Monday, March 26, 2012

Dont Look Too Closely or The Story of the Horse Spider

It all started calmly enough. I was sitting on my bed, messing around on my computer. I was enjoying the guilt-free lazy day created by the rain. Normally during the summer, we get plenty of these days where everything grinds to a halt due to rain. But thanks to the drought, this was only the second one I had had in months. It officially fall, so I doesn’t really count as a lazy summer day anyway.
So, as I said, I was messing around on facebook, reading news articles on various websites, and trying to find PCVs in Peru who I could visit on my planed vacation in July/ August. Out of the corner of my eye, about three feet away, I see something crawl out from underneath my rompero (dresser). I assume, of course, that it is one of the frog/toads that have been infesting my house by scores for the past few months, or at worst it might be a mouse (although it was moving far too slowly).
Oh how wrong I was.
All of that flashed through my mind as a turned my head slightly to the left to see what it was. It was NOT at frog, toad, or mouse. It was, in fact, a TARANTULA. A very large, very hairy, tarantula.
I am not afraid of much, however spiders (and snakes and loud peals of thunder) terrify me in a profound way. I screamed (loudly) several times, and as soon as I unfroze myself I ran next door. I shakily clapped my hands (clapping hands outside a house is equivalent to ringing a door bell), and when my neighbors immerged I stammered “hay un ñandu kavaju en me dormitorio!” Which translates in jopara (Spanish Guarani mix) to “there is a horse spider [tarantula] in my bedroom!” I was literarily shaking, and clutching my sweatshirt up by my neck with both hands.
“Did you kill it?” my neighbor, Heronimo, asked. I shake my head.
“Do you want me to kill it?” I nod my head. His señora laughs as he grabs his machete and we head back to my house.
I give him a flashlight, mumble something along the lines of “abajo de el rombero” (beneath the dresser), and point a trembling hand in that direction. Heronimo, peers underneath the dresser, and suggests we move my suitcase and banjo case, which are wedged between the rompero and the wall.
I say “Oima, pero, no puedo ayudarte. Tengo demasiado miedo” (Okay, but I can’t help you. I am too afraid.) . And its true I can’t make myself go near that corner of the room, and its not a very big room to begin with. Hernonimo moves the items and placed them on my bed.
I, not wanting to be touch the floor incase it runs out from beneath my belongings, crouch on a chair by the other corner. This perch allows me to see, what he is doing, but stay relatively safe (or so I convince myself).
“Ah, there’s the horse spider” he says in Guarani, and delicately chops the thing partly in half. Heronimo picks it up with the tip of the machete, and takes it outside. I remain quaking on my ridiculous chair perch, as he fills in the hole it probably entered through with brick, and puts my belongings back in the corner.
He grins and says “they can’t kill you, but they are dangerous.” I am so grateful, that my thank you don’t seem like enough. I don’t have much food in the house (I’m planning doing a shopping in town tomorrow assuming it doesn’t rain), so look around and finally give him a bug repellent incense spiral that his señora likes to use sometimes. I’m sure they think I am crazy, but I am just so appreciative that that thing is gone. I ask Heronimo if he things there are more tarantulas in my house. His eyes dart underneath my bed, and he says “ikatu” (there might be, maybe), and he heads back to his house.
I think the last time I was this scared was when I got stuck at the top of a double Farris wheel (picture an “8” going around in circles), by myself. I was probably 12 years old. I’m not nearly as frightened of spiders as I was when I first arrived in Paraguay. I am able to kill most of them with out to much fuss using a shoe. But ñandu kavaju, are just a different class of terrifying.
In many ways, I feel like I am fairly tough by both American and Paraguayan standards. I am not afraid to travel in foreign countries or to cities by myself. I have no problem living by myself, and I’m not afraid of the dark (two very common earnest questions from my community). I can smash or sweep out (almost) all manner of bugs, and will pick up and toss into the yard frog/toads without even thinking about it (many Paraguayans seem to fear, or be discussed by, frog/toads). I am not afraid to swim and no longer have a fear of heights. I can kill and prepare a chicken. I’ll eat anything once, and don’t have a problem dealing with blood, vomit or other bodily fluids. Roaches and bats hardly make an impression on me at all.
In other words, I am normally not a cowardly person. But dang if that “horse spider” didn’t humble me. Its been two hours and my heart has finally stopped racing and the adrenaline has left me. I feel the blood running back to my extremities. I’m still a little twitchy. My eyes are darting to any shadow that seems to move, and I definitely gave a little yelp when my dog sneezed, and another one when a frog/toad jumped into the room.
I’m trying not to think about the fact that they can climb (a fact I hadn’t thought about until a friend, trying to sympathize, mentioned she had found one on her pillow, a few months ago). I’m trying not to think about the fact that if I need to use the bathroom in the middle of the night, I’m going to have to cross the path where the “horse spider” crawled. In fact I cant physically put more than a yard and a half between me and the rompero from whence it came.
Sorry there is no photo with this post. It would have been bleary anyway.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Solitude, Cotton, and Luffas

Clearly I am the best source of entertainment for miles around. I miss privacy.

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.

The moster masks from art camp.

My friend and fellow PCV Maddy reading to the kids at camp.

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.

My first successful luffa harvest, pictured after the skin has been peeled away... clearly NOT a cucumber.