Monday, November 24, 2008

Building a school...Photos of pretty things and carnage and inappropriate school materials

Protecting my face from the sun, no matter how dorky it makes me look.

Hello all! This month I’m super busy, actually. Some let me just throw some stuff at ya. Life is great and I´m really happy on my little street. Here’s some of the stuff that’s going on lately:

13 Nov. In the hills

I went with a group of five other volunteers to help build a school up into the hills that I only before saw from a distance.

Having covered education as a reporter in St. Johns County, Fl, I’m used to talk of million-dollar plans and technology. This school was just two leaky rooms with sunlight spraying in from between the old boards of wood.

But the kids lived in paradise. This town is in Independiencia, which is partially a German settlement. It’s a two-hour bus ride from my house, then an hour walk up red dirt into green, where the second-highest point in Paragauy looms in the distance.

We stopped by a man’s house to do a radio show first. Half the area is curtained off for his bed and tv. The volunteer there, Karen, is about to finish her service. Her Guarani was inspiring.

We got to the house after a long walk uphill, sat on the porch exhausted and debated the best kinds of yerba for terere.

The work we did at the school was basically moving stuff. We moved a huge stack of bricks so that they could dry and be used for the floor. We moved a huge stack of rocks to make way for the dirt to be brought in. We moved lots of moist red dirt in grass-covered clumps onto a ox-drawn cart then into the school’s floor.

The whole time I was marveling at how beautiful the place was. Green green green. My friend bathed in a stream. I went to bathe there but fell on my butt in the mud. Then I decided that I was more of a shower girl. Sometimes you wonder if you’re going to do something just for the war story. “When I was in the Peace Corps, I bathed in a muddy stream!” When I was in the Peace Corps, I still preferred a clean shower over a muddy stream.

We did swim in a gorgeous river though. Some cute kids came down and showed off, jumping off the rocks. I thought, what a beautiful little place to grow up.

But then walking back up, we saw yet another abandoned house, its owners working in Buenos Aires. And these kids, who get the benefit of the education of nature, have to learn about everything else in that depressing schoolhouse. Does simplicity always mean poverty? Does opportunity always mean complications?

Pictures from Independencia:
Karen in her house

The view from her front porch

A Ind. street

Inside a classroom of the current school

The new brick school being built next to the old wood one. In the background, the 2nd highest point in Paraguay.

Dramatic rock-throwing shot.

My new boyfriend, Prince Elroy. More delicious than cute, Elroy will be the main dish at Karen´s going away party.

Another thing I want to talk about is Language.

The language thing is cool right now. Never before in my life have I been like, hmm, which language will we be speaking today?

A few of us were at dinner in Villarica, the nearby city, when a volunteer from Koika showed up. Koika is the Korean Peace Corps equivalent. There’s also Jika from Japan.

The volunteer, a friend of the volunteers in VR, sat down to join us, and immediately the conversation went Spanish. It’s funny that it’s not the native language of anyone, but it’s where we all intersect.

I have this other volunteer friend Brandon who only speaks Guarani, no spanish. Since Guarani seems like the second level to me, it’s funny when he’s spouting off in perfect Guarani, then someone says something in Spanish, and he’s like, “What did he say?”

There are parties with Paraguayans, where Guarani and English and Spanish are all floating around. My Pyan buddies love to say stuff to me in English and squeal with delight. “Howayou?” “Ilovyou” “My nae is”

Then there are the Spanish and Guarani words that are part of our mixed vocabulary of the PC Py Volunteer:

asado: barbecue

latrado: sneaky

guapo: hard-working

lindo: neat, pretty

huerta: garden

jahatama (or jaha): let’s go

Sometimes the Peace Corps can be like High School

We are the freshman, excited, arriving on time with our pencils sharpened. I’m aware of this most when I’m hanging out with the seniors, cool and jaded and preparing to move on, filled with advice. There are those who have extended, like the fifth-year senior, and you wonder what they’re still doing here and if they don’t have a life to get to, but then again who would really want to leave?

There are the bad kids (and how do I always seem to enjoy their company most?) There are the goody-two-shoes, the loners, the jocks. There are the couples.

There’s the gossip. Take away our daily intake of Paris Hilton news, and we don’t know what the hell to talk about other than who made out at the last fiesta.

My social life is like high school, at least in Paraguay. I spoke with one of the evacuated volunteers from Bolivia, and she told me she saw other volunteers there three or four times a year. Here, it’s like every weekend there’s some party, some trip to be taken or not.

And little did I know that there’s a high schooler still alive inside of me, wanting to go to every party, wanting to know everyone. This saturday I choose to stay in site, sure that inside jokes were being formed at the party in Asuncion.

But Peace Corps is not a popularity contest. High School wasn’t either, right?

Luckily, I love my site. And, like I had to remember that I was there to learn in high school, I have to remember that I´m here to know Paraguay and to help people.

And now more photos of life in Yataity and other random things that made me pull out my camera.

The ladies from next door in the terere circle of plastic chairs.

The Recycled Grill

This is Oscar from next door with a grill he just made out of a washing machine, the legs of a chair and a bike chain.

Danny and Vivi

This is Danny, the little three-year-old who runs around calling me tia, and Vivi, somehow related to my next door neighbors, on the playground in my back yard.

First Communion

I went to the first communion of my next-door neighbor girl, Vanessa. She’s in the middle. All the girls had on their Ao Poi dresses.

The Best Notebook Cover Ever
This is the notebook I bought for my friend Timmy for his birthday. It was just too creepy to pass up. Can you believe this was meant for a young boy? Look at the butt cheeks on that man!

Carne Man

We were walking to the bus stop in Aveiro, the host community where we had our training. We recently went back for a few days to visit and have a few sessions of language class. On the way to the routa, there’s always this guy with a cart, just hacking up meat on the side of the road there. Friday Matteo, Pooja and I were walking together, engrossed in a heavy political conversation, when out of the corner of my eye I just caught this red, skinned cow’s head teeming with flies. It was just too good. So I had to take some shots. Can you see why I’m edging toward vegetarianism?

This photo just about made my day. I thought it was so crazy. But the funniest thing is when I show it to Pyans. They’re like: Yeah, so?

Modeling Practice

The Ao Poi festival is coming in December, and for a while the board members of the cooperative have been joking about me modeling in the Ao Poi fashion show. Well now the joke has come to life. After the discussion about how, although my butt is big (this is always accompanied by hands of the speaker held out to the side of his or her butt for emphasis), the rest of my body is ok. So it looks like I will be walking down the runway with the skinny, 18-year-old Paraguayan girls.

I had some anxiety about this, as I am 26, big-boned, and recent victim of a diet of pig fat and breaded fried meat. But I said whatever! It’s my policy that when a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity presents itself, I take the chance. I have the rest of my life to not model in an Ao Poi fashion show in Paraguay.

We had our first practice this morning. These people are serious. You start with your left foot bent out, with the heel of your right foot meeting it in the middle on the inside. Don’t bend you knees. Keep your head up. Walk natural. One turn in the middle, pose at the end, walk to the left, then the right, pose at the back of the stage, and done.

The first time I walked, the woman said that it didn’t seem like my first time. I believe she’s underestimated the hours I’ve spent watching America’s Next Top Model. Could I be one step closer to being Paraguay’s Next Top Model?

Probably not. They had some bride’s dresses that were too big for the other girls, who are about 102 pounds, so they wanted me to try it on. I did. Of course, it didn’t fit. I walked out with the older woman running the show, who announced to all, “Ella no entra. Muy gorda es.” (She didn’t fit. She’s very fat.)

I seem to have two choices in the face of all this talk about my body, the one to be to care about it, but that would involve dieting. I choose to view it as exposure therapy. The more I hear people talk about it, the more I’m like, whatever. Someone tells me I'm skinnier at lunch, then by dinner time two others are talking about how I must be happy because I've gotten so much fatter. I feel less sensitive about it, but then why do I write about it so much? I think the underlying message is that it’s just your body. What does it matter so much? Because all my life, steeping in our culture, I’ve absorbed the message that we are our bodies. I’ll know I’ve risen above that when I really stop caring what people say about this thing I live in.

1 comment:

Rachel Vitale said...

Hey Paulette - I hope you have a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! Best of luck in your endeavors and much love.
Rachel and Frank Vitale