Monday, October 13, 2008

Language frustrations, meeting German deputy

October 12, 2008

When I wear my contacts, people stare at my eyes and ask me if my real eye color is blue or if I wear contacts to change the color of my eyes. Apparently the main reason people here wear contact lenses is to change the color of their eyes. I haven’t had Paraguayans asking me the same question recently because I’ve been wearing my glasses all of the time. Not my preferred eyewear, but either the dust or the contact solution I buy here doesn’t allow my lenses to stay very clean. As soon as I put them in my eyes they are bothering me and I can’t wait to take them out. (Above is a monkey in the agricultural school in my town :))

Tonight I picked up some eggs and cheese in the little general store across the street from my house. Luckily I wasn’t in a hurry, because the lady that owns the place never hurries, even when there are four people in line. As I did my best to ask for the items in Guarani, three girls, a boy, and an older man and woman stared at me. There are moments such as this from time to time, particularly in despensas (Paraguayan style convenience stores) or in front of despensas. The scenario is either the other customers in the despensa are checking me out or there are neighbors of the despensa owner drinking terere and staring at me, speculating about my origin, how white my skin is and about how I’m Mennonite or German. There’s also of course comments about how all of the mosquitoes here like foreign blood, so that’s why I am getting so many bites. On that theme, the bugs have come out in full force after Friday’s rain. Today was so hot; about 36 degrees C (somewhere in the 90s). I wished so badly that I could find a pool.

The seƱora with whom I live has been cooking lunch less and less for me, at least it was so in the past week because she spent all day in the kitchen catering for special events or making birthday cakes that there was not enough time to prepare lunch. Therefore the responsibility has fallen on me to actually buy the ingredients and put something together. Cooking in Paraguay requires real work: there is no microwave nor are there frozen pizzas, Lean Cuisines, or any frozen food in general. Therefore I have to devote at least an hour and a half it seems from start to finish. Then of course there are the dishes to wash. Cooking itself is not so bad, it’s more that cooking for yourself only is not much fun, and when you are the one that has to buy the food, cook it and clean up afterwards, eating just isn’t as enjoyable. I now understand why people say that food tastes better when someone else cooks it. I certainly agree. After I cook sometimes I don’t have an appetite.

10.9.2008, Two-month anniversary of my arrival here in site.

Unlike most other places in the western half of Paraguay (aka the Chaco), my site is situated on top of an aquifer that supplies water for the peoples and industries that live and work on top of it. We are very fortunate for that reason. However, if we begin removing water at a faster rate than it can be replenished, the salt water that is at the edge of the fresh water deposits will begin to penetrate, therefore contaminating the fresh water and making it unsuitable to drink. Septic tanks, agricultural and cattle waste, and landfills not strategically placed can also adulterate the fresh water deposits.

For that reason the Environmental Ministry and the German Embassy have been doing water studies to find out where exactly the fresh water ends and the salt water begins. They have already found a proposed landfill site away from the fresh water. Today I attended an assembly to form a legal body of citizens from different sectors that will work to better protect the water in BA.

Next I went to the indigenous community to meet a deputy from the German government who came to assure that the funds the German embassy has been donating have been used efficiently. Recently Embassy donated 30,000,000 Guaranies to our municipality to install a water well for over 100 families in the indigenous community located within our municipality. He brought his interpreter who reminded me of my fascination with the profession and with linguistics in general. Also in attendance were the German ambassador, his assistant and two other people in the deputy’s retinue. The mayor and head of the environmental department of my muni were kind enough to invite me along to the event.

October 2, 2008
The sentiment of uselessness is settling in. I thought that I could cope with a language that I’ve studied for 8+ years. But Spanish still sounds like white noise and there are few phrases that I understand completely without asking for clarification. Even after asking for clarification, I still don’t understand. I don’t know how to communicate because I don’t understand 2/3 of what is said. How did I reach this stage? How am I regressing rather than progressing? I am the victim of the economic law of diminishing returns: I have been studying Spanish for so long that for me to improve notably at this stage requires much more work than if I were a novice student of Spanish.

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