Posts Tagged With: perspective

A New Perspective

“Acknowledge someone’s gifts as if that person were your brother or sister, have compassion for their struggles, see them as connected to the same fabric as you instead of a separate entity that is somehow a threat.” – Padhia Avocado

June 28, 2014

I got the idea for this blog after reading an online story by Chelsea Fagan called “American habits that seem insane after you’ve lived abroad”: http://thoughtcatalog.com/chelsea-fagan/2014/06/6-american-habits-that-seem-insane-after-youve-lived-abroad/

After living in PY for nearly two years, I can relate to these sentiments and wanted to add a few of my own. For you North Americans who have never lived anywhere but the USA, consider that we have some opportunities here for personal growth. Of course I’m generalizing for both cultures and I realize not all of these are easy to cut and paste from one culture to another on their own but it’s worth giving them consideration and perhaps a try…

1. Acknowledging people when you walk by them.
It’s an instant feel-good. In PY, it is rare to walk past someone, whether a neighbor or complete stranger, and not have them greet you in some manner. As a reserved Maine Yankee, this took some getting used to but now I really love it. Paraguayans are often stone-faced when not engaged in conversation but the moment you smile at them or offer a greeting their faces light up. I made their day. They made mine. We’re good. It’s magical and gives you energy to throw into the rest of the day. Smiles are contagious no matter what language you speak.

 

2. Neighbors
How many of us really know our neighbors? Care about them? Or even speak to them? Of course in the US we proudly live very different, independent lives, ones where we do not necessarily NEED our neighbors to survive (except perhaps in the case of the Ice Storm of ’98 but that’s another story) but in this lack of needing and knowing we create isolation and often a sense of apathy to those around us. We’re so busy with our own important lives that we have no time to care for or share the successes and struggles of our fellow human beings. Can we do more to bring our community together, to celebrate our collective humanness, to start knowing each other?

 

3. Living life in balance.
Work, children, entertainment, volunteering, exercise, friends, extended family. We have this idea that the more we work, the busier our schedules, the ‘cooler’ we are. We call it ‘driven’ or ‘motivated’ or ‘achievement’. Other cultures just think we’re crazy because we’re too busy to actually enjoy our success and have no time for…family. Because here in PY, family is EVERYTHING. On Sundays, life of the workweek stops, the extended family congregates and spends the whole day together, simply enjoying each others’ company, sharing meals and their preparation, talking about the prior week’s tales, sharing plans for the upcoming week, celebrating successes, sharing the burdens, recalling stories from childhood or silly things that the Norte said.. And Paraguayans know the importance of resting and relaxing even on a work day. They start the day with a relaxing hot maté and the rest of the day is interspersed with regular occurrences of their famous terere (yerba mate) breaks, where sitting, sharing and talking in a circle of friends, family or co-workers are part of the tradition. They are not afraid to ask for help for the smallest to the biggest projects or tasks and easily accept it. We could give ourselves a break by doing a better job of this in the US, eh? Put your stubborn pride aside and let someone give you the gift of assistance. It makes the giver feel good and the receiver gets a hand. Win-win.

 

4. It is good to work for your food.
Meal prep is an important, and often time-consuming, part of each day. “Fast food” is an empanada. Otherwise, a senora will spend hours preparing lunch which will be savored at the table together with the family. Preparing a single meal usually means building a fire on the ground from scratch using firewood gathered days prior, plucking corn kernels from the cobs by hand, grinding kernels into corn meal with a hand-cranked grinder (this alone is a workout!), making cornmeal into corn bread in a cave-like oven- also fired by wood-  plus preparing a soup with vegetables and meat bones or a chicken which would have also been killed and dressed that morning in her spare time. The family would have worked months in the field to grow the corn and mandioca for the meal, sugar cane and different varieties of corn for the horse who pulls the wagon full of the harvested cane and brought home… and a flock of chickens and the cows which are milked by hand every morning. Thus, meal times are to be savored for each one is the fruit of months of labor.

 

5. Forgive and Forget
In my community, people quickly forgive and forget the transgressions of others, especially neighbors. In a community as small as this (35 families), they need each other for survival. Fighting and holding grudges would put them all at risk. You need my well when yours goes dry every summer, I need your help killing a cow to feed my family. So they’ve learned to pretend it never happened and I’ve done the same when offended by someone as well. It’s beautiful. We can all just relax and move forward and life is so much better. I’ve discovered tremendous beauty in this. Being on the receiving end of forgiveness is such a gift. Whether unknowingly displaying a cultural faux paz or use of an inappropriate word that I thought had a different meaning and then being filled with fear or guilt of offending my neighbors, I am greeted with a “Tranquiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiilo, Wendia!” that puts me at ease. They have no use for holding grudges, shaming or embarrassing the other party (making them “pay” so to speak), or making me feel awkward for my slip-ups (except that they LOVE to talk about them with each other in a lovingly joking way). The fact that they look past my mis-steps and shortcomings by lovingly poking fun at me makes me feel all the more supported and loved. And not just with me but with each other. They fight one afternoon and they’re laughing with each other a few days later. I’ve learned that this is something I want to bring home with me and make a regular practice in my life in the US; I’d love to see more of it and less of “it’ll teach her a lesson”. Can we do this together, please?

 

6. Taking care of family
I’m talking extended family. Chelsea points out in her article how North Americans are so eager to get away from family. In Latin America, extended families live together gladly, comfortably sharing small spaces and resources, a family of eight sipping from the same glass of water or sharing beds: from newborns to great grandparents they all care for each other without a complaint, passing on traditions and wisdom learned over the years. And when all the kids are grown, at least one family member stays at home to care for aging parents or a widowed mother, usually a younger son or married daughter. Unlike the US where there’s a stigma for young adults living at home, here it’s an honor to care for one’s elders. No woman, especially an older woman, would be left to live alone in PY’s campo.  This includes extended family too. Here in my community I have several examples: a younger male cousin caring for older female cousin, a 50-something nephew caring for an 83 year old aunt and her ‘adopted’ son of 33 years, two single men – one 26, the other 48 –  caring for their mothers and one single woman of 50 who lives alone but between two sisters with large families who act as her own children, growing food and helping her with chores.

 

7. The need for speed
North Americans are addicted to a fast-paced life. Some would argue there’s no alternative in this age of full family schedules, work demands, and a spectrum of irresistible recreational activities at one’s disposal. When you bring that hectic energy to a culture like Latin America it stresses out the locals! They don’t understand what the rush and urgency is. If I need to go to the despensa for eggs but the senora is eating lunch, it might take 30 minutes to be waited on while she finishes but she also is likely to offer me a plate of my own while I’m there. Or someone says they’ll be over “en seguida” which might be a couple of minutes, 4 hours, tomorrow or never. Tranquilo. Or your 10am bus doesn’t arrive for 45 minutes or 2 hours or at all– that’s normal so don’t get your knickers in a bunch (ok, perhaps there’s room for a middle-ground here). Or you go for a ‘quick visit’ to see a family until you realize…there is no such thing as a quick visit. Relationships are important. ENJOY the connection whilst there. If you have a specific mission in mind you must first socialize and only then get down to business. Anything less is rude. I think we would prosper a lot from practicing a little patience and building more breathing room into our lives.

 

8. Less is more
Paraguayans are among the poorest of the world, yet consistently rank among the happiest people in the world (see my News and History page for examples). They work hard, rest hard, love fiercely. They don’t stress over things out of their control and laugh about everything.

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We can learn a lot from Paraguayans.

 

More ‘stuff’ does not produce happiness. Quite the opposite, I would argue. Can we do better with what we already have (reuse/recycle?) Can we just stop with the excess? Can we stop robbing the world – and taking more than our share- of its resources for our frivolous and soon forgotten pleasures (and subsequent garbage heaps)? Can we stop raping the environment today to preserve it for a better tomorrow (do you really want to live and breathe in an environment the equivalent of a toilet in 40 years? Do you want that for your kids and grandkids?) Spend one week considering every purchase you make: Is it necessary for your happiness? Is there a better alternative? Could you live without it? Have you ever asked yourself what REALLY makes you happy over the long term? Is your ‘stuff’ a mask to cover a lack of fulfillment? Does that really work for you? Would foregoing a purchase and trying on forgiveness work just as well?

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What if we took better care of ourselves, each other, and the environment we live in? What if we got back to knowing our neighbors, dropping in on friends, lingering regularly over meals like our lives depended on it (um, yeah, cuz they do), laughing regularly, sharing hugs and I Love Yous freely, forgiving instead of begrudging (including ourselves!), offering love instead of envy, lifting others up instead of tromping them down. Wow. What a world that would be.

Stepping off my soapbox now. Let’s hear your thoughts.
 

 

Categories: Peace Corps Paraguay | Tags: , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Reframing and Being Present

August 20, 2013

“So, ask yourself: What can you do right now to see the other side of change, in spite of the anxiety?” -Sumitha Bhandarkar

Reframing is perhaps one of the most critical skills I have honed in the year since arriving in PY. I’m not talking about reframing doorways or watercolors for the wall; I’m referring to perspective, the situation that isn’t going as planned and will drive you crazy if you don’t reframe into something more tolerable, if you don’t shift your perspective toward the positive, if you don’t look for the lesson it’s trying to teach; it’s the moment that offers its lesson cleverly wrapped as frustration, a set back, or a plan gone awry.

This past week I had two excellent opportunities to further develop this practice: a late bus and doing business at the bank. My usual excursions into the next town are a casual affair requiring a minimum half day of my time due to bus schedules. I am only hurried to ensure I reach the bus terminal on time but, once there, it’s pretty tranquilo. On this day, I was meeting a brand new volunteer who had just moved to town and had promised him lunch, English conversation, and a tour of the town to get him grounded. Today, I had no time to spare; I had scheduled every available moment intown. Today, the bus was an unprecedented 40 minutes late. Really? Today of all days? Ok, I get it: a ‘reframing’ opportunity right here. Attitude adjustment time and asking myself how I could look at this situation differently. First, I reminded myself that it would all be ok in the end, regardless of the time we had or didn’t. We weren’t negotiating a hostage situation; it was lunch. Then I decided to make better use of all this extra time available to me. I began bargaining with my plan, seeing what could be condensed or eliminated once I got to town. I began calculating costs for my next vacation. I practiced guaraní vocabulary using the various objects within sight. Magically, the time passed much more quickly. Once intown I rushed to the bank on the way to meeting the new volunteer, thinking “This will just take a minute” and feigned patience while waiting my turn in line. When it was my turn to step to the counter, another bank employee appeared at the teller with an urgent project that needed his attention immediately and seemed to take forever. REALLY? Do you really need to count all that money now? This can’t wait until the line has cleared? I don’t have time to wait, folks! Hence began the mental gymnastics to turn my impatient thoughts into something more productive. I listened to my inner ramblings from outside myself and recognized this as yet another ‘reframing’ opportunity, muttering under my breath that there’s probably something to be learned here somewhere but what the hell is the damn lesson this time???? Surely, haven’t I already learned it?? Clearly, the universe felt I needed more practice and this was it’s reminder to just cool my jets, Chickie.

Admittedly, things weren’t as dire as they felt in my haste… yes, I’d wanted to be ON TIME, and I may or may not have been keeping someone waiting but really, this wasn’t life or death; it’s a mere blink in the collective moments of my life … and I knew I’d probably laugh about it in a few hours (which I did, exactly 15 minutes later). Getting internally impatient or externally huffy does no one any good. Second, perhaps I should have checked my ego at the airport. Third, it gave me time to really be present, to look around the bank and take in the number of guards with their M16s who look so unintimidating drinking terere; to wonder how long the teller has worked here and if those worry lines are from his job, a difficult childhood, concentration, a struggling family member, or …?; to wonder about the life stories of the others in line around me. Simply: A good reminder that situations, and we, are not as important as we think, reframing is always possible and a change in perspective usually makes for a much happier you. And, yes, it all worked out just fine in the end.

Speaking of errands and money, I was chatting with a fellow volunteer recently about how our purchasing decisions here in PY are strongly influenced by our ability to get the purchase home. This usually means carrying it in a backpack or striking gold by finding a friend to haul it in a vehicle (rare but happens). Between us, 99.9% of purchases arrive home on our backs. And, yes, this makes for one of the most effective money-saving ideas I’ve ever used. I would have purchased MANY more things if I could have tossed them into a vehicle. Instead, I’m constantly asking myself: How much do I REALLY need that? How much does it weigh? Do I REALLY want to carry it? Is there room in the backpack after groceries? One yogurt or two? Wine, a new sweater, OR a week of veggies and fruit? The large economy-price spaghetti sauce or the smaller, lighter, more expensive box? For refrigerated items we must also ask ‘How hot is it today and can I get it home without it spoiling?’ We got to wondering – and laughing – how our lives back in the States would be different if we had to use the same criteria for making purchases and getting them home.

That said, hauling a heavy pack several kilometers home has its merits. It invites you to be present, to feel the weight of your new belongings on your body and then, out of discomfort, to reframe. It invites you to shift your focus to your surroundings and the opportunity to revel in the swirl of scents, sights and sounds filling the air. Mangoes, guavas, limes, oranges, and more are blossoming right now and the bees are so boisterous in their ecstasy over the feast you hear them before you see them. You notice birds bantering, how strikingly blue the sky is and how desiccated the soil has become since the last rain. You arrive home with your supplies and a satisfaction not unlike a long season of hard work in the garden that finally generates a great harvest.

Trash is an ongoing issue here. There is no cohesive waste management system in PY and none at all where I live. There is no truck that comes by to conveniently take your discarded material to the landfill. There are few recycling programs. With every day and every purchase we are forced to consider our trash, its lifespan, its final resting place and its impact on the environment. A plastic pouch vs plastic jar vs glass jar? What will we DO with this box/plastic/soda or wine bottle/wrapper/paper/metal chair/tire when it has run its course and usefulness? What can be reused, upcycled, used for storage, etc? Ethical and moral dilemmas abound. Most Paraguayans burn their trash in the backyard. What doesn’t burn gets thrown in a pile to the side. It gets us PCVs to thinking about home and the convenience of our own systems but also the idea of how we might make different decisions and live very differently if we, too, were forced to turn our backyards into our own personal landfills, in proximity to your wells and drinking water. We are so shielded from this reality in the states that we can continue to live our destructive lives and habits without having to consider the consequences each day. Many of us don’t even know when and where we are being destructive. Many PCVs burn their bathroom trash and bury the rest. But what happens when you go on vacation and your regularly scheduled trash-burning-in-the-shed is paused? Giant, super-stinger wasps move in. Then when you finally generate some smoke again, they fall from the ceiling and land in your hair. No harm done this time but…ick. Tis the season for these.

And speaking of critters…this week the spiders are back: I found two floating in coffee mugs, one making a nest in a folded shirt on the shelf, and another sitting steathily above my mosquito net over the bed. Tiny frogs jump out from behind the silverware canister, scaring the daylights out of me. They are harmless but I reached for a fork, not a frog. Piglets try to raid my porch and are non-plussed as I use my water-bottle-turned-squirt-gun to shoo them away. Blackflies have dissipated but mosquitos are loving the now-warmer weather, as am I.

Despite living next door to Canada all my life, I do not like the cold. I’m a wimp. Before moving to PY, I was assured winters here were mild with temps rarely low enough to produce a frost. They lied. Or their tolerance of cold is something akin to Artic-loving. My bones are not made for that. I’m a tropical gal and I love the heat. The weeks before and after my vacation in early August brought several frosts and one morning of freezing rain. Even the things in our refrigerators were frozen. Because homes here are not insulated nor do they contain a heating system, temps inside one’s house tend to be the same as outside, without the wind chill. I feel for those who must economize their trips to their outdoor bathrooms and force their bladders to greater holding capacity. I sequestered myself in my house in full winter regalia: boots, wool socks and a complete accompaniment of warm clothes. I slept fully dressed under four blankets with my hat on. I ran my tiny oven with the door open to substitute as a furnace, warmed bricks in it for radiant heat later, and drank liters of hot water. My hot water bottle took on god-like status. I did innumerable squats and planks to generate heat from within. I tried to reframe (at least I’m getting exercise out of this!) I tried to be present (yes, I can see my breath inside and practice making rings with it in the air; I’m very present to how numb my toes and fingers are!) The upside to long, cold winter days is there’s more time for reading. Whether or not you are a foodie, if you’ve never read “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle” by Barbara Kingsolver I highly recommend it!

Now that we’re flirting with warmer temps, I’m feeling human again. I dare venture out to visit my neighbors whom I have missed. I’m elated in having to use sunscreen and a wide-brimmed hat once again and ever more grateful for being the rare volunteer with running water and a hot indoor shower. After being cooped up, I’m ready to get out in the sunshine and work!

Categories: Peace Corps Paraguay | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

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