I’m sure you’ve heard: Germany won the World Cup. Several people in my community pointed out Germany’s victory to me, which I found confusing. I mean, I watched the game, but Germany was never my team. The confusion evaporated as soon as one person asked me if Germany was a city in the US and another asked me if Germany was near the US.
A lack of geographic knowledge, which may have led to these confusions, isn’t what interested me in these interactions. Plenty of people in my home country don’t know where Paraguay is, so I call it even. What interested me was how people were making the connection. Mainly, Germany is foreign and so is the US. I’m from the US, so therefore I am foreign and must have a connection to Germany. (It’s also a race thing, but I’ll save assumptions about light-skinned people for another post).
Many people in the countryside of Paraguay never leave their communities, or only go as far as the nearest town or city. Vacations aren’t common, especially vacations abroad. Most people who emigrate for work go to Argentina (at least that’s what it seems from the stories I’ve heard). My site is comprised of two communities, and my house is about 1 kilometer (less than a mile) from one of the communities. Yet, people in the community I don’t live in often comment about how far away I live. It’s a fifteen-minute walk.
The idea of living all your life in a small fraction of the Earth isn’t uncommon. Even friends I have in the US who haven’t traveled much see the world as a giant, strange place beyond their country’s borders. But, for me the idea of “us and them” is even more exaggerated here because Paraguay is such a small country. And, many Paraguayans are only just discovering that they can explore the world.
It’s also a good reminder why I’m here: to clarify some basic facts about the US and try to dispel fears and assumptions about the US that come from not knowing. I guess as humans we are uneasy about the unknown and make things up to explain things we don’t understand. Living here has turned my life on end; it’s very interesting to be the proof that certain beliefs aren’t true. But, more than anything, it makes me wonder what things I assume or think are true but are really just fantasies I’ve invented to fill in the gaps of my knowledge.