We were told during orientation that we were in the “honeymoon” stage of our relationship with Paraguay. Most of us look at each other and shrugged. Very little is glittery about our small towns, and most of us are just happy to not live in mud huts. Surely there is nothing enamoring about piles of cow poo on the sidewalks—wait, there are no sidewalks—or million degree weather, or the never ending stares of the locals and the constant threat of parasites.
They then told us that weeks 3 and 4 would end the honeymoon stage.
I am in week 4. It is certainly over if it was ever there to begin with.
Everyone was in a slump today. No one was overtly negative, just hot and tired. And we are all a bit “over” group work. (If our trainers could control it, they’d make us take group bathroom breaks. “Everyone wait till 5pm to take a piss! We’ll do it as a group!”) Anyhow, we were given yet another group assignment today and I think we all secretly despised each other for it.
Then the cow poo hit the fan. We had our first real encounter with the bane known as “chisme,” the cute word here for senseless gossip. Apparently, some ladies got bored and decided to spread rumors that some of our group members were drunks. And by drunks, that means that they…had a drink? This wouldn’t be a problem, except that it’s hard for people to take you seriously as an educator when they think you’re an irresponsible alcoholic. Some of us were concerned that our trainers and language coaches would believe their family members over us. Needless to say, no one was feeling particularly fond of our neighbors that evening, but we decided to let it roll and pick our battles. We decided not to confront the culprits because it is considered rude here to confront people directly with a problem. (…yeah, that’s what I said). No one wants to make anything worse.
But the unspoken effects run deep. I think that there is a greater sense of distrust among us now; how do we know who is spreading rumors about us? In some cases, our own host moms are trying to ruin our reputations. It leaves a bitter taste in my mouth.
May sound random, but this whole experience makes me miss my mom. Back home, I’d roll my eyes whenever she told a re-story because she always seemed to exaggerate the details. If Brianna did a new dance, my mom would turn it into a 3 Act ballet set to Gershwin. If any of us had the least hint of talent, she claimed it would instantly make us famous and wealthy. But the great thing is that my mom always exaggerated for the benefit of her kids. She made us sound better. In sharp contrast, it really sucks to encounter “parents” here who may exaggerate stories about their “kids” with the intention of harming them. With that said, I *heart* my host mom. I just feel bad for my friends.
Aside from chisme, I’ve had to get use to some other cultural differences. Some of the homes here (e.i. mine) blur the lines between inside and outside. There are open courtyards, windows that don’t close and don’t have screens, farm animals at your feet at the kitchen table…sometimes these things are pretty cool. Other times, not so much. Cool: waking up to a bunch of fuzzy baby chicks chirping and hopping around in the kitchen. Cool: Having a pear with lunch, then feed the cow the core. Cool: Showing with a tree frog. Not cool: the countless, dusty, bug infested cobwebs lining my ceiling and bathroom. Not cool: the plague of flies that always chill between my bedroom, the kitchen, and the bathroom. I kind of feel bad for them because the insects don’t know any better—some of our “rooms” are outside, which is their home—but I’ve gotten to the point now where I can’t catch and release one more spider! I just freakin’ kill ‘em. (I know, I lose PETA points.)
One day, I lost my mind and went on a cleaning spree. I dusted down all the cobwebs (gagging several times) and cleaned everything that was questionable. I was on a roll, so I wanted to attack the bathroom next, but I hesitated and decided against it. Would it offend my host-parents to clean their house? Probably. My host family understands that outdoor/indoor living has its inconveniences, so I don’t think they bother trying to tidy up some things. If I cleaned up after them might they be embarrassed or something? All of this is still new to me. Still don’t know what to do.
On the Brighter Side
The kids here are pretty awesome. There are a million of them with unexplainable amounts of energy, so there is always someone willing to play a game, or do barefoot yoga in an abandoned field, or participate in reading clubs. I was pleasantly surprised by how many kids here like books! Relative to incomes in this town, books are expensive luxuries and I’m glad that the other PCTs and I can share the goodness. We read about three short books with the neighbor kids in small groups, mixing in some games in between. In the beginning, I was really nervous because my language skills aren’t as strong as I’d like. Now, after giving two presentations in Spanish with a language interview on the horizon, chatting with a bunch of kids seems less daunting.
Oh, did I mention that I did two presentations in Spanish? Go me! Granted, it was nothing high tech or ultra impressive but I got up and there and made it happen. Baby steps.