Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Why my podcast isn't an official Peace Corps Publication

Actual e-mail. Names changed to protect the innocent.

Hi (Peace Corps Paraguay Official),

I began to review the Guarani materials. The visual portion looks really good. However, as I started to listen to the podcast, there were certain expressions that I would be uncomfortable sharing including: “it could drive me to drink,” “jerk face” and other frustrations regarding learning the Guarani language. I think this may be better for a less formal channel.


(Peace Corps Headquarters Official)

My podcast is on hiatus but I plan to continue to produce episodes and more info will be on the site at See ya jerk face.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

“A human being is part of a whole, called by us the "Universe", a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings, as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circles of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty."

-Albert Einstein

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

An interview with Returned Peace Corps Volunteer Paulette

So, you’re still writing on this blog, huh?

Wasn’t your service over in, like, August?

Isn’t that a little, I don’t know, pathetic?
I just moved in with my mother and I’m unemployed. This is the least of my worries.

But you’re not really ready to let it go, are you?
No, but I’m working on it.

Do you feel the need to write some grand, summing-it-all-up masterpiece blog entry?

Do you think that’s possible?
I guess not.

Was the Peace Corps wonderful?

Was the Peace Corps terrible?
Yes, at times.

Well, there you go.

I know, it’s just, I have something to say to the people who are thinking about joining.

Go on.
I just wish I could explain how much of a DO IT! I would give them. Someone called the Peace Corps a "cool job" the other day, and it sounded like such a silly, empty word for it. It’s this entrance into another world, from which there is no return. The difference between doing it and not doing it... It’s... It’s... Had I not gone, it would have been the worst mistake of my life, and I never would have even known it. I was so, so scared to go. Immense amounts of Googling was done, trying to predict the future of how it would be. Peace Corps teaches you to let go. The world is wild and you just have to let it be that way. I’m still neurotic as hell, but I’m not the same person I was.

Is that all?
I still want to thank everyone so much. So many people talked me through it. So many people bought extension cords for their love that reached me all the way in Paraguay. So many people bought my favorite candies for $2 and spent $15 to ship it to me. So much complaining was distributed to so many patient ears via the crackling connection of Skype. I never felt forgotten in my impossible quest to have the best of both worlds -- roots and wings.
Thank you everyone.
And thank you especially to my mother, my amazing amazing mother. If my service were a book, the dedication would be to her. Love you, roomie!

Feel better now?

Will you have more to add later?
Maybe, even at the risk of being pathetic. I’ll move on soon, I swear.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Integration tool

Attention anyone going to the Peace Corps who owns a Mac.

One of the best tools you have for integration is the Photo Booth program, with all of its fun effects. Over the two years, it's helped break down barriers with adults and kids alike. Best of all, you don't have to speak the language. Here are some of my favorites.

From my first host family:

To friends along the way:

To my very last visit with my host family:

And sometimes, the picture is just right as it is:

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Relief and Confusion

Hello everyone,
I have left Paraguay. I'm in Colombia, looking for a job teaching English. It has been an intense time, so much to write about, but so little time to write. This below is something I wrote while getting ready to leave Paraguay. If I had more time, it'd be more edited, less rambling. The TANGENT is optional reading. More later.

Let’s be honest, there’s a certain relief of not being in the Peace Corps anymore.
I realized I could stop wearing this stone on my back, this huge, heavy stone called All The Sufferings of a Third World Country. Deforestation, pollution, diabetes, poverty. We’ve been worried sick about Paraguay. For two years! Peace Corps is kind of like an intervention. Paraguay is our little brother who can't seem to get his shit together. We say, "Paraguay, you really shouldn’t cut down all your trees. You really shouldn’t steal all the money from the people. You really should brush your teeth a little more often." We somehow feel responsible for Paraguay, although we can only control what we do, we cannot control what Paraguay does.
But we try.

What is it they say is the biggest mistake a woman can make? Thinking that she could change a man. One man. Here we are, as an organization, thinking we can change an entire culture. It’s exhausting. And some of us, yes, thinking we can change one man, as well.

We go to change a culture, but then the culture changes us. We change our names. Our names. For two years, I was Pauli. Part of Pauli’s job was to get people to like here. Professional People Pleaser. Pauli didn’t tell people she was ridiculously full and ate until she was in pain, just because it was part of the culture. Pauli got told constantly that she was fat, because that’s how they do it here. When people told Pauli they would help her, and they didn't, Pauli just kept on smiling, and tried again the next day, even though it was them she was trying to help in the end. This is why I decided not to extend. I didn't like the person Pauli became. I didn't like how Pauli let some people treated her. She deserved better.

You’re told to act like them, talk like them, live like them, to make friends. Nobody likes a weirdo. All this trying is just sad, like when parents try to use the lingo of their kids. We are entirely weird. I kept trying to picture us, and the best I can do is the foreign kid from the classic movie “Can’t Hardly Wait”. He walks around entertaining party-goers by totteringly repeating the phrase that someone has taught him: “Would you like to touch my penis?” Laugh laugh laugh. That’s us. I can’t even tell you the things I was have said in Guaraní.

We have to get people to like us, even if it means screaming obscenities into the campo night air. We did other things too. Vegetarians ate meat. Gay people hid their gayness. Atheists found themselves in front of a statue of the Virgin, in a group reciting something, more times that they would have liked.

We attended parties where they arrange the chairs in one large circle around the room. This arrangement is a formula for the most awkward parties ever, and that’s why I’m saying this, we suffered.

TANGENT: You walk in these parties, and it’s like everyone’s in a line, just looking at you. Once you sit, you have no choice but to talk to the person on your left or, OR, your right. This constricts conversations to two people, max. And when you turn to someone, you have to turn away from the person on your other side. It’s like you want to make sure you’re giving them equal face time. So you’re sitting there, and you are either talking currently, or you looking to your right and your left, and you’re stuck looking at the back end of two feather-covered scrunchies as both your neighbors are talking to others. You’re in a social vacuum, if both sides are turned away. That’s why it feels like everyone’s starting at you when you walk in, because everyone’s so bored with their two-person conversation, the only entertainment is those people entering.

And then they serve meat and everyone eats it slowly. People leave immediately after dinner and then others gossip that they’re rude. A drunk guy gets drunk and dances sadly. Maybe there’s a cake that looks like American birthday cake. But it sure ain’t the same once you taste it. You wait 25 minutes to get the guts and the language skill and the pause to add something to the conversation. You start talking, in a foreign language, a new one you didn’t know a year ago. You look each of the listeners in the eyes, as you start talking, to see if they’re looking at you like a human or like some toy they’re about to break. Then you try to complete just one whole sentence and someone just starts talking, interrupts, T-bones the conversation and runs off in the other direction. You resume just sitting there. No one seems to remember that you were talking. If you think about parties in the United States, with your friends, you might just tear up and excuse yourself to go to the latrine. :END TANGENT

We attend these parties, because we want to be liked. We love them in their own way, after a while. There comes to be people we love. And they love us. But there are things expected of you, as a member of their community.

Then you leave Peace Corps. You think about that person you were two years ago, leaving home. You’re not that person anymore. If you saw that person, you’d trip him and give him a nuggie and laugh. You think about the person you’ve been the last two years. Were you Pauli or Paulette? Were you a normal person or some exhalted stereotype of the Americana with golden hair? Were you hard-working, or lazy? Were you rich or were you poor? It depends on who you ask, where you are. None of them stick anymore. Nothing just is.

So now you’re not who you were in the United States. Putting your name back on feels like putting on an old dress that feels stiff and baggy. More importantly, who are you now? Am I a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer or just another unemployed 20-something moving back in with her parents.

You set out. Where to? What matters anymore? Is it money or freedom?

Now I’m packing to leave, to start again. Making two piles, one for the person I’m leaving behind, and one for the person I want to go and be, as if I were a costume designer. This belt says everything about how New Paulette views on the world. Into the suitcase. This t-shirt says that I went to Paraguay. Suitcase. This shirt is too stained for New Paulette. It would have been fine for volunteer Pauli, but this is New Paulette. Give-away pile.

We know tree as tree, but then in spanish it’s arbol, then in guaraní its yvyra raka. Then you have the funny realization that these are all just sounds me made up to mean the same thing. We must sound like cavemen, just a step up from grunting. But the thing is that the tree stays the same. The word doesn’t touch the thing.

All these labels I have for myself: Volunteer, College-educated, Money Retard, Young, Old, Big, Smart, Clutzy, Pretty, Ugly. They change every day, have changed with the space I'm in, the people I'm around, the look in their eyes. They don’t touch me, they don't touch me. I have to remember.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Black face: Always inappropriate

If the racial sensitivity of Paraguay were to be expressed in one image, it might have to be this ad for the upcoming Reggaefest.

Friday, September 3, 2010

On a happier note...Paraguay continues to amuse with Emos!

I've meaning to mention emos. Yes, there are emo kids in Paraguay. (Emo, if you haven't heard, are those kids who dress in all black and wear tight jeans, etc. Pronounced E-mo in English but Eh-mo in Spanish.) Here they call indie kids floggers. I had no idea what they were calling me an indie kid until they Googled "Characteristics of flogger" for me and pictures of indie kids popped up.

So, anyway, there are also these message services you can sign up for on your phone. You can get a daily message with the weather report, your horoscope, etc. Once I got a new number and kept getting an Aquarius horoscope, and I'm a cancer and someone who's not the kind of person who would get a bite of my phone bill taken out to know my horoscope anyway. I just didn't know how to cancel it.

I got a new number for this month, and it turns out the person before me, again, signed up for a message service. This one, it seems, is the daily informational message about emos. Every day, I receive information on how emo kids dress, who music they listen to, how they do their hair. Every day in the office, I get a message and say, "Quiet down guys, it's time for the emo fact of the day." I saw some emo kids walking down the street and said, Hey, now I know those are emos.

Thought I'd pass along some of the wisdom:
Los colores que llevan los emos son negro con rojo, verde, y a veces marrón.
The colors emos wear are black with red, green and sometimes brown.

La musica emo se caracteriza por un sonido medio punk o pop-punk complementado por letra introspectiva y vocales agudas y desesperadas.
Emo music is characterized by a quasi-punk sound or pop-punk complemented with introspective words and high-pitched and desperate vocals.

Los temas de las canciones emo generalmente se trata un amor imposible, lo cruel que vida, como quiere morir, etc...
The themes of emo songs generally discuss impossible love, how cruel life is, how they want to die, etc...

Pasa sus ratos libres en MySpace comunicandose con otros Emos y posteando entradas en sus blogs donde describe su terible agonia.
They pass their free time in MySpace communicating with other emos and posting entries en their blogs where they describe their terrible suffering.

Friday, August 13, 2010

The Post Script, after Peace Corps - Random Notes from a Random Time

Sometime in August...
I think I´ve seen myself before, years ago. I saw her while I was in training, lost, unable to speak, curious, overly camping-style dressed, full of questions. And I saw this girl across the room, and I heard her joking in Guarani, mixing in Spanish words to her English as if they were a part of her family, while to me they were still strangers I was trying to get to know. She had a confidence I had left in the United States. She looked comfortable in the strangest country I´d been in.

I feel like I was that girl today. I went to the training center to teach the trainees how to make ao po´i. I got a warm welcome from the trainers, I knew the coordinator and sat off to the side of the group, as if with the actors in a play. I even made the language trainers laugh. Those trainers who had seen me come in with the Spanish of a Paraguayan 18-month old. I told them that if I didn´t get the job I applied for in Paraguay, I was going to run around Bolivia "opapeve che plata", (until my money runs out). They laughed and laughed. Two years ago I was the butt of undecipherable jokes in Guarani. Now I´m telling them.

Other things have happened that seem like they should happen on my last week in town, as if they would be written into the last scene of a movie. Some people who listen to my Guarani podcast were really complimentary, which is nice. Plus Angelic bought me these earrings that only Paraguayan women wear. I feel initiated.

It occurred to me. "I did it." I was a Peace Corps volunteer. Done. Check. "I've always wanted to do that" became a careful "I´m thinking about doing that" which became "I think I'm going to do that" to " I'm going to do that" to "I'm doing this" to "I did it."

Where do you go from here? We wandered out of here as the longtime jailed wander out on parole day. Were you trapped, or were you freer in there than you are on the outside? Some went home and just laid down on their parent's couches. Some are traveling aimlessly until money runs out. Some are extending in Paraguay. Then there´s me.

Some time later in August...
You spend these two years changing and growing, becoming more Paraguayan. Integrating. By the time you've lived here two years, the culture has taken hold. You catch yourself in the mirror, bra straps hanging out, legs unshaven, wearing spandex shorts, and get some sense that you used to find these things offensive, yet you can't muster the feeling like before.

You see something, a green pepper, but the sound in your mind, the one that wants to come out of your mouth, is locote. When you have to do something, you want to say you'll do it si or si. When shit goes wrong, you just want to say Asi es la vida, and to say that same thing to your mother, you can't think of the words. This is the way it is for two years. Then you get on a tube with wings, and you wake up, and no one knows what Asi es la vida means, and furthermore, they think you're kind of an asshole if it slips out.

You aren't from Paraguay, and suddenly, you're aren't from America, either. We can't go back, and we don't know how to go forward.

All Peace Corps Volunteers leave the country with vouchers to see a psychologist.
I'm still in Paraguay. After the Life Plan Implosion and my unexpected not extending, the world shook under my feet, and I just needed to sit down a second. I realized that my culture is this tiny cult: Peace Corps Paraguay volunteers past their two year service. The ones who call delicious food heterei. The girls who know what it's like to have dated a Paraguayan. Those who know what it's like to fall out the other end of the Peace Corps machine and not know exactly what they've been made into.

I spent two years outside my culture, and now I don't know where to find a new one. I'm in this tiny twilight zone, ephemeral in both space and time, so I decided to give myself a minute to breath in it. I rented the apartment of a volunteer on home leave for a month. A month to sit still and say, "Ok, what the hell am I doing?"

I arrive at the Peace Corps office every day just in time for terere. The guard at the front makes sure to tell the others that I'm an EX-volunteer, and I get a red pass instead of yellow. I sit in the office with the coordinators, waiting for someone to suggest that perhaps it's inappropriate that I'm still there, but no one has, yet, instead support me and tell me everything's going to be ok. I prepare the terere, to earn my keep. They make fun of my red pass, and I pretend to sob, instead of really sobbing, which I save for later. Volunteers come in on their trips to the city, and they say, "So...what are you doing?" I have a variety of witty answers that I rotate. The most accurate being, "I have no idea."

I'm just another unemployed person. Suddenly I feel thrust into the world that I saw through the plexiglass of my protective Peace Corps container. My insurance, my paycheck, my plan. Paraguayans live in a scarier world, a world Americans know better, these days, where work is scarce and life is uncertain. I open 92 internet tabs of possible job leads. One involves wearing a costume on the side of the road and waving in customers. I close it with a shudder. I work on my computer until my head hurts from eyestrain.

People complain about their service, their sites, and I want to grab their little faces like Billy Madison grabbed that elementary schooler, and I want to shake them and say "Stay. Stay as long as you can."

I’ll move on, I will. Just give me a minute to focus my eyes, to remember English for Asi es la vida. I think it's something like, "That's the way life goes."

Monday, August 9, 2010

The end

Long story short: I decided not to extend.

So as of Friday, I'm not a volunteer anymore. I have no home. I have no job. I have no responsibility. I have no keys. Not one.
I'm in a hotel room, and I can barely move for everything that's around, as my friends pack up to go to Bolivia. My friends. My community. It's now like a town where everyone's packing up and moving out, as if there was a nuclear contamination. I'm sitting here, writing up my resume and a cover letter, trying to stay in Paraguay as a trainer, just for 4 months, just to have a little warning sign that my life is about to decompose before it decomposes, like it is now, suddenly. More like imploding.
I have whatever I could carry from my house, which technically is more than I can carry. Seven bags in all. I could ship stuff home, but I don't know where that is exactly. I don't know what country I'll be in next week.
"We're not Peace Corps volunteers," we kept saying outloud last night, when the conversation died down enough to have a thought. It's over.
Although I wish I didn't have to leave like this, hustled, I have to look at how the service itself was. It's over, and all the drama falls away, like water from rocks. That chick who gossiped about me, I don't really care. Those talks that didn't work out, I can barely remember. But the times remain. All the memories. We really did this.

It was amazing. Amazing.

What if I had chickened out? It would have been the worst mistake of my life, and I would have never even known it.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Hello from the Twilight Zone

It's really just Bolivia. 3:35 a.m. I'm in the airport.

Here's what's going on: My official Peace Corps time is up. I'm staying longer, of course, but almost everyone arrived with, the PC equivalent of my high school class, will be leaving on August 6. It's the opposite of moving away, but to the same effect.

Due to the timing of a family vacation, I decided to take a trip home and them come right back for our close-of-service ceremony. But some of them will already be gone. In Peace Corps, you have two lives: You're in-site life and your capital, hanging with the other volunteers life. I'm losing half of my life in Paraguay. (Although I have made new friends in other groups, of course. But no friendships are as battle-hardened as those that were formed during training.)

All that is adding to my Twilight Zone effect, but also, there's this nervousness about this trip that I've never felt for a flight before. I realized flying is the opposite of living in Paraguay. Paraguay is show up when you want, there's plenty of space, there's no forms you have to have in hand. With a flight you have to get there early, cram in, having your passport, your boarding pass, your customs slip. It's a word you hear a lot from Peace Corps volunteers having contact with the American world again after two years: overwhelming.

I forgot to fill out the official form for my vacation and had to rush to the PC office to write it out at 4:40 p.m. It was supposed to be approved 10 days in advance. The people at the airport tried to tell me I had to pay the $135 visa just to pass through the Bolivian airport. No no, I said. I'm waiting until the 5:30 a.m. boarding of my bottom-dollar frankenstein flight. My eyes and nose are burning from the altitude of Bolivia, at more than 13,000 feet. I'll be in a box with wings all day, trying to sleep. Then I just want to fall into the arms of my best friend in Miami, and let her take me away to another place were tranquility rules: Key West.

Monday, June 28, 2010

See, I'm fine.

Angelic has put proof on her blog that I sometimes smile. Click here to see. (Family: I'm ok! Stop worrying.)

Sunday, June 20, 2010

There's a race of men that don't fit in,
A race that can't stay still;
So they break the hearts of kith and kin;
And they roam the world at will.
They range the field and they rove the flood,
And they climb the mountain's crest;
Theirs is the curse of the gypsy blood,
And they don't know how to rest.
If they just went straight they might go far;
They are strong and brave and true;
But they're always tired of the things that are,
And they want the strange and new.

--Robert W Service
There's a race of men that don't fit in,
A race that can't stay still;
So they break the hearts of kith and kin;
And they roam the world at will.
They range the field and they rove the flood,
And they climb the mountain's crest;
Theirs is the curse of the gypsy blood,
And they don't know how to rest.
If they just went straight they might go far;
They are strong and brave and true;
But they're always tired of the things that are,
And they want the strange and new.

--Robert W Service

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Trip Home

I'm taking a trip home in July, and when I come back I'll have just 9 months left. It's costing, well, a lot. But it feels something like necessary.

I've changed in Paraguay. As much as we like to think we are strong enough to be who we are, no matter what, the truth is we are where we are, we are the people we're with, we are others' reactions to us. In most cases, without realizing it, we become who our environments tell us we are.

People treat you just a smidgen less than human, or more than a smidgen. You can only laugh it off for so long. You think you're still laughing it off, until you realize you've become introverted. You want to stay home. You want to be with the few people who treat you, fully, as if you're another person. You don't want to be among the stares, anymore. You don't want to hear their voices, talking to you in the same voice as you would a child, then repeating your responses loudly and have a jolly round of laughter, minus you.

I've grown tired of it. I don't want to be out, listening to someone else's music, speaking someone else's language, sitting there, unintroduced. When I do go, I usually just sit there, the only one not laughing at the jokes said in speedy Guaraní, hanging on to Oscar's arm, and I want to sleep before it's even 11.

There are six Paraguayans who treat me like I'm a real-live human being. They make it alright. Other than that, I am the joke. I am that girl. Unless I'm in my house, alone, which has become my preferred spot. I didn't used to be like this.

The old me comes out over Skype, talking to my sister, my mom, my old friends. I have a distant memory of being the funny one. Of course I've provided a lot of laughs for Paraguayans, but there's that crucial "laughing at" versus the "laughing with" component.

In a way, I'm going home to visit my old self, seen through the faces of the people who are glad to see me. I'm a true friend there. I'm a sister. I'm a daughter. I'm an aunt. I can leave the foreign kid behind, go home and, for 22 days, be myself again.

Monday, June 7, 2010

The Web Page!

Now that I've had a few days...

Presenting, dun dun du na! The culmination of my Peace Corps service, our new web page!

The Web Page!

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Crash and Burn and Smile

It's safe to say the web site presentation was set off to be a crash and burn, so I can't say I'm surprised. I'm so used to them by now, I just let it happen.
The day we picked to have it was today, the birthday of Yataity. There would be a festival in the plaza. Who of our socias would want to leave a festival to come to a talk about a web site? But The Boss could not be convinced. Although there was no reason not to do it next week, she was set on this week.

It was supposed to be a tranquilo gathering. But then The Boss heard that the governor was going to come through. Hell ensued. We could not just serve the governor (and his flock) coke out of plastic cups. We needed glass cups, blah blah, etc. She was worried that we needed food for all of them, plus for everyone we invited, should they ALL show up. This is about as likely as a tsunami hitting the co-op. This was my event and it was making life tough on the girls who worked in the co-op. Not good.

Nameless Peace Corps Higher Up was going to come, adding some prestige to the event, and bring the projector so that we could project the computer screen on the wall for all to see. Mariela and I worked on a PowerPoint of what the internet is and why our web page is important. We did three practice runs. Everything was set.

8:30 I arrive for the 11 a.m. meeting. I'm surprised to see that everyone is there, hustling. Making sandwiches, putting up decorations. I'm nn a common situation: I want to help, but I don't know what to do and worried about just getting in the way. I printed the business cards we needed and added last touch-ups to the PowerPoint. I began chatting with Mariela and one of the girls yelled at me, "It's already time and we need to get the sodas here now! Where are they?" Woah. It was my job to order the sodas, and I asked them to come at 10. We still had 2 1/2 hours. What's the big deal?

I found out later that The Boss had been calling people since 7 a.m., yelling at them to get over to the co-op, do this and that. She had injected anxiety into everyone.

At about 10 we were asked to go to the plaza. I wanted to stay, but I went. There was the governor. The Boss announced that we would be showcasing our web page. I left.

10:40: I call the Peace Corps Higher Up, and he's lost, but he'll get here soon. At 11 a.m., just Mariela and I are in the room for the presentation. This is normal.

Then come in The Boss, pulling by the arm important people. The Priest and the Mayor's people. All coming toward me. No projector.

I ask The Boss to say a few words, which she's more than happy to do, about all the work she's done for the co-op all her life. She introduces me, says I have 2 years in Paraguay, and although she still can't really understand what I say, they should all try to understand me.

I step over my ego on the way to the computer. We use just the computer screen to give the PowerPoint. He'll be here any second. I talk about why the internet is important, all the things Mariela and I have practiced, until The Boss stands up and tugs my arm and says, "That's great. Just show us the web page." She also says, "Why didn't you tell me your Peace Corps Higher Up wasn't going to be here, we could have just used my son's projector." Why didn't you say your son had a projector?

I begin talking about the web page, and just then, the Higher Up walks in, but nothing is in his hands. "And the projector?" is the first thing I say. He puts his hand to his forehead. He'd forgotten.

During the next 15 minutes I went down flaming. Is it the two years in disaster-prone Paraguay, or a study of spirituality based on accepting what is? Whatever it was, there was a calmness about my crash. The internet worked as slow as a snail, or not at all, please try again, in front of a squinting crowd. Sputtering sentence fragments, saying "cosa" (thing) when I wanted to say "window", "cursor" or "screen." I remained fairly calm. The words formed in my mind: Crash and Burn. I could feel the redness in my face, the physical reaction to humiliation, as natural to a Peace Corps Volunteer's bodily functions as sneezing.

The parade started outside, and to my relief, they all left. The subject of all this preparation and anxiety had passed in 15 awkward minutes where little was accomplished. The parade went by (at least there was a fat kid on a pony) and they ate a small portion of the food we'd painstakingly set out. I talked to the Higher Up, who was red in the face and couldn't stop apologizing. Was I just so used to things going horribly wrong? The governor and his flock never showed at the co-op.

A reporter from ABC Color did come by. The least curious reporter in the world. Mariela and I provided him with facts. "Our web page will be the first in inner Paraguay to accept credit cards." "Uh-huh," he said, perusing the snacks. "We won a grant from Peace Corps for 10 million Guaranies." "Hmm," bite of empanada. He took a picture of me at the computer.

That was the answer, Jeopardy players. And what was the question?

"What's it like to be a Peace Corps Volunteer?"

Saturday, May 22, 2010

What's wrong with this picture?

Before, I would have said nothing was wrong with this picture. I found it in my Apple dictionary, looking for synonyms for beef. Here's beef. Now tell me, what's wrong with this picture?

What's wrong is exactly what Oscar said when he walked up behind me. "It doesn't show the feet," he said. Or the tail. Or the head. It's American beef, the prime cuts. But it's left out all the parts that I can tell you are certainly considered beef, considered food, down here. This photo should be reclassified, under A, for American Beef.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

The Doors that Close

I was looking through these Fulbright Scholar things, maybe you’ve heard of them -- and I saw the word Finland. It made me smile.

I had Finland on the mind when I was 13 years old. Somehow I’d gotten my hands on this exchange program brochure. Without the knowledge of my parents, I applied to one of the only ones that didn’t cost thousands of dollars and was a scholarship, to Finland. What did I know about Finland? Nothing. I just wanted to go, somewhere.

I can still remember how important it felt. The careful filling out of all the forms with the nice pen. The wanting. I got down to the finalist, and my mom, who now knew her daughter wanted to spend the summer across the Atlantic, drove me hours away for the interview. I’d never before been so nervous as I was, sitting at the head of all those people who got to decide if I went or not. I did get one laugh out of them, so I thought there was hope.

Then a thin little envelope arrived, that relieved my parents greatly. I didn’t get it.

It seems so funny now, but I was so crushed by that that I literally thought I’d missed my chance. I didn’t even look, really, for other opportunities. It reminds me of this quote:

“When one door closes, another opens; but we often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door that we do not see the one which has opened for us.”
-Alexander Graham Bell

I was blind to everything else. In my dramatic 13-year-old mind, Finland was it, like a boy who had dumped me who'd I swore I'd never get over. Luckily I didn’t stay that way, and I couldn’t really tell you what snapped me out of it. But here I am, putting Peace Corps Volunteer on my resume, looking at this program I used to think was just for people who were smarter than me. From now on I'll try to turn away faster from those doors that close.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Chicken Sex

Chicken sex comes darting out across the yard. Your eye will be caught, whether you like it or not. A chicken making a run for it, head forward and legs crisscrossing exactly like they draw in the cartoons. A rooster behind, gaining on her.

Uh oh, that chicken’s gonna get it.

Few get away, flapping their wings, bobbing their heads as they walk away as if to say, “That’s what I thought, mister.”

But for most of them, the chase only lasts but a few moments until the rooster is upon them. Without even a “Hello, good day to you,” he hops on and bites the back of her neck to hang on. Then it’s just a shake of some feathers and a flap of the wings. He hops off, and wanders off clucking as if she were just yesterday’s bucket of thighs, leaving her to face the judging eyes of the rest of the farm animals. Tisk tisk tisk.

So ladies, if you’re ever thinking about hanging out with a rooster, I’m telling you: Don’t do it.

Click here for disturbing footage:

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Ñandu Guazu! (aka Tarantula!)

So yesterday morning we're just outside in front of the house, and I look over and see something I've only ever before seen in a movie, a giant tarantula, only it's walking in real life, my real life, black and hairy but cruising across the walkway three feet from me as if it were just another chicken.


Oscar brings a pitcher.

They kind of think I'm crazy because I'm so hyped up and freaked out. They've all, as children, fished tarantulas out of their holes with gum on a string and played with them.

Pali, my host dad, just comes out and says, quietly, "Oh yeah, that's a tarantula." like it's a cricket or something.

Then he just picked up the pitcher and I'm squealing that he's crazy.

Once it was dead, Oscar put this fork tong under its fangs to show them off. Tramtizing! But we all survived. At least it wasn't in my house. That's what happened to Sasha!

Monday, May 3, 2010

Why I'm Staying Longer

Monday morning. 8:30, alarm clock goes off. I hear rain. I turn off the alarm clock. I go back to sleep until 10:30.

So maybe today is a good day to explain why I'm extending my service. I have asked for, and received, an extension until June of 2011. Nine extra months, a full 3 years of Paraguay fun times.

I think about how hard it was, that first year. How much I didn't know. All the confusion and frustration. Living in Paraguay is just so much better now. I'm good at it.

I know now, for example:
  • Which buses will enter my site and which will leave me 2 km. away, on the routa.
  • That when I ask for vegetables at the store, I have to ask by kilo and not by number, so I don't ask for 2 anymore and get a look like I'm crazy.
  • That when someone says, "And Oscar (or whoever)" They mean "Where's Oscar?"
  • When someone asks me if I know how to eat something, they just mean, Do I like it?
  • When someone says, Moogui reju that means "Where are you coming from?" (and a growing number of other Guarani phrases.)
  • You have to wash your bombilla every time, unless you want a mouthful of ants
There are a million things (at least half of them words) that I know now. Information I have crammed into my head that will be mostly useless as soon as I leave this place. I've worked damn hard, and now I'm coasting down the other side of my efforts.

Then there's the general benefits of Peace Corps:
  • I work whenever I feel like it
  • I do whatever I want to do
  • My podcast is kickin' ass
  • My Guarani is finally coming around
  • I love Yataity
  • I have a pony
  • I don't have to work when it's raining
  • I get my lunch cooked for me every day
  • I get asado every Sunday
  • There's also this boy next door...
  • And, for the first time in a long time, I feel like I finally have a home. Isn't that weird? All the way down here?
It is not all pretty, I can tell you that right now. Some people I work for are real jerkfaces. I'm helping jerkfaces. Who don't appreciate me, at all. I miss my family. I can not wait to have a car again.

But the good outweighs the bad. I'm happy down here. Life is balanced, something it is not in the United States. This is the best thing I've ever done in my whole life. I took a big risk and it paid off. I think, then, that I'll stick around a little while longer.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Missing My Invisible Stuff

Not only do we Americans have a lot of stuff, we have a lot of stuff around our stuff. Invisible stuff that other people can’t understand, and that I miss.

For example, those ladies shirts that criss-cross on top over the chest, and then have a horizontal seam underneath. This whole criss-cross top area is like a boob nest. That horizontal seam, that’s the bottom of the boob nest. Here, they have no respect for it. None. It goes straight across the boobs. It looks like the boobs are falling out of the boob nest.

And don’t even get me started on bra straps. I want to buy a mega phone so I can yell: "That's a strapless dress honey! You need to find its friend, Mr. Strapless Bra."

No respect.

I say no respect, but respect for what, our made up rules? It's just that those rules are so ingrained in us, evolutionarily stuck in our brains as fact, that you just can't help but be appalled when people do not have respect for the things you were taught to have respect for.

For instance. Dinner Time. It's dinner time. Set the table, forks on the left, knife (facing in) on the right. Turn off the tv. Turn off your cell phone. Wash your hands. Sit down. Wait for everyone before you start eating. Ask to be excused from the table. Don't tell the person who cooked how not delicious the food is. (This last rule was never taught, nearly implied.)

In Paraguay, it's the opposite. Every one of those things.

Movie time. Turn off the lights, Get your snacks ready. Don't answer your cell phone. Don't be in the other room and yell, "Just start it without me." It's movie time.

No movie time in Paraguay.

Same thing with class time. Can’t you see we’re having class?

There's also unspoken invisible image that we value in America. I see this especially with clothes. An old lady wearing a Quiksilver shirt. No, you don't understand. That is not only to clothe you, it's to tell the world you are young and a surfer/skater type and are cool. You cannot wear that shirt, silly old lady.

And there’s this other, somehow from nowhere, fad where people are wearing those GAP t-shirts that were popular 10 years ago in the United States. They’re trying to be American with shirts that say GAP Authentic, but anyone authentically American is just kind of left confused by the sight.

Lastly, I miss my invisible stuff of tradition, wrapped around our food, for example. When my Paraguayan boyfriend puts ketchup on the indian food I just made. Part of the anger that rises in me is a Joy-Luck-Club-mother-esque indignation that anyone would alter the food I just slaved over. But the other side is an outrage on the part of culinary tradition. Chefs everywhere who join me in a common cry: You don't put ketchup on indian food. And the’re with me on the fried rice too. You don't put ketchup on fried rice!

Today I made tuna casserole. It's expensive. A can of mushroom soup from the American aisle in the special Asuncion grocery store. Two cans of tuna, also pricey here. The time, the effort, and I go next door, and they're cooking cuts of beef, even though I said I would cook. They're cooking it, as usual, in an oily bath of oregano and cumin and salt salt salt. Just in case, they say.

Then at the table, they scoop out the the tuna casserole, which came out really well. And then, they scoop out the oily bathwater of the beef, and pour it all over. And they place a big chunk of meat, right on there. And I say no, no thank you. To their surprise, I'll eat it like this.

Some of my invisible things I’ve been able to let go. I’ll let some bra straps hang out. I’ll put my elbows on the table. But I will not put beef on tuna casserole. That, my countrymen, I promise you.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Fun Fall Times Outdoors

Howdy! The sun is shining on a nice breeze, it's finally cooling off, and instead of being cooped up in my air-conditioned cell, we've been outside enjoying the fall. Here are some pictures.

Mateo & Sasha's Visit

Taking the horse for a spin
Mateo rockin' it as he does

Campo sky

Sasha's turn

Giving pony rides to the little children.

Making Gyros Happen

I got this idea to make gyros, and Oscar knows a guy, so we had a lamb killed on a farm across the routa and in the campo town of Potrero. Instead of sending O-town on the moto, we made a trip of it on Bigote and bikes.

Leaving the paved streets of The Yat

The Road to Potrero

Vanessa riding a horse for the first time.

We stopped to take some pictures

Vane and me

The nice lady and her half of a lamb.
The gyros came out delicious and the host fam loved them!

Salto Cristal
Following the carefully placed signs, we headed to Salto Cristal.

In the campo of La Colmena

Oscar and sugar cane

We went in a car. I love a car! It's my dream to one day have one.
This is Oscar's buddy from the big city.

The climb down is steep and scary!

Oscar carrying the heavy stuff.

The falls are worth the climb.

The Partridge Traps

This started when Oscar brought his slingshot out to the campo, and he got hooked on trying to kill these partridges that are all over. We did some Googling, and next thing you know...

In the backyard earning our Boy Scout Badges

Just eat that corn little bird, I dare you.

Looking for a good spot

And now, we wait.

More views of the campo
Cactus, or, in spanish, tuna.

I feel like everyone's staring at me

Takin' some t-ray along


I have a dream...

Little cow at the pond

Smoke from a far-off fire

Back Home

Memories of my childhood fort-building give me an idea
while washing my sheets, then I turn around for one second and...