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Sunday, March 25, 2012

House Building and Street Grilling

My New House
The Well and Front Lawn
For those of you who have ever been apart of a housing contract negotiation or remodeling project will know from experience that is isn’t a walk in the park. Now I admit that I personally have never been apart of any of type of negotiation in America, so I cannot attest to the rigors associated with building codes and construction costs, but I can say I now know a thing or 2 about the process in Paraguay. For the better part of the last month I have been frantically looking for alternative housing options that better suit my lifestyle as a 23-year-old American bachelor in the developing world. Needless to say this is an envious position for most men, and the desire to find independent housing definitely accentuates that particular lifestyle choice. That is not to say that I don’t love living with my current family, on the contrary I think living with a family dramatically improves language ability, familiarity with the community, and helps serves as a vehicle for me to be introduced to a plethora of people. However, after close to 4 months with the same family through the incessant 6:30 am scream cries from Damian and the new house keepers daughter Jessica Marisol, the kids constantly asking me to borrow my bike or for some chewing gum, and the wide variety of foods that most recently included stuffed armadillo, at least that is what I think it was, I feel as though my time has been well spent, and I am eager to move into my first single domicile.
            I have no idea what living alone will be like. To be honest it is a bit overwhelming to think about. The house that I am planning on moving into isn’t the ugliest building I have seen in Paraguay, nor is it the prettiest, but it is functional and at this point functionality is crucial. The only thing the 2-room abode came with was pretty shoddy electrical wiring, 4 walls, and 2 windows. That’s about it to be perfectly honest. To date, I have added a modern bathroom, cleaned the well, and improved the electrical inputs. Now when I say I have done this I mean I took the moving in allowance that Peace Corps provided me 4 months ago and, thanks in large part to my host dad Julio, paid some guys to get the building up to snuff. Does the bathroom look nice? The answer is definitely not, but again it isn’t about how it looks its about how it about how it functions, and as soon as we get the motor set up to pump water from the well into the holding tank above my house I would venture to say that I will be living in the lap of a Paraguayan luxury home. My goal is to move in by the end of next week, but seeing how long and slow the process was to get to this point I think a more realistic expectation will be the first week of April when my finances have reached their limit and when I am forced to eat nothing except for what I find dead on the side of the road or what is growing on the trees. In all seriousness though, it is a big initial investment, but what I put in now goes towards what I will have to pay in rent in the future, so at the end of the day it is looking like I will come out on top fiscally.
Street Grilling
            I am pretty excited about the house, so today I decided to go to an asado (BBQ) with Mike and his next-door neighbors who own a salon. Mike and I meticulously prepared a marinade for pork chops and ribs while the señora made a rice salad. When it came time to cook the meat I was under the impression that it would be done in the back yard of this lady’s house. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Now I am not familiar with what the law say in America, but I am pretty confident in saying that you cannot cook meat in a public street without some kind of permit. For all I know that is a law here as well, but that takes us back to the struggles of law enforcement, which is a whole other can of worms that I would rather not get into again in this entry. What we ended up doing was grabbing 2 pieces of sheet metal in the middle of the median, put the charcoal on top, grabbed a couple of plastic empty yogurt cups to start the fire and give the air that classic plastic smell everyone is looking for when grilling, and cooked right there and then with chair set up around to watch the meat. We also had the pleasure of having one of the 2 town drunks join us for the meal. Thankfully this one was the nice unassuming drunk who simply sat next to us on the street drinking a large plastic bottle of green Tres Liones Caña (this is easily the grossest, cheapest (retail price $1 for a liter bottle), and arguably the worst tasting booze ever made). The family we were eating with gave him a plate of food with the justification being he is the quiet unassuming drunk who doesn’t ask for anything and is just wasted all the time. To be honest, I had to agree with that decision because all he did was sit there on the curb quietly without pestering us too much. Got to admire the guy’s dedication, but it was still pretty sad watching him sitting there drinking his bottle alone with nothing but his thoughts. Thankfully we had a ton of food extra food, so we indulged him.
My Son?
            I had the strange honor of being called “papa” by the kid you see in the picture to the left. When I asked him why he thought I was his father he couldn’t come up with a response. I sort of get the impression that men in this country don’t really show physical affection towards their sons. I never see men of any age hug, kiss, or simple goof off together. I rarely see father and son do anything together except eat, work, or watch TV. I don’t frequently see them kicking a soccer ball around or riding bikes together either. Maybe those types of father son activities are more rooted in American culture where fathers tend to spend more time working away from the household for significant hours, and activities such as playing catch are ways to make up for the lost time. I have to admit that while I don’t notice blatant physical interactions between male members of society I must admit that they do seem to spend more time in each other’s presence whether that is working out in the fields or tending to the animals. All rationale aside though, the father-son relationship is far different from what I experienced growing up with a father who, like it often times is here, was physically around me for a significant part of my childhood. This extends not just to this particular situation with this 5-year-old kid calling me “papa”, but is something I have noticed for quite some time. I cannot figure out what the cultural rationale for this is, and I won’t go as far as to say that it is a universal phenomenon, but it is palpable from my own personal observations. Kids love to mess around by wrestling or simply goofing off, and I am happy to indulge them. It helps me get to know the kids better when I go play soccer with them at the school or do something as simple as give them a high 5. It seems to work for me and has allowed me to get to know a number of students at my school a lot better while having a lot of fun at the same time.
            This outlook in some cases extends to the mother daughter relationship as well, but I get the impression that being a male excludes me from those particular insights and details, so I can honestly declare that I do not have the same insights as I would for the father son relationships. I get along with woman and younger girls at the schools just fine, but I always seem to get the distinct impression that whenever I talk to a member of the opposite gender my conversations and the depth seems to be conspicuously different. Men who I have never met will make dirty jokes, talk about partying, discuss their girlfriends or my lack there of without thinking twice. With women, at least the ones who are willing to see me as a professional working in the community and not a threat to themselves or their daughters, I tend to find the initial questions to be more along the lines of my family, religion, and what I am doing here. They seem more interested in understanding my upbringing and my rationale for being here rather than my relationship status. It causes me to develop multiple personas when working with different genders and age groups. So far, it seems to be going okay, but I will admit it is challenging working with both genders simultaneously. I guess time will tell how effective I am at balancing those different types of relationships, but 

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