Thursday, November 22, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving - and my new home

On this day of giving thanks I have trouble finding a place to start. So many things have gone right and so many people have supported me so that I can be where I am at this moment. I am thankful most of all for my friends and family back home. I hope all of you enjoy your turkey and cranberry sauce today.

Yesterday our site assignments came in. Next week I will be heading out to the deep south to visit my new village for a few days. It is located in the department of Itapùa, near the city of Itapùa Poty, my village is called -and i´m misspelling badly it here- Guayuayvi. This lovely little town is 50km away from the San Rafael forest reserve, one of the few remaining reserves of rainforest left in Paraguay. The town has electricity but no running water, and of course the roads are all dirt. My contacts are the director of the collegìo (like a high school) and the vice director of the elementary school. This is great because it gives me a foot in the door of both schools right away. Other volunteers have worked in the area, but I am the first to live in this town. That means I will be doing a lot of hanging out with the neighbors getting to know them and helping them get to know me. One of the big missions of Peace Corps is cultural exchange and I am on the front line in my new town. I am extremely excited about this site based on the little information I have, and look forward to visiting soon to get a better idea of where I will spend the next two years.

Well, I am off to help prepare for our Thanksgiving feast here in Guarambarè. Eat an extra scoop of cranberry sauce for me and I´ll eat an extra slice of mango for you!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

"The Girl" anti-update

I am sorry to keep all of you waiting for the conclusion of the story but things have been incredibly busy for me lately. I was out of town all last week doing "long field practice." We went in groups to different PCV sites and practiced giving presentations in schools. It was a very full week... let´s just say I learned more and became more confused about the culture all at the same time. So it was a success.

Tomorrow is future site day! We finally find out where we will be living for hte next 2 years. Cross your fingers for me, i´m hoping for a spot way out in the country. Thursday in Thanksgiving and I will try to make a quick update to let you all know where I will be going. I don´t know which I am looking forward to more, my future site assignment or Thanksgiving! I hope somebody is able to find cranberries...

Also, If you want to get a letter from me send me your address. I can´t make any promises but I will do my best. You know, a great way to let me know what your address is, is by sending me a letter! Just something to think about. Thanks to everybody who has left comments and emails. I thrive on your attention...

Well, I´m off to get some ice cream and hike through the sugar cane field.

Until next time,

- Agustìn

p.s. I will update the girl situation, but I want to do it right and there hasn´t been time. I will say that my progress in learning the language has helped incredibly in the past week.


It is hot. That´s what was thinking as I trudged through the sand covering the path through the sugar cane field. I had been walking for too long without shade due to an unfortunate shortcut attempt. I never really appreciated shade before coming to South America. Now it´s not just comfortable, it´s necessary. It´s a long walk through this field, but it´s a good shortcut to get to Guarambarè where I use the internet. The other way to get there requires two busses and twice the fish skin. Anyway, it´s rare that I have a free afternoon during training and I wanted to spend some quality time inside my brain.

Back at the house it´s a continuous stream of attention from the kids and the animals, out in the field on the dirt path it´s just me and the sun. The two most important things that I brought with me are my hiking boots and my Tilley hat. Every time I walk down the only "cobblestone" road without breaking an ankle or a foot I think how thankful I am for those boots. The fact that I still have skin on my face is 100% due to my hat. I finally hit the routa at the end of the sandy red dirt path and made up my mind to catch a bus instead of walking the rest of the way into town. It can be done, but not on days like this. The asphault of the routa singed my nose with fumes and could have singed my feet through my boots if I stood in one spot too long. I found some shade to stand under and waited for a bus.

I don´t know how it is in the US because I never took buses, but here you can get any bus to stop for you by simply sticking out your hand like you would if you were a falcon trainer. The next bus to come by slowed down enough for me to jump on before tearing down the road again. I paid and sat down. It was mostly empty, nobody does much when it´s this hot. The wind blowing in my face didn´t help much, but at least I was moving. The long haul buses here are big and sometimes have bathrooms, similar to a greyhound bus back home. The short trip buses like the one I take to Guarambarè is probably 30 years old. Every trip in one of these is an adventure, and they are usually the best and only way to get around. Half the time there is a string you can pull to signal the driver to stop for you, but this wasn´t one of those times. I made my way up to the front as he swerved around people, parked cars, and animals. "Upepè por favor" I said pointing to the internet cafè. He nodded and took a sip of terrerè before slamming on the breaks.

I jumped out onto the hot street, alone in the heart of South America in a city full of people I can barely communicate with and who might never fully understand why or how a NorthAmerican is down here buying chipa and talking about the forest like he lived there. Every day is an adventure. Aiko porà - life is good!

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

My favorite word

"ikatu" means yes, no, and maybe. It means possibly, and if you add a "pa" to the end you can ask somebody to please do something. For example "Ikatupa get me some nachos."

This word can also be very dangerous. Last weekend I discovered why.

Sunday morning started like a lot of Sunday mornings for me here, I slept in (till about 9) and when I got up my host mom gave me some breakfast. This is a big Sunday treat because in most of Paraguay they don´t have anything substantial for breakfast most of the time. So I was enjoying my delicious hot plate of tortillas and cafè con lèche when my host dad says he´s going off the the field. I had no idea why he was going to the field because he was all dressed up and had a binder with papers in it. He doubled my confusion by saying "jaha" which means "we go" or "lets go" more literally, but apparently (I didn´t learn this until two days later) that word can also mean "see you later." Paraguayans are very indirect and lots of words have double meanings. I suppose english is the same way, but this is a part of the culture that will take some time to pick up. I am telling you all of this to tell you how confused I was right at the start of the day.

So later on the rest of the family (and I) head off to the party that I had no idea was taking place. Maybe they didn´t tell me because they thought I wouldn´t understand, or more likely they DID tell me and I didn´t understand. So I am sitting at the party (I will describe Paraguayan parties in another post) sitting back and checking out what´s going on. My language isn´t super strong yet in big social situations because there is more noise and confusion. I wasn´t looking to get into a big conversation. My host mom had other plans.

So interactions between guys and girls can be very different than they are in the US. I could spend a long time writing about what very little information I do know. So if this is confusing, welcome to my world.

My host mom comes over and tells me that this blond (very rare) Paraguayan girl is sending me "saludos" which is their way of saying i´m interested in you and would like to get to know you - sent through another person. I thought it couldn´t hurt talking to her and practicing my language a little bit so I brought my chair over and said hello. We talked for a while and despite my limited vocabulary we were able to communcate a decent amount. The problem with being able to communicate a little bit in a foreign language, is that they assume you know more than you do. This is where things started to get crazy.

This girl decided to make me her boyfriend.

I know some of you guys reading this might be thinking "congrats!" Like everything, it is more complicated than that here. In many parts of this country, if you are dating somebody you are already engaged in the minds of both families - and the families are very involved. By the end of the party both my host mom and the mom of this girl were there along with a bunch of other people. By now you may be wondering how I got into this hole.

I "ikatu´d" myself into it. I had been using that word to fall back on when she asked me something and I wasn´t quite sure of the meaning. Here is an example:

Her: ***** my house **** drink **** some time ***
Me: ... ikatu...
Her: Do you think paraguayan women are pretty?
Me: Sure I do
Her: ***** ** **** ***** *** *...?
Me: ... ikatu...

It went on like that for a while and after a while she started talking about things that I won´t repeat here. In a 1 on 1 conversation I could have held my own, but the situation turned into 6 people machinegunning questions at me in a language I barely understand.

Is the story over? We will see next week!