In sifting through the advice, thoughts, opinions, and general ramblings of dozens of current (and therefore experienced) PCVs over the past ten weeks, there was one particular nugget that continuously presented itself: in Peace Corps Paraguay, the two-plus months of in-country training varies significantly from the two years of actual service that follows. Without exception, everyone was sure to mention just how much life changes after officially swearing-in. In fact, I had begun to get the impression that training is akin to wading in the shallow end of your average-sized puddle, lifeguards on hand, whereas the actual service is more reminiscent of capsizing hundreds of knots off the Atlantic coast as a fleet of Guaraní-speaking sharks thrash around you in the frigid, yerba-steeped waters.
How accurate that analogy is probably varies from person to person, from site to site. For me, just three weeks in, I’ve noticed the stark contrast between the two lifestyles but it hasn’t felt quite so perilous. I’m no longer accompanied by Americans who can help me navigate through the trickier language barriers or shoulder some of the awkwardness that seems to burden us during every conceivable social situation. I no longer have classes meticulously scheduled and organized for me six days a week, which means now I have to teach myself to create and fill my own schedule from scratch everyday. During training, I was often wondering how to slow down the heavy, persistent momentum of the daily grind. Over the past three weeks, by contrast, there have been plenty of days where it’s been tough to keep any momentum going at all. The positive feeling I have after accomplishing something productive from 9-10am quickly disappears by 11 when I think to myself, “Well, dammit, what am I supposed to do for the remaining seven hours of daylight?”
The answer, so far, has been to try and meet people. To introduce myself to the community and make things happen as organically as possible. As I mentioned, nothing about the last three weeks has felt as terrifying as the thought of being surrounded by bloodthirsty sharks. Granted, there’s been plenty of moments when I’ve felt lost out at sea, but instead of shark-infested waters I feel like I’m surrounded by schools of friendly, curious fish who just want to get a look at the bizarre americano flailing about the surface. “Slow down for a second, tranquilo,” they’re probably saying, “Maybe you’ll float along fine if you just stopped kicking so haphazardly and paddling so awkwardly. Watch us swim and try it the way we do.”
I imagine this is what they’re saying, at least, but who the hell really knows. They might be harmless fish, but they’re still Guaraní-speaking fish.