When I heard that I was going to Isla Pucu to meet Lindsey, I shrugged. One pueblo isn’t much different than another when you only know a name. I packed my school uniforms, an apo’i top for the supervision interview, and clothes for trudging through the campo. I figured it would be a bit like Naranjaisy but bigger.
I was quite wrong.
Isla Pucu is a little piece of heaven nestled quietly in the midst of rolling hills. It is considered a pueblo, but doesn’t have the city feel because everything is so green; most of the cobblestone streets are lined with trees and bursts of tropical flowers accent manicured lawns. The farmland surrounding the town is lush and speckled with quaint houses and cattle. The people are friendly but generally disinterested, which is a welcomed change for me. Everyone greeted me cordially but no one stared and very few asked questions.
I quickly learned why the town had such a familiar ambiance. Isla Pucu means “Long Island,” which is deceptive because 1.) it isn’t an island 2.) it isn’t New York. I’ve been told that it was a European colony, and at that time it was named something else. Those people left and wealthier Paraguayans moved in. Many of the current inhabitants are well-off because they or their family members have worked in America—primarily New York, hence the name—and sent money back here to Paraguay. Most of the people I talked to have lived in or have family working in Long Island or White Plains, NY.
My host family was no exception. Both parents spent a year or more in the States doing modest work (though neither speaks English). They came back as big-ballers and now live in a comfortable house with their two kids. My host sister, Claudia, dressed like she was ready for a Hollister photo shoot. Everyday. (Should I mention that she competes in—and wins—beauty pageants?) Her cute clothes, makeup, and highlights made me feel underdressed all the time. And there wasn’t anything that I could do about it since I brought my campo clothes and left my nice American duds in Naranjaisy. *sigh* My other host sister, Laura, was a bit more chill and reminded me of my real sister. I believe she is in school to be a hair stylist, but she didn’t wear her trade on her sleeve. My host mother, Estella, was rather demure and my boisterous host father, Emilio, instantly took up trying to teach me Guarani. Everyone was wonderfully nice and made me feel very welcomed. I settled in quickly and began the bittersweet process of getting to know people that I knew I’d have to leave.
When I wasn’t preparing for charlas on parasites, I enjoyed the ease of in-home internet access with my host sisters. We took pictures for Facebook, drank some T-re, and otherwise goofed around. We also watched brainless television, particularly a bad telenovela called “Victorinos.” At night I enjoyed taking a shower without shower shoes and drinking Coca Cola that was actually cold. In the mornings I made myself scrambled eggs or big bowls of Frosted Flakes. I guess you don’t know how precious these simple activities are until you haven’t had them for two months…
Of course, the peace and tranquility couldn’t last forever. Days at school were insane. We gave between 6-9 presentations a day (in Spanish, speckled with Guarani for flavor) about the parasite Sevo’i. I didn’t realize how much I hated repeating myself until then. We also administered oral evaluations to the kids, which means that I took the test too since I’m learning Spanish right along with them. We played 6-9 rounds of Duck, Duck, Goose (or Sano, Sano, Sevo’i) and freeze tag in the hot sun. It was a lot of work (more than most volunteers usually do in a school day, so I’ve been told) but it was great to get into the classrooms and put my skills to the test.
The experience reminded me that working with kids doesn’t come naturally for me. I really want to like “the creatures” as they are called here, but I just don’t have that magic touch that other volunteers seem to have. Everything feels forced to me. That’s something to consider when I get to site…
Leaving my host family and Isla Pucu was emotionally difficult. I hugged Claudia goodbye moments before she left for school, and we both lingered trying to think of something sentimental to say that we could both understood. We just laughed instead and hugged again. My host dad drove me to Lindsey’s house with my luggage and said goodbye in Guarani. My host mom was the last person that I got to see because she worked at the school. She invited me to come back and visit them and I think we got three good hugs in before she had to get back to her students. I didn’t get to say goodbye to Laura, which may be good because I likely would have choked up or said something stupid. I definitely plan on visiting my new friends. I know it will be even more fun to hang out with them when my language skills improve.
I really needed my vacation in Isla Pucu. Even though I was working, it was one of the first times that going home after work didn’t feel like going to second job. It was also one of the first times that I could hang out with locals my age that didn’t have kids to look after. The trip was a breath of fresh air and gave me the positive energy that I need to make it though the next few demanding weeks.
Site Placement Questionnaire—Almost there!
G-32 got screwed. We had our site placement interviews before long field practice, which is silly because we are asked what we want in our sites before we even know what a real site is like. Fortunately for me, I don’t think that I said anything that I regret and I will fill in the “Site Placement Questionnaire” with any details that I might have missed in the interview. It may not even matter; some say that the interview and questionnaire are just formalities and that Josefina has already matched us to sites. Regardless, I trust that it will all turn out for the best.
Visiting Isla Pucu confirmed that I want to live in a place that feels small but has a lot of options. I also want a site that is aesthetically pleasing. Perhaps most importantly, I want a site with progressive, liberal-minded people. (Now, keep in mind that progressive and liberal-minded Paraguayan-style is much more low-key than, like, US-West coast.) What made the people of Isla Pucu different is that they were chill but they CARED; in some towns in Paraguay that I’ve visited tranquilo translates to, “There are many problems that need fixing but I don’t give a damn. Drink terere.” In Isla Pucu, people generally seemed to use forethought: work smarter not harder; sacrifice a bit now for a better later; prevention is better than treatment, etc. A Peace Corps volunteer can do crazy-good things with a community like that. We spend less time trying to get people to care and more time making stuff happen.
I don’t know if Lindsey loves her site as much as I do. Our experiences would differ greatly since we are different people. But I see potential there that I hope to see in my site.