Friday, April 13, 2012

Moving on up to the East side

What is a Peace Corps volunteer without a community? Basically nothing.  It's an oxymoron, like a designated hitter in the National League. Homeless, bored, homesick, but most importantly without purpose.
I have a new community now but it continues to be a struggle accept that and to begin again the long process of getting to know it. A Peace Corps volunteer without a community is nothing; the greatest part of our job is just becoming a part of the community. My job right now is to be outgoing, to seek out unknown people and explain to them in my goofy spanish who the hell I am and why I am here of all places. On the plus side, I am by now pretty good at this. My Spanish is better than last year and I've done the same basic introductions and explanations a thousand times. It's practically automatic. I think I can also read Paraguayans better, the things they do or don't say.

What's lacking is the motivation, the ganas. But I think I am beginning to find the threads of continuity from my service so far. Even just living here, though I have not done much else, I am starting to feel a little like a Peace Corps volunteer again. From which the motivation to make something of my time will flow.
It is probably very hard to comprehend why it's been such a shock for me to move from one site in Paraguay to another. The mostly it comes from the quality of the connections I had made with people in Nueva Germania and the suddenness and completeness with which I had to leave them behind. A few of the kids are on Facebook, but saldo (phone minutes) are scarce, and I doubt I will be able to go back and visit, so it really is goodbye forever. Except I didn't even get to say goodbye.

The other aspect though is the great difference between Natalio and Nueva Germania. They are on opposite ends of the country from one another and pretty well exemplify the two sides of Paraguay.

Natalio is in the SE of the country, just 10 km from the border with Argentina. It is between Encarnacion and Ciudad del Este, Paraguay's most prosperous, and most economically active cities respectively. It was all forest until the mid 20th century but now it is all highly productive farmland. There is a yerba factory in the town and the surrounding country is covered in a patchwork of huge, mostly soy farms with Cargil and Alpa silos. According to my father this kind of countryside resembles Ohio. The dirt is nearly black. There has been a fair ammount of German and Ukainian immigration here, more recently and in greater numbers than in Nueva Germania. From all of this comes a greater general prosperity and level of economic activity, but most importantly a greater connection and awareness of the world beyond the community.

Something I came to love, and felt that it was just what I'd been looking for in Peace Corps, was the extreme remoteness of Nueva Germania and San Pedro in general. Even though it is closer (5 hours) to Asuncion than Natalio is, the last 27 km of the highway have only been paved for about 4 years and generally people have fairly little knowledge of other areas. Many have indeed been to Asuncion to study or work, but many have not, especially the older generations. Living there on the edge of town with the huge river flood plain just a block away I delighted in the beauty and the bizarreness of it all. I really felt that I was on a plane that was just slightley elevated or somehow skewed from the rest of reality. It was stifling at times but it really came to be a home were I was popular, I lived well and I felt that I a purpose.

Also there was water pressure, unlike in Natalio. I have been learning the art of bucket bathing, which is practiced by so many of my fellow volunteers, but which I had not so far experienced.
I am already feeling the PC volunteer in me beginning to reawaken after a diffcult two months. I have previously thought to myself how excellent the Peace Corps structure is, arriving in a community fresh and new and confused but excited, and then how the work just develops naturally. I hope that process can happen again, though I am neither fresh or new.

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