Solitude and Judgment.
It has taken me several weeks to decide to post this update, mostly because it is rather pessimistic in tone (its not completely negative so keep reading to the end!). Its suggested in training, that we limit our most negative thoughts to our journals and not blog or write letters home about it. Still I felt it was important to express some of my frustrations, disappointments and worries here, because those, along with the good things, are part of the Peace Corps experience too. Frequently when people talk about the Peace Corps they give you a cursory warning, along the lines of the famous “the hardest job you’ll ever love” line. But there are some significant changes that can happen to people, especially when they are strong enough, healthy enough, and busy enough to stay in site for long stretches of time. For example, I feel myself becoming a more solitary, pensive person. I spend a lot of my time at site sitting and listening to other people while I struggle to communicate an idea, plan or joke. I DO talk to people, but I also spend a lot of time just hearing words fall over me as I try and peace together the meaning. Additionally I spend my nights and siestas alone. I am at once lonely, and intensely grateful to finally have some privacy.
Recently, when I’m in Asuncion and have gotten to hanging out with volunteers, I find myself speaking less and less. I hear their words wash over me too. I understand the words, but I don’t necessarily participate or sympathize. I don’t know what this means. Does it mean I feel like I can relate to them less? If that’s the case, what the crap is going to happen when I am back in the states? Will I still be able to relate to people and their “problems?” Already I get almost angrily condescending when I read facebook posts about a new sale at Target, or frustration at Red Lobster for raising their prices. “Who cares? Are these seriously the biggest concerns in your life?” I think. Then again, most of MY updates are about the Paraguayan drought, and honestly, I know most facebook friends couldn’t care less.
I feel similar resentment/anger at the small number of volunteers who appear to be doing nothing with their time here, and don’t care about the fact that they are doing nothing. Plenty of volunteers feel unproductive. But the vast majority of them worry about this, try to do better and end up doing great work in their communities. But a few people, not many, but a few, seem like they are just here for a goldstar on their resume.
Art and Cotton.
A few weeks ago I hosted a very successful art camp with Maddy, another volunteer. It was a chance for kids in the community to exercise their creativity, something that doesn’t happen very often in a school system based on rout memorization and an artistic tradition of imitation (I tried to find a link that discussed the history of Guarani artists in the Jesuit Missions, but had no luck). I plan on having an art day once a month during the school year, which started up again in the last week of February. I had had several kids who promised they would come to the art camp not show up. I initially was frustrated, but latter discovered that they were unable to come because they had been picking cotton all day in the 100 degree heat. In fact, even though the school year has started, not many students are the schools currently due to the cotton harvest. In agricultural communities, kids are always going to be doing some sort of farm work. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. The problem arises when children’s educational opportunities are limited due to their need to work. Working on a family farm is one thing, working on the community’s patron’s field for money is another.
An Amusing Story About Long Green Vegetables.
Several months ago, I planted zucchini, cucumber, and luffa plants all around the same time. I then promptly forgot where I planted each vegetable. Eventually I had several vines climbing around my garden with large, heavy green fruit. I ate one, and it was a delicious, delicious cucumber. That particular vine died, but I thought nothing of it, seeing as how all the other vines were taking over my garden and I was clearly soon going to have cucumbers coming out of my ears. Shortly thereafter I picked another long, heavy green fruit. It tasted AWFUL. Clearly not a cucumber. Undeterred, I try another one, only this time sautéing it in butter and salt, that makes anything taste good, right? Wrong. It was still AWFUL. Clearly not a zucchini. Frustrated and confused, I asked a Paraguayan friend who came to visit me, why my cucumbers and zucchini were so nasty. He looked at me and said “those are esponja vegetal (luffa) plants… Your not supposed to eat them.” So this afternoon, after several months of waiting, I finally had my first shower using a sponge I grew myself! Guess what all my Peace Corps friends are going to be getting for their birthdays? After all, how many sponges can one person really use? After my shower I had a nice cool glass of lemonade squeezed from the lemons on the tree in my front yard. Que tranquillo. Despite the frustrations and worries I have with Peace Corps and myself, overall things are pretty great.