Monday, November 16, 2009

Tropical Climates Aren't So Romantic After All

I was inspired to write this blog after reading my friend Lyn’s blog and her perspective on the heat in Paraguay. She is from Texas. Therefore, we have a major difference of opinion on this subject.

The temperature last week made a drastic leap from a comfortable, spring warmth to a tropical, suffocating heat. Last week was the hottest week of my life. A few storms have now come and gone and cooled off this burning country, but I had never experienced such inescapable heat. I know places get much hotter in my own country but most places in the United States with intense weather can escape it with the miracle of heating and air conditioning. How lucky we are with our fancy modern technology we can live comfortably in any climate we want any time of the year! Mostly, we are lucky that we can afford such luxuries. Of course, these technologies have made their way to Paraguay but only for the well-off and the lucky, the majority must live in their environment; they must sweat through the heat in the summer and shiver through the frosts in the winter.

The last few weeks have begun the transition into summer and it is hot and humid, even during the storms. I sweat all day and sometimes all night. Often multiple showers are necessary. On those really hot, chart topping days I fall asleep at night sweating and wake up sweating before I have even opened my eyes. It is a sweaty world and I am living in it. But, everyone else around me is just as sweaty and we bond over our mutual sweatiness. We complain about the heat, drink terere, and complain some more.

Long, crowded bus rides can be very uncomfortable experiences. The bus drivers pack the busses to maximum capacity so people are stacked on top of each other in the aisle and their limbs, butts, baggage etc… take up location on the laps and shoulders of the seated passengers. We are packed in like sardines and the only air conditioning comes from the wind passing through the open windows when the bus is on the move. To say the least, a bus ride to the capital on a hot day might be comparable to riding in a packed elevator full of strangers snuggled up close, but for 5 hours instead of just 30 seconds.

Now, I have not only come to accept my constant dirty, sweaty state of being but fully embraced it. It is impossible to be clean and fresh for too long in Paraguay, no matter what corner of the country you are in or how hard you try. The dirt seems permanently stuck under my nails, my clothes never get completely clean because I have yet to personally master hand washing them in a bucket in the back yard, and sometimes I’m just too tired or lazy to shower after a long day of interpreting Paraguayans. It’s a hot, sweaty, dirty world south of the equator….but…I have the best job in the world, I’m a Peace Corps Volunteer…I can’t complain too much in the end.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009


5 ½ months living over seas sounds like a long time to me. It sounds like a significant amount of time to learn and appreciate a different culture. 5 ½ months is the longest I have ever been out of the country or away from home so I thought by now I would feel like I really knew Paraguay, but 5 ½ months is really no time at all. I can’t believe I have been here almost half a year, that is unbelievable to me. The time has gone by dramatically fast. I feel like I am only just beginning to understand Paraguay, Paraguayans and how to be a Peace Corps Volunteer. I know my friends and family feel I have been gone along time but in my world I am still a Peace Corps baby learning the ropes.
As the Paraguayan pueblo becomes my every day life I am slowly forgetting what reality was like in my other world. North America seems oh so far away sometimes. I realized that I have found the lifestyle I truly was searching for in joining the Peace Corps. I am free of schedules and time constraints and the daily grind. I am faced with new mental and physical challenges almost daily and learn more about myself through these experiences. I am constantly meeting new, interesting people from all walks of life. I am loving the Paraguayan tranquilo pace of life and currently have no desire to go back to the US. I am surprised at how content I am to be living in Paraguay with not an inkling or yearning for my country. I did experiences some waves of homesickness around the three month mark during my transition into my site, but that has passed. I expected that much because 3 to 4 months was the longest extended period of time I had ever been out of the country. I don’t miss the United States but I do miss my family constantly. I constantly talk about my family to Paraguayans and PC volunteers alike, in Spanish, English and really bad Guarani. I have to admit I miss home excessively when I am sick. Paraguay is a tough place to be sick and I have been sick a lot since I have been here. I just want my mom. The only time I ever think, “what the hell am I doing here?” “why on earth did I come to Paraguay of all places” is when I am sick. But then I get better and thank god I get to live in the country for a little while.

A Paraguayan Picnic Pageant Party

I was invited to a picnic to raise funds for the ninth grade class by my next door neighbor. Nati,14, told me about the event a week and a half in advance and really wanted to make sure I would come to the party. As I got more and more information about the party leading up to the day I was more confused about what kind of event it actually was. Nati referred to it as a picnic and a party but it was going to be held on a Sunday night, starting about 9 o’clock and I didn’t have to bring any food or drinks with me. Then she told me they were going to crown “Miss Spring 2009” and have a little pageant. You just never know what you are going to get with a Paraguayan party.
The night of the party my PC friend was visiting and so he came along as well. The party was outdoors in a dirt patio. The all important stereo blasting with reggatone music had been set up and many many young men stood around the yard drinking and staring at each other. Paraguayan parties always have an improporinate amount of men to women. I found myself at another dull, male intensive Paraguayan party. I get really tired of these events and now just like to make an appearance. The pageant soon started and the crowd was in a tizzy as the girls came out one by one in less and less clothing. The three contestants took turns parading around the dirt yard in different outfits to the hoots and hollers of the male audience. Over the loud speaker the girls were introduced as they paraded around in their little dresses, their age was announced along with their interests. Usually their interests included singing, dancing, and reggatone and romantic music. It would go something like this, “Here comes Carmen in her night time dress, she is 16 and she likes to dance and enjoys reggatone music”. And the crowd of googly eyed boys and old men alike would whistle and hoot until she disappeared back into the house and the next young, supple teenager appeared.
“Ok” I thought, “So, this is what a simple, campo pageant is like out in the middle-of-nowhere Paraguay. It’s a little perverted and backwards but I can accept it for what it is as simple entertainment.” Then the next round started. This was the bathing suit/beach wear round. However, the first contestant was not wearing a bathing suit but very sexy lingerie. The crowd was wild with excitement at seeing this young, beautiful girl prance around in sexy, lacy, barefooted, nothingness right before their eyes. My friend and I couldn’t believe our eyes either. “This is a lie, that is not a bathing suit, that is lingerie and this is supposed to be a conservative country!”
And it still got more interesting. Round three a new contestant decided she was left out and wanted to join the pageant. This being Paraguay and not wanting to offend her, there was no one to tell her no. Also, not having come prepared with any outfits and being belligerently drunk the young contestant decided to take off all her clothes and parade around the yard in front of her equally drunk audience in her thong and bra. She was announced also to be sporting her bathing suit. I could no longer hide the shock on my face. I couldn’t believe this was happening in my sleeping Paraguayan pueblo right before my eyes, even the drunken Sheriff was over in the corner yukking it up with my friend and the rest of his drunken comrades. I was looking around, with my jaw on the floor, trying to see if anyone else was as shocked and horrified as I was but everyone else was either expertly hiding their horror or was enjoying the show immensely. My friend announced that I had brought him to a strip show. He was equally astonished and said he had never seen anything like it in his 1 ½ years in Paraguay.
The moment had come nobody had been waiting for…the end of the pageant and the announcement of the winners. It was the most depressing awards ceremony I had ever witnessed. Either all the men just didn’t care who won or where so depressed they didn’t get to watch half naked adolescent girls prance around anymore but they showed no enthusiasm for the announcements of the winners. As each place was announced and each girl came out to receive her bouquet of flowers, the crowd gave a pathetic attempt at an applause. Considering the racket that just went on when the girls came out before, I felt embarrassed that no one was applauding them now. Obviously this meant something to these girls and it took some guts to get up there in front of those pigs. So I applauded and cheered as loud as I could as each girl came to accept her flowers. I was by far the loudest and longest clapper in the crowd.
Drunken-underwear girl took 1st runner up despite only have one outfit and even came out to accept her flowers in her underwear, the crowd approved of this decision. The winner was sexy, lacy, lingerie girl. She had a crown unceremoniously placed on her head, the men soon lost interest when they realized she was no longer in lingerie and immediately pumped up the reggatone on the stereo and stood around, stared at each other and got more unnecessarily drunk. The pageant had ended. It was a Paraguayan night to remember.