Saturday, July 25, 2009

Family Update

I have lived in Paraguay for two months and by far the most interesting part, for better or for worse, has been living with a Paraguayan family. I have learned a lot from them and I hope they have learned a lot from me. I feel very lucky to have lived in their house and been part of their family for a short while. I am sad that I have to leave in one month and start all over again with another family.
My host mom, Delia, is my Paraguayan hero. She works so hard, she has never had a day of vacation in her life, she knows her life is hard and she almost always has a smile on her face. She is the nucleus of the family and everyone depends on her. This family would fall apart without her. Not only is she the patrona of the store in the front of our house, but she does almost all of the cooking, cleaning, laundry, takes care of the cows etc… She runs the household. She is the woman in charge. She takes care of everyone who lives in this tiny house, including me. She is just amazing. That is the only way to describe her.
Delia is my best friend in this house and when I am home I try to spend as much time as I can with her. I also find her very entertaining. One night, I was outside emptying my plate onto the ground for the dog to eat and Delia was watching me curiously. When I walked back into the house she patted me on the butt and told me “this is much fatter than when you first got here”. Now, fat comments are very common conversation topics in Paraguay and aren’t considered rude but after two months living here its still surprising to me. I still can’t believe my mom told me I had a fat ass. It is true I have gained a few pounds since I have been here, but what do you expect when you have to eat mandioca (like a potato) twice a day for two months? After that night Delia has continued with these comments and just straight out calls me fat, especially around meal times. One day at lunch she said she wasn’t going to serve me meat because I was getting too fat. Instead she gave me chessy soup and a big plate of fried mandioca, which is just like French fries, an excellent diet for loosing weight apparently because only meat makes you fat? I still haven’t figured out that logic.
My friend Lyn and I have brought Snickerdoodles to Paraguay. Surprisingly, the Paraguayans seem to love them. This is surprising because the Paraguayans, for the most part, are extremely picky about their food and if its something unfamiliar they what nothing to do with it. (One night my friends and I made Mexican food and one Paraguayan woman proclaimed, “look at all this strange food” and “I don’t know how to eat vegetables” and only ate the empanadas she brought). They like things extremely salty and extremely sugary. Watching a Paraguayan put sugar in their tea will give you a heart attack, its heaping spoon of sugar after heaping spoon of sugar and just when you think they are done they add one more spoonful. So maybe this is why they like Snickerdoodles: because they have the excessive Paraguayan portions of sugar and butter. Lyn and I made Snickerdoodles one afternoon and I brought some home for my family. They had been bugging me to cook for them and I told them they really didn’t want me to, all I can make is toast and eggs and they don’t have a toaster so it would be a really disappointing meal. Anyways, I brought the cookies home and offered them to everyone and got the customary/polite/passive Paraguayan response of “mas tarde” meaning “a little later” which actually translates “when hell freezes over will I eat that pig shit”. So, I was thinking this is the thanks I get for making you people cookies? I will never cook for you people again!?
I had to leave the next day for a 5 day trip to visit another volunteer and when I came back my mom said that my little sister, Dihana, ate all the cookies and she LOVED them and I had to get the recipe from Lyn. A few nights later Delia, Dihana, and I cooked Snickerdoodles together in our hallway/kitchen. Delia soon got bored of just making cookies so we made a Snickerdoodle cake and other interesting Snickerdoodle creations a la Paraguay. Since then, Delia has been making Snickerdoodles on her own almost every other day and they show up on the lunch and dinner table just as often. The family is officially obsessed with this new exotic food, I even get them for breakfast. No wonder I fat ass, its all her fault. Oh, I love Delia.
I also started to appreciate Delia so much more when I got back from the trip after I had to stay with a crazy lady for 5 days. Her name is Mami and was a lonely widow and therefore thrilled to have me as her guest for 5 days. However, I was happy to be away from training for 5 days and have a little bit of freedom. Our ideas about how we were going to spend our time were quite different. She thought I had come to be her best friend and I wanted to just spend time with my fellow trainees for once. She was crazy clingy! She was calling the volunteer we were visiting when I didn’t come home, asking where I was. The kicker was on the last night when we were cooking and spending time at his house she just came over and joined the group. When we were talking about our activities for the next day she got really mad and advocated we cancel our class and spend time with our host families instead because “we should spend quality time with the host families”. My Guarani teacher found her hilarious. I was scared. Although she did have her quirks. She had a big plastic bag of crocodile meat delivered via motorcycle one day and fried it up the next day. I tired a little, tastes like chicken. (I also ate capibara on that trip without knowing it. I was told I was eating wild boar. I only found out a few days later that capibara is the world’s largest rodent!)

Lyn, Me, and Carrie in Villa Florida

Dihana, my little sister has definitely warmed up to me. She talks to me now, which is a huge improvement from the first month I lived her when she was so afraid of me, the big white monster that moved in to her room, she pretended I didn’t exist. Now, she plays games with me, she lets me help her with her homework, talks to me about her favorite things, loves to let me borrow her school supplies, and help me with my Guarani.
We play tic-tac-toe, hang-man, and mash with chalk on the living room door, we play uno and other Paraguayan card games. She is quite spoiled because she is pretty much an only child because her brother is so much older than she is therefore she is babied and feels entitled and her parents have no parenting/disciplinary skills at all. She can be such a brat. She talks back to her dad and never listens to him when he tries to scold her. He even will get out his belt and threaten to hit her with it but she will grab it away from him! He holds no weight with her. Its pathetic. She is the little princess of the household. Dad and Dihana screaming matches are a common occurrence. I don’t even flinch at them because they are so meaningless, I just sit and watch in amusement. Its like a circus. He tries to get her to stop doing something, she tells him no, and back and forth and back and forth, and he always gives up and she always wins. What a wimp.
My brother, Jorge, is as still obnoxious and full of testosterone as the day I met him. My first impression of him has not changed. He often bugs the crap out of me. He is an immature, insufferable teenager and he just can’t help himself so I guess I can’t blame him for being the way he is. But maybe I should start to consider an alliance with him considering we are now the two fattys of the family. Jorge endures the most attacks of fat comments from his family members. It really doesn’t seem to bother him. He knows he’s fat, he embraces it. He likes to flex his bicep for me and asks me to feel it and proclaims “muscle!” It is so obnoxious I just proclaim back, “fat”. Totally acceptable comment.
My two uncles live with Jorge in the room the back yard. Oscar is 19 and Raul is 20. There are a lot of men in this family. Oscar broke his cheek and jaw bone in a bad motorcycle accident and had to wait almost 2 months for his surgery and finally he had his surgery two weeks ago. He seems to be recovering well but still can’t eat solid food. Poor guy. The health system here is just so horrible and to watch this guy suffer the entire time I have been living here has really opened my eyes to how inadequate, to say the least, the national health system is. But that is a topic for another blog.
Raul was extremely shy when I first met him and wouldn’t even look at me let alone speak to me. But now he has started to relax and will talk to me some. He is still pretty shy but I think he is actually a great kid. He is extremely hard working and has a very good heart. He doesn’t go out and party with Jorge and stays in with the family. One day I watched him washing Oscar’s hair in the backyard with so much patience and care to make sure he didn’t hurt him, it was such a tender gesture of brotherly love it made me want to cry. When I came home from the 5 day volunteer visit the first person I saw at home was Raul, and he was wearing my necklace. It was a gold chain my American mom gave me that said Luck, a necklace I really really loved. I pointed to it, “where did you get that, that’s my necklace!” He said he found it on the ground and has been wearing it for two weeks. He let me take it off of him immediately. He said he thought he was so lucky for finding a gold necklace on the ground. He looked ridiculous with it on because it was way too small and was practically choking him and it is very feminine. But the whole family thought the encounter was quite hilarious and it was gossip for the rest of the day. Apparently Jorge had been trying to buy it from him for 3 mil, which is less than a dollar. This was just too funny for them to handle. Whatever. At least they were entertained and I got my necklace back.
I don’t have much to report about Antonio, my dad. Although, I really love that his nickname is Toto. Toto is a pretty big wimp and giggles at me a lot but he and I don’t have much interaction except when I have Guarani homework. He LOVES my Guarani homework. Although I fail to actually learn anything from him because he speaks so damn fast I never know what is going on. Dihana reminds that he has to slow down when he talk to me, which is very sweet of her, but that just result in another screaming match between the two of them and my homework is forgotten.
All of this said my family is quirky but I love them and I am surely going to miss them, especially Delia. She is so damn cool. Also, living in this house I feel a little spoiled because I know I have a lot that many people in this country do not. I know Peace Corps placed me with this family to mimic what my living conditions will probably be like once I get to my site, meaning I will have some luxuries other volunteers will not. Being a muni volunteer I will most likely be in an urban area meaning I will have more access to amenities. Therefore, I feel a little spoiled. I have my own room, a big bed, I have doors, a window with glass pains, I have running water most of the time, electricity most of the time, a hot shower most of the time, hot meals twice a day, access to the highway, access to internet etc…
Although I am a “spoiled” volunteer this is definitely a new, interesting way of life. Sometimes I come home and we don’t have water to cook with. Every time there is a storm the electricity goes out. The other night during a big storm when the power went out I was preparing my presentation for the next day so I had to make all my materials by headlamp. Although the temperature only gets down to freezing once or twice a year my house, along with the rest of Paraguay, doesn’t have the infrastructure to escape it. We live in our environment. We live with the cold. And when it gets really hot we will live with the heat. There are no furnaces, there are no fireplaces, there is no insulation. The buildings are made of brick and cement so often it is colder inside than outside. There is no escaping “the frio” as we call it. We just have to live with it. We have a really crappy space heater that Delia will plug in on especially cold nights. It will make one part of your body very hot if you sit right next to it while the rest of your body still freezes. Still, better than nothing sometimes. Therefore, I love my sleeping bag, it is so warm and cozy, sometimes I think its my best friend, sometimes its my boyfriend. It’s the best thing I brought to Paraguay.
The power in any given Paraguayan house, including my own, is pretty limited meaning the system can’t support too many electrical appliances, or any one power appliance at one time. Whenever Delia uses the electric mixer (quite a luxurious item to have!) the TV goes snowy, whenever anyone irons at Lyn’s house the shower goes cold. My blow dryer does not work here, even with the converter, and it wont work anywhere in Paraguay.
But none of this feels like a sacrifice or an adjustment. Its just how it goes, its how a lot of people live. But a lot of people don’t live this way. Its much worse. People live in uncompleted houses with no windows, no doors, no roofs, no water, no electricity. So I am extremely lucky to be where I am. I know to some people my situation may not sound like what their vision of the Peace Corps should be. But the Peace Corps has grown and manifested into a different entity than when it was first created. This isn’t your mother’s Peace Corps anymore. Its not just about living in a mud hut and building wells. I mean, it is for some sectors and in some countries. But that is just one part of the Peace Corps. Development can happen in many places and in many ways. Municipal Services is a fairly new program in the history of Peace Corps and not omnipresent in other PC countries but the more I learn about my future work the more I realize how important it is and the more excited I am to start. I find out my future site on Monday and will spend the next week visiting my site. Then I have just two more weeks of training and my official swearing in ceremony as a volunteer at the US Embassy in Asuncion (there are rumors that President Lugo could come). After a weekend of freedom, finally, in the capital I will be off to my site for two year. The beginning is almost here.


  1. Jenna I love capibaras they are my favorite animal at the zoo i cant believe you ate one!! love you xoxox

  2. Looks cold!!! Glad to be able to read all about your experiences, have fun!