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Monday, March 19, 2012

Completing the World Map and Being Tranquilo

            This past Friday we put the finishing touches on our world map project at the local elementary school. They kids genuinely seemed to get a kick out of the project, and having the map itself on the wall is one of those things where the kids learn whether or not they are trying to. Most of the students can read, but there were still a few that really struggled with the names of countries that surround Paraguay. For example, many students didn’t know where Argentina was even though it shares a huge boarder with Paraguay and had its name written within the boundaries. For the most part the kids had a general idea where Latin America was, but they often confused places like the United States and Canada even with their names written in. Strangely, many of them knew of Panama, but I am inclined to believe that was because Paraguay recently had a soccer match against Panama. I guess it just goes to show you the grasp television and media have even in place as small as Paraguay.
 Drawing and painting the map were the easy parts. The hard part was drawing the detailed grid onto the wall itself, so we could draw the boundaries. Managing the kids while they painted the countries the right colors was also a challenge especially making sure they painted the correct color without going over the boarders. We only had 1 major mishap when someone spilled yellow paint after slipping off his chair all over the Indian Ocean that subsequently covered a large portion of Antarctica. Thankfully, the kids jumped right up and cleaned the mess in no time, and the consequence were no more than a repainting of he ocean and a portion of Antarctica.
            I got to give the Paraguayan schools credit on 3 things. First, they keep the schools really clean and the students are on the ball completing those tasks. Second, they all really do have great handwriting. I guess the house of rigorous drilling of the letters and how to draw them perfectly has paid off even though it can take a long time for them to write a sentence because of the attention to such detail, it is still really tidy. Last but not least they are great and keeping within the lines. We had pretty much no trouble with the kids painting over the lines in a way that was detrimental. They worked meticulously at every country they were assigned, and for the most part painted them with the precision of a well-oiled machine. There were a few smaller countries particularly in the Balkans that required more attention and were thus completed by Michael or I, but other than that the kids did most of the actual painting.
We managed to stretch out the process over the course of a week. 1 day to draw the 3x 1.5m boundaries and grid of the map, one day to draw the map in pencil, one day to paint in the countries, 1 day to outline the boarders in sharpie, 1 day to label the countries, and 1 day to paint the boarder and do the finishing touches. I think it was a good project to begin my relationship with the kids at the school in terms of going forward. To this point, it has been a struggle keeping the mind occupied. There are plenty of people that I can work with, but many of the projects in questions are long term that require a lot more time, and a lot more patience. The map project on the other hand was great because it is something tangible that doesn’t take too much time to complete, and involves a good number of people. I am glad it is finished though because it is tough explaining hundreds of times where certain countries that the kids have heard of on the radio or television are on the map without wanting to scream.
This weekend I pretty much did nothing. I have put a down payment on a small, 2-room house to have a bathroom installed. That process has actually begun much to my surprise. I went over their yesterday with my community contact, who I currently live with, and saw that he had build the entire bathroom minus the instillation of the toilet and necessary piping. I have offered on several occasions to help with the construction, so I was really caught off guard when he had essentially completed the bathroom without telling me. That kind of ties into one of the biggest frustrations I have with living here. If I don’t know how to do something like building a bathroom or cooking a certain dish then instead of teaching me I find that it is done for me. It is really exasperating when I am trying to do something and it is taken away from me before I have the chance to learn. In many respects I feel like a child. Living with families inhibits my ability to try things in many ways I have spare time and want to try new things, but they way things are demonstrated is more of a watch me do it so you can do it in the future rather than ill show you and you repeat the process or you do it and I’ll coach you. If the map project proves anything it should show that I know how to do something that I have never done before and do it well. Hopefully that will help me moving forward, but for the time being I think I am just going to hang back from starting any more major projects at the school until I move into my actual house.
The construction of my house, and the process that it took for me to get it underway has provided me with an interesting perspective on stress and stress management even if I haven’t had a chance to do the physical hands on part. When I was back home, even when I didn’t have a lot on my plate, I always felt as though I had a pile of things on my plate that never seemed to subside. Taking care of the car, looking for job, involvement in college organizations, school itself, relationships, money ect. Granted my lifestyle here is not nearly as stressful as it was back home, but that is not to say that there is no reason for it. Learning 2 languages simultaneously, meeting people in the community who are interested in working with you, explaining to people who you are and why you are here, doing projects themselves, conducting or participating in meetings, finding a place to live, money, ect. I would say that the number of things that cause stress are likely equal, but for some profound reason that I cannot seem to figure out why I don’t feel the stress as a burden that is constantly weighing down on me? Take my housing situation as an example. I have no idea how to build a bathroom or part of a house; if I did I would have no idea who to contact to do the project, where to buy the materials, how to transport them, and how much it should cost. That is a lot to have on ones plate especially when a lot of the communication is in a 3rd language. However, my attitude to this point in my service has been to just go with the flow. I have mentioned this several times in the past, and will continue to live by that code until something necessitates a change.
O’Leary has a lot of empty houses, and most are not for rent. It has been a challenge for volunteers to find independent housing here, and the same problem existed for me as well. Instead of stressing out over it though I made several inquiries with my family and few other people in the community about places to live. Most people couldn’t help me, but my hose Dad and community contact Julio pulled through huge for me by finding a house. Don’t get me wrong its no mansion, but it is nice enough to live in and only needs a few modest additions and repairs to get it in living shape. The cost of the house? Stull undetermined, but the money I invest now will go towards future months rent. I would be lying to everyone if I said that I was cool as a cucumber during the house hunting. In fact, I wasn’t at all, but things for whatever reason just seem to happen in their own time here. The weirdest part about that statement is that I was talking to my friend Jimmy about my housing situation when I made that comment about things kind of just happening all of a sudden, and later that same day Julio, informed me that he had found a house. The same thing happened with the bathroom that is being built. I gave the money to have it built and before I knew it the whole thing was almost finished.
Stress is something we all carry with us. How we deal with it is entirely different from person to person, but if I can say one thing about Paraguayans is that if they are stressed they sure don’t act like it. The word tranquilo is a phrase that is often said to express ones feelings. The translation is literally quiet, tranquil, or calm. It is not a word that American’s, or at least any American’s I know, say when someone asks how are you doing? But here it is a term I say several times a day not just because it is a common saying, but it is genuinely how I feel and how people around me feel. It is almost the opposite of saying stressed out, a phrase I would say often back home, but a phrase I never use here. That’s not to say there aren’t days where I am not tranquilo far from it in fact but that general feeling of calm that is almost inexplicable supernatural aura has a transcendent effect on your truly to the point where the stuff that would cause me hours of stress back home rarely cause me a second thought here and from my perspective it is a whole of a lot happier way to live life.

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