Things I Never Thought I’d Do (but do in Paraguay)

“Be ready at all times to venture into the unknown.” –  Ron Rubin and Stuart Avery Gold

And venture I have. In keeping an open mind to as many experiences as possible during my service, here’s a few things I never thought I’d do but do in Paraguay:

Language – Stateside, I’d always prided myself on my ability to communicate well and to understand others. Upon learning I was joining the Peace Corps, I heard lots of stories and warnings from people who, while traveling abroad, had inadvertently agreed to something they didn’t realize or mean to because they didn’t want to admit to the speaker that they didn’t understand. I always thought that was ridiculous and vowed I would never fall victim to that. Promise broken. More times than I can count. Here, I think I’ve agreed to a whole lot of which I have no idea. Sometimes I think I understand and, turns out, I don’t. Other times, I ask the person to repeat the question and, after the 3rd or 4th time and I still don’t understand, I just pretend I do to put us both out of our misery. Sometimes I fake it well, sometimes they see right through my wall of pride with a “Nontendei” (she doesn’t understand).

TMI (too much information) – What’s that? No such thing among volunteers. For someone who used to be very private, I’ve come a long way in the ‘sharing’ department. Whether by blog, phone, text or in person if you’re surprised to suddenly learn the status of my GI tract or the diaper rash I have from sitting in sweaty clothes on the bus for 6 hours in 104 degrees, you don’t know me very well. And don’t look so shocked when I ask about yours either.

Food – eating the same wonderful thing for breakfast nearly every day. Usually I like to mix it up and have a broad variety. Mandio chyryry rocks!

Iffy food – It’s less about ‘is it iffy?’ than ‘how iffy is it?’ I take more chances when it’s from my own kitchen than when I’m buying from others, especially those street vendors

New foods
*Pommelos – Never could stomach a grapefruit in the states but here I can’t get enough of them during citrus season – so sweet!
*Head cheese – actually pretty good if you ignore all the fat and cartilage that’s included.
*Rolled, boiled pig skin – the flavor isn’t bad what with all the onions and garlic but you might break a tooth trying to eat it. I bent the knife. Try biting a football and you’ll know what I mean
*Cow feet – Excellent with beans
*Blood sausage – Tried it but actually won’t eat that one.
*Cow stomach – also known as mondongo. Nope. Nope.
*Handmade pork sausage – Yup, that was a trip but chorizo casero rules. I even helped make it.

Hygiene – Consolidating trips to the toilet and rewearing clothes for a week in winter because 1) it’s impossible to dry laundry in winter and 2) it’s too cold to expose skin, changing clothes three times a day in the summer, not bathing for days in winter or showering three times a day in summer, foregoing a mirror, making a pointed effort to wash feet everyday because they get DIRTY!, collecting my own urine as a nitrogen source for the garden, comparing bathing notes with friends and actually congratulating them on days they bathed, high-fiving friends for a successful bowel movement after days of constipation, talking among friends about said movements in the airport cafe as casually as if it was the weather.  Bathing and BM convos could sometimes be the highlight of a friend’s day. A real accomplishment. I’m serious.

Loneliness – I don’t get lonely in the states but I get lonely here. And then I talk … a lot. And it might be to ask about your latest BM.

Sounds – I can differentiate between pig squeals meaning 1) being hungry, 2) fighting over food with a pen-mate, 3) fighting in general, 4) getting one’s nose pierced to prevent rooting, 5) being surprised/scared by an animal bigger than it (curious cow), 6) being killed for dinner.

Unannounced Visits – No need to call ahead. Here you just show up at the gate! Someone is always home and guaranteed to welcome you. They love visitors and I love this custom and local hospitality.

Handwashing clothes – I always hated this in the states but here, though it takes a little planning to coordinate weather patterns and laundry schedules, I find it very relaxing and meditative. And it tones the arms nicely.

Transportation – Not allowed to ride motorcycles (the main form of transportation here in the campo) or drive cars, we rely on the bus to get everywhere. While my bus line is less than ideal, I’ve learned to enjoy the time for reading or napping instead of having to drive! We do not have public buses in my hometown USA.

Snakes, spiders, and insects in general – No. Big. Deal anymore (says she who keeps her mosquito net tucked in tightly 24/7!) Wendy the Viper Slayer prevails. Smush bugs barehanded? Yup. Unknowingly step on spiders barefoot and find wiggly legs still moving later? Weekly, sometimes daily.

Manners and Custom Confusion– I didn’t mean to slip on this one but when in Rome…. Apologies in advance to family and friends if I bring home a few of the following without realizing it (please call me on it if you catch me!): Burping out loud. Wiping hands on the tablecloth or common towel in the center of the table. Borrowing your cup at the table, maybe silverware too. Offering you a bite of my food without getting that look of “But it has your germs on it!” Eating meat with fingers. Saying “You!” to get someone’s attention. Asking very personal questions like your age, weight, how much you paid for something. Staring at something I find interesting. Showing up at your house uninvited and unannounced (see above) and expecting you to stop what you’re doing and visit with me.

Texting friends at 1am because they can’t sleep either.

Reading novel after novel because I’ve had the time to rediscover my love for reading; winter nights are long, dark, and cold; and summer heat requires a siesta, perfect for reading in the hammock.

Burn trash – Don’t hate. I used to be a serial recycler/composter/let’s be light on the earth do-gooder. The lack of trash management here offers 2.5 options: burning, burying or disposal by wind (for plastic bags). I compost what I can, burn my paper and sneak the plastics to the pueblo for incineration. Composting is the only thing I can feel good about.

Swear – I’m not usually a fan of the Swear Words but after catching neighbors’ cows eat my freshly washed laundry right off my porch because they were thirsty, yeah, I let a few expletives fly. Or the day the piglets uprooted the garden because someone didn’t close the gate well. That too.

Lie – That’s right. This is so not me and I use it sparingly here, but it developed as a survival mechanism when Paraguayan men would ask if I’m single. For a long time, my answer was the honest ‘yes’ which always lead to follow up questions and the occasional marriage proposal. Eventually I smartened up and began making up fantastic stories of non-existent husbands with names, lives and careers of whatever popped into my head first. Sometimes these spouses were American, sometimes Paraguayan. I began to relish the thrill of creating a story on the fly and adding new details based solely on the way my counterparts were responding to my answers. This became exquisite fun and reduced the awkwardness and probability of those ‘singledom’ questions and curious probing.

Bee stings – Pre-Paraguay Wendy sought to avoid a bee sting at all costs. Now on beekeeping days, if I get stung only 5 times I consider it a good day. They don’t call these killer bees for nothing! My last honey harvest earned me 40 stings at a whack and I didn’t bat an eye. I couldn’t walk for two days and my neighbors were horrified but with my new perspective, 40 stings were well worth the best honey I’ve ever had.

Well, that’s all I can think of for now. I wonder if someday I’ll have a list titled “Things I Never Thought I’d Do (But Do in the USA)?”

Categories: Peace Corps Paraguay | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments

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2 thoughts on “Things I Never Thought I’d Do (but do in Paraguay)

  1. I hope you’re keeping all this so that you can write it up in book form later. Have you ever read ‘Hearing Birds Fly’ written by a woman who lived in a Mongolian Village for a year? http://www.theguardian.com/books/2003/jan/19/travel.shopping Your writing has the same ability to transport a reader to Paraguay, with all the nitty gritty human detail, rather than extravagant descriptions of the local people or the landscape.

  2. Jim Carter

    Hi Wendy,

    If you get lonely for the bee stings, I’ll introduce you to a veterinarian, who uses bee sting therapy for his wife’s RA.

    Jim

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