Monday, March 19, 2012

The Highs, the Lows and the Highlights

I have only lived in Paraguay for a month but it feels as if a year has passed.  It is not because I have stopped feeling like an awkward foreigner.  On the contrary, I do not feel comfortable enough to find my way around the nearest town or have a nearly coherent conversation with a Paraguayan other than my language instructor or my host mother. It seems to me that I have lived in Paraguay for a long time because so much has transpired.So much so that I am having difficulty remembering clearly the minute details of my former life.  ‘What time did I use to wake up?’ ‘ What was the name of that coffee shop I liked so much?’ ‘How much was a gallon of gasoline at the station near my house?’   My old life was normal and predictable and this constant state of abnormality is my new life.

The past few weeks have been challenging, exciting, disappointing, overwhelming, fulfilling and sobering but never boring.  I’ve heard from and read about RPCVs whom all agreed that Peace Corps service was an emotional roller coaster with some of the highest highs and the lowest lows that they had ever experienced.  I had prepared myself for the extremes of this once my service had begun and I was independent in a Paraguayan community.  While still in training, I had no idea that I could go through such intense changes in demeanor week to week, day to day and even, especially in the beginning of training, hour to hour.  Most of my days are spent with either the total group of trainees in a training center in the town of Guarambare or with my half of the group that lives in my host community for the ten weeks of training, Hugua Ñaro.  Much of training is highly structured language classes, technical classes (I can now build my very own trash pit but I can’t promise that it will be pretty.) and classes on the medical, safety and security and didactic techniques that we need to know to work in rural communities in Paraguay.  We also take trips to prepare us for service. 

The first major excursion was a day trip to the cities of San Lorenzo and Asunción in which we, with a partner, had to find our way around the cities and stop at specific sites that the training staff had chosen for us based on relevance to our future work in the health sector of Paraguay.  Thank God for my partner who is fluent in Spanish or I might have ended up in Brazil instead of at the Peace Corps headquarters in Asunción.  I got to practice a little conversational Spanish with my oh-so-patient partner while we were walking through Ciclovia, a park in San Lorenzo, and then again with the curator of the Museo Arqueológica y Etnográfico Guido Boggiani, a small but incredibly interesting museum that hosts artifacts and information about the indigenous Chaco culture.

The next week each trainee traveled to the site of a current Rural Health and Sanitation Volunteer to stay with him or her for three days and see an example of what our lives for the next two years could be like.  I visited a super guapa (Paraguayans use this word to describe attractive or hard-working people) volunteer in the department of Caazapá.  The experience was amazing and definitely reinvigorated my desire to work toward improving the lives of my future community while in Paraguay.  This volunteer is making a huge difference in the lives of the girls in her youth group and is determined and hard-working and I felt that I learned a lot about planning, working and keeping a healthy mindset while a PCV.  Plus, she made me iced coffee and whole wheat pasta with fresh veggies so I’m definitely a huge fan.  I enjoyed speaking to members of her community, particulary her contact and neighbors.  Everyone was so warm and spoke in Spanish very slowly to me, which I greatly appreciated.  We met with my volunteer’s VAC and two other trainees one day to talk and film their local television show about Peace Corps and issues important to the volunteers’ environmental/agricultural, economic development and health projects.  The two other trainees handled the situation with composure while I hid from the camera which is a very funny story which I might one day tell upon request, in person, if I ever get over my chagrin. 

This past week, each language group and teacher traveled to a volunteer’s site for “Long Field Practice.”  Although we visited possibly one of the coolest volunteers in Paraguay and my host family for those four days was genuinely interested in my well-being and the mother was a fantastic cook, I had a tough week.  To use a runner’s analogy, ‘I hit the wall’ or in Spanish: Choque entre la pared.  Training has been intense, which I usually wouldn’t mind, but my own intensity and perfectionist mindset has started to take a toll.  I know that I need to ease up on myself to really enjoy the whole training and service experience but this week when I struggled to communicate with my new host family or give presentations to the local public school students, I felt discouraged.  It was another example of the highs and the lows.  I had one evening when I had an almost coherent conversation about diet and exercise (…possibly themes of some of my future work) with my host mother and the next morning I read like a robot from my notes while giving a charla to a group of 5th graders.

Training is half-way done.  I have experienced so much that I’m scared to take the time to reflect on all of it and why the highs and lows have affected me the way that they have.  I suppose it’s a good thing that I have so little free time and the free time that I do have, I have a compulsive need to fill with productive activities like practicing Spanish with my host family or washing all of my clothes by hand or going to a birthday fiesta of another trainee (not really productive but necessary for my own sanity).  I have so much left to learn but there are moments when I am nearly itching to get out there and start my new life.  However, now is the time to take one day at a time, break through this emotional and psychological wall, preferably by finally being able to pronounce ‘psicologia’ with ease and try to understand the highs,  the lows and my reactions to them both because there will certainly be plenty more.