Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Che kaigue but here's an update.

Merry Cross-Eyed Christmas
Hello Everyone. Mary Christmas. Che kaigue means I'm feeling lazy. It's pretty much the official motto of the Republic of Paraguay.

So I will express myself with photos and caption.

Perhaps the best way in which I can explain cultural differences
I'm dealing with here is to say that the women at my coop think
this shirt is just beautiful.

These are the owls I see out in the campo.
For some reason Oscar walked in my house with one.

Peppers from my garden from which I made a rockin' hot sauce.
Anyone know what kind they are?

Angelic and I. A fellow very tall person who likes to write. She's the best.

Making sushi in my house with Mariela and Leidyd. Mariela is also the best.

In the Campo
I take it out to the campo just about every day before sunset.
This is funny only if you know the horse is walking very slowly.

There are about 5 little baby horses out there. They run around and play like puppies.


The thing I like about wildflowers is that they're just supposed to be pixels in the picture of the countryside. But they're equally amazing close up.

Oscar with a catch from fishing. Gross!

The sunset in the campo with horses. I counted more than 30 out there the other day.

Back at home...
This is what a perfect Sunday looks like to me.

Stable man Tito and Bigote.

In other news:

My money came in for the coop. Nearly 10 million big ones. Or little ones, as I suppose we would call a currency of which it takes one thousand to buy a piece of gum. Anyway. We're getting a new computer, new camera, and a new web site. I'm sitting back and taking the afternoons off to spend more time with my air conditioner.

This other cool thing happened where I sent an e-mail to Barbara DeMarco-Barrett. She's a writer and I listen to her podcast Writers on Writing. And she just randomly was nice enough to send me a free copy of her book. So I sent her this photo as a thank you.

Also, I'm planning on going to Brazil. Back home at my Going-Away Garage Sale, a woman said to me, "If you ever get the chance to go to Florianopolis, you have to go." I got the chance to go, and although it might be a financial stretch, both my mother and my friend Fodor said the exact same thing: "You only go around once." Plus my grandparents threw me enough cash to cover my visa for Christmas. Score!

Ok, that's all for now...

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Survival Bandana

So I had this big shame had that I bought all the outdoorsy stuff before I came. I basically had a panic attack via credit card and ended up with a bunch of ugly quick-dry clothes and outdoor gadgets that are still under my bed in mint condition.

My big shame was this one thing that I bought. I never even showed anyone to make fun of myself. I needed to come out of the closet, and so I cleansed myself through the power of the spoken word, and hence I read the following to the other volunteers at our Thanksgiving Day Talent Show. When the picture is is where my lovely assistant Sasha revealed the item. Thank you.

Survival Bandana

Thank God you’re here. This just might be the talent show that saves your life.

I have with me tonight a purchase I made in my preparation to leave my suburban life for the dangers of the deep South American jungle. Thankfully, I had the smarts to acquire this item just days before I left into the uncharted, unforgiving wilderness. I discovered it in the same outfitter where I purchased no-water camping soap and two pairs of $18 quick-dry underwear because the package said all the smart travelers used them, the same place where I almost bought a personal hand-held alarm, until the man at the counter said, “But who will be there to hear it?” At that very place, I had the fortune of spending $15.99 on a companion that has been the key to tipping the scales of life and death in my favor. To increase your own chances making it out of the Peace Corps alive, I advise you to listen up to some tips from this, The Survival Bandana.

The Survival Bandana is 2.5 square feet of orange knowledge that one day might just save your keister down here. As you can see, the Survival Bandana is complete with charts, tips, and basically the entire contents of the mind of a highly decorated eagle scout. Here’s one on how to find south and locate the North Star. Oh, that only works in the Northern Hemisphere, so ignore those, ignore ‘em, there’s lots of other good stuff to save your life.

For example, when you’re in the internet cafe and Facebook is taking forever to load, the Survival Bandana says to stay calm. In any situation where you’re lost of just don’t know what to do, the Survival Bandana offers the acronym STOP.
S! Stop and take a break, possibly to drink terere.
T! Think about what you have as tools or can use for survival, such as your cell phone, Google, Wikipedia, Skype, etc.
O! Observe your surroundings and look for a street sign or someone selling maps on the side of the road.
P! Plan your actions; make a distress signal to get Help, or just send a text message.

Or for example, if you want to drink terere but the water tap is dangerously far, there’s a nice little diagram here of how to build an underground still and suck water from the earth. The Survival Bandana would like you to remember that the human body can only go 3 days without water, so if there’s no terere, water can be collected from vines, dew on leaves, grass or by melting snow.

Your body can also go just 3 weeks without food. So, if Bolsi Bar (an expensive Asuncion restaurant) is taking too long on their delivery, the Survival Bandana says that all healthy mammals, birds and insects are edible. You can cook them over a low fire, along with the marshmallows your family sent from home. A fire can also provide warmth and a signal for help.

In extreme weather conditions, the human body can only go three hours without shelter. When selecting a shelter, you don’t just want to look for places close to the clubs in Asuncion. The Survival Bandana says you should also avoid water, wind and low-lying areas. And, should the Chaco Hotel be all booked up, the Survival Bandana says you can make emergency shelter by tying a line between two trees, draping a tarp over it, and staking the four corners to the ground. You can see this methods being used by the natives in Plaza Uruguaya (where homeless live).

If your cell phone battery dies and you get separated from your friends, perhaps at the bar, the Survival Bandana says that staying in one area increases your chances of being found. If you have to move, such as to get another Brahma, you should leave a trail of rocks or sticks.

You may want invest your own Survival Bandana, because the bandana itself might just save your life. It has on here a list of its uses, such as an ice pack, splinting, tourniquet, distress flag, or for something to carry beers from the fridge to a party. I think I might even be able to tie it up into a tube top if I need something to wear to Killkenny’s.

And to make sure everyone survives this year, I offer you one last piece of advice on this wilderness survival trip we call Thanksgiving. The Survival Bandana says that overall, staying dry is the key to survival, so please, don’t forget to bring a towel to the pool.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Yo se cocinar, yeah! (con recipes)

Today I was in my kitchen, speaking Spanish and cooking Chicken Scarpariello, and I honestly can't say which one is more amazing.

You might have had to have known me, before, and known what a fire hazard I was in the kitchen.

I had this full feeling: I was proud of myself, dammit.

After 24 years of non-cooking, the Peace Corps has finally forced me to learn. I think it's the boredom as well as not wanting to have to rely on a family to feed me. That means more fried meats and mayonaisey salads.

As a former restaurant junkie, I was used to thai, sushi, pizza, burgers, vegetarian hippy feed, etc. I still like that food.

So I'm like a recipe sleuth. It starts in one of two ways. Either I think of something -- Mmm, remember pad thai? -- and I look up the recipe to see if I could make it. I usually get to the third ingredient and say, nope, no way. Or, the second way is that I find something I've never seen before in a big, chuchi supermarket in the city. I go to Allrecipes and search and search for how I can use it. I found dried seaweed and successfully made sushi. I found plain yogurt in Oviedo and it's opened up a world of Indian. One of these days I'm going to translate all the cheese names in the Villarrica supermarket and figure out what I can do with them.

Today I felt like experimenting and tried a frappachino recipe. (Fail). And I made rosemary tea out of the rosemary in the back yard, which also lead to the chicken.

I never thought that if I went to a country I'd learn recipes from all over the world except that one place. (Although I am now, unfortunately, an expert fryer.)

But here are some of the recipes I love, with stuff that it is possible to find in Paraguay:
Chicken Scarpariello I made with rosemary growing in our back yard. For white wine I used toro viejo. Only the best!

This Aloo Phujia I made once I figured out that curcuma means tumeric. It is simple and so good and Oscar called it my rice from India and asks me to make it every third night.

This Thai Eggplant recipe is awesome, of course I just use regular eggplant and basil growing in the backyard. So good, even with low-grade soy sauce.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009


I wasn´t sure if I should publish that last blog. But a few friends have said, "Ugh, I know exactly how you feel."

But I´m better now. It´s good.

The thing that bothered me was quitting the radio show. It felt like quitting, failure. My show sucked and I let it suck and they wither up and die. That´s not how I want to be.

I hadn´t told the guy at the radio station yet, as I was bothered by this feeling. I mentioned it to Angelic, and she invited me to come to Oviedo every Thursday to do their show with them, her and Melissa. Yay! That feels a lot better. This is a move up, bigger market. And the show will reach the Yat. So I will now be a part of Rojapo Radio in Oviedo.

On Sunday I went to Oviedo and we went around visiting Chuchi people. One of the women said, Oh, I always listen to your show. Every thursday at 11. I learn a lot. That´s nice. More on chuchi people later...

Thursday, November 19, 2009


I tried to integrate, and I've been feeling the frustration of grasping at a life that wasn't appearing where it should be. I didn't trust people I wanted to trust. Behind so many smiles I heard the faint rattle of a snake. People around me were so gossipy it was statistically impossible that they were gossiping about me too. I felt like I could count my real friends on one hand that had suffered a horrible table-saw accident.

My radio show was sucking. I got a message that said, "You know we can't understand what your saying, right? And could you please play the song Somos de la Calle?" Then my friend(?) at work said she heard my show. "How was it?" someone else asked. "I liked the music," she said. (Meaning not the talking) and then she laughed one of those laughs where they put the camera right in the laughing persons face and the laugh just gets louder and more menacing.

Then I found out that another friend(?) was gossiping about my porch floor being dirty. What a funny straw to break my back, but then I was crying and Oscar had to give me yet another run-down of Paraguayan policy.

So fine. I get it. You don't fan out in Paraguay, make a million friends. You stick to your kin. The one person I actually know is a true friend to me, just stays at home with her family. You don't have a radio show.

I have Oscar. I have my fireworks-blast-damaged-hand finger-count of real friends. I can live with that. My podcast is going really well, so screw the radio. I let it all go, all that wasn't there to grasp. I'm quitting the radio show. I'm letting my friends with question marks be acquaintences, period. I'm not worrying about pleasing everybody.

I caught myself having these thoughts: You just can't trust anyone besides _ and _. You just have to worry about yourself.

These are almost the exact words that came out of a Paraguayan's friend(?)'s mouth about a year ago. Back then I had been shocked and tried to convince her that it's ok, you can trust people.

Maybe I'm integrating better than I thought.


I overheard this conversation a while ago, and it's been stuck in my head ever since. I was at an event with my little host sister, going to watch her do the traditional Paraguayan dance with the big Ao Poi skirts.

Afterward, I was waiting for her to change in the back area. Two girls come in, about 10, looking like little women in their make-up. They stopped to change into their street clothes, looking a bit frazzled. One huffed: "What work it is to dance!"

The other one agreed, and then, pulling at her uniform, she said the line that sticks with me: "Our dance is our sacrifice."

It just tells you everything about a people who have maybe struggled so long that all they have left to cling to are their struggles, that a little girl would say something such as that.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

The Shock of a Thing like TP Disposal

Have I mentioned that, in Paraguay, you don't throw your toilet paper in the toilet, but in a little trash can next to it? Probably not, because it's just a little life detail. But it was a big adjustment for us volunteers, a reflex we never even thought of, but had to change.
How did we ever get on the subject last night, me and my Paraguayan friends at a little dinner party to make sushi? But, somehow the conversation landed on me saying, "In the U.S., we throw the paper in the toilet."
Oscar's face jerked into his "you're lying" face: tweaked to the side, eyes squinted, lips pressed -- as fast as if I'd said, "In the U.S., we fold our used toilet paper into origami frogs that come to life and hop away."
I laughed and laughed, just at his face. "En serio?" (Seriously?) he asked. "Ndejapu!" (You're lying!)
Mariela and Leidyd had the same shocked faces. Oscar said, "In the toilet? But it would clog up! It would just float there when you tried to flush it!"
It was as if I had suggested we throw our paper in the toilet, and not as if 300 million people already did it, and they were dismissing my new idea as stupid.
Also, they still didn't really believe me. "Call Sasha," I said. So we did. She corroborated my story.
But, but, Oscar had seen in movies that there are trash cans next to the toilets. But, but, where does the paper go?
After I answered all their questions, it was still, "En serio? En serio?" from all of them.

There's something about the little differences that hit you most. Not the languages, the different religions, we've all read about those. It's the tiny things that you never even think about and assume as constants, like breathing. I had never imagined that nobs on a sink would say C and F, but of course they do. Or that Christmas would be celebrated with watermelon, but it makes sense, now that I think about it.
It's the shock of finding out that those rock-hard constants are really variables, ingredients in life that can be substituted, that really shows you how small your own corner of the world is, and all the possibility that's out there.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Choice and Staying Home

November 7: From “The Paradox of Choice” by Barry Schwartz
"In the 1960s, psychologist Martin Seligman and his collaborators performed an experiment that involved teaching three different groups of animals to jump over a little hurdle from one side of a box to the other to escape or avoid an electric shock. One of the groups was given the task with no prior exposure to such experiments. A second group had already learned to make a different response, in a different setting, to escape from shock. Seligman and his coworkers expected, and found, that this second group would learn a bit more quickly that the first, reasoning that some of what they had learned in the first experiment might transfer to the second.

The third group of animals, also in a different setting, had been given a series of shocks that could not be escaped by any response.

Remarkably, this third group failed to learn at all. Indeed, many of them essentially had no chance to learn because they didn’t even try to escape from the shocks. These animals became quite passive, lying down and taking the shocks until the researchers mercifully ended the experiment.

Seligman and his colleagues suggest that the animals in this third group had learned from being exposed to inescapable shocks that nothing they did made a difference; that they were essentially helpless when it came to controlling their fate. Like the second group, they had also transferred to the hurdle-jumping situation lessons they had learned before -- in this case, learned helplessness.

Seligman’s discovery of learned helplessness has had a monumental impact in many different areas of psychology. Hundreds of studies leave no doubt that we can learn that we don’t have control. And when we do learn this, the consequences can be dire. Leraned helplessness can affect furture motivation to try. In can affect future ability to detect that you do have control in new situations.”

The scientists then sent in on of the group two animals to help the group three animals. At first, she was quite astonished that they were just sitting their being shocked away, while freedom was just over a small hurdle.

She made a big sweeping motion with her paws toward the hurdle, as if to say, “Jump! Jump already!” By this time they had already laid down, and they just shook their heads, as if to say, “It’s no use.”

And the Group 2 animal wondered why they wouldn´t want to escape the shocks. The Group 3 animal thought the Group 2 animal was quite odd, and that shocks were just part of life.

November 8: No, You Should Not Have Stayed Home
Before I joined the Peace Corps, I pictured the two years abroad as some kind of detour to the rest of my life, some kind of time out that I would take and then get right back on track, jump back in where I left off.

Now, it’s hard to remember that this is not my real life, that I’m in a foreign country. Sometimes it feels as easy as living. Other times when I wonder why it’s so damn hard, I have to remind myself that this is supposed to be the toughest job I’ll ever love.

Then the memory comes in a jolt that I’ll leave this place. My Guarani will become a party trick. I won’t have time to make Ao Po’i anymore. I won’t have a horse. Worst of all, Oscar will not always be right next door.

If I thought about all that too much, I’d go insane.

Between the jolts, I get too comfortable. I forget I’m a representative of the U.S. Government, a volunteer, 24/7 and just go on being Paulette, instead of Paulita. I don’t feel like trying to make more contacts. I don’t try to get out in the community more often. I don’t keep social norms in mind.

Saturday I was in bed reading one of my non-fiction books I’ve become obsessed with, perhaps seeking at least a book-learning understanding of society if not a real one. Sandra, my host sister, invited me to play volleyball. Though I wanted to stay on my butt, I said, No, I should go.

I walk, slump shouldered, to a bunch of crazy kids, mostly boys about 12, playing over a net tied between two twisted tree limbs sticking out of the ground. Most were barefoot.

It’s been a year since I touched a volleyball, so I spent the first few games embarrassing myself. The rotations were like a shame cycle, peaking at when I had to serve, and the ball went everywhere but over the net. The children have no problem expressing themselves, meaning they laughed their asses off at me.

I should have stayed home.

When we sat out, Sandra showed me a game played with the inside of a flower, with the little stems that have a head on them, trying to knock the other’s off.

We played another round of volley, and I finally remembered how to serve and everyone cheered, because when I can serve, I can serve, overhanded. I cheered up and began to notice all these photos around us: boys sitting in a doorstep. Two chickens, one after the other, walking up the steps of bricks left of a half-crumbled wall.

During the next break, I talked with this kid Pablo, who’s studying English. We talked almost all in English, with this other little kid just looking on. Pablo told me that he learns all his English from watching movies, every night.

We got up to play another game. The sun was gone, and the sky was blue with pink cotton candy. Pablo was first to serve. He held the ball up, and paused. He looked right at me and said in his English, “Stop this Mother F*ckers.” Then turned back and served.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Dear Santa

I was asked by an aunt to put up a new list of things I could use for a possible Christmas package. So I will so ever tackily do that here:

  • Clothing catalogs for Ao Poi ideas for the co-op
  • Magazines: Writer's Digest, Psychology Today, anything interesting that doesn't mention 50 new ways to make my hair shinier.
  • Coconut milk (I have all these recipes...)
  • Aerosol sunblock
  • Tester tube of Chanel Chance if you can find one (I've used one in a year, shows you how much I need it)
  • Goodwill/used super-light long sleeve shirt for horse-riding and being outside
  • Light face lotion with high SPF
  • Just any old cotton double sheet if you have one lying around. (My sheets are made of polyester. Great idea in a country with 100-degree summers)
  • Red Kool-Aid or Gator-ade packets
  • One of those dish washing brushes with a handle. (Why did those never catch on south of the equator?)
I love you guys and as I've said I'm really fine and don't need anything. However, I am a struggling single horse mom, so I'll take any kind offerings.

Monday, November 2, 2009

IGUAZU Vacation

"Big Water" in Guarani

Our arrival was a little rough. We weren't sure if the guy who sold us our tours was ripping us off. The Full Moon tour that we'd scheduled our trip around was sold out. I wasn't sure if the ATM would work, then I had no idea of the exchange rate for pesos.

At our hotel, they told us there'd been a mistake and they didn't have a room for us. They tried to get us to stay with the lady who lives across the street who had a monkey in a cage in her driveway. Yipes. But we just ended up staying in a bunk bed a dorm-style room that first night, with two chicks from Columbia.

We went to the falls as soon as we could, which was already the afternoon. Anyone who gives you advice first says, "Go early." By the afternoon it's hot. Good thing we had the terere. The falls curve around in kind of an upside-down U, the bottom of that U is the most famous part, the Devil's Throat. For the first day, we went up the side.

When we first came over the threshold and I saw the waterfalls, I just ballooned up with emotion. It's like all that water flowing over everywhere just fills you up with the wonder of the world. It's amazing. There are rainbows everywhere in the mist, with birds looping through.

That day we went for the boat ride. You go through the jungle down to the boats, then ride through the canyon of the river until the falls become visible in the distance. Then they loop you through the mist, which feels like someone spraying you from a fire hydrant. Oscar really loved it and did a great Paraguayan laugh that ends with "Woo Hooooo."

Quite the shower


Iguazu is like Disney, where it attracts people from all over the world. I love to hear all the languages. Oscar and I talked a lot in Guarani. I realized how much I know. If I want to tell you about the time Aunt Norma broke her arm, it's Spanish. But "Let's go eat lunch," "Where'd I put my money," "Did you eat the last of the Cheetos?" That kind of stuff I can do in Guarani. It was like we had our own little code language and could easily gossip about those around us.

It also brought up another depressing point. There were hardly any Paraguayans. This used to be part of Paraguay. In fact, Iguazu means Big Water in Guarani. But now, just outside the border that got shifted by a big war to exclude this resource, Paraguayans didn't even enjoy it. "Isogue" said Oscar. "They're broke."

We were not yet broke, so we went to dinner at a very nice place. However, we almost fell into our asado we were so tired.

We got up early to go on a forest adventure. The first part was rappelling. I had to tell Oscar the story of how I tried to go on a rock climbing trip then remembered I'm dizzily afraid of heights. There were these five little girls who went like brave campers before me. Then I went screaming all the way. I finally tried to look up and jump like the pros, and right when I did that, I came swinging in and landed on my shin bone.

Oscar Rappelling

We almost tried to fit in another trip to the falls in the afternoon, but instead decided to enjoy the tv and the air conditioning. Too bad in our awful hostel, if you turned the tv on with the air, all the power went out.

That night was the Luna Llena, the Full Moon tour. I had been wanting to do this forever. It goes on for 5 nights around the full moon. We finally had the weekend planned, then I went online and saw that it was $80 a person. You probably read that as 80 dollars, as I did. So for days I thought we couldn't go. Then I realized I'm blond and that they use the same symbol for dollars and pesos. So it was 80 pesos, just 20 bucks. We did finally find a space, and it was a magical wonderland. They take you to the Devil's Throat, the part we had yet to see, and it's amazing. The water is falling all loud, then these plumes of mist rise up slow and silent. Unfortunately, they also soak you. Then you go to a nice dinner in La Selva restaurant in the park, where a man was playing smooth jazz covers on a harp.

The Falls at Night

Day 3
We were planning on leaving early but decided we needed to see the Devil's Throat in the light of day. I really loved watching the birds. There are these birds that have evolved to live in the falls. They can fly through the water and make their nests on the rocks. They fly, black against the white of the water, in big loops.

We also saw tucans, monkeys, iguanas and all kinds of tropical wildlife, which Oscar fed Cheetos as I yelled at him. After the Devil's Throat we went on the Macuco Trail. Being very lazy we complained about the heat and acted as though we were dying the whole 3 km. But then we came upon a very gorgeous waterfall with a natural pool underneath. When we got in though, it was freezing and it was like a crazy rainstorm with the wind and the splash off the waterfall.


Then it was time to go home. But we stopped in Ciudad del Este to get me a router for my computer. CDE is like the if Sam's Club were run by the mafia and was a whole city. It's pretty dangerous -- volunteers aren't allowed to go alone -- so Oscar walked in front, then me, then his friend Jorge behind. Things are super-cheap there, like computers. So businesspeople go and buy up 20 computers. There are these huge ware-house type building with lots of levels, all over echoing the sound of packing tape and boxes thudding on each other. We got my router and I found Heinz ketchup and Jif. The kid at the store tried to explain to me what creamy and crunchy and extra crunchy meant. Kid, I've been eatin' extra crunchy since before you were born.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Chisme 101

The story is that I got a horse for 1,900,000 Guaranies, a decent price. I’m learning to ride it well. I go out in the countryside to let the tension in my body release, to remember that there are tadpoles and wildflowers and the whole world isn’t ao po’i and irregular verbs.

The story is that I got a horse for 2,500,000 Guaranies, that I got totally ripped off. The story is I was thrown from the horse. And the latest story is that I go out in the countryside to meet men, that people have seen me out there with them.

That’s the story, and there isn’t a damn thing I can do about it. As soon as a hear it, my helplessness spread from my chest all through my body, fight or flight. Gossip is a ghost that has a life of its own, so I can’t just punch it. And to fly away from everywhere that people whispered is to never stop fleeing. So I sit here with it. My little nature walks, perhaps the thing in which I am most innocent, turned into something so seedy.

Oscar gave me one of his talks, where he says, “Let me tell you how it is.” He said that any little spark, a girl stopping on the corner to talk to her classmate, for example, could light the chisme fire. The next day, the corner is his bed and talking is another verb.

A widow who goes out in the countryside to collect branches to make brooms is said to go out there to meet men. When someone gets new shoes, people say he stole to something else. When Oscar was younger, people said he was a drug addict. Though he’d never even smoked a cigarette, his mom beat him anyway.

Any woman walking alone can be a target. Hadn’t I ever noticed that his sister never went out alone? I hadn’t. It’s sad, really, he said, to be a woman here.

At what level now do I give in? Another volunteer suggested I bring a little kid with me every time I go. That seems silly. I like to be alone.

I guess I have my people who know me, and the rest will talk. Though it makes me crazy to think how those groups might overlap. Providing something to talk about in terere circles, my service to the community.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Dreaming of an Ao Po´í Christmas

Hello there one and all. This is your niece/daughter/sister/friend/stranger, Paulita. Today I´d love to show you this beautiful craft of Ao Po´í, and guilt you into buying some for Christmas.

Ha ha, just kidding. But seriously. I thought I´d take some photos and see if anyone was interested in getting a tablecloth, placemat set, or some nice bathroom towels you can yell at your children for using.
These make the perfect gift for a crafty wife or mistress, older people who remember a time when everything was made by hand and they liked it that way, or perhaps as a gift to yourself to have a reason to mention your niece/daughter/sister/friend that´s in the Peace Corps, of whom you are burstingly proud.
All tablecloths come with matching Ao Po´í napkins:

They come in whatever color, with matching or contrasting stitching, in square, rectangular or round. We also accept custom orders!

Here we have some designs:

All items are finished in crochet, with a variety of styles available.

Here are some more items and designs.

Bath towels

Very Christmasy indeed!

As for prices, they depend on the size of tablecloth or number of items, but here are a few just to give you an idea:
Tablecloth, 6 feet, with 6 napkins included: $60
Table runner, 3 feet: $10
Bath towel: $6 each
Placemats: $5 each
Shipping extra. In the past I´ve shipped a shirt and it was $7. I´d guess the most would be $20 for a big tablecloth.
Have I told you lately that I love you? Any questions just email me at guaranime@gmail.com. Thanks!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

One-Year Group Hug

Today I had my one-year visit from my boss, Elisa, and Betsy, a former-volunteer-turned coordinator. I had been using this date as a deadline to get our SPA Grant proposal ready. SPA grants can be up to $5,000, and can increase that amount that Paraguayans give a crap about your presence up to 5,000%.

Auxi and I wrote up our proposal for a prize package to get the co-op online. New computer, internet service, web design, digital camera. More than $2,000. Yipes.

We presented the proposal today and it went well. Also, I presented certificates in basic computer skills to Mariela, Auxi and Rossana. The presentation was a little sentimental. They told my bosses I was doing a great job and I was really involved. I said I was proud of them and that they are all my students and my teachers. It was almost as if I wasn't laying across Oscar's chest a few weeks ago, sobbing about how no one cares that I'm there or wants to work with me.

My boss had to ask Auxi all these questions about me, which was weird because I was there. For that reason or because she really meant it, she said I had a good rapport with my students and I was really helping. Then she asked what they needed to do if they wanted me to stay longer. That's nice.

But when the empanadas are all eaten, the coke has been drank and the meeting's over, will they actually form the committee, show up, not text? It's my job to keep hoping, and to hold out a $2,000 carrot.


Monday, October 12, 2009

Moral Animal?

I read this book that’s technically about Evolutionary Psychology, but in the end I think it also has everything to do with the business of World Saving.

It’s about how all our little funny quirks, all the seemingly different cultures of the world, are really just a product of the process that promoted those habits that made us more likely to have babies who had babies. It’s about how natural selection set the rules for the human brain to be played out on an entirely different board. “We live in cities and suburbs and watch TV and drink beer,” says the author, Robert Wright. “All the while being pushed and pulled by feelings designed to propagate our genes in a small hunter-gatherer population.”

These habits are from back when, for example, any rise in power could mean more influence in dividing up meat after a big kill. More for your kin = they survive longer = your genes get passed on. Hence those who had more drive for power had more babies, and now we are all their decedents, feeling some mysterious need to be the one holding the remote.

You can see how this might cause problems.

When politicians rise to power, they tend to have lots of sex with young, attractive women. This still surprises us. But when the rules were set in our brains, the entire point of having power was to convince as many young women as possible that you have the means to take care of their offspring if they wouldn't mind just letting you get some action. These women, on the other hand, evolved to swoon at men with power, as “emotions are just evolutions executioners.” That's true because if we’d never developed birth control, more sex would equal more babies and more genes. But we’re still surprised with every politician caught, even though, as Henry Kissinger said "Power is the ultimate aphrodisiac."

What efforts can we put forth to thwart the errands of evolution that clash with our current morality? I thought of how we do it in Paraguay, of all the problems we’re sent here to fix.

There’s something we now call corruption. When resources were tight and there’s just not enough for everyone, our genes drove us to find a way to provide for our own family (who carry our genes) and our friends (people who seem to have the same genes). Taking a bit more for your own, sounds like corruption to me. But remember how we all decided we were going to be fair and call it democracy? Unfortunately, we never evolved an off switch for this desire to help our own. We continue beyond helping our own survive to helping our own take vacations to Tahiti with government funds. Come to the rescue, anti-corruption slide presentation!

How about hypocrisy as well? We’ve all heard leaders stand up and say, “I do so much for the community,” while knowing that they take money in one way or another. Why shouldn’t they, really, use both the rise in status from their bragging and eat their money too, if they can get away with it? Now, investigative journalists!

There’s also the matter of gossip, which, as it turns out, not only exists wherever you go in the world, but follows the same outline. Says the author, “Knowing who is sleeping with whom, who is angry at whom, who cheated whom, and so on, can inform social maneuvering for sex and other vital resources. Indeed, the sorts of gossip that people in all cultures have an apparently inherent thirst for... match up well with the sorts of information conducive to fitness [to reproduce]. Trading gossip is one of the main things friends do, and it may be one of the main reasons friendships exist.” Go, team work seminars!

What we’re really doing is wrestling this animal, trying to figure how to cage something that’s inside of us. But I have another idea. This evolved animal has striking similarities to Eckhart Tolle’s ego, which strives to be special and have power and be rich, is never really satisfied, as Wright says, “We are designed to believe the next goal will bring bliss, and the bliss is designed to disintegrate shortly after we get there.” And if we just take a step back and look at that, we can see how silly it is, how silly we are to be obsessed by it.

If someone thinks they want to save the world, do they really mean to create more wealth and productivity, or do they really mean peace and happiness? Because, unfortunately, our joy was not factored into evolution: “Our happiness was never high among natural selection’s priorities, and even if it had been, happiness wouldn’t naturally arise in an environment so different from the context of our evolution.”

If saving the world means finding peace and happiness, then here the science and spirituality climb both sides of the problem to reach the same conclusion: The only way for us, the puppets, to free ourselves, is to look up and see the strings. After that, they’re quite easy to clip.

The answer, to me then, is not one more anti-this committee or anti-that seminar. It’s education on the fact that we are animals competing with each other to feed not our bodies, now, but our egos. And others are starving so that our egos may live large. It’s so animalistic. And, I think now, only after we see the animal in us can we find the human.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

No Trust in Paraguay

There's no trust in Paraguay. My host mom just yelled at me for having a lot of money on dining table. "I'm going to put it here on your desk," she said, as I laid in bed, sick. "Watch how much I'm putting," and she counted out the bills. I rolled my eyes. Not only do they not trust anyone, they don't expect you to trust them. They carefully count my money back to me anytime I threw them some cash to pick me up something while they were at the store. I roll my eyes every time. "I trust you," I say.

Isn't it said that all relationships are built on trust? It's not surprising then that Paraguayans stick to their kin. It's not surprising that romantic relationships are clingy and jealous.

It's hard for me, just coming in from the sunny states, where we can afford to take a man on his word. When people don't trust me, I take it personally. When my boyfriend can't see why I can't see that it's a terrible idea for male volunteers to crash at my house, I feel like it's a reflection of my personal devotion.

But it's just the way it is here. You count your change. You don't take chances.

I remember one female friend talking about all the other girls she worked with. "And her, I don't trust her, because she's too quiet and you don't know what she's thinking," she said. "And that other one, I don't trust her either." I kind of laughed, but she looked at me and said, "Seriously, Pau, you have to look out for yourself. You can't trust anyone but yourself."

And I wanted so badly to tell her that that's not true. That I trust people. But how much weight could my words have against someone who's lived under a dictator who tortured his own people, a bishop president with three illigitimate children, a place where honesty is the exception, and not the rule?

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Crazy for Babies Are We?

I made the mistake of being in front of Oscar while checking my brother and sister-in-law’s new The Baby is Coming photos on-line. Whereas babies here are made room for, rooms are rarely made for them.
Ok, so they're chuchi and their baby will be chuchi. “Dios mio,” said Oscar, looking at the pink room, the lovely furniture. “We could live for two years on the money for this.” His tone was not bitter, just amazed.
“And what is that?” It’s a lay-z-boy and the baby’s own little bathroom. “Never in my life... You all are crazy.”
“And what is that?” It’s a crib. “The baby’s not going to sleep with them when it’s young?” No. He’s shocked.
“But what if the baby cries and you don’t hear it?”
I thought of my answer and didn’t want to say it.
“There’s kind of a... walkie talkie ...for the baby.”
A walkie talkie!? For the baby!? Dios mio.” He rounded his hand around his mouth. “Ckherrrrk. This is the baby. Wake up. I’m crying. Copy.”
He dropped his hand and looked at me like I was crazy. “You all are crazy. Dios fucking mio.”
He put his hand back up to his mouth. “ Ckherrrrk. Does anybody hear me? I pooped. Copy.”

Monday, October 5, 2009

You'd think I hang with the Mob

My host mom came back from honoring the dead in the graveyard this morning, shaking her head and wrinkling up her nose like she does whenever there’s a displeasure of some kind. We drank mate dulce together before I went to work, and these sessions are usually a good time for her to complain.

"La gente," she says. The people. All of Yataity is talking about the fight. From the cemetery all the way back was a line of people to complain about, talking badly about her sons friends, who are like family to her.

It was there at the cooperative, too. Everyone was gathered around the radio. No one said hi to me. I ignored whatever was clearly going on, kissed Mariela on the cheek and waited to hear what they were talking about. This was a program where they talk about the police report every monday. They were saying my friends' names, then, Age 25, single, like that. With this big ticket item on the list, people were calling in, sending in messages about how terrible it all was.

What do you do when people are talking about your friends? One of my coop friends was talking about the fight, and the way she snarled her lips at the mention of my other "criminal" friend hurt me. It was so ugly. I stayed blank. No one spoke directly to me. Of course, my name had probably come up earlier.

You'd think the moon had exploded, the way the topic was so excitedly and ubiquitously discussed. Everyone who came in the coop to pay their electric bill in the back talked about the fight, talked badly about my friends. That they were looking to fight, that they’re criminals, sin verguenza! On and on, all morning long.

My personal reputation is damaged already, probably, because I drink terere with them. Should I be concerned that this will affect my already-struggling work? I thought about this as I walked to the plaza, and passed a little boy with a realistic-looking toy gun in his hand.

I came back to Oscar’s house and they were all the, drinking terere inside though the weather was beautiful. “The problems,” I said as I put my bag down and looking at the brothers. “I’m surprised I’ve survived this long as your friend, the way people talk about you.”

They all laughed their silly laughs.

I wouldn't tell them who talked about them or what exactly people said, just that everyone was talking about them and saying lots of bad stuff.

We drank t-ray, laughed some more. Not once could I imagine any one of them actually hurting another person. I told them they'd f-ed up, but they were still my friends.

I thought about how the majority of gossip is to put labels on people: slutbag, jerk, good-for-nothing, etc. Reducing someone to just one word like that could possibly capture everything. It's not what Jesus did, he was right down in there with the slutbags, telling them it's alright, he still loves them. For a town that's so all about the J.C., I could use a little more forgiveness for my friends right now, those criminals I've come to love.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Rumble in the Campo

The big fiestas are held in what is called a poli, an auditorium that is strung with lengths of fabric to make it look festive. It's too big and grey and concrete, and the fiestas always look too empty. But there's nothing better to do, so people go, drink and, every time, they say, fight.

This weekend was the Fiesta Patronal, and on the radio I heard the DJ invite everyone to the fiesta and say, "And please, let's have a chill party to celebrate the Virgin. No fighting please."

Oscar's friends have a history of fighting. It makes me think of the '50s, when no one thought anything of letting two boys go outside and have it out. Oscar never gets in it, according to his mom, unless one of his friends is getting beat up. He can't just sit there and watch, he says.

Last night it started early. I heard one of my guy friends yell in some kids' face. And even that, I was like, whoa. I know, I'm so sheltered. I've barely seen a handful of schoolyard fights. As the other kid walked away, another friend smacked him up side the head. Whoa.

Then the police, who were there anyway, came to take one of my friends outside because someone had said he had a gun. Of course the whole group goes outside, everyone's yelling. I have my arms around Oscar, in pain thinking about what it would feel like to see him punched. His mom was hitting and tugging at my arm, saying, "Don't you let him fight!" She can't afford the stitches.

We all go back in. My accused friend is fuming with his back against the wall. His girlfriend is crying. His brother is spit-spew yelling at another friend about the situation.

We all try to dance. Luckily Oscar is physically and mentally more with me than them, and we have a good time. At 4, I'm tired, and beg to go home.

At five there's a knock at my window. It's another friend. He's running from the cops.

The next morning I got the full story during the morning t-ray. Apparently, these other guys from "el otro lado" (outside Yataity) had been sending my friend's sister messages all night, inviting my friends to the plaza after the party to fight. Like I said, the '50s.

And they went, so it's their fault. As they approached, rocks start hailing down on them. Big rocks that these other guys had been collecting with the purpose of raining them upon my friends. Unfortunately, they soon ran out of rocks, said my friend with his goofy laugh the next morning. Looking a the big smile of the guy I knew to be a sweetheart, I could hardly imagine what he was telling me they did next. "Les matamos," he said. (Figuratively: We killed 'em.)

He had just one scratch on him. His brother nothing. Our other friend, who's a total goof but has the misfortune of a drinking streak that gets him in trouble, was not so lucky. His wounds from his last fight were just starting to heal, but this time someone caught him across the back a few times with a piece of bamboo. He ended up in the hospital with five stitches in his head.

But the euphemisms flowed at t-ray time, the laughs. They had pants one guy and beaten his bare butt with a stick.

It was all anyone talked about all day long. Vannessa had slept over with their younger sister that night and saw their parents furious reaction in the morning. They're good people who don't understand why their boys can't leave the house without fighting. Later, drinking more terere with the women of the house next door, we all wondered what the hell it was all for.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

It's the horse I've always wanted and now I have it

I bought the horse, yes I did.

Something inside me feels not quite right about using the words “my” and “horse” together. There’s some part of me that still says, “Wait a minute, you can not afford a horse. You are not of the horse-affording class.” But the math says I can, I am, in Paraguay. So it fell under the once-in-a-lifetime rule, and so I had to do it.

The best part is that my host uncle Tito has been caring for horses all his life, and so Bigote McGregor, my horse, lives over there. I’ve been at home searching YouTube for things like “how to horseriding”, “horse trotting.”

I ride my bike to Tito’s and he brings Bigote out for me. I help him put on the saddle, still learning how. Tito yells at Bigote in Guarani when he doesn’t want to hold still. “Epytama Aña memby!” (Hold still devil child!) I can’t help but laugh behind him.

Foot in one stirrup, hand on the mane and reins, and I’m up and I’m off, eight-feet-tall and fast. We go past other horses grazing and pigs snorting and these little gerbil-like creatures that run into the same bushes every time I pass. (“Oh, those are so delicious,” says my host mom.”)

There are more horses and cows grazing in the countryside, which stretches out like a ocean of grass around the island of Yataity. I used to be stuck on that island.

But on my new legs I can go out and explore, past the pond where Uncle Tito bathes Bigote, where little tadpoles swim with their legs out. I can go past the cows, where one is hiding her calf in the bushes. I see birds that would have been in style in the ‘80s: neon yellow and black. I see lines of ants so undisturbed they’ve cut a path in the grass. I see wildflowers, yellow, white, dark pink in the center then spreading out to a light blush. I think of Tom Petty, “You belong, among the wildflowers...”

I can look out and see there was a time before all these things had little nametags pinned on them by humans. I can see the foamy eggs of the toads, the breeze spreading seeds, birds tending nests, all those parts of this world you forget are amazing after you leave elementary school.

On the way home I trot a bit to feel that speed. I’ll wait to gallop until I’m more comfortable, more advanced in the YouTube School of Horsemanship. At Uncle Tito’s I say bye to Bigote, stroking that smooth horse neck, then my bike is waiting outside. I never realized how lame it is to ride a bike, until I got off a horse first.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Does Anybody Here Speak Spanish?

This woman entered the co-op, where Auxi collects the money for the electric company. She had dyed black hair, heavy black eye liner, a lip ring. She walked in with a reluctance I recognize.

I’m not really listening, once she starts talking to Auxi in slow Spanish in a German accent, punctured by Ums and looks to the side to think. It’s painful. I remember that pain.

Once she’s got her question out, she looks at Auxi while she replies in her quick Spanish, and I know that look. It’s: Should I just pretend I understand, or ask for more clarification, expose my ignorance more? I’ve had the look as I listened, I’ve seen the look as I’ve tried to speak.

“There’s someone else you have to pay,” says Auxi to the look in foreign language. “Another person. Not me.” With a finger pointing away from herself to the other invisible person. “A man.”

Maybe this woman speaks English, and I can save her, but there doesn’t seem to be a moment when I can cut in. And maybe I just want to ignore this live haunting of my painful past.

But Ña. Celia walks into the doorway and suggests she might know English, so I ask. Yes, she does. I ask Auxi what she wants to tell her, then explain in English. She asks me questions in English, much better than her spanish. I explain in my language. Auxi looks between us as we speaj English, laughs and says, in Spanish. “Somebody translate please!”

The woman thanks me and smiles. Ducks out and huffs, back in her own world, having survived another encounter with Spanish that will make her dread the next, as I know. Ña. Celia comes in and starts in Guaraní. “Che aimo’a....” And they recount the story in Guaraní, and I want to laugh and yell “Somebody translate please!”

I’m sitting here with a little pride, having saved, if not the day, a small desperate moment. Being a writer, I’m not used to being “needed.” I don’t think anyone has ever screamed, “Is there a writer in the house?” But now I have one skill that I can use for good, when someone in the future, if not yells, asks loudly and with some urgency: “Does anyone here speak Spanish?”

Monday, September 21, 2009

Depressing Day in the Neighborhood

My friend got kicked out. If I were to make a list of my friends starting with the most likely to get kicked out going down to the last, I might hope to have enough room at the bottom to put this friend, code name Dudesy.

It's a big b.s. story that ends with Peace Corps finding out she rode a moto. That's it.

You know, we're brought here and told to integrate. Part of that integration is to forget all the rules you've learned your entire life. Like, be on time. Don't wipe your mouth on the tablecloth. Don't tell other people they're looking fat today. And we learn. We learn to live this mas o menos lifestyle, where police can be paid off with $5. Where ex-bishop presidents have secret kin running all over the place.

We get a little too comfortable. We forget about that other foot that Peace Corps expects us to keep in America. Some people forget more, some less, some outright pick that foot up and dance out of bounds. Certainly some other volunteers might be feeling a little guilt that we most definitely forgot it more, much more than Dudesy. It's like when your health-nut friend gets cancer, and you think of all the hamburgers and couch hours of your life, and feel even guiltier when you're glad it's not you.

At this point it's not just "Peace Corps," this is your life down here. Your work, your friends, perhaps the person you're in love with, if you're Dudesy. What if suddenly someone banned you from the place where you're living? That's how I imagine it'd feel. So it feels a little like a funeral, in memory of Dudesy's life down here. We made a slideshow of photos, bought her a new termo, ao poi and a hammock, bought her dinner and ice cream. Giving gifts and bringing food, exhibiting all the signs of people at a loss for how to help a sad friend.

We'll miss you Dudesy.

Saturday, September 19, 2009


Me, grown-*ss mf-ing woman, as Sasha says, just had a craving for one of those little chocolate things and a can of coke. I went to the store, walking carefully past the open door of the family next door. Surely, if they saw me, there'd be a "Moo reho?" (Where are you going?)

I went to the store, got my can of coke, my chocolate thing. I gave the guy who's name I should know my 5 mil. He said thanks. I looked down and said, "Could you put this in a baggie?" He did, but it was useless, as the bag was thin, cheap and see-through. Last week I smuggled a can of coke past the house rolled in the side of my shirt.

I walked back home on the other side of the street, a wary eye. Because if anyone saw me, there are several offenses for which I could be chided. That I didn't buy the witness a chocolate thing. That that stuff will make me fat an/or I am already fat and this is why. Or, if my host mom saw me, that I bought the 3 mil can of coke, when a whole bottle is just 5 mil.

My new friend Angelic complained to me about what from our cultural view we would call the nosiness, the all-up-in my businessness of Paraguayan culture. She sounded down, so I didn't have the heart to tell her to get used to it.

Sitting here, enjoying my chocolate thing and Coke, O-town texts to say he'll be over in a minute. I chug and push the wrapper and can in the trash. I put the lid on tight.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Meaty Curve

"Right in that meaty part of the curve, not showing off, not falling behind." -George Costanza

That is how I described my service today to a friend. I keep trying to find out if this is normal. If there are other volunteers leading a mob of enthused, tool-wielding public to a barn raising for the new library that will be named in their honor. It's hard to know where I stand. There's no Peace Corps valedictorian.

So I've been probing, a little. I made a joke about how my service is going slow to a volunteer on her way out and she said, "Well, apparently I just came here to make soap." I asked another volunteer about her youth group and she said, "It's going so-so. It's hard." I'm sorry to say their disillusion gave me reassurance.

But like a man religiously using his Rogaine, I'm starting to see sprouts. I got two very nice e-mails from people who are listening to the Guarani podcast. Yesterday during my computer class my friend typed and sent me her very first e-mail. We're starting to get orders over the internet at the co-op, and the secretary there said that people are impressed when they see we have e-mail.

The truth is I'm really just teaching five women to use the computer. That's it. But I'm teaching them to use it well. They're even writing formulas in Excel. And I can see that it's changing the culture of the co-op to include computing. I can't be more than a drop. The hope is that it will ripple out.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Guarani Radio Intro

I did the radio show solo today and since I wasn't with a non-Guarani-speaking friend I thought I'd bust out a can of Guarani. It went so-so.

"Hey there Yataity and how's it going Villarrica. This is "Mba'e la Porte Nortes." I'm Paulita and today I'm here alone and so I'm going to speak more in Guarani and you all can laugh at me. (Here I almost say 'and you all can explode', because the word for 'to explode', kapu, is kind of like the word for 'to laugh', puka. Then I break up into nonsense for a few words out of nervousness.) Today I'm going to talk about the 7 Habits of People with Success (is how I phrase it) but first I have some music."

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Thank God for Loopholes

Core Expectations For Peace Corps Volunteers

In working toward fulfilling the Peace Corps Mission of promoting world peace
and friendship, as a trainee and Volunteer, you are expected to:

1. Prepare your personal and professional life to make a commitment
to serve abroad for a full term of 27 months

2. Commit to improving the quality of life of the people with whom
you live and work; and, in doing so, share your skills, adapt them,
and learn new skills as needed

3. Serve where the Peace Corps asks you to go, under conditions of
hardship, if necessary (*), and with the flexibility needed for effective

4. Recognize that your successful and sustainable development work
is based on the local trust and confidence you build by living in,
and respectfully integrating yourself into, your host community
and culture

5. Recognize that you are responsible 24 hours a day, 7 days a week
for your personal conduct and professional performance

6. Engage with host country partners in a spirit of cooperation, mutual
learning, and respect

7. Work within the rules and regulations of the Peace Corps and the local
and national laws of the country where you serve

8. Exercise judgment and personal responsibility to protect your health,
safety, and well-being and that of others

9. Recognize that you will be perceived, in your host country and
community, as a representative of the people, cultures, values, and
traditions of the United States of America

10. Represent responsibly the people, cultures, values, and traditions of
your host country and community to people in the United States both
during and following your service

(*Ha! Bam in your face! Now if you'll excuse me, my manicure is trying to dry.)

Friday, September 11, 2009

I'm in the market for a horse

I want a pony. Fine, I'll take a horse. It's not that I need a horse, as in my host sister asking me, "Why do you need a horse?" It's that I want a horse, like any other 10-year-old.

Now before you start lecturing me, let me just say that since it was proven that I'm too irresponsible to care for three fish or a dog, I think a horse is a much better option. You should hear how Paraguayans talk about it. Just throw it in a barn and sprinkle a little hay on it.

At first I thought it was crazy. Plus, people who have horses in Yataity are the Need Horses kind of people, wrangling things in the field. No one goes trotting through the countryside with the wind in their hair, silouetted against the wild flowers like they're posing for the cover of a romance novel.

So I thought my own fantasies were silly.

But then my host mom said I could just keep the horse at her mother's barn. And Oscar said the horse (Cloe?) could just eat the sugar cane they grow and graze in their field. Then I just happened to hop on the same Asuncion bus with my friend Nate, and, with a twinkle in his eye known only to the pony-owning, described the joy of taking care of the horse he'd just bought and how it's not even that much work or that expensive and it is instead "awesome."

And then, my host uncle told me about his horse who he used to ride and then sold, and that the guy who bought it now wants to sell this pretty, tame, riding horse (Princess?). Two million Guaranies ($434) for a horse with all the little horsie accessories and a "guarantee", which I don't know exactly what that means in Paraguay horse-talk, but it sounds good.

Part of me is grown up, and says, "No, you can not have a pony." To which the part of me that is still 10-years-old replies: "Says who?"

But I promise to think about it for at least two weeks, like an adult.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Paraguay to South Africa

There are so many things on the line when Paraguay plays Argentina. A return of some pride from lost wars. Some respect from the country where so many Paraguayans go for work. And specifically last night, the chance to go to the World Cup.

The whole city was in red and white shirts, and as we walked toward the stadium in a group, Sasha in a Paraguayan flag cape, the venders lined the streets selling shirts, hats, flags, tickets. As the weather worsened, men thrusted ponchos in our faces. "Diez mil. Diez mil." The two swarms, those selling and those passing toward the stadium, like two currents swirling against each other.

In the stadium, we unknowingly sat in Barrio Bravo (the rough neighborhood). My friend who lives in Asuncion told me the whole group surrounding us were fans of the Olympia team (from the inter-Paraguay league) who lived in the poorer parts of Asuncion.

There was some kind of dynamic I could not figure out, lead by a curly-haired man standing on the railing of the exit below. Before the game started, he was leading cheers. "Argentians eat cats," we shouted, jumping up and down. "Argentinians do other things I can't put on my blog," we shouted. Behind us, a small band of drums beat. Men waved flags of Paraguay, flags of Coca-Cola, one flag with Jim Morrison on it. Why Jim Morrison? "Porque me gusta" (Because I like it) said the man waving it.

The curly-haired man, who I took to calling The Conductor, was yelling until his lips where wet. Dale, dale, (Let's go!) he said, starting the cheers. He raised his eyebrows up to the drums and they beat. Sometimes he would hold a hand up and they'd stop, and we'd continue a cappella at his command.

The Conductor continued on. As he chanted, his head shrugged toward his left shoulder, as if he had a violin clenched there. His mouth opened wide to the side in a 5-day-beard with every word, his eyes squinted shut. His right arm pulsed up and down, flicking his hand out on every beat and bouncing it back as if calling the whole crowd over.

This is all fine and fun, until the game starts. I wanted to watch, but with the waving of a flag in front of me, it's like Coca-cola. Game. Coca-cola. Game. Coca-cola. Game. The hopping up and down to the beats threw shoulders in my face if I didn't jump with them.

If the cheers die, The Conductor furrowed his brow and shook his curls, as if he was trying to get a middle school choir in shape for all-county, and we'll never make it if we kept just staring off into space like that.

For the entire two hours, this man was faced toward us, not even watching the game, waving his arms and yelling commands and cheer prompts. He seemed to be the commander of all these boys around us. Some kind of renagade crew who took it upon themselves to keep the south end of the Asuncion stadium rocking for the entire game without fail. As if the most important thing on the line was showing spirit and yelling obscenities and throwing the bird at the Argentinian side.

"My arms hurt, 'cause that scary guy was next to me, making me clap the whole time," says Tessa, today. "It's really bad."

For those of us facing the game, we saw that Paraguay got a goal, Argentina did not. So in the end, we had something to cheer for.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Apparently I'm in Shape

Today I jogged, a habit I developed to balance out all the pig fat eating and frustration. Here's a following conversation:

Paraguayan: "Where did you go to?"
Me: "The routa."
Paraguayan: Did you walk?
Me: No, I jogged.
Paraguayan: Four kilometers!
Me: Yeah.
Paraguayan: Without stopping?!
Me: Yeah.
Paraguayan: Pauli, you're crazy!
Me: Some say crazy, some say in shape.
Paraguayan: Crazy

Yes, like many other distortions of Paraguay, here I get to be rich, famous, and, for jogging a mere 2.5 miles, crazy in shape, or just crazy.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Reporting live from my room

We have strung a blue cord from the host fam's house into my house. I'm typing here in my room. I even took that picture as proof, and also so that you can see that I'm still using my sheet as a curtain.

So yes, now that using internet won't be an total pain in the butt, my blog entries can be more on-the-spot, daily, and Doogie Howser-ish.

The food situation is killing me, so today I went and dropped 150Gs (30 bucks, more than half my rent) at the supermarket in the big city. I got canned black beans because my hankering for black beans doesn't make a reservation the night before. I got lots of fruit, including kiwi because O-town has never tried it before. I got expensive cheeses for an attempt at making lasagna. I got cream cheese and jelly and this great bread from Argentina that's filled with sunflower seeds and costs about 4 times what normal bread costs. I got all these things and didn't really think twice about it.

In the grocery store, they give you you're change, then if there's leftover, like pennies, they give you gum instead.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Labor Blossoms

27 August: Labor Blossoms
I fully acknowledge the cheesiness of this, but on my radio show, we’re discussing the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, one habit a week. I changed “Highly Effective People” to “People with Success.” I translate the highlights of every chapter, putting it into words they might actually use here. Some people here think Americans are smarter. But no, we just read books like these. If it only gets people to think about the fact that there’s education available on the topic, that there’s some kind of way out, that there's more to be done than just complain about circumstances, that’s good enough for me.

We’re on week three: Put First Things First. Mostly it’s about doing those things that are overall important, but not urgent, so you don’t do them. Maintaining your lawnmower, for instance. Flossing. Exercise. Study your flash cards. These kinds of things.

The chapter sites a study that tried to find the one thing that all successful people -- Olympic athlete successful -- have in common. It’s this. They do the menial little tasks that no one likes to do. Because they have their higher goal in mind.

So maybe that’s why today was such a good day. Besides the fact that all the orange trees are blossoming and it smells like a Yankee Candle along my walk to work, my tedious little tasks are blooming too. My flash cards have turned into little Guarani conversations. My hours of sitting there feeling like an outsider have bloomed into little friendships. My computer students are getting it, and proud of themselves, and quite competitive about the typing game I downloaded. I feel like a doin’-ok volunteer.

30 August: Fun Photo Time.

It hailed like crazy. From the way it sounded, I would have thought it was a drive-by if I wasn’t in Yataity, Paraguay.

People collected the hailies and we used them later for ice in our terere. They’re a juyo for pain. Se dice (So they say).

I was attacked by this thing! It’s dark in the corner right by my door at night. I went to open it and this thing flew in my face. I thought it was a bat. I screamed, but I think my neighbors are by now so used to my bug scream that no one was alarmed.

I’d guess this thing is about six inches long. So they say, if it lands on you and you don’t notice (not that I think that’s possible) it will lay it’s eggs in your skin. Then a big bump will form and you’ll pop it and a worm will crawl out. That is so disgusting that I just had to share it with you.

This is the cathedral in Villarrica that is about a gazillion years old. Heta ite (a lot a lot) guesses Oscar. Or about 200.

Inside the cathedral.

At a chuchi party. When the meat was ready, they brought it out on this large sticks and stuck them upright in the middle of every table. So there were all these people in suits and curls hacking away at a stick of meat.

Not that hungry? How about just half a pig’s head?

This is the road side marker for five guys who died in an accident a few years ago from Yataity. You see these a lot along the routas.

(putting ‘i on the end of things is the way to say a tiny something and I just love using it.)
Sunday we went to Salto Pa’i. Me, Oscar, Julio and his girlfriend Claudia. We brought a bunch of meat (naturally) and had an asado and swam. Good times.

Salto Pa’i is up in Independencia, where I went to help build that school. It’s actually a German Colony, so you go up in the hills and all of a sudden start to see blond people and signs in German. I even saw a VW and then, randomly, a castle.

I miss the beauty of water.

A beautiful day it was.

31 August: Progress Report
On the day I got my site assignment, learning that I would work at a crafty co-op that needed a web site, I predicted my future. After a year in site we would have an informational site up. After two, an on-line story rivaling that of The Gap.

Let me tell you why, just after that year mark, we have yet to even buy the web address.
I get things done through Auxi, mostly, the secretary of the board of the co-op. Auxi works there in the mornings, but also tutors twins while she’s there and collects payments for the electric company and makes ao poí to sell. I peek in at times to see if she’s free, remind her of that thing I needed help with like someone reminding someone else of that five bucks they loaned. Not today, not that I blame her.

She and I were going to buy this web address together. There was a time, months, that it took me to figure out how you could buy the .py addresses. And then how much it cost. I found out through a call that there are .coop.py sites, which I thought would be good marketing, and they also told me that those are free for the first six months for co-ops. I took the good news to the board with the suggestion that we go with www.aopoi.coop.py. They approved.

Probably about another month goes by until I can get me and Auxi in front of a working computer with working internet. We fill out the form. We wait.


I call and they said cooperatives need an authorization from INCOOP, the head Co-op of the co-ops. So I bug Auxi again to make a nota for me to take there on my next trip to the capital.
I get lost on the way but survive long enough to turn in the note. We wait.

Three months pass.

I call. They take down our co-op’s name and promise to look. A week and a half later I happened to be there again, turning in papers for the co-op, when I decide to ask about the authorization. I find the office and ask the man behind the desk, who is visually annoyed by my presence. He asks, “What’s the name again?” and then looks through two foot-high stacks, finds ours, stamps it, writes the date and signs and hands it to me. Victory is mine.

Auxi and I sit down again to fill out the five-step on-line form requesting the site address. We fax in the authorization. We wait. In a bout of desperation, I make our blogspot page. We wait more.


I call again. Oh, explains the man, you can’t put the product name in the web address of a .coop.py. In fact, you’re not allowed to put stores up with those addresses. They’re solely for the administration of a cooperative.

Oh, thank you. I said. I did not demand that they explained why that hadn’t been explained the last time, when we clearly put on the form that we wanted to put up an on-line store, but they just asked for the authorization.
I just moved on.

This is a long and boring story and I’m sorry you had to read it. But I want you to know what it’s like. Multiply that by five hundred and know that I wrote this story on receipts and scrap paper while waiting an hour for a bus, which never came.


When I was at Salto Pa’i, I stuck my foot in the running water. The water had not planned on my foot being there. It shattered apart, freaked out, but came back together again as fast as possible, flowed around and got to where it was going. I sat there and thought about living like water.