If you (US resident) had a visitor from another country who had never been to the US before how would you show them what America is all about? What would you show them? What would you do? What would you eat?
I imagine those are the questions running through the heads’ of my host family members right now. They are also the questions running though my head, but from the opposite direction. How can I figure out what Paraguay is all about? What do I need to see? What do I need to do? What should I eat?
A buzzword for the Peace Corps is “assimilation” – the taking and understanding of another culture. It’s important to the Peace Corps because the assimilated volunteer is the successful volunteer. (We will avoid defining success right now because I wager I’ll post about that in a year or two).
How does one assimilate? That is the great overarching question of Peace Corps training. One thing I’m doing and several other trainees are doing to assimilate is learning traditional Paraguayan dance.
To me, the best part about traditional Paraguayan dance is the costumes. Women wear flowing skirts, embroidered and laced shirts, flashy earrings and cross necklaces, and braided hairdos. Men ware a white shirt and black pants, a bright, multicolored waistband, a handkerchief over their collars, and a straw hat. My least favorite part about Paraguayan dance is the music. At least right now, all the music sounds the same to me – a kind of patriotic march. The dance itself is neat.
Traditional Paraguayan dance reminds me of contra dancing in the US. Some dances are done with couples and others aren’t, but all (at least what I’ve seen and started learning) involve many people. There are specific steps and formations.
Saturday afternoons we have dance class. Several other volunteers and I joined girls and boys in our neighborhood for free dance lessons in a covered area next to the soccer field. The dance professor is good humored but serious.
For the same reason I like the harbors of Maine, I like learning traditional Paraguayan dance—to carry on and share the tradition and to remember all those who traced the steps before me.