Friday, September 26, 2008

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

On Comfort...Opportunity...Rubianess

Here is a puppy. She lives at our house and her name, coincidentally, is Sasha.

Hello everyone. Things are good. If you’re checking this on a commercial break, the gist is that everything is good and I’m suddenly like a celebrity.}

The rest of you might want to take a pee break and get a snack, because I had three rainy days to just sit and write, so this is a little long...Don´t feel like you have to read it.

This morning I had a good laugh when I told my friend that I was going to shave my head in the summer. She said, Like Britney Spears? Maybe you had to hear it in the Paraguayan accent, but it was pretty hilarious.

By the way, who’s reading this blog these days? Grandma, is that you? Say hi via comment or email me. Just curious.

Sept 16: Consider myself presented

I had my presentation yesterday, with the director of Rural Economic Development.

Here are somethings he told the crowd:

For the first six months, my job is mainly to sit around getting to know people.

I’m not an employee of the coop, and I don’t have to have regular hours.

I can work on whatever projects I want, and if I don’t want to do a project, I don’t have to.

I have to go into Asuncion every now and then. (Where yes, I do sometimes work).

My boss also reminded me that I’m a first volunteer, so my projects are going to evolve very slowly and I shouldn’t worry about trying to get too much done too fast.

I really like my job.

Sept 18: Dia interesante

I received a card from my mom at the Villarica address, hence I loaded the little bus to go there. On the way there, the camposinos sin tierra, or countrypeople without land, were blocking the road in protest. We took a choppy route around the group that was holding hands across the road.

I picked up my card at my the compound where my friend lives and a send-off barbeque was winding down. An urban youth volunteer asked if we ladies wanted to go get free manicures and pedicures at a beauty school.

We went and while we sat around waiting in school desks, one of the women just pulled up with a bucket of water and patted the towel on her lap for me to put my foot there. I was so uncomfortable. Getting my feet washed and toes painted for free by a Paraguayan is not exactly what I had in mind for my “service”. I swear I’m going to help someone. Soon.

Sept 19: Rainy day with time to write

I was in a good mood today. People spoke in Guarani to me and laughed when I didn’t get it, but somehow I was able to laugh it off. They made fun of me because I didn’t know it was Friday, and they said, yes, it’s Friday, then Saturday, then Sunday. And somehow, though it sometimes seems so impossible bad days, I laughed with them.

Another volunteer was telling me a story about she nearly snapped when a woman made fun of how she was rolling dough balls. It can be the littlest thing that sets you off under the stress of missing family, being a perpetual guest, speaking another language.

But the alienation is starting to give way. People here tell me about the deaths in their families, they let me in on their funny stories, they teach me things.


Reading my new yoga book, I found this quote: “What was very uncomfortable becomes comfortable. The principle of learning to live without ‘comfortableness’ is the same for all levels of experience. It is overcoming our need to be comfortable that expands our horizons and facilitates our growth. So this going to the direction of ‘uncomfortableness,’ and making it comfortable, is what keeps pushing the envelope of our limitations.”

We know comfortableness well. The motto of America could be changed from “In God We Trust” to “No no, don’t get up.”

I initially signed up for the Peace Corps looking for discomfort to make me a better person. I was exhibiting all the symptoms of someone raised in the environment we find ourselves in. I was thinking I needed more, more travel, more success, more ego-food, to be happy. I was upset that life wasn’t like it was on tv, though I knew I should be able to be happy with what I had. I thought the Peace Corps would change that. I booked it as the Inner Peace Corps.

I wanted a pre-packaged transformation that I could pop in the microwave for two years. I wanted my Peace Corps experience to massage my character the way those electric wraps jiggle away fat on the thighs of people on the infomercials, while they lounge reading a magazine.

I wanted that my choices be taken away. I wanted to be forced into being healthy/simple/at peace, like I was signing up for soul fat camp.

I thought there was something magical about that lack of comfort. Luckily, before I left, I read A New Earth, and realized all that changing would be up to me, no matter where I was.

If I had been planning on that lack of comfort to fix things, I would have been quite panicked upon arriving. Because the easier it is here, the harder it will be to be changed. I’m not going to start eating healthier because all that’s availabe is nuts and veggies from the field. They have cookies and cake here, just like home.

I’m not going to stop watching tv because there’s no electricity. They have their talk shows, just like home. I’m not going to stop spending money because there’s no shops. I was just in the mall last week.

I almost have as many chances as I did back home to screw up. Which is good, better even, because after fat camp you go back home.

But, going back to that quote, there are other kinds of discomforts that I’m more able to accept now. My discomfort with Spanish makes me study harder. My lonliness makes me more self-reliant.

And when strangers evolve into friends and unease gives way to familiarity, give it time, I remember that stretching my life is limbering up my character the way yoga limbers the limbs.

But I’ve been changed

I suddenly realize how rich I am, in opportunities and in money, even if I earn $30,000 a year for the rest of my life.

I saw this woman on the bus in Asuncion with a picture of her disabled son in a wheelchair begging for money. She told her story then looked to the left and right aisles and people kept their eyes on the road. And I thought I saw her eyes tear up.

And my eyes teared up, as I put myself in her brain, thinking that her son is disabled, that she has no job, that her only option is to beg for money. As little as that yeilds, there’s nothing else to do. As hard as she would work if she had the chance, she can’t.

Granted, maybe that was just a picture she found on the sidewalk. Even if her story was fake, there are so many people here who are stuck between two paths that both lead down the road less desired.

What other choice but to go hungry must there be if the only other option is to send your barefoot four-year-old out to wash car windows on a busy city street?

As much as we’ve been taught that against all odds, you can rise up and be the success story, for millions, billions, it’s just not true. Their life will be hard and dirty and short and sad.

For this I chide myself for all the times I’ve thought that I couldn’t be happy with what I have.

So goal number one: to be happy in my life situation.

Side effects include an acute awareness of my opportunities. As hard as other people work for a few pennies a day, I want to work to make the most of what I’ve been given. Suddenly I want to go to Columbia to get my Master’s. (This is where I make that joke that I left my $100,000 in my other jeans.) I never really thought I wanted to further my education. Then, suddenly there it is. And if I really want it, I can make it happen.

That’s the difference between me and so many people in the world that were previously invisible to me.

Opportunity is what I hope I can give the people I come in work with here.

Sept 21: Dance Party, Paraguay

Today is the first day of spring, if you happen to be in the southern hemisphere. This is a popular weekend for a big dance party.

There had been signs up here and in Villarica. The painted sign here showed a blond reclined in a bikini. During the day a honking line of car zigzagged up the street with signs advertising the party.

I went with my host sister. We met up with her friends and they straightened their hair, put on makeup, and asked each other whether they should wear this or that another way or “asi no mas.” (just like this). Sitting around with them, I felt at the same time like this was just like a scene out of my life, getting ready to go out with the girls; I also I felt like a reporter again, like I had no business being there, and how random that I was right there, witnessing this scene somewhere in Paraguay.

We arrived early by Py standards, at 11 o’clock. The community center had just a few people milling around the gymnasium-size hall. There was a dj booth with a cat walk, and some girls in dresses and devil horns (apparently there was a theme) strutted up and down. The spinning lights and the fog machine failed to fill the space. We began to dance in little groups, and by midnight things had filled out a little. In Py people form two lines and dance. They face each other, but it’s just two lines. A guy had his friend ask my friend if she would move so that he could dance on the opposite to me, in the other line. We later found out he was 18.

We danced and people passed around Brahmas. The girls strutted the catwalk again and blew kisses to the whistles. I think they were competing for Miss Spring.

The bathroom, guarded by one of the senoras I knew in town, cost a mil to use, and I couldn’t find the Spanish to say I thought I was being unfairly taxed for my weak bladder.

I was exhausted by 2 and we didn’t leave until 3. I woke up an hour later and heard the music still going.

Today we had a big asado with the other family. Two long tables pushed together. Beef, chicken, one big fish cooked with the head on and it’s body filleted out in halves.

I’m really liking the family I live with. I’m starting to be in on the jokes -- like the fact that the beans will be “working” in a few hours -- that tell me that when I’m around, it’s doesn’t mean the company’s mixed.

September 22: The Rubia Has Arrived.

My self esteem is having an identity crisis.

Back in the states, I’d rate myself a solid average: your garden variety Big Blond Amazon.

Since landing in Paraguay, I’ve muffin-topped out of my Columia pants from all the fried meals, I’ve barely worn makeup or heels, my face has regressed back to my teens with the acne, my legs have reverted back to hairy prehistoric times. Meanwhile, I’m surrounded by billboards with greased-up, thonged women and telenovelas with scantily-clad seductresses reminding me of what I could only hope to look like through the miracles of science and an eating disorder.

So I feel a little like, ok, we’re just going to put sexiness on the sideshelf and worry about that later.

And right when I stop trying to get male attention, I suddenly enter the Twilight Zone.

Here I am The Rubia, The Americana. It’s what my mother calls the “Only Donut in the Fat Farm” syndrome. It reminds me of the short while that I lived on a U.S. Marine Base.

I’ve gone from garden variety to exotic delicacy. But it has more to do with novelty that anything else.

Yes, my hair is yellow, and it is getting a bit long.

So when I walk into a dance party, six inches taller and five shade lighter than the women around me, apparently the text messages started to fly. Of course I hear about this after the fact, from my giggling friends. Apparenty a few guys thought they were the quickest route to getting my number.

I thought most people had seen me here, but apparently the dance party was my coming out party, with all kinds of people wondering, Who’s the rubia?

My friend Eric went through the same thing when he went to Japan. Everywhere there are different standards of beauty. We tan while the Filipino women use skin-lightening cream. Who knew that the key to beauty is travel?

So to get a big head about any of the cat calls would be pathetic, I remind myself when I’m tempted to get a big head. It’s like the people I see here in Asuncion, who are Paraguay-rich. It’s those who show it off, who think they’re better than everyone because of it, that make me laugh. All I can think is: You’re middle class in America. I have to remember that so am I.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Foster Home No. 3...American Vacation...Bacon

Sept. 9: Foster Home No. 3

I was driven to my new house in the back seat of my host’s car. My new host “mom” sat shotgun.

“What does she eat?”

“Oh, she’ll eat whatever. No problem.”

“Does she drink cocido?”

“Oh, she likes coffee.”


“Yeah, she drinks it in the morning...”

I just sat silent in the back.

My new house is nice. It’s right next to the soccer fields, the roaming grounds of sheep, hourses, cows. Next door there is a yard where another farmer lets roam his cows and ostriches in rotating shifts. I like to watch the ostriches with their backward knees.

I’ve spent the last few days passing out invitations to my “presentation,” where my boss is going to come here and explain to the people exactly what I’m doing here.

I went to the radio station to invite them, but they ended up having me go on air to invite the whole community. My friend Mariela was next to me on the couch, whispering the answers to the questions the DJ was asking me to help out.

Sept. 11- Come se dice 'slackin'

Ok, 5:30. Time to put down “Eat. Pray. Love” and study. Yep, Spanish time. Yay Spanish.

Oh look, my computer is right here on my table. Hmm...Well I guess I could just write my blog for a little while.

And so it goes that I’ve been slacking on my studies. Guarani has me frustrated and I’ve barely passed “I go.” The main problem there is that I can get along with Spanish alone here. I’m trying to find the joy in learning for the learning's sake (along with the kudos from the locals), but the joy is just so wrapped in frustration. It seems every time I ask for help in Guarani, someone just started rattling off in words I don't know.

Spanish. Ugh. It’s been four months. Why don’t I know this yet?

But when I’m just sitting around chatting in Spanish, I try to remember, I’m sitting around chatting in Spanish. This couldn’t have happened four months ago. I’ve always wanted to know Spanish, but always thought I was too lazy to actually learn.

And so, in the words of wise Sasha, “Ain’t nothing to it but to do it.” Ok, here I go...

Sept 12: Slow Slide to Hippiness

I’ve started doing yoga, which I usually associate with boredom and discomfort. But I’m willing to give it one more try.

I Googled for yoga positions, and clicked on a site that seemed to have some printable ones. Next to the articles section of the page, it said, “Did you know women have 11 moon centers?” Oh lord. I’m not looking for my moon centers. I’m looking to fit into my pants.

Remember when I thought I would lose weight in the Peace Corps?

The yoga stuff has been prompted in part by the fact that I just found out that I can’t move into my own place for another six weeks. Six more weeks of eating Paraguayan, of breaded meat bathing in bubbling oil. Something has to be done.

I jog and walk sometimes, but it’s always a scene and it’s weird that I go alone.

I’d rather being doing Krav Maga, but the local YMCA quit offering classes. (that’s a little PC humor.)

So I lay out my quick-dry towel and I stand like a warrior and I bend like a flower, and at least my shoulders ache, which tells me I’m doing something. This morning I laid down to do my snakey pose, and I had to push my Birkenstocks out of the way to make room for my head.

And I thought: Birkenstocks, yoga, Peace Corps. Oh God, I am a hippie.

Sept 16 - American vacation

Before I came to the Peace Corps, a second uncle tried to convince me to instead to the Foreign Services and/or work for embassies. I didn't, of course, but this weekend I got a taste of what it would have been like if I did.

A friend of a friend who works for the embassy had a cat that needed to be taken care of for a few nights. So I joined the cat-sitting team of seven volunteers and met up at a three-story brick house in the middle of chuchiville, Asuncion.

We opened the heavy front door, flanked by stained glass, to see a house straight out of Pottery Barn. We piled our shoes by the wooden staircase and went around the house exclaiming like it was our first day on MTV’s Real World.

“There’s a treadmill in my room!”

“She has chocolate syrup!”

“This toilet paper has plies!”

I stayed in the room the internet, aka Skype-central. The desk had wavy vases that wobbled everytime I played in the rolly swivel chair while talking with the headset on. The desk was stacked with mail and catalogs, including Pottery Barn.

My friend told me that embassy employees get free shipping, which means that most of the stuff in the house was shipped in, including food. The extra freezer, in the garage where my clothes were enjoying their first mechanical drying, was filled with Kellogg and Aunt Jemima and Betty Crocker. Within the first few minutes of checking in, I was drinking a tall glass of chocolate milk and examining everything Burt's Bees and Lysol and Pledge.

After Eric enjoyed a real shave from a sink that had hot water, he asked me, “How does it make you feel to be in this house?”

“I don’t know,” said, thinking maybe I don’t want to know.

He said, “Yeah, I don’t know if it’s a good thing or a bad thing.”

I let myself watch whatever crappy tv show I wanted on cable that was in English, with Spanish subtitles. I laid on the couch looking at the life of Denise Richards on E!, with the Spanish commercial pronouncing her name Denise Re-tards. We watched the Global Edition of the Daily Show, followed by the Best of Will Ferrill.

Mr. Whiskers or Muffins or Boots or whatever name we threw out enjoyed lots of attention. My friend the Captain Cat Sitter was so nervous about letting the cat out that he carried it much of the time. We were only allowed to open the door about six inches and slide through while another person scanned the area for any sign of an escapee.

The first night we sat outside, drinking and chatting on the porch by the little pool.

In the morning we walked to the huge grocery story, determined to make bacon, egg and cheese croissants happen. It was your typical cluster of four hung-over people trying or organize a grocery mission and figure out how to ask for chedder cheese in Spanish. Between a little chuchi shop and the big supermarket across the street, we went through the same culture shock as in the house.

“Gummy bears!”



We got there on sample day, and even though it was 10 in the morning, we felt the need to accept the glasses of the new Brahma beer. I consider drinking beer in a grocery store an acceptable cultural exchange.

We ate the donuts, with white frosting and sprinkles, immediately outside the store and took the groceries home to make the most delicious breakfast I’ve had in a long time.

I went to the Peace Corps office to get things done. I perused the library for as long as I wanted. I just love how many random books are there. I brought home a bag full. I walked around Asuncion by myself, enjoying, loving the freedom, and basking in the feeling of knowing where I was, and that if I got lost, I knew I could ask for directions, even in Spanish.

And now I’m back, as if sucked through a portal to America and back. And how did it make me feel? Fine, I think.

After my slight freak out, both my aunt and my mom reminded me that I can come home, any time I want. And that’s true.

If I wanted to work for the embassy, I could have. If I want to go home now and get a PR job and live in a three-story house. I can do that, too.

So I’m remembering that I choose to be here, even if, at times, I get lost remembering why.

On that note: Things I miss:
* hot baths
* nice, strong showers
* lookin’ sharp
* Grimbergen
* Krav Maga (and seeing my Krav Maga teacher)
* Yankee candles
* Food, sweet, glorious sushi, thai, mall chinese, Bagelicious stinky-stank special (tunafish with cheese on toasted everything bagel)
* This American Life
* Intervention, Cheaters (which I just actually saw a commercial for here!)
* My press pass
* Our beach

Things I’m surprised I don’t miss that much:

* my car
* couches
* my cell phone rings
* going out every weekend
* fast food

Things I like better here:

* Salad, served with a little oil, lemon juice and salt, ok too much salt. And I love how they just make it with whatever’s around. One day we had a cucumber and onion salad.
* The fresh-squeezed juice
* The double cheek kiss hello. Lots of girl-friend affection, walking arm-in-arm and such.
* Watching futbol/soccer games. Par-a-guay! and fireworks in the street when we score

Monday, September 8, 2008

Upside down...Homesick Cry

Hello. My name is Paulette. I live in Yataity. I am happy there. I work in the cooperative. I'm going to live in Paraguay for two years.

Hola. Soy Paulita. Yo vivo en Yataity. Estoy feliz allí. Trabajo en la cooperativa. Voy a vivir en Paraguay por dos años.

Mba'éichpa. Che Paulita. Aiko Yataitype. Che avy'a upepé. Amba'apo cooperativape. Aikota Paraguaype mokôi ano.

Sept 2 - Upside-down

I stood tonight thinking about the stars. They’re different here. Gone are my dippers I could spot easily. Now I look for the Southern Cross.

The stars on the other side of the planet, confirming that we are surrounded on all sides by space. Floating here. I thought about this while looking up at the top of a palm tree with the stars behind it and for a moment dizzy, like I might fall into space. I looked at the trees, and knew that they grew here at a different angle that the trees back home, growing out instead of up, like spokes on a wheel.

Sept 3 - Liver and Onions.

I had seen it in the refrigerator, a huge mass of non-meat with an off-brown color flowing off both sides of a plate. Whatever it was, I hoped I wasn’t around when it was served.

Lunch today. I sit down to what looks like meat with onion. I poke it with my fork and it’s resistance is more spongy than my liking. My host heaped more onions on top. And I think: Onions. Liver and onions.

I taste it and I know, from a practical joke my dad pulled on me, saying something a spoonful of brown stuff was chocolate ice cream when it was really liver pate.

After my first bite, I panic inside, looking at three large piece on my plate. “Oh crap. It’s liver. I hate it. Maybe I can eat it with some rice. (Another bite) Oh god no. Can’t. Won’t.”

For the record, I have eaten everything put in front of me thus far in Paraguay.

Ok, so there was one time where I took a bit of tripe, which looked like meat when I picked it up. Then I bit into it and suddenly I thought it someone had walked into the house with poo on their shoe, then I realized what I thought I was smelling was the taste in my mouth. So I spit it into my hand while the host was grabbing more drinks, and later threw it to the dog outside.

But other than that, I have been a dutiful guest.

However, this time I figured I’d had a good run, and thought of what Sasha says when I get too sensitive about offending people. (Later, she would say of this event, “I’m a grown woman and I’ll eat what I want to eat and I’m not going to eat that. Period. Next question.”)

I ate around the liver and I heard my hosts mention it in that way that I can kind of tell what people are talking about, even in Guarani, by their expressions. And I smiled and said sorry, I don’t like this part of the cow.

And they were very nice about it. I ate another serving of rice. And by the time I got to the cooperativa later it seemed everyone had heard that I finally found something I didn’t like to eat in Paraguay.

Sept 7: One big home-sick cry: Check.

This morning the family came over. And while I did Ao Poi, they spoke in Guarani. A pig that the empleada had woken up at 3 a.m. to kill was dragged in piece by piece. Both rib cages slopped on that countertop. They hacked it to pieces and partitioned them out into grocery bags while I drank my morning coffee. Later I opened my fridge and made a frightened “Mway!” noise at the sight of three shelves full of red carnage.

When I put my Ao Poi down to try and socialize, I just stood around, staring. Ao Poi is something you can do to be invisible, to look like you belong there even if you’re alone, like smoking a cigarette.

A hummingbird came and picked a the flowers right next to my head. I had time to look up and see it’s flutter of wings around a body no bigger than a human bite and a long orange beak. It was an amazing experience that I couldn’t really share. Everyone there had seen picaflors plenty of times before.

I was called when there was food. And I sat there while we ate and they talked, in Guarani.

And it’s hard to be the outsider at someone else’s family time, when you haven’t seen your family in four months and all you can think is how much longer it’s going to be. When you used to be the one joking and now your the quiet one, not saying anything for hours.

And I’d had a dream the night before that my nephew didn’t know me.

Walking to my casita, it started. The big tears you can’t stop, and you just flop on your bed and have what my mother calls “a good cry.”

I talked to Paula in Key West for a while. It calmed me down. But right in the middle-beep! Out of minutes on my phone.

The store that sells minutes didn’t have any today, maybe tomorrow, and the internet cafe is closed. Nothing I can do but take a walk and buy myself some ice cream.

There’s something else I cry about too. It’s not just missing home, it’s a kind of home-sickness that will follow me back to the states. Even there, I won’t have the kind of life where all my relatives can come over for a barbeque on Saturdays and pull up chairs under the shade. Our together time involves hotels and flights.

When I want to call my friends and family, I call Key West, Sebring, Tarpon Springs, St. Augustine, Virginia, Pennsylvania. There is no home where a big welcome home party is waiting.

Sometimes our whole way of life, or my whole way of life, moving around so much, makes me homesick.

And with all I want to do, (maybe) get my masters, be a traveling crazy, I’m afraid of the truth of one of my least favorite quotes: “You can’t have roots and wings.”

It hurts every time I rip up my roots.

Sept 8: Feeling Better

Sitting outside with my laptop and the hummingbirds and butterflies, thinking about the slight breakdown yesterday. “Everything is going to be alright,” mom would say.

There are ups and downs, everyone says about the Peace Corps. I think when I have my ups, like in two years when I’m chatting in Guarani and I forget I’m a Norte, when it feels like family here, then it be all the more amazing remembering how much of a foreigner I used to be.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Ao Poi...Feeling Like a Volunteer...Settling in to life here...Packing List

Hi all,
Ok, so the nice ladies at the post office who paused making their Ao Poi long enough for me to send some post cards told me that I could get packages right here in Yataity. They’ll go to the post office, and the ladies said they’d bring them to me.

So the address is:
Cuerpo de Paz
Yataity, Guaira

The Paulita, Cuerpo de Paz part I just made up. You could probably put “Rubia” and it would get to me.

August 28
Today I woke up and walked outside and the lawn people were here. A man in a straw hat was pushing around what looked like a toy lawn mower, with a long cord, with other cords added on with black electrical tape, the whole contraption stringing its way inside. There was a machete on the ground for trimming the hedges.

I sat outside with my host mom and made Ao Poi. I’m in that phase of learning something new where it’s all I want to do. I keep trying to make myself study, but I say... one more line, one more line. So I brought out my laptop, and we listened to Amy Winehouse in the breeze with our embroidery.

I feel like I’m slacking, but all the ladies here love that I’m so into Ao Poi. “Que guapa,” they say. “How hard working.” They tell me I’m going to make lots of money, but I don’t think I’m allowed to sell my stuff.

I bought the fabric for my first shirt today. They marked it for me and I sat in bed tonight and worked wearing my headlamp.

I have this weird time at night, after I have my 5 o’clock coffee. I usually head back to the casita. My options are: listen to music, read, write, do ao poi, study, or play the snake game on my cell phone. Lately the snake game and Ao Poi have been winning vs. all other options.
Me in the shop with my nearly finished shirt.

August 29 - Feeling like a volunteer
Today a few of us met up in Asuncion to change our phones to the other company, Tigo. It’s a big deal which line you have here, or which chip. Because it’s expensive to call across lines, many people here have different chips. When they need to call their Personal friends, they pop open the back of their phone and trade out their Tigo chip for the Personal one.

It’s a competitive market, so, just like back home, the cell phone companies are huge advertisers. I think they have a deal where they offer to paint the outside of businesses for free where their chips are sold. Many are either red with Personal logos and the business name painted, or blue Tigo with the same. All over the TV, billboards and radio are spots, Tigo uses the cutest Paraguayan futbol player as their spokesman.
On the bus ride this morning we passed a hotel with its sign in Guarani, and word by word I realized to my surprise I could read it. Che Sy Roga. My mother’s house.

I got the bus at 6 a.m., so by the time we passed the chipa ladies, I was ready for my usual bus breakfast.

Now you have to be careful -- many a cases of the BIG D have been blamed on bad bus chipa. But there’s this area on Routa 2, where ladies in thick stockings and short skirts wait on the side of the road with their baskets. I think the buses are contracted to stop at this one company, where one lady and one person with a thermos of cocido get on. The bus continues on as they sell the chipa, which is like a Paraguayan cheesy bagel, and small plastic cups of hot cocido. This time I was surprised at how it felt -- like my usual favorite.

For once in Asuncion I felt like I knew where I was going. I bought my bus ticket for the ride home to make sure I could get a window seat, a task that felt like it was out of a language class.

On the local bus to the PC office hopped on all the usual vendors, including one fat man who, if it didn’t molest (annoy) us, would just like a minute of our time to show us this wonderful product. He then demonstrated this high-quality belt (I noticed he was wearing another kind), knocking the buckle against the rails so we could hear that it was metal. And he was going to offer it to us for just 10 mil. But wait, there’s more. Here’s also going to throw in this handly lighter. Oh, wait, and this wonderful wallet with pockets for your photos, cards, etc.

I got off before he handed out the clear-wrapped packages to be viewed by the unwilling infomercial audience. I watched the bus go by, followed by one with two men standing in the aisle, one playing a guitar and the other an accordian.
I checked into the Peace Corps Office, which is like our little Bat cave. There’s the doctor’s office, the director’s offices, a seed bank for free help starting a garden and even a lounge with a dvd player for us to hang out in. But the real spot is the library, with its free internet. There’s a free-for-all book trade of paperbacks, as well as references we can use back at site. I filled my backpack with books on marketing, feasibility studies for our web site, and new novels.

We all have our own little lockers, and people post funny pictures of each other on them, slip each other notes and dvds, and that’s where we get our free Newsweeks. It feels like camp, which is good. Because my motto is that life should feel like field trips and camp.

In the library you hear volunteers talking about vacations they’re going to take,
projects they want to start and collaborate on. People know each other from being in the same group of trainees, being in the same VAC (or area group), and from crossing paths in Paraguay. People share the goodies in their packages (Eric got Oreos! Oh my word I miss those.)

I spent too much money, as I usually do in Asuncion. On one bus, this little kid came around, putting two chocolates and a little piece of paper on everyone’s lap. The paper said something like: Please give me one mil for these chocolates as I am poor and need this money to feed my family.


No, I’m not spending any more money. Yes, I am a sucker.

I’m very aware of my obvious position as The American. Like everyone is watching me to see what an American will do. Like, oh look at your expensive clothes, but you can’t give a poor little kid the equivilant of a quarter?

I gave him the mil when he made his way back to the front of the bus. He took the little paper to use again.

August 30 - Yataity Saturday
This morning my host’s son came with his wife and their 2-year-old. The toddler played in the yard with the little girls from across the street. I sat in the sun and stitched my Ao Poi. My shirt is coming along.

I went to the cooperative for a little bit, then left at noon with a “Aha akaruta.” (I’m going to eat lunch) And they said Ok, Chau. It was my first Guarani sentence where people actually responded like it was normal conversation, they didn’t laugh like, ha, look what the Norte learned.

Back at the casa we had a huge asado with beef, pork, cheesy rice, salad, and madioca.
After that I went back to the cooperative to hang out with the ladies. My friends had me look at some lyrics they had looked up and written out in English, to “November Rain” and “Wish You Were Here.”

Alf was on the TV, with a voice like a dubbed voice like a Mexican Cookie Monster.
We were talking about clothes and sizes and one of the women asked me: “Tu madred es gorda?” Is your mother fat? Oh I laughed inside, thinking of all the middle school “Your mother’s so fat....” jokes. Your mother’s fat, the ultimate insult. And Is your mother fat? The ultimate off-limits question. But here, it’s just another fact. Your mother is fat or she isn’t. (Don’t worry mom, of course I said No.)

When I’m in the shop, the customers always come in, look at the racks to the right, then pause as they see me on the left, with my embroidery hoop by the window light. A Rubia making traditional Paraguayan craft. It gives them something to talk about with the shopkeeper.

After we closed shop I headed over to the girls’ house. On the way there I learned some Guarani cuss words. One popular phrase translates to Satan’s ass.
That night we watched a Thai kung fu movie, dubbed in Spanish with English subtitles, and ate popcorn.

August 31 - Who kills the chickens?
Sunday I returned to lunch, and helped them make empanadas and pizza. The chickens tried to peck their way in from the back door.

“Who kills the chickens,” I asked, with a nod to their feathered pets. Their mother, the girls told me, with a shudder.

Then we were talking about St. Augustine while pinching the sides of the dough filled with chicken and hard-boiled eggs bits.

“And in St. Augustine, Paulita,” said one, “Who kills the chickens in St. Augustine?”
This time I laughed outloud.

And now, a public service announcement:
This is for all the future Paraguay volunteers who just Googled “Peace Corps Paraguay Packing List.” I found some lists like this when I was preparing to go, and they were very helpful. So here’s my commentary to help you out:

Peace Corps Paraguay Packing

Things that have been key
220-volt adapter with surge protector
baby wipes
baseball cap
bath towel (The quick-dry campy type)
deodorant - Bring your own brand if you’re picky. One guy brought 40 sticks. I think that’s a little overboard.
Digital camara
duct tape - for when your spanish dictionary starts falling apart.
face wash, and maybe extra because it’s expensive here.
flashlight, the wind-up ones are convenient and impress the kids
Gatorade powder - nice for when you’re sick.
headlamp - In case you need to use a latrine at night.
hiking boots - when the roads turn to slush
hooded raincoat
internal frame bag
laptop - Peace Corps advises against it, but everyone who didn’t bring one feels like an idiot.
Lightweight pants
long sleeve or flannel
Long underwear. I sprung for the under armour, and I’ve been happy I did
Makeup. For those nights when you go out in the city and you just want to feel like a lady again.
Medium fleece jacket. I got a North Face three-in-one and it’s great.
Nalgene bottle - The Starbucks cup of the Peace Corps
nice shoes. You’ll want some work shoes. and ladies, bring some going out shoes!
sleeping bag. Bring one that had a hood, so that if you’re sleeping in questionable circumstance, you won’t have to touch anything but your sleeping bag.
Hand sanitizer
Swim suit
Purse, or something to carry around on a daily basis. Something like a small backpack that fits your notebooks.
USB Flash drive
warm hat

Take it or leave it
money belt - I wear it in Asuncion and I haven’t been robbed, but whatever.
nice outfit for swearing in
Notepads. Bring at least one for training, or you’ll have to buy one with the cast of High School Musical 2 on the cover
sunscreen - they give you some, but it’s not good for the face

Things I haven’t used yet, but you never know
baby powder
Bug spray
Camera cards - My friend in Africa told me he sends his home rather than upload his photos, but internet’s not that slow here.
can opener
deck of cards
Leatherman - It still makes me feel cool to have it.
permanent markers
recharchable batteries
sun hat

Things I didn’t need to bring
books - there’s a big network of book trading here
Camp soap - just bring regular soap
Shampoo/co (aah! Huge spider! ...destroyed) nditioner - they have plenty here. I’m a Suave girl now.
Digital alarm - my host family woke me up during training and now I have a cell phone
A modest dress - I bought an ugly long-sleeve brown dress, because I thought I needed to look. My host sister asked me if it was a uniform, and I have yet to wear it. (The women here do not really dress as modest as it seemed in the PC handbook)
glowsticks - I thought they’d be good for light, but now I have no idea when I’d use them.
knife sharpener
Spanish-English Dictionary - They give you one
Top-of-the-line water purifier. The water here is fine, and they give you chlorine tablets anyway.

I wish I had brought
beads (or whatever craft stuff you like)
more ankle socks so I don’t look like a loser wearing tube socks with shorts and sneakers.
sneakers. What was I thinking in leaving my sneaks?
a nice comfy hoodie
photos. I have some on my computer, but not nearly enough. And they’re not portable.
More shorts. PC said that the women here don’t wear short shorts. Um, I beg to differ.
More sports bras
More tank tops

Also, just go for the 80 pounds you’re allowed to pack. I bought every compact, light-weight, camp-style piece of equipment I could waste my money on. I was at 66 pounds with my internal-fram pack and one rolling backpack. Then I got here, and one other guy brought two huge rolling black bags like he was going on a trip to Miami. You don’t really have to carry everything you own. So just pack what you want to bring, because once you get down here, it’s going to be super expensive to ship or buy here.
But really, if I got here and all my stuff had been destroyed on the flight, I still would have been fine. I mean, the Paraguayans are fine with what they have down here, so so will we. So try not to freak out about it.