Thursday, October 22, 2009

Chisme 101

The story is that I got a horse for 1,900,000 Guaranies, a decent price. I’m learning to ride it well. I go out in the countryside to let the tension in my body release, to remember that there are tadpoles and wildflowers and the whole world isn’t ao po’i and irregular verbs.

The story is that I got a horse for 2,500,000 Guaranies, that I got totally ripped off. The story is I was thrown from the horse. And the latest story is that I go out in the countryside to meet men, that people have seen me out there with them.

That’s the story, and there isn’t a damn thing I can do about it. As soon as a hear it, my helplessness spread from my chest all through my body, fight or flight. Gossip is a ghost that has a life of its own, so I can’t just punch it. And to fly away from everywhere that people whispered is to never stop fleeing. So I sit here with it. My little nature walks, perhaps the thing in which I am most innocent, turned into something so seedy.

Oscar gave me one of his talks, where he says, “Let me tell you how it is.” He said that any little spark, a girl stopping on the corner to talk to her classmate, for example, could light the chisme fire. The next day, the corner is his bed and talking is another verb.

A widow who goes out in the countryside to collect branches to make brooms is said to go out there to meet men. When someone gets new shoes, people say he stole to something else. When Oscar was younger, people said he was a drug addict. Though he’d never even smoked a cigarette, his mom beat him anyway.

Any woman walking alone can be a target. Hadn’t I ever noticed that his sister never went out alone? I hadn’t. It’s sad, really, he said, to be a woman here.

At what level now do I give in? Another volunteer suggested I bring a little kid with me every time I go. That seems silly. I like to be alone.

I guess I have my people who know me, and the rest will talk. Though it makes me crazy to think how those groups might overlap. Providing something to talk about in terere circles, my service to the community.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Dreaming of an Ao Po´í Christmas

Hello there one and all. This is your niece/daughter/sister/friend/stranger, Paulita. Today I´d love to show you this beautiful craft of Ao Po´í, and guilt you into buying some for Christmas.

Ha ha, just kidding. But seriously. I thought I´d take some photos and see if anyone was interested in getting a tablecloth, placemat set, or some nice bathroom towels you can yell at your children for using.
These make the perfect gift for a crafty wife or mistress, older people who remember a time when everything was made by hand and they liked it that way, or perhaps as a gift to yourself to have a reason to mention your niece/daughter/sister/friend that´s in the Peace Corps, of whom you are burstingly proud.
All tablecloths come with matching Ao Po´í napkins:

They come in whatever color, with matching or contrasting stitching, in square, rectangular or round. We also accept custom orders!

Here we have some designs:

All items are finished in crochet, with a variety of styles available.

Here are some more items and designs.

Bath towels

Very Christmasy indeed!

As for prices, they depend on the size of tablecloth or number of items, but here are a few just to give you an idea:
Tablecloth, 6 feet, with 6 napkins included: $60
Table runner, 3 feet: $10
Bath towel: $6 each
Placemats: $5 each
Shipping extra. In the past I´ve shipped a shirt and it was $7. I´d guess the most would be $20 for a big tablecloth.
Have I told you lately that I love you? Any questions just email me at Thanks!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

One-Year Group Hug

Today I had my one-year visit from my boss, Elisa, and Betsy, a former-volunteer-turned coordinator. I had been using this date as a deadline to get our SPA Grant proposal ready. SPA grants can be up to $5,000, and can increase that amount that Paraguayans give a crap about your presence up to 5,000%.

Auxi and I wrote up our proposal for a prize package to get the co-op online. New computer, internet service, web design, digital camera. More than $2,000. Yipes.

We presented the proposal today and it went well. Also, I presented certificates in basic computer skills to Mariela, Auxi and Rossana. The presentation was a little sentimental. They told my bosses I was doing a great job and I was really involved. I said I was proud of them and that they are all my students and my teachers. It was almost as if I wasn't laying across Oscar's chest a few weeks ago, sobbing about how no one cares that I'm there or wants to work with me.

My boss had to ask Auxi all these questions about me, which was weird because I was there. For that reason or because she really meant it, she said I had a good rapport with my students and I was really helping. Then she asked what they needed to do if they wanted me to stay longer. That's nice.

But when the empanadas are all eaten, the coke has been drank and the meeting's over, will they actually form the committee, show up, not text? It's my job to keep hoping, and to hold out a $2,000 carrot.


Monday, October 12, 2009

Moral Animal?

I read this book that’s technically about Evolutionary Psychology, but in the end I think it also has everything to do with the business of World Saving.

It’s about how all our little funny quirks, all the seemingly different cultures of the world, are really just a product of the process that promoted those habits that made us more likely to have babies who had babies. It’s about how natural selection set the rules for the human brain to be played out on an entirely different board. “We live in cities and suburbs and watch TV and drink beer,” says the author, Robert Wright. “All the while being pushed and pulled by feelings designed to propagate our genes in a small hunter-gatherer population.”

These habits are from back when, for example, any rise in power could mean more influence in dividing up meat after a big kill. More for your kin = they survive longer = your genes get passed on. Hence those who had more drive for power had more babies, and now we are all their decedents, feeling some mysterious need to be the one holding the remote.

You can see how this might cause problems.

When politicians rise to power, they tend to have lots of sex with young, attractive women. This still surprises us. But when the rules were set in our brains, the entire point of having power was to convince as many young women as possible that you have the means to take care of their offspring if they wouldn't mind just letting you get some action. These women, on the other hand, evolved to swoon at men with power, as “emotions are just evolutions executioners.” That's true because if we’d never developed birth control, more sex would equal more babies and more genes. But we’re still surprised with every politician caught, even though, as Henry Kissinger said "Power is the ultimate aphrodisiac."

What efforts can we put forth to thwart the errands of evolution that clash with our current morality? I thought of how we do it in Paraguay, of all the problems we’re sent here to fix.

There’s something we now call corruption. When resources were tight and there’s just not enough for everyone, our genes drove us to find a way to provide for our own family (who carry our genes) and our friends (people who seem to have the same genes). Taking a bit more for your own, sounds like corruption to me. But remember how we all decided we were going to be fair and call it democracy? Unfortunately, we never evolved an off switch for this desire to help our own. We continue beyond helping our own survive to helping our own take vacations to Tahiti with government funds. Come to the rescue, anti-corruption slide presentation!

How about hypocrisy as well? We’ve all heard leaders stand up and say, “I do so much for the community,” while knowing that they take money in one way or another. Why shouldn’t they, really, use both the rise in status from their bragging and eat their money too, if they can get away with it? Now, investigative journalists!

There’s also the matter of gossip, which, as it turns out, not only exists wherever you go in the world, but follows the same outline. Says the author, “Knowing who is sleeping with whom, who is angry at whom, who cheated whom, and so on, can inform social maneuvering for sex and other vital resources. Indeed, the sorts of gossip that people in all cultures have an apparently inherent thirst for... match up well with the sorts of information conducive to fitness [to reproduce]. Trading gossip is one of the main things friends do, and it may be one of the main reasons friendships exist.” Go, team work seminars!

What we’re really doing is wrestling this animal, trying to figure how to cage something that’s inside of us. But I have another idea. This evolved animal has striking similarities to Eckhart Tolle’s ego, which strives to be special and have power and be rich, is never really satisfied, as Wright says, “We are designed to believe the next goal will bring bliss, and the bliss is designed to disintegrate shortly after we get there.” And if we just take a step back and look at that, we can see how silly it is, how silly we are to be obsessed by it.

If someone thinks they want to save the world, do they really mean to create more wealth and productivity, or do they really mean peace and happiness? Because, unfortunately, our joy was not factored into evolution: “Our happiness was never high among natural selection’s priorities, and even if it had been, happiness wouldn’t naturally arise in an environment so different from the context of our evolution.”

If saving the world means finding peace and happiness, then here the science and spirituality climb both sides of the problem to reach the same conclusion: The only way for us, the puppets, to free ourselves, is to look up and see the strings. After that, they’re quite easy to clip.

The answer, to me then, is not one more anti-this committee or anti-that seminar. It’s education on the fact that we are animals competing with each other to feed not our bodies, now, but our egos. And others are starving so that our egos may live large. It’s so animalistic. And, I think now, only after we see the animal in us can we find the human.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

No Trust in Paraguay

There's no trust in Paraguay. My host mom just yelled at me for having a lot of money on dining table. "I'm going to put it here on your desk," she said, as I laid in bed, sick. "Watch how much I'm putting," and she counted out the bills. I rolled my eyes. Not only do they not trust anyone, they don't expect you to trust them. They carefully count my money back to me anytime I threw them some cash to pick me up something while they were at the store. I roll my eyes every time. "I trust you," I say.

Isn't it said that all relationships are built on trust? It's not surprising then that Paraguayans stick to their kin. It's not surprising that romantic relationships are clingy and jealous.

It's hard for me, just coming in from the sunny states, where we can afford to take a man on his word. When people don't trust me, I take it personally. When my boyfriend can't see why I can't see that it's a terrible idea for male volunteers to crash at my house, I feel like it's a reflection of my personal devotion.

But it's just the way it is here. You count your change. You don't take chances.

I remember one female friend talking about all the other girls she worked with. "And her, I don't trust her, because she's too quiet and you don't know what she's thinking," she said. "And that other one, I don't trust her either." I kind of laughed, but she looked at me and said, "Seriously, Pau, you have to look out for yourself. You can't trust anyone but yourself."

And I wanted so badly to tell her that that's not true. That I trust people. But how much weight could my words have against someone who's lived under a dictator who tortured his own people, a bishop president with three illigitimate children, a place where honesty is the exception, and not the rule?

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Crazy for Babies Are We?

I made the mistake of being in front of Oscar while checking my brother and sister-in-law’s new The Baby is Coming photos on-line. Whereas babies here are made room for, rooms are rarely made for them.
Ok, so they're chuchi and their baby will be chuchi. “Dios mio,” said Oscar, looking at the pink room, the lovely furniture. “We could live for two years on the money for this.” His tone was not bitter, just amazed.
“And what is that?” It’s a lay-z-boy and the baby’s own little bathroom. “Never in my life... You all are crazy.”
“And what is that?” It’s a crib. “The baby’s not going to sleep with them when it’s young?” No. He’s shocked.
“But what if the baby cries and you don’t hear it?”
I thought of my answer and didn’t want to say it.
“There’s kind of a... walkie talkie ...for the baby.”
A walkie talkie!? For the baby!? Dios mio.” He rounded his hand around his mouth. “Ckherrrrk. This is the baby. Wake up. I’m crying. Copy.”
He dropped his hand and looked at me like I was crazy. “You all are crazy. Dios fucking mio.”
He put his hand back up to his mouth. “ Ckherrrrk. Does anybody hear me? I pooped. Copy.”

Monday, October 5, 2009

You'd think I hang with the Mob

My host mom came back from honoring the dead in the graveyard this morning, shaking her head and wrinkling up her nose like she does whenever there’s a displeasure of some kind. We drank mate dulce together before I went to work, and these sessions are usually a good time for her to complain.

"La gente," she says. The people. All of Yataity is talking about the fight. From the cemetery all the way back was a line of people to complain about, talking badly about her sons friends, who are like family to her.

It was there at the cooperative, too. Everyone was gathered around the radio. No one said hi to me. I ignored whatever was clearly going on, kissed Mariela on the cheek and waited to hear what they were talking about. This was a program where they talk about the police report every monday. They were saying my friends' names, then, Age 25, single, like that. With this big ticket item on the list, people were calling in, sending in messages about how terrible it all was.

What do you do when people are talking about your friends? One of my coop friends was talking about the fight, and the way she snarled her lips at the mention of my other "criminal" friend hurt me. It was so ugly. I stayed blank. No one spoke directly to me. Of course, my name had probably come up earlier.

You'd think the moon had exploded, the way the topic was so excitedly and ubiquitously discussed. Everyone who came in the coop to pay their electric bill in the back talked about the fight, talked badly about my friends. That they were looking to fight, that they’re criminals, sin verguenza! On and on, all morning long.

My personal reputation is damaged already, probably, because I drink terere with them. Should I be concerned that this will affect my already-struggling work? I thought about this as I walked to the plaza, and passed a little boy with a realistic-looking toy gun in his hand.

I came back to Oscar’s house and they were all the, drinking terere inside though the weather was beautiful. “The problems,” I said as I put my bag down and looking at the brothers. “I’m surprised I’ve survived this long as your friend, the way people talk about you.”

They all laughed their silly laughs.

I wouldn't tell them who talked about them or what exactly people said, just that everyone was talking about them and saying lots of bad stuff.

We drank t-ray, laughed some more. Not once could I imagine any one of them actually hurting another person. I told them they'd f-ed up, but they were still my friends.

I thought about how the majority of gossip is to put labels on people: slutbag, jerk, good-for-nothing, etc. Reducing someone to just one word like that could possibly capture everything. It's not what Jesus did, he was right down in there with the slutbags, telling them it's alright, he still loves them. For a town that's so all about the J.C., I could use a little more forgiveness for my friends right now, those criminals I've come to love.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Rumble in the Campo

The big fiestas are held in what is called a poli, an auditorium that is strung with lengths of fabric to make it look festive. It's too big and grey and concrete, and the fiestas always look too empty. But there's nothing better to do, so people go, drink and, every time, they say, fight.

This weekend was the Fiesta Patronal, and on the radio I heard the DJ invite everyone to the fiesta and say, "And please, let's have a chill party to celebrate the Virgin. No fighting please."

Oscar's friends have a history of fighting. It makes me think of the '50s, when no one thought anything of letting two boys go outside and have it out. Oscar never gets in it, according to his mom, unless one of his friends is getting beat up. He can't just sit there and watch, he says.

Last night it started early. I heard one of my guy friends yell in some kids' face. And even that, I was like, whoa. I know, I'm so sheltered. I've barely seen a handful of schoolyard fights. As the other kid walked away, another friend smacked him up side the head. Whoa.

Then the police, who were there anyway, came to take one of my friends outside because someone had said he had a gun. Of course the whole group goes outside, everyone's yelling. I have my arms around Oscar, in pain thinking about what it would feel like to see him punched. His mom was hitting and tugging at my arm, saying, "Don't you let him fight!" She can't afford the stitches.

We all go back in. My accused friend is fuming with his back against the wall. His girlfriend is crying. His brother is spit-spew yelling at another friend about the situation.

We all try to dance. Luckily Oscar is physically and mentally more with me than them, and we have a good time. At 4, I'm tired, and beg to go home.

At five there's a knock at my window. It's another friend. He's running from the cops.

The next morning I got the full story during the morning t-ray. Apparently, these other guys from "el otro lado" (outside Yataity) had been sending my friend's sister messages all night, inviting my friends to the plaza after the party to fight. Like I said, the '50s.

And they went, so it's their fault. As they approached, rocks start hailing down on them. Big rocks that these other guys had been collecting with the purpose of raining them upon my friends. Unfortunately, they soon ran out of rocks, said my friend with his goofy laugh the next morning. Looking a the big smile of the guy I knew to be a sweetheart, I could hardly imagine what he was telling me they did next. "Les matamos," he said. (Figuratively: We killed 'em.)

He had just one scratch on him. His brother nothing. Our other friend, who's a total goof but has the misfortune of a drinking streak that gets him in trouble, was not so lucky. His wounds from his last fight were just starting to heal, but this time someone caught him across the back a few times with a piece of bamboo. He ended up in the hospital with five stitches in his head.

But the euphemisms flowed at t-ray time, the laughs. They had pants one guy and beaten his bare butt with a stick.

It was all anyone talked about all day long. Vannessa had slept over with their younger sister that night and saw their parents furious reaction in the morning. They're good people who don't understand why their boys can't leave the house without fighting. Later, drinking more terere with the women of the house next door, we all wondered what the hell it was all for.