Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Playing it Cool OR Death Made Over

If you were to see scenes of my recent life spliced together, it would look like a tampon commercial, probably something like this:

Me, running and doing yoga - Melissa and I have started running together every morning (that we don´t have a good enough excuse not to) and, although my yoga class got boring (since it was not really yoga, but just a lot of self-massage, which I can do on my own), I have some yoga podcasts that I love.

Me, horseback riding - Twice I´ve been to visit Nate´s (another volunteer) site, which is quite a trip, but, well...he has this horse. Her name is Isapy (dew) and she is a racehorse. Somehow she has gotten it into her head that whenever I ride her, she should run (well, ok, I told her) but it goes very quickly (and without warning) from, "This is fun, hair blowing back, waving to the neighbors" sort of riding, to "holding on for dear life, inner thighs cramping, lost my flipflops 2k back, are those rotting boards over that stream really going to hold us" sort of riding. But people in the campo think it is HILARIOUS when city people, especially Americans, don´t know what they are doing, so I gotta play it cool.
"Are you scared?" his host sister yells to me when Isapy comes to a screeching halt in the pasture next to their terere circle.
"Of course not," I yell back, as I slide down like a ragdoll, on the far side so they can´t see my shaking knees.

Me, rockclimbing - Meli and I were a little surprised when the Barandas (my English class family) accepted Elmer´s invitation to go rock climbing. They are not what you´d call the hard-core, outdoorsy types. But we went, last Sunday to the only rockclimbing place in Paraguay (designated and maintained only by Peace Corps people because Paraguayans do not rockclimb), and they all did great. We had a ton of fun, joked around all day, and everybody climbed. At the end, I was talking to Daniela (the mom), and she confessed that they had all thought rockclimbing was hiking over rocks. They had totally played it cool when they saw the ropes and harnesses.

Me, moving and shaking in different work environments - all my projects are going really well. The bakery project is going to receive money from the municipality within a couple months (That´s Paraguayan time, so actually it could be a couple years), and in the meantime, they are going to do a small-scale practice run, just baking for their own community center, to get them used to running a business. This was because every time I said the words "accounting" or "management", they all started looking for escape routes.
We finally (almost) have a librarian at the coop, and she is actually qualified (2 of the 3 final candidates for the DIGITAL librarian had never used a computer, and no one had thought to ask. Ah, Paraguay).
The marketing project for CCAB is awesome. We had a great press breakfast and are planning an Awareness Walk for April 10th.

...All this without a single leak. Then something about "protection you can trust"...and, cut.

Yes, it has been a flood of activities lately - and that´s not even counting the actual flood (I woke up and put my feet on the floor...and they splashed), followed by 5 days of no water (irony? anyone?) because the pumps to the city are submerged.

But there were 2 moments recently, that were really the highlights of the last month:

"Meli, where is your bike seat?" I asked. She, Paulette, and I had just finished our radio show and were deciding what to do for lunch, when we saw that her bike, which had been locked up outside the studio, was seatless. We asked the station owner, Blas, who was sitting with his friends in front of the store next door, if they had seen anything. They ambled over to investigate and suddenly one of them points out this clean-cut guy, acting shady, waiting to cross the ruta half a block away. He has something under his arm that is rather bikeseat-shaped. They call him over and, after a slight hesitation, he comes. Indeed, he had Melissa´s bike seat (still on the post) and her bungee cord in a white plastic bag under his arm. Melissa and I jump in and start interrogating him.
-Did you steal this?
-No, I just bought it.
-Where did you buy it?
-From a guy down the street.
-This is her bike seat. Give it to me.
-I have a receipt. I bought this.
He uncrumples a hand-written receipt that shows that, sure enough, he´d bought it.
-Well, it´s hers, so give it to me.
At this point, I try to take it out of his hands (gently), but when he doesn´t give it up right away, I pry his thieving fingers off of it, insisting, "No ES una pregunta!" (it´s not a question). I was thinking "Sorry you´re such a stupid sucker to buy stolen goods, but it´s hers, so end of story, give it to me.
Melissa is saying, "We should find the guy he bought it from. Where´d you buy this?! This is my seat."

This whole interaction is becoming a real clusterfuck, with the other guys periodically throwing in their 2 cents. I picked up the plastic bag he´d dropped on the ground and read the sticker. "Galletitas de Machetazo. Qué Bola!" (supermarket cookies. What bullshit.), and I disgustedly toss the bag back at him.

We´ve switched to English and Melissa is starting to feel bad that he spent money on this, and I´m telling her, "Who cares, Melissa, it´s YOUR bikeseat," and that´s when I see the camera. It didn´t register immediately, but when everyone started laughing and showing their hidden microphones, it dawns on us that it. is. all. a. fucking. PRANK. That´s right - we got punked in Paraguay. Apparently, there is a local show here that does these sorts of pranks (owned by the Blas, conveniently). Were I not so used to humiliating myself on a daily basis, it might have been more embarrassing, but it was definitely super funny, and we all laughed and played it cool. They said we´d get copies of the DVD, and I´ll post it when I do.


You know, Paraguayans are very comfortable with death.
At this point, you yell, "How comfortable are they?"
Well, I´l tell you with a little story.

Melissa invited me to this wake. One of the moms in her community center (with 15 yr old twin boys) had just died of a heart attack. When people die here, the hospital drains their blood, and then they have 24 hours to have the wake and mourn before it´ll start to smell. The family stays up and guards the body, and then they take it to the family tomb. Meli doesn´t know the family that well, and wanted Awkward-situation-backup.

So we greet the family, look at the body, which is laid out in a coffin with a lace handkerchief over her face, and sit. Then this woman comes over, 40´s, hair bleached and teased, stuffed like a sausage into a geometric print dress, and crying. She stands over the body, takes off the lace handkerchief from the face, and, through her tears, is telling the dead body that she´s going to look pretty for her trip. Simultaneously, she is taking the compact out of her purse and starts PUTTING HER OWN MAKEUP ON THE DEAD LADY. A younger woman comes up and takes over when Blondie gets too upset, and the younger one is careful not to drip her tears on the newly made-up face. Then they compare 2 shades of lipstick from their own purses (Which goes better with the pallor of death? Ruby Rose or Blushing Peach?) and finish off the Death-made-over look with their OWN lipstick. They put their makeup away, cry a little more, and then sit down.

The whole time, I´ve been watching this with saucer eyes, all feigned coolness out the window.
"Did you see what just happened?" I hiss to Melissa.
"After 2 years in Paraguay, nothing fazes her anymore. "Yep," she says.
The instant we are outside, I start in, "Are they going to REUSE that makeup?"
"Are they at least going to wipe it OFF?"
"Probably not."
Dios Mio. Everyone always talks about how the Peace Corps changes you, and I can honestly say I will never be the same after that little trauma.

So there you have it. Another month gone by. Asi as la vida. (Life is like that.)


  1. Angelic! I can't tell you how much I laugh when I read these! And as ironic as it is, it totally makes me miss Paraguay even more. First, I can not believe you guys got punked. And by Blas!! Haha, did he air it on his t.v. station?? Second, I'm very impressed with you and Meli running everyday! I wish I could be there to join in, though I would surely be about a k behind you two! Third, please tell the Barandas family how proud I am of their accomplishments on making it through their first rockclimbing experience alive. Please pass on saludos y todo!
    It sounds like everything is going really great! I'm so proud of you girls! Keep up the good work!!

  2. LOL- im one of the strangers that follows you & I LOVE reading your blog. It's hysterical!

  3. lol. punked in paraguay. Too funny. I hope i get to see that video. they got you both good.

    This is not a question!! lol




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.