Friday, June 13, 2008

What do you mean you shower inside?!

I am amazed at how easily impressed I am here. We saw the houses of the Muni volunteers on Saturday and I was blown away. One of the volunteers had a house with a garage! There were pictures hanging on the walls, a wooden cabinet in the dining room with two Ming vases, a large couch in the living room encircling the TV, and a nice patio. Another house had actual sofa chairs in the living room. From the front, it looked like a Spanish villa. In another house, I was amazed by how big the kitchen was. It had two types of ovens and looked kind of like the typical American kitchen. The bathroom actually had a shower curtain and a padded toilet seat. The final house I saw had three bedrooms. Three!

None of these descriptions may sound particularly astounding, but here they are. Some of them are not much better than houses in India. Others resembled a lower middle-class home in the U.S. Yet, I was completely shocked by how luxurious they were. It’s amazing how much we take for granted. As the other RED volunteers and I walked through these houses we exclaimed, “You have a sofa?! And a shower curtain! And a kitchen inside the house with a sink!!” We thought that the house owners must be millionaires! In less than two weeks, my mentality has completely changed. I honestly can’t remember what a shower indoors, with endless hot water, in a tiled-floor bathroom, feels like. All I know now are showers outside, in a brick bathroom, with hot and cold water mixed in a bucket, and a window through which the cold air and wind enter. But, I don’t mind. I might even like the feeling of not having as many luxuries as I’m used to. It makes me appreciate what I have in the U.S.

An interesting thing I’ve noticed about Paraguay is the persistence of inequalities. The Muni volunteers live hardly half-an-hour from my house, yet they have these luxurious houses. They have tiled bathrooms with flushing toilets, sofas or couches, decorations, wall hangings and paintings. On the other hand, my house is completely utilitarian. It doesn’t have decorations. The bathroom is outside. There are few lights and are naked light bulbs that hang from the ceiling or are placed next to the stove, not embedded in light sockets. Even within my community, there are significant differences among houses. Two of the RED volunteers have much nicer houses because their parents are professionals are relatively well off. One hardly has a house, just a bunch of rooms in the vicinity of each other. He doesn’t even have a proper stove, just a charcoal pot outside. Yet, we, the RED volunteers living practically in the campo, are having experiences the other volunteers aren’t. We may have more rustic living conditions, but many of our parents have acres of farms. For the most part, we eat what we grow from the tierra. I wake up everyday thinking that I’m in a postcard. The clouds are also perfect; they seem to go on forever. And the sky is always the perfect shade of blue. Watching the sunrise over our chacra the other day, was one of the most incredible views of my life. The sky appeared to be on fire. It was filled with pinks and yellows and oranges. We’re having a different experience, in a way I feel more real, than anything we’d ever have in the U.S.

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