Saturday, November 15, 2008

Getting my own house

Oct. 23, 2008: Che rogare (My future house)
After a downpour yesterday, the family preparing my house discovered that the straw roof leaked. We inspected and I saw that yes, if you stand at the right angle, spots of sunlight come through above the beams.
This gave me eight days to find and prepare a new house, sans Craigslist. It actually turned out to be kind of fun, visiting all the people I know around town, telling them I was looking for a house. Almost everyone knew a señora just a few blocks away who might have a place.
I walked all around town, finally plopping myself down at the counter of Ña. Lourdes, drinking a mil coke in a glass bottle with a straw.
“Sabes con quien necesitas hablar?” she said, and I love that this literally translates to Do you know who you need to talk to? It’s just such familiar phrasing.
The woman down the street had a place, she said, so I went and spoke with her, sweaty from tromping around all day long.
She has a little house, next to hers. It’s got a small living room/kitchen, a modern bathroom (which the other house was missing), and a bedroom. That’s it. I’d guess 400 sq. ft. There’s a bunch of bananas hanging right there where you open the back door. There’s room for a garden and there’s a metal playground. There’s a bed and a “sofa.” You’d understand the quotes if you ever sat on a sofa in Paraguay.
It seems like a perfect just-me little place.
The rent’s 200 mil (about 50 bucks). I’m going to see my other options, just so I don’t rush into a decision, but it seems like this might be the place.

Oct. 24: A beautiful day in the neighborhood.
The sun was shining, birds were chirping, terere was flowing like wine, and I was twirling about my finger the key to my very own house.
I went over to confirm with the woman that yes, I would love the little house, which turns out to be 293 sq. ft. little.
The owner and her two daughters were hosing down the tile and scrubbing when I showed up. There was another woman helping and a little three-year-old boy playing in the water. When I walked up he said “tia” (aunt) and put his hands together like he was praying. Kids do this to their older relatives, who in turn give them a quick sign of the cross, so that’s what I did.
We drank t-ray and the girls looked at the photos in my camera. The younger one is adorable and very curious. When they asked me if I had a computer and I said yes, she gave a little squeal and put her head on my shoulder.
The little boy kept shooting me with his gun, then we had a tickle fight, then I taught him high-five, low-five, fist.
Monday I’m going with Mariela to Villarica to buy my appliances for my 11 ft. x 11 ft. living room/kitchen/dining room.

Oct. 28: Che añe’e Guaraníme! (I’m going to speak Guarani (dammit)!)
I found a Guaraní tutor and it’s actually coming along. It’s been like a locomotive leaving the station, lots of noise and smoke and little movement! It’s moving.
It’s funny learning two languages back-to-back, like an experience echoing itself.
I can recognize where I am. In Guaraní, I’m in the stage where I recognize words here and there, and I can form some sentences. But I have to say to myself, ok, this is what I want to say, do I know that in Guarani? Yes, ok, wait. Arms out as if to steady myself. “Ahata akaru nde rogape.” (I’m going to eat lunch at your house.) And each completed sentence or recognized word warrants a tiny celebration.
Most of us can either chose to learn Guarani or not. Another volunteer said to me, “You’re never going to use it again,” but it had the same ring as “We’re all going to die anyway.”
To not learn it would mean sitting around for countless conversations where I remain the outsider. I may never use it again, but I’m here now. This is the language, this is the experience.
So I’m going for it. The good news is I get to use all those vowels, the ô and the ũ and the ĩ, with the party hats and fake mustaches.
Now I’m off to memorize words such as yvyty, yvytu, yvoty, and yvyra. That’s hill, wind, flower and wood to you.

Oct. 30: My people
Back home, I didn’t associate strongly with any group. I guess that just comes with being a mix in the majority.
So I’ve gotten my first taste of stereotyping, where people take my entire country and its history, and somehow it’s all contained in me.
“You’re country had slaves, right?” Uh, yeah.
“Americans take advantage of immigrants.” Um, sometimes.
Today someone said something like all Americans hate black people. She was basically saying that I hated black people, and really for the first time, I felt like, “Hey, not fair! You didn’t even ask me.” I said, “We’re about to have a black president!”
Recently, someone asked me: “People from America don’t cry much for their dead, right?” This hit close, as almost a personal insult that I didn’t care about family members who died. I put a surprised look on my face and said, “Yes, we do.”
“Aah, then in that way we are alike,” said my friend.
Today I explained to the people I was terere-ing with that in each country, you are going to find good people and bad people.
Already the Paraguayans, to me, are not Paraguayans. They’re just people. I know that sounds like a public service announcement, but it’s true. I can’t remember what it was like to think differently. Yes, on top of everything, there’s culture. But most people never get the chance to look past that.

Nov. 7: Roga Sweet Roga
This morning I arrived at my very own house with my stuff, which has metasticized from two backpacks full of stuff to a collection that would barely fit in my host sister’s car. We loaded my stuff, they left, I went into my room and did a jump skip, yelling “My house, my house, my own _ house!” They I kicked up my leg and touched my toes with my fingers like a cheerleader.
Now I have to live on my own. In six months I haven’t washed a dish or a piece of clothing, practically. I hope I remember how it all works. My neighbors are going to see the smoke from my burning stove and come in to see me poking the floor with a broom, weeping.
I went shopping today, like a big girl. I got a industrial-looking cart from the front of the shop, then walked in and realized that all the other shoppers had normal carts. I had taken the kind the baggers use to go out to the cars. So then I wheeled it back up front, where all the check-out people laughed at me. Luckily nothing could bring me down on move-in day.
For food I got Fruit Loops, yerba, vegetables and juice packets. I got dish gloves, and I know I’m going to get laughed at. The truth is that I hate house work, but I could inseminate a cow for all I care as long as I have dish gloves on, so I got them.
This grocery store also has housewares, a problem area for my shopping addiction. This is the usually the part where I buy way too much stuff. I stand there in front of the dishes, wondering which ones express my personality most accurately while matching the decor and mood of my home. Then I buy all these little kitchen gadgets for making recipes I’ll never make.
I did this exact thing when I moved into my first house after college. When I moved out, selling everything, I laughed out loud when I found an unused rolling pin.
So today I tried very hard to stick to the basics, to get the cheapest version of only things I need. Because I am not my flatwear.
As I was walking around, a woman saw my plates in my cart and said to her friend, Ooh, que lindo (How pretty.) Yes, thank you, I picked them out myself.
One of the funny things about Paraguay is that you can’t always buy things that express who you are. One great example is notebooks. Since the biggest buyer of notebooks are kids, they all have kiddie designs. So everyone from security guards to professors to shop owners write their notes on books with cartoons or Mickey Mouse or the beaming cast of High School Musical 2.
I had hoped to get rid of all the props we used to get across the theme of who we are. Because last time, I went into debt trying to buy everything that would make me feel like an adult. (Don’t forget it has to be brushed steel!)
But my house is cute, for sure, and again, I worry I’ve already spent too much on it. But I’m getting better.
Home Depot still sends me emails, promising that they can help me make my dream kitchen come true. At least I know, and love, that I don’t dream about kitchens anymore.

House update: 1st night after dinner.
They came today and installed a ceiling fan in my bedroom. The owner lady said as soon as her husband gets paid they’ll put one in the living room/kitchen/dining room/study.
There’s no sink in the other room, so I planned on washing my dishes with a spicket outside. I did that tonight, and the owner, who lives next door, came over and told me ... something. I admit it -- I’m a dirty faker. Sometimes I just smile and nod.
Later I see what she’s talking about. She had her husband put a spicket in the bathroom where normally the tub faucet would go if this country had bath tubs. She means for me to wash my dishes and my vegetables in the shower.
Isn’t there a Seinfeld about this?
Now, I know water is water. And a faucet is a faucet and nothing is tecnically touching, there’s just something wrong about this. There are just certain activities that go down in the toilet inches from my shower that I don’t want associated with washing my spoons.
As I was setting up to wash my dishes, strapped my Paraguyan-size yellow rubber gloves on my American Amazon hand and sat down on plastic seat with my shower shoes on, I just kept saying, “Oh gross. This is gross. This isn’t right.”
I close the toilet lid because it’s hungry mouth was looking at me. I set my bottle of blue dish soap on top of it.
We’re so taught from Clorox’s commercials that everything should be so sparkling clean. But it’s just not true. I’ll get over washing my dishes just inches from my toilet, with the help of this quote from Fast Food Nation, about the effect of washing meat in the kitchen:
“A series of test conducted by Charles Gerba, a microbiologist at the University of Arizona, discovered far more fecal bacteria in the average American kitchen sink that on the average American toilet seat. According to Gerba, ‘You’d be better off eating a carrot stick that fell in your toilet than one that fell in your sink.’”

Nov. 9: En Casa.
It seems like overnight, one night in my house, I went from a guest to a resident. I walk down the streets with my little bag of lettuce. I’ve acquired a straw hat.
I’m feeling Peace Corps: opening cans of tuna with my Leatherman, bird poop on my sheet from drying in the sun, measuring my rice in my Nalgene bottle.
I can’t go two blocks without sitting down in several groups to chat or drink t-ray.
It’s always, “Egaupy,” “Take a seat.”
I love my neighbors, the family that owns the house. There’s a husband and wife, a 21-year-old son, and daughters 18 and 11 years old. I went over for asado today and brought the salad like a good neighbor. We had a talk about racism and the history of the U.S. and why this election is so important.
Tonight they invited me over for dinner. I saw some strings on the grill and said, What part is this? And they said Tripe. And I said Oh No!
We all had a good laugh about it while they heated up some meat for me. They are a family that loves to joke around, so I feel at home.
I poked the inside of their intenstines they were eating and said “What is that?” “Este es caca.” said the 11 year old in her matter-of-fact way.
The son said to me tonight that when he talks to me he feels lower, inferior. I told him that I too feel lower than some people, when I think that they are more intelligent or they have nicer things. I told him that will never end, unless he just decides that he is not inferior.
And now I’m sitting in my house. A weird scratching noise was freaking me out, so I opened my front door and there were two horses right out front, chewing the grass. When they saw me they turned and clopped away on the cobblestone. 

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