Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Puns Falling Flat

My cousin Delaney in the US is doing a project for school with Flat Stanley. For those of you who don`t know, Flat Stanley is a character in a children`s book, and the premise is that he was ironed flat so he could be mailed places and have adventures. The idea is that you take pictures of Flat Stanley doing different things and send them back to the kids. This is the letter I`m sending about what Flat Stanley and I did together.

Dear Delaney and Class,

Flat Stanley was very excited to come to Paraguay, but he didn´t know very much about it. I explained that it was a small country in South America in between Brazil, Argentina, and Bolivia. We were in Asunciòn, which is the capital city, in the Peace Corps Office. Flat Stanley told me he thought people in the Peace Corps were super cool. I immediately liked that kid. Then he wondered why it was so very hot in October, and I explained that since we were south of the Equator, the seasons were opposite, and it was Spring right now. Also, the climate in Paraguay is kind of like Florida, and being in an envelope in a mailbox can be pretty hot anyway. Flat Stanley agreed.

Then we went on a bus to my city, which is 3 hours East of Asunciòn, in the middle of Paraguay, and is called Coronel Oviedo. I explained that in the US, Coronel Oviedo would be a town, but it is a very big city for Paraguay and you can find almost anything you need here. Flat Stanley said that Paraguay was a beautiful country and he really likes how it`s very green and there are a lot of animals everywhere. I agreed.

The next day, Flat Stanley thought it was about time to help the world, so we went to an event that I`d helped organize for the 350 Project. This was when groups of 350 people got together all over the world on the same day to have a walk and show that we should take good care of the Earth. Flat Stanley thought it was very funny when the "Pigeon of Peace" was released at the end of the Walk. It instantly fell to the ground at the same moment that a huge storm started and sent everyone running for shelter. The four of us (My Peace Corps friends Melissa and Erin, Flat Stanley and I) all ran to Melissa`s house where we dried off and watched a movie on her computer. Flat Stanley hogged all the popcorn ("pororo").

The weather had cleared by the next day, which is good because Sunday is Asado Day ("Grilled Meat Day"). Flat Stanley and I visited my host family and we all ate a big meal together. Flat Stanley thought it was rude when everyone wiped their mouths with the tablecloth, but I explained that was normal here. Nobody got mad when Flat Stanley hogged all the asado because Paraguayans are very generous and love to share. They also like to fatten up really skinny people.

Flat Stanley asked me why he couldn`t understand what anyone was saying in this crazy country, so I explained that Paraguayans actually speak two languages - their original language called Guarani, and Spanish. I told him how cool it was that everyone here is bilingual, and then suggested that being flat is no excuse to be narrow-minded. After that, we studied Guarani together with my flashcards and now Flat Stanley knows a few new words. He can say "Op!" which means "Hi", and "Mba`eichapa" which means "How are you?", and "Cheñengua`hy" which means "I`m hungry".

We were very busy that week. Flat Stanley helped me with all of my projects. We went to my Cooperative and he learned all about how the goal of co-ops is that everyone is better off working together than they would be separately, and how they all make decisions together and help each other. Flat Stanley thinks this is a great idea. My project is to help them start a library. Flat Stanley was supposed to be helping, but he loves to read and was literally lost in the pages of a book for hours. Then he met some people that worked there and helped out the security guard for a while.

We went to my other job, called CCAB, which is a group that helps out kids by starting community centers in poor neighborhoods. Being a kid himself, Flat Stanley thinks this is awesome. We helped cook and serve food for a Field Day the kids had. There were games and activities and Flat Stanley had lots of fun. He liked watching soccer the best but he didn`t play because he didn`t know how, and his team would`ve gotten flattened.

On Thursday, he came to the radio show that I do every week with Melissa and Erin called Rojapo Radio (Guarani for "We do Radio"). It`s very popular in Coronel Oviedo. We talk about different helpful topics and play a little American music. Flat Stanley wanted to sing along but his voice was a little flat.

On Friday we went to a formal dinner ("Cena") for my Co-op`s 19th anniversary. Flat Stanley was shocked when stray dogs kept wandering in and out, and when everyone rushed to the buffet in their high heels like a pack of hyenas on a dead zebra. I told him that those were just some of the charms of Paraguay and it`s a great place once you get used to it. Then everyone danced to reggaeton. Flat Stanley really knows how to drop it like it´s hot.

The next night was Halloween and we had a party with other Peace Corps volunteers (Paraguayans don`t really celebrate Halloween because it`s sacreligious). We were all zombie versions of Paraguayans (I was an apple seller ("Manzana vendadora")) except Flat Stanley, who was a wallflower.

Throughout the week, Flat Stanley:
-Met lots of new Paraguayan friends,
-Had a dance party with some neighbor kids (they had more fun than he did, and his enthusiasm was a little flat),
-Went to my yoga classes (he`s a natural yogi and can really fold himself into all sorts of crazy positions),
-Helped me teach my English class ("Soy Llano" means "I`m Flat", he taught),
-Went to several meetings (I was worried he`d be bored but it turns out he likes things a little flat)
-And helped me study in my apartment (predictably, he called this my Flat).

Most importantly though, we spent a lot of time together with Paraguayans drinking tererè. Like everyone else in Paraguay, Flat Stanley LOVES tererè. It´s kind of like iced tea, but it`s yummy crushed herbs ("yerba") in a special cup ("guampa"). You pour ice cold water over it from a thermos ("termo") and drink it through a metal straw/spoon ("bombilla"). The most important thing about Paraguay is that it`s very "tranquilo" (tranquil) and it´s a huge part of the culture to sit around, talk, relax and drink tererè together. Flat Stanley loves to be tranquilo.

By the end of the week, Flat Stanley was starting to wilt in the 110º heat (the
98º nights didn`t help much) and he wanted to get back to the northern hemisphere (although he said he would really miss the tererè). He said that maybe when he grows up (and out) he`d join the Peace Corps, too, since it seems so awesome. He`s quite the flatterer.

I wanted to tell Flat Stanley that he was a great guest and it meant a lot to me having him around, but I just couldn`t. Words fell flat.

Thanks Delaney! I love you!
Your Cousin and Friend,

Being crazy kids with a camera, we also took some pictures I will not be sending to the 2nd graders:


  1. This is so, so, so fantastic. I cannot even express it.

  2. What did all the Paraguayans think of you bringing a paper doll everywhere?



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.