Saturday, February 18, 2012

Everything is Falling Into Place

This is an I’m-so-freaking-happy-in-my-community blog entry.

I have been having these days recently, where I just feel pleased and hopeful about my role here (its not perfect, see end of post). It’s great to feel that way, and so I thought I should write a little blog post about it. After a year and 2 month in site, here is what’s going on.


My language has gotten to the point where I can really talk to people, and joke, and be fairly honest about my thoughts and feelings on topics. Not only has my Spanish improved dramatically (still hopeless at Guaraní, but that deserves a whole other, not nearly as uplifting, blog post), but the families I work with the most, know the idiosyncrasies of my language patterns, and therefor usually understand me when I’m butchering my way through an explanation. I have also attuned well enough to what is culturally appropriate to talk about, and what conversations I might need to steer clear of. Although, perhaps I am overly cautious when it comes to topics of sexuality.


I have been here long enough that I am not longer real exciting. I still have my strange extranjera ways, but people have gotten used to them by now. People still see and comment on everything I do, everywhere I go, and everything I buy or throwaway, but to a certain extent they do that to their neighbors too. Plus, now I also stare back at people. Finally, I have gotten to the point in my integration and language ability, that when I feel lonely or sad I don’t have to hid in my house (although sometimes I do), I can go find a neighbor I feel close to and talk and relax for awhile. It doesn’t feel like work, it feels like friendship.


While I’m still not doing as much “work” in my community as I would like to be doing, several things are beginning to gain momentum. Most people are interested in my advice on small things. Most of the work I manage to do is one-on-one, rather than large charlas (meeting/lecture). My summer English class is going well, mainly because the only students who bother to show up are the ones who REALLY want to learn. I built two more fogons (fuel efficient cook stoves) recently. I had helped build seven of them back in August with some high schoolers who came to my community for a month via the organization Amigos de las Americas.

But this time around it was just a Peace Corps project. I built one this past month with the family it was intended for, and my friend Nate (fellow volunteer and fogone building extraordinaire). The second fogone, just me and the family built.

I was worried about how this would go, but it ended up being a wonderful time. One of the girls in the family used to be my host sister so we are already pretty close. At first she watched and helped out in peripheral ways, like serving terere, and refilling the mescala (red dirt and cement) buckets. Next she started handing me bricks, and by the time we got to the chimney, she started laying the bricks down herself. She had seen her brother, father and I laying bricks the day before, and finally she wanted to try and do it herself. Bricklaying is definitely outside of normal gender roles for girls, so this felt like a victory of sorts. There needs to be more options for work if girl in the campo doesn’t want to exclusively do domestic labor all day. She was good at the job too. I, and other volunteers, are constantly doing things outside of our expected gender roles (males-cooking their own meals, cleaning their own clothes, females-bricklaying). It was interesting see the influences of those actions first hand.

It’s not always sunny in Punta Suerte (actually with the drought its always freaking sunny, damn it).

Clearly I am happy in site. When people ask me (and the do… all the time) “Are you happy in Paraguay?” I can honestly answer yes. But sometimes its hard to be here. Sometimes I feel cut off from life in the states. Life and friends and family are passing me by while I’m stuck in Paraguay talking about how hot it is for the hundredth time this week. I’m tired of constantly having minor health problems that leave me feeling run down. I am tired of the planning involved in timing my trips to Santani well enough to insure that I have enough food (especially now that its summer and so my garden is almost completely dead. Its possible to do summer gardens but the drought has made it very difficult). I’m tired of the heat… my god, the heat. In addition to the drought, San Pedro has also had an outbreak of food-and-mouth disease... a double whammy of sorts. I’m sick of the damn frogs taking over my house and pooping everywhere (I trapped about 20 in a bag, but couldn’t bring myself commit frog genocide as suggested by my neighbor, so I walked down the road and released them). I miss the ease, convenience and comfort of life in the States.

But I’m so glad I’m here. There is nothing else I would rather be doing with my life right now. I only hope I’m able to give to my community a fraction of what its given me.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Challenges and Identity

Im guessing most people who read my blog (if in fact anyone does *wink*), have already read this. For those who haven't, its an article I wrote about the challenges of being an lgbt Peace Corps volunteer in rural Paraguay. I was hesitant to put the link on my blog incase it became some sort of security issue, however I think that is incredibly unlikely. Plus, as I explain in my little essay, the stress of being closeted at site is enough. I dont want to censer and second guess my self in other facets of my life as well.  Plus I want other queer Peace Corps volunteers or future volunteers to have an idea of what their life might be like.  The reality is, there is very little information out there.
Ironically, having to be closeted in my day to day life has made my sexuality a more central part of my identity that it ever was before. The very need to hide who I am has made me relies how important that part of me is.
I have lots more to say on this, but for now Ill just leave you with the link to the article, and adorable photos from the pre-school graduation. The kids were dancing in boy-girl pairs, and then they were told to change partners... so most of them went to their best friends, resulting in same-sex pairs. Adorable.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Thermos Assumptions

A few weeks ago, my family left Paraguay after a three week visit. Being able to spend the holidays together was wonderful. I am happy that in the future, when I talk about Paraguay and my experience here, they will truly have an understanding of what I am saying.

Now. On to Tereré.

Thanks to my friend Teresa loaning us her tereré thermos (my Dad is holding it in the photo above), I was able to get my family quite devoted to the fantastically refreshing drink of the Paraguayan Summer. Also, thanks to the thermos, I felt super Paraguayan. This point was driven home, when a group of four American tourists spotted us with the thermos on a bus to Iguazu Falls (technically in Argentina, but right on the boarder of Paraguay and Brail), and started talking in English about it. They assumed we couldn’t understand them!

One of the women not so subtly pointed to the thermos and said “look! That’s for drinking mate.”

My mother over heard this and decided she was thirst for some tereré so we started serving ourselves. The tourists watched us serve and pass the guampa back and forth and started discussing mate.

“Do you think its tastes any good?” one girl said.

“It has drugs in it you know” another says.

“Really? Wow. What kind of drugs? I wonder how ad

dictive it is” says the first girl.

“You got to watch out for things like that” says a friend.

“I bet they are real addicted” says another.

All four turn and watch us drink away.

At this point, tired of suppressing my laughter and tired of pretending I didn’t notice them staring at us, I start talking to my mother in English while watching the tourists out of the corner of my eye.

There eyes go wide as it dawns on them that we have understood anything they have said. They look abashed and say nothing for the rest of the ride.

What was interesting about all of this, is that it was the first time (that I’m aware of) that I have been mistaken for a South American… and it was all due to the tereré thermos. To be at ease using something so iconic of the region was enough to trump my other extranjero features (skin color, Chaco sandals, hair cut). In fact they must have mistaken my whole L.L.Bean clad family for South Americans.

Granted, like any slightly caffeinated drink, it can be addictive… but honestly. They were a little quick to judge something they clearly have no knowledge of. Also, I can understand the assumption that no one will understand English in campo Paraguay; I make that assumption everyday. Infrequently a Paraguayan English teachers or a Mormon convert will prove me wrong, and will strike up a conversation. But making the assumption that no one understands English while visiting one of the biggest tourists attraction in South America is just naive.

I plan on buying my very own thermos next week.