Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Kissing Cousins and Making Old Ladies Cry

The first day of Spring? Why, we should have a cake!

My Balmacedas and me

Flowers?! For Me?! Why Thank you!

Who can sleep in the middle of all this music and excitement? This Guy.

Me, Jenna, Ronnell, and Elmer at Reggaefest

Eric, Matt, Me, and Jenna

Poor quality Pic of the stage. Sorry I couldn´t quite capture the magic

This is part of a series of Fake candid shots where we pretended to not notice that I was actually holding the camera and taking pictures. In this one, Elmer has just told Ronnell and I somethng upsetting and we try to comfort him.

This is the Hippie Market, brought to you by your friends at Nokia and Tigo because they know "Hippie" best

Ronnell, Me, and Jenna

Toys made by Paraguayan kids out of only recycled materials

This is super impressive

I can check off "Make an Old Lady Cry" from my list of things to do today

A light moto trip, Flaquito and Denis carrying only my bici and one bag

Flaquito and Me

Things are still happening right and left - all of them good, depending on your sense of humor. We´ll start with work. Every week, the Education Committee, which I´m part of, meets on Mondays at 4 (technically 3:30, but it´s the Hora Paraguaya). I figured I´d just observe at first, so it took me a while to notice that they were actually completely ignoring my existence. They would talk over me and in front of me and behind me, about me, like I couldn´t understand (which at first I couldn´t, but after about 3 weeks something snapped and I can understand a lot more now) and I would just zone out. This book by another Peace Corps volunteer explains it well..."After listening for hours to a language which is barely understood, the brain goes into a paralysis. It closes the doors and shuts up shop. I would sit there trying to look reasonably intelligent but feeling completely useless, my eyes glazed, my mouth hanging open, slowly drowning in a flood of strange, soft sounds." (-Moritz Thomsen, Living Poor). I would try to set up appts with my contact for the Virtual Library so I could find out exactly what they wanted and she just wouldn´t show up, and whenever I asked straight out what exactly they were trying to do, they´d pretend like they couldn´t understand what I was asking. This is very Paraguayan because Paraguayans, like probably most people, never want to admit when they don´t know something, so they´ll avoid answering or tell you complete bullshit so they don´t look stupid. This is especially dangerous when asking directions because they will answer you with complete confidence about where something is and have no idea. Tip: Always get at least 4 opinions for directions in Paraguay. The truth was that they didn´t know what a Virtual Library was, let alone how to start one and expected me to figure all that out for them. But that´s not how the Peace Corps works because then when I leave they´ll have no idea how to work it, so I need to work WITH someone there and teach them. This was the issue. So after she still hadn´t explained anything and dropped me off across town to shadow at a high school library and then to find my way back without directions or explanation, I was pissed and wrote a letter to the Education Committee about how I couldn´t do anything if they weren´t willing to communicate with me. I was nearly in tears because after I brought up the problem, they still tried to talk about me and not to me, until the President, who I would normally describe as a cross between a Stepford Wife and a Bitch but that day redeemed herself, spoke up and suggested that since I was sitting right there, perhaps I could be addressed directly. From then on it went well and I have a new counterpart now, Nimia, who is awesome and we work together really well and things are really getting done. So that project is moving along swimmingly now.

At Betel, I visited all the different community centers where they work with the kids. I found out that they start centers with a board of parents in that campo neighborhood with the goal of pulling out within 5 years so that the neighborhood will run the center on its own. It´s really impressive and now I´m even more excited to work with them. This month we organized a local expo, as part of a Contest from Canadian Christian Children´s Fund, where the kids make toys out of only recycled materials. They did really amazing, creative, and super impressive things with old bottles and newspapers and all sorts of stuff. The winning toys will go to Asunción for a contest there, and eventually to Canada. They had to explain each toy, and it was stories like- This house is made of newspapers and grass and represents the separation of the Paraguayan family, because it's a very humble house and there are many people that have to leave it, and their families, to go find work. OR A perfect replica of a table set with food made of styrofoam by a 7 year old, that explained that when we have food like this we should remember that there are many people that don't. Real tear-jerkers, these kids. Things are awesome with them.

So I´m dating my cousin Flaquito. It´s going really well. We had a serious talk at the beginning about how we´re doing this American Style and how I don´t want a bunch of crappy roses, cheap teddy bears, and 1,000 texts per day. It´s very Un-Paraguayan, but he seems to be handling it well. That´s probably what helped with my language so much - since it´s a foreign tongue and all.
(Ok, that deserves a side note. Dear Pop, You alright! I learned it by watching you! Dear Everyone Else, I´m well aware that puns are quite possibly the lowest form of humor and I would normally consider myself above such groaners such as the one above, but I am my father´s daughter, and I don´t know if it´s genetics or just that my language skills are low in Spanish and probably falling in English (that joke is good in both English and Spanish by the way- it´s "Lengua Extraña" here, and yes, I´ve used it in both languages) but I´ve found myself using more puns and it´s like I can´t even help it. I´m so truly sorry you had to be a part of that.)

I´ve moved. It was not, as I had to explain a million times to my host family, because I was unhappy there, but because the Peace Corps says if you can live with different families it´s better because you build a bigger suppport system and have different experiences. I´m living with Flaquito´s Tia, whom I call Abuelita (Little Grandma), which is great because she rents rooms, so I´m more independent and I get to be a grown-up again, por FIN (finally)! I spend a lot of time with her still, and she´s 80, very sweet and open-minded. Sometimes it´s hard to understand her with that big wad of tobacco in her mouth, but we get by. Flaquito and his friend Denis were nice enough to move all my stuff for me...on a moto. I´m so surprised they made it without wrecking, but Paraguayans carry everything on motos (entire families with pets and newborn babies, huge construction equipment, whatever...everything except helmets, which are apparently too difficult.)

So have you ever made an old lady cry because you´re pretty and have nice legs? Because I can now say that I have. One day, Flaquito and I were walking around visiting and one of his grandmas and an aunt were sitting outside (he seems to be related to like 90% of the town because almost every house we pass has a cousin or aunt in it, which then become my cousins or aunts because that´s just how it´s done). So my new grandma, who is 94, called me over to her chair, and when I got there, she started feeling my calf all over and muttering in Guarani about how pretty I was and about how nice my legs were and the next thing you know, she´s all out bawling. My aunt is explaining how she´s just sensitive and gets emotional with pretty things, but at the same time she and my cousin are starting to mist up because their grandma is so touched.

Now is a good time to interrupt with a vocabulary lesson: Did you know there´s no word in Spanish for "Awkward"? This is extremely ironic because I´d say a good portion of my day is spent in super awkward situations, like this one. But I digress...so I´m just patting her on the back like, "Therethere, therethere, I drive people to tears with my beauty all the time," until she calms down enough for us to tactfully make our escape. Ah, how I love Paraguay.

After a busy couple weeks, it was time to head to Asunción for what I´m now calling "The Best Weekend Ever". I left Friday and got a bunch of stuff done at the Peace Corps office, went to the dentist where he told me I didn´t need a root canal, and then went to Paso de Oro to visit my first Paraguayan family. The news with them is that there is no news and they´re exactly the same. I know it´s only been 5 weeks but I´ve had so much happen, I just figured they would´ve done more. But it was cool. Then Saturday I met up with Jenna, Ronnell, Brad and Elmer and a bunch of other PC people to go to REGGAEFEST. Dios Mio it was fantastic! I´m pretty sure about half of Paraguay was there, and it was so nice to see all different types of people - like a little spoon-full of the States. And everybody was just cool; no fights, no drama, just really awesome reggae (3 south American bands, one of which was a cross between reggae and hardcore, which I wouldn´t have thought possible, but they made it work). And THEN...The Wailers. Shut the F$%k up - I got to see The Wailers live at a huge outdoor concert with a bunch of my friends and cool Paraguayans and perfect weather and a Nokia and Tigo Sponsored Hippie Market (that last one was pretty ironic). YES! Yes I did!

The next day, as if things weren´t already awesome, I found this perfect bouquet of flowers just lying on the ground at the busstop; I felt like a princess. About an hour later, I thrust those now drooping and wilted flowers at Martín, Maria Eva´s brother. I´d gotten off at the wrong busstop and trudged with all my bags in flip flops in the sweltering heat, so I was equally wilted and drooping. A quick shower to recover and I spent Sunday with the Balmacedas, and you know how I feel about them, so it was awesome.

I had some time to write today because it´s a holiday. We have them like once a week for one reason or another. Usually we just have a cake and soda, maybe an awkward party (how have they not just invented a word for those situations??), but today things are closed. In the last 3 weeks, there´s been 2 birthdays, the We Won the Soccer Game So Let´s Close Everything Day, the Dia de Jovenes and Dia de la Primavera (Day of Youths and Spring) and today is a holiday that nobody knows what it is but they´re happy to be off work. Ah, Paraguay.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Snippets and Males and Puppydog Tales

More cows in the road

Erin and Melissa on the radio

My cousin Liliana who thinks she´s a model

Me and my Snuggy

Flaquito and friends

When one is a a volunteer in the Peace Corps in Paraguay, life can get pretty interesting, and it might be too complicated to explain in full detail here, but I can, however, give you little snippets of life to help give you a general idea...

So I think my stalker has given up. This is good news because it was pretty intense and annoying for a while. See, back when I was green and naive in my first few days here (not seasoned and wise, like now), this guy came up to me at a group coop event and started talking to me. I couldn´t really understand what he was talking about and he just kept mentioning all these Americans he knew. Then he asked for my number and, thinking that he just collected American friends, I gave it to him. He started texting that night - "Where are you? I want to see you? Do you like me? What are your second names?" (names are a big deal here and everyone has 2 or three first names and 2 last names - people always want to know them so they can mentally put you in a box based on who your family is. I don´t understand why this system works because to me it seems like there´s only like 5 last names in all of Paraguay and everyone has some combination of those, so it can´t signify much). I didn´t tell him anything important but when he texted me at 6:52 the next morning to tell me good morning, that was my last straw. I wrote back and told him he was crazy and to never write me again. This was a mistake because it started a torrent of texts and calls, mostly along the lines of "What did I do? Please just talk to me? I don´t understand what I did wrong..." and later, thinking either that he´s clever or I´m stupid, "I have questions for you about coops. I want to ask your advice about marketing."
When I talked about the situation with other Paraguayans, they couldn´t understand why I was upset - "How romantic to tell you good morning! Oh he´s wooing you!" And the worst, "Is he going to be your boyfriend?" What in the US is grounds for a restraining order is normal courting behavior here. After a week of no response, he finally gave up, but I definitely learned not to give out my number.

I´ve been hanging out with my cousin Flaquito (skinny) a lot lately, and through him, a new group of friends my age. We hang out at people´s houses or go out to karaoke bars. He has a friend who speaks English because he used to hang out with a group of British guys. I think they were soccer hooligans, though, because his every other word is Fuck. I´m teaching Flaquito English, but only the cusswords, and I taught him "to fuck" (er, wait, I didn´t mean it like...I meant the verb form...aw, fuck it - take that however you want). There was a little tension because he thought his friend and I were arranging something along those lines, since that´s the only word he understood. I explained that it´s also used for emphasis and his friend is just really intense.

Flaquito is great, though. He´s what we call here a Bromista (jokester). It´s hard enough for me to understand what´s going on in any given situation, let alone when he just makes up random stuff to see if I catch it. I kind of hate it because I always fall for it and then feel gullible, but it´s good because he always keeps me on my toes.

I went to church with my family again because it was my mamá´s baptism (whole body under in a giant tub of yellowing water). Some things to note about the 2.5 hr "culto" (amazingly appropriate name for the mass service) were: The preacher talked about how all the money Michael Jackson had didn´t make him as happy as the light of God made him (the preacher). However, the walls and stage of the church are made of marble, and the dancing girls have a whole closet full of different outfits (that day it was midnight purple and skyblue, satin), and it was a little ridiculous to see these obviously poor campo people in mishapen clothes getting blessed as they handed over the donation envelopes to this preacher in a very expensive suit. I concluded that clearly money doesn´t make him UNhappy. I was just thinking how stupid and what torture the whole thing was when they asked for the people who felt God for the first time that day to come to the front, and my sister-in-law went...another one bites the dust.

Then, this little 6yr old, who I thought was a boy until she said her name was Jessica, became enamored with me. After spotting me, she spent a good part of the service backward in her chair, STARING, and lighting up whenever I smiled at her. I´m pretty sure she thought I was an angel, so I tried to look extra pretty, so as not to disappoint her. Then she motioned for me to bend down and sweetly whicpered in my ear, "Are you wearing makeup?" I was, for like the first time in Paraguay, and clearly it's a little odd, so I might not again.

The best part, though, was when my sobrino (nephew) was sticking his tongue through the slats in the back of his chair, while his brother tried to catch his tongue with his feet, the effect being that he licked the bottom of his brother´s shoes over and over again, which they thought was hilarious (their mom didn´t stop them because she was busy being saved).

The reason I like Julio the dog so much, other than how one ear stands up and the tip of the other flops over, is because he´s so smart. Before I came he lived between 3 houses that would regularly feed him table scraps. When I started paying attention to him and giving him a little love, he took that as an invitation to join the family. He used to only stay outside, but every day he moves a little further and further into the house. The day he made it down the hall and set one foot in my doorway, my sister flipped out, and shoed him out, yelling (this incidentally, is the exact same reaction she had when Flaquito set one foot in my room to tell me something - that´s a big no-no here). Still, he´s seen his opening and we find him sleeping in the kitchen all the time now. I don´t want to adopt him because I don´t want him to become dependent on me, but vamos a ver (we´ll see).

So I have this pretty intense fear of being on the radio, and the last time it happened, in Tacuati, I froze up and couldn´t say much of anything. I believe I´ve said before how life very conveniently lines up lessons for me, and of course this is no exception. I was invited to be on TV last week with Melissa and Erin, and refused since that´s even worse than radio, so that´s when karma stepped in. Within hours of each other, Paulette and Melissa called to ask me to be on their radio shows because their partners couldn´t make it. If I didn´t do it now, it was just going to come back and haunt me, so I agreed. Paulette´s show was fun - she´s covering the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, and we covered Habit 4 and played regaton music.

Afterwards, though, the bus I was supposed to catch didn´t leave because there was nobody on it at the station (Ay, Paraguay), so...impromptu slumber party! We had a pillow-fight in our panties and there were feathers EVERYWHERE! Just kidding, we´re not the pillow-fight types and all the pillows nad mattresses here are made of this slightly soggy and disintegrating, dark-yellow foam. Actually, we had marshmallows with a little hot chocolate and I read David Sedaris outloud while she made ao poí. The highlight was that I slept in a Snuggy (I took a picture) (Also, I´ve heard rumors of Snuggy parties in the US. Anyone who knows more about it please tell me- it cracks me up).

The radio show with Melissa went really well, too. We talked about sexuality and sex myths in a public service announcement sort of way, and I got to ask her questions like "Meli, is it true that certain yuyos can restore viginity?" (no, and you should NEVER put yuyos in the vagina) and "After anal or oral sex, are you still a virgin?" (well, that´s really a personal and cultural decision)...So, now you know. So when Erin leaves in December, I´m going to do that show with her every week. Oh, my, how I´m growing as a person here.

So, if you haven´t heard by now, Paraguay is going to the World Cup in 2010. I cannot describe how freaking enormous that is, but just to give you a glimpse of it: each time Paraguay wins a futbol game, a spontaneous caravan of cars and motos, everyone wearing jerseys and waving flags, takes to the streets to make a honking, screaming procession through the city...and that´s just a regular game. For the game when they qualified for S. Africa, there were caravans and fireworks and ALL THE SCHOOLS AND BUSINESSES WERE CLOSED THE NEXT DAY. Yep, seriously. I love this place.

It´s not all fun and games, though. I´ve been working at the coop job-shadowing and researching virtual libraries. Turns out they asked for a volunteer because a guy at the coop read an article about virtual libraries, which I can sum up for you right now...[throat clear] "Virtual libraries are great! You should have one!" This encompasses everything they know about them, and they thought I was just going to come in and do it. Actually, they thought all we had to do was scan some books into the computer, buy a couple more computers and Viola! We had a little talk about how my job was actually to teach them how to do things, not do it for them, because that´s not development. We also had to discuss a little thing called copyright laws (the answer to this, I swear, word for word, was, "Copyright laws? Psshhh. Who cares, it´s Paraguay.") So everyhting´s going well, but, you know, baby steps. I´m done job-shadowing at the coop and will spend the next couple weeks job-shadowing at libraries with digital databases (which is actually what they want- a virtual library is just the internet).

I´ve also started developing a marketing plan with a group called CCAB, who run community centers in the area and do lots of projects to help kids. I love it because good stuff is actually getting done.

So, that´s what´s going on with me. And you?


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.