I first came to Brazil.

26 hour bus ride, cramps everywhere.

Feathers from pillows, not killing chickens.

So many amenities: ok, spoil me.

Tan-lines, strapless red dress: Brazilian Christmas.

Big, screaming families just like home.

Just after Christmas, I moved to Rio de Janeiro to start a job teaching English.

No, I’m not being human trafficked.

Holy shit, this is the view!

Wait, I live on an island?!

New Year’s on mountain overlooking ocean.

Toasting champagne with eye-level fireworks.

Teaching English to smart, motivated professionals.

Beach today? . . . Again? I´d love to!

I regularly drink directly from coconuts.

Rio beaches: beautiful people, bare butts.

Settling in: tiny bikini and housewares.

Of course you can Couchsurf here.

So that’s what I’ve been doing…

I know a picture is worth 1000 words, which destroys this whole theme, but...

Saturday, September 15, 2012

The Bitterest

There´s a Confucius quote that says, “There are three methods to gaining wisdom. The first is reflection, which is the highest. The second is limitation, which is the easiest. The third is experience, which is the bitterest.”

I came to Peace Corps to grow as a person, and I did, really. In my 2 year service, I put myself into awkward and uncomfortable situations and struggled through all the cultural barriers, all the could be´s that really meant no, all the miscommunications and faux pas on my part, all the embarrassing foreigner errors. By the end of it, I was profoundly different, much more tranquila, more patient, and fiending for terere circles and asado. The thing is, though, that real growth comes with real challenge, and although it wasn´t easy, I loved my two years and my service; which is why I had to stay this third year, working in the office as a coordinator, to have this experience, the bitterest, struggle through it, and be able to peek my head out on the other side and take on bigger and better things to come. I swore out as a Peace Corps volunteer two days ago and after 13 months of radio silence, I’m here to tell the tale.

Turns out that happy thing I had going on wasn’t a guarantee. I now know that I need autonomy with my work. I know that I do not want to be in an office every day. I know that I need creative license and a flexible schedule and time to work out and relax if I want to be at my best. I now know that I was clinically depressed for at least 9 of the last 13 months. I deeply understand how depression weighs a person down so that the simplest tasks, things that they love, things that would make them feel better, are just too overwhelming to try. I know that you can try to psych yourself out of it until your blue in the face but that won’t even touch it, but I also know that 115 hours of meditation at a retreat center in the campo is a good start. I know that I have real friends, because they have been very patient with me through all my non-responses, avoidances, and inappropriate outbursts. I know that I can now see that blue sky peering through.

But of course there were good times, too. The past year has included: traveling all around the country, hanging out with awesome volunteers, monthly visits to Oviedo to see my Paraguayans, an incredible trip to the U.S. for X-mas and New Year’s, a mind-blowing trip to Buenos Aires for my birthday, great times bonding with jóvenes (youth) at leadership and business camps and with the National Youth Protagonist Network that is off and running, babies born, random adventures, and recently, lots and lots of going-away parties for my group of volunteers.

Evita´s dresses

Street protest in Buenos Aires

Tango friends in Buenos Aires

Amazing drum show in Buenos Aires

Seeing my Grace again

Mandy´s Bachelorette party

Pig in a pot

Youth from national network at project fair

My current roommates, Briggs and Zach

Close of Service Conference

Turns out I can’t get enough of Paraguay. You’d think after 40 months here I’d have had my fill, and although I’d probably pass out from sheer joy if I saw an attractive guy over 6ft tall and over 18, I’ve got bigger fish to fry. There is a sustainable agriculture school 40k from the capital that is being used as a world model for social entrepreneurship. They have 165 high-school students who are learning by managing the small produce, animal products, and hospitality businesses that keep the school running. All of the students are from poor backgrounds and all of them are learning the tools to permanently bring themselves and their families out of poverty while also working to sustain their own school and education. You can see more at: I’ll be staying in Paraguay until December to help them with marketing and learn how they run things so that I will eventually be able to replicate it in my own school.

Scenes from the school

I´m moving to the school in a few days and will be more regularly writing about all of my (now non-Peace Corps) adventures there, and then afterwards when I go to Brazil and who knows where after that. Forgive me for the long silence, please, but lots of fun to come. (PS - I know it should be The Most Bitter" but that´s the quote)


Chuchi - this is probably my new most popular word. It means snobby or fancy, but is used in the Peace Corps as anything nicer than dirt roads and shacks, or for a person, anyone who showers with hot water. Living in the city, I am super chuchi for here.

Fuerte - literally means strong, but because the culture is based on talking around everything, it´s when a person says anything they want in a direct way - it means asshole

Puede ser and otro dia - literally means "could be" or "another day", but because noone will directly blow someone off, both of them mean "never" and are the answer to a question of when something will happen

Deseas, en tus sueños, Que Arriba Perra/o and Es lo qué es - these are the terrible translations of American sayings that are not used here and don´t really translate, but we say them anyway. Literally they mean "you wish", "in your dreams", "What´s up bitch/dog?" and "it is what it is"

Qué guapa - this means "what a hard worker" and is used by Paraguayans every time I do ANYTHING manual, including carrying a dish to the sink or sweeping out my room. I don´t think they have high expectations for Americans and work.

Saludos - sending saludos by way of a mutual friend is how people tell each other they have a crush on them. The most serious kinds are given with a pinch on the arm and they mean business.

Thumbs up - this is done everywhere here and is a simple answer to pretty much any question. I will probably have carpal tunel in my thumbs when I leave here because I do this so much.

No se como comer esta - this is how one refuses food in Paraguay. Literally, it´s "I don´t know how to eat this" which creates an internal struggle for me each time it´s said because I want to be a smartass and explain that, just like any other food, you put in in your mouth and chew, but I don´t think that´s acceptable here.

No Más and Un poco - this is said after almost every phrase for no real reason other than to make everything sound like it´s not a big deal, even when it really is. Literally, it´s "No More" and "A Little", so the translations are something like "Sit down no more", "Come here a little", and "Do you want dinner no more?"

Cocido - this is a hot drink mixed by carmellizing sugar with a little yerba, adding just enough water to wet it, and then adding more sugar. It´s served by the thermos-full just before bed.

Mosto - this is to sugar what crack is to cocaine. It´s a "tradional" drink capable of putting even the sweetest tooth into a diabetic coma, and is served continuously at fun gatherings like funerals.

Ch-ch-ch-ch - this is the sound Paraguayans make to get each others´attention - like "Psst" . It´s especially used for catcalling, and they have nothing to follow it with - they just want you to look.