Tuesday, November 24, 2009


I wasn´t sure if I should publish that last blog. But a few friends have said, "Ugh, I know exactly how you feel."

But I´m better now. It´s good.

The thing that bothered me was quitting the radio show. It felt like quitting, failure. My show sucked and I let it suck and they wither up and die. That´s not how I want to be.

I hadn´t told the guy at the radio station yet, as I was bothered by this feeling. I mentioned it to Angelic, and she invited me to come to Oviedo every Thursday to do their show with them, her and Melissa. Yay! That feels a lot better. This is a move up, bigger market. And the show will reach the Yat. So I will now be a part of Rojapo Radio in Oviedo.

On Sunday I went to Oviedo and we went around visiting Chuchi people. One of the women said, Oh, I always listen to your show. Every thursday at 11. I learn a lot. That´s nice. More on chuchi people later...

Thursday, November 19, 2009


I tried to integrate, and I've been feeling the frustration of grasping at a life that wasn't appearing where it should be. I didn't trust people I wanted to trust. Behind so many smiles I heard the faint rattle of a snake. People around me were so gossipy it was statistically impossible that they were gossiping about me too. I felt like I could count my real friends on one hand that had suffered a horrible table-saw accident.

My radio show was sucking. I got a message that said, "You know we can't understand what your saying, right? And could you please play the song Somos de la Calle?" Then my friend(?) at work said she heard my show. "How was it?" someone else asked. "I liked the music," she said. (Meaning not the talking) and then she laughed one of those laughs where they put the camera right in the laughing persons face and the laugh just gets louder and more menacing.

Then I found out that another friend(?) was gossiping about my porch floor being dirty. What a funny straw to break my back, but then I was crying and Oscar had to give me yet another run-down of Paraguayan policy.

So fine. I get it. You don't fan out in Paraguay, make a million friends. You stick to your kin. The one person I actually know is a true friend to me, just stays at home with her family. You don't have a radio show.

I have Oscar. I have my fireworks-blast-damaged-hand finger-count of real friends. I can live with that. My podcast is going really well, so screw the radio. I let it all go, all that wasn't there to grasp. I'm quitting the radio show. I'm letting my friends with question marks be acquaintences, period. I'm not worrying about pleasing everybody.

I caught myself having these thoughts: You just can't trust anyone besides _ and _. You just have to worry about yourself.

These are almost the exact words that came out of a Paraguayan's friend(?)'s mouth about a year ago. Back then I had been shocked and tried to convince her that it's ok, you can trust people.

Maybe I'm integrating better than I thought.


I overheard this conversation a while ago, and it's been stuck in my head ever since. I was at an event with my little host sister, going to watch her do the traditional Paraguayan dance with the big Ao Poi skirts.

Afterward, I was waiting for her to change in the back area. Two girls come in, about 10, looking like little women in their make-up. They stopped to change into their street clothes, looking a bit frazzled. One huffed: "What work it is to dance!"

The other one agreed, and then, pulling at her uniform, she said the line that sticks with me: "Our dance is our sacrifice."

It just tells you everything about a people who have maybe struggled so long that all they have left to cling to are their struggles, that a little girl would say something such as that.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

The Shock of a Thing like TP Disposal

Have I mentioned that, in Paraguay, you don't throw your toilet paper in the toilet, but in a little trash can next to it? Probably not, because it's just a little life detail. But it was a big adjustment for us volunteers, a reflex we never even thought of, but had to change.
How did we ever get on the subject last night, me and my Paraguayan friends at a little dinner party to make sushi? But, somehow the conversation landed on me saying, "In the U.S., we throw the paper in the toilet."
Oscar's face jerked into his "you're lying" face: tweaked to the side, eyes squinted, lips pressed -- as fast as if I'd said, "In the U.S., we fold our used toilet paper into origami frogs that come to life and hop away."
I laughed and laughed, just at his face. "En serio?" (Seriously?) he asked. "Ndejapu!" (You're lying!)
Mariela and Leidyd had the same shocked faces. Oscar said, "In the toilet? But it would clog up! It would just float there when you tried to flush it!"
It was as if I had suggested we throw our paper in the toilet, and not as if 300 million people already did it, and they were dismissing my new idea as stupid.
Also, they still didn't really believe me. "Call Sasha," I said. So we did. She corroborated my story.
But, but, Oscar had seen in movies that there are trash cans next to the toilets. But, but, where does the paper go?
After I answered all their questions, it was still, "En serio? En serio?" from all of them.

There's something about the little differences that hit you most. Not the languages, the different religions, we've all read about those. It's the tiny things that you never even think about and assume as constants, like breathing. I had never imagined that nobs on a sink would say C and F, but of course they do. Or that Christmas would be celebrated with watermelon, but it makes sense, now that I think about it.
It's the shock of finding out that those rock-hard constants are really variables, ingredients in life that can be substituted, that really shows you how small your own corner of the world is, and all the possibility that's out there.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Choice and Staying Home

November 7: From “The Paradox of Choice” by Barry Schwartz
"In the 1960s, psychologist Martin Seligman and his collaborators performed an experiment that involved teaching three different groups of animals to jump over a little hurdle from one side of a box to the other to escape or avoid an electric shock. One of the groups was given the task with no prior exposure to such experiments. A second group had already learned to make a different response, in a different setting, to escape from shock. Seligman and his coworkers expected, and found, that this second group would learn a bit more quickly that the first, reasoning that some of what they had learned in the first experiment might transfer to the second.

The third group of animals, also in a different setting, had been given a series of shocks that could not be escaped by any response.

Remarkably, this third group failed to learn at all. Indeed, many of them essentially had no chance to learn because they didn’t even try to escape from the shocks. These animals became quite passive, lying down and taking the shocks until the researchers mercifully ended the experiment.

Seligman and his colleagues suggest that the animals in this third group had learned from being exposed to inescapable shocks that nothing they did made a difference; that they were essentially helpless when it came to controlling their fate. Like the second group, they had also transferred to the hurdle-jumping situation lessons they had learned before -- in this case, learned helplessness.

Seligman’s discovery of learned helplessness has had a monumental impact in many different areas of psychology. Hundreds of studies leave no doubt that we can learn that we don’t have control. And when we do learn this, the consequences can be dire. Leraned helplessness can affect furture motivation to try. In can affect future ability to detect that you do have control in new situations.”

The scientists then sent in on of the group two animals to help the group three animals. At first, she was quite astonished that they were just sitting their being shocked away, while freedom was just over a small hurdle.

She made a big sweeping motion with her paws toward the hurdle, as if to say, “Jump! Jump already!” By this time they had already laid down, and they just shook their heads, as if to say, “It’s no use.”

And the Group 2 animal wondered why they wouldn´t want to escape the shocks. The Group 3 animal thought the Group 2 animal was quite odd, and that shocks were just part of life.

November 8: No, You Should Not Have Stayed Home
Before I joined the Peace Corps, I pictured the two years abroad as some kind of detour to the rest of my life, some kind of time out that I would take and then get right back on track, jump back in where I left off.

Now, it’s hard to remember that this is not my real life, that I’m in a foreign country. Sometimes it feels as easy as living. Other times when I wonder why it’s so damn hard, I have to remind myself that this is supposed to be the toughest job I’ll ever love.

Then the memory comes in a jolt that I’ll leave this place. My Guarani will become a party trick. I won’t have time to make Ao Po’i anymore. I won’t have a horse. Worst of all, Oscar will not always be right next door.

If I thought about all that too much, I’d go insane.

Between the jolts, I get too comfortable. I forget I’m a representative of the U.S. Government, a volunteer, 24/7 and just go on being Paulette, instead of Paulita. I don’t feel like trying to make more contacts. I don’t try to get out in the community more often. I don’t keep social norms in mind.

Saturday I was in bed reading one of my non-fiction books I’ve become obsessed with, perhaps seeking at least a book-learning understanding of society if not a real one. Sandra, my host sister, invited me to play volleyball. Though I wanted to stay on my butt, I said, No, I should go.

I walk, slump shouldered, to a bunch of crazy kids, mostly boys about 12, playing over a net tied between two twisted tree limbs sticking out of the ground. Most were barefoot.

It’s been a year since I touched a volleyball, so I spent the first few games embarrassing myself. The rotations were like a shame cycle, peaking at when I had to serve, and the ball went everywhere but over the net. The children have no problem expressing themselves, meaning they laughed their asses off at me.

I should have stayed home.

When we sat out, Sandra showed me a game played with the inside of a flower, with the little stems that have a head on them, trying to knock the other’s off.

We played another round of volley, and I finally remembered how to serve and everyone cheered, because when I can serve, I can serve, overhanded. I cheered up and began to notice all these photos around us: boys sitting in a doorstep. Two chickens, one after the other, walking up the steps of bricks left of a half-crumbled wall.

During the next break, I talked with this kid Pablo, who’s studying English. We talked almost all in English, with this other little kid just looking on. Pablo told me that he learns all his English from watching movies, every night.

We got up to play another game. The sun was gone, and the sky was blue with pink cotton candy. Pablo was first to serve. He held the ball up, and paused. He looked right at me and said in his English, “Stop this Mother F*ckers.” Then turned back and served.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Dear Santa

I was asked by an aunt to put up a new list of things I could use for a possible Christmas package. So I will so ever tackily do that here:

  • Clothing catalogs for Ao Poi ideas for the co-op
  • Magazines: Writer's Digest, Psychology Today, anything interesting that doesn't mention 50 new ways to make my hair shinier.
  • Coconut milk (I have all these recipes...)
  • Aerosol sunblock
  • Tester tube of Chanel Chance if you can find one (I've used one in a year, shows you how much I need it)
  • Goodwill/used super-light long sleeve shirt for horse-riding and being outside
  • Light face lotion with high SPF
  • Just any old cotton double sheet if you have one lying around. (My sheets are made of polyester. Great idea in a country with 100-degree summers)
  • Red Kool-Aid or Gator-ade packets
  • One of those dish washing brushes with a handle. (Why did those never catch on south of the equator?)
I love you guys and as I've said I'm really fine and don't need anything. However, I am a struggling single horse mom, so I'll take any kind offerings.

Monday, November 2, 2009

IGUAZU Vacation

"Big Water" in Guarani

Our arrival was a little rough. We weren't sure if the guy who sold us our tours was ripping us off. The Full Moon tour that we'd scheduled our trip around was sold out. I wasn't sure if the ATM would work, then I had no idea of the exchange rate for pesos.

At our hotel, they told us there'd been a mistake and they didn't have a room for us. They tried to get us to stay with the lady who lives across the street who had a monkey in a cage in her driveway. Yipes. But we just ended up staying in a bunk bed a dorm-style room that first night, with two chicks from Columbia.

We went to the falls as soon as we could, which was already the afternoon. Anyone who gives you advice first says, "Go early." By the afternoon it's hot. Good thing we had the terere. The falls curve around in kind of an upside-down U, the bottom of that U is the most famous part, the Devil's Throat. For the first day, we went up the side.

When we first came over the threshold and I saw the waterfalls, I just ballooned up with emotion. It's like all that water flowing over everywhere just fills you up with the wonder of the world. It's amazing. There are rainbows everywhere in the mist, with birds looping through.

That day we went for the boat ride. You go through the jungle down to the boats, then ride through the canyon of the river until the falls become visible in the distance. Then they loop you through the mist, which feels like someone spraying you from a fire hydrant. Oscar really loved it and did a great Paraguayan laugh that ends with "Woo Hooooo."

Quite the shower


Iguazu is like Disney, where it attracts people from all over the world. I love to hear all the languages. Oscar and I talked a lot in Guarani. I realized how much I know. If I want to tell you about the time Aunt Norma broke her arm, it's Spanish. But "Let's go eat lunch," "Where'd I put my money," "Did you eat the last of the Cheetos?" That kind of stuff I can do in Guarani. It was like we had our own little code language and could easily gossip about those around us.

It also brought up another depressing point. There were hardly any Paraguayans. This used to be part of Paraguay. In fact, Iguazu means Big Water in Guarani. But now, just outside the border that got shifted by a big war to exclude this resource, Paraguayans didn't even enjoy it. "Isogue" said Oscar. "They're broke."

We were not yet broke, so we went to dinner at a very nice place. However, we almost fell into our asado we were so tired.

We got up early to go on a forest adventure. The first part was rappelling. I had to tell Oscar the story of how I tried to go on a rock climbing trip then remembered I'm dizzily afraid of heights. There were these five little girls who went like brave campers before me. Then I went screaming all the way. I finally tried to look up and jump like the pros, and right when I did that, I came swinging in and landed on my shin bone.

Oscar Rappelling

We almost tried to fit in another trip to the falls in the afternoon, but instead decided to enjoy the tv and the air conditioning. Too bad in our awful hostel, if you turned the tv on with the air, all the power went out.

That night was the Luna Llena, the Full Moon tour. I had been wanting to do this forever. It goes on for 5 nights around the full moon. We finally had the weekend planned, then I went online and saw that it was $80 a person. You probably read that as 80 dollars, as I did. So for days I thought we couldn't go. Then I realized I'm blond and that they use the same symbol for dollars and pesos. So it was 80 pesos, just 20 bucks. We did finally find a space, and it was a magical wonderland. They take you to the Devil's Throat, the part we had yet to see, and it's amazing. The water is falling all loud, then these plumes of mist rise up slow and silent. Unfortunately, they also soak you. Then you go to a nice dinner in La Selva restaurant in the park, where a man was playing smooth jazz covers on a harp.

The Falls at Night

Day 3
We were planning on leaving early but decided we needed to see the Devil's Throat in the light of day. I really loved watching the birds. There are these birds that have evolved to live in the falls. They can fly through the water and make their nests on the rocks. They fly, black against the white of the water, in big loops.

We also saw tucans, monkeys, iguanas and all kinds of tropical wildlife, which Oscar fed Cheetos as I yelled at him. After the Devil's Throat we went on the Macuco Trail. Being very lazy we complained about the heat and acted as though we were dying the whole 3 km. But then we came upon a very gorgeous waterfall with a natural pool underneath. When we got in though, it was freezing and it was like a crazy rainstorm with the wind and the splash off the waterfall.


Then it was time to go home. But we stopped in Ciudad del Este to get me a router for my computer. CDE is like the if Sam's Club were run by the mafia and was a whole city. It's pretty dangerous -- volunteers aren't allowed to go alone -- so Oscar walked in front, then me, then his friend Jorge behind. Things are super-cheap there, like computers. So businesspeople go and buy up 20 computers. There are these huge ware-house type building with lots of levels, all over echoing the sound of packing tape and boxes thudding on each other. We got my router and I found Heinz ketchup and Jif. The kid at the store tried to explain to me what creamy and crunchy and extra crunchy meant. Kid, I've been eatin' extra crunchy since before you were born.