Sunday, January 24, 2010

The Toughest Job You Will Ever Love

I know my blogs over the last few months have become less frequent but as I have begun to slip into my day-to-day life in Paraguay I have found some kind of a routine: an everyday life that is not as interesting and new as I used to find it and therefore I find myself with less than fascinating circumstances to write about. Paraguay and Paraguayans still never cease to amaze me and I still find myself learning a lot but my ability to accept the cultural differences as norm and not dwell on these differences as much as I used to is much greater. In fact, I find myself starting to pick up on a lot of cultural habits, whether I realized I was doing it at first or not. For example, Paraguayans are a bunch of liars. I’m not being offensive, its just their way of trying not to be offensive. Paraguayans are characteristically timid, passive and will go out of their way not to offend, so saying ‘no’ to any kind of request sounds like a great offense. To avoid any confrontation or awkwardness, Paraguayans say ‘yes’ to everything, even when they mean no. I can invite the whole neighborhood to a meeting at my house the next night and get a positive ‘yes, I will be there’ from everybody and have nobody show up. I have found myself becoming quite the liar as well. I tell people, “yes, I will come visit you tomorrow”. Even when I know I have no intention of going over there. I here ‘yes’ so much that it has just started to flow from my own mouth. The Peace Corps has made me a liar.
I also have not been writing as much because life in Paraguay the last month or two has been somewhat of a struggle for me. I am very content with my lifestyle and wouldn’t want to give it up for a second. In fact, the thought of going back to the States and having to LIVE and find a JOB there sounds pretty dreadful to me. And although some of my PC friends refer to their service as ‘two years of summer camp’ (and sometimes I have to agree with them) life in Paraguay and the Peace Corps isn’t always easy. It has its ups and downs, and this past month or two has been a down for me. It could be because of so many factors. It could be because its summer vacation, the kids are not in school and the overall pace of life is small pueblo Paraguay is even slower (if that is at all possible), that also means I have to wait till classes begin again in the end of February till I can start up all the projects I would like to do with the schools…oh so many ideas.
It could be because it is the dead of summer and the heat is relentless and unmotivating. No wonder Paraguayans are stereotyped as lazy, the sun is way too hot to go outside and do anything most days. I have never experienced such continual, intense, humid heat before. I understand the need for a siesta in the middle of the day. The heat takes away all your strength and energy and there is nothing to do but sleep after lunch with this kind of weather. I couldn’t have imagined it until I actually experienced it myself.
It could be because people in Fassardi are still trying to understand what the heck I am doing here. So far I haven’t tried to convert them and I haven’t given them any money like all the other white people that have come through here in the past. All they know is I rented a house, I talk funny, and I haven’t left yet. They are still a little suspicious. In this manner I am having a difficult time finding people to work with me. Paraguayans are extremely friendly and open and they will call to me from the street and invite me into their homes. They will offer me food and what little they have. They will ask me lots of questions and I will talk to them about my ideas for projects and ways to improve their community but I still have yet to find people who are really willing to back me up and support me. Maybe they have heard this kind of talk before and nothing happened. Maybe hope is a dangerous feeling to have lingering.
Maybe it is because it is difficult for people to really understand me. Yes, I speak Spanish and I can speak it well. But I am not fluent. Who knows if I ever will be. I still make mistakes all the times, find myself stumbling over words, and still find myself in situations where I cannot express certain ideas or concepts. This is the most frustrating of all.
Maybe it is because living in a foreign culture is a difficult thing to do, something I have to remind myself, away from all I know that is comfortable and meaningful. Peace Corps is a 24/7 job, I can never escape it, I never get a break from my job. Even when I am alone in my house at night, Fassardi is dark and quite, and I think I can relish for just awhile in some of my American ways I will turn around and there will be Paraguay, still in my house, staring me in the face. A storm passes over the house in the middle of the night and the power goes out, my fan shuts off and I have to pass the night in a sleepless sweat, I want to cook dinner on my gas stove and realize my tank is empty, the water is cut and who knows when it is coming back on, I want to go to bed a little early one night but the Evangelical church down the road has a different idea and the pastor blasts his preaching accompanied by loud reggaton music over the loudspeakers into the night, some creepy dude in town has gotten a hold of my cell phone number passed from this guy to this guy to this guy and sends me anonymous love text messages.
Paraguay never goes away. My boyfriend likes to say we as foreigners are in a constant battle with Paraguay and if I don’t start to fight back Paraguay is going to win. Paraguay wins tiny battles everyday. Especially over my health. I have had countless, unidentified insects bite me that swell up to the size of a baseball. I have also had numerous unidentified ailments that have had me on my back for more than a day or two. Paraguay sure had its way with me on those occasions.
Peace Corps Paraguay PTO Jason Cochran put it best. He says you have to think about your “Little Victories”. He gave me and my fellow training group a pep talk during our three month in-service training and reminded us during all of our bitching that Peace Corps is a hard job, its supposed to be, but it’s the little victories that count and those victories are different for everyone. If you are having trouble just figuring out how to light your damn Paraguayan oven and you finally figure it out, that is quite a little victory. I have really taken his words to heart and although I think his words of wisdom can apply to anybody they really do make sense for our situation in the Peace Corps and I like to think about my little victories everyday. This strategy really helps me get through the day.
I also might just need a vacation. So my boyfriend, Adam, and I are going to northern Argentina for a week. Yeah! I am going to leave Paraguay behind and forget about it for just a second. Take a break. I’ve been working for the past eight months, I think I deserve a vacation!
But if this job was easy I wouldn’t like it, I never would have signed up. Peace Corps says it is the Toughest Job You Will Ever Love, and no slogan could ever be truer.


  1. Victory over Paraguay - my wife telling off a couple of Paraguayan police officers when they try to shake us down for 400,000G. She's Paraguayan and her brother-in-law is Policia Nacional. I thought we were going to jail, but she got us out of the ticket and the "multa"

  2. This is such a thoughtful and enlightening post about your experience. Thank you for sharing. Good luck with the little victories, and have a wonderful time in Argentina!

  3. Momma said there'd be days like this.

  4. Sweetheart,
    I appreciate your authentic summary of your recent thoughts and feelings. I know after your greatly needed vacation, you will have a brighter perspective. You are so brave and I am proud of you. I say, "Victory over Paraguay."
    I love you,