Monday, January 26, 2009

Mistakes...The Doing...Carnival

Friday, Jan. 23. Learning from your mistakes, or not.

There’s so much you learn, or think you learn, by observing, by putting together patterns. 

When it’s been 8 months, and you think you have something down, it’s frustrating as hell finding out that you were wrong this whole time. 

Voy y venga” (I'll be right back), I always say from my next door neighbor’s house, when I run home to pee or whatever. 

Finally, my buddy Oscar had had enough.

No es ‘voy y vengA,’” he said, changing his voice in an imitation of my voice, only slightly more mentally handicapped. “Es ‘Voy y vengO.’”

“Well thanks for telling me,” I said, “After three months!”

Voy y venga.” he keeps saying to me, in that voice. 

And that got them started. Also, apparently, I greet people way too early in the street, from about 20 feet away, when I first catch their eye. The 11-year-old did a demonstration with her hands. “You say hi here,” she said, her hands held apart as if showing me about how long a shoebox is.” She started to move them together, like two people passing in the street. “You’re supposed to say hi more around here.”

And, Oscar added, you don’t say “Adios” to people who are passing in the street. They’re supposed to say Adios to you first. 

Apparently in my eagerness to have everyone like me, I had broken the norms of society. 

I just want to know what’s going on already.

Today I was waiting for the van to Villarrica at the main bus stop in town. Last time I went to VR, the bus came from my right, on the other side of the street, and it seemed like it wasn’t going to stop. 

“Francisco!” I yelled to the driver as the bus was about to turn the corner. He stopped and I ran across the street. It takes a lot for me to purposely attract attention, when I already feel so self-concious.

I got in the cab, huffing, everyone staring at me, but I was thankful I had caught the bus. 

The van continued all around little Yataity, then came up to the same stop I had been at, on the closer side of the road, and the driver parked and waited 15 minutes, where I could have calmly gotten on, sin vergüenza, had I just waited. 

So today, while I was sitting on the bench at the bus stop to go to VR, then on to Caazapa to meet up with my PC buddies, and the van came from the right, I knew better than to flag it down like a big dork. I was playing it cool. The van would come back to me. 

Only it didn’t. And here I am in Yataity, having missed the Caazapa bus for the day, and the party tonight. I wasn’t feeling so cool when I had to walk back to my house with the same packed bag I had left with 2 hours before, or when I had to call my friends and tell them what happened.

What is wrong with me?

I had to laugh today when I read this section of Dave Eggars’ “What is the What,” written from the view of a Sudan refugee, about a man who came from Japan, working for a NGO, to help in the camp.

“I did not understand why Noriyaki would come to Kakuma, and why he stayed in Kakuma, especially when he had a family and a ladyfriend in Japan. For a very long time, I tried to figure out what exactly was wrong with him, what might have prevented him from getting an actual job in Japan. What would have caused him to travel so far for such a poor-paying and difficult position as he had here, with us? ... He had no physical deformities that I could discern. 

I discussed Noriyaki with Gop’s familiy on night over dinner.  --He could be some sort of criminal in Japan, Ayen offered.” 

Jan 24. The Doing

So, according to the scale in the little store near me, I’ve lost more than 5 kilos. When I calculated the pounds, realizing I’d lost more than 10, I laughed. For all the times I’ve set out to lose 10 pounds and failed. How had I suddenly lost 10 without even noticing?

I have been good about yoga nearly every morning, and learning to cook vegetarian, meal by meal. And come to think of it, I went from too lazy to look up the number for the pizza delivery place to being consistant with studying and actually taking care of myself. 

I think one of the things that changed that most was reading Eckhart Tolle’s books. This passage explains a little bit:

“How” is always more important that “what.” See if you can give much more attention to the doing that the result that you want to achieve throught it. Give your fullest attention to whatever the moment presents. This implies that you also comletely accept what is, because you cannot give your full attention to something and at the same time resist it. 

As soon as you honor the present moment, all unhappiness and struggle dissolve, and life begins to flow with joy and ease. 

So do not be concerned with the fruit of your action -- just give attention to the action itself. The fruit will come of its own accord. 

The moment your attention turns to the now, you feel a presence, a stillness, a peace. You no longer depend on the future for fulfillment and satisfaction -- you don’t look to it for salvation. Therefore, you are not attached to the results. 

The psychological need to become anything other that who you are already is no longer there. You will not have illusory expectations that anything or anybody in the future will save you or make you happy. As far as your life situation is concerned, there may be things to be attained or acquired. That’s the world of form, of gain and loss. 

Yet on a deeper level you are already complete, and when you realize that, there is playful, joyous energy behind what you do. You know longer pursue your goals with grim determination, driven by fear, anger, discontent, or the need to become someone. Nor will you remain inactive through fear of failure. 

When your deeper sense of self is derived from being, when you’re free of “becoming” as a psychological need, neither your happiness nor your sense of self depens on the outcome, and so there is freedom from fear. You don’t see permanency where it cannot be found. You don’t demand that situations, conditions, places, or people should make you happy, and then suffer when they don’t live up to your expectations. 

Everything is honored, but nothing matters. You know that nothing real can be threatened. 

When this is your state of being, how can you not succeed? You have succeeded already. 

Before, I realize, I always focused on the outcome and the fact that I didn’t have it. That six pack and why it wasn’t here yet. That writing award and those who already had it. Now I’m better able to trust the process. Little by little. When I'm jealous because all everyone talks about is how good Sasha is at Guarani, all I can do is sit down day by day, and study. Do I not think that if I study for an hour every day I'll be there some day too? Of course I will. 

I know that if I want to do something, speak Guarani or cook, the first step is to accept that I don’t know how and others do. The second step is to start working on it. And then I repeat the second step until I get there. 

One more bit of wisdom I picked up that speaks to this. 

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, therefore, is not an act but a habit.” -Aristotle

Jan 25. Ajerokyta Carnivalpe (I’m going to dance at Carnival)

I was napping today, when my neighbors came clapping at my door. There were two younger girls, high school girls, that I knew from around town outside. They want me to dance at Carnival.

For weeks my 11-year-old host sister has been bringing out her outfit from last year, just strips of silver and sequence in a box, and samba dancing around the dining room table. The tradition of Carnival, which is most famous in Rio, requires big headdresses, lots of glitter, but tiny pieces of clothing.

“We’ll bring you the clothes,” said the girls outside. “They’re not too sexy.”

Brennan assures me this only means it will be more than a thong. 

I had been dreaming forty seconds before they relayed this information and it all sounded like a lot of work. But still, I knew I’d say yes. It falls under my once-in-a-lifetime opportunity criteria. To which I always say yes, as a rule. 

Practice was an hour later. I showered and walked with my host sister, my presence with her visibly boosting her esteem among the other preteens as we entered the huge gymnasium. 

There were about 50 people. Again I was one of the oldest and physically biggest and most aware of the eyes on me. I had the same kind of shame I felt when showing up for modeling practice. This shame I turned off, lest it ruin my good time. 

The band came in and it started. Samba is of African origin, filtered through Brazil, and it’s all drums. About 20 kids stood in a circle, pounding out the beat. It filled the gym, vacuuming out our voices. 

I was grouped into the newbies and taught by hand motions. I kept looking around at it all: Little girls trying to worm their body, the two front dancers practicing shakin routine, the band, the teachers, who looked amazing. Everywhere feet were moving: under the teachers, the watchers, those tipping up thermoses to drink water. With the music, it seemed like an intense movie montage, always at the climax. This was until I caught my teacher’s eye, then she’d point two fingers at me then back at her own face. 

After a while I was taken on by another teacher, who taught me the most basic step. Step across, other foot out, pivot first foot, step across, other foot out, pivot...around and around the gym we went. 

I took dance lessons and recall being stumped at kick, ball, change, which is what they teach right after they teach you how to put on your shoes. 

So now I'm seaching "samba how to" on YouTube and looking for dance shoes that I can have sent from the states. Ah, again, what have I gotten myself into?

Friday, January 23, 2009

Terere Lesson

All that you should know about 

How important is terere? When we came to country, on a Thursday, our first lesson, on Friday, was on how to drink terere. When there was a flood, disaster crews packed bags of yerba, from which terere is made, in with the rations for each family. When my friend comes over and says her boyfriend stopped calling and she wants to die, I say, “Come in, I’ll make some terere.”

There are several things you need for terere, the parts which collectively make up your equipo. 

1. Termo. This can be a thermos for travel or just a pitcher. Termos can be simple pl

astic, or leatherbound with your name engraved, like mine. They can be engraved with the name of a place or your favorite futbol team. High school girls carry equipo that’s purple or pink with painted flowers. 

Customer in the coop with his equipo

Every termo in Paraguay leaks when you tip out the water, no matter how expensive or leather-covered, no matter how the server unscrews and rescrews the top.

In the grocery store, there’s a sign that says it’s prohibited to bring your equipo in the store, with red circling and crossing over a photo of a leatherbound termo. You have to check it where ladies check their purses.

The guampa is the cup from which you drink terere, or t-ray as we sometimes call it. Many guampas match the termos, some of which have a leather harness for the guampa, which rides like a little sidecart. The best guampas are made from an endangered wood. Others are covered in leather.  Common also are ones made from cow horns. Again there are names, futbol teams or company names.

My new host mom with a guampa made of a cow's horn 

and printed with the logo of Western Union, which is 

the company most people working abroad use to send 

money home. 

The bombilla is a straw, usually metal, with a filter at the end that is inserted into the guampa. There are fancy ones that split into three tubes then come back into one. There are silver ones to match the silver guampas in the chuchi stores. In Uruguay, I just bought a bombilla made of a bamboo twig, with holes punched in the end to make the filter. 

Then there’s

Yerba is a plant that grows locally and is dried in huge brick over-looking things. It’s then chopped into little bits. Various flavors of yerba stock the aisles of the supermarket, and everyone has their brand, like cigarettes to smokers. Volunteers sometimes haggle with others who work with yerba cooperatives for some home-grown stash. I brought back from Argentina yerba that’s flavord in peach and apple as gifts. 

Juyos are plants that you can add to the water for flavor and medicinal purposes. There are juyos for everything -- your heart, your nerves, your insomnia. People go out in the yard and come back with a handful of something green and add it to the water in the termo. Brennan just introduced me to a good juyo lady in Villarrica, who dug through little bundles of green leaves to find the right ones for him. 

You can mash them up with a mortar and pestle, but I put them in my blender. There’s cedron, which tastes lemoney. And mint. There’s roots and leaves of all kinds. 

Ice is made here in long plastic bags. You fill them with water, tie a knot, and they come out huge and needing to be cracked over a fence post to fit in the termo. The plastic always gets stuck where the bag puckers to the knot, so as it melts people are pulling pieces of blue plastic out of their mouths.

Eric and Shola on my porch t-raying with my equipo

So it begins most likely with a retererese (You want to terere?) or with a jatererema (Let’s t-ray). Someone gets the guampa and the stash of terere. They fill the termo with water and ice. Everyone gathers ‘round as the server fills the guampa about halfway with green flecks. He shakes it to the side a bit, puts in the bombilla, adds water and waits. After taking the first guampa-full, it’s common to spit it out in the grass. They’ll also just spit it out if it’s warm or just not good.

Each person takes it and sips it until it slurps, then passes it back. The server is always forgetting who went last, and people sometimes pass it to the person next to them out of habit of beer-drinking, most likely. People are always holding out the guampa to someone who’s not looking, then making a little psst sound. Sometimes during the passing you'll get a little finger-touchy action from a guy trying to flirt. 

If someone reaches for the guampa, out of reflex but out of turn, people say they’re just playing the harp, as they pull their hand back in. If someone spills, it’s good luck.

Technically, it’s illegal to drink terere and drive. Really, it’s a bad idea to put a metal straw in your mouth while riding on bumpy roads. But people do it anyway. Some even on motos, with the back passenger pouring and passing to the driver.

When you’re walking by and someone’s drinking, they’ll just lift the guampa as if in a toast, and you’ll go over and t-ray with them. Sometimes someone’s looking a little nasty and you don’t want to drink after them. In that case, it’s polite to say you just drank some milk, best not to mix with terere.

And you better check on the bathroom situation before you go drinking that t-ray. Because you don't want to wait until your bladder is about to explode before you realize the outhouse without the door, right over there where everyone can see, is your only option.

You can drink terere with anyone. One volunteer in Ukraine told me that after a big purchase, they drink a shot of vodka. Here, we terere. Some people think it’s terere that makes Peace Corps service different in Paraguay. It’s an instant way to literally get in the circle with the people.

There’s something in terere that acts like caffiene, so the Paraguayans have a little snack, or terere rupi, beforehand, so they don’t get all shaky.

Some of my best moments have been right after a t-ray. I’ve been chatting with the people in the shade of a tree. The sun is shinging and I’m walking down the street, all hopped up on terere, and life is good. 

Good things happening...Inspiring lives...TV again

Jan 17. Good things are happening. 

A wise man once said, “If you throw enough [stuff] against the wall, some of it’s bound to stick.” 

That’s about how I would describe my service right now. I don’t know which project is going to come through and which will fail. How will I start an online store in the middle of a global financial crisis? Will the people to whom I’m teaching computers really go on to teach others? Will I really be yappin’ it up in Guaraní by this time next year?

That’s professionally. My personal to-do list boggles my mind as well. Learn those pesky two languages, learn to cook, write every day, exercise every morning, be a good volunteer, 

be a good friend, be a good daughter, read more. 

All I can do each morning is say, “What can I throw at the wall today?”

Here’s what I’ve thrown this week. 

1. I heard that some new funds have become available for libraries, so I finally met with the guy who I heard was on a committe to start one. I really wanted to impress him, so I brought the makings of terere: leather-bound thermos with the guampa in the holster, with a mix of three different juyos, chopped up in my blender. As we terered I found out he’s on a committee of young people who have already planted a lot of trees, put public trash cans around town and have more plans to better their community. 

We had a great talk just about why libraries are important, and he said things about how education is the key to a good life. I realized that, back home, I never even imagined not having a library. 

We’re going to fill out the application together, and I have a great feeling about working with the group. 

2. I’m starting my radio program Tuesday. The plan is to put on American/English music that the people here like, but don’t fully understand due to the language barrier. This means Nirvana, Guns N Roses, Queen, Coldplay, Bob Marley, etc. My friend Brennan and I are going to explain the lyrics and a little about the group, kind of like radio Pop U

p Video, leaving out all the sex and drugs and curse words, and the fact that Freddy Mercury was gay. We’re going to read the news from around the world, and educate people about all kinds of stuff, like what is this crazy thing called the internet and how not frying everything might prevent diabetes. And I’m going to end each show with a quote, because I love quotes. My first one will be Gandi’s “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.” 

3. After witnessing firsthand the devouring of a pig’s head, I’m more ontrack to vegetarianism than ever. You really can never go back after you’ve seen someone strip the snout of a pig off the bone, dip it in lime juice, then take a big, wet bite. “Excuse me, señora, um, you have a little nose on your chin. Might want to get that.” 

My other friends and I who don’t know how to cook decided to make a veggie meal together every Saturday. Tonight we make eggplant parmesan and it came out delicioso.

4. I’ve gone to Guarani-only texting with my Pyan friends and I’m climbing my mountain of flash cards for one hour a day. 

When I’m feeling helpless or overwhelmed, all I can do is keep throwing. And right now, I’m feeling good that some things will stick, even after I’m gone. 

Jan 17: Inspiration

My neighbor told me that her 13-year-old daughter said she wants to be like me, traveling and learning new languages. I actually haven’t met this daughter yet, and I hadn’t thought that just my presence could get someone thinking differently like that. 

It’s fun to think back to all the people I’ve known who opened life up a little more. When I was a reporte, that was one of my favorite things. You meet so many people who live so many different ways. You realize how arbitrary lifestyle can be. 

I met one guy who’s parents raised him on a sailboat, sailing and painting around the Caribbean. Another one of my heroes is a tattoo artist in St. Augustine, with “Que sera sera” tattooed on the back of her neck. What a bad ass. Or the guy who won a grant to travel around the U.S. looking at endangered American foods.

You see that way some people live and you’re like, “Oh, that’s an option?” 

Another time I was assigned to do a story on artist’s retreats. Did you know you can just go for a few weeks to the woods and make paper or jewelry or ceramics? I didn’t. But as soon as I found out I could, I said “I’m going to do that one day.” A year later I went to Penland Craft School, paying my way by working in the kitchen at night. And it was awesome. 

Find out all that is possible. Choose amongst the options. Repeat. 

It’s like this quote I highlighted out of this book Ishmael, which is a great read for a whole shift in your thinking about the world. It says, “I don’t think you can start wanting something till you know it exists.”

So if all I do here is show people that another kind of life, that a whole world outside of Yataity, Paraguay, exists, I guess that’s not so bad. And it’s already done. 

My own personal cheerleaders

And more specifically, the people who urged me along the road that brought me here. 

I was interviewing Malcom Wolff, a sculpture, who mentioned that he left to go live alone in the woods for 12 years. That made all my worrying about a measly 27 months seem silly. He was tapping away at the stone when I mentioned that I was thinking about joining the Peace Corps. He stopped and looked right at me and said, “Go. Get out of here. It’ll change your life.” 

And my PC recruiter, who gave me a pep talk when I needed one and was there for me when if and when I needed more. 

And my friends, who listened to my verbal pros and cons lists over and over. Who played Devil’s advocate when I needed. 

And my poor mother, who raised me to be independent and brave and now has to suffer the consequences. 

So many people who heard my anxiety and shook me out of my fear. 


So if anyone needs that person to say this, then I say to you: Go. 

There are no guarantees, but I love this Henry David Thoreau quote: “Go confidently in the direction of your dreams; Live the live you’ve imagined.” 

If you keep just nudging your life toward that which you can’t explain, but you can feel,  some day you’ll end up right where you should be. 

Jan. 19. New Addiction

So I had gone cold turkey, on the Internet thing, when we first got to country. Then I was back, just a once-a-week user. Now I’m at the cyber cafe, with my laptop hooked up in the back, five, six times a week. I go after work, un ratito (just a little bit) I always say to my friend who works there. Then it’s 8 p.m., like it is right now. I’m just coming back and my neighbors ask where I’ve been. I don’t want to tell them. I should have been here, speaking Guarani, instead of keeping one foot back in the states. 

“I want the world to witness my youth,” confessed Dave Eggars. And this same desire I fear we’re all falling into. 

Wherever we go, there we are, taking photos to upload on Facebook. Updating our living advertisement of ourselves. And each new thing that’s invented, I scoff at, then eventually give in. 

On Facebook you can upload exactly what you’re doing, right now, which seemed creepy to me when I first saw it. But after I put my first little one, made the present moment exist in virtual reality, I had to put more. 

When you’re recording everything you do, having something occur and not be recorded gives you a panic attack. This is how you know that who you are has become a list of updates. 

It’s as if we think one day people will gather up all that we’ve written, print all the photos we’ve posted, read all our comments. And they’ll lay them out on the floor, and we’ll look down and be able to see who we were. 

Sometimes I’m typing and Skyping and suddenly I look up and --whoa-- I’m in South America. It’s like when you wake from a daydream that was like a wormhole leading you farther from reality. I’m in Paraguay. Shouldn’t I be in Paraguay, having the time of my life, instead off in the virtual world, shouting to everyone that I’m in Paraguay, having the time of my life?

Jan 20. Añe’ekuri radiope. (I spoke on the radio)

First radio show, done. We showed up to learn all the equipment and no one was there. My buddy at the radio station didn’t show up until 10 minutes before we were supposed to go on air. 

When I say radio station, I mean the room in the back of the store, where a computer is set up with living room furniture. My buddy Brennan and I sat in love seats with mics pointed at us. It felt a little as if we should be in front of a fireplace. During our show, Radio Station friend poured the terere and chatted online with the one other person in Yataity who has Internet, or, more accurately, the girl who works at the Internet cafe. 

Our first week of course  we had to choose The Beatles for our group. Radio Station friend kept playing the cheesy radio promo over the songs, which was killin’ me. We also are going to have a joke of the week, because they love a good joke here, and we did the Ghandi quote at the end. We had extra time, so I played one song from Beck, pretty much because he was the next person in my iTunes. But I was happy to know that out in the streets of Yataity, “Hell Yes” was blasting. 

Jan 22. Television, again.

Before, television was always just there, from as far back as time, as far as us kids were concerned. We watched it, learning how life was supposed to be, and modeled our own lives accordingly, waiting to grow up to be just like the high schoolers on “Saved by the Bell.”

What’s interesting is when you do it backwards. Take a month off from tv, I challenge you. Soak in a little real life, then watch some tv. 

Yesterday I saw a commercial. It showed a woman with long, curly blond hair falling over her shoulders and down her cleavage. From behind translucent curtains it looked as if she was on top of a muscular, shirtless man with a big tribal tattoo down his shoulder. They shared some sensual moments, as she held a guampa (the cup for terere). To the rhythm of the music she moved, then slowly touched his face with the bombilla (the metal straw for terere) and glided it down his cheek. 

This was a commercial for a brand of yerba, from which you make terere. I don’t think I need to tell you that when Paraguayans drink terere, it ususally looks a little different.  

The television is just a box, not a bad thing on it’s own. And there is such a thing as good programs. But I’m talking about the networks, commercials, what most people see every day. What the average American takes in for 4 1/2 hours daily. 

Here they watch the telenovelas. Always in the coop I’m trying to kick it with my ladies, and from the television there’s the screaming of a dramatic fight between lovers, the wailing of a mother over another dead person, the piercing cry of a woman about to be raped. All I can think is that the people on the show have everything we think we want -- beautiful bodies, mansions, cars -- but none of what we really want -- peace. 

I just find so much more that our perceptions of life depend so much on what we invite in. And it seems that whenever the tv is turned on, we invited in all the worst parts. 

Thursday, January 15, 2009


I really want to thank everyone who sent me packages. I love it every time the mail lady comes looking for me. Sometimes I keep a package for a few hours before I open it, or tell myself I get to open it after I study. I love just as much e-mails (even though I can't eat them) or comments or any way you guys let me know I'm still loved and thought about. Thank you so much. 

Buenos Aires Wrong...Getting Lost...Being Back

There are plenty of blogs about how to do Buenos Aires right. Bor-ring. You gotta write what you know, so here's my advice on

How to Do Buenos Aires Wrong.

  • Do not make anything that might be referred to as a “Game Plan.”
  • Reservations schmeservations
  • Do not be tempted to save money by cooking at home, even if your accomadations are equipped with a kitchen.
  • Do not designate a specific pocket or bag for your wallet or passport.
  • Distribute important information on scraps of paper kept in various pockets or as bookmarks.
  • Don't worry about having a guidebook that's up-to-date. I'm sure that bus line is still in business.
  • Do not familiarize yourself with exact exchange rates.
  • Do not research restaurants before deciding to eat there.

To see vacation photos, click here.

The People of Buenos Aires

The people, as I peruse their tabletops of handmade jewelry or read their menus, smile and are patient with my Spanish. They use English when they know it.

Things are done with style. We passed by a georgeous, ornate building, and while we were awwing, our cab driver told us that's the city's water management building.

On the subway, a man in his golden years was whistling "Strangers in the Night." He got off at our stop and serenaded us on the walk to the next train, what were the chances? Down the stairs then up again, like a radio I was carrying, and into the next train, he continued. I smiled at him, we exchanged glances, but I didn't want him to stop. He did, right before we got off, to ask me where I was from. I wanted to say how wonderful it was that people whistled Strangers In the Night for trains on end, but I only had time to say Los Estados Unidos before I rushed through the doors.

People from the U.S.

Our group is mixed in with visitors from the states, siblings and friends of Peace Corps people. It's fun to tell them about Paraguay, ask about the U.S. The big joke is that we're heroes. As in, when one of them walks to the kitchen, one of us will call out from lying down on the couch: "While you're up, how would you like to get some more ice for a hero."

It's crazy to imagine they just came down for the trip, and their already back cozy in the states. For us volunteers, it was more like a trip within a trip.

Getting Lost

First, I have to say that my agreement with the group on this trip was that I would plan nothing and in return have no preference as to what we did. I would be a fish at the end of the school, just following the tail in front of me.

I was lead to a lunch on the plaza one day, where we waited two hours to eat, after getting there at 3 p.m.. A coup was afoot when we found out our food hadn't even been made yet. So we left.

A group of a dozen people storming out of a restaurant is a hard thing to contain. We strung out along the sidewalk, in groups of two or three mixed in with the foot traffic. People toward the front wanted to go to a steak restaurant. Toward the back there was talk of going to La Boca, a neighborhood nearby.

Rebecca was walking about 30 feet behind me, and I considered her my loose buddy, until I turned around and saw her walking back, toward the La Boca camp.

She got in a cab, and I assumed she was going to pick me up.

I looked and the cab had 4 people in it. Drivers wouldn’t fit more.

“Come to La Boca!” yelled Rebecca out the window as they passed me.

“Where?” I said, as La Boca is a whole neighborhood.

“I don’t know!” she said, her hands held up apologetically.

Then the cab turned the corner, and they were gone. I looked up in front of me and didn’t see anyone but strangers.

Suddenly I had gone from being surrounded by a group to alone on a crowded street with no phone, no address to the hotel and little idea where I was. I felt the same grip a claustrophobe might feel when the doors close in a hot elevator.

I was too proud to run, but I walked fast through the crowd, trying to catch up to the steak group. The crowd thinned a few blocks up and I realized I didn’t see them anywhere.

Surely they thought I was in La Boca, while the others thought I was eating steak.

I tried not to cry. Because I’m an adult. But as I was going to restaurant window to restaurant I felt like a lost little girl. So I

started to cry like one, a little.

A half-hour later, trying to tame my anxiety, I decided to hail a cab and together we found the hotel, off a plaza I knew was near there. No one was there.

I had to accept what had happened and just said, OK, I have to pretend that I chose to have an evening alone in B.A.

I decided to go for a site-seeing walk, where the thought, "How could she just leave me like that?" kept popping into my head, but I pushed it down. I came upon a guy painting graffiti and decided to talk to him. He was a cute Brazilian painting one of the cartoony characters you see around town. He mistook me for a porteña (someone from B.A.), or at least he said he did. We were chatting when I heard "Rubia!" from across the street. It was my friends.

By the last day in B.A. I was rushing to get somewhere. I had only seen a site, the cemetery Recoleta. I needed at least one more, needed to have a plural, "I've seen the sites."

"Come on people," I said to the rumpled logs in the dorm-style bunks.

We went to a private building with a great view, then we saw the Pink House, their version of the White House, on the way to the boat to Uruguay.


Rebecca left before Uruguay, shaving off the top level of responsiblity, like a nanny leaving the day care. All of us irresponsible ones left keep trying to help each other. When I have to hold the bus tickets, I say loudly, "Ok, I'm putting the bus tickets in the long zippered pocket of my purse." I do so with an exaggerated arm swing for the witnesses. "Long zippered pocket," I say.

We purchased our bus tickets to Punta del Diablo, then it was announced that we had no where to stay. Arriving past the New Year, we figured people would have cleared out by then. This was not the case. We searched online for places, with Shola Googling then passing the numbers to me to call. "No hay nada" (There isn’t anything) said the people on the line. Something about their chuckles and tones made me think they were referring to all of the town instead of just their houses.

In a chatroom online I found a conversation about reserving a place. It's a hot spot so it's best to book now said the person responding. It was dated in August.

Our choices were to go look in person, risking not finding anything, or to lose out on our bus ticket money.

We arrived at 10:30 to a street crowded with people milling around on their way to party. We were weighed down by our bags and the knowledge that we might not have a place to sleep that night.

The first place where Liam and Shola stopped in, the lady told them to give up, that it would be impossible. They came outside and told the group she said there might be something farther from the beach.

We walked farther and farther from the hot spots. We were in a quite a cold spot, actually, and had asked about a dozen places, when we mentioned our plight to a shopkeeper.

And bam. She knew someone, who turned out to be a realtor for some guy who had a house. We negotiated for the rental at midnight.

The Tree House

If you saw the roof of the house from the main road, over the pine trees, you might make a little excursion to see the rest. It is straw-roofed, a series of levels topped with a tiny glass-enclosed room akin to a lighthouse. Inside, it is a main floor and two stories of lofts, which offer almost no privacy, even through the floors, which have peephole lines between the wood. Some walls are straw, some wood. The owner, Fernando, told me he built it himself, and I believe him. He showed me the patios, the outward slants of which startle my equilibrium. He kept saying, “Ocho, no,” (Eight, no) referring to the number in our party and the weight limit of his creations. Almost anything that is stepped on, opened or twisted in the house makes some kind of complaint, as if the house doesn’t want to get up.

We had three members of our mobile party over 6’5”, who had to crouch in certain rooms and duck under doorways. Even I couldn't stand up straight in the little sitting room. On the second story room one board seemed to be just nailed above the others and camoflauged in the same paint. Taking in all the house’s abnormal formations, the bump/“Ouch!”/profanity sequence is common among the squeaks and whines.

The land around the house looks like Florida scrub to me, low bushes and sand and palms and pines, which I always think look weird in tropical climates. There is a bird flying around that is so red, it looks like a digital add-in on a old movie of grey grass. Two green parrots flew around this morning, diving down and landing next a big pit which has a snake at the bottom of it.

The beach is wonderful.

We’re on Uruguayan time. We get to dinner at midnight. Then go out. The pictures of our nights out look like they’re in reverse order, starting out with dark backgrounds and flashes and ending with the pastel sky and the natural light of what could be sunset, but is really sunrise.

The morning is shot, obviously. Naps are taken on the beach and in the house on the top floor to avoid the noise. Last night I took my nap from 9 to midnight.

At night I walk with my neck arched back, because I can't stop looking at the stars. Orion's belt, which used to be out on its own somewhere, is now in the middle of the Milky Way, a thick band of stars over us. I try to imagine that some are closer than others. I try to think about how big and far they are, but they just look like skylights poked in a black dome tent.

Anyone who was looking saw shooting stars that weekend. I saw about six over three nights.

There's staring to be done during they day, as well, especially for the menfolk. The girls look like that one girls that’s in every high school class: really cute, beautiful, just stylish-no-matter-how-she-looks...only in a thong bikini and cloned everywhere.

When you see groups of people milling around the bus station, you can tell which ones are coming and which ones are going. They’re coming from the city, done up in new holiday clothes. They leave in beach wraps, their hair up, dangling shell jewelry around their neck. It’s a nuicance to see people leave. It pops me out of that mental dream that we give ourselves over to on vacation: That life really could be like this forever.

Which is why you can’t really count the last day, which is today, of a vacation. Because you get up and someone says something like, “Last day,” in either a sing-songy way or a drag kind of way. Either that or someone will ask you about your flight or bus time the next day. You’re forced to picture yourself getting on a bus and leaving this place, and the non-vacation life waiting, which you had started to think was a dream.

It's been the anti-vacation

I never worried about how many stars our hostel had. In hostels you just want a bathroom door that locks. We never worried much about how we looked. We didn't buy stupid trinkets or ugly shirts that had the name of everywhere we visited, to advertised our well-traveledness. I didn't stress out about making sure I got my money's worth of fun, because I wasn't traveling on my credit card.

So the point is

The more I travel the more I see the point of traveling as this: Seeing the similarities. I cand stand out on that beach and imagine pretty easily that I’m in St. Augustine, Fl.

You go so damn far and the grass is still grass. Sand sand. It's not just a yellow area on a map.

Teenage girls cross their arms over their bellies when they sit. Little boys watch how the men bait their fish hooks. Women whisper and laugh. There are the same jerks, the same sweet people. Some people just invite you into their world and you make friends across language barriers.

Here on the street, twice a shopkeeper has called out to me that he can see my wallet sticking out of my pocket and I should hide my money better. They do this little sticking in the purse motion, then zipping it up, a dainty move with their man hands. When I zipped up my purse one of the men gave me a thumbs up and a smile.

When I asked the landlady of this house if I could buy body boards here, she drew me a detailed map of where I could find them, with the roads drawn carefully, two lines. There were five other landmarks as well.

I don’t want to sound naïve. I have a former Marine sister who works in security and a teacher mom who works on worrying. They remind me all the time of the dangers. So I lock my computer up in my house before I go. I put my wallet in the inside pocket of my purse and zip it up, when I don't forget. I don’t walk alone at night.

However I do not do it as acts of war, saying, “Those damn (insert name of persons from country of travel here.) They’ll rip ya off every chance you get.”

I am careful but not afraid, and that frightens people. Especially my mother.

I used to be all concerned about which country I would serve in. I almost asked for a country change when I was sent somewhere with no beach or mountains. But that was never the point. The point of getting out of your world is this: Go somewhere where the people don't look like you, dress like you, or talk like you and see how exactly the same you are.

Jan 15. Back

And I'm back, to where Argentina where mom's tell their kids they have to go work, before leaving.

I'm back, and had about 7 wonderful packages waiting from family and friends. Once, I told my friend how much a package costs to send, lowballing it as we do sometimes to $20 (which, in Guaranis, is half my rent), and her jaw dropped. Now I'm carrying loads and loads of them down the street.

My sister sent me a photo album with old pictures: skydiving, my aunt's beautiful beach house, Hawaii, my mom's beautiful wedding, and the story I had told myself about my life seems all wrong. I've seen all these photos before, but it looks different now.

I'm back, and my friend asked me in front of the whole board of the coop how much money I spent on my vacation. Did I lie? The raw numbers, of just how much more money we have, embarrass me.

I'm back, and I'm sorry again.

The voice says, "So sorry that you could forget about it and blow $??? for a two-week vacation?"

I feel guilty and helpless and small. But I can't cash in my guilt, and helplessness will get me nowhere. I can't understand why life is divided this way. All I can do is try to reach across the crevasse, I guess.