Monday, August 31, 2009

Jopara OR Who Names a DOG?

Mateo and Me



The Fam

Kitchen Karaoke

I really love living here, and my first 2 weeks in site have been really eventful. I arrived into the open arms of my new Mamá, Nelly (pronounced Nay-yi). She is so great - all short and round and cheery, calls everyone Mi hija or Mi hijo (my son/daughter), and almost immediately puts a plate of food in front of any new guests. I keep wanting to use the word "dumpling" to describe her- she just seems huggable and warm. My sister, Ninfa, is a year older than me and works 2 nights a week as an obstetrician and spends the rest of her time decorating flip-flops to sell. She´s married but her husband is in Texas, working, and they have a 7yr old, Mateo, mi sobrino. Mateo is a really good kid - I taught him how to do high 5´s and he´s completely fascinated with everything I own. Ninfa is a good mom and it turns out she´s also a big fan of Air Supply- she has this burnt CD with "Total Eclipse of the Heart" and lots of other 80´s hits I never knew I knew. The first couple nights we did a little kitchen karaoke with spoon microphones. I taught my Mamá all about how to have rockstar stage presence, and Ninfa laughed so hard she spit out her mate. Poor Mateo had to beg me to stop so he could eat his hotdog - 7yr olds hate being serrenaded. They make me show the pictures to everyone that comes over.

I really like my brother, Miguelangel, too, even though he thinks I´m going to burn in hell. He´s a mechanic by day, but really his dream is to be a missionary, and every night he goes to either a church meeting, Bible Study, or church - yes, 7 nights a week. He also manages to turn every conversation into a theological discussion and I think he considers me a savage, but we still get along really well. He´s married but his wife left him after only a few months. He´s cheerful, although it´s clear that it´s absolutely crushing him and he´s desperately trying to comfort himself with the Bible as he awaits it to be God´s will for his wife to return to him. He still wears his ring.

I have another brother who is married with a family (he lives around the corner), and there´s lots of other family, and family of family, who live close by and are always dropping in. There´s also a street dog that always hangs around, so I named him Julio, and Paraguayans think the concept of a dog having a name is hilarious, but now he´s Julio to everyone and he knows his name.

We sit around and drink tereré a lot. I love tereré. Not only the taste, but just the ritual of it. It´s part of every time of day, and people carry around their equipos like security blankets, so it´s always on hand. Although people here are super guapo (hard-working), I love that they know there´s no sense killing themselves, and there are plenty of tranquilo breaks to pour and pass. There´s no language equivalent for the term or concept of "hanging out" because they just ask if you want to tereré. This is also why chisme (gossip) is so prevalent in Paraguay - they´ve gotta talk about SOMETHING. The best part is that it´s a very important part of my job because I´m integrating.

We have a woman, Ña Carmen, who lives next door and comes over to work every morning. She´s super sweet, only speaks Guarani, and his this tiny little girl laugh which seems out of place but is really endearing. All of her front teeth are broken out and she looks around 70 but she´s only 58. It´s clear why, too, because she spends the whole day in the yard scrubbing clothes, cooking a big meal over little carbón burners and wood fires, scrubbing all the black off the pots and pans with buckets of water, and then sweeping the yard and patio (this seems especially futile since it´s a dirt floor). She´s thin and wirey, her face is weathered and her hands are spotted and as strong as vice grips, but she wouldn´t have it any other way.

This is one of the things I love the most about Paraguay and I´m constantly fascinated by it. In this country the size of California with a population just slightly above that of metro Atlanta, there are 2 different climate zones, 2 opposite lifestyles, and 2 separate languages. There is extreme duality here, but instead of colliding, the two worlds just mix together to form a Jopara (mix), which makes Paraguay different than everywhere else in the world. Quality of life rankings (when it comes to health, income, and education), rate rural Paraguay on par with Kenya (somewhere around 140th in the world) and urban Paraguay is similar to Israel (about 22nd). A lot of the indoor kitchens and bathrooms were just installed within the last 20 yrs, so there are many cases, like Ña Carmen, where people have both indoor plumbing and stoves, and outdoor latrines and fires, but prefer to cook or poop outside. There are giant modern superstores and streetside vegetable stands, dirt roads and cobblestones streets and paved rutas, oxcarts and motos, trucks and horsedrawn wagons, the old and the new, the rich and the poor, all mixed together. They can simultaneously be convinced that everyone on the street is a thief, distrusting everyonethey don´t know, and welcome complete strangers into their homes like new family members. I´m constantly amazed by this country.
My co-op is great, too. I have been going everyday to follow a different employee around for a few hours, just to learn exactly how things work around here. I have a counterpart for the virtual library but she´s already flaked on meetings a couple times, so we´ll see how that goes. Everyone is really nice, they always seem happy to see me, and I think I´ll be able to do some good around here.

I´ve been spending a lot of time with the other volunteers as well. I´ve met the rest of my VAC, which are all the volunteers in my area, and they all seem cool. Melissa, my sitemate, and Erin, who is 5k away, and I have also hung out a few times. Last Saturday, Melissa, Truman (another volunteer), and I all went out to Erin´s site in the campo to watch the foot races which have become all the rage in her area. They´ve developed what is, honestly, a pretty bullshit system, where they can psyche each other out with lots of false starts and win by putting their hand out to cross the finish line first. Truman has decided to hang up his racing shoes after losing 4 times in a row. We also played volleyball (Melissa was pretty disappointed in me, but I never said I was good), and Bingo (marking the papers by poking holes with little sticks). We watched this adorable scene where 2 little toddlers were serving and drinking tereré (soon after that there was a not-so-adorable, narrowly averted disaster where the same sweet toddler that served tereré was about to smash a brick over the other one´s head. Eh - it´s always give and take).

I also went to visit Paulette, who works at an ao´poi co-op, and is also super fun because she´s a big smartass. She taught me a little about how to make ao´poi (which is just very complicated and intricate embroidery). I was supposed to watch her do her radio show, but the other volunteer was too broke to take the bus to her site, and then the guy that runs the controls at the radio station decided to disappear that day (Asi es Paraguay). Paulette was almost worried about the 5 very disappointed listeners who might think that "Mbae´laporte, Nortes" (What´s Up, Nortes) was cancelled.

My Spanish is getting better all the time. I still talk like a cavewoman, but, to quote David Sedaris, Me talk pretty one day, and I understand more and more every day. I´m cooking for myself, which I LOVE and really missed. I´ve started running again (I sound like I´m having a severe asthma attack, but since Paraguayans don´t run at all - and try to walk as little as possible, literally taking their moto around the corner- they´re super impressed. I have a comfortable bed and warm showers, so pretty much all I could ever want for true happiness. And I thought this Peace Corps thing would be tough...


  1. There's gotta be pictures to go with this story! I can't wait to see them!

    Thanks for the update as always!!

  2. I second that, I would love to see some photo's! Thanks for sharing Ang! love love love from far

  3. Naming a dog.... what?? lol
    I find it interesting how folks balance the work/neccessities of life with enjoyment.
    I can totaly understand those who still like to cook and poop outside. I am same. Built a little cooking station out back and use it all the time. Now if i can just get all this black off the rice pot.....
    What? not enough challenge? Dont worrry i see a fresh challenge coming your way......about.... Now.

  4. This whole post is like reading a beautifully written essay or novel. I'm fascinated and impressed and cannot get enough.

  5. Just wanted to say I love you. And your blogs freakin' crack me up No Más and Un poco. LOL! I miss you!

  6. Ps I think you should name the dog chichi. For ch ch ch ch



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.