Monday, August 3, 2009

Look Who´s Chuchi Now OR This Soul´s Taken

After weeks of waiting with baited breath (is that really a phrase? That makes no sense...Ah, bated breath. Much better.), the big day finally arrived. This was the day when [trumpet sound] we finally got our site assignments. Knowing that the name will mean absolutely nothing to everyone exept Maria Eva (this one´s for you, babe), I´ll just cut the drama and tell you. My site is Coronel Oviedo. It´s a city with over 85,000 people at the crossroads of 2 major Paraguayan Routes. It has 2 hospitals, 28 elementary schools, ten high schools, and 7 universities. Everyone has reliable running water and electricity. There are internet cafés, gyms with classes in everything from yoga to taekwondo (this inspired my very first Spanish pun when I said that with yoga this would be my Cuerpo de´s a pun on the translation of Peace Corps being Body of Peace...well, it´s funny in Spanish) , a huge outdoor market, and several chain supermarkets. My co-op is an 18yr old, extremely high-functioning, multi-activa co-op with 4000 socios that wants me to help them start a virtual library. I have unlimited free internet access, my own office, and on my first visit I got a engraved leather tereré equipo set with "Angelica - Cuerpo de Paz" on it. They have enough money for any project they want to do and the socios are involved and motivated. I have a really cool sitemate working in urban youth development, so I can work on projects with her to help kids. There are lots of other volunteers in the surrounding areas and lots that travel through, so I can get a little taste of America whenever I want.

You may be thinking, "But, Ang, I thought you were a Rural Economic Development volunteer," and if so, you are right- just ask my friends in training that are doing the whole horse and buggy thing. But Asi es mi vida Paraguaya (So is my Paraguayan life) and don´t think I´m not mentally and emotionally struggling with this, because I am. I kept looking for a reason to hate it, but everyone was just so damn nice. It doesn´t exactly fit with my idea of what the Peace Corps would be like, but as they tell us, I´m not here to suffer, and I´m sure the challenges will soon become apparent...I might just be able to take a yoga class and get re-centered, is all.
So, about the trip: The day after we got our site assignments, a representative from our communities came to meet us and stay with our host families for a night before taking us to the sites the next day. My counterpart, Laura, came with her boyfriend Manu (and still can´t believe I can travel alone) and I just loved them both immediately. They are truly just warm and genuine and great people. Laura at first said I could live with her for the full 2 years if I wanted, but that changed once I actually got to her house. Like I said, she´s great as a person, but she has this adorable little 3 yr old, Mikha, who is a spoiled rotten brat and runs the house. She is forceful and stubborn and they bend over backwards to cater to her when she throws a fit, and she does so often. She was simultaneously obsessed with me and jealous of me, so the first few days were really tense, with a lot of temper tantrums and emergency trips to buy her things. I had to switch bedrooms because she wanted to one I had, and that, coupled with the fact that they live like absolute pigs was a bit much for me. Also, Laura´s mom is incredibly sweet, but I could not even look at her while she ate, she was so disgusting. There´s a scene in one of the Austin Powers sequels where Heather Graham is in bed with Fat Bastard as he´s eating a giant turkey leg and he´s all covered in grease. It was like that. She also thanks God every day, she told me, that she can afford her high blood pressure and diabetes medications, and thus continue her eating habits. These include stuffing her face so full of cookies and/or the nastiest, greasiest meat that I´d hesitate to give a dog, her whole face and her arms up to her elbows shiny with grease, all the while talking so that little flecks of half-chewed meat are showering all the other food on the table. It was after one such lunch, when I´d just decided to try to find another family to live with, that I met the lady across the street. And, oh, she´s absolutely adorable - all short and dimply and happy, and they have an extra room and they eat in a civilized way (in Paraguay this means cutting your food on the table beside your plate and wiping your mouth with the tablecloth, but I´m fine with all that. I´m not a SNOB for christsakes.) So I´ll be working with Laura just at the co-op and living across the street with them to start off, and I´m thrilled.

Another highlight of my visit was what might be my new second favorite holiday (after my birthday) and that is El Dia de Amistad (the day of friendship). I went with Laura to her college that morning and, after listening to a presentation on Universal Human Rights (I know, I know, look who´s chuchi now) there were parties, first for their class and then with the whole school (which is only 40 people). The tradition for Dia de Amistad is like Secret Santa, but it´s a secret friend, and you have a gift for someone and then get up in front of the group and say something along the lines of "My friend is very nice and sweet and pretty, and is really fun and it´s _______!" I love that there´s a holiday just to say something nice about someone. The gifts are just cheap little trinkets but everyone is all happy and excited and it´s great. At the school party there were games, and groups of girls did dances (they are REALLY into choreographed dancing in Paraguay) and it was fun, too.

THEN we went to the co-op for the party there, and it was my first time really meeting everyone. Same type of Secret friend exchange and then the Karaoke contest for cash prizes. Everyone that wanted to signed up and then really tried to do a good job singing, and when the list was finished, some bastard yelled that Angelica should sing, and then everyone joined in, "Yeah, Angelica, Angelica!" Those of you who know me well know that I have only done Karaoke in my drunkest of drunken moments, and that even then, I have to practically be dragged onstage, kicking and screaming. BUT... this. was. clearly. a test. So what else could I do? After a few moments to find a song in English that I knew, I got up there and brought the house down with Total Eclipse of the Heart, complete with rockstar moves for the camera that was brought out for the occasion. They loved it! People had been a little hesitant with me before that, but after my little hazing ceremony, they became super friendly.

Then, the battle for my ever-loving soul started with a misunderstanding. My new family invited me to what I thought was a Catholic mass that evening. Having years of childhood experience tuning out the drone of a Catholic priest, and seeing it as an opportunity to meet people I could later live with, I agreed. It turned out to be a prayer meeting in their house with a "brother" from their church who kept talking about how God has a purpose for everything and there was a reason I was there that night. I had a quick flash of Laura´s mom laughing as bits of food flew everywhere, and agreed that there was indeed a reason I was there. Then they told me that their actual service was on Sunday and that I could come meet this lady who could help me with the virtual library (By the way, I don´t know exactly what a virtual library is, let alone how to make one), and I went to, what turned out to be an Evangelist church. Oh, what a night. It started out well because at first there was a band, not exactly ROCKING OUT in shirts and ties, but there were 6 girls in front doing choreographed dances in matching, wine-colored, silk smocks and tasselled tambourines, so it was at least entertaining. Then after 5 songs in a row, just as things were settling down, the tallest Paraguayan I´ve seen (a 6 footer) appeared on the other sideo f my host mom, giving me The Eye. He was pretty attractive, actually, and i thought for a moment that there might be a possibilty here until he goes and ruins everything. First, I look over and he gives me that horrible, smarmy little Latino airkiss, which is quickly climbing to the top of my list of biggest turnoffs. Then a song starts and he does that Christian, singing, hand up to God thing, and I remember, oh yeah, he´s a F$%&king Evangelist! (I know, I know, I should´ve put that one together sooner). So I spent the rest of the evening carefully avoiding eye contact, not easy since he was staring me down, and this led to the best part of the whole night. As we were getting into the car outside, he passed by on his moto, and because I was looking down to avoid eye contact, I opened my door directly into the path of another moto, which hit the door and went careening sideways, almost hitting a truck that was backing up. No one was hurt, and it totally made my night, but if they think they´re getting my soul (and they do), they have another think coming.

So now I´m back with my Familia Favorita and I have another 2 weeks of training before I swear in and move to Coronel Oviedo for the next two years. I hope that all of you who didn´t want to visit because you pictured bucket baths and no electricity will reconsider now that I´ll be all chuched out, but until then, from Paraguay...


  1. Who knows? You may come back to become a televangelist! I hear there's BIG MONEY in that! At least you've learned something during your adventure that can translate to a new profession! LOL!

    Enjoy reading your blog! Can't wait 'til I hear more on the "Adventures with Angie!"



  2. I have half an email written to you and it is forthcoming. I would KILL for a video of you karaoke performance. I f-ing love it.



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.