Monday, June 8, 2009

you were so fat!

I am writing this first blog sitting in my room in the home of my Paraguayan host family, the Salinas Ibanez family. They live in JA Saldivar, a town about an hour outside of the capital of Asuncion. However, no one seems to know who Senor Saldivar was or why the town was named after him. Dehlia, my host mom, is so sweet and genuinely happy to have me in her home. She has converted the front room of her house into a little convenient store and spends everyday from 6:30 am to 9 pm at night attending to her steady run of customers. Antonio, my host dad, works at a lumber yard and doesn’t have much to say to me (or anyone else for the matter) but finds my unique norteamericana habits amusing. Dahiana, my 9-year-old host sister, is extremely shy and almost never talks to me, as well. She watches a lot of tv. Jorge, my 18-year-old host brother is pretty excited to have me around and introduces me to everyone who comes over. He is quite the jokester but also extremely immature and totally obnoxious. He likes to make gay jokes, especially towards his uncle Raul, the quietest human being alive, because he cooks. Sometimes I like him because he makes the effort to talk to me and asks funny questions but sometimes he is just an immature teenage jerk who can’t handle having an American woman in his house. And then there is the endless stream of other family members that come in and out of the house, all guys, and most of whom I am confused how they are related to one another. So, my family is my family. Sometimes I really like them and sometimes I don’t, but who doesn’t feel that way about their families ever?

My house is tiny. The store is the biggest room in the house. There is a living room with a couch, two chairs, a tv, a dinning room table pushed up against the wall (if we all want to sit around it we have to pull it out into the middle of the room), and Diahana’s bed. Diahana had to give up her bedroom for me. It is a requirement by Peace Corps that host families provide volunteers with their own rooms and so for me to live here the little girl has to sleep in the living room. Therefore, her toys and stuffed animals are strategically placed all around the living room… a diorama of barbies under the tv and stuffed animals lining the couch. My host mom and dad have a bedroom but with no door, just a curtain on a string where the door should be. Diahana somewhat shares this room with them. The kitchen is crammed into the back hallway, an interesting set up. And then there is the bathroom. A modern bathroom, with a sink, toilet and electric shower. If I can turn the knob just right I can actually have a hot shower but the absence of a shower curtain means the water goes everywhere, apparently this is just how bathrooms are here. After showering I squeegee the bathroom. Jorge has a room separate from the house in the backyard. And apparently they are building a separate house in the backyard to rent out, which I only found out about today. A man was in the back hammering endlessly and making a huge amount of noise at a brick wall and he told me it was going to be a bathroom, that is how I found out about the new house.
The house is located on a dirt road, connected by a network of more dirt and cobblestone roads that lead to the city center, about a 15 minute walk. When it rains these dirt roads turn into streams and rivers and traversing them on the way to and from school everyday is an adventure, to say the least. My little neighborhood has several volleyball courts and soccer fields and everyone knows each other. Dehlia greets every customer by first name, and the customers never stop coming. Its amazing how small this neighborhood feels but how much business Dehlia has.
One family member I really like is Dehila’s step dad, the grandpa. He has lived in the country his whole life and it shows. He has been staying with us, along with his two sons, Raul and Oscar, for the past few weeks because Oscar was in a bad motorcycle accident and broke his right jaw and cheek bones and is waiting for his surgery. They have been waiting to see if the government will help them pay for the expensive surgery, a total of about $800, and it seems they keep getting the run around. Meanwhile, Oscar just hangs around all day not talking and not eating solid foods, poor guy. The upside, the grandpa is awesome. He has PC volunteers in his village and so he knows what we are all about. He lovesssss to talk and is full of fun facts and stories. He lived in Argentina for awhile when he was 13 when Peron was in power and he had never seen people eat with silverware before, the first time he tried to use them he kept slipping and cutting the table with his knife. He has never heard of Barak Obama, the United States’ first black president. He had me in stitches when I showed him my photo album and he couldn’t recognize me in family pictures from a few years ago because I weighed about 10 pounds heavier. He would point to me and say, “who is that?” and he couldn’t believe it was me. “My god, you used to be so much fatter!” he said. It was so honest and so hilarious, I couldn’t stop laughing. I mean, I don’t think I was so fat that I was unrecognizable but it is true that I did weigh a few more pounds. Paraguayans say it like it is. If you are skinny they will tell you and if you are fat they will tell you the same. For example, Jorge, my host brother, is fat and living in this country he will never forget it because everyone and everybody is always saying, “Hey, look at Jorge, what a fatty.” At lunch if I eat a lot its not uncommon for Dehlia to tell me off-handedly that I shouldn’t eat so much because I will get fat. That’s just how it goes.

I have to say that I have had a lot of moments in only this past week and a half as a Peace Corps trainee when I have thought being in the Peace Corps is fucking awesome. (And I don’t use that word a lot). Although the trainee schedule is rigorous and I have hardly had a second to sit and think, I have had several moments where I have thought, this is so fucking cool! The second I stepped off the plane in Asuncion I was greeted by several Peace Corps authorities in swine flu “preventative” masks, and they immediately swept us past immigration and customs and out into our new lives as PC trainees. I have never arrived in a foreign country quite like that! Our basic trainee schedule is composed of language training in the morning and technical training in the afternoon with some variety thrown in. My language training is in Gauarani, the ubiquitous indigenous language of Paraguay. Although it has somewhat adapted to some Spanish words, like graciamante and hasta luegomante, it is pretty different and unlike any romance language you and I know. The grammar is very simple but the pronunciation is killer. The language is filled with glottal stops, accents, and nasal vowels and consonants, like you always have a cold when you speak Guarani. Needless to say, it is hard to wrap your tongue around. But it is pretty cool to get 4 hours a day to do nothing but learn this ancient language, where else and when else in the world would I get to do that? That is pretty damn awesome.
On Friday we had an entire afternoon of gardening lessons. We learned how to build and plant gardens, how to compost, how to build a fence out of bamboo, and how to use a machete. We actually had an orientation on using and sharpening a machete. That was awesome! I couldn’t stop giggling and thinking, this is my job? In three months am I really going to go out and cut down bamboo with a machete to make a fence for my garden and then am I going to plant that garden and then is that garden going to actually grow? I don’t really picture myself doing those things but I sure hope it happens.
My walk to and from school everyday is also really awesome. I walk with another PC trainee who lives a few houses down and we walk along the dirt roads, cross a soccer field, then through a neighbors yard with lots of dogs and chickens, through a field, duck under a barbed-wire fence, turn right at the lemon tree, turn left at the little store, walk through another woman’s yard with pigs, cows, chickens, dogs, cats and god knows what else. She has a glass eye and always greets us with a “buen dia”. Then we cross a playground and walk up the street to our school. It takes about 10-15 minutes and it totally feels how the Peace Corps in Paraguay should feel.
So, to sum up my first blog, Paraguay and the Peace Corps after a week and a half are going great. There is so much more to tell but it is such a whirlwind. There will be more to come later. Just know that I am safe and sound and happy in my new country!


  1. Jenna - sounds like you're having a blast. I'm pretty jealous, it sounds extremely similar to my time in The Salvador. When you come back I'd like it if you'd teach me to curse in Guarani, please. Have fun out there!


  2. Wow Jenna, what a great first blog. Thanks so much for taking the time to keep the folks back home informed. Who would have thought that Dale would be such a great resource for coping with your new "brother." You'll have to thank him! I'm excited about your opportunity do start a garden and also to compost. I grew up helping my father who grew up on a farm)plant and care for a 1/3 acre vegetable garden. There is nothing more satisfying than growing your own vegetables. Neither will you find vegetables as tasty and delicious as home grown. Keep up the great work and keep blogging. I'm sending you some links on gardening and composting so look for them in your e-mail.
    Uncle Roger

  3. Jenna! I am so excited for you and your new adventures. I miss you so much. But, I can't help being so happy for you in your absence. If you have learned this much in a couple of weeks, just think of what you will learn in two years. I can't wait to see how if affects you.
    Keep up your blogs.
    Thinking of you always.

  4. Jenners,
    Your first blog entry is fantastic.; I loved reading every word and learning so much about your experience. Your attitude is very upbeat and also appreciative of your opportunity to learn and be involved in such a different culture. I love that your are fond of the grandfather. You can learn from his wisdom. so, my skinny one, I love you, Madre

  5. Jorge sounds eerily similar Wheeland (jokster, immature, obnoxious, likes gay jokes and so on...).

  6. wow Jenna! This sounds absolutely incredible! I'm so happy you are there safe and beginning a whole new experience. I hope you can post pictures soon! I miss you and can't wait to read on!
    x's and o's,
    jen cornett

  7. Dear Jenna, I am enjoying your blog more than you know...I am living vicariously through you and your adventures! This experience is so wonderful and you are expressing your daily thoughts and observations so well! I only regret that the blog ends when it does. I look forward to reading more...You are so fortunate to have this experience and I know that you appreciate being there. It is obvious that you are enjoying the adventure, you have great enthusiasm in your words. Jenna, be safe and continue to cherish these days and the people of Paraguay...much love, Margie