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.

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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.