Saturday, February 14, 2009

Happy V-Day, Carnaval, Awkward Convos, Rain, Should We Be Here?

Happy Valentine's Day. I want you to know that I haven't seen one heart, one cupid, one diamond earring ad, one electric razor commercial. Happy Valentines Day indeed.

Feb. 4 Samba practice, for Carnaval

The samba is freaking hard. I practice and practice while the other good dancers do spins and lifts. The Ao Poi Queen springs on her tiny feet, dancing in and out of my line of vision. Prancing to the left, floating like a pixie to the right, while I stand alone near the wall and look like I’m stomping out a camp fire.

Tonight I was put in a group, in the back where us tall girls go. The music was crazy loud, and there were little kids running around and throwing bottle caps at each other under our legs. This is hard enough. I don’t need obstacles.

I was resting, drinking terere, when my friend told me that if I wear a headdress, I can dance by myself and do whatever I want. I asked the main guy if I should get a headdress, and he’s all about it.

Maybe it will distract away from my body. When they talk about the clothes, it’s all -ita, the ending for small. Poyerita, blusita. (Little skirt, little shirt).

I'm going to have to download an instructional video from the internet and rock this mother, samba style.

Awkward conversations

They just don’t stop. Like when my friend asked me what “honey” meant. The way she said it, I explained, (I mean we’re all adults here,) an entirely different word. One that has an “r” in it. It was a slightly uncomfortable conversation, but even worse when she spelled what she meant.

Then there was the Paraguayan woman who lives in the U.S. but came down to visit family. She approached me at a huge dinner and started shouting the p-word at me. Even though I knew the other 30 people there didn’t understand it, my face grew hot and red and I wished she would stop immediately and never mention this again. Then she told everyone she was translating the song on the radio for me, and exactly what she was saying.

Tonight my friends were trying to explain something to me and asking me if there was a word for that in English. My guesses were hermaphrodite? transvestite? before I asked them to please just drop it.

6 February: Rain

The rain is the opposite of an alarm clock. Instead of saying get up, get going, it says stay, sleep a while longer if you like.

Not everything is canceled, but most likely, people don't expect me.

Today, god I love it because I just need a break. I’m in my house, and on my windows, which are usually open like a stage, the curtains are closed. In my house, I’m not that idiot girl who can’t even speak, who needs words repeated and doesn’t know how to dance. I’m just me.

I was thinking about how I said that when you learn new languages, the words get detached from the things they’re describing, you see that an apple is not ah-ple. That’s just a sound. Depending on the place, the sound could be manzana or yva, but that thing we call a fruit is the same.

I go by so many names: Paulita, Pauli, Paula, Pablita, Pau to some friends. When Brennan and I started our radio show, we weren’t even sure which name we should use to introduce me. It seems arbitrary anyway, and none of them is me, so I don’t really even bother correcting people when they use one I don’t care for, like Pabla.

And out there, in that land that is thankfully covered in rain right now, I’m so many different people. I’m that blond the guys tisk at and call and hang up. I’m that girl who just showed up, what is she doing here? Is she German? I’m that girl who flipped over her handle bars on her bike in front of the shop. I’m that woman working at the coop. Has she done anything yet? I’m that girl you have to talk slow to.

So many different people, so many different names, but none of them is really me.

In my house no one calls my name, any of them. No one asks me why or how or laughs at anything I do. There are no words, understood or foreign. It’s my own little bubble in the rain. While I like to go out when the sun in shining, it’s nice when I wake up to the drops coming down like a curtain around my home, when I can almost forget. It’s like any other rainy day, possibly even someplace I belong.

Feb. 8: Not everyone is happy we’re here.

I picked up my copy of the Red Reader, basically our guide to everything, after realizing that I hadn’t looked at it once since being in site. I flipped to the back, to an essay called "First Do No Harm."

This essay, written by a volunteer, puts forth the opinion that it’s wrong to think the worst you can do is leave your site no better off that when you came. In fact, the worst you can do is to make life worse for the people there.

This made me think: Oh shit.

“Even a guapo (hard-working), well intentioned volunteer can unwittingly wreak serious damage on a community, not to mention fellow Peace Corps volunteers and other development workers, present and future.”

Oh shit.

This writer goes on to quote an address from Monsignor Ivan Illich, called "To Hell with Good Intentions," which calls for the voluntary withdrawl of all North American volunteer armies from Latin America.

Two main reasons for this:

We are too deaf and dumb to really listen to the people or know if we are making a difference. The volunteer writing the esssay says that this helped him try to learn Guarani more and really get to know the people, and to stay in site more.

Secondly, Illich says Nortes “cannot help being ultimately vacationing salesmen for the middle-class ‘American Way of Life,’ since that is really the only life [we] know.” The author of the article goes on to say that this has prompted him to lie about where he vacations and hide his valuables.

I’m an honest person, and why? Because I’m a terrible liar who gets caught every time. Also, this guy says he never drinks beer in site because he pretends it’s “too expensive.” I just can’t see myself living a lie like that. I mean, as I’ve said, sometimes I do fib when it’s just too much. So maybe I’m a hypocrite. But he lied and said he went to Encarnation, when really he went to Brazil. I know I’d let something like that slip.

He says he believes these lies are his responsibility to avoid raising impossible expectiations among the poor people in his site, to whom a vacation is to be able to not work on a Sunday.

“The cultural exchange I hope to leave behind is of values such as open-mindedness, respect for women, enthusiasm, eagerness to learn, creativity and fairness -- my rampant consumer tendancies are best left unshared.”

Well, maybe I’ve blown that already. My next door neighbor wants my digital camera, her little sister wants a computer just like mine. People say right to my face that I’m rich, and what am I to say? No, I’m not?

But I look around -- the kids are wearing Nike hats. The girls are wearing their hair like they see in the American movies. Everyone has on clothes that have english words, even though they make no sense (fashion girls lovem b sugar). America is already here, or at least our brands are. Our consumerism is spreading. Hopefully I can be a force in spreading some of those other values.

YouTube entry of the future:

Video opens to an empty room, a messy bed, on top of which is an open laptop with a paused dance video.

A woman walks from downscreen, back to the camera. She bends down, giving the camera a shot of her bun and her butt. The music starts and she turns the light gleaming over her sweaty face. She looks in a mirror, when she can see herself and the video reflected. The dancer onscreen begins to dance, and so does she.

Wrinkles form between her eyebrows as she squinks at the screen. Whereas the woman on the computer is gliding like a snake, the woman in the room is moving like an erector set. The woman in the leotard onscreen is skipping and twirling. The woman in the room is jerking and stomping. And cursing. On screen, the dancer’s arms are flowing extensions. The woman on screen pauses to slap at the underbellies of her triceps.

Then she lifts the hem of her shirt up over her stomach, and shakes her head at the mirror.

She stops, flattens her hair in the mirror, and walks again toward the camera. Screen goes blank.

Feb. 13: The Big V

I got some books in today (thanks Jeri!), including the "New Becoming Vegetarian." I'm still not putting a label on whatever is going on. I haven’t ordered my “Hello, I’m a Vegetarian” pin. But I can say that when the guy at the store opens the freezer to show off his newest shipment of meat, my body clenches in the same way it does when you see a video of someone smashing their face in while skateboarding. That clench of your insides that says: Ah! Wrong!

I have my own experiences that tell me I'd rather not eat meat -- hearing the squeals of a pig slaughtering, seeing the flies on a cow’s skinned skull before the meat was cut off for market, watching a chicken peck at the organs of another chicken’s carcass and calculating the chances of that live one ending up dead on my plate -- But it was nice to get this book today and read so many concrete reasons for not eating meat.


  • Vegetarians live an estimated 7 to 9 years longer.
  • People who eat beef up to three times a week have almost twice the risk of heart disease compared to vegetarians.
  • Vegetarians are less likely to get the cancer

And even bigger, for me, is the environment.

  • It’s estimated that almost 50 percent of all water consumed in the U.S. is used for raising livestock.
  • On average it takes 100 times more water to produce a pound of beef than it does to produce a pound of wheat.
  • Two-thirds of the rain forests in Central America have been cleared primarily for the purpose of raising cheap beef to stock American fast-food establishents. It’s estimated that for every fast-food burger made from rain forest beef, 55 square feet of tropical rain forest has been cleared.

*That's all according to the book.

I used to be like you: “But it’s steak, man.” I used to see steak, now a see a carved chunk of a dead animal. But the more I look into it, the more I guess it’s not that bad. The truth is never something to hide from, no matter what it changes.

Sidenote: I don't believe I will ever be true vegetarian because I don't plan on giving up fish, ever, or anything that goes in sushi. Any species that didn’t have the gumption to evolve out of the oceans will not be spared. That means you, Snow Crab.

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