Friday, January 23, 2009

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. 

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