Tuesday, October 25, 2011

First Host Families

After over a year in Paraguay, I am visiting the host family I had during training. I lived with them for 2 ½ months. They are special because they are the first Paraguayans to really interact with volunteers before we have gotten a handle on social norms, language, or even local food. We get off the plane in Asuncion, and (depending on what time the flight came in) we are bussed to our host communities and dropped on our host family’s doorstep. Volunteers are instructed to side step the possibly rocky conversations about religion, sexuality, politics or race that might come up, but other than that, we are very much our American selves. We haven’t yet learned that long, seemingly awkward, pauses in conversation while sipping tereré are perfectly normal. We haven’t yet become accustomed to people wiping their mouth on the tablecloth or picking their nose publicly without shame. We still might feel offended or uncomfortable if someone makes an observation about our weight or skin color. During training, our host families see us make many a fauz pas. They see us react uncomfortably to situations or comments that are perfectly normal and acceptable in Paraguayan society. They have to deal with us accidentally doing and saying things that are perfectly normal in the USA, but inappropriate here. They might see us battle our first bout of homesickness… or physical sickness like continuous vomiting and diarrhea (which must be almost as bad to overhear as it is to experience). Essentially they see us at a very vulnerable stage in our time in-country. We are still learning the basics. We make mistakes with them that after a month or two in country we would never dream of making, and by the time we get placed in our permanent site, we forgot we ever had to learn.

It is hard to be a trainee, but being a host family is challenging too.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

One person's trash, is another person's ground cover...

One cultural difference:

I am facing increasing pressure from my landlady/neighbor to “clean up” my yard. Everyone who sees my yard from the taxi driver to the refrigerator deliveryman, mentions how dirty my yard is. Now I going to set aside the fact that it is socially acceptable here for someone who hardly knows you to tell you that your looks like a disaster, and am going to talk about what is viewed as “trash.”

I am told that my house (usually meaning yard-the overlap between ‘house’ and ‘yard’ is enough for a whole other entry) is full of trash. When I look around, I see wonderful shady yard with some grass and lots of weeds. I do not see old tin roofing, glass bottles or broken toys (like I see in most other peoples yards). That’s because, culturally, I view inorganic litter as trash, and organic litter as… well, weeds no mas. However, in Paraguay trash (basura) can be both organic and inorganic. If you tell a group of Paraguayan children to go collect a bunch of basura, you are likely going to end up with a pile of leaves, sticks and weeds. When I clean up my yard, I pick up the candy wrappers and caña bottles that people have tossed. I don’t pick the groundcover (weeds). Trash is relative; its what you have learned to view as ugly.

For nearly a year now I have “cleaned” my yard as little as possible. When I look around, I just don’t see the trash like other people. To me personally, a yard covered by ground cover/weeds, is more lindo that an area picked clean and dusty with the red dirt of Paraguay. However, several people have informed me that I will “clean” my yard before my parents come to visit, and because I try to be culturally appropriate when possible, I am going to try to do just that.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Standfast, Buenos Aires, and other news.

Now that I have regular and reliable internet access, I am going to try updating this blog similarly to a journal. Before I was just posting copies of my massive emails home to friends and loved ones. This will be a trial run. If, by treating this more like a journal and less like CC on an email, I end up writing in my paper journal less, I will have to reevaluate. But it should mean that my updates will be much more frequent.

Now, for the hot topics I’m thinking about and dealing with currently:

  • I just got back from a Buenos Aires vacation with other volunteers. I’m exhausted with good food, good wine, and amazing tango. I’m also vaguely trying to plot a future that has me living in BA for a while.
  • Departmento San Pedro volunteers (like myself) are on an extended Standfast (meaning PC says we cant leave site or travel) due to the State of Exception President Lugo ratified last week. A State of Exception “provides civil and military authorities broad powers to detain any individual that they suspect of wrong doing. The military and National Police have been mobilized and are currently patrolling San Pedro and Concepcion Departments.” This sounds way more serious and scary than it actually is. Not much has happened, and the Standfast will probably be called off next week. For me, the biggest downside of this is that I don’t get a volunteer visit from the new group of PC Agriculture trainees. I think a trainee would have gotten a lot out of a visit here seeing as how I am:

  1. happy
  2. in a supper authentic campo house
  3. have a great garden
  4. have golden nuggets of wisdom to bestow upon them
  5. have a chuchi new bed and mattress

  • My garden has exploded with more vegetables than I can possibly eat. It has also exploded with more weeds than I can possibly pull.
  • I have successfully made banana bread several times now. It is delicious.
  • My house doesn’t have mice, just finches that flit in and out. I think its rather nice.
  • My land lady finally moved into a house they have been building for months. Unfortunately its located about 8 meters from my house. I planted a small fence of trees to create a sense of separation. Alas they are only about 4 inches tall right now. Maybe I have nothing to worry about. Vamos a ver.