Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Bad days, Good days

Hello all,
It’s been a while. I’ve been busy. Sasha came over for a great four-day visit for Easter, making me look bad with her amazing Guarani, but defending me as guapa all the way. The internet has been super slow in my site as well. But I’m in the bustling metropolis of Villarrica. This is because after our radio show yesterday (during which we discussed the importance of exercise and delivered some Grade A witty banter), Brennan left some papers that I thought we very important for his early-morning trip to Asuncion. So I dashingly got on the next bus to bring them to him, only to find out they were extra notes for our show that we never even needed.

So, I turned lemons into lomido arabe, my favorite dinner that you can only get in Villarrica. Then I spent the night on Brennan’s cot, which is the horizontal equivalent of being shoved against a wall. Barely slept, up super early, delivering news from Paraguay.

March 21: Today I feel: Frustrated.
Some time ago, Paraguayans threw their hands up. Their hands are still up there, when arrives this cheery foreigner.

Is it wrong to say Paraguayans, in general like that? Yes. Ok, how about: People who lived under a dictatorship for decades in general feel like new ideas and initiative are not worth the trouble, because new ideas and initiative used to get you tortured. Then I come around, with my American dream smile, because all my life, having new ideas and initiative meant a gold star glitter sticker on my homework. And, because no one ever told me anything except: You can do it. Reach for your dreams. .

But all I see is the now, without fully understanding all that dictator history, and I think, “How could they not think we can do it? Why won’t they reach for their dreams?”

Because we are walking reflections of the environment in which we grew up. In every way we act and think, we tell the story of how people acted toward us all our lives.

Then I think I can come in and save the world by quoting the inspirational magnets I used have on my fridge. Enter: frustration.

2 April 2009: No, thanks
In the capital, there’s this headshake that is the universal, “No thanks.” Just to the right, left, back to the middle, which swooshes my ponytail across my back just once. To the guy selling cokes on the bus, to the little kid with his hand held out.

So I left the hotel today.

On the corner, a basket of herbs. “Juyos?” With my head shake, the swoosh.

Taxi stand. “Taxi?” Swoosh.

Little boy at the bus stop with a basket of fruit. “Pera?” Swoosh.

Then I stop where I'll catch the bus and look straight ahead, just as a guy in a truck stops at the light, looks at me. Then, as casual as can be, he makes the motorcycle rev move, which means to have sex here, they swipes his hand in a combo move and face saying, “Let’s go have sex,” eyebrows raised in questioning. And as nonchalantly as I’d passed up everything else in the last 15 minutes, I just turned my head to the right and left, with that same little swoosh.

It took another fifteen seconds for me to realize that at one point in my life that might have offended me more. I guess you get used to just about everything.

3 April 2009: Lead a horse to water
I came home from Asuncion, after a lonely week there working on another project, on the day all my other friends were arriving there. And why? Because I’m doing this presentation, just like a good volunteer. And why do I even write this? Because I want everyone to know that I want to be good.

I worked on PowerPoint all day. I looked up the words and made sure my accents were in place. I practiced in front of a stuffed lion and a stuffed bear that my mother sent from home.

All my friends called from the capital: "Where are you?," they said on speaker phone. "We’re all going out." So much instant gratification waiting.

But I, volunteer, would sow the seeds of knowledge and development. They would be raising hands and we’d have a discussion, all gathered ‘round the PowerPoint, with at least one person pointing at something of interest on the screen, like in one of those scenes in a music-backed montage on the commercials for third-rate community colleges.

But this was real life. I arrived at 3:30 for my 4 o’clock charla (presentation) in a skirt and makeup, but everyone was cleaning. I didn’t want to be sweatier than I already was, standing in front of people and trying to look not nervous. So I put my laptop in the conference room, looked at my slides again, and turned on the air conditioner.

At four fifteen, the new president wanted to get started, because she was tired and wanted to go home, she said. My friend was in the store, and said go ahead and start without her. One of the members was sitting where he couldn’t even see the computer screen.

I cut the “icebreaker” at the beginning, seeing that clearly no one was in the mood for games, even though I had remembered to bring the blindfolds and had thought of a way to tie it into the overall message. Someone popped their head in and and called someone else out, and they stood in the doorway, talking, five feet from where I was trying to speak slowly and clearly and confidently in a language still foreign to me.

Others walked in and out, the door squeeking and squeeking. They were missing my intro. The back of my eyes burned, and I wanted to throw a temper tantrum, the way we always do when we’ve imagined life perfectly, and it becomes clear it’s just not going to turn out that way.

The only thing I could do was walk over, shut the door, though I fear it revealed all that I was feeling inside. And I had to get out of my head, out of my American perfectionism that says, “Well, this scene couldn’t be set to music at all.”

All I could do was stand there and speak. This was information they didn’t have, and I would give it to them. That’s all I can do. Breathe.

After about a half an hour, then said they would stay about 15 more minutes, then wanted to go.

We did have some discussion, and maybe some ideas got through, but I left feeling like an idiot for having taken it so seriously. Maybe it was all wrong, what I was doing, in some way that I don’t even realize yet.

Though I felt rejected, wronged, I have to know that any bad feelings I have are my own ego, pouting in the corner. You ruined my montage, it says. I was going to be good.

Next time I'll just have to be better.

April 8: The Good Day that Made It All Better
Maybe it’s better that I lost the blog I had written about April 7. It was not a good day. One of those infamous "rough patches" that I was sure I was not going to experience crept up on me. The morning started with me locked in the co-op conference room crying over the latest time I stubbed my toe trying to move just two inches toward progress. The day ended with my lights flickering in my house, refusing to come on, me cooking rice with my cell phone flashlight held in my mouth, listening to songs about being tired.

That kind of day.

But today was a new day.

I woke up from my neighbor banging on my wall. He had said we would transplant our tomatoes at 7 a.m., but I had told him he’d never done anything in his life at 7 a.m., and did not believe he would really get up. That was until the banging. We got up to work, but once we started digging the new seed bed, I broke a pipe with the shovel. "Che ajapo vaiterei." (I really screwed up), I told my host dad. But they just fixed it. Men here know how to do stuff.

Since it's Semana Santa, the week of Easter, we were making chipa, the donut-shaped cornbread type thing.

Abuela, one of my favorite people, was out
heating up the tatakua, or outdoor oven,
and smoking her cigars.

Don't forget the pig fat!

Abuela hand-mixing the corn, butter, pig fat
and other ingredients in the big bucket

Pali, my host day, was listening to the radio, and said there was a protest going on. The family wanted me to go see, to bring my camera and show people what was going on. Oscar offered to take me, so we rode bikes to the plaza. What people say is that a German bought all the land around Yataity, illegally, and that people won’t be able to graze their cattle there anymore. Se dice, no más. (That’s the word, anyway.)

The church bell tower seen from the plaza.

We rode out to the campo with the people, me slowly on my bike beside these two guys on horseback, with a Paraguayan flag raised above them. Just one of those moments. Oscar knew I've been wanting to ride a horse since I arrived, so he stopped one of his friends and asked him to trade me for the ride out to the campo. He rode my bike and I rode his horse. I love riding horses, even just walking. I had this huge smile on my face the whole time. Oscar, who's getting good with the camera, rode around me on his bike and took photos.

Oh happy day

We arrived in the campo, and they were setting up logs to block the street. I guessed the owners were arriving soon. It was one of those things where like everyone was waiting, and any car that came people got all excited, but then it would turn out to be one of the people coming to protest. For the rest of us, it was like a picnic, drinking terere and waving to people we knew, everyone just kind of high on that fact that something was happening.

Waiting at the blocked entrance

The media arrives

So then what happened was that lunchtime arrived, or people figured out that whoever was supposed to be blocked out was never coming at all, or a combo of both. Anyway, we went back to the house.

I was allowed to try and make chipa.

Trying to roll out the dough under heavy supervision.

Soon it was decided that I suck at making chipa.
However I was allotted a portion of dough with
which to play
and make a chipa alligator.


We went inside to prepare the rest of the meal. My host mom makes food like a machine, or maybe more like a woman who's taken care of four people for decades and still finds time to make and sell Ao Poi. She slices veggies faster and scarier than I've ever seen.

I helped out, with her teasing me for my slowness the whole time. "We're going to eat Pauli's food on Sunday," she said.

Then, somehow, a bottle of cana came into play...

We finished up the chipa as well. How you do it is you make a big fire in the brick oven. Then when it's good and hot, you sweep out all the wood and ashes and put the food in. The heat from the bricks cooks it.

I got to sweep out the ashes, which is fun except for the smoke.

Abuela passing in the chipa, each one on a
piece of banana leaf, with a long spatula.

After all that work, I put on Sanda's chuchi sunglasses to nap in the hammock.

Nice, relaxing hammock time, next to the washing machine.

Until the knot slipped.

And since I was awake anyway, we did finally end up transplanting those tomatoes.

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