06 November 2012

Que paso de vos?! means, What the hell happened to you, man?

Shame, shame, shame, verguenza! E'A!

It's been a long time but I promise to make up for it.

This is just like when I don't go to visit a family for a few days and then I'm so ashamed I don't go for another fews days, then it's a month and by the time I have mustered up the strength to walk past their house I am ablaze with red, hot shame. They will scream at me, Ingrate! You are shameless! But they will love me again.

So ask you, readers, love me again? You can throw rocks at me, as Paraguayan children tend to do when they're having trouble expressing their emotions, or you can whip me a little with a stick as my host mother has done once or twice after I scandalize her. Just love me again.


15 February 2012

"This is not who I am!"

As ex-patriots enduring hardships, as fish out of water, as people trying to stay sane- as Peace Corps volunteers- we tell ourselves a lot of lies. We tell other people lies: Lies to get through the week, the day, the meal (do fried pig intestines count as a meal?). 

But which is it? Do we tell little lies to make the day easier? Or do we forget who we are?

We talk in the Peace Corps about adjusting your standards as a volunteer and living with an altered set of expectations. For example, if I walk into my new site expecting a ceramic bathtub and air conditioning, I may be disappointed. If I walk into my new site expecting to bucket bathe and live without the luxury of a fan, the fact that I have hot running water becomes the highlight of the month. Lower your standards, raise your average. However, that little tactic for staying happy and sane can quickly become a slippery slope of floppy moral values and self-efficacy. "I could go without running water," becomes, "I never really liked deodorant anyway," which becomes, "It's alright if he doesn't have teeth- he speaks spanish." Hake! Now we're fishing low. But how do you ensure you're traveling far enough down the path of alternate expectations without slipping down the landslide?

Like Roxette said, listen to you heart?
(insert <3 emoticons, wink wink, smiley face, exclamation point!)

Maybe.

Listen- if I told the truth about everything to the people I live with I would have no friends. Having no friends in Paraguay means you also don't have any coworkers. No separation exists between work and home, between family and business friends, between peluqueria and class time (wait... what?). This is why we spend the first three months in site not doing anything. Anything, of course, being the very American notion of shuffling papers, sending emails and producing tangible, touchable evidence of our labors. What we are actually doing in those three "idle" months is making friends - which can be a heady task- and hopefully making people love and trust us, thus enabling a work environment.

Would people love me if I told them I was of the (shhhh) Judaic persuasion? Supported (quiet!) same-sex civil unions? Didn't like (what?!) beans?!?! Meat?!?!?! Paraguayan men climbing through my window at night?!?!?! Shut up! Of course none of that's true!

So we make tiny little concessions to sneak stealthily into this very contradictory but navigable culture- if you've got the right compass. And once we are established- once someone loves us- once we find our mother number two, father number 3, indispensable next-door neighbor señora- then we can start leaking out whole-truths, big juicy life secrets instead of the watered down half pint we've been feeding people.

That's how it was for me. And now? Now I laugh and tell people that beans and I are not friends, that I don't like to eat a lot of red meat because it's bad for the heart and that I don't dig on the overwhelming culture of infidelity spread among Paraguayan men (and women). And people get it. Because they're humans and so am I and it's hard to hold yourself back for so long and present an altered version of your personality just to please other people.

BUT- am I 100% here? Bragging about my political stances on medical coverage and welfare?

Hell. No.

That would be a social and professional death sentence. Even though we've been here a year now and myself I feel integrated into my community- I have people I genuinely trust, feel relaxed, at home- I still do and say things that do not reflect the person I believe I truly am. This weighs on me.

But it's not possible for most of us to do otherwise.

Four days ago I was walking with a friend on an isolated dirt road, no one around, no traffic, no houses, no nada, and we threw an empty cardboard chocolate milk container into the bushes (guilt of physical tossing of container will remain unplaced). Neither of us said anything for a moment. Why? Because throwing sick trash into a lush green ambiance of tropical plants and fauna is normal. Then she laughed and so did I. Who are we?!?!

I've always been one to vilipend littering. Fiercely so and to the irritation of most everyone around me apart from my tree-hugging sister (hug on, Jin). But look around us. Imagine the image we are trapped inside of- and not just physically but culturally. We have just passed by a series of burn piles dotting the side of the road, still smoldering and letting off just a wee bit of toxic gas into the air we breathe. The flora is already scattered with plastic bottles and used diapers. Pieces of flip flops have been ground into the road, half buried under packed red dirt.

What are we doing throwing trash into the bushes? Integrating.

What am I doing eating more chipa so'o then is healthy for me (that equals one piece by the way)? I'm looking normal.

And what the hell am I doing peeing into a plastic bag on a campo bus full of strangers? What my mama told me to do. Relax.

We adapt. We figure out what things we can do without comprising our morality and what pleasantries have to be sacrificed to maintain our dignity. We lay down. Or we fight. But the choice is singular to each of us and the results may define our service. Or we may define it ourselves regardless of our circumstances.

Some volunteers worry they won't be able to find the road back to their starting point, their embarkation, their arrival gate- back to their original self- when service is over. What if you can't recover the parts of yourself that you sacrificed to get the job done? To get through the day. To finish the meal.

Sometimes it's hard to pull back the oppressed parts of my personality. Sometimes I feel so myself that I'm suddenly weightless and the world is good. And sometimes I can't remember who I used to be so how do I know which rope to grab on to anyway?

Well, so what if you arrive in a different place than that from which you began? So what? If you strayed from the path of yourself? If you picked.... the road less-traveled?

I think that's called finding yourself.

Just don't go crazy, lose yourself completely and kill a cow for eating your last pair of underwear.

30 January 2012

Ouch- and it hurts when you hit the bottom

You can only ride that wave for so long I guess and then it crashes.

There are some things happening here. I mean, mostly inside my head. Outwardly summer drags on, men continue to be pitifully machismo and projects develop. But in there.... in my cabezita I am moving slowly but surely toward insanity. I am feeling lethargic and anti-social. I feel the overwhelming and yet I know dangerous urge to explore medical schools online and fantasize about what my life will be like there- IT'S TOO EARLY!!

This dangerous endeavor causes a discontinuity in my space-time relationshipper and I am unable to focus on the present- Paraguay: heat; poverty; beasts and children everywhere; people thinking I'm a spy; over abundance of starches and animal fats- and I walk around in a haze. Mentally I've been transported to the beautiful lush campus of the Medical University of South Carolina or MSU: The lawns are well-tended, ethnic food is nearby and the educational material is peer-reviewed and open to everyone. But physically. Oh boy. Physically I'm sitting at Ña Jacinta's house discussing the logistics of getting them a fogon so she can stop breathing in so much smoke every time she cooks while five barefoot little boys run around making toys out of empty pop bottles and sand from the road. I love them. And I love my work. But I have hit my wall.


We are careful to emphasize in the Peace Corps that every volunteer will have a distinct experience, even if they serve in the same sector in the same country in similar towns. It depends. That's the catch all answer/advice for everything. But in spite of that, most volunteers follow a very similar path in emotional adjustment. 


Observe.


Month 6 was no fun whatsoever. Month 7 or 8 we received this little gem that- if nothing else- justified the struggles I had been through in month 6. Little late. But okay.

The last week or so I've been 'struggling' again- that's putting it lightly- and last night I found myself desperately searching through my gmail for the copy of this chart to justify my feelings (I'm not crazy, right?!) and when I couldn't find it I resorted to typing things into Google Image like, "emotional progress of peace corps volunteers". Oh, it was a sad night.

What's wrong Carly? 

Is it the refusal of new people to speak directly to you but instead pretend you're deaf/incoherent/invisible/can't speak spanish/can't understand Guarani and ask everyone sitting next you personal questions about your life and then refuse to listen to the answer I give?

No.

Is the almost physically painful loneliness brought on by an emotionally and physically trying and particularly solitary year without the tiniest hint of romance due to geographical isolation and incredible male/female ratio in Peace Corps-Paraguay which is about 1:5, the majority of males being either married or otherwise sexually inclined? 

No.

So then maybe the language thing? The 5000 miles from home thing? The 'no one understands me!' thing? The where is my life going thing? No, no, no. You know what? 

I think it's the Paraguayan government in conjunction with 1-year blues. 

Two nights ago I went with the host family to a wedding, first time. I tried, I tried, I tried to focus on the joyous event but every thought I had spun around and turned bitter in my mouth. The dresses- the cheap material, the low quality of products in Paraguay and the fact that no one cares enough to improve the market. The groom- what were the chances he would actually be monogamous? In this country- almost zero. The food at the reception- four starches and two kinds of meat. Zero vegetables, zero fruits. We couldn't get water served to us - the waiters were baffled. The bathrooms- I asked my mom where they were. She asked the woman next to us who asked the woman next to her. I stood up and said I would ask someone who worked here and everyone had little spaz attacks in their seats at the inherent danger presented by that proposition. Similarly, our table was given one too few plates when the food was served so my mom said she'd would stop a waiter when he walked by. One walks by. She starts at him anxiously but says nothing. Two walk by. She and my sister stare anxiously. My brother smacks my mom's arm over and over but again - no one says anything. Well, I gave them their chance so I stand up, find a waiter and ask for another plate. Everyone at the table and in the near vicinity is shocked by my outward behavior, having tiny chisme seizures in their plastic chairs. They would have gone hungry.

I unknowingly hold my breath. 

I get stuck inside my own head. 

The passing of time warps with every day. 

The customs of the culture here are alternatively endearing and infuriating and after a year their intimacy makes them issues not easily brushed off. These things are integral, inescapable parts of life. As volunteers we're forced to stare down their throats and love it or hate it but rarely can we accomplish a point of view that isn't totally ethnocentric. Every single day we confront the absence of women's rights and male domination both inside the home and out. Every single day we see the consequences of a post-dictatorial culture that is terrified to confront any issue head-on and so goes on, day after day, week after week, year after year, lacking basic human rights and unable to ask for the things they need and want, both from each other and from their government. Every. Single. Day. The overbearing integration of superstition and myths restricts activity keeps peoples minds small and their presence limited.

But the very worst of all are the people who want to learn and are denied the resources. People who tell me openly that their culture is "low" and their people are ignorant and they don't understand how it happened. And that's the most frustrating part of all. Never at any point is it the people who are irritating. You can't be upset with Ña Fulana or her seven illegitimate, parasite-ridden children who want to steal your clothes and tell everyone you're there to steal the aquifer. I want to be mad at them but I can't- my anger would be completely small-minded and ill-placed because it's the government that keeps them intentionally in the dark, fostering their ignorance, ensuring that a threat can never materialize. And the government isn't something I can beat as a Peace Corps volunteer. 

If we try really really really hard maybe in another 50 years we can beat illiteracy or malnutrition in children. It's highly unlikely but hopefully we can at least reduce the numbers. But corruption in the government which ultimately is the bedrock and the potential solution to every problem the country has? That's not something we're allowed to affect. 

So we trudge on against the unbeatable opponent, sweating it out, falling into poop holes, pulling 12-inch worms out of our butts and having our reputations destroyed for having more than one boyfriend in a year, among other travesties.

Sometimes I get stuck  thinking about all the unbeatable obstacles in these dog days of summer when my temper, one year in and feeling the weight, is dangerously paired with a thin store of patience and sharp pangs of homesickness. And I think.... What the f@#$ are we doing here?

Two years of your life so people can accuse you of being a spy and spread rumors about you. Two yours of your life so people can tell you, You would have quit by now if they'd put you in the campo. Two yours of your life so people can cancel meeting after meeting or just never show up at all after you worked all night to prepare.

Remember, remember, remember- there's a point. Change one life and it's worth it. Improve one life and it's worth it. And like I've said before, I've already changed and improved my own if no one else's so it's got to be worth it already right....? Those were the honey moon days! 

Oh, JFK, give me strength.

"Life in the Peace Corps will not be easy. There will be no salary and allowances will be at a level sufficient only to maintain health and meet basic needs. Men and women will be expected to work and live alongside the nationals of the country in which they are stationed—doing the same work, eating the same food, talking the same language.
But if the life will not be easy, it will be rich and satisfying. For every young American who participates in the Peace Corps—who works in a foreign land—will know that he or she is sharing in the great common task of bringing to man that decent way of life which is the foundation of freedom and a condition of peace."
John F. Kennedy1961 - 1963

16 January 2012

Should Old Acquaintance Be Forgot

Or new ones made. Why isn't that part of the song?

A discovery, a juicy one: A person can be reinvented without changing a single thing about themselves. Just change location. A change in surroundings and in people suddenly throws your same borrowing old personality into a new light and you are at once a bright shining new human and your same old same old, one in the same.

Listen: Google maps can't find a way to get from Paraguari, Paraguay to Hudson, Michigan but it seems to be just under 5,000 miles as the crow flies (ask my Mom, she knows a more specific number to which she cries herself to sleep every night). In spite of that seemingly insurmountable number and lack of driving directions, I'm closer with my parents now then I've ever been in life and luckily for me that also goes for a couple of bright shining little stars of friends who are practically family as well. That should be it. My luck should be run out because relationships like I've harbored in the last year are priceless.

But, alas! Look at me in Paraguari. I've reinvented myself as this mysterious norte who at least a few people seem to love. The l word I'm using and I mean it. I am at once a different person here and absolutely myself. I'm my father's daughter and somehow yet 100% the granddaughter of an 86 year-old Paraguayan abuela who I take naps with in the afternoon.  She tells me about birthing her children like they're my brothers and sisters. And I think they are.

Two days ago my host mom was staring off into the south (AKA the side of abuela's house), letting the wind hit her face and looking worried. "La yvytusur," the southern wind, she said, "ombohasyta enteroveva." It's going to make us all sick. That's just how it is, she told me. The southern wind always does this to our family. She asked me if I couldn't feel it taking my spirit away? Yeah, I could feel it. The next day I was feeling down (psychology!!) and she took my hand between hers while we were eating lunch and said to me, as she has before more times than I can count, "That's how I know you're my daughter. We feel the same things in our hearts."

Somehow, when the sappy, emotional, spirit-of-the-earth things are said in another language I don't mind them so much. Somehow when a woman who was a stranger 9 months ago tells me she knows I was meant to be her oldest daughter I don't feel disloyal to my own mother, I just feel incredibly lucky to have two moms. Who would have thought?

To catch up on the 23 years she missed before I popped up on her doorstep, her much-anticipated long-lost first-born, Matchi often asks me about my infancy and my habits as she already knows Jessica and Alvaro's. She now knows when I was born, how long it took, that my mom had an urge to make pasta before she went to the hospital and plenty of anecdotes from the years in between then and now.

To catch up on the years I missed, my body and mind are both syncing up with the family. When abuela has a headache so do I. When abuela gets dizzy so do I. When abuela has the hiccups so do I. Of course I rarely realize that it's happening until later and I say, "Mama, my head hurt all day yesterday," and she tells me without surprise that it was because of abuela. Oh. Of course.

I don't know if I'll teach my future children that the south wind makes us sad and spiritless and that the north wind makes us feel crazy and listless but I know this stuff's too important to lose. And should old acquaintance be forgot..... wait, no! I'm absorbed in my life here but that's the crazy part: I haven't forgotten my old acquaintances nor have they forgotten me. Well, the few faithful and dedicated anyway. It turns out they are the rock upon which this kingdom of dreams is built upon. So thank you old acquaintances. You allow me the luxury of making new ones with some stability waiting behind me. And thanks for not forgetting me because even though I'm in a totally new setting with new people doing new things- I'm still me.

15 January 2012

Auld Lang Syne

Tapeguahe poraite 2012. Bienvenidos. Welcome.

If you're in a hurry to get this year under way you might want to come back to this entry later. It's a bit introspective and blah blah blah.

The New Year has arrived: This means reflection upon the Old Year; upon auld lang syne, or times gone by (I never knew). Yet as I advertise that very sentiment on the radio in Paraguari, spreading the word about the very non-Paraguayan tradition of making resolutions and looking back on the year gone by, I find myself hesitant to dive into the pool of memories. I'm afraid to get wet again. Maybe because I don't know what hell just happened. Or what's still happening right outside my front door, just under the surface.... it's all little too close for comfort. Or maybe it's because the 'old' one is inevitably a predictor of the 'new' one.... and the last one didn't exactly handle us gently down here. Or anywhere.

What am I saying? Oh, yes, hallelujah! Como siempre, I tell you, Paraguay has provided me the omnipotent gift of personal development and lead me, albeit at times blindly and through pothole-puddles, toward the road called, "Self Discovery" - cue angels singing. I have found myself. At the bottom of a long, dark lake from which the climb to the surface is grueling but- so the gente say- totally worth it!

To figure out what exactly went on in the last year (was that a cow utter I just ate? did you say dog meat? i didn't agree to marry anyone), I have to go farther. Another year, another one, two more. Let's go to Roanoke College, 2007.

I had a professor my junior year who had the unsettling ability to create ethical gray areas from your most grounded beliefs. He could logically and inoffensively question the moral righteousness of any action until you were 180 degrees flipped on your head with your trusty Boy Scout's guide turned inside out, haven fallen out of your pocket in the process. Should've been a lawyer. This same man taught me a valuable lesson. I selfishly wish it was an easy or less painful lesson but that's not the case. L'sigh. The right things rarely are the easy choices and I very begrudgingly admit this while rolling my eyes. Damn life and it's things.

"The unexamined life is not worth living," my professor said. Turns out Socrates said it first but he conveyed the sentiment well enough. This profe-o-mine talked about the pains and heavy costs of living an examined life and then about the concurrent benefits, immeasurable by any standards of man and describable only by those few ethereal, always-elusively-defined words: Bliss, satisfaction, tranquilidad. 

I mean, I feel blissful and satisfied when Moose Tracks hits my face but I'm a cheap date. I think he meant something a little more profound. So I commanded myself to look- to really look, look, look damnit! at my life. To examine it, scrutinize it- to buoy up even the murky dark half-truths that keep pushing down from the surface each time they bobbed up. Down, down, down they went and up, up, up I'd have to drag them, into the harsh light of day where they are not distorted by the bend of water or the capricious rippling of waves.

So I look.

I see some stuff. As a well-adjusted and driven 20 year-old, I have the unsettling realization that I'm pretty indifferent to my life. I'm indifferent to my college education. I'm indifferent to my sorority. I'm indifferent to the foods I eat and the parties I pop up at. There are a few shining beacons of excitement in my life at this point- a couple of friends, the thought of graduation, Mexican food on Thursdays. Asi era. Over the next two years, through graduation and graduate school alike, I begin to realize that nothing in my life was really precipitated by me. All the things I wanted to happen, the things I dreamed about and planned for, well they fell through. And the rest happened as matters of consequence. I know Harry Potter whined about a lot of this B.S. in the fourth book so, please Anna, just stay with me a minute. I do have a point.

I applied for the Peace Corps. Granted, I didn't know what I was doing and the act was half the consequence of finals procrastination and half fantastical indulgence. But there I was. I kind of did it on purpose. Kendrick was sitting next me on the computers; first floor of the library; Abril 2009. I started a crazy 9-step process to take me into the middle of nowhere so I could get real with myself and then start doing some stuff on purpose. Thank God it finally worked. I've never spent 11 and a half months   examining my life with so few breaks in between to rest the mind and soul (yah, falta two weeks and I'm one year in this country). Normally work distracts a person; family distracts a person; hobbies or the TV or a vacation distracts a person. But here in the wild wonderfulness of Paraguay the hours roll into each other and time is abundant enough for even the moot, sunken mysteries to be signaled ashore. What washes up isn't always pretty but this guy Socrates told me it's always worth it to have a look.

You know, I think I gave Zach Grigsby a similar talk at the ripe all-knowing age of 21 (24 is a lot better, eh? I obviously know it all by now. Psh.) and was baffled when it didn't take. I guess I get it now. A thing as intimate as 'examining' your life is something a person's gotta come into on their own. And maybe I thought I was doing it before- and maybe I was. But I didn't have the strength to take action  until the US government dumped me unceremoniously at the corner of Ruta 1 and the Petrobras to begin service last April. Un poco a poco, I'm finally doing it. Take a deep breath. I can see the surface.



What do you want? Looking back at the last 12 months, were you skimming the surface and avoiding the pain that might have come with staying under water too long? We you floating? Were you wearing Buzz Light Year floaty wings, good God, get a grip, man. Maybe getting sunburnt occasionally but, hey, it's better than drowning just to see what's down there. Or is it? I don't want to float anymore. I want to dive- like, scuba, not snorkeling. I want to feel the pressure on my lungs because I forgot to come up for air. That's living. And maybe it's hurts a little but I've decided for myself it's better than never seeing the fauna on the seabed. What if there's a treasure down there....?

Come on in: the water's great.

28 November 2011

And then she finds you

Death is an unfair mistress. She lurks behind corners until a bounce accompanies your step and then she trips you. She watches your parties, your invincibility, your recklessness for the laws of man and nature alike and she pulls the rug out from under you as you dance upon it with a drink lifted high in your hand. The drink spills. The dream dies. You fall down.




After a three-day HIV/AIDS workshop in Asuncion, the seven hour bus ride to Encarnacion commenced. I was on my way to a much-anticipated pool-side Thanksgiving celebration with other Peace Corps volunteers- three days with no community development (whatever that is), no Guarani headaches and no house calls. Vacation time. VACATION TIME!

After hours of sweaty, running-out-of-gas, no-I'm-not-married-but-no-we're-not-going-to-date-mr.-bus-driver, we arrived at Hotel Tirol. Upon entering the property, we were greeted by a pool full of slightly crispy Peace Corps volunteers, floating face-up in inner tubes, hues reminiscent of Life Saver candies, wearing over-sized sun hats with quickly-mixed drinks in their hands, electronic pop blaring from a borrowed sound system and a volleyball net set up on one side. We had arrived.

The next two days were a blur of slathering on layer upon layer of sun screen (still missing spots, of course), floating in an array of creative positions in the inner tubes and then ravenously eating catered food like cows called home by the bell three times a day.

Even though we were in this Shangri-La of generously provisioned food and poolside volleyball tournaments, there were tensions. Here we were: A large group of our friends together in one place for the first time since training activities. You might think we'd be overjoyed to see each other again, to be reunited and have it feel so good. But, being over-emotional women in a unique circumstance outlined by life-defining challenges and exhausting personal development, things become more complicated than that. It seems that in our own isolated communities, talking everyday (or close to it) on the phone, we have become accustomed to having our own friends- all. to. our. selves. And to share becomes something of a trial. So the underlying passive agressive jealousy that we would never admit ourselves capable of because we are good people trying to do good in the world and eliminate poverty, world hunger, teenage pregnancy, parasitosis, cavities, bad fashion choices, ingrown toe nails for God's sake! it starts to creep up in totally novel ways. Things are fun! For certain. But things are tense as well. We are doing our best to ignore the problems and take in as many cosmic rays as we can before it's time to leave Zion.

Thanksgiving dinner rolls around and I find, mysteriously, that I've lost my ability to over-eat. After living without a refrigerator and surviving on popcorn and watermelon for the last month, I can hardly choke down my first plate of delicious, so-authentic American Thanksgiving food before I am nauseous and wondering how long it will take for this dinner to become a scary trip to the nicer-than-usual-but-still-doorless bathroom at this joint. But don't worry yall. Like I've said before, I can get at some desert like Mike Tyson at a fresh plate of ears so I obviously destroyed four different options after declaring it impossible to eat another bite. The night and day that followed the feast did well to prove itself worthy of it's forebearing fodder: Turkey (Juuuui-cy), mashed potatoes, yams with marshmallows, green bean casserole,  mac n' cheese, stuffing and a fresh salad which I didn't touch.

Mm.

Saturday afternoon everyone packed up their sopping wet stuff, trying not to wonder if it was beer, pool water, sweat or some other unmentionable and ate our last lunch at the hotel. As things were winding down and we were talking logistics, a few people came into the dining area to make an announcement. We had been making a lot of announcement these last couple of days: Beer pong tournament starts at 9; stop dropping bottles into the pool; thank you's to so-and-so, you get the drift. This one was different. This one wasn't good. The girl talking wasn't smiling at us. Her voice was shaking. People were frantically shushing other guests at the hotel who were still mumbling in spanish or other languages. This one wasn't good.

Death is an unfair mistress. She waits until your belly is full, your body is satiated and then she starves you of air. She watches your parties, your invincibility, your recklessness for the laws of man and nature alike and she pulls the rug out from under you as you dance upon it with a drink lifted high in your hand. The drink spills. The dream dies. You fall down.

I barely recognize the name but I feel acutely the fear and the loss, like the prick of a hot needle at the nape of your neck. I feel the stomach-churning, discomfort of losing someone who is supposed to be untouchable. Someone who is blond and beautiful and smiling, exploring the world at 24 can't be- dead? Can't be dead. But death is unfair. Death is unfair. And people fall down.

For the rest of us, we can pour another drink, dream another dream and stand up again. But not if it's you. Not if you're the one she found.

So what are we supposed to take away? Are we supposed to forget all the inconsequential tensions of the day and love each other unconditionally?  I would like to do that but even though she died I still feel irritated at things I know are inconsequential. So what? I don't get it. I'm in Paraguay sweating bullets surrounded by people who love me but I know I'll still be irrationality irritated at stupid things so what? Am I broken because I can't see the divine light that death has shed on the ugliness of the world? I don't get it.

Death is an unfair mistress. She is inescapable and unrelenting. The only thing for it is to live while you can and see what happens. Is that true?

17 November 2011

You Want Me To Do What?

I can do anything.

In Paraguari, a major city center, situated about 3 kilometers from my town, there rests a pleasant little building titled, Regional Hospital Paraguari. In this hospital there sits a special area designated for youth titled, Zona Joven. The Young Zone. An obstetrician who works in the Zona Joven heard through the grapevine that I possessed the triple threat of youth obstetrics: Yoga, teenagers and pregnancy experience. I've only directly experienced two of the three but had pretty intimate contact with the third. Lots of blood and screaming. Anyway, this obstetrician named Laura rooted me out in my little town down the road and asked me to lead a yoga class for pregnant youth. 

You might be wondering... Is Carly certified to instruct yoga classes? Then again, you might not care enough to wonder. Either way, the answer is...  In what context? .... okay technically in the United States well no not really. I'm not licensed or anything. But hey- this is Paraguay. And my mere access to Google makes me an infinitely better resource for yoga classes than the overwhelming majority of the gente (people) around me. So ah ha! The answer now is yes: I'm certified. Don't worry about it. 

Obviously I said yes and after about a month we have organized the group. Se llama Mama Felices, Bebes Sanos: Happy Moms, Healthy Babies. Hopefully by increasing the mothers' awareness, we can increase the likelihood of a healthy, educated upbringing for the child.

This morning I had my first class. But let's back up because the class is important- it was a huge moment for me- but even before that a huger moment presented itself to me for which I'll be infinitely grateful. And that's a for real statement. An un-exaggerated-yes-I-mean-it-life-changing kinda' thing.

So it's 10 o'clock this morning. I've just finished the first in a sequence of radio broadcasts on the topic of women's health with my dear friend Anna Banana Sanger. Hey- we spoke in another language on the radio. I'm kind of proud of myself. Anna and I are eating unhealthy food on the way to yoga class because that's how we roll. I got a sweet tooth that would put Cookie Monster to shame and I am not messing around with that statement either. You're shameful Cookie Monster. Anyway, I'm thinking to myself... I'm thinking... after all this managing spanish, it must be so nice to go willy nilly and teach classes in your native language. What a breeze!! What a break!! 
Thinking this I feel a little bit ... what...?....  a little bit like my hubris has up and abandoned me? Like I'm flourishing my bravura a little too brazenly? I don't care. I can feel the power of my thoughts welling up inside me and I've got to say them out loud and hey, there's Anna, a fluent English speaker and the ever-present sounding-board of my sometimes frightening thoughts so I say to her, "I think I can do anything," and before I can even finish tacking on, "after this experience," an ambiguous statement in itself, she's already nodding her little head and pointing affirmatively at me. "Yeah!" We both say how relieving it would be teach a class - on anything- in our native language considering we frequently teach classes in Spanish and Guarani on topics we knew almost nothing about 10 months ago. I can't imagine ever being very nervous for a job interview again- unless it's going to be in Russia.

Considering this incredible feat- having acquired the confidence to tackle any obstacle- the two years are worth it. Two years away from friends and family, two years of not 'climbing the corporate ladder' or advancing academically are suddenly worth it when weighed against the backdrop of personal development that comes from constantly living outside of your comfort zone. If the Peace Corps dropped me off in April of 2013 with nothing more to show than this confidence in myself, the two years are worth it. 

Now consider this, my friend. Add on top of the personal development and leaps and bounds in self-worth the fact that I am affecting other people live's positively and -WOAH- the two years become more than worth it. Pile on top of that the fact that I'm learning a set of personal skills that will benefit me the rest of my life- for example, I can now do anything by hand- and top it off with the cherry of life-long friendship.... uhhhh. I would have paid a lot of money for this junk. Hey. Maybe they should put me in a commercial. As much as the bureaucratic stuff is stupid, I kind of love this.

So let's re-focus on what's happening. I'm in town preparing to lead this group of medical professionals in their first ever yoga class. I've just finished a radio program with Anna on the importance of exercise. We have declared the importance of the ever-elusive-to-define "Peace Corps experience" in our lives and affirmed our ability to rock out job interviews, university lecture halls or Broadway stages. It's whatever. But here we are preparing for yoga. And I have a strange feeling. It's a somewhat familiar feeling but I can't identify it, like a smell in the air that takes you back to a specific place in time but you have no idea what the smell is. It smells like... it smells like.... It's creeping in around the edges of my consciousness and I can almost identify it but there's something out of place... something missing. 

Anna and I grab our power health bars from GNC and we're off. We're picking our way through a poor excuse for a sidewalk in a major city center along the country's most well-known highway. In my head, I'm reviewing all the words I looked up last night to make the yoga narrative as eloquent as possible: Let your arms relax; the head hang; the bones to sink; the muscles to melt... and there's that feeling again. Like a twinge of something in my stomach. A little light-headed maybe? I don't know.

With the hospital in site, a large-ish one-story building painted a dull yellow but well-maintained, Anna and I cross the street, once again miraculously not plowed down by any manner of "vehicles" on the highway. I'm always waiting for the impact. Anna spotts a familiar old man drinking terere on the sidewalk so we stopp to chat for awhile. He mistakes me for another white girl in the area (per usual) and after much confusion and correcting, I'm starting to get anxious to move on and start this class already. 

BAH! 

That was it. Anxiety!

Anxiety!! How stupid! My old friend! It wasn't until that moment when this old man whom I'd never seen before was chastising me for leaving his wife waiting (who was she?) and thinking I was some other white girl who lived 20 miles away (that's you, Stephanie) that my foot took on a very American life of it's own, started tapping, tapping, right there on the sidewalk and I identified my anxiety. My stomach! My head! My foot! I was nervous! I was feeling anxious and the feeling was so incredibly foreign that I had lost my ability to even identify it. You're a weirdo, Carly.

This is what Paraguay has done to me. I have to say it again, if the Peace Corps left me with nothing but my ability to relax the two years would be worth it. 

Class went beautifully. I spoke in spanish. Sometimes I messed up. That's life.

FAST FOWARD

It's 2 o'clock. I'm sitting in my house after running around Paraguari all morning. What have I done today? I have transmitted a radio broadcast to the departamento (county) in Spanish. I've taught a yoga class in Spanish. I've created a calendar of events for the hospital in Spanish. I've reviewed the plan of submission for our pregnant yoga class. In Spanish. Hake! (Watch out!) I speak Spanish!

I find myself a little tired. A wee bit sleepy. It's hot out and I've walked 6 kilometers today which isn't that much but it's nothing to scoff at in 90 degree heat either. I feel-    full. I feel satisfied. I feel physically and mentally exhausted for the moment and if I had the energy I might be blushing with pride but for now, it's just sweat tinging my hairline. I've done what today needed and tomorrow can wait for tomorrow. This is life. And we can do anything.

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