Monday, January 4, 2010

You´re . . . different.

"My one friend back home is different. She just has a different perspective on everything. She´s like you." Jenna casually dropped this as we were sitting on my patio with rum and cokes awaiting the New Year. Paraguayans celebrate midnight at home on New Year´s, and then go out and party from about 1am to 8am. She, Elmer, and I were making a midnight dinner and setting off screaming bottle rockets, pre-gaming before the party. So she´d just hit me with 2 bits of info: 1) That I was different than anyone else, and 2) That I was different just like at least one other person.

"Wait, wait," I said, "What exactly do you mean by different?" "Oh, please," Elmer piped up, "Like you didn´t know." So not only had everyone else reached a silent concensus, but it should also be obvious to me? I´ll admit, this wasn´t the first time I´d heard this. My ex-roommate Chandra had once told me, "You´re just different. It´s like, there´s EVERYONE else. . . and then there´s you." But then, as now, there was no further explanation into HOW exactly I was different, and it bugged me. ´ It´s not as though I haven´t felt a bit different. I spent my entire adolescence thinking exactly that, but it was more a yearning to fit in and not exactly understanding why I never seemed to be able to do or say the right things. It was always being just outside the circle of people who´d figured out the correct way to be and were real friends, while I was just sort of around. Then at some point around college I realized that everyone felt like they didn´t fit in, and everyone felt different from other people. Alienation is practically a right of passage. If everyone has this feeling of being different, though, it makes us even more alike than we might already appear. It was with this epiphany that I dropped the self-alienating walls I´d put up (read: I don´t want to be part of their stupid group anyway.), and happily moved on. But here I was being told that in fact I WAS different, different in a way that was more odd than everyone else´s different and also painfully obvious. "But how, specifically?" I asked, trying to get a handle on the whole thing. "I don´t know," Jenna answered. "You just see things differently. Everything has a twist. It´s like that thing with the ants. . ." When she and Elmer had arrived earlier that day, I´d shown them to my room to put down their stuff. Jenna noticed the ant super-highway, always in rush hour, running floor to ceiling in the corner by my bed, and the busy ruta being constructed around the edge of the floor on all four walls. "Looks like you´ve got quite an ant problem," she´d said, after complimenting the general decor. "I wouldn´t really call it a problem," I answered, nonchalantly, "We live harmoniously." "If I had ants like that in my room, it would never occur to me not to kill them," she explained that night, "And you live harmoniously with them. Just. . .different. Like that." I could kind of see what she meant. What actually happens is that I lay in my bed and watch them. Earlier that day I´d noticed that when ants pass each other, they both stop for a second and do this antennae-waving greeting thing before continuing on their way. At first it looks like their very hurried, but then I realized that it could be a casual stroll when you have six legs. That got me thinking about the movie Waking Life, and how there´s this one scene where the main guy is walking down to the subway station and starts to pass this girl, but she stops him and asks to do that again because she doesn´t want to miss an opportunity to really see someone as a person instead of just a meaningless body passed on the street. She says she wants to be fully present and not just rotely living her life, finishing with, "I don´t want to be an ant, you know?" So I´m watching these ants and seeing that they are nothing if not fully present in the moment, never missing an opportunity to bond with another ant on that super-highway. And I wondered if they talk in ant language about how humans are the examples of how not to be; antennae waving signifying "I want to know you to the fullest extent possible" and saying, "I don´t want to be a human, you know?" But these sorts of thoughts I considered pretty normal, especially in the Peace Corps, where people have more free time than they´ve had since being toddlers. We do things like learn how to make wine or ginger beer in our kitchens (use a condom to seal the bottle and when it stops filling with air, it´s ready), or perhaps you´ve seen, "Why I joined the Peace Corps" on Youtube (if not, here´s the link ; Worth a watch). This is how we roll. I let it drop, but a couple days later, as we were painting her house together, Melissa, unprovoked, said the same thing. "You´re. . .different." (always with that dot dot dot). She agreed with Jenna´s different perspective explanation and added that I managed to find the silver lining in everything. "Well that´s good," I said. So then it got me thinking. If 3 of my close friends in as many days have told me that I´m...different, maybe there´s something to this. So I called Paulette. "Would you consider me different?" I asked. "Different? No. Why? You think you´re special?" (and that, in a nutshell, is why I love Paulette). Then she followed it with, "Well, maybe you´re different in that you don´t suck like most people..." (ok, so another reason to like her) "...but I think you´re different in the same way I am, like there´s less bullshit ego stuff with you." So then I was thinking that if I was so very different, it was in the same way as Jenna´s friend and Paulette, and that reminded me of another story Jenna had told us about her cousins that categorize everyone they know. For example, there is a type they call an Mmm,yehhss-er, which means an outdated hippy who wears long denim skirts and has a long braid down her back and answers questions with a very nasally "mmm, yehhss". The prototype for this category is their neighbor, and she and her friends are the group. This type of person exists in the world, they insist, and there´s more than one of them, so that justifies a category. Jenna´s dad is an "Oh,yeah-er", which is a dad who is always taking his kids to do fun stuff, like ski trips, and apparently says "Oh, Yeah" a lot. So maybe my type of person should be a category, I think, and it should be based on some tagline I say all the time. It took me all of 5 seconds to name my new category, as it is a phrase always on the tip of my tongue. I am an "Itiswhatitis-er". Paulette´s going to be very upset when she finds out this is the category name - she had a bournout ex-boyfriend who said it all the time, too, and it drives her crazy - but oh, well, it is what it is. Since coming to Paraguay, I´ve changed quite a bit, so it´s possible that now I am an "esloquées-ita" ("Es lo qué es" means it is what it is in Spanish), because I technically use that version more often now, but iguál, no más. There was definitely a time in my life when I was a "righton-er", and while that is of course still a factor, I feel I´ve moved on. If we´re naming a whole category of human being her, it´s gotta be "itiswhatitis-er". I´m not sure what to do now with my new categorization. Do we all trade emails and talk about things that are what they are? Form a club? Should we have a secret handshake? Do we have to invite Paulette´s burnout ex-boyfriend? When it´s all said and done, nothing has actually changed, and I´m not so sure it should be a goal to categorize one´s uniqueness, reducing an especially twisted world view to one line, making myself of caricature of...myself. I mentally fumbled with this for a moment, watching my ants, until I remembered that (now, officially) I don´t have to try to figure it out. There is no solution. It is what it is.


  1. Wonderful update as always! I like the new feature with the slideshow too!

    Happy New Year!


  2. nice hook at the end of your post!

    Here is a bit on ants from the BBC.

    One big family

    But whenever ants from the main European and Californian super-colonies and those from the largest colony in Japan came into contact, they acted as if they were old friends.

    These ants rubbed antennae with one another and never became aggressive or tried to avoid one another.

    In short, they acted as if they all belonged to the same colony, despite living on different continents separated by vast oceans.

    The most plausible explanation is that ants from these three super-colonies are indeed family, and are all genetically related, say the researchers. When they come into contact, they recognise each other by the chemical composition of their cuticles.

    "The enormous extent of this population is paralleled only by human society," the researchers write in the journal Insect Sociaux, in which they report their findings.

    However, the irony is that it is us who likely created the ant mega-colony by initially transporting the insects around the world, and by continually introducing ants from the three continents to each other, ensuring the mega-colony continues to mingle.

    "Humans created this great non-aggressive ant population," the researchers write.

    Full here:

    Jim jensen

  3. I am Randi, Jenna's different best friend, and I have to tell you that, while I do kill ants in my home in CA, I think I would probably choose to let them be in a house in Paraguay. Also, I too have noticed that ants greet each other as they pass. It is a spilt second, but they do it. Also, they carry each other's dead bodies away when they can. I wonder what they do with it. Do they burry it? But, i doubt that ants have the ability to observe our ways as easily as we observe theirs, since they are so small and we are so big.
    I'll have you know, also, that while I guess many people would agree that I am sort of a unique person, Jenna thinks I am different more than anyone else does. I don't really get it.
    I enjoyed your blog very much and have fun with my Jenna.

  4. Hey-awesome post! I'm a PC journal-lurker & i'm one of your followers b/c i think i have a chance of getting invited to Paraguay in SEPT.
    I admire people that have the courage to think for themselves & be different. I have always been 'unique' as they say, but now i embrace 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.