Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Happy...Paraguayan Birthday

Neighborhood kids all usin´my playground.

Hello. I´m up this morning to mate dulce (sweet yerba and milk and sugar) with my host mom. The light from the window coming in on the rising steam from the kettle, the guampa, the exhale of her laugh. Oscar wakes up, they have funny Guarani family fights that I now understand slightly and love. It´s been a great week.

I heard again the expression, "This too shall pass." And thought, "One day I won't be in the Peace Corps. I don't want to spend all my time here frustrated. So I´ve been happy, even when things are crappy.

But things have been good.

I had my first good charla (talk) last Saturday. If no one showed up, this was to be my last charla, I swore. I'd do something else, classes on a weekly schedule. Nothing too fancy, just computers, or something.

The theme was designing new clothes. A few people have complained that we don´t have cute stuff in our store. And it´s true, most of our clothes are for older women. Even I bought from the place next door for my going-home shirt.

I'd been handing out invitations for weeks, approaching socias who´d come in just to hand in ao poí, get their money and leave. ¨Hi,¨I´d say, only it was ¨Mba´echapa¨ and they´d look at me with a little surprise that I was even talking to them, then look down at the little invitacion in my hand and I´d say we´re having a charla. And they´d smile and politely take it. When I said, ¨Please come,¨some said ¨Puede ser¨, which means ¨Could be¨and which means ¨No¨. Some said of course they would come, but of course they would not come.

The invitation said the charla was to start at 8:30. I was there at 8. People were in the coop, handing in work, getting money. If you´d asked any of them if there was anything special going on that day, they would have said, ¨I don´t think so.¨ My friend who was going to help give the charla showed at about 9. We roped in the women who were just there to get paid. At 9:30, we started.

I even did an ice breaker, which is frightening. You stare at a bunch of people staring at you, and you tell them we're going to get up and make this all less awkward.

We talked about what we could change in Ao Poí, the color, the embroidery, the sleeves. Then we talked about why we should change, be creative. How much it costs us a year to lose sales because we don´t have cute clothes for teenagers.

Then, using magazines and catalogs I´d brought from the states, they designed new clothes. And they really got into it. And, my God, they seemed like they were having fun.

This went on to be the winning design

That was Saturday. My birthday was to be Monday, so a few buddies came over for a mini-celebration. We made a fire and put my couch on my porch and grilled meat and made ´smores.

Oscar with the meat!

Ña. Maria (Conchena) trying her first ´smore.

Will on my porch

My birthday, I just wanted a quiet dinner with the Paraguayan fam. But...

In Paraguay, parties are a sign of wealth. I guess it´s the same in America, but there´s just levels here. If you´re poorer, you just have a little snack birthday. Everyone gets a square carboard plate with a piece of sopa (cornbread), and empanada and a piece of mandioca. Higher on the level is chicken. The rich folk do an all-out asado with beef. And the birthday girl or boy pays for everything.

So it´s like, Happy Birthday, you get to buy us all dinner.

I couldn´t do one more day, after Saturday night and Sunday lunch, of beef. So I wanted chicken. Then we made a list of people I´d have to invite, and suddenly I had 25 people.

It just so happened that there had been a baby shower recently in the yard of my friend Julio´s grandmother, and all the decorations were still there. So, suddenly, we decided to have the party over there. Oscar and Julio and all these little kids were stringling lengths of fabric, orange and blue, all around this shelter in the middle of a garden. There were balloons and two grills brought in. Then there was a Dj.

Oscar asked me about my quinceñera, the huge party they have here for every 15-year-old. When I said we didn´t have them, he looked incredulous and said, ¨Que triste tu vida.¨(How sad is your life.) Here, every girl dreams of their ¨quince¨.

At the last minute my little host sister made a cake and everyone just was working all day long to make the party awesome. And it was. They called it my quince´i (my little quinceñera).Vannessa and a friend making my cake

With sisters Auxi, the secretary at the co-op and Rossana, my Guarani teacher

With my cake

The way a birthday goes is that they put a big circle of plastic chairs around, which to me is like the worst set up in the world. If you talk to the person on your left, you turn about from the person on your right. Most people just stare straight ahead. To me, it looks terribly boring.

After a while of this, there´s a dinner. Then there´s possible dancing. It all feels pretty formal to me, but I liked mine. I think about last year, when I couldn´t wait to get away from my host family, get with my other Americans, be in the city. Now here I have 25 friends who I love to hang out with, all who just happen to be Paraguayan.

Ña. Maria, Vanne and Oscar setting up dinner

Dinner of chicken, rice, sopa and madioca, of course

Eating it up!

Me and the girls

Me and the fam minus host dad

Speaking of parties...

I forgot to mention this festival called San Juan. Especially coming right back from the states, could there be a better demonstration of the difference between U.S. culture and Paraguayan culture? I was just standing there laughing, thinking of the news story on CNN the next day.

"A local school thought it would be a good idea to have their students play with flaming balls. Concerned witnesses say the students were encouraged to kick the flaming balls at each other, or to pick them up and throw them. The sounds of whooshing flames filled the air as students screamed and ran from the path of the flames.

"Other festivities included a fake bull with flaming horns running through the crowd and the burning of a life-size doll from a tree. Students were also encouraged to climb a 30-foot lubricated pole baited with candy and soda at the top."

I´m not in the Peace Corps anymore. Just tell people I work in Paraguay.

I broke down and got my house cleaned. Guess how much it cost. The equivalent of $3. Getting my house cleaned is my dream. If I can make my dreams come through for $3, why not?

I bought a heating-air conditioning unit, kind of as a favor to a family who needed to sell it. But mostly as a favor to me.

I'm also getting internet. My host family got a computer and we're going to split it.

I'm also having a pool installed.

Ok, that last part´s not true, but life is not rustic. I accept that.

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