Friday, August 29, 2008

Welcome to 1984

I was sitting in my room last night when all of a sudden a mouse darted out from behind the dresser. This surprised me because I had just set a trap I was sure it couldn´t escape. A few minutes later, another mouse darted out. When yet another mouse darted out, I started worrying. I realized that the mice had started multiplying! I now have at least 3 mice in my room, maybe even 4. I could handle the one because it spent of its time behind the dresser, but these mice were running everywhere! They were running, 2, 3 at a time all across the floor and it was freaking me out. I was so shocked that I let out a scream. My host parents came over, heard my hysterical explanation in Spanish, laughed, and returned to bed. An hour later, sitting on my bed still in complete shock (with the mice still running everywhere), I knocked on the door to the main section of the house (I sleep in a room next to the kitchen). I had to knock for more than 15 minutes because everyone was alseep. I told them I was sleeping in the main room with my host sister and I wasn´t going back until they were dead. If the only news you hear about me in the future is about the Peace Corp volunteer who went crazy and spent all her time hovering above the space behind the dresser with a machete in her´ll know why.

Welcome to the Jungle

As I lay in bed last night, wide-eyed as I tried to locate a mouse with my cellphone flashlight, I reflected on the days before I spent half my time asserting my superiority over dumb animals. Actually, to tell the truth, I’ve been for the most part unsuccessful in contending with nature.
Let me start from the beginning. I used to think that roosters were smart birds that signaled the dawn by crowing. I was sooo wrong. Roosters are the dumbest birds alive. They crow ALL THE TIME. One rooster starts up so the others feel obliged to respond, and before you know it, they’re engaged in the loudest and most obnoxious conversation you’ve ever heard in your life at 10 PM…and 12 AM, and 2 AM, and 5 AM. The roosters here make me want to give up being vegetarian and kill them with my bare hands (Incidentally, you kill a chicken by grabbing it by its head and twisting it around until it breaks. It apparently takes a few minutes for its heart to realize that it’s dead, so it will usually run around for a few minutes afterwards spurting blood everywhere – a site I have been lucky not to have witnessed as of yet – giving rise to the expression "like a chicken with its head cut off.")
Americans love having dogs as pets, and I am no exception. Paraguayans are not so nice to dogs and it’s understandable once I realized that dogs here are mangy, pike-ridden beasts. As one other volunteer said to me, "It’s amazing how the only thing Paraguayans have managed to coordinate on around the country is having their dogs freak out when they pretend to throw a rock." I’ve pretended to throw a rock on more than one occasion, when I’m running and a dog comes chasing after me, barking. Kissing also works. It tends to stun dogs, just stop them in their tracks. However, my host family has the two stupidest dogs in Paraguay. Somehow, they missed the message about going away when someone kisses at them. I’ve consequently spent the last week chasing one of them out of my room with a stick (he has a habit of laying under my bed, making my room smell like wet dog). I’m still too American to actually hit a dog.
I don’t think twice about squishing bugs between my fingers. I talk to the many creatures who hang around inside my shower, including a praying mantis, a toad (luckily still a tadpole and not yet the huge slimy creature as big as the size of your head that it will soon grow into). My new bedfellow is a mouse. At times I think it’s cute, crawling out from behind the dresser to gnaw on pieces of food. On the other hand, the endless scratching at night has me desperate to kill the sneaky bastard (It successfully avoided the trap I laid. The food was gone alright, but it’s still at large…or small as the case may be). That as a matter of fact is what I hysterically started yelling the last time I spotted it, along with, "Die! Die!"…to think I used to think I was vegetarian because I didn’t like the killing of animals. Now I spend my days plotting how to kill a rodent. To be fair, when a pig was being slaughtered outside of our training center (right in the middle of class people started walking through the house, preparing to kill and cook a pig in order to celebrate the fútbol victory from the day before), I practically had a meltdown.
I’ve had to deal with all this while at the same time constantly telling Paraguayans, "That’s right, I am vegetarian. Why? Because I believe that animals are life too and I don’t want to hurt them." Sigh…I’m officially living in the Paraguayan zoo.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Friday, August 8, 2008

Off I go!

I finally got my site assignment. I will be in the department of Caagazú, very near the border of Alto Paraná. Apparently, weeks of intensive studying and paying attention in class, as well as mad-Guaraní skills, actually paid off. I got the site I wanted, I got the prize site. You have to cross a river to get to my site! (which is especially exciting in a landlocked country. The lake is actually the result of the Itaipú Dam, meaning it is man-made) There’s a balsa (barge), which takes people, motos, buses, and huge semis filled with bananas across the lake. Being that this is Paraguay, the balsa doesn’t have a motor. Instead, it’s pulled by a motorized boat which is tied to the side! Somehow it manages to make it across every time! My site is even more rural than I asked or hoped for. There is no running water and the electricity often cuts out. Because of the lack of running water, I’ll be using a latrine and getting my water from a well. The site is practically an island (an island within the island that is Paraguay), meaning not only is it in the middle of nowhere, but it’s also isolated. It’s 10 km from the nearest town (not including the river). Only one bus runs everyday, heading into town at 7 in the morning and returning at 12 noon. It doesn’t run if it’s raining of course, leaving me with a two hour walk along the muddy dirt roads on either side of the river.

The name of my site means “there’s work to be done,” which is an incredibly appropriate name. The volunteer before me was super-guapo (hard-working), super-active, meaning I have a lot to live up to. Hardly anyone speaks Spanish and he spoke pretty fluent Guaraní. For the next several months, while I learn the language and observe the community, I’m going to be known as “that quite girl who never speaks.” It helps that I’m the complete opposite of the former volunteer; they’ve already commented how they’re trading the blond blue-eyed boy for the morocha (“burnt skin,” basically brown) girl. But, I’m still absolutely terrified of not living up to the high standards the past volunteer has set for me.

To completely contrast with that, I’ve spent the past three days in Asunción in “chuchi-town.” After our swear-in, the entire group of us checked into a really nice hotel which offers discounts for Peace Corps volunteers. To celebrate our swear-in, and because we know we won’t get it for a while, we’ve been treating ourselves to good food at nice, super-expensive restaurants around town. For the past two months I’ve been contrasting Paraguay with Argentina, as that’s my former Latin America experience and it’s what I know. I was shocked at how different they are, but now I realize how completely wrong I was. Asunción is pretty similar to Bs.As. minus the amazing food and gorgeous architecture. The youth party till 6 AM, they use the same slang – “che, boludo!” –, they listen to American music. They say that the cities of the world are much more similar to each other than they are to the rest of the country. For example, Mumbai and New York are more alike than Mumbai and the rest of India. The same applies to Paraguay, maybe even more so. Asunción has the same standard of living as Israel, which is number 15 of countries, while rural Paraguay has the same as some of the poorest African countries, around 147. That’s a huge gap! That means that all the wealth is concentrated in the capital, while the rest of the country lives in poverty rivaling Bolivia. It makes me think that maybe Paraguay isn’t such a weird country after all; it’s not that different from what I know. But the fact that this gap exists is the reason Paraguay needs development workers: because becoming number 15 is within the realm of possibility for the rest of Paraguay. Our job as PC volunteers is to work to make it so.

My address has changed. It is now:

Pooja Virani, PCV

Cuerpo de Paz, CHP

162 Chaco Boreal c/Mcal. López

Asunción 1580, Paraguay (South America)

Pictures of my future site: