Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Finally in Site and loving it

Hello all,
In the cyber cafe in my site. Today I got my first Ao Poí lesson. I love it. Here are some notes from our training graduation and three days in Asuncion. I´m off to watch the telenovelas and practice crochet.

I´m realizing my dreams of being a crafty old lady...just a bit early.

Also, my address is now:
My full name
Cuerpo de Paz
Box 23
Villarica, Paraguay

August 6

We have Wi-fi internet in our hotel in Asuncion. Que bueno! The hotel we use has a hostel called The Attic, a big room in the top with eight beds in it that rents for 40,000 Gs a night, or $10. There's another one, and between the two we fit our group.

We´re definitely adjusting to the Guarani. The other day we played a game for 13,000 Guaranis we had left over for a fundraiser. In two groups, we got so competitive, fighting over less than four dollars to be split six ways. Later my buddy Tim had a lunch of half a chicken, two pieces of sausage, and a piece of barbeque, blowing 20,000 guaranis. "20,000 Gs!" we said. Then I thought, that's five bucks. While cleaning out my purse, I found a receipt for a 29 dollar meal I had before I left the states. I converted it to Gs in my head and nearly fainted.

The night before last I had a long night of sickness and a 100.8 fever. I missed the morning of classes, but had to go in for the afternoon, where we had our despidida. The trainers had skits making fun of all of us, and we performed the same. Our skit went over really well, and I read a story I wrote as well. I'm glad I dragged out of bed to go.

We got our scores from our oral exit exams, and I got Advanced Low in Spanish. It's awesome, I guess, but I feel like I still have a really hard time understanding people. And so far to go.

Today was our swearing in, and I was voted to make the speech, which was fun. I'm having fun just writing little things here and there, looking for assignments now that I'm not writing for a living. (I'll put the speech at the end of this post. I'm cringing a little now because I didn't have too long to write it and now all I see are edits I would make.)

(My friend just walked in the Attic and, looking around at everyone together, but on their laptops, tapping at their cell phones, said, "Well, we're definitely back in the states.")


I've been wanting to buy a newspaper here to send back to my peeps at the St. Augustine Record to show them the difference in journalism here. For instance, on the tv news, you'll see victims of domestic violence and dead bodies, stuff that would never fly in the U.S.

As for the newspapers, there are several levels. There's Ultima Hora and ABC Color, which are the most respected. Then there's Esto!, which usually have chicks in thongs on the cover. Today's Esto! looked especially naked, so I bought it as an example. Then I opened it, and there were so many bloodied news photos and dead bodies that I just handed it off, grossed out.


We've already had one down on the "Oops I crapped my pants." It wasn't me.

Training Graduation Speech:

(References - *Jason is a mystery guy who was supposed to come but just never showed up. *Also, our director gave us this speech where he said we should think about the movies we had in our head about our service and be our own protagonist.)

To my fellow G-27ers,

Do you ever wonder where Jason is, our mystery 19th volunteer. I wonder if he's working some 9 to 5 somewhere, thinking about that time he almost joined the Peace Corps. We'll never know what actually happened to him, but I wonder if he just wussed out? I wonder if he packed his bags, said his goodbyes. I wonder if he went to the airport. I wonder -- At what point did he turn back?

I almost backed out a million times. I laid in bed, obsessing, needing to know exactly what my life would be like. I made lists of pros and cons, thinking I could quantify the decision. I sought advice from everyone. I even asked my four-year-old nephew if I should join the Peace Corps, and he said, "Sure."

But I still couldn't decide. Then one day I realized, I was afraid to fail. That's when I decided I at least had to try.

There were still plenty of moments of doubt. But, like you, and unlike so many other people, I got through every one of them. I think that's the biggest thing we should really be celebrating today.

Yay for us, that we'll never have to be the people who say, "Peace Corps, huh? I always wanted to do that."

Let's celebrate that we are not of the people who maybe sent out for the packet, but never filled it out. Maybe they filled it out but never found the guts to mail it.

Let's celebrate that we are not of the class of people who have been duped by advertisers into thinking that they should be spending their youths trying to look more youthful, spending thier money to be thinner, using their time to get more things.

Yay for us that we didn't listen to those who said you're going to work your job and go home to your couch and watch your tv and eat your fast food. This is how things are done around here.

We heard another voice, just a whisper, that brought us here. And we did all that paperwork and dismantled our lives and got on the plane.

And we had that movie in our head, the one that Michael Eschleman told us about.

But then we got to our sites, and, for some of us, it felt like we walked into the wrong theater. The set was all wrong. The cast was not following our script. We brought all the wrong props. And we're back to being scared.

This is because we mistook ourselves for the screenwriters. We are just the characters. And the characters never get to choose their challenges, only how they will act in the face of those challenges.

Maybe you saw yourself being Campo Cowboy, with bragging rights that you walk 10 miles to your latrine, uphill both ways, but you ended up chuchi.

Or you were hoping for chuchi, and now will find yourself with a lot of time to think, while squatting, about just how long two years is going to be. And you're wondering again - Can I do this?

When that fear starts to creep in, try to find that voice, that whisper, that you listened to in the months before you stepped on the plane. It's a humble voice, that didn't bring you here for the sweet Facebook photos or the captivating blog material. It's something that tells us that there's more to life that what we've found in our own little fishbowl.

And if we stay to find out how our movie turns out, we'll leave with benefits too numerable to list, the least of which is being able to say, "Peace Corps, huh? I did that once."

August 7 - Last night was my pleasure

Last night we started the celebration of our graduation at a Mexican restaurant. We had wide glasses of peach margaritas and meals out of volcanic rock bowls. Other volunteers came to join in the festivities, as well as our trainers.

From there we walked, through the chuchi part of town, beers in hand. No open container laws here.

We walked past the lit windows of shops that could have been from any shopping district of any American downtown. There were pink and blue baby clothes, mannequins draped in shiny shirts, couches with fluffy pillows for sale.

Then we turned a corner and bam...A mall. Outdoor tables surrounded by couples in club clothes. A bar called Liquid, with a waterfall running down one full wall lit in purple. A sparkling Swarvoski shop. Inside we found an Irish pub.

We bought Brahmas and found seats. A drum set was in place, and we waited for the show.

Then, taking the stage, Indie Show: Paraguay. The lead singer had on one of those khaki baseball caps with the seam around the top and a Led Zepplin T-shirt. The bassist had a long ponytail and a Pink Floyd shirt. The drummer seemed quiet behind his beard. I'd seen this band before, only not.

Then they proceeded to play not only American music, but great American music: Radiohead's "Creep," U2's "One," Pink Floyd's "Wish You Were Here."

We stood in front, air drumming and dancing. Everyone else in the club was just sitting watching, tranquilo. But the band was loving us and we loved them.

When I ran to the bathroom as quickly as I could, so as not to miss anything, all the girls in the bathroom looked cuter than I did. I had on my Birks, khakis, Ao Poi shirt and my hair back. They fixed their lip gloss with their jewelry dangling as they leaned over into the mirror. And I listened to their chit chat in Spanish, nearly the only clue besides the color of skin that told me I was in Paraguay.

August 8 - Asuncion

We've just been hanging out, running a bunch of errands in the Capital. There's pockets of poverty here, in shanty towns near the river where we don't go, but the populations are here.

At stop lights, there are children that clean the windows of drivers shaking their fingers. There are kids doing handsprings. There are people weaving in and out of cars with handfuls of tangerines for sale.

Yesterday two guys boarded our bus with guitars. After saying a few words, they just started playing. On buses where I nearly dislocate my wrists trying to hang on, they just swayed back and forth through the stopping and starting, just trying to play the Guarani polka for a few mil.

Between them and the band last night, I was thinking about the arts. How many super talented musicians have had to spend their lives working in the fields? What if Picasso had been too poor to afford paint? What if Shakespeare had kids to feed?

In America we're afraid to pursue our arts because we're afraid we not going to make enough money. Not too little to live, but too little to live without the shiny things we all think we need to be happy.

In Paragauy, people don't get to choose to sell out or not.

August 10 - First Day in site

I arrived late last night on a bus that was packed with people coming back from working in Asuncion to visit their families on the weekend. I kept trying to tell myself that at least I had a seat, but the people standing were practically smushing me into the left half as they leaned over me.

These buses for longer distances have those head rests that come up on the side. At one point I had my head pressed against one side as the woman next to me stood so closely that her boob kept bouncing into the side of my head. bounce. bounce. I thought, Why doesn't this ever happen to Tim?

I felt kind of sick, which I'm sure had nothing to do with celebrating for three nights in Asuncion. So I laid in bed most of this morning. After that I started my new routine, which I told myself I was going to stick to for a year: one hour of Spanish, one hour of Guarani, every day that I can. Or maybe just weekdays. Or weekdays that I feel like it. No, weekdays for sure.

Day one: Studies subjunctive in Spanish which my cell phone kept beeping. We're all enjoying our texting abilities. (My mass text from yesterday: Foot-long braided side rat tail spotted.)

Afterward I walked to try and find a store that sold notebooks. They were closed so I just bought some yerba to make terere in my new guampa.

I came home and the empleada (housekeeper) who lives on our property was walking her sheep.

I returned for hour two. Starting Guarani feels like starting over. How long ago did I study me, you, he, us, them in Spanish? And all that work that I've put into Spanish, all the work I still have to do, I'm going to do that, again?

This is what I avoid thinking about as I open to the first page of my Guarani notebook.

I'm recognizing the stages, too. First, you start to pick out just a word every now and then out a conversation of jibberish. And you say, "Mbae! I know that. I means "what." Yes!" Then you know a few more and more until it's every once in a while that you don't know something. That's where I'm at with Spanish.

August 12-

Yesterday I went to a meeting of all the volunteers in my area. In Villarica there's a volunteer who lives on a compound with a retired colonel and a parrot. While making assorted empanadas (pizza, thai chicken, breakfast, apple pie) we neglected the outdoor stove and the oil burst into huge flames that looks beautiful again the palms, as soon as we realized they wouldn't burn the house down. The colonel didn't seem to mind, but took over the cooking after that.

Also yesterday the empleada washed my clothes for me. This morning she approached me while I was drinking my morning coffee to show me one lone sock that was missing its partner. Then she told me that she would iron all my clothes this afternoon. Every time a housekeeper tells me she's going to do something, I feel this need to react like it's a friend who's just told me she's going to do me a big favor. "Oh really? Thanks so much." I said this as she stood with the one sock draped over her arm like a waiter with a towel.

This morning I was supposed to get my first Ao Po'i lesson, but last minute my friend here needed me to go with her to buy a computer. In the bus she handed me an advertisement and asked me if it looked like a good computer. I wished I had the number to my computer friend. Now I am the computer friend.

We stopped by a bead store, and I had to make the decision of whether I was going to dive into making jewelry here in Py. Reading, writing, Spanish, Guarani, website making, volleyball, Ao Poi, eventually garden-making and cooking: I've got a lot on my plate. But it's two years, so I dropped nearly 100 Gs on cheap crystals and string and tools.

We arrived in the rain at the computer store, just a small space with a few sparse shelves of electronics, she talked to the guys then looked at me, as if to make the final decision.

We drove home in a taxi with the computer desk strapped to the top, listening to Ryan Adams. The taxi driver had what looked like a good luck deer hoof with a rosary wrapped around it hanging from the review mirror.

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