Friday, December 18, 2009

Thunder Mountain

Sorry I’ve been away for so long! Where to begin.......So okay, I got kicked out of Na Lorenza’s house. Remember her? She’s the one everybody was telling me was loca when I told them I was moving in with her. I can’t tell you how many “I told you so”’s I got for that one.  Any it doesn’t sound any better in another language either.  Also, I should have moved before things reached a head, but I ignored the warning signs and was being kaigue(lazy).  So what happened exactly:

Well, there had been things that occurred that changed the environment in the house. I started to feel like they were taking advantage of me and then little incidents happened that, although we would go back to laughing and talking, it was never the same. During Oct. I started looking for a place. On Thurs, Oct 29, another month approaching and another rent payment due, I asked her if I could pay each week in Nov and not for the whole month at the beginning of Nov because I was looking to move soon.  She said No, because she pays her light bill at the beginning of the month and uses my rent payment for that. Okaaaay. If she would’ve left it like that, okay. But she totally flipped out.  She started wailing about how much electricity I use, about how I use my blowdryer and flat iron (which I rarely use either, although they use very little electricity).  Then she starts telling me that she is short 40mil guaranis on her light bill this month.  So I told her I don’t use that much electricity and what I do use is included in my rent. And she could tell by the expression on my face that I thought she was trying to take advantage of me, so she said, “No estoy aprovechando de vos!” (I’m not taking advantage of you)  I was like, “Si, me parece” (Yeah, seems like it to me). But at the end, she told me that if I didn’t pay her all of the rent by Sat. Oct 31, then I’d have to move.  But she was polite enough to suggest that I pay her all the rent for Nov on Sat, and I can continue looking. And if I find something before Nov is up, then fine, I can move before Nov ends. 

So of course I panicked, because there was no way I could stay in the house now in THAT environment, but I didn’t really have anywhere else to go.  After a sleepless night, I went to the Muni the next day and told my friends the situation.  “Loca”, “Mala” they said to describe Na Lorenza.  But Paola, whose house I had looked at before Na Lorenza’s but didn’t have an inside bathroom, said to me without hesitation, “Shavonda, remember the room that I showed you before? You can stay there while you search for another place.” “You’re sure your parents will be okay with this?” I asked. “Shavonda, trust me. It’s fine.” And while I was staying there, they wanted me to stay but I was stuck on the bathroom situation (chuchi, i know). So I was relieved that I at least had a place to stay until I could find something permanent.  So Sat, Oct 31 comes. I still hadn’t told Na Lorenza that I’m moving. She’s thinking that she has me under her thumb because it was so short a notice. So I had planned to move in the afternoon, but when I went to the muni, they told me that the Mayor had to travel that afternoon and since he was gonna help me move, plans got pushed up to that morning. So I went back to the house to finish packing my stuff, trying to figure out how to tell her. I caught her outside doing laundry.  “Na Lorenza, voy a mudarme hoy. Yo encontre una casa” (I’m gonna move today, I found a house”.  She said, “Oh bueno” (Oh good).  I remembered thinking that this was going to be easier than I thought. 

About 10 minutes after I told her, I was in my room packing when she came in, 

“Turn off the ceiling fan, Shavonda.”  

“Uh, what, you mean now?”

“Yeah, now! You have the window open”

“But there is no breeze coming through and it’s hot”

“So, you’re moving and you can’t use anything! I’m short 40 mil on the light this month. Every day you use your flat iron and blowdryer!”

At this I got pissed, cuz I knew she was lying, “That’s not true, that’s not true!!!”

“Yes, it is true” she told me

“Listen, light and water is included in my rent. I already paid for Oct. It’s Oct 31st. Still Oct, so what I use today, I’ve already paid for.”

“You see that, Shavonda! You have bad characteristics! And because of this, you’re not gonna be able to work here. The people are not going to want to work with you! Turn off the ceiling fan, Shavonda!!”

“If you want the ceiling fan off, then turn it off yourself”

And she did just that....

So I’m standing in my room thinking, “What the hell just happened?!” and 5 minutes later, she comes back....

I had some empanadas that I had made on a plate in the refrigerator.  She came in and threw them along with the couple other things I had in the frig. on the table in the room. At that point, I called Elisa, the Associate Peace Corp Director for my sector, and told her what was happening.  While I was talking to her, I went outside to take my clothes in from the line.  Na Lorenza went on the opposite end of the line and started to snatch my clothes down saying she needed her clothespins. “You saw me taking in the clothes!” I yelled at her. “You’re talking!”, she yelled back. “But I’m taking in the clothes too!”  So Elisa is on the phone the entire time, and she’s like, “Shavonda, what is she doing now? Is she threatening you?” At this point, I’m close to tears and it’s in my voice as I try to explain everything that happened.

Luckily, soon afterwards the mayor and a couple friends came and load of my things, and I was out of there.  

I lived with Paola’s family  for about a week. I really bonded with them and I can tell that they wanted me to stay and they were worried that I wasn’t comfortable in their house. There’s a little house on their property with a very small room in front and a bigger room in back but they use the bigger room to store the stove, refrigerator, and other random things.  They also have an outdoor bathroom/shower. I’m not gonna lie, if it hadn’t been for that last point, I would’ve considered staying (I know, I’m chuchi). But they did their best to make sure that the little room in front that I was sleeping in was as comfortable (as a little room could possibly be), and when I mentioned that I had my window closed b/c of the bichos (bugs, flies), the dad put up a screen on the window.  

That week was hard. It wasn’t the family, b/c they’re awesome. A part of it was being unsettled. I hate living out of boxes and my suitcase. That throws me off.  Also, being extremely worried that Na Lorenza was going to spread awful things about me to the community. My friends could see the worry etched on my face.  “Shavonda, no preocupate”, “Shavonda, no estresate”, “Shavonda, no pensa en esto”. All of these things they were telling me, but how could they know how it feels to be a foreigner living in a community when a member of said community (no matter how crazy), is hurling insults at you?  Who are the people going to believe? Me, the foreigner, or one of their own (no matter how crazy)?  While talking to Paola, I would lapse into sudden silence (more than usual). “Shavonda, what are you thinking about?” I would shake my head, “Nothing.” “Shavonda, stop worrying, va a pasar (It will pass).”  And it did. Though, it hurts to have built a rapport with a family and to consider them family, then something like this happens. But, asi es la vida, verdad?

So, Mirta, who works in the Muni, told me that there’s a little house on her family’s property that her uncle would be willing to rent to me.  So I went to look at the house. I wasn’t exactly sold on it, but it had an indoor bathroom. I didn’t pay close enough attention to the other details. So I moved into the house after a week with Paola’s family.  I was still feeling down, but then I told myself to stop feeling sorry for myself. That was the day I ate lunch 3 times, because I had 3 invitations, and didn’t want to turn anyone down.  

So afterwards, things were okay.  Then the families started telling me about the rezo (prayer) that will be held in the house. To be fair to them, they mentioned the rezo before I moved in, but I got the impression that the family come a day/mth and say a quick prayer and that’s it. And in such a hurry to move as I was, I didn’t press for more details.  So now, they are telling me that tradition is that after someone dies, every year there is a rezo for 9 days. The rezo is usually from about 5pm -9pm and the family has to provide snacks (usually chipa) for the attendees. In a room in the house, normally where the dearly departed lived, there is something like a shrine (don’t really know the correct word for it, thought about taking a pic, but thought it would be disrepectful).  So the family was assuring me that it’s not going to bother me one bit, although I was thinking, “How can having a shrine to a dead person, and having strangers in the next room not going to bother me?”  But what could I say, “NO, you cannot honor the memory of your mother, and follow Paraguayan tradition!”?  So I just had to make sure that all my stuff was locked up and tried to find another place to be during the rezo.  Also, I mentioned that the rezo is usually held in the home of the dead person, but it’s not uncommon for paraguayans to die in their homes also. I didn’t ask......and I sincerely, don’t want to know......

Coastin - Reconnect

For a week in November, we had an IST (In Service Training), also known as Reconnect, and also the annual Thanksgiving celebration in Encarnacion. At first, I wasn’t really looking forward to training, because’s training. But after everything that had happened, and my coming to hate my living situation (it’s moldy and they are LOTS of flies, and various other things, it’s also FAR from the center of town, and the families have like 5 dogs), the prospect of getting out of site seemed better and better.  I even left site early :)  

But all and all, it was good to reconnect with the people from my group because I hadn’t seen anyone since swearing-in weekend.  

So that was a great week to just be around other Volunteers and not have to be so culturally-attuned 24/7. I also got a chance to stay with my host family from training and it was GREAT seeing them again.  I felt HORRIBLE because I hadn’t really been in contact (I had to change my cell phone chip, losing all of my numbers).  I told them about my housing situation and how I hated it, and how hard it is to find other housing in my site, and that I will probably have to have a bathroom constructed b/c none of the empty houses have bathrooms.  So my host dad actually told me that when I find a house that I like, call him and he will come to my site to build a bathroom for me, since there’s a bus for my site that passes through the community. I thought this was more kindness than I deserved since I hadn’t made an effort to contact them (I could’ve gotten their number from Peace Corps, or another Volunteer’s training family). But I made a promise to better keep in touch, and I’m actually planning on spending New Year’s with them.

But then the week had to come to an end, and I had to return to site. It wasn’t a sad experience because it gave the people a little time to miss me (does this sound arrogant? oh well).  But I was still coming back to the house that I hated.  

Sudden Drop - Didn’t See That One Coming

As soon as I got back, I continued my search for a new place to stay, with little to no luck.  Then, Friday morning of my first week back in site, I slept in a little. Around 8am(yes, this is my definition of sleeping in), I’m standing outside my little house marveling at the weather, thinking about how it’s not too hot nor cold, and the sky is perfect! Then Mirta’s brother steps outside of their house and motion’s to me with that little palm down motion that they use here.  

“Hola, que tal!” 

“Did you hear, the mayor died last night”

“Que?” What

“The mayor died last night. Mirta left around 1am this morning, came back and slept a little, then left again”

“Wait a minute” I said, still trying to mentally catch up. “OUR mayor?”

“Yeah, Don Ruben, our mayor.”

“But how did he die?”

“A heart attack. After dinner, he had a pain in his chest, and collapsed.”

And I’m speechless....

The funeral was the next day.They don’t wait as long as we do.  They are no preservatives for the body after death here.  Or if there is, then it’s only used in the bigger cities, not by the majority of the population.  Usually, when someone dies, the next day or maybe in 2 days depending on if family has to come in from other places, there is a velorio (wake), and burial.  Then after that for 9 days, there is a rezo at the house of the family. People were asking me about the process in the States and it was hard to answer.  It’s hard because here, the population is more or less homogenenous, meaning that it’s mostly one culture and with the same traditions (albeit there are variations on the traditions).  But I can’t really explain what WE do in the States for our dead, I can only explain what MY family and community do because there are many different religions and also customs that have nothing to do with religion. For example, when someone dies where I live, of course people offer condolences. But usually the funeral is on a Saturday, but if someone dies on a Thursday or Friday, then it’s the NEXT Saturday. But really, I think it depends on what the family wants, because the body can be preserved.  Then, normally the evening before the funeral people will gather at the family’s house and have a fish fry or other food (yeah I’m from the South).  But even though my family goes to a Baptist church, I think this tradition has less to do with religion than with regional culture. And to be honest with you, I can’t even say that everyone in the region does this.  

So I try to explain that there are many different customs and religions in the States so it’s not all the same.  But I did mention that the body is usually kept at a funeral home. “The body is not kept with the family?” they asked.

“Ah, no. In the house with the family? I asked

“Yeah, with the family.”

“No, because the funeral and burial is usually not within 24 hours after the death”

“Oh” they answer, but I can tell that they didn’t really understand at all

Then later on someone asked me, “You all don’t cry for your dead do you?”

Huh?! Where did that come from!

“Yes, of course we cry. Just like you all do” I answered.

Then I was thinking of how I had explained the storage of the body.  For a culture where it’s ALL about family and people don’t usually move out of the parents home before marriage, and sometimes after, and everything is shared; so the image of the body of their loved one in some funeral home and not with the family must seem very cold to them.  

Primary Colors

The death of the Intendente also put into play an interesting political scene, especially since I “work” in the Muni.  The mayor was a member of the Colorado political party.  With his death, the president of the Junta (City Commission) assumes the role of Interim Mayor for 15 days until a council votes for someone to finish the Mayor’s term. Well, the president of the Junta is a member of the Liberal political party.  The Colorado party is symbolically represented by the color, Red. While Liberales are represented by Blue. Depending on who you talk to, colors are all that matter here; or colors mean nothing, it’s all about money (although I’m thinking who has money maybe connected to who’s in office and their color).  So almost immediately, I started hearing talk of how key people who worked for Don Ruben are quitting, and my contact, Marvi, doesn’t know if she will continue either.  They said that Cinthia, the interim Mayor, is two-faced and only wants to help herself and members of her political party, but Don Ruben helped everybody, regardless of Party.  

The Muni opened again the following Wednesday. It was AWKWARD, for me at least.  When I arrived, I saw all the funcionarios (employees of the muni) gathered in one office, so I walked in and was like, “Hola, Que tal”.  They all looked up at me with teary eyes, wiping their faces.  Oops.  Then, the widow of the Don Ruben, along with their 3 sons, were there to collect his personal items from his office.  Also there were members of the Liberal political party.  Also, the teenage daughter of Cinthia was there milling around.  So after walking around with what I hoped was the appropriate expression on my face, I decided to leave so I could concentrate on planning this Summer camp that I started.

A Loop, Swoop, Dive, Climb, then a Drop....The Hunt Continues

So through all this, I’m still hunting for a place with little results. But one day, the librarian where I do my Colonia de Vacaciones (Summer Camp) told me that there is a house that is totally furnished and located in the central part of town.  She told me that the landlady’s sister told her that she wants to rent it the house out.  The librarian knew all about my housing troubles and she was talking the house up to me. I kept telling myself, “Don’t get your hopes up, don’t get your hopes up”.  So she told me to come back around 6:15 so that she can show me the house. So that evening I trudged through incredibly humid, muggy heat back to the library (remember I live far), then when i walked in the door, she said, “I’m sorry Shavonda! I was just about to call you. I just talked to the landlady and there was some confusion. She doesn’t want to rent her house afterall.”  To say that I felt like someone had slapped my heart around in my chest would be an understatement.  But I smiled, told her thanks for her help anyway, and left. I didn’t really know where I was going, but I kept telling myself, “Don’t cry, Vonda, don’t cry!” So I stopped at a Copetin (little sidewalk restaurant), to buy a couple slices of cold pizza, then I went to the plaza.  I had barely made it to the bench when the tears came.  I didn’t care who saw me...which is a testament to how bad it was. I NEVER cry in public, NEVER! My own twin sister does a double take if she even hear me crying over the phone.  

Suddenly I get a txt msg from an amigo, Mario.  “Where r u?” he asks....I paused as I thought of a response. After a couple minutes delay, “In the plaza. Crying.” I responded, because even emotionally closed-off people need to let someone in SOMETIMES.  Within a few minutes, I look up and see Mario walking through the plaza towards me, with a worried expression on his face.  It turns out that he had just passed the plaza, and didn’t look that way. On a whim, he sent me a txt, not expecting that I was in the plaza.  

“Hola, Shavo. What’s the matter?”

So I told him, with eyes all red, and voice all shaky.

“Shavo, I wish I could do something for you. But I don’t know of any empty houses for rent.”

“No hay, Mario. No hay.” There aren’t any, Mario. There aren’t any.

So then, this woman is passing through the plaza, and stops at our bench.  She asked if I worked at the Muni. So automatically I go into my spiel about how I’m a Peace Corp Volunteer and I don’t actually ‘work’ in the muni, but I work with the muni, blah, blah, blah.  But she told me that her friend said I was looking for a place to rent. She has a house that I can rent or a room in the house if I want. I almost doubled over at the timing!  But I was still cautious.  “Cuando puedo ver la casa?” I asked her (When can I see the house? “Where are you headed now?” No where, I can come with you to see the house now.  So I went to Mario, who had excused himself to give us some privacy. I was smiling and I say, “This lady say that she has a house that I can rent.” He smiled too and told me to let him know how things go, saying, “I brought you good luck!”

The house was NICE. It had everything I wanted. But then she tells me that the rent is 350 per month and this does not include utilities.  Ouch! It’s a nice place, but uhhhhh damn!  But nevertheless, I was still excited b/c at least I had SOMETHING to work with. I figure I could negotiate a little, but if all else fails, for the price of comfort, I’d pay the 350.  So I told her I’d let her know. Then I asked if she could lower the rent to 300. She hit me with the old, “Te voy a avisar” (I’ll let you know), which is slightly (but not much) better than “Puede ser”, which translates to ‘It can be’, but which means NOPE. So then after not hearing from the lady for a day, I dropped by her house. She said that she could take my offer of 300, but she was acting WIERD.  She would not stop moving, and it was hard to pin her down to talk about the details.  She kept saying she doesn’t know where she’ll keep the things/furniture that is already in the house. I thought we were in agreement that I could use the refrig, stove, sofa, and she could store the bed in a room in the house, since I have my own bed. But then she would keep saying, “I don’t know where I’m going to keep my things.” Then a guy came over, and he was helping clean up the back yard, but I could tell they were more than friends.  At one point, they went in the bedroom and closed the door, leaving me with the 5year old son.  Then on top of that, she couldn’t give me a guarantee that I would be able to stay there for the duration of my service.  She would only do 6mths at a time. So at that point, I told her, “Te voy a avisar.”


So I went back to the Paola’s family to tell them about what had happened.  I had been talking to them and they had been trying to help me, and the mom let me know bad and safe areas of the barrio.  So they had been lightly suggesting that I stay in the little house on their property and they could move the refrig and stove out. I didn’t want to tell them that the only reason was because there wasn’t a bathroom. But they guessed it anyway; and the dad said that if I get the materials he will put in the bathroom for me (he’s a carpenter). And the only thing I would have to pay is a portion of water and light, but not rent. 

So this is where I’m at now.  The dad started work on the house already with materials that he already had.  I’m happy to finally have a solution (I hope) to my housing woes, but after so much that’s happened, I can’t really get my hopes up yet. Pero vamos a ver (we’ll see).

Oh and I know I briefly mentioned the Summer camp that I’m doing. I will post more on that later....but not too much later!

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