So what is my job? In the future, it will be working with the community radio and a banana production cooperative. Right now, it’s trying to learn the language and get to know people in the community. This is much harder than it sounds. Imagine going to Mars, neither speaking Martian nor understanding how Martians think, and having to solve Martians’ relationship problems. Obviously this is an overstatement, but the premise is the same: without having adequate knowledge of the language or the culture, being expected to remedy everyday problems. I have to get to know the people, their names, their families, their work; know the community, its leaders, its rich, its poor, its intricate system of relationships; know the needs; know what projects are feasible in two years, what I can facilitate, what I can start, what will be sustainable; and do all this “knowing’ in Guaraní, a language that I had no exposure to until 3 months ago. So I spend my days visiting people, drinking tereré with them, explaining to them why I can’t the meat they want to offer me for lunch but still having to stay and either eat what they scrambled up at the last minute or cook my own food in their kitchen, and chatting about the weather or one of the few topics I can converse about in Guaraní (including introducing myself). I attend every meeting of the radio and the cooperative, even though I have no idea what the members are saying, because it gives me credibility.
A lot of the time, I’d rather stay at home than walk for 30 minutes or ride my bike in the hot Paraguayan sun. My head hurts after a full day of intense concentration trying to decipher conversations in Guaraní, and it is intense because I have to be cautious of tuning out every time they lapse from Spanish to Guaraní (which is 90% of the time, they usually only speak Spanish for brief periods of time for my benefit). I hate having inane conversations with people about the weather because I can’t express myself better in Guaraní, and most people don’t feel comfortable in Spanish.
At the same time, am I learning? Yes. Am I making relationships that will last for the next two years but shape the rest of my life? Yes. I had a happy insight last week when after leaving a Señora’s house I had visited for the first time I realized that her family and I were going to be very good friends.