“How is being back in the States?” friends and family have been asking since I got back from Paraguay. Unfortunately, I don’t have a good answer…just as I couldn’t explain what is was like to live in Paraguay when I first moved there. However, despite my general inability to describe my transition back to the USA, there is one thing that stands out to me about living in America: life logistics are incredibly simple. What I mean to say by “life logistics” is all the things we do to make sure our lives function properly— such as bathing, traveling between activities, and controlling house temperature.
In my new US home, I make up reasons to stay in the hot shower longer. It’s such a treat compared to my Paraguayan bathing ritual. In Paraguay, I stored water in a basin because for hours, many days, we didn’t have running water. Even when I did have water the pressure usually wasn’t enough to push water out of the shower head. And, because of this annoying water-flow problem I did not invest in a shower head to make hot water. So, 95% of the time I bucket bathed in cold water—using an old, plastic pitcher to dump water over my head. If it was too cold, I boiled several liters of water to add to my basin and bathed quickly. In America, I turn on the shower and the water comes pouring out every single time. The water is as cold or as hot as I want it to be. I don’t need to worry when a storm comes that I won’t have bath water or hesitate before exercising because I forgot to hoard water. In the great land between Canada and Mexico, showers are a given.
When I’m trying to get somewhere new by bus in Vermont, I type point A and point B into my smartphone. Then, Google tells me where and when to wait for the bus. The bus comes when Google says it will, and the fare costs exactly what the bus website said it would. In Paraguay, when I traveled to a new place by bus I asked 1 to 5 Paraguayans which buses to take, where to wait, and how much the fare costs because none of that information is available online. I asked more than one person to check the information and make sure I had the best route and detailed instructions to help me know where to wait for and get off the bus because there aren’t marked bus stops (usually). If I messed up my transfer in Paraguay, I had to start the process of asking for directions all over again. In Vermont, I can’t really get lost because I can check my travel progress on my phone periodically and then ask someone if I need more help.
It is spring in Vermont. Sometimes it is pleasantly warm and sometimes it is cold. If it’s cold, I turn on the heat. My house is insulated. The windows and doors block the wind. My roof doesn’t leak. My floor is on a foundation so my feet are shielded from the ground’s temperature. When I listen to the beep the thermostat makes as I turn up the heat, I think of my little Paraguayan house. The wind came through the shutter and doors. The walls were made of one layer of hollow bricks. My floor was a cement slab on the good earth. My roof was tile and let in the rain in some places if it was windy. It was always windy when it rained. On cold days in Paraguay, I put on two pairs of pants and all my jackets. Then, fully clothed, I sat under my sleeping bag and drank mate. That was my heat, blankets and hot beverages.
What is it like to live in America? It is comfortable. It is efficient. It is easy. It is sterile. The challenges of life logistics have been replaced with intellectual and trivial quandaries. Should I take a more-than-five-minute shower? Would I be a better person to bike rather than ride the bus? When exactly is it cold enough to turn up the heat rather than putting on another sweater?