09 May 2012

School´s Out

Originally written 26 April 2012

Training is over. Last Friday (4/20) I officially swore-in as a Peace Corps Volunteer and on Tuesday (4/24) I moved to the Paraguayan community where I will be living and working for the next two years.

“So, Chris,” you might wonder, “surely you must have learned a ton over the past ten weeks of training.  Please, enlighten us.  Tell us all about these new and wonderful things you know.”

Well, then, where should I begin?

I have learned that if you are informed something is happening “en seguida,” it can mean any time between “right this very moment” and “never.”  I have also learned that this ambiguous phrase is incredibly frustrating when told to you,but incredibly convenient when you’re telling it to somebody else.

I have learned how to say “there are little black kittens” in Guaraní.  However, I cannot successfully construct any other complete sentence that is neither a personal statement nor a direct question.

I have learned that even if the bathroom door is unlocked, the lights are off, and nobody is responding to your knocks, there is still a solid chance that it’s occupied.

I have learned to value broccoli over beef.

I have learned to stop translating every transaction into “how many dollars does this cost?” and to start thinking in terms of “how many bus fares does this equal?”

I have learned that the concept of “adult learning techniques” entails a shocking amount of drawing and coloring.  I have yet to learn why.

I have learned that the single most reliable way to successfully break prolonged awkward silence in Paraguay is the following equation: “Rico es” +“X” (Where X stands for any possible food you can think of regardless of how delicious it actually is).  Not only will everyone around you speak up to agree, but they’re bound to begin mentioning a lot of other rico foods that you can consequently agree with as well.

I have learned that, in the 21st century, it is actually possible to survive two and a half months without a cell phone and I hope I never, ever have to try to again.

I have learned how to drink boiling tea through a scalding metal straw.

I have learned that for as naturally pretty as the mandioca plant is, its edible root is doing it absolutely no justice.

I have learned that for as naturally pretty as the mango tree is, its edible fruit is doing a serviceable job.

I have learned that I absolutely cannot distinguish the pronunciations of the letters y and ŷ in Guaraní, no matter how many hours a native speaker spends trying to teach me.

I have learned that the strangely addictive result of baking corn flour, cheese and lard is called chipa and that it alone can sustain you during the five days leading up to Easter.  I’m under the impression that Jesus would be proud of me for this, but I never learned exactly why.

I have learned that while being guapo/hard-working is one of the personal characteristics most highly valued by Paraguayans and Americans alike, the two have very distinct and different ways of defining it.  However, I think I’ve learned that taking initiative is at the core of both culture’s definitions.

Despite ten weeks of densely packed training, I have learned that I still have no real idea what anything over the next two years will actually be like, with two obvious exceptions:

1)  I have learned that there is an awesome collection of Americans scattered throughout Paraguay that I get to refer to as mis compañeros.

2)   I have learned that there is at least one incredibly generous, super linda Paraguayan family that has my back no matter what.


  1. if chipa is anything like 7 11 nachos (siete nueve?) I'm in......

    1. Nothing like it. Depending on the recipe, though, chipa can taste a bit like Cheeze-Its...