This blog is to keep in touch with those I love during my twenty-seven month adventure in Paraguay. Welcome to the chronicles of my life as a gringa americana doing urban youth development in Sudamėrica.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Que llueva, que llueva

Let it rain.
Rain has never been sweeter. It came suddenly, falling fast. It had been hanging in the air the past few days and the sky had become grey. Still, I didn't want to get my hopes up. The two days preceding a rain are beyond sultry, the air feels thick and heavy. We are in a drought so these clouds don't always promise fruition. Sometimes the conditions seem perfect for a storm, but too often we are all disappointed with a light rain that last a few minutes. Even the thunder is deceiving.

Everyone is craving the rain, needing it. We need it to clear the air and take away some of the heat. The farmers are hoping to save their crops, most do not have advanced watering systems like in the states and they really depend on the rain.

You need the rain for a sweet release of the humidity that has become so heavy. Now that it's here, I don't want it to stop. I can already hear it quieting down, leaving as quickly as it came, even after all that build up. Now it's coming back, toying with the emotions of everyone. Please stay.

Rain here means something more to me than it does in the states. Living so much in the elements can be beautiful, but it can also be miserable. I woke up this morning sweating, and it was seven in the morning.

I wrote this a few days ago and tomorrow it’s supposed to storm. The last few days it’s been too hot to think.

Vamos a ver.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Dear everyone

Lately I've been trying to complete tasks on my to do list rather than procrastinate them. Part of my motivation is that my Mom and Rod are coming to Paraguay and I want all things to be in order for their arrival! I have a bad habit of hoarding things here. I have the best intentions and always think of how things could be used for some sort of's a sort of madness. Anyway, I found myself cleaning out my inbox tonight and found emails and comments from my blog during training.

I just wanted to cry. I am so thankful for the for the support I've had during this journey. You have no idea how much any positive comment has helped me. Letters, messages, and packages...people have been fantastic. I found heart warming comments from my fellow UNT Social Work ladies, from friends of all walks, family, and from unexpected people whom I'm not in contact with regularly.

Emails from my Dad are always special because he's not that computer savvy. He always had the date of my last blog memorized because he would check it so often to see if I had written anything new. My Mom has flooded my inbox with photos of any family event that has ever happened and has sent worried messages every time I've been sick. "Natalie, are you okay today? I haven't heard from you."

My Aunts have sent packages filled with food and spices, my friends from England have even spoiled me! People have gone out of their way to send wedding invitations and Christmas cards to me...such simple gestures, but they have always meant the world.

To those that have made the effort to call me, thank you so much. That has been very special. And visited me!! Thank you, Kamyon!

During training it was really hard because everything was new and I had little contact with my former world. The few phone calls I received were through a bad connection, and when I finally had the chance to use Skype, nobody was available! I felt so far away from everybody. My mom was trying to figure out how she could call me and I had no idea if I would have a regular internet connection.

And here I am, two years later. It's weird how adjusted I am. The things that annoy me sill annoy me(Having to ride a bike everywhere, feeling trapped in the heat, putting up with too many cat calls, bad roads, stares, lack of social life), but my home feels like home. I feel like I have to uproot again soon and that's hard. It's the strangest feeling and I don't know quite how to describe it.

I was just reading the responses from my early blogs and saw how excited everyone was for me and I wanted to thank you. When I was sick, when I missed home or felt lonely, you are what helped pull me through this journey. I may have already written something very similar to this before, but I mean it with all of my heart. Thank you everyone! Thank you for following me on this adventure.

Thank you for celebrating my successes with me, encouraging me when I've felt down, listening to my complaints with patience, and believing in me even when I could not.
I'm going to need you when I'm stunned from culture shock. Love to everybody! Muchisimas gracias.

Oh, and I'm going to be working on uploading all of my photos from the past year to get caught up so you guys can at least know what I've been doing. I want to try to connect my two worlds somehow! In case you don't have facebook, here is a video from my birthday!

Some of my world in Paraguay. It was a very shaky ride, but maybe you can still see how beautiful it is here! We were on our way to a river for my birthday!

Con mucho amor, Natalia

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Thanksgiving blessings

I suppose it's no secret that I've had a hard time here in Paraguay. There are the typical struggles that a volunteer may experience- loneliness being the greatest, all of the health problems, and feeling the most vulnerable and helpless I've felt in my life. I suppose these were great trials to go through, and I'm still learning that now. When I struggle, I think about how much I am growing and learning from these tough experiences. Well, sometimes I'm a complete wreck, but I try to stay positive in retrospect.

I don't regret coming here a single bit! I try to imagine how some things would have turned out had I done them differently, but I know that's a terrible way to think. I've had a hard time feeling satisfied with my accomplishments. I often compare myself with others and feel like I've done nothing worthy. That's held me down for quite a while now, I'm my own worst enemy! Even with the great things I have done, I've had a hard time celebrating them as successes. I can't even figure out why, I just struggle with this perfectionist part of me. I'm still trying to figure out how to conquer that.

I've come to peace with some of the things I can't change (I think), but when I think of what could be done with my remaining time here, I get overwhelmed. My time feels so limited and I'm not sure what to pursue! Things are picking up again, I just have to really maintain a positive state of mind. It's very easy to get discouraged here, and it's a terrible pattern. Once that happens, you don't feel like going out into the community or introducing ideas/projects to people who seem disinterested or unsupportive. It isn't always that way, but that rejection is hard to overcome sometimes! Again, all of this has been a great learning experience. Sometimes I feel like I need more time to get it right.

That brings me to my next great worry. What to do next? Do I plan? Do I figure it out when I get home? I like to think I'm organized, believe it or not, but you know what? I planned in Europe. I took an interview while I was in Italy, and I had a job waiting in the states. I was so organized. In Italy?! How ridiculous. It's good to plan sometimes, but did I prefer to take an interview over hanging out with the grapes in the vineyards? No.

That's just a small example, and then I ended up rejecting that job. I found something within a month of coming home, and it was fine. I've been stressing about GRE studying (with no materials), applying for schools, and not coming to a solution. Then a close friend wrote me and gave me some great advice. She suggested that I wait until I'm home, as everything usually falls into place. She reminded me that if I focus too much on the future right now, I may lose the precious moments I still have in Paraguay. I'm not going to be irresponsible, but my time is so limited here. I do have free time, but I don't want to become obsessed with my next step and miss out on the beauty around me.

Bringing me to the present- I've been trying to focus on the positives here. Don't get me wrong, I have screamed obscenities and have still had my crazy moments this month, but I've loved thinking of all the things I'm thankful for while on this journey.

In the spirit of Thanksgiving, I wanted to share a few of my blessing that I'm thankful for through photos.

Bouquet of carrots from the neighbor's garden! We share a yard.

This is how Paraguay celebrates Halloween- or All Saint's day. They pay respect to their loved ones they have lost, light candles, say prayers, and bring offerings.

Planting the okra seeds my dad sent me ages ago! They are growing now, but ants seem to love them.

Juan and I went to a rose garden and got to pick out roses of our choice. The woman that owned the place allowed us to pick our favorites, then came out with scissors and a bucket of water. It brightened up the entire room!

I couldn't believe my eyes!! Cupcakes right after I had seen some on Sex & The City (on TV in Spanish). They were tiny, but oh so good.

Casey, my dear site mate. I would be lost without him.

I can't figure out how to format everything, but the last few photos are great river adventures!!

Thanks for all the support, everything helps me out more than I could ever express. I love you!

Sunday, May 29, 2011

96 DAYS until Texas!!!

Yes, that's right. I will be returning stateside for a visit!

I immediately panicked after the purchase and had to obsessively search to see if I bought the best ticket. I'm already stressed out with how short the visit will be!

How will I have time to see all these new babies my friends will have had? Be in a wedding? Spend time with everyone I love, eat everything in the world(Loads of Mexican and sushi), and take it all in?!
I won't, but now that I have an exact date in mind and a real ticket bought, I'm hoping this will motivate me to start a wonderful project to tell all of you lovely people at home about!

I'm going to try to keep this short and make a real effort to update weekly so I won't have to try to cram seven months worth of information in one blog next time.

Several newsworthy things to share:

1. My house is really feeling like a home now. I wish I could have you all over (separately) because I finally feel comfortable. It has taken a year to discover where to go for what, how to ride my bike while balancing groceries and/or packages at the same time, what cereal is the best, how to cook with different ingredients, wash clothes by hand, and to basically build a new life from scratch. There are times when I still feel painfully lonely and long for everybody back at home, definitely, but I've found some great friends in fellow volunteers and I now have a library and a collection of movies to distract myself.

2. The winter is beginning in the Southern hemisphere, and it's actually the most difficult season to be here. You wouldn't believe it if you didn't feel it; the temperature may say one thing, but the humidity makes the cold chill your bones. It's days like that that I really miss reliable hot showers and insulation. It's difficult because I have to be closed up in my house to stay warmer, and if I want sunlight, I have to tolerate the cold more and deal with open windows(My windows are just wooden shutters, there's no glass involved). Washing clothes and dishes is quite dreadful because it's all done outside, and sometimes I don't feel like dealing with cold water. Needless to say, I sport dreads in the winter, wear dirty jeans, and eat out of my hands.

I can never get used to the reversal of the seasons, either. I keep wanting to play Christmas music and watch Home Alone because the weather tells me the holidays are right around the corner. Such deception.

3. I'm working on making an amazing video to share a little bit of my world with everyone, too!

4. I did have some health problems in the Summer, but I'm healthy now! I suffered from a heat stroke and seizures that were pretty serious. I say that because there is no record of them in our family and they lasted longer than five minutes and when I came to, I couldn't talk and only screamed (I remember this now), and was so frightened and thought I was dreaming. I came to a second time and vaguely remembered certain things, and then finally a third time when I was being escorted to go see a doctor who just looked at me, took my blood pressure, and told me I was fine. I couldn't really walk because my body was so wobbly from having seized for so long and my tongue was all cut up from having bit on it the entire time. I had overworked my body the day before, had not slept enough, and was dehydrated. I had to go to Asuncion where they did cat scans and told me the pictures of my brain did in fact reveal that I was a genius. We had a good laugh and drank scotch to celebrate.

Okay, not the last part. I am still pretty bitter that this happened, it was a pretty terrible and scary experience to have, especially in a foreign country where I felt my boyfriend was my only reliable support nearby. Luckily, I got to stay in Asuncion for a while with a nurse and then my host family, and they took good care of me.

I had been sick several times before that where it was hard to get out of bed to prepare something to eat, etc., and I really missed my mom and support from home, and thought, "Wow, it's so much easier to be sick in the states." I bought a new mattress after all of that because being bed ridden in discomfort is no fun. Needless to say, that was months ago, and I am grateful for my health and hope that all of the weird illnesses I have encountered here have somehow just strengthened my immune system!

5. My favorite thing that I've recently done is teach a photography class! I put my heart into that because it was something I have lots of passion for and think is really important. Unfortunately, the program is designed to lend five digital cameras to volunteers in their respective communities for two months only, so the photography class has ended. We recently did two exhibits and we also participated in a photo exchange with a school from a different country (it's still a mystery where), and thanks to my mom for helping(she printed all the photos I had digitally sent her) we made the deadline. Three of my students won in a national photo contest and get to go to Asuncion in September to see their photos in an exhibit! We also got to take a little trip and got to experience some of Caaguazu's (my Paraguayan home town) beauty. Photo by: Nataly Bento, one of my photo class participants.

I NEED to wrap this up before I lose all my readers...My Dad's words, not mine.

I'm now typing from candle light because the electricity randomly went out, which isn't too common, but not too uncommon, either. Much love to you and thank you for all the support. I really appreciate the letters and support! I can't seem to put my thoughts very well in English now, I keep having to stop myself from completing phrases in Spanish. It sounds cool, but I feel crazy! And this photo is of Juan and his darling sobrino, Mauricio!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

I still love you, Paraguay. It's just harder some days...

I know this is a passing moment. I will soon feel foolish for having complained about everything, I'm sure, but regardless...I must vent. Yesterday I think I was sicker than I have ever been in years. Or I could rephrase that, in Paraguay I've gotten sick every few weeks it seems, last time I had a really high fever and had gotten a shot in my hand, a very unpleasant experience. Another time, it was a shorter lived sickness but the pain in my stomach was unbearable. This time, it was a mix of everything and lots of vomiting. I know, you guys don't want to hear about that. But I woke up today, more than twenty four hours after I had first been sick, and I felt better, for the most part.

It already felt hot in the house and all I wanted to do was shower. But guess what? There is no water. I don’t really have any food in the house because I had been out of town, and I don’t feel quite strong enough to go all the way to the store to load up on food, especially with no shower and I’m pretty sure my hair got in the way while I was sick yesterday. Meanwhile, I’m fighting with my boyfriend over I don’t know what because I’m just so emotional, I’m hot, I want to eat, I don’t feel comfortable enough with anyone else to ask favors and he’s being all dramatic like he’s exhausted. (He did help take care of me yesterday, but I’m not in the mood for whiney boys on top of this).

As I was fighting with him and being equally dramatic, I decided it was time to go home. Not really, but I decided to say that, anyway. Then I thought, “Maybe it is.” I thought about how sick I am of being sick in Paraguay all the time! I was never sick like this in the states, and it’s hard enough being sick living alone, and in a foreign country. I thought about how I didn’t want to endure the heat of this upcoming summer, how I was tired of my bosses who are supposed to be supportive and encouraging, acting as though I’m doing something wrong and overlooking anything I have accomplished. I’m tired of the community gossiping about anything and being put in awkward positions with my supposed community contact who is supposed to help and support me- but who doesn’t even work with kids and just wants to use me to see her boyfriend, and I don’t support that because she’s married. I think she realizes I don’t want to help her, so she wants to say bad things about me. In a different world, this would not matter. In this world, it does.

I’m sick of all that! Every single one of my moves is scrutinized and people like to talk about you just to talk about something because they literally have nothing better to do! I’m tired of this, and very tired of what’s “improper” because I am a women. Example: The other day I saw one of my friends pass by and I yelled his name to get his attention. My boyfriend turned to me, “Natalie you can’t do that!” “What?!” I said, “I can’t yell at my friend? Why? Because I’m a woman?!” And he said, “I didn’t make up these rules, I’m just telling you those are the type of the things that community will talk about.”
I then started lecturing him and saying okay, I can understand some of those rules, but I’m not in agreement that I can’t yell at a friend to (I just yelled his name) to get his attention, that the rule did not make any sense. You see, I understand cultural sensitivity, but when do I have to compromise my entire self?! I feel like I’m losing parts of my being...

But then I thought of the reality. It is my dream to be here. This is what I wanted. I just had no idea how hard it was! Especially as a woman! I’ve changed so much and am so careful with things to appease the community, but regardless, the community will gossip because that’s what they do. Even in the city.

I once tried to explain to my boss how difficult things were for me at one point. I didn’t want to leave my house, I felt so depressed, I could not get used to the stares! And the cat calls!
I wanted to disappear. It’s funny, after seven months of living in this city, they still haven’t toned down. I just have a bike now so I don’t have to deal with it for as long. Anyway, I was explaining how it was a really hard time for me (and I didn’t even tell her about how many secret admirer texts I had gotten from men claiming they were in love with me, and I had no idea who they were), and she said, “No, it all depends on how you carry yourself.” Let me say, that is complete bullshit. I have no kinder way of saying that. If by walking down the street alone to get groceries, I am “asking” for attention...I won’ t even get started on how mad that phrase made me.

So, as I was thinking, I could just go home. I could lay on a comfortable mattress when I’m sick, or maybe I won’t be sick all the time! I could go home and not wake up sweating or get away from people who just want to take advantage of me, bosses who seem to discourage me and the like, but I remembered the note that my kids wrote on the wall of my house next to my front door, “Natalia, where have you been?” Somehow, when I left for Thanksgiving, my partner informed my class, and they must have come later because they didn’t get the message, so they came to my house. Then there was yesterday, when I was sick. I was lying in bed when I heard a loud knock at the door. It was my students, again. Juan had gone to the library to tell them there was no class today, but again, these kids showed up late and didn’t get the message.

I want to stay for the kids.
And the rainstorms, and the tereré, and the simple things.

But mostly, the kids.

As if on cue, I heard a loud noise that wouldn’t cease, I thought it was a crazy trailer dragging something down the street and I wanted to be annoyed and then I peered outside...rain!!! I had no idea since I hadn’t been outside in two days and suddenly, everything felt okay. The air is cooler, the intoxicating smell of rain is filling the air and the tranquilidad that only a rain storm could bring to the day. Especially in a moment like this. Everything will be okay.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Another day...

Today I had the freaking cutest little girl in my lap. I went to the plaza to buy a new chip for my cell phone so I could be able to afford all my text messages with my community since the majority are with a different phone company, and a little girl was staring at me with wide eyes and she said something in Guarani to her father. He turned to me and said, "She wants you to always stay here." I couldn't help but grab her and put her in my lap and when I asked her what her name was in Spanish, she answered that she was three years old. I asked again in Guarani and she told me her name. She took on to calling me Talia and kept insisting that I had gum in my purse. I was there for less than half an hour but felt so sad to leave that little girl.

Today was a sunny day, and although it wasn't that cool during that day, everyone was bundled up. Paraguayans are worse than Texans when it comes to the cold, I love how everyone seems overly dressed with layers on a cool day, but the majority also drive motos and have to face the breeze.

There's also another thing that everyone does here that may seem strange, but I've taken on the habit, as well. Everyone always has their windows and doors open during the day, no matter the weather. If I have my shutters closed, my house is so dark, so I'd rather have them open and be dressed in layers than be in my dark house. Everyone sits outside and is very community oriented, hence the nature of gossip. However, I'm a huge fan of people watching, so I'm all for sitting in front of my house or staring out the window. I don't have a functioning tv or internet right it's my form of entertainment, at times.

I also love going to the soccer field and watching everyone practice, and yes, I bought my very own soccer ball. The day after I made the big purchase, I rounded up the neighborhood and a huge group of us went to the field and played with an American football left by the previous volunteer and the kids kicked around the soccer ball (which I want to refer to as futbol) before the practice with the older kids started. Earlier that week I had gone to visit the family I had previously stayed with and was sitting outside with two of the kids doing nothing and decided we needed to play some kind of game. We went on a hunt for some kind of bat and ball. At first we were playing with a pipe and lemons we kept picking from a nearby tree. It was the greatest thing ever. I imagined that it was equivalent to a Paraguayan version of playing baseball in the street back in the day in New York City. I cut up my feet on the uneven cobble stone streets trying to catch the lemon, and then I busted the lemon with the pipe as a car drove by. Pulp went everywhere and the aroma of citrus was in the air. Afterwards, Milner, the nine year old I was playing with, successfully found a real bat and then crafted a ball out of his soccer socks. Milner, his 19 year old sister, Paola, and I took off for the field and took turns pitching and batting to one another. This was all very entertaining to the onlookers that were there playing futbol.

I love that family. One day I went to go visit them and I didn't leave until 6 hours later. A lot of my visits are like that...every time I tried to say goodbye, they would bring me something else. "Here, Naty, we're cooking, stay." Meat was brought to me, then beer, how could I leave?

The other day I went to a festival of San Juan. The tradition is to climb up the long pole and get whatever is tied to the top. I was very entertained watching the different methods of trying to reach the top. One person was standing on the chair at the bottom, another was on his shoulders and he was holding up a large reed trying to poke at the prizes on top while holding on the pole. Finally, a little boy with a rope was able to climb his way to the top while holding on, and knocked down the bottle of liquor, and next two bags of candy. I can't remember what else was up there...I want to say meat, which sounds crazy, but ikatu. Puede ser. Maybe.

Today I had two girls come over who will hopefully help me with my English class! I can only have ten to fifteen in the class, so now I need to figure how to advertise for this...the problem is, 50 people will act interested, and then the numbers dwindle every week. I may just base it on first come first serve and see what happens. I have a lot of young adults who are interested in advanced classes, but I'm only focusing on basics right now because that's what I have material for, and it's not really my goal...I'm helping several people on the side with advanced English. Today my friend came over and we dissected Queen lyrics. I was trying to explain the difference of wanting to break free, and wanting to be free. Ha. It was lovely. I did the motions and explained that breaking free just seems a little more dramatic as if you are really caged in, and then she realized the song was about a relationship.

My kitten was missing for almost two weeks, and each time I approached someone, they seemed so puzzled why I was looking for a cat. "There are plenty of cats on the street, we'll find you a really pretty one." I explained that I just wanted my cat. People thought I was crazy. Did I bring her from the states? Was she pure bred? No, I explained, she was from the street in my training site and she was going to hit by a car. Regardless, I decided to make flyers and post them in a few places, and guess what? My neighbor called while I was in Asuncion and I got my kitten back to everybody's surprise. They day she went missing was awful. I came back after being away in the countryside for a meeting with other volunteers in my region, and I started looking frantically outside. A few minutes later I noticed other people looking outside, too. Apparently she had been in the neighbor's yard who had recently passed away, so everyone that was there for the burial was now helping me. I felt awful, but everyone was happy to help. I apologized for disturbing them and continued going to every single house nearby. It's kind of like she went away to summer camp because now she is a lot more affectionate and calmer. Apparently a little boy had taken her home that day. I never did get that story straight and I still owe my neighbors thank you brownies. Yes, I just wrote an entire paragraph about my cat.

There is so much more to say but I wrote this a few days I really miss everyone a lot.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Paraguay, Paraguay. My 24/7 catwalk, you know.

I felt like I always wanted to write when I traveled before, and there was always time…but it was a completely different class of journey. Lately, I haven’t had a lot of self reflection time. I live here, I’m in one place, I’m allowed to buy more clothes or items and I don’t have to worry about lugging them around in a huge back pack! That’s something new…I threw out my previous ideas of only surviving with a few shirts because I don’t live in the campo (country). I live in a city and I would probably be shunned if I only had three shirts. These people are all about style. Have I mentioned the style before? It’s just like the 80’s…tight jeans, sparkly everything, and anything but simple. I’ve decided I’m going to introduce the paint splatter look to Paraguay and see if it takes off.

I miraculously found shoes that fit! My feet are bigger than the men’s feet which shouldn’t surprise me, I guess. I also found jeans and a coat! These were huge accomplishments. All the coats here are worn like belly shirts and if you happen to be tall and not built with an impossibly small frame, it’s quite an achievement to find a coat. I forced myself to go into the busy market in Asuncion and deal with the bombarding vendors…it was worth it. The market is crazy, but you can find everything there and it’s all super cheap. I’m fortunate enough to live in a town with a market, as well, but Asuncion has everything for a lower price. It’s a bit reminiscent of New York city’s china town, minus the creepy basements.

I’ve neglected to paint a picture for you all. I feel awful about this. Why haven’t I documented my thoughts and images as I’ve experienced or seen them? They were so overwhelming at first, but as I adjusted, I became more accustomed…and now what was so astounding at first is what I may see on the daily. I’m not saying these things are less charming, but some things I’ve almost forgotten how foreign or strange they would be if I had a visitor from the states. I don’t live in the campo, so I have a lot more luxuries. For example, I have a huge super market in my town and I can even buy mozzarella! I’ve made vegetarian pizza twice, and yes, I did take pictures. I’m one of those people…but the food looked so pretty. You must understand what a delicacy this was. The first time it was exciting and depressing at the same time because I wanted to share the meal with someone, but there was nobody. This has been the tough part. The culture. Ay. I have mostly guy friends, but if one came over for dinner? Right now, that‘s not a good idea…it’s going to happen at some point, but I feel like my host mom already thinks I’m horrible for having guy friends. She’s a bit older. My female friends all have families, so I’d have to make a huge dinner and bring it to their house. I will do that in the future, but I’m afraid everyone would freak out at the large quantity of vegetables I cook with. The four food groups here consist of: salt, red meat, lots of fat, and cheese. And more salt. And carbohydrates. That’s more than four, but you get what I’m saying…Grease broth is a specialty.

I made brownies and gave them all away so I wouldn’t eat the entire pan myself, and everyone was so impressed. “You know how to make cake?!” I explained it was from a box, but regardless, everyone still thought it was such a talent. I think people have some misconception that we all have servants in the states. The first time I swept my room in my training site, everyone almost died.

Right now I still don’t have “work” besides trying to build community contacts. I do feel a bit crazy, but I know everything will come together just like it did in Americorps. I have faith in that. Everyone (other volunteers who have been here for a while) tells me not to compare myself or my projects with others because everyone’s sites are completely different, along with their projects. This is true. It’s just hard when I already have people in my sector with busy schedules and I still don’t have anything…but it will come in time. Paso a paso…

There are a lot of good people here that take care of me. For example, the other day my friend (another volunteer) came and stayed the night with me and we were walking to the terminal. I decided to walk with her just because as rubias (blondes), it can be quite rough. As we were walking a car pulled over and shouted, “Natalia!” It was a friend of my sister’s boyfriend and he gave us a ride to the terminal. Que suerte! The night before we had gone to a huge festival my town celebrates annually, and I was waiting outside of the dance for my friend. There were so many people and the minute I’m left alone, a million creepsters approach me…I’ve learned how to be really rude to try to get my point across for men to leave me alone, but I saw a familiar face, a really nice boy I met at a few of the outdoor music shows I’d been to. I told him I was tired and wanted something to eat, and immediately he got me a chair and we waited by his friend’s bbq pit for some meat that was grilling. I could go on with stories like this.

My three year old Paraguayan niece didn’t utter a word to me for an entire month. It drove me crazy. Kids usually love me and this cute little girl ignored me until I decided one day to approach her again. I started counting out loud incorrectly, and then we became best friends. She wants to follow me every where and yesterday she buried me under a mountain of stuffed animals, and then she would point to everything and ask me how to say it in English. I had shown her flash cards with shapes on them a few days before, and I cannot tell you how proud I was when I heard her say, “Circle!!!” I was cooking in my house and she was on the floor with the stack of cards and proudly held up the right card to me. It reminded me of when I was in Spain and three year old Pablo would sit in his stubborn five year old brother’s class, and in the cutest voice he proclaimed, “BLUE!” Oh, those are the sweetest moments.

Yesterday, Heidy (my three year old Paraguay niece) was standing on her chair at the dinner table and singing about an elephant while doing wild hand motions and I thought, “How lucky! I hope she never changes…” Children are so beautiful and inhibition free, but I feel like it’s something that’s been robbed of kids here. I feel like the dictatorship really scarred a lot of people and have even stifled the youth to a degree…I don’t expect to change the world, but if I can reach any of the kids or show them that other opportunities exist, that they have the power to do what they dream, I’ll be happy. I don’t think that’s impossible.
I met a Canadian here who is from German descent and lives on a German colony and he told me, “I don’t want to offend you, but don’t expect to change anything…”
That really got me. He had no idea how much that irked me. If we all thought things were impossible, that dreams are only meant to be dreams, what kind of life is that? I don’t expect to change a culture or society, I’m not here to impose my beliefs on anyone, but I do have a dream that I can empower the people…even if it’s one person. I’m not going to let cynicism bring me down. I know I will get worn down and frustrated, but how long did it take for women to get rights in the US? What if they thought there was never a reason to fight or continue? What if we were all submissive and accepted all realities as something inevitable? To each his own. I think it all starts with a seed.

I will be brave and I will try my best. That’s what I can do. I won’t bury my dreams.

I explained to table full of people that I wasn’t here to teach English, that it wasn’t my goal, but it is a part of my culture and I will share that skill, but I was primarily here to serve the people. Dinners can be rough. It was my sister’s boyfriend’s birthday, but everyone was focused on me. He gave me the better chair and everyone wanted to talk to me about the Peace Corps. I understand the curiosity, but I always feel bad when all the attention is on me, and the pressure is pretty rough at times. I just want to eat without everyone being obsessed with if I have eaten that type of food before…it feels like everyone’s personal goal is to get me to eat more red meat but I’m determined to not sacrifice my entire health to appease others. In a culture where everyone is obsessed with talking about one’s weight, how do they expect me to conform in every way? My perspective is that I value diversity, and if a foreigner ate differently, I would respect that. However, nobody was raised amongst diversity here, so it’s not quite viewed in the same way.

Everyone seems to be astounded by my Spanish. I still don’t understand that because I obviously lack a lot, but I explained that I started learning when I was fourteen. I told the story of falling in love with a Selena CD of my dad’s and how I poured over the lyrics. I became obsessed with Spanish when I finally had the opportunity to take a class. I told a group of girls this at my friend’s wedding party, and later my friend shouted to me, “Natalia, this song is for you!” I thought I would really have to focus on the lyrics and then the song started…Como la flor by Selena!!! I was so happy and I danced with all the other ladies and sang along with all the words. Everyone laughed and said, “Natalia, you really know how to have fun!” That was a good night.

The people always describe me here as open and fun, and they endlessly tease me because of this. We’ve got a good rapport. I would say they mostly love when I try to speak Guarani, eat meat, drink and dance. I’ve often been mistaken for Brazilian or German, and when I explain that I’m from the states, everyone acts as though I’m royalty. This is sometimes very frustrating. I once shouted, “ My nationality and my appearance are not worth anything!” I know it’s seen as a novelty, and it’s odd to be on the other side, but I just want people to see me for me sometimes.

My Spanish is always improving, I’m thankful for that, but still, I feel so stifled at times! I want to shout, I want to say exactly what I mean, I want to be understood and be able to dance on the streets without a huge negative connotation. I think I just have to deal with the judgment.