Sunday, September 23, 2012

Thoughts on Being a PCV--1 Year in the Deep

    As of next Saturday, I will have spent 1 year so far serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer here in the country of Paraguay. A lot has happened in the last year of my life-- personally, emotionally, physically (gotta love those tropical parasites), spiritually, intellectually, and in every other way imaginable--but its hard to really put a finger on most of it. Without trying to be esoteric or evasive, I must say that when you are on the inside as a PCV, inside this strange world, living your sort of alternative-reality as a temporary visitor in the lives of other people, the subtle (and sometimes even the tectonic) shifts and changes are often hidden in a cultural, linguistic, geographic stupor. The questions like “where the fuck am I?” and “what the fuck am I doing here?” don’t have a time or a place inside a brain that is, on a day-in and day-out basis, running the programs and moving the body through the functions of survival. You automatically stop trying to make sense of everything or figure it all out, you just accept your new reality, modify the program and keep on keeping on.
    The hardest part of this whole experience for me has not been adaptation to this world I am currently (if not also momentarily) occupying, that hardest part has been seeing my other life, my real life, my life that I left and will return to, changing and progressing and not being able to do anything about it. I wake up every day, I do what I need to do in order to get by, to be productive and do my job, to feel happy and content with my current self-imposed lot. Then I get a phone call from home, from friends or family, and that world back home is changing. People are living there lives without me. Hopefully, this doesn’t sound narcissistic or too self-gratifying, I honestly don’t mean it in that sort of way. But just think about this: you live your entire life connected to a certain number of people, the you take a 2 year hiatus from seeing, interacting and all too often even communicating with them. Its strange and unfortunately, on those lonely nights in the middle of nowhere in some third-world country, its unsettling as well.
    Eventually, I am going to go back to my life at home (my “real” life, as I sometimes say) with the benefit of this amazing experience that I am currently having. Nothing good ever came easy--tell me about it. In the meantime, those things that were once constant in my life, are going about themselves all the same. Its almost like I have walked out the door, left the house, and now I realize that maybe there is no room for me to take when I come home. Maybe I could bum on the sofa of my old life for a few days, but those people and those things that once had space and time for me have found other occupants--renters, or sub-letters, or maybe even they’ve sold the real estate all together.
    The hardest part of that notion is that I haven’t found another place anywhere else. Where I am now, what I am doing, its not like I have moved on. Sure, I am comfortable, but this is not my home, I don’t belong here, I haven’t found another life, just a temporary state, a transition between parts of myself. So I am liminal for the time being. Not me, but not someone else. Not at home, but not entirely lost. Not forgotten, but slowly, not remembered as often as I might hope. And maybe that in itself is part of the delusion of sitting on the fence somehow outside of my lives but not entirely outside of myself--the loss of identity, though language and isolation and relativity, and yet the discovery of entirely new facets of myself.
    I have always thought myself a simple person. But I am not. No one is. The best thing to do is just talk slower, ask more questions of yourself and other people, and listen to happy music. In this sort of personal and social vaccum, where I live right now, nothing is clear but everything is visible, in many cases for the first time. Its like swimming though yourself and waiting waiting waiting 2 years between breathes. Its like   slow-motion touching the bottom of the ocean and kicking off the sand, kicking against the water, shooting back up to the sky, eyes closed but you are seeing everything in those suspended moments underwater, and you know that any second now you are going to break the surface and the sun will be shining still and the air will be cool and god-given and then everyone will be waiting for you. But for the time being, you’re still swimming, if thats what they call this ungraceful flailing of the arms and legs.
    So that’s where I am, 1 year in the deep. Changing my little world, this little microcosm, one awkward moment and one unintentional moment of perspective at a time. See you on the shore my friends.

from Paraguay,
little hupo

Friday, September 21, 2012

3 Week Illness

    I have been sick for about 2 or 3 weeks. Not some sort of debilitating illness like malaria or Dengue fever--common in South America, though usually not fatal--but a looming nausea and general shitty-ness that makes simple tasks, like watering my garden, into seemingly monumental obstacles. I have just wanted to sleep constantly. Just sleep.
    Two weeks ago, the Peace Corps medical staff diagnosed me with a case of giardia, a waterborne protozoan parasite that afflicts the intestine and makes life less than enjoyable for a few days to a week. After biking 10 kilometers back and forth, searching through my sweaty, sickly stupor for any medicine that might bring me some relief, I finally received salvation from a concerned neighbor who brought the medicine from the next nearest pharmacy (some 60 kilometers away). He told me a pack of cigarettes, a bottle of caƱa (dirt cheap sugar-cane alcohol), and 2000 mg (half the pack) of the meds should cure me by morning. I took his advice, minus the alcohol and tobacco, and fell asleep that night hopefully.
    Gradually I felt better over the next few days. From around 20%, I’d say I climbed up to around 60 or 80% of wellness. It was preferable, but certainly not ideal. Whatever was messing with me, it wasn’t going down easy. I went into the city last week for blood tests to see if this persistent illness was something more serious. The tests, as my doctor informed me, came back negative for all the major stuff, however, I was informed that several hormones from my liver (that wonderful organ which processes toxins from your body) were higher than they should be.
    After returning home feeling nominally better, although not entirely physically recuperated, I almost immediately found what I believe to be the culprit of my sickness. After soaking some dry beans in water in preparation to cook them, I found something unusual floating on the top of the water. Thousands of dead insects, which I then realized had burrowed into the beans themselves, had been inhabiting my food for the past few weeks. These beans, which I had bought from my neighbor and had been feasting on almost nightly for over 2 weeks, had been filled with thousands more of whatever the hell bug was now bobbing harmlessly on top of this pot of dry legumes.
    Of course, this is far from a medical diagnosis, but from my own opinion and perspective, I won’t rule this out as the cause for my sickness. It explains the heightened liver activity (as all these little guys most certainly constituted a significant amount of foreign and unexpected substances in my body), it explains why the giardhia medicine didn’t do the trick, and it explains the sickly-sweet taste that has been a strange and yet regular feature of my meals as of late. When you live so far out in the middle of nowhere though, food 'options' doesn't really consists of what you want to eat, but rather if you want to eat or not. If you're hungry, you eat whats around. And I was hungry, so I did. Now at least, I can hopefully eliminate thousands of insects from my daily diet, although with that means also eliminating beans (whomp whomp), at least until I can travel the 2 hours into town to buy some disinfected ones. What a fucking life.

From Paraguay,
little hupo

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

100 Degree Winter

    I am stopped in the shade by a fence post looking out to the horizon over Paraguayan estero (marshland). Its like watching a pot of rice right before it boils--the foaming steam rises like a thick cloud of smoke as the pockets of standing water are burned off by a unforgiving sun. The visibility is driven down. The smell of muddy water hangs on a delicate, teasing, hot breeze. Air fills the lungs like sap, heavy and viscous and sticking to the inside of the chest. My limbs seem to carry me autonomously from shade to shade, skipping over the dirt of the open road like a stone across water. I wish. Its fucking hot.
    Spring time officially arrives on the 21st of September here in the Southern Hemisphere. Right now, as I drag my feet across this desiccated patch of earth, I am reminded by this seasons first glimpse returning migrant birds that it is, in fact, still only winter. Yvyra’pyta trees have begun to sport their temporal red blooms, adorning the tops of their umbrella-like form, dancing in the heat haze as if part of some Dr. Seuss landscape. The crops creep slowly upwards, the only direction they know how, hoping to become something strong before being reigned in and beaten down by the coming summer sun.
    My neighbors are less enthusiastic about doing projects than I think I am. At least, I think I am being enthusiastic. In reality, I am finding myself, drowsing off, zoning out and silently praying for responses like, “Despues de la lluvia” or, “Otro dia, possiblimente”. When its over a hundred degrees, you can see the effects in the world around you, the sapping energy of that heat is like a glaring scar on every leaf and in the face of every person. Even more profound, is the effect that this kind of heat has within the body itself--as if some enormous snake has its grips around your rip cage, forcing an effort for each breath. The atmosphere, playing the magnifying glass to the will of a sadistic sun, holds down your already heavy body. Your density is only outpaced by that of the air itself; floating on the Dead Sea. That sun shines and burns and persists only for you.

From Paraguay,
little hupo