Saturday, June 7, 2008

The long lost post of June 3

In the morning, I wake up inside my sleeping bag if it is cold (it was tres grados just the other day). The roosters are outside my window, and my madre and sisters shuffle on the other side of my door that closes with a sliding lock. There's the sound of a spoon sliding around a pot as they warm cocido, a milky concoction, or cafe con leche.

Sometimes I walk out of my room and my padre just starts talkin'. Even if you're a morning person, Guarani is to your ears like the bright sun is to your eyes.

mba'eichapa is how are you

mooguapa nde is where are you from.

When I actually memorize this, I can say: Che cherera Paulita. Che aspirante Cuerpo de Pazpegua. Che Estado Unidogua.

I am Paulette. I am a Peace Corps trainee. I am from the United States.

I didn't plan on becoming Paulita, but I was told that if I try Paulette, I'm going to become Paula, which brings up a lifetime of awkward memories of people getting my name wrong. So we kind of invented Paulita in the van on the way to meet my family. My friend Matt, who is right next door with my uncle and his impossibly adorable sons, is now Matteo.

When there is food ready, I hear "Paulita!" I poke my head out and see someone placing something on a table on our patio, where we eat and study. I eat first, usually looking down at a bowl of rice in liquid with chunks of meat. There might be small, minty pieces of bread with hard crust, or rolls or pieces of mandioca, the local potato-like substance. Paraguayans don't drink with their meals, but an arm with usually reach from behind me to place a glass of water by my plate. They have been educated on the odd habits of Americans.

Paraguayans have their own special drink, which is closer to their heart than the frappachino is to mine. When it's warm it's called mate (ma-tay), and when it's cold it's terere (te with a machine gun blast of r's). It's served in a guamba, which is like the mug in the U.S. They look like mini barrels, and they can be decorated with your name, the logo of your favorite team, or some cutesy message. Next door, which teaching the children some English and watching Jurrasic Park 3 en espanol, Matteo and I drank from a promotional guamba for the local hospital, with it's logo and phone numbers. Everywhere you go you see people carrying these with a thermos of hot water under their arm.

They grind local plants to put in the cup, then they pour water over it and drink it through a straw with a filter. Everyone drinks one glass full, and they passes it. And yes, my germaphobic comrades, we all drink from the same straw.

I got the chance to play some games Sunday. After my siesta , my host sister Yessica, 12, took me over to where my other host sister, Mariela, 22, was playing loteria, kind of like bingo. We sat outside, a group of women surrounded by toddlers and kids leaning on their bikes. The hand-written cards lay on the table, and someone shakes a hollow coconut and drops out a small wood cylinder with a number on it. Then you place a piece of dried corn on that number, and hope to get a row so you can win the pile of Guaranis in the middle. Chickens clucked underneath us, hoping we'd drop our markers.

This was good practice for me, seeing that I'm so weak on my numbers. I hit my stride until it was my turn to call numbers from the coconut. When I called 99, the ladies nearly fell over laughing. (Anything worth laughing at in Paraguay is worth laughing at until you fall over, especially the Americans.) The card only go up to 90, and I was holding the 66.

Afterward we played volleyball, and thank God I took a class in college, or I would have made a total idiot of myself. My sisters held my jacket for me while I played. When I looked over later, the little one was wearing my sunglasses, and the older one was holding up the money I had in my pocket and smiling. (Of course, she put it back) Privacy is as foreign as I am here.

At times, I forget that I have not communicated one thing to my Paraguayan family in English. All we know of each other is through our actions, our foreigners sign language, and my Spanish. I have only a few verbs I am comfortable with, and I pull them out like blades in my Leatherman. I either need something, want something, know something, wish something, or have to do something. When we can't understand each other, we laugh, and I say "con tiempo" or "poco a poco". With time. Little by little.

The other night I busted out my laptop and my sister asked me to teach it to her. We sat on my bed, with Yessica on one side and Mariela on the other, with my padre peeking in ever so often. After showing her a few things, I decided I should assess how much she's seen computers.

Nunca. Never.

Just being there, bringing here her first encounter with a computer. Seeing that she wanted to learn this so much. For me, I realized it was the feeling that I had come for.

We played with the effects of Mac's photobook, squishing our faces in it lens and laughing, laughing so hard. Rolling on the bed as each photo came out, all of us together. Then we quieted, and there was the silence of remembering that we don't speak the same language.

The next day, while I was burning my family a cd of random American music, Yessica came in with the little three-year-old. She sat next to her and held her fingers to poke out her name: Sophia. Later some family friends came over to with their little boys. They walked in my room, with Sophia leading the way. She pointed at my bed, where my macbook sat, and told them: "computadora."


Other odds and ends: I still haven't quite figured out the phone situation and am at this moment dying to talk to my mother, other family and a few friends with whom I can discuss details that are too lurid to be posted on the giant permanent record that is the internet. Speaking of, a word about this blog. Though I am a journalist in my usual life, this blog isn't exactly journalism. I have a duty to respect the culture of Paraguayans and the reputation of the Peace Corps. So please know that some information is slightly censored, so as not to cause some sort of international incident.

And as a supplement to the last entry, the one that included my address, I'd like to add that I am running dangerous low on Smarties candies, and that I enjoy Skittles as much as the next person.

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