Sunday, May 31, 2009

Mud Roads and Diarrhea

Mamá and Sister Diana

Mi Casa

Mamá and Me

Belén and Alé

Learning the bottle dance with a jar

The Peace Corps is awesome. I´ll tell you all about it. The morning I was supposed to leave I woke up all excited at 6:30 and held it together perfectly until Laura started getting all emotional and then I completely lost it for the 3 hours going to the airport and boarding the plane, where I seriously questioned what the hell I was thinking, (my Grandma asked me if everyone reacted like that, and I can now tell you that, yes, everyone I talked to did the same thing at some point)but then I was on the plane and felt better. I flew to Miami for staging, which is the little pre-pre-training time so the Peace Corps can get all the paperwork together and give us a tiny bit of information before we go. They´re definitely doing everything on pretty much a need-to-know basis, and it´s all very organized and planned, so that´s comforting.

So the first person I met was on the way to the hotel in the shuttle and he actually recognized me from this blog- I didn´t even know other people read it, so that was cool. There are 18 people in my training group; 10 with me in rural economic development and 8 in Municipal development, which I think is the same thing but for cities and towns. So we had the evening to get settled and the next morning had a sort of class thing where we did activities and they gave us a bunch of info, and then we headed to the airport and took the 8 pm flight to Sao Paolo, Brazil. It went overnight and we were supposed to sleep but I didn´t and was exhausted. Then we took another flight to Asunción and got there at 10 am to be greeted by a group of masked men and women who turned out to be with the Peace Corps (and still taking swine flu precautions). Everyone was SO excited and smiley and happy to see us and a few volunteers remarked how the whole application process was so strict, like they really didn´t want you, but once you start, they´re thrilled. I guess they just don´t want you unless you´re serious, so that makes sense. We took an hour van ride to Guarambaré to the training center, and they just started in right away with pre-training stuff and activities. We were tired (and I was starving since I´d barely had any food since breakfast the day before because it was all bread in all the airports, planes, and the training center) and really wanted to just rest, but having done this before, the PC knew that and had to get it all in while we were still standing.

That evening, we were introduced to our host families. I love my family. My dad Porfidio is in Argentina working in construction, so I haven´t met him yet, but my mom Celia is so sweet. She´s a dressmaker. When we met she said she knew I was her daughter as soon as she saw me and cried and hugged me so hard. I have a sister Diana who is my age and a brother-in-law, Carlos. My 2 nieces, Alé and Belen live with us too, and are 14 and 12. The first night we sat and talked and some of Celia´s friends came to meet me, and then I went to bed at 8. The next day a van picked us up and it was back to the training center for more stuff and we started language training. Mbà'echapa - get a load of that. It means How are you? in Guarani and I will be learning a lot more of it.

So another full day of training and then an evening with the family again. On the map the PC gave us, it looked like a pretty short distance up the street where we all lived, so we decided to walk, and I came home just after dark to my mom crying because she thought I´d be home earlier, poor thing. That night I got my niece Belén, who is in dance classes to teach me the Bottle Dance that is a tradional Paraguayan dance with a wine bottle on your head (I learned with a ceramic vase), and as soon as I can I´ll post those pictures. I also got her to get in both her Bottle Dance costume and her Hip-hop dance costume and show me that dance, which is pretty awesome since the first night neither of the girls would come near me and their grandma said they were so shy. I told her then that they were going to be my friends whether they liked it or not, and it´s true. I can´t understand 90% of what the girls say, but I can understand a lot of what everyone else says when they speak slowly. It´s easy for them, too, because they can talk about me right in front of me in Guaraní and I can´t understand anything. Also, Carlos knows a little English and sometimes he can help translate. I´m going to help him with English while he helps me with Guaraní and we´re excited about that. Then saturday was a half-day at the training center on our street (a realy long muddy and cobblestone street where all the Rural Economic Development (RED) group lives) and we learned all about Maté (yerba tea), which is a huge part of the culture and there's a whole system designed around how it´s served and drunk.

Saturday afternoon a few of us, hosted by another volunteer, Brad´s, brother Augusto, went into the city to pick up a few things, which took a lot longer than we thought it would (another reminder about the whole Paraguayan Time thing, and that´s how it´ll always be, which is fine as long as I remember about it). Also, Paraguayans are not as short as I originally thought and there were actually a lot of tall people in the city. Paraguayans also think nothing of greeting people with really obvious statements of their physical characteristics, like -Oh hello! Have you gained weight because you seem really fat!; but if they´re talking about my height it´s in Guarani because the only thing I´ve understood is Pretty when they greet me, so that´s nice. It´s very sociable here, and we sit around and talk and hang out and drink maté A LOT. The whole time we´ve been here, it´s been raining and cold; not too terribly cold, but the line between inside and outside around here is a lot blurrier than in the US and there´s no heat or anything, so it seems a lot colder. Also, all of our training stuff is in this building that´s just sort of open, so we´ve had to bundle up and it´s not that bad once you just accept that´s how it´ll be. So the streets are super muddy but they won´t always be, and it has been cold, but today was warmer already and the winters aren´t consistent, so at least I´ll get breaks from the cold. This street is kind of suburban rural and although we don´t have any animals (except a dog, Rocky, who stays outside and is supposed to be a guard dog but is so sweet and cute and we aren´t allowed to pet him because he gets people all dirty), but there are all sorts of oxen and cows and pigs and chickens and goats on the street and the milk in the fridge is from the cow down the road.

Everyone caters to me ridiculously and they just drink maté in the morning and at night, so each time I´m eating they just sit and watch me. They won´t let me do anything to clean up or help in any way, which is a little awkward, but it´s new and hopefully that´ll change. I asked, in spanish, -I´m not a guest right? I´m part of the family? -Oh yes, of course you´re part of the family. -Good, then let me help. -Oh, no! haha, don´t be ridiculous. Then they swept away my dishes and that was that.

I really love being here (I´m told that this is the honeymoon phase and the Culture shock phase is next, so I´ll let you know. But for now, my diarrhea is subsiding and I love everyone in my PC group as well as the trainers, and adore my family. I slept late this morning (Sunday) to recover from the big week, and came outside to see the whole family doing laundry by hand to hang on the line because it´s the first sunny day. They fed me peaches and got me a chair, and then the girls walked me here, so I´ll keep you all updated as best I can. Real training starts on Monday.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Leftovers and Saying Goodbye

The fam

Maria Eva and Maya

Me and Grace

Lynne and Rodney, my adopted artist parents

Natalie, Laura and Me

So I'm back in the US for just a short time, saying goodbye to everyone before I take that metaphorical bungee leap into oblivion. Coming home was a LONG process with flight delays and layovers which all added up to mean 24 hours on planes or in airports. It was a harsh reminder of the cultural difference when I tried to get something to eat and it was all breads in the airport (Donde estas, mi gallo pinto?) (Where are you, my rice and beans?). It's ok though, I'm slowly reacclimating, although I do feel decadent and wasteful each time I throw toilet paper in the toilet, which is crazy, because it's wasted no matter what, but still.

I did think of a couple things about Central America that I forgot to mention before. One is that they have these places called Auto Hotels, where they can pull their car into this hotel and there are curtains between all the parking spaces so no one can see your car there. They pay through a double-sided cubby in the wall so they have complete privacy for cheating on their spouses, so that's nice.
Another story was that the last time in San Jose, we went to this open market that's every Sunday, which was in a gigantic blacktop area and had little booths with eveything from shampoo and soap and clothes to used electronic equipment and car parts. One booth where a man was sitting on the ground had junky wires in a pile and 2 prosthetic legs displays nicely right on top. I should explain that these legs both had on a matching sock and shoe, but were 2 distinctly different sizes, with one taller and thinner than the other. That is amusing enough in itself, and Christian started to take a picture of it when we realized that the man on the ground HAD NO LEGS. Some logical questions arise from this situation - why are they 2 different sizes? Are they his? Doesn't he need them? But alas, like many of the world's greatest mysteries, I'm afraid we'll never know. We must be satisfied with the quick picture Christian took when we walked by the second time, after we had to walk away and just breathe for a minute (I'll post it ASAP).

Also, one of the very first people we met, way back in Montezuma had really interesting stories. This was Aaron, the older guy, married with 3 kids that traveled all over the world. He first met his wife in a kabutz in Israel, and they knew each other for a few months before she left and went to Thailand. A few months later, he decided he couldn't live without her and he'd have to find her, so he went to Thailand with nothing but her name and actually FOUND HER. Do you know how many people there are in Thailand? A LOT. So then they got married a few months later and when she was eight months pregnant decided to explore Mexico in a van. Shortly after their first kid was born, they came across this town where a family circus was visiting. They stayed after and met the family and then traveled with them for a while. Each family member had an act, and there was a little girl about ten who had been trained since she was a toddler to be lifted up by her hair. Her act was to be pulled up to the top of the tent where she would do acrobatic flips and stunts, all only attached by her hair. He said the skin on her head was really thick and tough.
We heard some other stories from those surfers about a trip they took to Taiwan where they visited a fine facility with what is called a Ping-Pong Show, where talented women do amazing things with their crotches. I won't go into ALL the details but some of their props included: A live goldfish in a bowl, ping-pong balls, a coke bottle, dollar bills, cigarettes, and magic scarves. Just think about all that for a second...yeah.

So after sleeping about 18 hours when I first got back to Ohio, I worked for my mom painting their house, which was fine until the rain washed it off TWICE just as I finished painting it. After that I was over the whole painting thing. It was nice to hang out with the family and say goodbye to everyone. So I spent 12 days there and then to Atlanta (after a brief night in DC and 36 hours on a Greyhound), where I spent a busy week of really intense hanging out with people and doing all the things I'm not allowed to do in the Peace Corps. Anyone reading this that I didn´t see, Sorry I couldn´t see you before I left and I still want to heart from you so please feel free to write.


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.