September 28, 2013
If it doesn’t challenge you, it doesn’t change you. – Fred Devito
This week marks one year since I arrived in PY, embarking on a quest to improve the lives of others and, wow, what a year it’s been. In some ways it feels like the blink of an eye; in other ways it seems like I’ve been here forever. I’ve been blessed with many amazing opportunities, memories, friends and a unique education this past year and have been witness to incredible personal development on many fronts.
One thing is sure: this adventure is never boring. Occupational hazards in the last 3 weeks: charging cows, aggressive dogs, flipping my bike, fire ants in my pants, bronchitis, killer bees, pique (fleas that burrow and lay eggs under your skin), electrical shocks in the shower, frogs in my toothbrush cup that scare the daylights out of me, falling in love with baby goats, a plethora of spiders in clothes, bedding, house, etc and a viper. It’s been a doozy of a month!
Wait, what was that? Yup, the return of warmer temps also brings the return of summer critters. Earlier this month I found a viper in my garden. After a stretch of hot, dry days, this two foot snake decided the cool, damp soil under my well-watered, shady lettuce was the perfect hangout. I’d been working in the garden for a while that day and when I reached down to harvest a few lettuce leaves for dinner, I saw a loop of its body slither back under the robustly broad lettuce plants. Thinking it looked somewhat like the serpent my neighbors had killed and announced as dangerous, I trotted over to my pick ax/hoe and killed it. I didn’t think about it, I just knew I didn’t want it in my garden (apologies to you snake lovers out there; this also goes against my Buddhist teachings but I did not want to be afraid to return to my garden and I also live at a school and did not want this snake encountering any of the kids!) It was probably much better that I didn’t know what I was dealing with at the time or I might have been terrified. A Google search that night revealed I’d killed one of the most dangerous snakes in PY: Bothrops jararacussu, also known as a Lancehead. In fact, the description warned NOT to attempt to kill it, as the species gets angry and aggressive quickly and can also jump large distances! Well, the universe was on my side that day and I earned myself Superhero title of Wendy the Viper Slayer. While my community was concerned that I had done something so crazy as to go after this snake (that Norte is crazier than ever), it was important for them to realize that yes I, a human with breasts and ovaries, can take care of myself and kill a snake as good as any man if the job requires it. Hrrmpf.
And of course we need consistent practice with the Awkward Moments component of our Peace Corps service, which is never in short supply. This week my community had a follow up meeting with an Asuncion-based manager from the running water project to gauge satisfaction and address any issues. While asking targeted questions to the group he filmed the answers as well as panned the crowd in the room. Toward the end of the meeting he finally did what I dreaded: focused the camera on me (for the upteenth time because I’m different and he thinks it’s funny, and normally I wouldn’t mind the camera, in fact, I kinda like to ham it up for the camera because I’m a Leo and we Leos can’t help ourselves with these things, but I was self-conscious of my language…the whole meeting was in guarani…and my face was beet red and I stalled by doing a princess wave to the camera hoping he’d go away and question someone else. Nope.) And of course he asked my opinion about the water project. Has it improved my quality of life and how? Well, I wanted to say “Now it’s much easier for me to bathe” but in my brain’s pandemonium to scramble together a sentence, what actually spilled out of my mouth was “It washes much better now.” A few seconds elapsed before I realized…OMG. Did I really say what I think I just said?
Folks, I couldn’t make this stuff up if I tried.
I didn’t even know HOW to say that on purpose! Not a single individual could keep from laughing and slapping their knees and between gasps of breath one of the ladies who knows me best finally translated to the group what she knew I meant to say. The whole time the camera remained trained on my suffering face and I just wanted to disappear like steam rising over hot mandioca. Peace Corps: we are here for their entertainment.
My boss recently asked me to describe the lessons learned about my project, community or myself. Seems apropos for a one-year anniversary to share with you now.
Where do I start?
1- Asking for help is NOT the end of the world. In fact, my community is honored to assist and I feel very supported when I let them.
2- I don’t have all the answers nor do I need to.
3- When it’s time to teach, sometimes stopping and listening teaches ME far more than I could have taught THEM. (They say we have 1 mouth and 2 ears for a reason…)
4- A person can be happy with very little.
5- Laughing at myself is good for me.
6- Ego is your worst enemy, humility your best friend (and let’s not forget humiliation which is like a pesky little brother who never leaves you alone!)
7- Check your assumptions frequently. Remember that a situation is not always as it appears.
8- Just because you got a particular outcome the first time does not mean that’s what you should expect every time. Try again and see what happens. Then try again.
9- It feels good knowing your family, neighbors, friends will drop what they are doing to help. Any time, every time. It allows you to be imperfect and keep trying.
10- In Paraguay, things take time. I’ve learned that it’s ok if things don’t happen with ‘my’ sense of time.
Ok. Let’s wrap it up with some Fun Facts: Did you know? (The first two are from my friend and fellow PCV Lauralee Lightwood-Mater)
The Itapu dam that is built across the Parana River on Paraguay’s South-Eastern border houses the world’s largest hydroelectric power plant.
Dueling is legal in Paraguay as long as all competitors are registered blood donors and there are medical staff on hand.
To learn how to terere watch this video: http://www.ozy.com/good-sht/terer-paraguays-social-tea/1453.article. Be aware that, if you touch fingers when passing the guampa….that’s considered flirting!
The toughest job you’ll ever love is exactly that. I’ve been challenged. I’ve been changed. I’ll never be the same again. Let’s all thank the universe! If the coming year is anything like the first, it promises more adventures, memories, friends, bonding, skills, learning, sharing and a positive impact on the lives of my community members. Blessed and grateful am I.
Until next time…Jajatopata!