Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Che Peteï Kuña Paraguaya (by Mateo)

Our particular group of Peace Corps volunteers are scheduled to finish our service in April 2013. Shortly thereafter, I will return to the United States and very much hope to see many of you reading this blog post. When we have our next encounter, there will be something different about me. You see, I have become a Paraguayan woman.

Before we go any further, you should know that I am still in possession of my Y chromosome. I have not been surgically reassigned. I am not in the habit of wearing a skirt or bra. In fact, in our future encounter, there will be no change in my physical appearance whatsoever.

The fact of the matter is in rural Paraguayan society (which will be referred to as the campo from here on) has incredibly rigid definitions of what a woman does and what a man does. It just so happens, my skills and interests fall mainly in with those of the campo woman.

So you can get an idea of what I mean, let me outline a typical day in the life of our Paraguayan neighbors.

Man Woman
4:00 am Sleep Wake up, make mate & food to go
5:00 am Wake up, go to work Drink mate
6:00 am Work* Prep kids for morning school
7:00 am Work* Feed cows/chickens/pigs/sheep/dogs/cats
8:00 am Work* Milk cows
9:00 am Work* Clean House
10:00 am Work* Do laundry
11:00 am Work* Prep lunch
12:00pm Lunch @ work Feed kids/prep kids for afternoon school
13:00pm Work* Eat lunch/nap
14:00pm Work* Miscellaneous§
15:00pm Work* Miscellaneous§
16:00pm Work* Miscellaneous§
17:00pm Bathe Bathe
18:00pm Telenovela± Telenovela±
19:00pm Telenovela± Telenovela±
20:00pm Dinner Dinner
21:00pm Sleep Sleep

*”Work” almost always takes place a long walk/horse ride from the home and may consist of plowing fields, planting, harvesting crops, tending cattle, or clearing land for more crops/cattle. It should be mentioned that a good portion of “work” also includes socializing with other men, drinking mate/terere/caña (locally made, diesel-grade sugarcane rum), telling off-color jokes, and other pastimes men all over the world seem to engage in when left to their own devices (think the beans & campfire scene from Blazing Saddles).

§ This time could be spent doing any number of things. Most of the time it is a mix of morning chores that have spilled over to the afternoon but could also include activities as diverse as working the fields, attending a rezo (memorial service, more frequent and less sad than it sounds), or visiting a neighbor. Whatever it is, it will almost certainly involve drinking copious amounts of terere (if it is warm out) or mate (if it is cold).

± I'm not sure that I can overstate the importance of the telenovela (soap opera). Our otherwise incredibly outgoing and social neighbors will huddle silently around the television, watching the downright Machiavellian drama unfold on the screen. The novelas are so influential that while the program El Clon (a surprisingly original program with many Islamic characters and plotlines that took place simultaneously in Miami and Morrocco) was airing, children in our community would be heard saying assalaam alaykum and alaykum salaam to one another. A strange thing to hear in the campo, I assure you.

I will take this time to state some caveats to my campo schedule: obviously not every family is exactly the same; not every couple divides their time like this; there are exceptions to every rule. But to those of you who have not lived in the campo, I assure you that it is a culture that is more homogenous than you would find almost anywhere in the USA. Also, it should be said that this schedule is based on the Autumn (the current season) but will very greatly in winter (less daylight, less farm work, more time to sleep) and in summer (everybody working their butt off, sweating their butts off, and bathing the aforementioned butts multiple times a day).

Lately, Tegan has been spending 3.5 days a week in the elementary school assisting teachers and leading some lessons. Between the planning of these lessons and the time needed to execute them (in two languages we did not learn to speak from birth), she is often exhausted when she returns home at night. That has thrust me into the housework and role. Additionally, I have always enjoyed cooking and have discovered a passion for baking as well (which has endured me to the sweet-toothed children and adults of Paraguay alike) which adds to the whole campo woman skill set. (Sidenote: I am proud to report that after nearly one full year of offering to help cook, the women of my community are finally not afraid to have me chop a vegetable or two. Moral victory!)

I hope you can see from my chart that there are similarities and differences in how our neighbors spend their time. Both men and women work very, very hard, both find time to incorporate some socializing into their routine, and both groups drop everything when the telenovelas start. As far as the differences go: as a general rule, women do the housework and child-rearing, there is greater acceptance of men drinking alcohol, and these roles rarely overlap. In my personal experience, however, it is when these roles overlap that you find the most interesting people.

My strongest adult friendships here are with Mrs C, Mrs S, and Mrs L (full descriptions of these ladies can be found in the previous “Ore Gentekuera” post). I don't think it is a coincidence that all three of these women are single mothers and have no male partner to complete these traditionally “male” tasks. Mrs S will go harvest her family's fields. Mrs L can butcher a pig by herself (this task that traditionally requires two men). Mrs C lives alone so she literally does a little of everything. The fact that they themselves also straddle this gender line may be one of the reasons we relate to each other and, therefore, like each other so much.

So, the next time you see me, if I grab you and smash you into my bosom, its only because I learned it from my fellow Paraguayan women.

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