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.


GutsyWriter said...

I found you on Barbara De Marco's blog. She was my writing teacher for a while at UCI. I moved to Belize with 3 sons and a husband in 2004-2005, to get my kids away from materialism and what you say resonates with me. We still don't always flush the toilet and throw paper in the trash, although we're back in Orange County, CA. I wanted to join the Peace Corps, although I'm much older than you. I met some wonderful Peace Corps volunteers in Belize. Keep blogging. I shall visit.

Hannah said...

I was an exchange student in Pilar for a semester, and I had basically the same conversation with my host family.

So much of what you write makes me miss Paraguay even more. The way you describe Paraguay is so much more organized than anything I could come up with to try to explain experiences like Ciudad del Este to people who've never been there.

I'm also using your podcasts to keep up my Guarani. I learned some spoken Guarani, but basically no grammar while I was in Paraguay, so it's nice to have explanations for things I know, plus new info. Keep blogging!