The Paraguayan Woman: The Expert Event Planner

In the US, we often leave event planning to the professionals. Event planners are those people who don’t overlook a single detail, are able to hound countless vendors to get the best price and invitations delivered on time, and make sure all the ducks are in a row when the church bells chime. They make your dreams come true.

Well, many Paraguayan women should consider work in event planning if they move to they States. These women are experts. (I’m going to use birthday parties as an example, but there are many events from weddings to funerals that Paraguayan women organized without hiccup.)

Paraguayan women start planning by discussing the menu, decorations, and party favors months in advance. They’ll think about their budget and take countless trips to different towns and cities to scout out the best prices. They will discuss options and prices with all their friends and female relations until they develop the perfect plan. The planning drills down to what each member of the family hosting the event will wear. By the hour of the event, not a corner of the house will have cobwebs and not a wrinkle can be found on the t-shirts of the children.

Birthday parties are a big deal in Paraguay. We’re talking parties that cost a couple months salary for one-year-old birthdays and perhaps as much as a year’s salary for quinceñearas. The guest list for these birthdays can range from thirty people to hundreds.

Birthdays in Paraguay have a list of essential elements:

  • Invitations, addressed to each invitee, printed, and hand delivered by the hostess.
  • Theme, it might be princess or Winnie the Pooh, but all parties have a theme.
  • Agenda, depending on the age of the birthday person, there is a set order of events.
  • Sound system, to blast music, of course.
  • Tables with tablecloths and chairs, rented because no one has that many tables and chairs.
  • Food, you can’t have a party without food.
  • Cake, it’s a birthday after all.
  • Party gifts and treats, if it’s a kid’s party every kid gets a toy and some candy and every mother gets a trinket and candy. If it’s an adult party everyone gets at least a pocket full of candy.
  • Table centerpieces, every table needs a centerpiece that the people at the table will take home with them.
  • Display for the cake and photos, this usually takes the form of a backdrop stylized for the party theme and a table with decorations and the cake.
  • Gift receptacle, a decorated basket set up near the cake table.
  • Photographer, who takes posed photos, films key events during the party, and also takes action photos.
  • Other things that set ambiance, for a kid’s birthday there is always a bouncy house. There might also be face painting and the Paraguayan version of a piñata. For other birthdays it might be a decorated, large frame to take photos or fabric garlands (in theme colors) to decorate the event space.
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Walks: Success Strategy

I never have trouble getting out the door to go on a walk. And when I walk, I’m usually out half an hour to an hour (though I’ve been known to disappear for several-hour walks if the occasion is right). I think best when I’m walking. Because of this passion, I was filled with delight when I learned that taking walks in site could help me integrate.

When I walk around my community people see me. That’s the key thing—they can’t see me when I’m sitting at home—which means they are notified of my existence or reminded that I live in their community.

When I’m walking, I have the opportunity to say “hi” to each person I pass. Greeting people is a chance to connect with them and show my community how friendly I am. During the school year, I would time my walks with the hour that school let out. That way, I would be able to chat briefly with the majority of my students outside of the classroom.

I try to walk daily. People sometimes joke that they want to join me on my walks, I always welcome them, but to-date I still walk alone. I like to think that seeing me walk most days might inspire others to start walking too, even if they don’t end up walking with me.

It’s true that my walks won’t make or break my service. But, the longer I’m a volunteer, the more I realize that all the little things matter. They add up and together each little thing I do to get to know my community better makes me a more effective and integrated volunteer.

Sacrifice and Hardship Mark the Path

Recently the volunteers in my region organized a career/college fair for high school students. During the event we had activities to help youth think about their future and set goals. We also had a wonderful group of Paraguayan professionals join us to share how they got to their current positions of success.

The Paraguayans that spoke with us had amazing stories.

  • The youngest woman on the panel, an accountant, talked about how difficult it was to leave the home of her parents to study. In Paraguay, it’s common for children to live with their parents until (or even after) they are married and leaving one’s community is uncommon. She talked about how hard it was to live with people who weren’t her family for the first time. She worked all day, attended class at night, and studied from evening until early in the morning.
  • One woman is the director of a university, has a doctorate, and is earning another degree. She’s achieved this despite losing her mother at 9-years-old and navigating a childhood with a less-than-loving stepmother.
  • The one man on the panel is the owner of a hostel in Asuncion that is popular among Peace Corps volunteers. He talked about how he’s always wanted to be his own boss. His love for travel inspired him to open a hostel. Before he was able to open the hostel he used to work 12-hour, sometimes 14-hour, days at other businesses. He is now successful enough to hire people to help him run the hostel, but when he started he was on call 24-hours, 7 days a week.
  • Another woman left her family, the countryside, and everything she knew to study to become a professor at what many call the best university in Paraguay. She worked from early morning to afternoon, went to class in the afternoon, and studied in the evening. She was forced to go against her beliefs and sham support for the dictator as part of her admittance into the university—she noted how this was one of the most difficult parts of her studies for her.

These Paraguayans had inspiring stories and they also had good advice. They all recommended that youth find work about which they are passionate because, “work doesn’t seem like work when you love it.” They talked about making goals and sticking with them—even if it takes years to finally achieve them. They talked about finding inner motivation and strength to push through any obstacle.

One thing struck me, however, as I listened to them. They talked a lot about sacrifice and hardship. The warning of sacrifice and hardship is a familiar yarn to me because that’s what first my high school teachers, then my college professors, and then my bosses talked about when giving me advice.

It’s not bitterness that made these Paraguayans and all of my mentors focus on the sacrifice and hardship that got them to where they are. They forewarned that the path to personal success is bumpy and hazardous because they wanted to help prepare youngsters for the journey. Listening to the tale of challenge being told to the next wave of aspiring youth I had doubts.

We all must make sacrifices and face hardship in life. As someone in my childhood used to say, “If life were easy, it would be pointless.” But now being the listener, not just the sapling trying to soak in every drop of wisdom, our emphasis on hardship gives me pause. I don’t think youth need warnings or cautionary tales. They already know life is perilous. They need inspiration and encouragement to find their strength. We can tell our stories without giving them a tragic edge.

The matter-of-fact stories of my great-grandmother come to mind. She was born in 1907 to parents only several years settled in the US, having come from Germany. She lived into her 90s—almost 100 years of history that spanned 2 world wars, the Great Depression, and countless other moments that made history. Her stories never talked about sacrifice or hardship, they talked about life. Things happened and she survived them, and by telling her stories she implied that us (the listeners) would survive life too. She suggested, with her smile, that we would probably not just survive, but we might also give life a good run for its money.

Life is sacrifice and hardship. Even the happiest children know about challenge and disappointment. But, what we (adults) know that maybe youth don’t know yet is how to survive, even when the hurdle is more than dropping your ice cream cone. We’ve had more years of trouble and yet we haven’t lost sight of happiness.

When we tell our stories we can’t just focus on the events. We should share our thoughts and emotions. We should tell the greens what we learned and what made us smile and laugh despite everything. Youth want to know how we found the light because they’re still in the tunnel. They don’t want to just hear our take on the tunnel.

The Clothes Paradox

You would think that red mud everywhere, 100 plus degree-days, hand washing all clothes, no clothes dryers, and crappy (or no) showers would be an acceptable excuse to be mildly dirty and slightly unkempt. Wrong.

I’ve never felt more pressure to make sure my clothes are without wrinkles or to wear accessories and high heels as I do in Paraguay. And that’s saying something because I worked in PR in Washington, DC before coming to Paraguay.

Paraguayans scrub their sneakers weekly. Women wear bows in their hair on the daily. After watching an almost two-hour soccer game in the blazing sun, I’m sweating like a river and have serious sweat stains while my Paraguayan friends still look fresh in their neon t-shirts and tank tops and their flesh-crushing, tight jeans. When I walk from my house to the school, I get mud on my shoes and/or feet. But, my students always have shiny-clean sneakers. How they manage to avoid the mud is something I’ll never know.

I struggle walking from my house to the church in my flip-flops because of the sand and the rocks while my Paraguayan friends walk delicately in their three-inch wedges.

I don’t care how much deodorant I put on, at some point the heat makes me smell lightly stale. I’ll let you know when I find a Paraguayan with BO.

It’s a paradox. It’s almost as though because it’s so easy to be clean in the States we don’t judge people if they decide to dress like the stereotypical hippie. As long as people don’t smell, usually American’s couldn’t care less what someone wears to a baseball game. Well, Paraguay is different. Watch out what you wear, people notice.

The New Patriotism

[Peace Corps volunteers wanted]

 

Not unlike the dove that gave the olive fame

With diligent wings glides from land to land

The volunteer’s hope-seeped, motives stand

A mighty force with a core, whose flame

Is the imprisoned compassion, and in the name

Of service and understanding. Opens her hand

To send world-wide welcome; her mission

Unite cultures by seeing what’s different and the same.

“Keep power struggle, you greedy pomp!” cries she.

In many languages. “Give me your dreamers, your hopeful,

Your flexible adventurers yearning to breathe free,

The unsatisfied refuse of your corporate cubicle.

Send these, the determined, resilient to me,

I know the secret to the world’s pull!”

 

“Give me your unafraid, your mentally indomitable,

Your quivering intellectuals yearning to see,

The soul-seeking refuse of your successful label.

Send these, the patient, tempest-ready to me,

I send my call to all those who are able!”

 

“Give me your creative, your quick thinkers

Your unwavering looking to redefine prosperity

The motley refuse of your first-world tinkers

Send these, the sponges, life-long learners to me

I open my door to those who can be linkers!”

Paraguay Is for Dance Lovers

Do you love to dance? I do. Actually, dancing is my favorite pastime, and it wins by a landslide.

In the US we talk about people who can dance and who can’t dance. We have an unfortunate situation where many women like to dance and many men refuse to dance or do so grudgingly. That doesn’t happen in Paraguay.

Just about everyone dances and though you can find people who don’t like dancing it’s not an easy task. What’s more, many parties are designed specifically to have a dance component.

And, in Paraguay, there are many more opportunities for parties than in the States. In addition to celebrating major national holidays, Paraguayans celebrate patron saints’ days and soccer teams’ founding anniversaries…every community has a patron saint and a soccer team.

We aren’t just talking humble little dance parties in your apartment. We are talking huge speakers, DJs, and bands. The average party doesn’t start until 11 or 12; the first band doesn’t come on until at least 1 in the morning, and the dancing can go on until 6 a.m. (or so).

Dancing also doesn’t only mean breaking it down free and wild. In Paraguay, everyone knows how to dance cumbia and cachata, which are couples’ dances. You have to have a dance partner.

Summary: Paraguay is a dancer’s paradise.

What Does “Third World” Mean?

When thinking about the global community we throw around terms like “third world” or “developing world.” Coming from the first world, I’ve often heard those terms with an undertone of pity. The terms have a distributive property and rather than just being used to categorize a political territory they are used to describe people. And when these terms are distributed to people they usually mean: unhappy, uneducated, dirty, and disadvantaged.

It’s taken me almost 9 months in Paraguay to wrap my head around what “third world” actually means, because the first thing I noticed when coming to Paraguay is that Paraguayans aren’t unhappy, uneducated, and dirty. Actually, Paraguayans are almost annoyingly happy most of the time. The Paraguayan approach is simple: bad things happen, life goes on. It takes only a little time in Asunción to meet several trilingual Paraguayans and it takes no more searching than it does among the regular US population to find a Paraguayan who can have an intellectual conversation about politics, religion, sex, and health. Americans are ragamuffins compared to Paraguayans—unless you iron your underwear and know how to wear every accessory that exists in all the same color at the same time and make it look good, you ain’t got nothing on the average Paraguayan woman.

That leaves disadvantaged. Can people be disadvantaged or is it the system that limits them? My conclusion: “third world” is actually a term to describe a country’s systems and infrastructure. It cannot be used to describe people. Inefficient systems or poor infrastructure do limit opportunities and make life harder. However, people from third world countries are NOT an inferior people—that is to say that if the same person was born in the US rather than Paraguay they are just as well equipped to make a good life there as an American born in America.

So, third world can be used to describe systems and infrastructure. What does that mean in Paraguay? That means that there are communities without running water or there are families that use holes in the ground as toilets. It means that even if a community has running water, the water is liable to not work for a couple hours many days. It means that the power goes out all the time—usually for only a couple of moments or hours. It goes out when it rains. It goes out when the janky wires break or the breaker boxes explode (figuratively) because they weren’t designed to take the voltage they are handling. It goes out when too many people use electricity—like when it’s hell-hot and time for bed.

It means dirt roads are the norm and drainage systems are nonexistent, so when it rains not going to school is a safety precaution. It means that political bosses give jobs and bribes keep people out of the justice system. It means time in school is more loosely associated with learning than perhaps it should be. It means that there are laws and then there are those things that get a person in trouble—the latter is far scarcer than the former. It means that dirt bikes are all over because, well, they’re the only vehicles that can travel on all the roads. It means that people throw or burn their trash because most communities don’t have trash collection. It means that people wait for government handouts because the average person has no access to credit…or even a savings account. It means that even though healthcare is public in Paraguay local clinics don’t have all the medications or specialists the community needs. Some people simply go without because they don’t have the money for bus fare to travel to a medical facility that has what they need.

Third world does not mean helpless people who need to be saved. It means countries whose systems are underequipped to fulfill the needs of their population and because of this the people in those countries don’t benefit from all the modern conveniences our era has to offer. It is not a permanent description. Countries that are third world today are working to shake that status, and they are making progress. The fact that I can complain about my running water not working and that I don’t get Internet in my house means that process has been made in Paraguay. If I had lived in my community not so many years ago, I would have complained about hauling water from a well and not dreamed of Internet.

Ideal Boyfriend, Ideal Girlfriend

One of the topics I discussed with my 7th through 12th grade classes recently was healthy relationships. During the class I asked my students to describe their ideal boyfriend or girlfriend. The prompt was: “I would like my boyfriend/girlfriend to be…”

After hearing their responses I thought, “This is the stuff that love songs are made of.” I’ve translated a number of their responses because they are too great not to share.

Ideal Girlfriend:

I would like my girlfriend to be pretty and to not be jealous. I would like her to be:

  • Respectful: She respects the people I love.
  • Full of smiles: She has a smile everyday and makes you feel good.
  • Loving: She hugs me and kisses me.
  • Good: She greets everyone and doesn’t treat others poorly.
  • Not envious: She isn’t envious of anything or anyone.

~

I would like my girlfriend to:

  • Be good and understand me.
  • Love me in the good and the bad.
  • Be sincere.
  • Respect me.

~

I would like my girlfriend to be sincere so that we can live with love. I would also like her to be nice to my friends and family. Also, she should understand me.

~

I want a girlfriend who loves me and shows me her love everyday. She should not only focus on my negative side but should strengthen my positive side. She should not make me want to leave her. That would be the ideal!

 ~

I would like a girlfriend who is faithful and able to understand all my ideas and goals. At the least, she should be affectionate and, most importantly, I need her to support my decisions. Beauty is not that important; I only want to find a good person who is sincere, knows how to take care of me, appreciates what I have, and that there are no lies between us. I hope that there isn’t deception in our relationship and that we can move forward together.

 ~

My girlfriend should be sincere because she should be important and she should be sincere with me. Also, she should be intelligent because she should think about everything that she does. She should be humble, sincere, and have inner beauty. I should be able to understand her and she should understand me. And, most important, she should love me.

 ~

I would like my girlfriend to be:

  • Smart: because I want her to be someone important.
  • Nice: because I want her to have a good temperament.
  • Honest: because I don’t want her to lie to me.
  • Respectful: because I want her to have a good heart.
  • …however I think such a person doesn’t exist.

~

I would like my girlfriend to be the women of my life, the hope of my heart. I would like her to be respectful, friendly, loving, and smart. I would like her to love me with all her heart.

~

My ideal girlfriend:

  1. Is sincere and natural and don’t use a lot of makeup.
  2. Respects me.
  3. Accepts me how I am.
  4. Understands, even when I don’t understand myself.
  5. Is friendly with my family and me.
  6. Is proud of our relationship.

Ideal Boyfriend:

I would like my boyfriend to be a good man that likes to work and is responsible. I would like him to respect me, take of me, and really love me. Most important, I would like him to be honest with me and at the same time respect my space. I would like him to understand me and to be happy to be by my side. (I don’t think this exists, but it is my dream).

 ~

I would like my boyfriend to be loving and sweet.

  • Responsible and hardworking.
  • Faithful and he shouldn’t hide anything from me.
  • NOT BE JEALOUS…a mission impossible.
  • Lastly, I don’t want him to ask me to take a test of love, but I would like him to love me.

 ~

I would like my boyfriend to be:

  1. Respectful in many ways and to not teat me badly.
  2. Faithful: I want my boyfriend to really love me and not play with my feelings.
  3. Not have bad thoughts; I want him to confide in me.
  4. With me always and to be happy.

~

I would like my boyfriend to be:

  • Detail-oriented: With me and to value the good moments we have together.
  • Understanding: He should understand me and support me in my moments of need.
  • Hard working: He should work so he can cover his own expenses and not depend on me.
  • Neat: He should take care of himself and think about his physical appearance.
  • Attentive: He should think about everything he does.

 ~

I would like my boyfriend to be:

  • Polite: He should be a courteous person, for example he should be polite when in interacts with my family.
  • Respectful: I would like him to respect me even when I don’t agree with him. I would like him to respect what I think.
  • Loving: He should be the person at my side and be tender. I would like us to love each other and for him to feel the same about me as I do about him. He should not play with my feelings.
  • Honorable: He should be hard working and he should study so he can be an important person in life.

~

I would like my boyfriend to be:

  • Understanding: So that I can share my problems with him. It’s important that he is my friend and knows my shortcomings and likes.
  • Respectful and respect me: He should respect my decisions and always tell me the truth.
  • Loving: He should treat me with love. He should talk to me calmly and not feel the need to yell.
  • Friendly: He should be friendly with my family, my friends, and me.
  • Above all, he should trust me, be sincere. He should tell me what he likes and doesn’t like. He should be fun.

 ~

I would like my boyfriend to be respectful, humble, understanding, detail-oriented, charismatic, and loving.

  • Respectful: When we are together and when we are apart.
  • Humble: He shouldn’t have an ego and material things don’t have to be important to him.
  • Understanding: When I share problems with him, he can understand me.
  • Detail-oriented: He should take note of the little things because it’s the little things that make a relationship have invaluable moments.
  • Charismatic: He should have a sense of humor and make me smile when I’m angry or in a bad mood.
  • Loving: He should show me that he loves me with a hug, a look, and his words.

 ~

I would like my boyfriend to be humble, respectful, hard working, detail-oriented, loving, smart, and sincere.

  • Respectful: When we are together and when we are apart.
  • Hard working: So that in the future we don’t lack anything.
  • Detail-oriented: He should notice the gifts we have because that is important in a relationship.
  • Loving: When he is with me he should treat me with love.
  • Smart: So that we can come out ahead.
  • Sincere: So that the relationship that we have grows every day and more importantly, so we don’t have problems.

 ~

I would like my boyfriend to be:

  • Intelligent: Because I like to interact with people who are able to understand what we are doing.
  • Loving: Because I am loving. I would like him to spoil me with nice words and kisses.
  • Understanding: Because sometimes I need time to do my own things.
  • Loyal: Because I want a stable relationship without a third person between us.
  • Handsome: Because I like people who take care of themselves.
  • Visionary: Because I want him to think about what our life will be like in the future.
  • Hard Working: Because I don’t like having needs.

 ~

I would like my boyfriend to be sincere, loving, faithful, and understanding. Above all, he is always with me in the bad moments and in good moments. I don’t care if he is handsome because beauty isn’t important. What’s important is that he loves me, because love doesn’t have to do with looks. The End.

 ~

I would like my boyfriend to be good, respectful, and treat me well; I want him to be with me in the good and the bad; to be loving, honest, and understanding; I want him to love me for who I am.

 ~

I would like my boyfriend to never lie to me and to be a good man in every way; I want to like what he does and for him to support me in my decisions. Examples: He isn’t unfaithful in whatever part of the world. He is honest, handsome, good, kind, and loving, etc.

~

I would like my boyfriend to be:

  • Respectful: To respect my privacy, my likes, my habits, and to accept my family and friends.
  • Understanding: He understands that sometimes I can’t do or give him what he wants. Example: To go out with him at night.
  • Faithful: That he doesn’t cheat on me.
  • Detail-Oriented: That he does things to show me that he loves me.
  • Real: That he does not pretend be is something he isn’t.

 ~

My boyfriend ideal is:

  • Respectful: He respects me every moment.
  • Understanding: He always understands me and when I have a problem he supports me.
  • Faithful: He is faithful to me every moment.
  • Detail-Oriented: He always pays attention to the details.
  • Loving: That every time I am with him he gives me his love.
  • Beautiful: That he is beautiful in every sense of the word.

~

I would like me boyfriend to be faithful and to understand my ideas and goals. At least, he should give me affection. More than anything, I need him to support my decisions. He should not seek beauty too much. I just want to find a good person who is sincere and will take care of and appreciate what we have. I hope that he doesn’t deceive me and that our relationship is one that will last.

Let’s Talk Bugs

Is this a cockroach or a cricket…or could it be both? How likely is this spider to end up in my bed? Is it worth turning on all the lights, finding my broom, and unlocking the door to sweep out this beetle I just killed or should I just leave it to those little red ants that will eat it by morning? 

These are the kinds of questions I ask myself on the daily. “Bugs” has a whole new meaning when you live in the tropics. There are just so many bugs, of all sizes. I’ve never had so many encounters or seen so many different kinds of spiders, beetles, and other creepy crawly things in one place. And, that one place is my apartment. The question is no longer whether there are bugs in my house, but, rather which of those bugs I’m willing to live with and which I will demolish to the best of my ability.

Other common questions I ask myself:

About spiders: Is this spider poisonous? If it is, does that mean I should kill it? How many other bugs is this spider going to kill? Usual conclusion: Well, if it stays along the edge of the room and away from the toilet and bed I won’t kill it.

About roaches: How did it get so big and shinny? Does its presence mean there’s a nest of roaches I haven’t found yet? What’s on hand to smack the hell out of this bastard? If I miss the first time, what direction is it most likely to run, and is there anything that it could hide under I should clear now? Usual conclusion: I wish roaches were scared of the smell of their fellows dead.

About moths: What was that thing that just flew across my light and cast a shadow? Moth, do you really have to make that annoying tapping noise by flying into the light? What is your purpose in life? Usual conclusion: It doesn’t bite; let it be.

About mosquitos: Why are there always mosquitos hanging out on my bathroom walls? Where did these mosquito bites come from? Is it worth spraying my doorframe with bug repellent? How can I position my fan so the mosquitos won’t bite me? Usual conclusion: The mosquitos in my house are assholes.

About ants: Who knew there were so many kinds of ants? How did you find that already…I left that dead bug there maybe 20 minutes? Did you really have to bite my poor foot? Why do you insist on coming into my house? What is the likelihood that those there ants will bite me if I sit/step here? Usual conclusion: Ant bites come directly from hell. They itch. They hurt. And, they take forever to heal.