Tag Archives: asuncion

The Paraguayan Scare…or The Scare of Being Paraguayan.

25 Sep

I knew I was becoming Paraguayan the minute that I met a Colombian.

I was eating breakfast at a hostel in Asuncion (pretty much the only hostel in Asuncion, and therefore the hub for all backpackers in Paraguay it seems) when I started chatting with a guy who’s traveling through Paraguay and Argentina before returning home to Bogota.  We discussed our common love of Colombia, the summer I spent in Medellin, whether the Rolos (people from Bogota) really aren’t as nice as other Colombians, and more.  Needless to say, it was well established that he was in fact Colombian, not Paraguayan, therefore there was no need to interact with him based upon Paraguayan social cues.

Yet, when I pulled the juice out of the fridge and asked him if he would like some, and he responded, “Ah, gracias,” I turned right around and put the juice back in the fridge.  The most concerning part of it all:

There was not a single doubt in my mind that he definitely did not want juice.

It wasn’t until some awkward laughter by people in the room [all non-Paraguayan], and him saying, “Uh, yeah, thanks I did want juice,” that I realized my mistake.

Oh god, what have I become?

And the answer came back: Paraguayan.

In the mate circle (traditional tea that is passed around and shared) when you don’t want any you say, “Gracias.”  When asked if you want seconds in Paraguay, which surely will be phrased in the negative, “You don’t want any more to eat, do you?” The magic “Gracias” will get you out of eating more.  Paraguayans have such a culture of indirect communication that they will go as far as needed to avoid directly saying the word “No.”  So far in fact, that “Thank you” now means “No!”

I would feel fine about this situation if I were just sharing a cultural tidbit and it stopped there.  What’s alarming is that apparently I’m slowly becoming re-wired to indirectly communicate like a Paraguayan [Seems I would prefer the inarticulate mumbling of American teenagers].

This is after only four months.  God help us all when we see the results of two years, do you think they will be life-long permanent?

So, when I get back to the U.S. and you invite me over to your house for dinner, and I look at what you cook for me and say, “Yo no sé comer” (“I don’t know how to eat this,” a phrase used by Paraguayans which really means “I don’t like this”), I urge you to please yell at me in your loudest voice:


And then a little more calmly, “And if it’s that you don’t like it, I’m going to need to hear you say it out loud.”



A Mod Podge

5 Aug

Long time, no talk!  My apologies, sometimes the thought of updating is exhausting just trying to decide what to include/how to remember it all.  Additionally the lack of blog comments was leading me to believe that no one was actually reading it…but it turns out we all like to be internet wall flowers once in a while (or always).

I’ll have to do it in a list form, because I’m currently overtired, and I have viral conjunctivitis in my left eye!:

1. I swear in tomorrow morning, I will be a real-live volunteer!  I move to my site on Tuesday, which is simultaneously exciting and extremely frightening.  In between now and then I’ll be hanging out in the city with fellow volunteers, relaxing a bit before heading off, which will be nice.

2. Some funny things that I’m remembering: When I made guacamole with a friend for my host family a few weeks ago it came out that every member of the family was plotting some excuse as a way of avoiding having to try it once they heard it was avocado with onion, salt, etc. etc.  They only eat avocado with sugar, so avocado with sugar almost seems sacrilegious.   My grandma said she planned to go into the bathroom and not come out until it was gone and my host sister was going to say she had to leave and run an errand as soon as I put in on the table.  In the end most of them tried a little bit, and loved it! I hope to convert people to guacamole all over Paraguay during my 2 years of service–There’s avocado trees all over for gosh sake!

3. I saw Harry Potter in Asuncion the weekend that it came out….there were just as many HP geeks here as there seems to be in the U.S….although less costumes.

4.  It’s been pretty cold and rainy here lately, and some of the rain has been out of control…one day the dirt road in front of my house turned into a river.  I can’t manage to keep my tennis shoes clean for more than 2-3 days at a time (much to my host mother’s delight).  It inspired a speech by my neighbor about how to best distribute your weight while walking on mud so as not to fall…reminded me of my snow-walking theory…which everyone will have to ask my friend Maren about 🙂

5.  This week we had to present a bit about the final projects we did for training, where one of our tech trainers demanded that we intersperse the final presentations with 5 minute intermissions for live entertainment (provided by us).  It was definitely entertaining, to say the least.  I think we may have been the crowd favorite with a presentation of Grease’s Summer Lovin’ with the lyrics re-written (in a mix of 3 languages!) to tell funny stories about everyone in our training group.

As is par for the course, this blog is quite disjointed but I need to hit the hay.  Let’s all cross our fingers that my eye’s not crusted shut when I wake up tomorrow and that it looks normal in the photos that will be taken!  Woo!

Everyone’s Talking about the Weather But Not a Meteorologist in Sight

11 Jun

Hey blog, long time no talk.  I apologize to those of you who have been checking here every day for news about Paraguay (aka Carybeth)– I have been very disconnected and I can’t guarantee I’ll be able to blog very much more between now and the middle of August. [Come August, when I theoretically will receive my own Internet connection, I’ll be sure to be much more connected]  My closest internet connection is approximately 20 minutes away, so the few times I’ve gone haven’t been sufficient enough time to gather my thoughts into a blog.

When I first arrived to Paraguay I had a “this feels sort of familiar” feeling.  As other members of my training group (who are all wonderful, by the way) were shocked by the full families (4+) rushing past on single motorcycles, etc. I wondered what would still surprise/delight me.  It didn’t take long for me to be able to compile a highlights list for your reading pleasure:

-Concentration? My 9-year-old host brother came sprinting into the room wanting to play a game with a deck of small cards that were sets of doubles.  “Memory, Concentration?” I try translating into Spanish.  He stares at me blankly for a few seconds before spreading the cards out on the kitchen table, winding up, and then slapping the cards over and over in an effort to make them flip over…oh, right, of course that’s how you play.

-My host family here has been wonderful.  I live with a mother and her 3 children: a 9-year-old boy and 14 and 16-year-old girls.  The grandma lives next door and she has another volunteer staying with her.  We’re constantly shuffling back and forth between the houses via their adjoining backyards.  They are literally a barrel of laughs, within my first 2 days I saw the mother laugh so hard she cried and then quickly learned that the son has coughing fits if he laughs too hard (which is often), and one of the daughters stops breathing and starts laughing silently if she thinks something is really funny.  Laughing is always accompanied by lots of encouragement to breathe.

-I’ve been in intensive Guarani training for 4 hours a day since I got here.  Guarani is the indigenous language of Paraguay that is very widely spoken, especially as a mixture of Spanish and Guarani, known as Jopara.  Our teachers constantly describe the language as “very sweet,” apparently capturing life’s intricate details that Spanish doesn’t.  It doesn’t sound as sweet (especially coming out of my mouth), as people often think it’s Japanese when they hear it.  To give you an idea of the intricacies, Guarani has a greeting for sunrise that can only be used for early risers, and really shouldn’t be used after 7am: Mba’eichapa neko’e.

-Last weekend we rounded up all of the gringos (not an offensive term here) and some of their host siblings for a game of volleyball.  As the ball was rock hard it quickly evolved into a soccer/volleyball/unlimited bounces/anything goes game.  Consequently it was difficult to keep score until a Californian of the group randomly began assigning points. The first time he said, “Well, that’s a punto” (point) it came out in a strangely thick southern drawl.  We couldn’t resist yelling “Well, that’s a punto” in progressively thicker accents as the game went on.  Later we learned that one of the Paraguayan host moms asked with a concerned look on her face, “What is a punto?”

-Paraguayans are very into drinking yerba mate tea and terere (the iced version), to which they also add crushed up plant roots and leaves, called yuyos.  We reviewed the healing properties that each plant had one day in class, with a homework assignment to bring in 2 yuyos the next day.  When I got home my family said I should go talk to the neighbor as lots of yuyos grow in his yard.  I brought my 9-year-old brother along and made him explain that I needed yuyos (apparently not specifying that just a leaf would be sufficient).  The man promptly went into his house to retrieve his machete, came back out and hacked/dug 2 entire plants out of the ground.  Mortified, but also well beyond the point that I could tell him I didn’t need quite that much, I smiled and thanked him.  After my host family’s extended family (who was visiting) had a good laugh at my arms full of plants as I walked back, they decided they would take some to plant in their yard.  The relatives rounded out their visit by making my gigantic bones/bone structure a conversation topic at dinner for a solid minute. “I mean your bones, they are just huge, I mean like really gigantic, aren’t they?”

These giant bones need to sleep, until next time…

P.S. I am going to visit a current volunteer in their site from Monday-Thursday so I will once again be disconnected.

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