Friday, June 19, 2009

Fishing With A Grain of Salt

Ronnell, Ryan, Mary and Liam

Liam and Me

3yr olds with guns - ah Paraguay

Just hanging out in Tacuati

Ronnell, Liam and Mary

Things have still been awesome, and the last couple weeks have been very informative. I have learned, however, to take everything the PC says with a grain of salt. My 1st clue was when my Mamá told me that everyone on Paraguay wears shorts all summer long. This is exactly the opposite of what the PC had said (that no Paraguayan would be caught dead outside the house in shorts), and I have been really worried about the 100 degree temps in pants. I also bought a ton of skirts and brought no shorts with me. My next clue was when we did our Tapeapovo, which is a day when we´re assigned a partner and places to go in Asunción, the capital, and then have to figure out how to get where we´re going, how to ask professional questions about how businesses work, in Spanish, and then how to make it to PC headquarters by 12:45. I foolishly believed them when they said to dress nicely and ended up with blisters the size of quarters since we walked about 10kms. We were late getting back but got there just in time fo the powerpoint presentation about common PC myths. These included jewels such as: my Paraguayan counterpart will want to help and will know what he or she is doing, I will have a job description or at least an idea of what is expected, and, my personal favorite, the people in my site will want me there. Not scared yet.

After learning cool things like how to make a huerta (vegetable garden) complete with split bamboo fence, how to use a machete (know where your other limbs are at all times), and how to make a compost pile (it helps to pee in it but don´t use the poop of carnivores or omnivores. This means that if I keep vegetarian I could use my OWN poo and THAT, my friends, would truly be the circle of life), it was off to visit a volunteer.

I got really lucky because my buddy Ronnell and I had volunteers that lived 3 blocks from each other, really far from just about anything else, so we got to go together. Saturday morning we woke up at 2am and the cab picked us up at 2:45 to drive to the bus terminal in Asunción, because the only bus to our town left at 4:15 in the morning. My volunteer, Mary, met us at the terminal and we all rode the 9 hours together. Mary is a self-professed nerd (her justification being that she reads terrible sci-fi like ¨Cat Women from Outer Space¨), but is extremely nice, generous, and smart. On the way up, we passed through a Mennonite community where all the dirt roads were smooth and even, all the yards well-groomed, all the houses and buildings well-made and sturdy, and all the businesses looked well-managed. There was a clear contrast to every other place in Paraguay. There´s no reason in the world all Paraguayans couldn´t live like that, she explained, other than cultural morés and lack of education.

Then we arrived in her town, which is supposedly a small city, but is all wooden shacks and dirt roads. Some of the roads were supposed to be cobblestoned 3 different times, and 3 different times the money was stolen by someone in charge, before they could do it. All Municipalities get a good bit of money every year as commissions from the dams on their borders that bring electricity to a huge chunk of South America, and yet nothing ever seems to get done. Paraguay was declared #2 in the world for the worst government corruption, but it´s said they were only #2 because they paid off the #1 country to take their place. So there wasn´t much going on in that town. The biggest news being that last October, two guys who were out fishing in the river killed a 20 foot anaconda by bashing its head in, then strapped it to a boat trailer and paraded it through town so everyone could see. There was a huge bulge in the middle and rumors it was a little boy that had disappeared, so they skinned it (the skin is now on a living room wall) and cut it open. It turned out to be a carpincho, which is the world´s largest rodent (think the ROUS´s from the Princess Bride) and looks like a giant guinea pig but gets up to 400lbs. We saw pictures of the whole gruesome process and heard the story from everyone we met. Paraguayans never get sick of the same stories and jokes over and over again (We learned in training that a joke here is, if you walked somewhere, to say you took Linea Once, which is Line 11 in English because the two 1´s are like legs. It´s not even funny, but I tried it on my family and the crack up EVERY time. It never gets old.)

So Mary showed her house to us, which is super chuchi (fancy or snobby) for the PC since she has realiable water and electricity (although she does have to take the bus 2 hours for a bank or internet), and then we went with Ronnell´s volunteer, Liam, to see his place. It wasn´t nearly as big, but he had an awesome huerta in back with, as of yet, nothing planted. When we chased out the group of piglets that had come into his yard, they ran straight into the chicken wire, smashing their little faces over and over, so that was pretty funny. Liam is muy muy tranquilo (in fact he says tranqui all the time because I guess he´s too tranquilo to say the lo) and kids LOVE him, and follow him around like he´s the Pied Piper, calling ¨Gigante, Gigante¨(he´s 6´8"). He showed us what he did ¨like 10 hours a day¨ when he picked up this 4 yr old, swung him around by the arms, threw him in the air then caught him upside-down by one leg, then flipped him and set him down. The kid, of course, is all bright-eyed and breathless a totally loves him. Another time he had bottle rockets and a dozen or more kids were all around him. Boys here are prety much left to their own devices starting at age 7 because their dads are off working and everything in the house is woman´s work. Liam, carefully explaining why they can´t shoot off bottle rockets from their hands, was a positive male influence and they just crave it.

Also, it just so happened that a former volunteer from three years ago, Ryan (Rihanna) was back with her mom to visit, so we also got to hang out with them and her former host family. We went to visit and they fed us this awesome meal and made fun of Ryan because she spent the first two weeks in her site just crying, but it was all in fun and they love her. She was an education volunteer and the kids loved her, too. It was VERY important, they told us over and over, to get along with kids if you want to integrate into the community. I´m pretty sure I can handle that. Ryan´s muy tranquilo, too, and gave us all sorts of good advice.

As far as the work, Liam has had pretty good success with his municipalidad. He definitely has the rapport, and he told us this story how the other day a bunch of guys were sitting around in the office with him and thought it´d be funny to give themselves boners inside their jeans, then sat around with hard-ons laughing like it was the funniest thing in the world. He chose not to join, but it is the general concensus that campo guys have the maturity of 12 yr olds. Another illustration of this is when 3 policemen getting food at Ryan´s family´s dispensa, gave the two 3yr olds their guns so they could take pictures, much to the absolute horror of Ryan´s mom. Ah, those crazy Paraguayans. So funny. So Liam is working on a few projects, the biggest one being teaching people why they shouldn´t burn their trash (it was ok back in the day but now they´re burning plastic and aerosol cans and God knows what other chemicals they´re putting into the air. They do have to burn toilet paper though, because otherwise the pigs and dogs roaming the streets get into it).
Mary, on the other hand, has not had such luck with her project. About 2 weeks after she got to her site, her co-op, which is a financial co-op and gives loans, was almost completely out of money. After some investigation, she found out that the secretary had embezzled all of it. Even though the members paid dues and it was their money stolen and they knew who did it, they didn´t want to do anything about it and the secretary is still in the community with no problems. After so many years of government corruption, it seems Paraguayans have just come to expect that they will get fucked over in one way or another and are ok with it. ¨There goes our life savings. Tranquilo. What´s for dinner?¨ So Mary managed to bring the co-op back from the brink of death, but in these 2 years has not managed to find anyone motivated enough to take care of the co-op when she leaves in 2 months (actually the co-op building hasn´t had electricity for 3 months after someone´s truck ran into the pole, despite many promises to fix it, so she can´t find anyone motivated while she´s here, either), and she knows it will fail as soon as she leaves.

We saw a meeting with the president of the co-op, a jolly fat man who laughed constantly at his own jokes and who told me, in Spanish, "If you want to marry a Paraguayan, you don´t need to ask for permission. I can´t give you permission, but that´s ok, because you don´t need it." He cracked up, and we laughed too, since that´s just what you do, but none of us got it. Then he postponed again the thing he was supposed to arrange the last 3 times and drove off on his moto. Pobrecita Mary. She´s spending her last few months writing a manual on how to run the co-op, but she´s pretty sure no one will read it. She definitely made some mistakes. She´s not strongly integrated and is supposed to be more of a consultant while other people do the work, so they´re committed, but Liam gave a good metaphor for it. In training, they use the example of "If you give a man a fish he eats for a day and if you teach a man to fish he eats for a lifetime." But that doesn´t take into account if the man is even motivated to learn how to fish, if he has a fishing pole or line, if there´s a river nearby, if the river isn´t polluted, or if he knows how to cook it once he catches it, and ALL that is what happens in the service part of PC.
I can sum up the rest of the weekend pretty easily. We went for lots of walks all over town, ate lots of great food (Mary is an awesome cook), got lots of advice about how to be a successful volunteer, heard lots of PC chisme (gossip), por ejemplo our doctor, Dr. Luis, was Mr. Paraguay 2 years running, drank lots of wine with coke (it sounds gross but it´s HUGE in Paraguay and actually really good, better than both wine and coke individually), played cards (I lost) and Scrabble (I won and inherited the board), sat around camp fires and talked every night, learned that chickens sleep in trees at night (I had no idea), talked to some super cool Paraguayans, and learned that the terrible caveman Spanish we speak now will improve (Liam couldn´t understand a thing when he got to sight a year ago (gave a lot of cow looks- that blank stare), and now he can roll like a pro).

We caught the bus out at 5:30 Tuesday morning, both Ronnell and I exhausted but very happy and optomistic about being volunteers. The only other incident was on the bus ride home. I got motion sick and told Ronnell I thought I was going to throw up. He whips this big ziplock bag out of nowhere, just in time, and I threw up in the bag and then threw it out the window. Normally I´m not a litterbug, but there´s a time and a place for everything and a bag full of vomit justifies a lot of things. Tranquilo.


  1. Oh my God, this entire blog is rolling out like a screenplay in my mind, and it's the best movie ever. I am so proud of you and excited for you, Angelic. My, my. . .

  2. Hi Angelic! Glad to hear you're doing well and hanging in there. What an experience!!! These blog entries will make a great book for you to publish after your adventures in Paraguay are over!

    All's well with me on my end. Staying busy as usual. Amber graduated from Cal State Univ East Bay this past Saturday. She's got a job as a floor display designer for Bed, Bath & Beyond's west coast office. So you could say that I got a payraise - with not having to pay tuition anymore!!!

    Take care and thanks for keeping us informed on your journey. Thoughts and prayers are with you always! Vince



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.