Tuesday, September 29, 2009

It's the horse I've always wanted and now I have it

I bought the horse, yes I did.

Something inside me feels not quite right about using the words “my” and “horse” together. There’s some part of me that still says, “Wait a minute, you can not afford a horse. You are not of the horse-affording class.” But the math says I can, I am, in Paraguay. So it fell under the once-in-a-lifetime rule, and so I had to do it.

The best part is that my host uncle Tito has been caring for horses all his life, and so Bigote McGregor, my horse, lives over there. I’ve been at home searching YouTube for things like “how to horseriding”, “horse trotting.”

I ride my bike to Tito’s and he brings Bigote out for me. I help him put on the saddle, still learning how. Tito yells at Bigote in Guarani when he doesn’t want to hold still. “Epytama Aña memby!” (Hold still devil child!) I can’t help but laugh behind him.

Foot in one stirrup, hand on the mane and reins, and I’m up and I’m off, eight-feet-tall and fast. We go past other horses grazing and pigs snorting and these little gerbil-like creatures that run into the same bushes every time I pass. (“Oh, those are so delicious,” says my host mom.”)

There are more horses and cows grazing in the countryside, which stretches out like a ocean of grass around the island of Yataity. I used to be stuck on that island.

But on my new legs I can go out and explore, past the pond where Uncle Tito bathes Bigote, where little tadpoles swim with their legs out. I can go past the cows, where one is hiding her calf in the bushes. I see birds that would have been in style in the ‘80s: neon yellow and black. I see lines of ants so undisturbed they’ve cut a path in the grass. I see wildflowers, yellow, white, dark pink in the center then spreading out to a light blush. I think of Tom Petty, “You belong, among the wildflowers...”

I can look out and see there was a time before all these things had little nametags pinned on them by humans. I can see the foamy eggs of the toads, the breeze spreading seeds, birds tending nests, all those parts of this world you forget are amazing after you leave elementary school.

On the way home I trot a bit to feel that speed. I’ll wait to gallop until I’m more comfortable, more advanced in the YouTube School of Horsemanship. At Uncle Tito’s I say bye to Bigote, stroking that smooth horse neck, then my bike is waiting outside. I never realized how lame it is to ride a bike, until I got off a horse first.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Does Anybody Here Speak Spanish?

This woman entered the co-op, where Auxi collects the money for the electric company. She had dyed black hair, heavy black eye liner, a lip ring. She walked in with a reluctance I recognize.

I’m not really listening, once she starts talking to Auxi in slow Spanish in a German accent, punctured by Ums and looks to the side to think. It’s painful. I remember that pain.

Once she’s got her question out, she looks at Auxi while she replies in her quick Spanish, and I know that look. It’s: Should I just pretend I understand, or ask for more clarification, expose my ignorance more? I’ve had the look as I listened, I’ve seen the look as I’ve tried to speak.

“There’s someone else you have to pay,” says Auxi to the look in foreign language. “Another person. Not me.” With a finger pointing away from herself to the other invisible person. “A man.”

Maybe this woman speaks English, and I can save her, but there doesn’t seem to be a moment when I can cut in. And maybe I just want to ignore this live haunting of my painful past.

But Ña. Celia walks into the doorway and suggests she might know English, so I ask. Yes, she does. I ask Auxi what she wants to tell her, then explain in English. She asks me questions in English, much better than her spanish. I explain in my language. Auxi looks between us as we speaj English, laughs and says, in Spanish. “Somebody translate please!”

The woman thanks me and smiles. Ducks out and huffs, back in her own world, having survived another encounter with Spanish that will make her dread the next, as I know. Ña. Celia comes in and starts in Guaraní. “Che aimo’a....” And they recount the story in Guaraní, and I want to laugh and yell “Somebody translate please!”

I’m sitting here with a little pride, having saved, if not the day, a small desperate moment. Being a writer, I’m not used to being “needed.” I don’t think anyone has ever screamed, “Is there a writer in the house?” But now I have one skill that I can use for good, when someone in the future, if not yells, asks loudly and with some urgency: “Does anyone here speak Spanish?”

Monday, September 21, 2009

Depressing Day in the Neighborhood

My friend got kicked out. If I were to make a list of my friends starting with the most likely to get kicked out going down to the last, I might hope to have enough room at the bottom to put this friend, code name Dudesy.

It's a big b.s. story that ends with Peace Corps finding out she rode a moto. That's it.

You know, we're brought here and told to integrate. Part of that integration is to forget all the rules you've learned your entire life. Like, be on time. Don't wipe your mouth on the tablecloth. Don't tell other people they're looking fat today. And we learn. We learn to live this mas o menos lifestyle, where police can be paid off with $5. Where ex-bishop presidents have secret kin running all over the place.

We get a little too comfortable. We forget about that other foot that Peace Corps expects us to keep in America. Some people forget more, some less, some outright pick that foot up and dance out of bounds. Certainly some other volunteers might be feeling a little guilt that we most definitely forgot it more, much more than Dudesy. It's like when your health-nut friend gets cancer, and you think of all the hamburgers and couch hours of your life, and feel even guiltier when you're glad it's not you.

At this point it's not just "Peace Corps," this is your life down here. Your work, your friends, perhaps the person you're in love with, if you're Dudesy. What if suddenly someone banned you from the place where you're living? That's how I imagine it'd feel. So it feels a little like a funeral, in memory of Dudesy's life down here. We made a slideshow of photos, bought her a new termo, ao poi and a hammock, bought her dinner and ice cream. Giving gifts and bringing food, exhibiting all the signs of people at a loss for how to help a sad friend.

We'll miss you Dudesy.

Saturday, September 19, 2009


Me, grown-*ss mf-ing woman, as Sasha says, just had a craving for one of those little chocolate things and a can of coke. I went to the store, walking carefully past the open door of the family next door. Surely, if they saw me, there'd be a "Moo reho?" (Where are you going?)

I went to the store, got my can of coke, my chocolate thing. I gave the guy who's name I should know my 5 mil. He said thanks. I looked down and said, "Could you put this in a baggie?" He did, but it was useless, as the bag was thin, cheap and see-through. Last week I smuggled a can of coke past the house rolled in the side of my shirt.

I walked back home on the other side of the street, a wary eye. Because if anyone saw me, there are several offenses for which I could be chided. That I didn't buy the witness a chocolate thing. That that stuff will make me fat an/or I am already fat and this is why. Or, if my host mom saw me, that I bought the 3 mil can of coke, when a whole bottle is just 5 mil.

My new friend Angelic complained to me about what from our cultural view we would call the nosiness, the all-up-in my businessness of Paraguayan culture. She sounded down, so I didn't have the heart to tell her to get used to it.

Sitting here, enjoying my chocolate thing and Coke, O-town texts to say he'll be over in a minute. I chug and push the wrapper and can in the trash. I put the lid on tight.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Meaty Curve

"Right in that meaty part of the curve, not showing off, not falling behind." -George Costanza

That is how I described my service today to a friend. I keep trying to find out if this is normal. If there are other volunteers leading a mob of enthused, tool-wielding public to a barn raising for the new library that will be named in their honor. It's hard to know where I stand. There's no Peace Corps valedictorian.

So I've been probing, a little. I made a joke about how my service is going slow to a volunteer on her way out and she said, "Well, apparently I just came here to make soap." I asked another volunteer about her youth group and she said, "It's going so-so. It's hard." I'm sorry to say their disillusion gave me reassurance.

But like a man religiously using his Rogaine, I'm starting to see sprouts. I got two very nice e-mails from people who are listening to the Guarani podcast. Yesterday during my computer class my friend typed and sent me her very first e-mail. We're starting to get orders over the internet at the co-op, and the secretary there said that people are impressed when they see we have e-mail.

The truth is I'm really just teaching five women to use the computer. That's it. But I'm teaching them to use it well. They're even writing formulas in Excel. And I can see that it's changing the culture of the co-op to include computing. I can't be more than a drop. The hope is that it will ripple out.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Guarani Radio Intro

I did the radio show solo today and since I wasn't with a non-Guarani-speaking friend I thought I'd bust out a can of Guarani. It went so-so.

"Hey there Yataity and how's it going Villarrica. This is "Mba'e la Porte Nortes." I'm Paulita and today I'm here alone and so I'm going to speak more in Guarani and you all can laugh at me. (Here I almost say 'and you all can explode', because the word for 'to explode', kapu, is kind of like the word for 'to laugh', puka. Then I break up into nonsense for a few words out of nervousness.) Today I'm going to talk about the 7 Habits of People with Success (is how I phrase it) but first I have some music."

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Thank God for Loopholes

Core Expectations For Peace Corps Volunteers

In working toward fulfilling the Peace Corps Mission of promoting world peace
and friendship, as a trainee and Volunteer, you are expected to:

1. Prepare your personal and professional life to make a commitment
to serve abroad for a full term of 27 months

2. Commit to improving the quality of life of the people with whom
you live and work; and, in doing so, share your skills, adapt them,
and learn new skills as needed

3. Serve where the Peace Corps asks you to go, under conditions of
hardship, if necessary (*), and with the flexibility needed for effective

4. Recognize that your successful and sustainable development work
is based on the local trust and confidence you build by living in,
and respectfully integrating yourself into, your host community
and culture

5. Recognize that you are responsible 24 hours a day, 7 days a week
for your personal conduct and professional performance

6. Engage with host country partners in a spirit of cooperation, mutual
learning, and respect

7. Work within the rules and regulations of the Peace Corps and the local
and national laws of the country where you serve

8. Exercise judgment and personal responsibility to protect your health,
safety, and well-being and that of others

9. Recognize that you will be perceived, in your host country and
community, as a representative of the people, cultures, values, and
traditions of the United States of America

10. Represent responsibly the people, cultures, values, and traditions of
your host country and community to people in the United States both
during and following your service

(*Ha! Bam in your face! Now if you'll excuse me, my manicure is trying to dry.)

Friday, September 11, 2009

I'm in the market for a horse

I want a pony. Fine, I'll take a horse. It's not that I need a horse, as in my host sister asking me, "Why do you need a horse?" It's that I want a horse, like any other 10-year-old.

Now before you start lecturing me, let me just say that since it was proven that I'm too irresponsible to care for three fish or a dog, I think a horse is a much better option. You should hear how Paraguayans talk about it. Just throw it in a barn and sprinkle a little hay on it.

At first I thought it was crazy. Plus, people who have horses in Yataity are the Need Horses kind of people, wrangling things in the field. No one goes trotting through the countryside with the wind in their hair, silouetted against the wild flowers like they're posing for the cover of a romance novel.

So I thought my own fantasies were silly.

But then my host mom said I could just keep the horse at her mother's barn. And Oscar said the horse (Cloe?) could just eat the sugar cane they grow and graze in their field. Then I just happened to hop on the same Asuncion bus with my friend Nate, and, with a twinkle in his eye known only to the pony-owning, described the joy of taking care of the horse he'd just bought and how it's not even that much work or that expensive and it is instead "awesome."

And then, my host uncle told me about his horse who he used to ride and then sold, and that the guy who bought it now wants to sell this pretty, tame, riding horse (Princess?). Two million Guaranies ($434) for a horse with all the little horsie accessories and a "guarantee", which I don't know exactly what that means in Paraguay horse-talk, but it sounds good.

Part of me is grown up, and says, "No, you can not have a pony." To which the part of me that is still 10-years-old replies: "Says who?"

But I promise to think about it for at least two weeks, like an adult.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Paraguay to South Africa

There are so many things on the line when Paraguay plays Argentina. A return of some pride from lost wars. Some respect from the country where so many Paraguayans go for work. And specifically last night, the chance to go to the World Cup.

The whole city was in red and white shirts, and as we walked toward the stadium in a group, Sasha in a Paraguayan flag cape, the venders lined the streets selling shirts, hats, flags, tickets. As the weather worsened, men thrusted ponchos in our faces. "Diez mil. Diez mil." The two swarms, those selling and those passing toward the stadium, like two currents swirling against each other.

In the stadium, we unknowingly sat in Barrio Bravo (the rough neighborhood). My friend who lives in Asuncion told me the whole group surrounding us were fans of the Olympia team (from the inter-Paraguay league) who lived in the poorer parts of Asuncion.

There was some kind of dynamic I could not figure out, lead by a curly-haired man standing on the railing of the exit below. Before the game started, he was leading cheers. "Argentians eat cats," we shouted, jumping up and down. "Argentinians do other things I can't put on my blog," we shouted. Behind us, a small band of drums beat. Men waved flags of Paraguay, flags of Coca-Cola, one flag with Jim Morrison on it. Why Jim Morrison? "Porque me gusta" (Because I like it) said the man waving it.

The curly-haired man, who I took to calling The Conductor, was yelling until his lips where wet. Dale, dale, (Let's go!) he said, starting the cheers. He raised his eyebrows up to the drums and they beat. Sometimes he would hold a hand up and they'd stop, and we'd continue a cappella at his command.

The Conductor continued on. As he chanted, his head shrugged toward his left shoulder, as if he had a violin clenched there. His mouth opened wide to the side in a 5-day-beard with every word, his eyes squinted shut. His right arm pulsed up and down, flicking his hand out on every beat and bouncing it back as if calling the whole crowd over.

This is all fine and fun, until the game starts. I wanted to watch, but with the waving of a flag in front of me, it's like Coca-cola. Game. Coca-cola. Game. Coca-cola. Game. The hopping up and down to the beats threw shoulders in my face if I didn't jump with them.

If the cheers die, The Conductor furrowed his brow and shook his curls, as if he was trying to get a middle school choir in shape for all-county, and we'll never make it if we kept just staring off into space like that.

For the entire two hours, this man was faced toward us, not even watching the game, waving his arms and yelling commands and cheer prompts. He seemed to be the commander of all these boys around us. Some kind of renagade crew who took it upon themselves to keep the south end of the Asuncion stadium rocking for the entire game without fail. As if the most important thing on the line was showing spirit and yelling obscenities and throwing the bird at the Argentinian side.

"My arms hurt, 'cause that scary guy was next to me, making me clap the whole time," says Tessa, today. "It's really bad."

For those of us facing the game, we saw that Paraguay got a goal, Argentina did not. So in the end, we had something to cheer for.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Apparently I'm in Shape

Today I jogged, a habit I developed to balance out all the pig fat eating and frustration. Here's a following conversation:

Paraguayan: "Where did you go to?"
Me: "The routa."
Paraguayan: Did you walk?
Me: No, I jogged.
Paraguayan: Four kilometers!
Me: Yeah.
Paraguayan: Without stopping?!
Me: Yeah.
Paraguayan: Pauli, you're crazy!
Me: Some say crazy, some say in shape.
Paraguayan: Crazy

Yes, like many other distortions of Paraguay, here I get to be rich, famous, and, for jogging a mere 2.5 miles, crazy in shape, or just crazy.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Reporting live from my room

We have strung a blue cord from the host fam's house into my house. I'm typing here in my room. I even took that picture as proof, and also so that you can see that I'm still using my sheet as a curtain.

So yes, now that using internet won't be an total pain in the butt, my blog entries can be more on-the-spot, daily, and Doogie Howser-ish.

The food situation is killing me, so today I went and dropped 150Gs (30 bucks, more than half my rent) at the supermarket in the big city. I got canned black beans because my hankering for black beans doesn't make a reservation the night before. I got lots of fruit, including kiwi because O-town has never tried it before. I got expensive cheeses for an attempt at making lasagna. I got cream cheese and jelly and this great bread from Argentina that's filled with sunflower seeds and costs about 4 times what normal bread costs. I got all these things and didn't really think twice about it.

In the grocery store, they give you you're change, then if there's leftover, like pennies, they give you gum instead.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Labor Blossoms

27 August: Labor Blossoms
I fully acknowledge the cheesiness of this, but on my radio show, we’re discussing the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, one habit a week. I changed “Highly Effective People” to “People with Success.” I translate the highlights of every chapter, putting it into words they might actually use here. Some people here think Americans are smarter. But no, we just read books like these. If it only gets people to think about the fact that there’s education available on the topic, that there’s some kind of way out, that there's more to be done than just complain about circumstances, that’s good enough for me.

We’re on week three: Put First Things First. Mostly it’s about doing those things that are overall important, but not urgent, so you don’t do them. Maintaining your lawnmower, for instance. Flossing. Exercise. Study your flash cards. These kinds of things.

The chapter sites a study that tried to find the one thing that all successful people -- Olympic athlete successful -- have in common. It’s this. They do the menial little tasks that no one likes to do. Because they have their higher goal in mind.

So maybe that’s why today was such a good day. Besides the fact that all the orange trees are blossoming and it smells like a Yankee Candle along my walk to work, my tedious little tasks are blooming too. My flash cards have turned into little Guarani conversations. My hours of sitting there feeling like an outsider have bloomed into little friendships. My computer students are getting it, and proud of themselves, and quite competitive about the typing game I downloaded. I feel like a doin’-ok volunteer.

30 August: Fun Photo Time.

It hailed like crazy. From the way it sounded, I would have thought it was a drive-by if I wasn’t in Yataity, Paraguay.

People collected the hailies and we used them later for ice in our terere. They’re a juyo for pain. Se dice (So they say).

I was attacked by this thing! It’s dark in the corner right by my door at night. I went to open it and this thing flew in my face. I thought it was a bat. I screamed, but I think my neighbors are by now so used to my bug scream that no one was alarmed.

I’d guess this thing is about six inches long. So they say, if it lands on you and you don’t notice (not that I think that’s possible) it will lay it’s eggs in your skin. Then a big bump will form and you’ll pop it and a worm will crawl out. That is so disgusting that I just had to share it with you.

This is the cathedral in Villarrica that is about a gazillion years old. Heta ite (a lot a lot) guesses Oscar. Or about 200.

Inside the cathedral.

At a chuchi party. When the meat was ready, they brought it out on this large sticks and stuck them upright in the middle of every table. So there were all these people in suits and curls hacking away at a stick of meat.

Not that hungry? How about just half a pig’s head?

This is the road side marker for five guys who died in an accident a few years ago from Yataity. You see these a lot along the routas.

(putting ‘i on the end of things is the way to say a tiny something and I just love using it.)
Sunday we went to Salto Pa’i. Me, Oscar, Julio and his girlfriend Claudia. We brought a bunch of meat (naturally) and had an asado and swam. Good times.

Salto Pa’i is up in Independencia, where I went to help build that school. It’s actually a German Colony, so you go up in the hills and all of a sudden start to see blond people and signs in German. I even saw a VW and then, randomly, a castle.

I miss the beauty of water.

A beautiful day it was.

31 August: Progress Report
On the day I got my site assignment, learning that I would work at a crafty co-op that needed a web site, I predicted my future. After a year in site we would have an informational site up. After two, an on-line story rivaling that of The Gap.

Let me tell you why, just after that year mark, we have yet to even buy the web address.
I get things done through Auxi, mostly, the secretary of the board of the co-op. Auxi works there in the mornings, but also tutors twins while she’s there and collects payments for the electric company and makes ao poí to sell. I peek in at times to see if she’s free, remind her of that thing I needed help with like someone reminding someone else of that five bucks they loaned. Not today, not that I blame her.

She and I were going to buy this web address together. There was a time, months, that it took me to figure out how you could buy the .py addresses. And then how much it cost. I found out through a call that there are .coop.py sites, which I thought would be good marketing, and they also told me that those are free for the first six months for co-ops. I took the good news to the board with the suggestion that we go with www.aopoi.coop.py. They approved.

Probably about another month goes by until I can get me and Auxi in front of a working computer with working internet. We fill out the form. We wait.


I call and they said cooperatives need an authorization from INCOOP, the head Co-op of the co-ops. So I bug Auxi again to make a nota for me to take there on my next trip to the capital.
I get lost on the way but survive long enough to turn in the note. We wait.

Three months pass.

I call. They take down our co-op’s name and promise to look. A week and a half later I happened to be there again, turning in papers for the co-op, when I decide to ask about the authorization. I find the office and ask the man behind the desk, who is visually annoyed by my presence. He asks, “What’s the name again?” and then looks through two foot-high stacks, finds ours, stamps it, writes the date and signs and hands it to me. Victory is mine.

Auxi and I sit down again to fill out the five-step on-line form requesting the site address. We fax in the authorization. We wait. In a bout of desperation, I make our blogspot page. We wait more.


I call again. Oh, explains the man, you can’t put the product name in the web address of a .coop.py. In fact, you’re not allowed to put stores up with those addresses. They’re solely for the administration of a cooperative.

Oh, thank you. I said. I did not demand that they explained why that hadn’t been explained the last time, when we clearly put on the form that we wanted to put up an on-line store, but they just asked for the authorization.
I just moved on.

This is a long and boring story and I’m sorry you had to read it. But I want you to know what it’s like. Multiply that by five hundred and know that I wrote this story on receipts and scrap paper while waiting an hour for a bus, which never came.


When I was at Salto Pa’i, I stuck my foot in the running water. The water had not planned on my foot being there. It shattered apart, freaked out, but came back together again as fast as possible, flowed around and got to where it was going. I sat there and thought about living like water.