Thursday, August 21, 2008

Peaks and Valleys: Adaptation Rears its Ugly Head 8.17.08

"Just me and my shadow..."

Valenzuela, Cordillera, 8.17.08 - So it's been a week since I arrived. I started to make another entry a few days ago but it didn't quite work out; this one, however, is truly necessary.
I've basically been hanging out the past week; I got over my cold a day or so ago, so I'm back to normal in that respect. Last week I went to the bank in Caacupe, a nearby larger town, to get a replacement card and inquired about unlocking my phone; it appears that the latter is only possible in Asuncion. I stopped by the grocery store to pick up a few items and headed home. Yesterday was El Dia del Nino (Children's Day) around the country, which is a big celebration in the Ovando household. The family began arriving Friday night - the two daughters, the grandson, as well as a host of other relatives and friends. We hung out Friday night, eating, drinking, and sitting around the house. Saturday morning we had breakfast and then went to a neighboring town, Minas Cue, where Na Nelly's family still owns a house. At the nearby soccer field a boys'soccer tournament was underway; some watched the games while others hung out in the yard. In the afternoon we came back and prepared for the annual kids' party at the Ovando household. When the party was in full swing, there was a legion of kids and their families on the property. There were treats, games, toy distribution, and the ubiquitous hot chocolate - a must at any childrens' gathering. After the bulk of the folks left late in the afternoon, we cleaned up and then finally relaxed. One of the daughters slept in the twin bed in my room and everyone else slept in the guest house. I was relieved to finally go to sleep around 9:30 pm. One daughter and her boyfriend left last night and everyone else left today. For the entire weekend the kids ran around playing, the adults drinking, talking and laughing. All the ingredients of a perfect weekend; for me, however, it was one of my lowest points since arriving in Paraguay.
While at times I did have fun, the majority of the time I felt like an outsider who was just along for the ride. Invisible, even; truly a visitor in a foreign land. In an attempt to sort things out and reflect on how to improve future situations, I have been trying to figure out the source(s) of the issue.

Making adjustments and adapting is an everyday reality of the PCV. While at times it is welcomed, other times it is bleak. I have really missed my family in Aveiro and have tried to replicate that environment as closely as possible here in Valenzuela. The fact remains, however, that just as people are different, the Ovandos are not the Gonzalez-Aquinos. I have also noticed that I am especially aware of and affected by changes in my daily routine. Finally, while my Guarani continues to improve, at this point it is still a daily struggle, even more so in groups. These factors particularly magnified themselves this weekend.

Most of the relatives that came were engaging and very friendly. But while the Ovando kids were nice in general, the vibes I received from them were lukewarm and not very engaging. Normally when I meet Paraguayans, they ask a string of questions in attempt to get to know me as a person. In this case, however, after the initial introductions we had minimal, mostly passing conversation. They laughed and joked amongst each other and the other family friends; at times it was like I wasn't even there. I would then leave and find a more engaging relative. This, of course, was never the case with the Aveiro fam; they always made me feel included in everything - my host sisters especially, which is why I refer to them as sisters. Now, I recognize that the Ovando kids may not have been doing it on purpose, nor might they have even been conscious of it. While the thought initially makes me feel slightly better, when I think it about it more it actually makes me feel worse because it means that I wasn't even a concern. For example, at one point when we were in Minas Cue, we were all sitting in the yard and then the daughters got up and walked away toward the soccer game. I was left sitting with Na Nelly and some other relatives. I ended up walking over shortly after when urged by the little grandson. One might ask why I didn't just go along with the daughters when they left, despite the absence of an invitation. I have never been one to trail behind any person nor group around which I do not feel comfortable or welcomed. This never would have happened in Aveiro. In an effort to see it from the kids' point of view, maybe they miss the old volunteer and wish that she was still here; maybe they had learned everything they wanted to know about me beforehand from their parents; maybe they were preoccupied with getting things together for the day's events and intend to get to know me more in time. Only time will tell; for now I will give them benefit of the doubt. If things remain the same, oh well; they are a miniscule part of my experience.
Another contributing factor to my despair was that I had minimal personal time all weekend, which I am not used to. Kids were everywhere; I couldn't even turn on my computer to hear my treasured 80's music. I was constantly "on"; the number of people was overwhelming. Any ill feelings from the day pretty much piled on top of each other with minimal time for personal reflection. And then who can forget the omnipresent Guarani I absolutely know how Mom felt when she was in the Dominican Republic by herself with people who spoke no English and her passable Spanish. When they spoke really quickly, I know that her passable Spanish felt like almost none. After awhile you get tired of fake-smiling, barely understanding or acting like you understand something that was just said. Enough already, damn this, you say to yourself.

Nonetheless, the fog began to lift when everyone left, I got my space back and we resumed our normal activities. Even better when I talked to one of my group members who had also been feeling lonely and we caught up on each others' happenings, as well as exchanged words of encouragement. Na Nelly then made an amazing lunch of pork chops, tomato and rice salad, and sopa paraguaya, after which we sat around on the front porch. Don Ramon told me that his brother remarked that I had a great capacity for learning Guarani and that I had already learned a lot. Words of encouragement are always great. I then retired to my quarters for siesta.
Now, two hours after I started writing, my hand is about to fall off and my therapeutic, reflective session is coming to an end. In the end, I just try to remind myself that, just like back home, I will have good days and bad days. As I have also learned in life, not everyone gets along while playing in the sandbox. As I told my treasured buddy Cynthia when I talked to her earlier today, things always get better. That, my friend, is certain.

1 comment:

Nia said...

Don't wait for invitations, and don't feel like you're intruding, just include yoursself. I felt this way at first when I was in Switzerland (talk about fish out of water), but I soon realized that the culture was not such that everyone was going to just invite me to things, or ask me to come along. There were times when I needed to step out of my comfort zone, and include myself without being asked. Swiss culture is generally reserved, but polite, so no one ever told me know, and this was how I got to know people better.
Also don't compare the families, it will just make you miss the first one more. Find the positives in the new family, rather than comparing the negatives. Of course there's rejection along the way, but keep trying. It's the successes that you'll relish. Think of it as a challenge.