Saturday, July 26, 2008

Is he Russian or German?

The age old question "Who am I?" can get blurred sometimes in this wild and crazy slip'n'slide they call Peace Corps.

People often ask me, or the Paraguayan I happen to be with, where I am from. Surprisingly the many people don't guess that I am a North American. It seems these days I could pass for Brazilian, German, Russian, and sometimes a strange sort of Norté.

By the way:
It might be a good idea if we stopped referring to ourselves as Americans outside of the U.S. In the middle of Kansas or Iowa it is easy to forget that the U.S.A. does not take up all of North and South America and there are millions of people without social security cards that also have a legitimate claim to the American title.

When people do realize I am from the U.S. there are a handfull of general reactions:

  • "Want to buy this (random thing I don't want)? No? Can I have some money anyway?"
This is not uncommon when visiting the big cities.

  • "Why are you spying on us and why do you want to steal our water?"
Paraguay sits on part of one of the largest fresh water aquifers in the world. Somewhere somebody got the idea that we have plans to pipe or ship or otherwise transport that water thousands of miles north to quench our ravenous thirst.

  • "Nice to meet you, how did you learn to speak Guaraní? How long will you be living here?
Many people are genuinely happy to meet me and hear about what I am doing here. I get all kinds of questions about the states, about my family, and whether I am happy here.

I am a full time ambassidor to the U.S. working at the grass roots level to repair the damage done to our reputation by 8 years of Bush trying to run the world. People are sometimes surprised (and 100% pleased) to learn that I do not agree with all of the policies of my government. A good volunteer friend who lives near my community had a great breakthrough recently. He became acquainted with a man who lives in a lesser developed area on the outskirts of his town. "Sam" he said, "before I met you I thought you were just like all the other Nortes trying to take advantage of us, but now I know that you aren't like them at all!" This guy may have never met a real Norte before but he was certainly biased against us. This is a big invisible benefit that the Peace Corps brings. It is a stated of the goal for cultural exchange, but this sort of thing can't be measured. Without a doubt we are making a difference in this area if nothing else.

Sometimes I am a teacher, in a school or outside of it. I am an outsider and an insider simultaneously. I am a lot of things down here. A lot of them I could also be back home, but from a different point of view. And a different language.

This 2 year experience in Paraguay is showing me more than I can ever hope to record through photos or writing. Essentially, it is teaching me to live in a deeper, fuller, more meaningful way. Im not becoming American, I am becoming Human.

1 comment:

kjoy said...

I really enjoyed your insight in this post. It's nice to get a taste of what life is like & what your reception is "on the grass roots level". I'm glad it's an experience that's been so good to you & that you can enjoy so much. Thanks!