Monday, May 20, 2013

Visit to Nueva Germania

I'm in Guarambaré with my host family, Cristi and Artemio, again. I spent most of last week up in Nueva Germania visiting and saying goodbye. That visit was the most powerful part of my long Paraguayan despedida. Even after 14 months absence, 4 months longer than my actual presence, it was almost as if I'd never left. I was received warmly and enthusiastically as always. For the most part everything is the same, but there are new babies.

All the differences between Nueva Germania and Natalio make it hard to figure out what in particular it was that made it so hard for me to resettle in the South. The most important difference has to be in the smaller size and greater isolation of Nueva Germania. The warmth and hospitality that I always found is that of a very small town far from any city. The school I worked in was enthusiastic about working with me to improve reading competency; apart from receiving a Peace Corps education volunteer there was little they could do to jump-start change. I really do regret not having been able to work with them last year, they are a good group of people and seem serious about improving the quality of their school. Of course, their ganas de trabajar means that they don't really need me, they are able to make changes on their own if they are really serious about it. At best a volunteer multiplies and assists the efforts of already motivated counterparts. Without those ganas the volunteer would be irrelevant, as no amount of encouragement from an accented foreigner will get people to change in ways they are not interested in. This is roughly how I felt at the school I worked at most in Natalio.

Apart from the school however, there is an overwhelming passivity in the people of Nueva Germania, a serious lack of ganas, and a fatalistic attitude that makes any kind of real development project an exercise in futility. The community has received outside help over the years, mostly from the German government or philanthropic communities in Germany, but in every case that local officials have taken control of the sponsored institutions: the technical school, the municipal market, the hospital, the library; the institution has been closed and looted or quality of service has declined precipitously.

The passivity, la tranquilidad, is not such a bad thing in itself. People in Nueva Germania are generally quite content. They are vaguely aware that they are considered very poor by international or even Paraguayan standards, that there is a lack of work for young people, that local politicians use patronage to get votes and reward loyalty by giving out public-sector functionary jobs (which mostly involve sitting in a chair and drinking tereré) and are basically uninterested in the work of governing (not that it's that much work). But people don't dwell on these problems. Instead they swim in the rivers unpolluted by industry, drink beer, play soccer and volleyball, kill a hen for a big family lunch, slaughter a hog for a party, pick grapefruits or mandarins or mangoes from the trees with grow everywhere, the youth flirt and drive around on motos and get each other pregnant, adults drive around on motos and have affairs, grandmothers play with new baby grandchildren, dogs eat chicken and pork bones, life goes on and people are adept at ignoring or waiting-out their problems. This is a pretty sustainable way of life. Drugs are uncommon, family bonds are tight, the air is clean and fresh fruit is plentiful.

My friend Lyda and her family live in a ramshackle clap-board house. 

The flip side of all this is the attitude that acknowledges the poverty and the corruption and all the past attempts made to remedy these and then regards all new attempts as inevitably  doomed to failure. People know that their neighbors will not keep up their commitments, and that it would be foolish to not do the same. The only way to move forward is for a single individual, or at most a family, to invest and work to move themselves up in the world. If they are successful they will likely be regarded with suspicion and resentment by their neighbors or outside family-members.  This attitude I encountered again and again during my five days in town, and it stands in pretty stark contrast to the general attitude in Natalio and Itapua in general. Because of this different I'm thankful that I got the opportunity to work in Natalio, especially with the library. I now share this fatalistic attitude in as much as I think such a project in Nueva Germania is probably doomed to failure.

Tomorrow I'll go into Asuncion to conduct my final business in Paraguay. I've got to turn in my phone and medical kit and get various signatures to officially close my service (we say "COS", the O is for of) as a Peace Corps volunteer. I've got figure out how to get a chunk of money into my bank account to use while I'm travelling. There are a few more souvenirs to buy and then a big suitcase to send home with DHL ($$$$$!). I'll buy my bus ticket for 9am wednesday to Salta, Argentina and spend a last night with my chika'i asucena. Wednesday I'll board my 20 hour bus ride to Salta by way of Clorinda, Formosa, and Resistencia.

Ha sido divertido

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