Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Killer Watermelons OR Swearing-In Spanish

The Balmacedas- Maria Eva's Family (note the kid in the snorkle)

Paulette, Sasha, and Me

The Group

The Group

My Site

Saying Goodbye at the Children's Home

My Last Saturday as a trainee, we all gave charlas about different Paraguayan traditional things. I chose Beliefs and Superstitions, and they´re pretty entertaining. Some are clearly old wives tales and everyone I interviewed was sure to tell me that THEY didn´t believe them, but other, less educated people probably did. Others, we come up against constantly in our day-to day lives here. For example, an excuse when you don´t want to drink mate is to say you´ve just eaten a mandarine or drank milk, and they will instantly drop it because they would NEVER mix those. Also, if you mix watermelons with mango, wine, water, or milk, it can kill you. If you swim or bathe after watermelon, it will give you a heart attack. Watermelons are extremely dangerous in Paraguay (I´m not sure why they even grow them, but they do). Any fruit with milk or wine will give you diarrhea, as will drinking while you eat (they drink just after the meal, which somehow is ok).
They have a long list of heavy or hot foods (meats, fats, fried foods (those 3 alone are 90% of the Paraguayan diet), beans, soy, peanuts, melons, bananas, chocolate, and alcohol) that are NEVER to be mixed with light and/or cold foods (vegetables, other fruits, cereals, tereré, and water). That just goes to show you strength of character of my Mamá that she made me fruit salads with both bananas and oranges in them - qué suerte. Vegetables in general are seen as being superfluous, only for animals or for when you´re sick. And that hot/cold mix thing is not just for foods either. If you wash your hands after ironing or cooking, when your hands are hot, you´ll get arthritis. If you take a cold shower after exercising, you just might die.

My favorites are the wives tales for pregnant women including: if a pregnant woman eats eggs, bananas, or peanuts, she´ll have a dry birth. If she eats kidneys, her baby will have a hairlip. If she eats intestines, the umbilical cord will get wrapped around the baby´s neck. If she drinks beer, she´ll have a blonde baby and wine will give her a dark-skinned baby (nobody mentioned fetal alcohol syndrome).
Speaking of beliefs, I have suddenly become a palm-reader. It was at Elmer´s birthday party, which was mostly inside because it was cold and rainy. Through the course of conversation, Elmer brought up the freakish lines on his palm, and I told him one of the only 2 things I know about palms. His host mom saw us looking at our hands and somehow it got around that I know how to read palms, even though I was ADAMANTLY insisting that I didn´t. Before I knew it, 6 of his family members were lined up, waiting to have their palms read. What else could I do? I gave them each a reading. I just guessed at a lot of it and watched their reactions, but they agreed with everything I said, and it really did sound good. I should set up a booth or something. The Americans were laughing at the time, but then when we were out for beers they all wanted their palms read, too, and I was dead-on for a LOT of things. I guess I have my fall-back plan now if this whole Overseas Development thing falls through.

Ronnell and I also visited the Children´s home for the last time to say goodbye. Have you ever been loved so hard you think your skin is going to rip off? If not, visit a children´s home with 200 kids. It´s funny because each time we leave and we´re walking back to the road, we always have the same conversation, that goes something like this:

"Whew, that was awesome. I had so much fun today."
"Yeah, me too. It was great. I really liked it when...(fill in the blank - that kid tried to jump over the latrine hole and didn´t make it, I had a kid on each leg and one in each arm and they wanted me to play volleyball, they took turns jumping off the wall so we could catch them, etc etc)"
"yeah, that was great. Well, I´ve gotta go home and take a shower now"
"yep, me too. God knows what I´m covered with at this point.".

We had to say goodbye to the families that had loved and supported us for the last 11 weeks. It seemed to me that, while i got a lot out of living there, I just made a lot of extra work and cost a lot of extra money for my Mamá, but there were lots of tears when I left (she´d always been a crier). I am constantly amazed by how Paraguayans just give and give and give of themselves or whatever they have. I made each of the people in my house glasses out of wine bottles (we learned how in training) and customized them with nail polish. They loved them (except maybe Alé who didn´t seem too thrilled with the picture of a TV on hers, but everyone else thought it was funny).

I´ve written a top ten list of my favorite moments so far, and in no particular order, they are:
1. Finger painting with Camila and Belén
2. Doing yoga poses and stretches on the living room floor with Belén while everyone else sat around and divided their attention between us and the TV
3. The Wheelbarrow bet with Brad and Carlos
4. Kite flying and learning to play Baté with my sobrinas
5. Playing Spanish Scrabble (with Guaraní words allowed) with my family by candlelight when the electricity was out for the 20th time
6. My birthday party
7. The first and last visits to the Children´s home
8. Singing Boom-chicka Boom in chorus with my training group as we huddled around a little carbón-burner to stay warm
9. Opening the car door on that poor moto
10. Being a palm-reader

So it was time to say goodbye to all that, and enough salt in my daily diet to kill a garden-full of slugs, and to waking up each morning to awesome fruit salads, and to everyone in my training group, and to Don Antonio, who waves every day and calls my Barbie, and to speaking English every day...

We headed out Friday morning, all dressed up, to go to the Embassy for our swearing in Ceremony. There were rumors that Presidente Lugo would come, but that weekend was Children´s Day, where they honor all the kids that fought and died during the War of the Triple Alliance (there was a battle with thousands of kids all dressed like grown-ups and with fake mustaches who basically got anihilated), and they just honor kids in general. I think Lugo was too busy visiting all his illegitimate kids. But the Ambassador was there and news crews. We´d voted Ronnell to give a speech, and boy did he ever. Our Director actually forwarded it to DC and every other country and siad it was one of the best PC speeches he´d ever heard. It was all about how our packing list was terrible but that we had everything we really needed inside of us anyway, in our hearts and minds and souls. I was reflecting on that a few days later as I dragged my 100lbs of stuff in 5 bags through Asunción (the big suitcase with wheels that I´d bought on the street kept getting jammed up with leaves and debris and tipping over, pulling me with it), and I thought about just leaving it, but of course I didn´t. We all raised our right hands and swore to uphold the principals of the PC and the US and suddenly we were full-fledged volunteers!

It happened that another group was swearing out simultaneously and there were some other PC events that weekend, so Asunción was crawling with volunteers. We partied long andhard on Friday night and then some of us were walking back to the hotel at 4:30amwhen the police pulled us over, trying to get a bribe. My first night as a volunteer and we had to call the PC security because we didn´t have our original passports and they were threatening jail. This apparently happens all the time, but I´m pretty sure the PC threatened the Embassy because the immediately dropped it.

The next day, Ronnell and I went shopping and to a park with a hippy market all around it that sells artisan crafts (from which all christmas presents will be coming). There was also a little festival going on, the highlight of which was a guy that playedthe guitar with his face, his feet, and his guampa. Saturday night was Ahendu (means "I listen" in Guarani), which was where everyone in the PC who has any sort of musical talent performed.

For me, though, Sunday was the best day because after months of not having enough time to arrange it, I fianlly got to meet Maria Eva´s family. For those who don´t know, Maria Eva is one of my best friends in the US and is from Asunción. We´ve spent the last few years trading placing between Atlanta, Cincinnati, and Paraguay, with occassional overlaps when we actually get to hang out. After seeing a 3 minute video (not understanding a word) of her brothers joking around, taken with her cell phone in the back of a pickup truck, and long before the PC, I knew I wanted to visit Paraguay at some point. It was because of Maria Eva, and her assurance that Paraguay was a whole country full fo people just like her,that it was my first choice for my PC service. Funny how things work out.

So I figured it´d be great to meet her family, but let me just be clear about this: I. Love. This. Family. They are seriously the most incredible, amazing, generous, open, loving group of people I´ve ever met. There are 8 kids total and I met all but 1, who is in the US visiting Maria Eva right now. Her dad, Lalo, completely dotes on his wife ("Maria Carmen is an incredibly talented artist. Never had a class but she can make anything out of anything! And isn´t she beautiful? Just as pretty as the day I met her..."). We went to see some other cousins for lunch and Lalo and Maria Carmen had everyone cracking up with this whole teasing, banter thing they had going on. The whole afternoon was a lot of laughing (they really thought it was funny when I hit my head on the doorway). Everyone in this family really clearly adores each other. All the teasing is good natured and the kids are all voluntarily cuddly with each other, but not in a sappy way. I´m invited to stay every time I´m in Asunción, to soak up some more of that.

Then Monday morning it was off to my site for good...

1 comment:

  1. With all those myths on watermelon, I could see that it would be the most feared fruit!

    Thanks for the update Ang!



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.