Sunday, August 23, 2009

My Every Day Life

Recently I was asked to write a description of my every day life to be included in the welcome packets for new volunteers. Here it is:

I am a Peace Corps Volunteer, I sometimes have to remind myself. This is Peace Corps.
You imagine it’d be like a movie, before, so here’s mine.

What’s different is that I don’t have a car. My life is serenaded by rooster crows and cow moos and the Paraguayan polka. I speak Spanish and am slowly started to speak Guaraní. I’m trilingual, which I never thought I would be. I also never thought I’d enjoy fried pig fat, but here I am.

What’s better than life in the states is so many things. I get to pick my hours at work. I get to sit around and drink terere with my friends and call it work. I get to write my own job description.

What’s the same is that I have friends who make fun of me, and I them when I can find the words fast enough to be witty. I have my own little house, but live next to a family that’s almost like my own. I eat lunch with them every day. I have a boyfriend, who’s great and funny and just happens to be Paraguayan.

What’s depressingly the same are some things. I still drink a lot of Coca-cola, a habit which I had dropped in the states. A lot of people are into computers now, the new thing, and I spent my morning working on Excel.

What’s worse is that it’s cold, when it’s cold. It’s hot, when it’s hot. There is no Google, just what the guy on the corner said, that the bus would come soon, against what the guy on the other corner said, that there are no more buses today.

You want a regular day, stay in the states, but I can describe about what might happen daily, without surprises.

I decided to set regular hours at the cooperative where I work, so I get up at 7:30, make my coffee on my gas stove. Or maybe my host mom is up and she calls between the banana trees to see if I want to drink cocido with her. I go to the coop, two stone-road blocks over and two blocks up. Maybe all I’ll do is sit around and make ao poí, the local craft. Or maybe I’ll work toward setting up our web site. Maybe I’ll get the secretary to sit for a computer lesson. Mostly I’ll wonder if the thing I’m doing right then is the best thing, if I’m a bad volunteer or a good volunteer, if I’m learning Guaraní fast enough. When I can, I remind myself to just relax and enjoy the experience, please.

I have a Guaraní class twice a week. At the beginning, I wanted to kill my tutor out of frustration, but lately we’ve been chatting in Guarani, and I’m feeling better. It’s a lot of work to learn Guarani, and my American brain says, “What’s in it for me?” but I think it will pay off in ways I can’t quantify. Or I hope.

I drink terere at 11 with my teacher or go home where my friends are gathered around the front of the house next door. My neighbor just got a computer and we’ll be sharing internet. Technology is coming fast here. All the girls are on Orkut, their version of Facebook.

I pretend I’m going to make my own lunch, then my host family invites me to stay, and I say, “Oh, I guess, if there’s enough food,” which there always is.

I’m able to rest after lunch, the way God intended. Then I can go back to the coop or do other things around the house. There are meetings once a week of the board of the coop, during which they speak mostly Guarani, and I mostly try to listen. On Tuesdays I do a radio show where we play music and take breaks to talk about an educational theme.

In my spare time I’m making a podcast to teach Guaraní, because I really would have loved lessons in English. Also, I like the idea of leaving a legacy of something to help other volunteers.

Then there are the surpises, where someone says, You want to come, and you have no idea where you’re going. Suddenly you’re at a protest or you’re at a party, watching men flip the pigs’ heads on a grill.

Life can feel insane, and, the more time passes, it can also feel just like life, like you truly understand that this is how the world is for your friend.

When it still just all seems crazy, the first year or so, is the hardest part as far as personal struggles are concerned. At first, losing my independence was really hard. Acting and speaking like a child, being treated like a child, being laughed at, it’s hard on the ego. The way the military beats you down to build you back up, that’s what Peace Corps does. Only instead of yelling and exercise, they do it with mistakes and helplessness.

And the work, you can’t do it on your own, so that’s hard. I have so many projects that I’ve started and nothing came of. Ideas that I thought were good, but died because no one wanted them, or there wasn’t time, or people just stopped showing up. You feel like you don’t know why you’re here or what you’re doing.

But then, you grow out of the dust of your ego. You learn Guaraní. You learn the bus routes. You learn how to drink terere. The people who laughed at you become your friends.

At this point, I don’t know how I’ll feel by the time my service is up. Did I do enough? Should I have done less and taught more? Should I have pushed more, or relaxed more? There’s no right answer in Peace Corps. But at the very least, I will have climbed the twin peaks of Mt. Español and Mt. Guaraní. I will have survived two years of an unknown that almost scared me into staying home. And, most importantly, I will have come to love people who were before to me just an idea inhabiting a blank area on a map.

And if I sometimes take for granted that I’m here, when it all becomes kind of normal, isn’t that a kind of victory in itself?

1 comment:

Dwayne said...

I'd be very interested in that podcast. Learning Guarani is on my list of things to do because my wife is Paraguayan and her parents don't really do spanish. Please keep me informed if you can.