The post-GLOW effect post-election

One of the toughest parts of my work here is sustainability. The idea that when I leave, my friends and allies still have someone who makes them feel empowered, gives them a space to be themselves, encourages them to keep the work going.

This is especially true in the context of camp GLOW, which is probably my favorite part of my service. We give girls the opportunity to leave their communities, travel to a new place, and spend the week feeling empowered and surrounded by other empowered and empowering people. They arrive at camp timid and leave sassy and determined to affect change in their communities.

But then, so many of them return home only to find that the environment couldn’t be more different from camp. In their own homes, they are actively disempowered. They are faced with machismo culture, from both men and women, so harshly and heavily that what they learned at camp, what they hoped to teach their peers, takes a back seat. What was supposed to be unifying at camp has now become isolating.

They leave camp thinking “I can,” and come home only to be told “You can’t.”

I had never related to their struggle until this week.

On most days, I feel empowered to speak my mind. On most days, I am not afraid to be myself. On most days, I feel safe, knowing that the US has my back. In the past few months, that has been nearly every day. I felt better about myself knowing that people around me were going to help me elect the first female president. I felt less alone in my “crazy feminist ideology.” I felt like I was seeing what I teach here in Paraguay being carried out in the U.S. Gender equality was one step closer to feeling real…one step closer to shattering the ceiling.

But this week, I felt like the girls in the campo. This whole election cycle, despite its insanity, has made me feel more empowered and unified in my hope and faith in Hillary Clinton. While Donald Trump’s attempts to knock me (and all women, and all POC, and all immigrants, and all people with disabilities, and all LGBT people, and all Muslim people) down, I took stock in the goodness and love that I found in my liberal bubble — youth, PCVs, my family — and trusted that the racist/sexist/homophobic/islamophobic cheeto would be defeated.

But apparently we were all away at summer camp, while the rest of the U.S. (ok only 49%…) accepted bigotry and hatred.

I am coming back to the states knowing that enough people to decide a presidency do not see me or many of my loved ones as valid human beings who deserve basic human rights.

I have been dealing with a lot of machismo and sexism being thrown my way lately — most recently yesterday when I was waiting for the bus — I was watching Hillary’s concession speech and crying behind my baseball hat and sunglasses when a man drove by me, told me to smile more and threw a carton of juice at my head. So this loss hits me even harder knowing that so many people just threw juice cartons at the heads of every non-white, non-male human in the U.S.

I know that in April I will come home and join the fight and fight harder than I ever have before. But for now, I am so deeply saddened by what happened this week.

I took a walk this morning, after hiding in my house for more than 24 hours, and felt weak, carrying the burden of being the Token White Person in my community — “How did he win?” “Is everyone in the U.S. racist?” “Will I ever be able to visit my sister again?” “Is he going to get rid of Peace Corps?” are just some of the questions I’ve been asked so far today. Being an ambassador of the U.S. is hard enough…this makes it near impossible.

I know when I go home I won’t really feel like a Paraguayan girl post-camp. I know I am more privileged than that — I will be surrounded by allies; I am privileged enough that this presidency likely won’t impact my day-to-day. I am, theoretically, one of the lucky ones (not nearly as lucky as white straight men but luckier than most).

In feeling absolutely terrible, literally sick, I have been playing my most recent conversation with my dad over and over in my head. He kept it together on election night to talk to his kids about how we’re going to be ok, how he is on our side, and how we should feel empowered to get out there and advocate and fight for change. He took our hysterics (ok that was probably just me) and helped us to remember that we aren’t lame ducks and that we are probably now more needed than ever. (Although I hope he knows we’re never gonna make any money…)

It made me feel incredibly grateful for having an ally in my house. For having someone who understands how much this election hurt me personally. As much as I love my Girl Gang and talking about these issues among my peers, hearing these words coming from someone who could easily NOT relate, NOT understand, and NOT give a shit (not as my dad but as a white dude) made me feel so fucking lucky. I am so grateful not to live in a house divided by political ideology.

I hope other white men like my dad speak up and tell their daughters that they aren’t alone. Tell their sons that they need to step up to the advocacy plate. I hope for a culture of change and for the most privileged among us to help the less-so.

I hope that this wave of anger and hurt and passionate activism is sustainable, like a good Peace Corps project, and that in the face on the most severe adversity we may have ever seen, we don’t fall in line and become complacent.

I hope summer camp lasts year round.

To the Bad Hombres of Paraguay

 

 

Note: I’ve been really angry lately. At men, mostly, and the culture that makes it ok for them to treat my friends and me like total garbage. So I’m breaking my hiatus to get this out of my system.

If you have to start a sentence with “I don’t know much about this but…” and close it with “sorry for being condescending,” you probably shouldn’t have started the sentence in the first place. We will talk about your mansplaining behind your back for the next week.

Most of us don’t really give a shit what you think…so when you tell us that we’d look prettier if we grew our hair out/got contact lenses/wore more/less makeup, we don’t think “Oh I’ll get right on that because I want to please my man,” we think “go fuck yourself, I don’t do any of this for you.”

We’re curious — when was the last time cat calling got you laid? Does it ever work? Do you ever say “Oh man, I’m so glad I invaded that pretty blonde’s personal space and made her feel unsafe on the street while she was walking home because she totally took the bait and now we’re gonna start a family!” Never? That’s what we thought. Fuck your machismo. The street is just as much yours as it is ours, and we would like to go to the grocery store without being asked to “darte un beso por abajo” and being run off the road when we say NO.

We are capable of getting on the bus ourselves so please stop grabbing our asses to pull us up the last step. Speaking of buses please stop sitting so close next to us, since when is whipping it out in the seat next to me supposed to be sexy? It’s not. Stop doing that.

If you are a male gynecologist we didn’t have a choice but to see because the female gyn is on vacation, you don’t get to ask us about our love lives. We’re in a very vulnerable place, up in the stirrups as you’re placing our IUDs…but you asking if we’re getting said IUD because we’re “sexually adventurous” is really asking to get kicked in the face and we’re in prime position for that so I’d watch out if I were you. And maybe also, as a medical professional, recognize that a woman’s choice of contraceptive method generally has nothing to do with men?? Just a suggestion.

Stop cheating on your girlfriends. Break up with them. And when you do, be honest. Don’t pull any of that “I’m messed up and you deserve better” bullshit. Tell us you can’t be trusted to keep it in your pants. Your douchebaggery-disguised-as-nobility is not actually very well disguised so you might as well just own up to it.

If we see you every day for three months, two years, however long, make a goddamn effort to learn our names. We probably know yours because we pay attention. Names are a whole lot more helpful in explaining who you’re looking for than “la gorda” or “The pretty one.” WE ARE HUMANS TOO OK?

Our benevolently sexist friends might “try to help” and tell us to fight back or ask “well why don’t you tell Gustavo?” Remember that we don’t fight back because everyone knows where we live. Remember that if we called Gustavo every time this happened, we’d be on the phone every day. Remember that we’ve accepted aggressive street harassment, blatant sexism and machismo culture as the norm, and unfortunately, we need YOUR help to make it stop. So if you wanna be an ally, by all means, be our guest, but don’t tell US how to manage the situation we’ve been navigating since before we all got boobs.

XOXO,

The Nasty Women

 

Trust your gut, figure it out later

Mba’eichapa!

I’m still here, melting in Paraguay, despite what my silence on this blog might connote. The summer is a funky time in Paraguay because no one wants to do anything, so if I were to update my blog as often as I used to, it would say things like “here are all of the books I’ve read in the past week!” and “highlight of today: I left the house!” And I don’t think those things are very exciting. (Though I do have a “recommended reading” tab if you’re interested in the books I’ve been inhaling of late)

So I turned to (a month late) the Blogging Abroad Challenge, which a couple of my friends are doing. Prompts are kinda frustrating sometimes, but they’re way more interesting than my one-word book reviews: Station Eleven was good. My Brilliant Friend was boring.

So the first prompt, which I think is appropriate seeing as I’ve been here nearly a year and I’ve never really addressed it, is WHY AND HOW I got to this point. So without further adieu, I’m gonna talk about that now.

January 2014. I am a senior who, like most liberal arts seniors, has no idea what the hell she’s doing come June, and who, like most “live in the moment” hippie millennials, has decided “it’ll happen when it happens” about my future. What I knew I wanted was to be scared. To do something that strayed from the status quo that I had been following since I became a human being. “If you’re 22 and not doing something that scares the shit out of you,” my favorite professor had told me, “You’re not doing it right.”

Peace Corps, like pretty much every major decision I’ve ever made, hit me like a ton of bricks. I went from thinking I’d go try my hand at making coffee in San Francisco or heaven forbid, ask my dad about his connections, to being nominated to serve in Peace Corps Paraguay.

I spent the next four months waiting to know if it was for real.

I graduated. I worked my same old summer job and moved home and worked at my same old rec department. I got a new bed because the same old twin day bed wasn’t gonna cut it for the six months I’d be home. I painted my room and helped my brother with college applications. During the first week of September of 2014 I got my invitation, made doctors’ appointments, and celebrated the six-months-til-I-leave countdown beginning with my dear friends at a Head and the Heart concert where Down in the Valley made us all cry extra because suddenly it meant a little more.

I was admittedly a shithead when I first moved home, but the six months I spent living in Santa Rosa before I left are some of the most important and cherished days I’ve had. I learned to appreciate my town through the lens of a half-way grown-up human (aka I got to drink the beer and the wine), I spent my Thursday evenings on movie dates with my mom and Friday mornings walking the dog around the lake. I went on accidental 20-mile hikes with breathtaking views, sent my friends off to faraway places like Scotland and India and Philadelphia, welcomed one back home, and knew exactly where to go on bad days when my brother and I needed to go on a long drive. All the while grappling with one question: WHY was I doing this?

“You’ll find out when you get there,” a friend finally said. “That’s how you’ve always done it.”

So there it was. I was going because my gut told me to. I’d figure out the details along the way. True to form, my why was more of a “why the hell not?”

Now I can tell you, it’s because I needed to be scared. To figure out what I wanted. To be on the frontlines of something, not just behind the camera or asking the questions. It’s because I’m teaching kids things I didn’t even get to learn in California schools. It’s because I secretly not-so-secretly love chipa. Because my neighbors come over for Frisbee Fridays and cooking classes. Because busting myths about condoms is crazy fun. And helping high schoolers recognize the fact that they’re leaders is even more fun (actually nothing is more fun than proving to a bunch of schoolkids how tough condoms are). It’s because I get to know South America in a way that not very many people get to. It’s because I needed to pick something off the fig tree instead of letting all those ideas and opportunities and results of the “what career should you pursue?” buzzfeed quizzes rot. And while I’m not going to be a career Peace Corps Volunteer, I have never been more excited about the vision I have for my future than I am right now. Could I have known that Peace Corps was going to make my path from here on out so clear? Of course not. But that’s part of what makes it scary.

And if you’re 22 (holy shit I’m almost 24) and you’re not doing something that scares the shit out of you (like approaching your mid-twenties in a foreign country), then you’re not doing it right.

Does that answer the question?

Thanks, Mom

Mba’eichapa! 

Perhaps one of my favorite parts of service is being considered part of a handful of Paraguayan families. They include me in their family portraits, birthday dinners and sometimes … Family drama. 

By now you all are familiar with the two stars of my day to day life in Paraguay — my bff auxi and her mama Lorena. Right? (Quick rundown auxi is my sister, is 16 and is a rockstar and Lorena is her mama who runs the despensa across the street from my new house. Yeah? Ok) 

These two fill my days with laughter and silly faces and lots of food. And lately, with a little drama… Auxi has just started dating her first boyfriend, and Lorena does NOT approve. 

The sometimes awkward thing about these two is they both think I’m THEIR friend and confidant, so I find myself in a very high school like situation in which I’m mediating, nodding and appeasing both sides and then going home with a migraine because the whole ordeal is a LOT to stomach. 

“He doesn’t go to school he doesn’t go to church he’s spoiled and I heard he was DRUNK last night!” 

“he’s sweet and cute and funny and he makes me feel pretty!” 

“He’s not cute enough for her.” 

“He’s so cute!” 

“Hannah, what do I do about auxi?”

“Hannah, what do I do about mama?”

I’ve learned from years of appeasing anxious parents on tours or at orientation to never give a “should” answer. I don’t know what ANYONE should do. Not even myself most of the time. So I reach into my pocket of tour-guide tricks…

“Wanna know what my mom did?” 

When I was sixteen I dated a boy who nobody liked. My auntie m was a little less hush-hush about it, but for over a year my mom held her tongue. I poked and prodded her for her approval. Did she like the boy I was so head over heels for despite the fact that he told my dad he hated baseball? Did she have ANY thoughts on the subject? Come on mom!! 

“I don’t want you to care what I think,” she told me. “It’s your relationship, not mine.” 

Whoa, mom. You can’t give a sixteen year old girl that kinda responsibility! 

Eventually I broke up with the boy my mama didn’t tell me how she felt about and slowly she began to hint at things she didn’t love about him. 

“Why didn’t you ever tell me?” 

“You wouldn’t have learned anything from that.”

So mama croft held her tongue for more than a year just so I could learn something? So that my first “serious” boyfriend would teach me a lesson I never would have gotten from a lecture? 

God that woman is a superhero. 

So I channeled my superhero mom. 

“She won’t learn anything if you forbid her from seeing him.” 

“If you’re looking for approval from someone else, your problems are bigger than you think.” 

Neither party is satisfied with my answers to their questions. I wasn’t satisfied with my mom’s growing up either. But I learned more from that year about myself and the way I want to relate to others than I ever in a million years would have from a blanket disapproval of the boy she saw kiss me publicly at a swim meet before she was properly introduced to him. And if goal 2 of the peace corps is to engage in cultural exchange, I just shared a big part of my culture with auxi and Lorena and I’m pretty happy about it. Maybe in a year they’ll be able to tell me what they learned from this challenge. 

A few posts ago I gave my mom shit for my lack of sex education. Today I get to say thanks mama, for letting me learn on my own and giving me a great answer to my greatest middle man conundrum to date. 

Jajotopata! 

H

Just here for food

Mba’eichapa!

Today I’m gonna write to you about the most important part of any culture.

Food. 

Seriously, though, is there anything in this world more exciting, unifying or important than food? I really don’t think so. My number one question when invited anywhere is “will there be food?” And when volunteers call each other, our most important / first question we ask each other is usually “What did you eat today?”

So let’s talk food.

The basics

Paraguayan food, traditionally, isn’t particularly healthy or artisanal. Traditional meals like tallarin or whatever guiso your señora might whip up are usually prepared in an olla — one pot cooking is really the norm here. You’ll find commonly on Paraguayan dinner tables either noodles or rice, chicken and very finely chopped staple veggies — bell pepper, tomato and onion. Traditional recipes were all also cooked over an open fire.

Veggies are expensive, and if you’re out in the campo and don’t have a garden, they’re difficult to get your hands on, so families rely more heavily on starchy crops like mandioca (kinda like yucca), corn and potatoes. It’s not uncommon that you’d find mandioca, rice, bread and potatoes on the same plate.

Crucial dishes:

  • Chipa, which I’m sure I’ve mentioned to you before, looks like a bagel but don’t get too excited, it’s not a bagel 😦
  • Chipa guasu, which is like the baked version of those little blobs of corn you get at Chevy’s and terribly delicious
  • Sopa Paraguaya, which is cornbread, not soup, mmk?
  • Asado is beef cooked over coals until it’s very well-done, usually charred and is currently being researched as a cause of stomach cancer in Paraguay.
  • Puchero is soup, but the broth is fat-based. Usually how freshly-killed chicken is prepared. This is the one thing I have said I can’t eat, because my handful of attempts have led me to spend the night hugging the toilet like a freshman girl at a DSP party.
  • Tortilla is an umbrella term for friend dough with stuff in it. My personal favorite is tortilla de papa. My host mom throws in potatoes, green onion and cheese and it’s a big greasy mess of delicious
  • Milanesa is thin pieces of breaded and fried beef or chicken. It’s thin like chicken parmesan and fried like chicken fried steak. I am just not that into it.
  • Mbeju is like a pancake but it’s corn based and it doesn’t really taste like anything. Commonly eaten during the winter, with cocido
  • Cocido is my favorite thing, it’s burned sugar, yerba, water and milk and incredibly delicious.

So, how are you navigating this food culture? 

Well, my host family here in site is a big meat-and-potatoes kinda family, but they’ve been really keen on learning what I bring to the kitchen table. The kitchen is my happy place, it gives me a kind of comfort I don’t really find anywhere else, and that they welcome me into the kitchen is a sweet treat (or savory, depending on the meal. Ha! I got jokes today). When they found out I like beets, they bought beets and then proceeded to fumble through learning to cook beets which was adorable. When I told them we could make homemade granola, instead of buying really expensive bags (which are really not granola, it’s more like oats and wheat germ and raisins), they hopped in the car and took me to the grocery store to get the ingredients. When an avocado falls from the tree they bring it to me and say “make the guac.”

I feel pretty lucky to be spending my first three months in site with a family that’s willing to learn about food from all over the world — I made stir fry for dinner the other night when my dad brought home fresh ginger — but also is respectful of my food boundaries. When my host mom eats three plates of food, I eat one, and they tease me a lot for eating so “little,” but then they turn around and call my mom “gordita” so if I’m si o si gonna get teased, I’ll take the “you don’t eat enough” epithets.

I’ve befriended a family a couple houses down who always have extra carrots, cucumber, cilantro, whatever’s in season in their garden. Since they’re a family of two, they are more than happy to share, so I’m sitting here snacking on cucumber and carrot and home made hummus (shoutout to another volunteer who taught me that subbing peanuts for sesame seeds works in a pinch, it turned out pretty rico)

When we were getting on the plane, Paraguay’s country desk officer warned us that most female volunteers gain ten pounds during training. The overwhelming response was OH HELL NO, and I have actually lost ten pounds since I got here. That being said, I did spend my first two months here dealing with giardia, and I did spend my last six months in the states drinking dark beer with Jessie so I guess that works itself out.

My favorite part of food so far has been when things get lost in translation. Por ejemplo, today’s lunch. My family has ducks out on their ranch and so I brought up that I really like duck, but in the states it’s really expensive, kind of a special occasion thing. Like maybe on your birthday you’d order duck curry, or you’d treat yourself to duck ravioli at Guissepe’s. “Duck ravioli! You should make it for us!” My mom thought that sounded incredibly rico. Here, I’m thinking, duck inside ravioli, with some rich brown butter sage sauce, yeah I can totally make that! This afternoon when I came in to cook, I was handed boxes of frozen veggie ravioli and the duck and was told to do the thing. Whoops.

Also during that lunch, I thought the duck heart was one of the kalamata olives I had put in the sauce…it wasn’t, it was a duck heart. That was interesting.

I can’t say that there a lot of Paraguayan recipes I’ll use frequently when I come back to the states or even when I’m here cooking for myself, but I can tell you that I’m, most of the time, pretty ok with what I’m eating, and that nothing beats the satisfaction of a group of Paraguayans telling you your low-fat banana bread is the best banana bread they’ve ever had. YAY.

Semana Santa and intercambio, yay!

It’s no shock or surprise to anyone that my religious upbringing begins and ends at growing up with Jewish friends. I never sought it out — I am continually disenchanted with organized religion.

That being said, I am writing this on Easter Sunday after Semana Santa in a 90% Catholic country. So to say that this week has been a learning experience would be a wild understatement.

I told my family from the get-go that I would go to mass with them de vez en cuando, every once in a while, because I didn’t want to commit to an every sunday kind of endeavor, because honestly mass makes me incredibly uncomfortable, especially here, where mass turns into a very cult-looking kinda deal, eyes-rolled-back-in-head, shouting-to-the-heavens, being completely moved by the faith kinda deal. Meanwhile, I sit there and try to figure out what they’re saying (services are in Guarani, so I get every…tenth? word).

I imagine that to someone raised in a Catholic community these traditions would serve as a comfort, knowing that your faith and your religious traditions are similar all across the world. Granted, in the states no one gets a week off work to make Chipa, but Palm Sunday and Good Friday and Easter Sunday are still pillars in the way the Catholic faith is manifested here.

I wanted to be able to write this post form an angle of complete culture shock but the truth is that I haven’t really experienced that. What I will report, though, is that during this “holy week” I’ve had a lot of time for introspection — because we’re supposed to do literally nothing…no work no play, I wasn’t allowed to run and was scolded for reading even though my book was “solamente para divertirme” — and in that introspection I’ve found that where my host family looks to Catholicism, I have, in fact, built my own little bit of faith around things that my host family wouldn’t understand. I apologize for that wild run-on sentence.

I built my own Semana Santa. (Think of this like the smile and nod game “Schoeba” where you’re replacing a bunch of things with weird shit)

But instead of the church I have a hammock, a field, my running shoes, a room full of friends.

And instead of a bible I have my journal, letters from Haley and Justine and Den and Lauren, “Half of a Yellow Sun” which I CANNOT PUT DOWN and everyone should read.

Instead of hymns or prayer songs or whatever they call them (not in a dismissive way, in a legitimate I have no idea what they’re called way), I’ve been listening to friends’ spotify playlists, keeping tethered to the people I’ve put my faith and trust in back home.

Instead of pining for the day I can make the religious pilgrimage in Paraguay, I’m daydreaming about the ocean.

Thursday’s homage to the Last Supper reminded me of Thanksgiving, and I thought of making cranberries with Auntie M in her kitchen while she chops mushrooms.

And Good Friday’s day of “rest?” Well, it was good that I was kinda sick, because I took advantage of the day that was reserved for “no work or play” and went to bed at 8:30.

I tried to explain to my host family that faith comes in different forms for different people, and that I’ve placed mine in the ocean, in my people, in books, in music that gives me chills or reminds me of important times in life… We now agree that faith can’t necessarily be explained, but you know it when you feel it. That right there, that’s some intercambio shit. Live and let live. I feel like my host family actually maybe kinda sorta TRIED to understand me, even though they weren’t that impressed by my comparison of church songs to the Velvet Underground.

So to any future volunteer who’s worried about your faith or your beliefs not being accepted by your host family, or worried about the very muddy water that is religious intercambio, tranquilo. I walked away from Semana Santa feeling understood, respected and fulfilled, FULL OF CHIPA, and maybe I learned a little bit about Catholicism, too.