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.
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?
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?
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.