Pondering in Paraguay

Pondering in Paraguay
Questions, Comments, and Connections on my crazy new life abroad

Wednesday, November 9, 2011


I went to this movie this evening and it almost hit too close to home. It just makes me acutely aware of how far I am from Paraguay and the relationships that I formed there. The leading actress was a spitting image of Lizzy. Don Clark was right when he said, "It will be surprisingly easy how quickly you will get back into the swing of life in the U.S and how distant Peace Corps will begin to feel." And it's true. He's absolutely right. I got back into my previous lifestyle without hesitation. There was no culture shock. There was no long drawn out process of reacquainting myself with the United States. It was all as simple a plane ride. One night I was eating Pecan pie in a small cafe in Asuncion and the next I was on a fight home. It's funny how little I remember from that flight home, how little importance the actual flight had. However, I remember as it was yesterday sitting in the hotel when I first found out I was coming home. The last night there, and saying good-byes in the airport are frozen into my memory. It's amusing what memories stick with us over time and which ones leave us with little impact. It's ironic the ones that stay and the others which go.

Lizzy once said it was sometimes easier to just separate yourself as much as possible from those things in the U.S and embrace the Paraguayan way of life as to not feel too homesick. But the same philosophy can be applied living here and trying not to miss Peace Corps. When I play Reagaton I sometimes feel myself feeling sad because it reminds me of being there. Or I have this perfume that I bought while I was over there and whenever I wear it I have this vivid sensation of Paraguay. I had only ever used the perfume in Paraguay so when I wear it, it has this weird correlation with that country. And talking to volunteers on skype or looking at their pictures on facebook has the same bitter sweetness to it. The inside jokes and everyday annoyances make me feel as if I never actually left at all.

The only solution to not missing somewhere and missing those relationships while formed there, is not going in the first place. It's hard to miss something you don't know exists. So while it's difficult to have your heart pulled in various directions around the globe, the alternative of not feeling that seems gravely worse.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

2010: Top Ten, Part One

To honor the passing of the year 2010 I was inspired to do a series of Top Ten lists. None of the items in the lists are in particular order, as that would be nearly impossible, and undemocratic. To start on a slighty negative note,

Ten things that I wont miss about Paraguay:

1. Red Dirt. I dust in the morning and by mid afternoon I have a fine layer of dirt on my desk. I use Q-tips to clean out the keys on my computer. . .red dirt. I then get inspired to clean my ears and go through another half dozen Q-tips only to find more. . . red dirt. I think I´m tan. Red dirt. I put my shoes on to go for a run. . . red dirt. I blow my nose. . . red dirt. I wipe my eyes. They burn. Red dirt.
2. Undependable running water. I should be grateful that I have running water at all. There are plenty of people all over the world living without running water. But to sometimes have water and at random moments not, it just seems like a guessing game. Thanks to Murphy´s law, I only don´t have running water when I need it the most. It´s nine thirty at night and I still haven´t showered or eaten dinner yet, and guess what? No water. I had unlimited water all day long and now of all times, NOTHING!
3. Guarani. I have no motivation to learn this language. Although at times I find the grunting, somewhat mummbling nature of the language entertaining, I mostly just find it annoying. Ha, ha that´s so funny I don´t speak Guarani. And yes that is so rare that Samantha is the same in English, Spanish and Guarani. And yes I do know that you are talking about me when I hear Guarani, Guarani, Guarani, Samantha, Guarani, Guarani, Guarani.
4. Being the public library. I probably get asked at least three times a day by three different people if I can lend them something. Lending in this country generally dictates as giving. I have had people ask me to borrow my bike, tweezers, money, nail polish, my blow up pool, spanish-english dictionary, head bands, necklaces, shirts, pants, skirts, shoes, lip gloss, perfume, books, markers, tape, my hose, air pump, computer, internet, golf clubs, tennis balls, candy, toilet paper, photographs, my camera, dvd´s, suitcases, face cream, and medical supplies. NO, NO and NO!!!!
5. The heat. Living in a hundred degree heat is one thing. It´s a whole different situation when you add humidity. And for icing on the cake, there´s no airconditioning. . . anywhere. At home, in the good ´ol USA I´m used to going from my aircondtioned apartment to my airconditioned car to another airconditioned building, whether it be the supermarket or to work. Here I bathe three times a day, try and not be in the sun between the hours of ten and five, and stay as close to a fan as possible, and I still find myself pouring sweat. To say the least, I´m over it.
6. Inappropriate cat calls. I go for a run. I have sweat dripping down my face and my hair is plastered to my forehead. Yet despite this less than attractive display of femininity, a half dozen men still find it necessary to whistle, try speaking in English, profess their undying love, or recite music lyrics. I am not a dog, please save the whistling for lower life forms. I am also not impressed that you can say I love you in English. You have studied this language for three years in high school. I hope you´d be able to say something. Lastly, there is a reason I´m wearing headphones. I have chosen to listen to my music, if I wanted to hear romantic spanish lyrics I would have put them on my Ipod.
7. Garbage. It is a cultural norm to not use garbage cans. It is therefore socially acceptable to throw your trash whenever and wherever you find it appropriate. Unforunately for what some find an appropriate place to dispose of garbage, I do not. At least during the winter the stench doesn´t travel far beacause of the cold, but during summer months, trash in the sun tends to cook, fester, and start to reek. If a bus driver hits a dog, that dog stays along side the road until enough animals, birds, and bugs clean the crime scene. A rotting dog on the road smells for about a week and a half. For an entire cow carcass to disapear it´s closer to a month. Translation. . . for one month of traveling by bus past that particular spot, you can not only see the evidence but are forced to smell it as well.
8. My salary. I am currently living on 300 US dollars a month. I used to make that in a double shift at the Saint Julien. I find myslef eating alot of canned tuna at the end of the month.
9. The bathrooms. I don´t share bathrooms well, however I´m currently sharing my bathroom with two other offices. I miss soft toilet paper. I mise as well use newspaper, cause it´s rather comparable with most T.P brands in Paraguay. I also miss having soap in bathrooms. I have quickly learned to always carry; one toilet paper and two hand sanitizer. I miss heated tiles and soft towels. I miss hairblow dryers and straitening irons.
10. Gossip. Sometimes the rumors that get spread are insulting, other times cruel, but for the most part they´re just funny. I seem to be a hot topic. I constantly get a handleful of people at my door asking if the rumor at hand could possibly be true.
Stranger:I heard your boyfriend is engaged and suppose to get married this weekend, is that true?
Me: No
Stanger 2: Is it true that you are pregnant with triples.
Me: No
Stranger 3: Is it true that before leaving for Peace Corps you were in a secret relationship with Brad Pitt, and that if it weren´t for Angelina he would have married you and you wouldn´t have ever joined Peace Corps and come to live here in Maciel.
Me: Ummmm......yes, uh-huh, yeah, that seems about right.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Paraguayan Ironies

The ironies of Paraguay never cease to bore me. I find it counterintuitive in the belief that drinking milk quickly followed by watermelon will result in nothing less than death. On the other hand, the consumption of red meat three times a day will have no lasting long-term effects. I envision the following scenario. A Paraguayan male drops dead at the early age of sixty five. He lived a happy but unhealthy life, suffering from a poor heart condition as a result of high red meat consumption. On the day of his heart attack, he conincidentally consumed watermelon and milk. From this mere conincidence, the people of Paraguay have infered that the combination of milk and watermelon will cause an acid reaction leading in immediate death.

I also find it odd in a nation plagued with poverty, ninety nine percent of the population has at least one television and any person over the age of eight is well equipped with a cell phone. Furthermore, on rainy days schools throughout the country are closed, because it is deemed unsuitable travel conditions for small children. Ironically, my house is located not far from the local elementary school, and regardless of the magnitude of the rainstorm the children of my neighborhood have little problems getting to my house. They also don´t have any troubles to getting to dance class, or playing soccer. I also can´t help but find the satire in the fact that a nation obsessed with hygiene doesn´t see the value in washing hands. I, as an American, am under constant criticism that I come from a nation which puts little worth in hygiene. The average Paraguayan takes between three to four showers a day depending on the heat. However, there is never any soap in any public restroom, I´ve only ever seen people wash their hands with water, and nobodies ever even heard of antibacterial hand gell even though it´s sold at the pharmacy. Generally speaking, Paraguayans generally have dirty feet, but always clean shoes and fat people tell skinny people that they are overweight. As, you can imagine the list goes on.

Yet, the greatest irony of all, is despite all these annoyances I`ve still somehow come to find a sincere passion for Paraguay, its culture, and its people.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

I used to talk about classes at the university, the snow conditions on the mountain, the lastest gossip, celebrity news, obamas latest accomplishments, and so forth, but recently that has been replaced with home-improvement themed converstations. All the schools in Paraguay have been on winter vacation for the past two weeks. Just yesterday that vacation got extended to three weeks because of bad weather headed our way. Therefore with the lack of activities and work to be done in the schools, many volunteers, including myself have turned to projects in the house...or more correctly our houses to be. My conversations now revolve around paint brands and price comparisons for labor.
Me: So, I heard that Opal is significanly better than Cal, but there´s a ninty mill quaranie difference, is it really worth it?
Andy(another volunteer): Oh yeah you don´t want that Cal crap, that´ll flake off by the end of the week. But what I want to know is it really necessary to use fixor before I apply my paint.
Sam: Oh yeah, I definitely would, and then make sure you put two coats of the Opal.
Andy: Yeah for sure, but you know that you should then put a coat of a tar based layer to protect from humidity.
Me: Really? Okay, well I also heard that you should scrape off all the old paint to, to ensure that the fixor sticks.

I have been in the process of painting my house now for three weeks. Everytime someone gets wind of this they asked, well, why on earth is it taking so long? Umm, I´m not sure, maybe because I have to apply a zillion layers, and every other day I´m informed that I need to purchase some other new material. Then there´s always the unforseen obstacles that get in the way. I had officially completed the bedroom and moved onto the kitchen, when disaster struck

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Fuerza Paraguay

I´m anything but I fair-weather fan. My history of sport team selection can attest that I will remain dedicated and optimistic despite the burdens I´m given by my teams. Battle Mountain Huskey Football 2002 to 2005; losses: over five hundred ( I may be rounding) Wins: negligible. Winter nights in Colorado with a biting chill under zero, and yet I, as well as my fellow classmates, showed up to every Friday night game to watch us...well, lose. But I equally contributed to my share of losses as a Battle Mountain representative. I proudly was defeated on the basketball court for two years, and perservered four years on a golf team which was closer acquainted with losing than winning. I therefore made an easy transition into the black and gold of the Colorado Buffalos, after comleting high school. My freshman year, when we started out on a losing streak I was all too familiar with sulking home after a loss. The University of Colorado Boulder is known for a party school, but more accuratly for having a drinking problem. I can directly correlate the high amount of drinking to the amount of games lost. In essence, we drank our pain away. The Denver Broncos hasn´t been the easiest team to root for either. Elway was easy to stand behind; however, Griese, Cutler, and Orton weren´t as easy to support. But year after year I´ve worn my blue and orange and unfailingly filled my wardrobe with Bronco t-shirts, hats, sweaters, and scarves. But I´ve served my time cheering on a losing team, and now it´s my turn to support a winning one.

Was it not destiny that I was sent with Peace Corps to a South American country during a World Cup? There is no time like the present to decide that watching soccer is entertaining, and there is no event like Mundial to decide to be a proud supporter of Paraguay. There is exactly 48 hours until Paraguay will destroy their opponents in order to progress. If we don´t win this match the country will be left in defeat, but if we win...it will be the biggest celebration that I´ve ever witnessed or will witness. After long contemplation I purchased my jersey last Tuesday after we beat Japan with five to four penalty kick completions. The schools didn´t have classes, the buses stopped running, the streets were closed for tailgating, Shakira blasted over the raido station, and the replays from the game were in every street coner and supermarket. This country bleeds red and white, and with them I put my heart and soul on the line to see if I´ve finally chosen a team that wont let me dowm. Fuerza Paraguay!

Sunday, June 27, 2010


The classic greeting in Paraguay is "Que Tal?" shortly followed by the simple "What's your name?" Comparatively, they greet people in the same manner that anyone in the States would when first meeting a new person. But, this is where Paraguayans will throw you a curve ball. The next question is inevitably, and proving consistently, "Do you have a boyfriend?" A non-anticipating foreigner like me is prepared for such basic inquiries such as; "Where are you from?", "What do you do?", "Are you the daughter of so-and-so?" or "Where are you visiting from?"...but the boyfriend question seems to be coming out of left field.

I am just as thrown-off by their prying as they are by my response. "No I actually don't have a boyfriend." After the stunned Paraguayan regains him/herself and gives a dramatic pause he/she immediately has a list of twenty questions to further investigate this rare and indeed abnormal situation. The reality of the dating scene in Paraguay is that most women in their mid-twenties have a husband, some kids, a nice farm, preferably a few cows; at the very least a serious boyfriend with marriage in the near future. I tried explaining to a neighbor the other day the concept of "thirty is the new twenty." I can't blame the lack of misunderstanding on my inept Spanish abilities, it was merely too rare of a concept for a Paraguayan woman to understand.

After the twenty questions, I am consoled with the reassurance that I should not worry. This person whom I’m speaking with just happens to know someone, who has a cousin, whose brother is single. Oh, well thanks! Everyone wants to set you up with some one. I imagine it's like being on a dating show. Why don't we just put them all the conveyor belt and move this process along? Because I am in Paraguay, and am determined to have an open mind and meet new people and so forth I often find myself saying, “Sure you can introduce me to your neighbor’s son-in-laws former first grade teacher.”

After a handful of these set up, I begin to better prepare my expectations.

Furniture store lady: My son is just dying to learn English. He is very smart. You know we have a house in Asuncion?

Sam: Well I really should get goi...

Furniture store lady: Why don't you just sit here a minute and I'll go grab him. He stayed home today with the flu…

Sam: Yes, please go get him and no need to worry that he stayed home sick today; yeah this sounds like a great idea. Maybe we could share some terere too.

Son: Hi...blah, blah, blah

Then it dawns on me that this woman has no interest in her son learning English, nor does he. This poor woman is trying to set me up with her high school, acne prone, hormonal teenage son.

Sam: It was so nice to meet you. I'm sure I'll see you around soon. Bye! I really have to run, there's umm… yeah some stuff with that one person that I need to do…

I just didn't have the heart to tell her that I stopped being attracted to pubescent males when I graduated high school five years ago. I do however have a lot of experience in babysitting, if you ever need to go out for the afternoon though and need some extra help. But it's not just the minors that the Paraguayans insist on throwing at me, it's the "seasoned" veterans that get offered up to me as well.

Host dad: Hi Sam! I would like you to meet my single friend. He is a great cook.

Sam: Hi

Host dad: Did I mention that he's single and can cook....and he's only 34?

And will he be celebrating his 34th birthday for the eighth time this year, or for the tenth, because he does not look a day under 44. I understand that Paraguay can age a person, but those wrinkles aren't from sun damage.

Host dad: He can cook you lots of food. You can be really fat.

How did he know that that I've always aspired to be fat and stay in Paraguay FOREVER?

Then there's the sneaky cute, when I think, “Okay this guy has potential.” Then he smiles. Your aunt told me that you were tall, dark and handsome, twenty four, and working as a veterinarian. How did she fail to mention that you're missing his four front teeth? After one two many of these "set-ups" I make a mental list of three “non-negotiables" for future candidates.
1. Must be between the age of 21 and 30
2. Must have a full set of teeth
3. May not have current wife, sancha (lady on the side), baby-mama, or girlfriend

I have unfortunately just eliminated 89.7% of the available men in the Paraguayan dating pool. The other day someone asked me in pure exasperation, "Samantha, really what is your type?" I should have held back, but it just slipped out, “The North American type."

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Technology is killing me

So despite the benefits of having access to the internet, it comes with its disadvantages. I get on Facebook to make a wall post and I'm immediately greeted with numerous photos of closing weekend at Vail, graduation parties, and other outings that I am no longer a part of. I read conversations among others talking about how fun last weekend was, and who did what and who said this to who...among other "chisme" (Spanish for gossip). I then start browsing through old photos on my profile and think how good I looked in my favorite summer dress. If only I had my full wardrobe I'd be so much cuter. If only my legs weren't covered in mosquito bites then I'd be able to wear fun summer clothes.

I then get bored with Facebook and turn to Skype, only to have my sister tell me, "to hang on a second, that the brownies are finished." What I would do for a brownie right! Meanwhile, I'm sneaking Cliff Bars at eleven o'clock at night because dinner consisted of rolls of pig skin....I think I'll pass. She then tells me that she'll have to call me back later because "Grey's Anatomy" is on. Yeah, I should get going too I think, because some dubbed over American film is sure to come on soon. Brad Pitt just isn't as sexy with a mismatched Spanish voice over.

I should be grateful that I even have internet. If nothing else, it reminds me of what I'm missing out on back home.