Girl Power

Last week we held a girls’ leadership camp called GLOW—Girls Leading Our World. The neatest thing about it was the noticeable transformation the girls went through over the 4-day camp; fertilizer for self-esteem.

Forty-seven girls from all over Paraguay participated in activities and presentations related to leadership, self-esteem, domestic violence awareness, sexual education, safe online communication practices, and much more. The last night we had a period party, yep you guessed it, to celebrate menstruation.

Youth camps are not common in Paraguay. For many of the girls who attended, somewhere between the ages of 13 and 18, it was their first time leaving home for more than a night and definitely their first time traveling alone (well, they weren’t alone because they had the volunteers from their communities with them). The girls who participated in the camp were articulate and thoughtful.

I slept in the girls’ dormitory—where they found so much energy to giggle, scream, and chat until the wee hours of the morning I will never know. The camp schedule was packed, 7 am to 10:30 pm the two full days of the camp.

The camp emphasized that girls, young women, and women are powerful resources in Paraguay. For me, this wasn’t a surprise. The positive experiences I’ve had in Paraguay mostly center around the strength and compassion women in this country have. But, seeing my girls (I brought 2 from my community) and the other Paraguayan girls at the camp smile so broadly and participate so actively, I was glad they too knew how great they and their mothers, sisters, cousins, aunts, and grandmothers are.

1 Year in Paraguay!

Paraguayan ViewIt’s hard to believe that a year ago today I landed in Paraguay. On that day, I had no idea into what I was catapulting myself. I was trying desperately not to make any assumptions. That’s to say, I came to Paraguay in the dark.

While the time passed in a flash; I feel like I’ve been here a year. It’s 95 degrees Fahrenheit as I write this and I’m almost comfortable sitting in my house without a fan. Almost. There is nothing more wonderful and delicious than a cold glass of water. I’ve joined the locals in their understanding that ice cubes don’t cut it. Water is only cold enough when it has huge ice chunks. The Paraguayans I know don’t use ice trays, they fill bags (12 inches long, 3 inch in diameter) with water to freeze. Those ice bars are sold for 500 guaranis almost everywhere in Paraguay.

I miss terere when I don’t drink it. I can drink liters of terere, no problem. Terere really is the only thing that will get me through those hot afternoon when the humidity makes it impossible to be hungry. Hand washing my clothes is part of my routine (not to say I enjoy it). Cutting vegetables into crumb-sized cubes is second-nature. I expect things to start late and I’m surprised when I don’t have to wait for the bus. Whistles, hisses, and other catcalls do not particularly catch my attention. I no longer laugh to myself when I see people sweep their yards.

I know I’ve been in Paraguay a year because I’ve started claiming back some of the things I set aside when I first got here in an effort to “ingrate.” I’ve been drinking soda for almost a year, but I’m over it. I didn’t like soda when I lived in the States, I still don’t like it, and I’m not drinking it anymore. When I feel like I want to leave a social function, I leave rather than waiting until the end. My eyes are sensitive to light, so I wear sunglasses even if people think it’s off-putting. I tentatively share my opinions about cultural things when people ask.

It’s nice to be accustomed to Paraguay and start to feel like I can be more like me and less like a censored me. But, I’m still in the dark.

I’ve come to like the dark. When the power goes at night, I can actually see the stars that fill the ever-alluring Paraguayan sky. There are too many florescent lights on at night to see the stars clearly the rest of the time. I’ve come to terms with hours spent when I understand a fraction of what people are talking about—if only I actually spoke Guarani or Paraguayans only spoke Spanish. You never know how many thoughts go through your head until you’re in a situation where you don’t have the words to express many of them.

I’ve been happy and not focused too much on the differences between my culture and Paraguayan culture until the year mark started approaching. My recent heightened observance of the differences between me and my Paraguayan friends may be because it was easier to accept that I will never be able to live up to their standards when I realized I don’t actually want the life of a Paraguayan woman. It’s not that Paraguayan women aren’t wonderful, because I’ve never met so many awesome women in one place, but my understanding of the world makes their reality terrible to me.

I will never wash my brother’s clothes and fold his shirts while he sits on his ass watching. I will never accept when my brother, father, boyfriend, husband, or any man gets up from the table leaving his dishes for me to pick up and wash. Especially when I made the meal in the first place. I will never accept that because someone is a man it’s fine that he gets drunk every weekend and hits on any women he sees. Nor do I think he has special rights to stay out late with his friends. I do not think the house is the domain of women and the outdoors is the domain of men. I don’t think because I’m a woman I must be a mother or find a boyfriend.

I guess it took a year, but now it’s hard to ignore when mothers tell their sons to stop crying because they are men and their daughters that they can’t walk around alone because they are women. As my year mark in Paraguay approached, I was angry about these things and wondered how I’d kept them in the closet of my mind so long. But, the anger past and the dawn is coming. I can’t change Paraguayan culture. First, I can’t change it because I have no means to do it. Second, I can’t change it because it must be changed by Paraguayans so it’s done the right way for them. I’ve consoled myself because I know change is a thing that happens no matter what we do to stop it. And, being the weird foreigner I am part of that change whether I’m trying to be or not.

It’s still night. Culture is complicated and hours alone thinking really do highlight the shadows in the cave. The most useful thing I’ve learned from being in the dark is that there’s nothing wrong with shade.