Posts Tagged With: marriage proposal

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

Appreciation Day

“We delight in the beauty of the butterfly, but rarely admit the changes it has gone through to achieve that beauty.”  – Author Unknown

October 2, 2014

My boss and her 2-man team made a visit to my site today to talk with the community and learn more about their request for another volunteer. With my time coming to a close the middle of next month, we are all making preparations for the transition.

The senoras from my Women’s Club (Club of Witches they like to be called) recounted stories of the fun we’ve had together and one in particular who proudly described how she began calling herself “Primera Bruja” or the “First/Best Witch” after a recent incident of peek-a-boo with me (see September blog post “AHAs in Cultural Exchange” for details). Since then, I only refer to her as my Primera Bruja and her sister as My Segunda Bruja (Second Witch), far better than given names! They. Love. It.

Another gent asked if I could stay two more years; the others nodded in agreement. Of course, he was one of the fellas who had hoped to marry me one day and he was running out of time. Haha. It was a great meeting of feeling acknowledged and appreciated as a person and for my work but, even more importantly, considered as one of the community.

While my team was here, my program specialist and I chatted in the garden, taking in the view of the hills in the distance, sharing various things I was trying, answering my questions about why my 3rd generation of carrots was growing deformed, and sharing the variety of plants that had volunteered (self-seeded) themselves throughout the garden – green manures, carrots, beans, and a new invasive weed. While there, we watched a beautiful orange and black butterfly tuck her abdomen under the edge of a passion fruit leaf  and lay an egg mere inches from us! It took only a second and when she flew away we examined the tiny egg with its texture and color. Had it not been for his watchful eye, I would have missed the whole thing. Amazing! It pays to practice awareness and live in the moment. I’m so grateful to my team for placing me in this community to live, love, laugh and cry with these beautiful people for the past two years.

Tiny butterfly egg, the size of a pen tip. (stock photo)

Tiny butterfly egg, the size of a pen tip. (stock photo)

At the end of the day, it’s the relationships and the little things that really matter and make life most beautiful.

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The Bimbo Truck and Marriage Proposal #9

The truth is, your perception is your reality… that means you literally create your own reality.
August 8, 2014

 

I had begrudgingly gone to the pueblo earlier this week to buy a handful of fence staples (grampitas) so my community could finish their solar food dryer project. I say begrudgingly because going to the pueblo (largest nearby town that has everything we need) is usually a 6 hour ordeal if I take the bus (2 hours of which are walking) so it’s no small part of my day, especially for such a tiny errand. But I wanted this project DONE — and DONE this week.

When going home from the pueblo, I’ve learned to wait at the gas station instead of the bus terminal because often I can find friends, family and neighbors from my neighboring town heading home in their cars or trucks and they are always happy to give me a ride. On this day, while watching a man herd an errant, very pregnant cow home through the town park on his motorcycle, Ña Patrocinia, who lives across the street from me, joined me at my waiting station. She owns a despensa (convenience store often run from a room in the home) and knows everyone, especially the distributors. So when her friend Jorge came along in the Bimbo truck, she flagged him down and he gave us a ride.

 

Bimbo Bakeries delivery truck. Ours was more the 'off road' version for PY.

Bimbo Bakeries delivery truck. Ours was the ‘off road’ version for PY. Bimbo (pronounced beem-boh) is a brand of commercial breads and pastries popular in Latin America and among Latino communities in the US.

She is the curious and gregarious type and soon they were off in buoyant, rapid-fire conversation as we jostled our way down the bumpy dirt road. As I tried to follow along,  eventually oh-so-handsome Jorge turned his attention to me and said,

“What country are you from?”

Me (jokingly): “The United States.  Do I not look Paraguayan?”

Him (snickering): “Noooooo. You are much too white. Are you a Peace Corps Volunteer?”

Me: “Yes. Good guess.”

Him: “How long have you been here?”

Me: “Almost 2 years.”

Him: “When do you leave?”

Me: “December.”

Him (with a grin): “Have you considered staying in Paraguay after December?”

Me (mischievous eyes a-twinkling): “No and, I’m sorry, but I can’t marry you.”

At this my señora friend practically aspirated with laughter and delight. “SIN VERGUENZA, WENDY!!!!!” (you have no shame!) but she was LOVING every minute of it.

Him (amused by my boldness and satisfied that I understood his intentions, he’s ready to play the game): “But why? I’m famous here in Paraguay you know and could give you a good life. And we’d have beautiful children together. I think you should stay.”

The truck filled with voluminous laughter and the conversation continued until we got to our stop.

Ña Patrocinia and I got out, gave a thanks and started the hour-long walk home where she replayed every part of the Bimbo interaction for her own entertainment and asking me if I realized I’d just turned down an opportunity for a husband. With her despensa being the hot spot for “local news exchange” (known in PY as ‘chisme’), I’m sure it won’t take long for that story to travel around my community. I’ll give it about 2 hours.

Early in my service I was a bit indignant over these exchanges with Paraguayan men but have since learned that life is much more fun and fulfilling when you choose the lighter perspective. Laugh, play, be merry and don’t take it personally. As an individual whose personality has historically defaulted to ‘serious’, this is one of my biggest growth edges garnered from my service and I’m so grateful. Paraguayans’ sense of levity has rubbed off on me (they ARE the happiest people in the world, you know). Life is SO MUCH BETTER in the light and NEVER dull in PY!

PS- If you haven’t yet voted in the Peace Corps’ Blog It Home contest – there’s still time! Click here and “LIKE” my photo to place your vote. Thank you for reading and voting!!!!

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