Saturday, February 12, 2011

La Vida Paraguaya

Howdy, Everybody!

I´ll start by saying that this is a real long post, so, to cut to the chase, I just put up some photos of our Paraguayan life on the next post. You should check it out. This post might give it some context, but it´s optional. That being said, here´s a small novel:

Are you wondering what a day in the life of a Peace Corps trainee looks like? No? Well, we´ll tell you anyway. Matt's typical day has looked like this: getting up at 6:30, I usually get a banana milkshake and a couple of rolls for breakfast. I often steal a couple of pieces of fruit as a snack and walk six blocks to hitch a ride to a rural community for language class with my profesores Paraguayas. Starting at 8:00am I have class for three hours with 11 other trainees (we are split into three classes where my class is the biggest with five students). Afterwards, I catch a ride home with the profesoras and eat lunch around noon with Tegan and our family's maid (we realize we are very spoiled, or chuchi, here). At 1:30pm all 48 trainees report to the PC training center in “downtown” Guarambare. There we have around four hours of health, security, development, and general policy information (lots and lots of PowerPoint). We return home around 6:00pm, where I usually jump directly into a cold shower. We have a hot water heater, but it's not what you might think. There is a switch in the bathroom that makes the lights dim and the shower head begin to spark. Standing, wet, on a tile floor with electrical sparks is not something covered in our security training, but it does not seem safe. Most days I only want a cold shower anyway. Then we do homework until dinner, which is usually served to us between 8 and 9pm. As soon as I can pull Tegan away from our host family, we go to bed, write in our journals, and get ready to start the process all over again the next day.

However, beginning yesterday (Friday), my afternoon schedule is starting to change. After language class, I had lunch with another trainee and her familia Paraguaya in our rural community. It was very interesting to see the differences in lifestyles between my host family and hers even though we only live a few kilometers apart. Whereas our house is a calm sanctuary, hers is a blur of people, dogs, and motorcycles. Everyone (including the dogs) are very nice and it is a good place for me to practice my burgeoning Guarani skills (“hello,” “how old are you?,” and “my name is Matthew,”).

At 1:00pm, we piled into a van and headed down the road to another rural community (where 12 other trainees live and take language class). There we had our first day of technical training, which consisted of some very basic nutrition information, and how to plant certain seeds to start a garden. Since these technical classes are all in English, they have coordinated with our language instructors to be teaching us the Spanish/Guarani terms around the same time. I am looking forward to more technical training as it involves more physical activity and less sitting in a chair listening attentively.

My most exciting assignment for the coming week is a trip to the capital. Our trainers gave us the address of an NGO in Asuncion we have to meet with, then find some lunch, and meet at the Peace Corps Headquarters by 12:45. We were given a map of the city (which is not as helpful as you would think since there are no addresses in Paraguay) and a telephone number and the rest is up to us. If you hear from me after Tuesday, I have made it out of the capital alive.

A Word or Two From Tegan:
It is shocking to me that we have only been here a week and a half. It feels like it has been at least a month. When first we arrived, I was chomping at the bit, impatient with all the policy talks and with language classes where we just chat a bit and learn a few nouns. I wanted to dive in & suddenly be fluent and move on to Guarani and learn all about education methods and perspectives and, and, I'm beginning to learn patience. Beginning. It is very much a process. My Spanish is coming along somewhere just short of fluency, at least on a conversational level but certainly not to the depth of an academic. We are in the clear now that we've made it through a full week of these afternoon policy chats. We will now be spending our afternoons getting to the meat of our service in education. We are going to go to the capital next Thursday, which will be eye opening to get out of our cozy little community. In two weeks we will each go to visit a volunteer in our respective fields for three days on our own. Matthew is teaching me Guarani as I quiz him on his homework, and our host family is teaching me as well. Things are starting to progress.

Interestingly, as my Spanish progresses, my English is receding. When we take our pretests each afternoon in English I read the question then my mind goes silent. I think it can't decide whether to think in English or in Spanish. Matthew and I have been mostly speaking to each other in Spanish, my entire morning is in Spanish, and I speak with my host family all night in Spanish. I suppose that my love of the English language is going to be something that I will have to relinquish for a time in order to allow enough room in my brain for Spanish. It's like Tauni's analogy of your mind being a slippery iceberg and knowledge being little penguins waddling around up there. With the input of a whole bunch of new penguins, a bunch of other penguins go sliding off into the dark cold depths of consciousness. Well, maybe Tauni's analogy isn't quite so morbid as I paraphrased it there. Somehow hers is a lot cuter.

On the home front, our host family is just delightful. We laugh all the way through dinner and pass the time sitting in our backyard haven chatting away. I am very grateful for my host mother's presence, as she is very wise and empathetic. My initial perception of Paraguayans is that they are a mixed bunch just like anywhere else and that you can't make grand sweeping statements to summarize them. With that in mind, I'm going to make the grand sweeping statement that initially they are wary of weird foreigners and won't usually be the first to greet you or even make eye contact, but the second you wave, call out a spanish/guarani mixed greeting, and smile genuinely they brighten like the sun and engage warmly with you.

In summation, we are well, we are happy, we are learning, and we are carrying a little bit of each of you on our journey.

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