Friday, June 13, 2008

Mi Nueva Familia

I love my host family. I don’t know who briefed them about crazy American ways, but they did a really good job. Unlike the other families, mine gives me my privacy. They let me sit in my room for hours to study (since training is like attending school 9 hours a day, 6 days a week and I always have a ton of homework/readings), which I often use as alone time and instead read or write in my journal. In fact, my host father often gives me a thumbs-up when I head off to study. This is very atypical of most traditional Paraguayan families. The concept of “alone time” or privacy doesn’t really exist in Paraguay. Everyone knows everything about everybody. The fellow volunteers and I are the chisme (gossip) of the town. When one of us makes a mistake or says something stupid to our host families, everyone knows about it. Today in fact, two of my friends couldn’t make it to a barbeque at another volunteer’s house. When I ran into them later at a fútbol game, I asked them what happened. I told them that sy (Guaraní for mother) had seen one of them walking to the hospital with her hermanita….maybe they had gone to see her aunt’s new baby. Another volunteer had heard from her mom, who had heard my friend’s mom talking, that they were planning on renting a car. We all our surmises about where she was from the different pieces of gossip we had heard (It turns out she was just spending some time with her family). Anyways, back to my host family. They give me alone time, but they also love to spend time with me. I’m surprised by how much they want to spend time with me. The little time that I’m not at home (and not at training), they include me in every part of their daily routines, from eating to drinking mate. Often, even when we’re not drinking mate or terrere, we sit outside and chat. We discuss different cultural aspects – how things are like in Paraguay, how they are in the U.S.; politics, economics, and development; Paraguayan crops and vegetables, especially those that túva (Guaraní for father) grows on his farm; Guaraní and Spanish; and what I learned at school. My parents take their job to teach me Guaraní very seriously. Most other host parents think that just by living with them their volunteers will learn the language, but my papá and hermanito make a conscious effort to teach me vocabulary in Guaraní. Whenever I’m sitting with túva, he’ll start teaching me a type of vocabulary, such as vegetables and fruits, parts of the body, weather words. My sy and my hermanito often help me with my homework, and my hermanito even created a Guaraní for me. My hermanito is so cute: every night he tells me how the next day we’ll practice Guaraní together. I feel bad because I can’t spend as much time with my host family as I’d like because I’m at training, and when I return I need to study. But my hermanito has so much patience with me; even when I don’t get time to spend with him, he tells me every night, “Tomorrow we’ll practice Guaraní and the computer” (I’m teaching him how to type properly, after which I’ll teach him how to use Word, etc.).

I love how my family takes care of me. In many ways, it’s like being a 5 year-old again. Not only do I not do any work in the house (though I’d like to and when I have time, sy has been showing me how to wash my clothes by hand), but they treat me like their child; this despite the fact that my mom is only 5 years older than I am (she’s 27 and túva is 37). In the mornings, they walk me to our gate and wish me good luck. I always give sy kisses on both cheeks before taking off. I return home for lunch, and if I have training in Guarambare, she packs me lunch. When I return home in the evenings, they ask me what I learned. It’s like I’ve regressed to the state of a kindergartener, but honestly I love it. After a year of never being at home (which I’m sure my mom can tell you plenty about), it’s nice to be at home in the evenings and sleep at 9 or 9:30.

I’ve been talking to some of the other volunteers about their host families, and I really think I lucked out (actually, all 6 of us in my community have great families). The Muni volunteers have super nice houses, but their families have completely different lifestyles. One of my friends, with whom I ate lunch the other day and who is also vegetarian, was complaining that her family doesn’t give her enough vegetarian food, specifically vegetables. They usually just her one of the side dishes, and she never feels like there’s enough variety. My host mom specially prepares vegetarian food for me. On most nights, that’s all we eat. Even when there’s not meat, the main meal is vegetarian. Most of the Muni volunteers complained about how much time their families spend in front of the TV. They want more quality family time. In contrast, I always have quality family time. More than I can handle in fact. My parents spend hardly any time in front of the TV; they always have plenty of time for me and are always ready to and enthusiastic about spending (I prefer the Spanish word compartir…you don’t spend time with people, you share time with them) time with me. In a way, the Muni families are much more like the modern American families, each member is independent and leading his or her own life. But my family, and the families of the other RED volunteers, is a much more traditional Paraguayan family. That’s what I came to Paraguay to experience, not the comforts of home.

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