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.


renee said...

Hey Paulette. Renee here from the Record. In response to this quote in your blog "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." ... congrats. Now you know how I feel. My life is blessed and it drives me crazy for those who do not realize how lucky they are to be where they are ... and to know that life here — or anywhere in the world — is amazing if they would only make it amazing. Take care!

Team Boom said...

Your comments on "comfort" are HUGE, duder. Big-time realizations there, and ones that just seem to take longer to get when I'm sitting in a comfortable chair in my comfortable apt. You're an inspiration.

Brendan said...

hey paulette!! dude im here in paraguay! its going great so far...anyway if you ever come back to guarambare look me up

jeri said...

Paulette, you are wrong if you think you are the only one fighting the bugs. several nights ago watching tv out on the deck a cockroach ran across my body, if i had normal reactions i would have jumjped, but by the time my body could respond, it was moving across jeff. next nite we saw it again on a beer bottle cap, jeff got him with a flyswatter, but he survived,and the very next nite he ran across the tv screen. YUCK. im happy to say the deck has been sprinkled with roach powder, and he apparently lives no more!

Ive been on a diet to lower my cholestrol, so far it has dropped 68 points, diet alone. Oh, and jeff lost 25 pounds, man that pisses me off. I have dropped some too, but not that much! Love, jeri