MY host family cooks everything on a woodstove over an open flame. There’s a really romantic quality to that, especially during these cold winter months. Unfortunately, it can be difficult at times to see the romanticism of it through all the smoke building up in the kitchen.
NOW that the temperature has cooled down, the men in my community play soccer every evening. Before playing, everybody throws in two or three mil (2-3.000 Gs) as a friendly wager. Of course, I have no problem with this… in principle. My issue lies in the fact that we need to spend a good half hour before the game collecting the money, counting the loose change, squaring it up, hounding the handful of guys who inevitably didn’t put in enough, counting it up again, and then settling on somebody neutral to keep track of it.
It’s an excruciating process to witness because in the time it takes to do all this you could have easily held a second game. It’s true – I swear I’m not exaggerating. It takes that long. For as much soccer as these guys play, you would think that they’d have this down pretty efficiently. And to suggest playing a game (or even a round of penalty kicks, for that matter) without putting money on it? Well, you may as well be speaking another language.
SINCE I can’t keep up with the big boys when it comes to soccer, I’ve found a small group of kids ages 7-11ish who are more my speed. In my community, gender roles are strongly reinforced and gender separation is the societal norm. So, on the first day I played with these kids, I was super pleased when one of them – a nine year-old girl – informed me, “I’m a girl but I can play with the boys. I go to soccer school on Saturdays.”
I was even more pleased, however, when she single-handedly (footedly?) carried our all-girls-plus-one-norteamericano club to a 10-3 victory.
IN Paraguay, the term “shortcut” really just means “a different way to get somewhere regardless of how much shorter or longer it will actually take you.”
Along the same lines, if you survey five or six people hoping to gauge how far of a walk a certain place is, it’s not out of the realm of possibility to get answers as varied as 3-10 km, for example. In such instances your best bet is to take the highest bidder and then go ahead and add 20% for good measure. At the very least, you’re probably gonna want to pack an overnight bag and throw on a decent pair of shoes.
I’M not allowed to discuss Paraguayan politics, neither within my community nor here online. But it’s been an interesting month in that regard. Take a minute and Google it.
THE line between my community’s definition of “clearing the road” and my personal definition of “deforestation” is a little blurred. But machetes are fun.
THERE’S a political talk show on the radio here that my host family enjoys on weekday afternoons. The intro music that this show uses happens to be ESPN’s Baseball Tonight theme. I think a little piece of me dies every time I hear the song and it’s followed by a Spanish rant on the local gobierno rather than Karl Ravech updating me on the AL wild card standings or the NL Cy Young race.
THE most common evening pastime here once the sun goes does down is to watch telenovelas, your daily Spanish-language soap operas. With campo television reception, you wind up with essentially one channel. Your choices are limited.
These shows are painfully tacky in every regard – plot, production, acting, you name it. For several weeks I tried to avoid novelas at all costs knowing full well that it was anti-social and a prohibitive strategy for speedier integration. I just couldn’t make myself do it. Really, they’re that trashy.
Then I discovered Los Herederos del Monte. About a month ago I forced myself to spend a week watching the 6pm novela as an earnest way of improving my Spanish listening comprehension. Then that first week turned into a second and then a third and before long I had stopped asking my host sister for clarification about verb tenses and had begun requesting clarification about specific plot points. For example, do any of the brothers know that Sr. del Monte is still alive? How much longer did the doctor tell Julieta she has left to live? Why is Jose such a jackass? If not at the fancy dinner table, when will Juan finally take off his cowboy hat?
(*Spoiler Alert – Answers to above questions: No; A matter of months; Unclear; His brother’s wedding)
Yep, I’m hooked.
THERE’S a myth out there that I’m going to go ahead and unsubscribe to. I think our culture perpetuates it to an illegitimate degree that clashes with my experience. Hear me out.
Beforehand I believed, like I think a lot of people do, that strong relationships can be built that transcend language barriers. But wait, that’s not the myth. That one’s a fact. The myth is that it’s easy. I feel like there is a misconception out there spurred on by movies, idealism, American egotism and certain classic Disney theme park attractions that, at the drop of a hat, you have the capacity to become really close with anybody you choose to surround yourself with. But do you actually realize how we are conditioned to become close with others? Words. Language. Verbal communication.
Yes, humans will instinctively find other means of bonding when verbal communication fails – I’ve participated in nonverbal bonding through cooking, dancing, farming, playing games and even housing renovations – but it’s a long, arduous process to cultivate anything deep or meaningful this way. Particularly when you’re so accustomed to forming all of your relationships through conversation.
Like I said, it can certainly be accomplished. I wouldn’t still be here if I didn’t believe that. I’ve enjoyed two-and-a-half-month homestay stints with two separate, incredible Paraguayan families with whom I believe I now have strong friendships. But it can be tiresome, difficult and oftentimes frustrating work.
I think this sort of friendship comes with a big advantage, however. Another side of the coin. By building a relationship this way in such a long and deliberate manner, it’s much easier to recognize what you both have invested in it. The effort you’ve put in is so much more tangible and apparent that you’re more inclined to continue to nurture and sustain it rather than take it for granted.
Yes, in fact it is a small world after all but it’s not necessarily an easy one.
ALL told, I’m nearly 20% of the way through this thing. It’s going quicker than I anticipated.