La musica nos une

My best friend B once told me that she feels less far away from people when she knows what they’re listening to. And I was reminded of that this week as I saved a bunch of people’s spotify playlists. I’m listening to Jacob’s “folk” playlist right now and every time a new song comes on I smile and it’s like a little piece of my dear friend is in the kitchen with me as I’m cooking my lentils or writing my grad school apps. Molly’s “some type of way” playlist has been an anchor in my service and I listen to it any time I need to feel something other than what I’m currently feeling in that moment. I follow my friends as their music tastes transition from chill summer vibes to heavy fall tunes and somehow I feel slightly more connected to you. When I need to dance it out, I put on Monique’s “hipshakin” and dance around my kitchen with my host sister. I am both home and homesick when I listen to your tunes but it makes me feel just a little bit less far away, knowing that we all are listening to the new Bon Iver right now. I even feel like i know Barack Obama a little better for having listened to his summer playlist. Literally, thanks Obama.

So in the spirit of making the world a little smaller, this is a collaborative Spotify playlist. “Oñondivepa” means “everyone all together” in Guarani. Add what you can’t get out of your head, what made you cry on the metro the other day, what you last danced to in your underwear. If nothing else, indulge me, please! And maybe we’ll create a really kickass playlist that will be the soundtrack to everyone’s next road trip. Who knows.

 

A play by play of a typical day

“Today is a good day to have a good da.” -someone whose words are now all over Pinterest.

I realize I never really told y’all what I actually do…so here’s what a good day looks like.

5:45 a.m. — The sun wakes me up. I say no thanks and go back to sleep.

7:05 a.m. — My alarm goes off. I say no thanks and press snooze.

7:15 a.m. — My alarm goes off again. I say ok ok I get it and get out of bed.

7:17: a.m. — Is it really already 85 degrees? That doesn’t bode well for the day. I might melt. I pour myself a glass of cold brew coffee and bring my book out to the porch to say hello as the kids who are late to school walk by. Warm mornings remind me of summer camp, when we all got there kind of early to drink our coffee together and secretly plot how to get Adam yet another Melon Head. It’s the kind of warm that promises a toasty afternoon but the morning is so pleasant you can’t help but bask in the sunshine and let it melt the ice in your coffee. These mornings make me homesick for summer in California. But maybe someday they will make me homesick for Paraguay. Who knows.

8:00 a.m. — decision making time. Do I run now, before it gets too hot, or wait until sunset? I decide to run now because there are a lot of people out during sunset and I like to pretend I’m invisible / hope that no one sees my abysmal attempt at running

8:15 a.m. — slather my body in sunscreen and hope it doesn’t all melt off with sweat while I run. Press play on “This American Life” and set out trottin’. Ira Glass is talking about getting thrown into the deep end of the pool, literally and figuratively. Naturally my mind goes to the pool, jumping into Grammy’s pool when I was four — my parents’ discovery that I was a mermaid. Being pushed off my first starting block because I was scared to do a real start. 500s at practice. How is it that my body did that every day for ten years but now I am jogging at a snail’s pace and contemplating death? Make a vow to swim every day when I get home, get those ripply back muscles back. Zone back in on the podcast…have no idea what’s going on. Wave like a lunatic to a group of kids who are trying to catch frogs in the creek.

9:00 a.m. — Overshoot my house on purpose so I can say hello to one of my favorite families. Mama Cristina is working in her garden. Our normal banter ensues:

Mama Cristina: HOOOOLA HAAAAAANNAH! QUE GUAPA!! (she has a big voice, the kind that is necessary when you raised four sons)

Me: Holaaaa gracias!

Mama Cristina: You look skinnier! Are you in love? Do you want some beets? How about tomatoes? Cilantro? (she hands me veggies she she points them out. She’s never really waited for my answer.)

Me: Wow thanks!

MC: Ok now go take a shower, you stink, then come back and drink terere with me.

Me: ok byeeeeee

9:45 a.m. — Awkwardly do cool-down yoga on my patio while passersby stare at me.

10:15 a.m. — Take a cold shower because that is the only option.

10:30 a.m. — Call Kaitlyn. Listen to her gush about her recent vacation. Feel no FOMO. This is weird, I think to myself, had this been a conversation in the states a year and a half ago, I would have felt jealousy bubbling up in my soul. My friends went on an amazing trip without me and I couldn’t go! Que pena! But instead I’m blissed out just hearing how happy Kait is. If you let the FOMO get to you out here in the campo, you’d never be happy. And it feels good to be happy for other people’s happy.

11:30 a.m. — Cross the street for terere with the host family. Auxi and I are wearing the same shirt. That’s embarrassing but kinda cute. Abuela is shelling beans, which she has been doing for three days. I offer to help but she swats my hand away telling me it calms her nerves. I don’t know what Abuela has to be nervous about but I say ok and sip the terere Auxi hands me. She put leaves from the lemon tree in the water, and it has that peppery after taste I’ve come to love.

12:30 p.m. — Speedily inhale whatever Abuela made for lunch…wonder why Abue has been cooking lately because we always complain about how her cooking gives us diarrhea. Maybe I should start cooking my own lunches? I’m too broke for that. Remember that I have to pay rent this weekend.

1:00 p.m. — Slather myself in sunscreen, hop on my bike and head to the school.

1:05 p.m. — Regret what I ate for lunch.

1:10 p.m. — Arrive at the school. I’m greeted by middle schoolers running toward me shouting PROFE HANNAH! PROFE HANNAH! One stops to hug my sweaty self. “we’re so happy you’re here!! What are we talking about today??” Think about crying because this is literally what I dreamed about when coming to Peace Corps — kids stoked to learn with me.

1:30 p.m. — Finally quiet the masses and start teaching. Today’s class is about sex and gender. Spend 10 minutes explaining that we’re not talking about sexual intercourse but biological sex. Like male or female. So like man and woman? No. So like masculine and feminine? Nope… My favorite profe comes in and explains it in Guarani. “OHHHHHHHH” the whole class says. Now they get it. Except for that one kid in the corner who is too busy making paper cranes.

1:45 p.m. — Single out paper crane kid and make him summarize what I just said. Watch his face go from calm/cool/collected to potentially going to pee his pants. I sure showed you, crane boy.

2:30 p.m. — Leave class. I think they got it? I can never really tell if they’re just indulging me or if they actually get it. Slather myself in sunscreen and hop on my bike.

3:00 p.m. — Get home.

3:01 p.m. — Make popcorn

3:02 p.m.  — Start personal statements

3:10 p.m. — Fall asleep staring at the same sentence I’ve been trying to rephrase since yesterday.

4:15 p.m. — Wake up to being attacked by mosquitoes.

4:30 p.m. — Cross the street to help Lorena make empanadas and listen to her gossip. “This is just between you and me but…” she always starts. Paraguayan women are like hairdressers in the states. They know all the secrets and they share all the secrets. She asks me what my secrets are. She knows I have none. Asks me for the umpteenth time if the male volunteer who visited last weekend is my boyfriend. Tell her no for the umpteenth time. Roll my eyes. She doesn’t believe me.

5:00 p.m. — Call Kaitlyn again. Tell her all about paper crane boy and what I ate for lunch. She listens and responds like I’m telling her I won the lottery.

6:30 p.m. — Throw whatever vegetables I have in the pan. Crack an egg.

7:30 p.m. — It’s dark. Time for bed. Put on Parks and Rec and watch until I fall asleep.

Ridin’ the Bus

I lived in a college town where the bus was free if you had your student ID. There was an app you could download to see where the bus was, if it was on time or not. If the bus was too full, it would drive past you but there would be another right behind it to get you to class on time. It was a pretty sweet system.

The public transportation system of Paraguay is exactly like that.

And by that I mean…they’re both buses.

The colectivo is the primary mode of transportation for most South American countries and Paraguay is no exception. If you’re hoping to get from the campo into town, from one city to another, or from one side of Asuncion to the other, colectivos are the way to go. They’re cheap, easy and only break down when you’re in a rush.

Being that EVERYONE rides the bus, from CEOs to nuns to crazy drunk people, it’s a pretty interesting social experiment. It’s also where you get the best deals on things like sunflower oil, socks, chipa and can buy tea that promises to cure your colon cancer and lose 50 pounds within a month. Sometimes people bring their chickens/dogs/goats on the colectivo. It really is a hoot.

I’ve been reading Gloria Steinem’s My Life on The Road these past two weeks and I love the way she tells stories of her encounters with Grade A crazy people on the road. I wish she would come to Paraguay to see the people on the buses here. But for now, I’ll try to shed some light on some of my most interesting point A to point B adventures.

  • On one of my first bus-riding experiences, from the Peace Corps training center to Asuncion, someone’s goat ate the hem of my skirt. The owner apologized profusely and offered me chipa as payment…I said no thank you and I never wear skirts on the bus anymore.
  • Jacob and I were sitting on the bus chatting in English when a man turned around and asked us if we spoke Spanish. We said yes, and he yelled at us for speaking in a language the rest of the bus didn’t understand.
  • I was on my way to being on my way to Bolivia, where I was meeting my site mate on a COS trip. I was picked up by a female ranch hand in a brand new pickup. She was heading to Tobati to visit her boyfriend, who she said she liked because he let her boss him around. “I like being in charge,” she explained. “You do too, don’t you?” I laughed because this woman had never met me but she knew that of course I liked being in charge. “You’re that feminist that lives at Ña Lili’s, aren’t you?” she asked. Well. yeah. We continued the conversation and she let me explain to her that feminists can also be heterosexual women and that she sounded like she was a feminist and by the end of the ride she decided that we were both goddesses and that men were blessed beyond blessed to have us in their lives.
  • In Uruguay, the buses are organized and there are designated stops (much like every other civilized country). Being PCVs in Paraguay we thought you could flag it down on any corner and hop on. A kind Uruguayan man stopped in his tracks to teach us how to get on a bus.
  • On my way from my community to Asuncion, I hitched a ride with an Evangelical pastor (is that the right word??). He had heard from someone that I was Jewish and spent the 20 minute ride from my campo site to the highway explaining to me that my people were very “rude” for not accepting Jesus as the Messiah. I told him it was an interesting perspective that I had never thought about and also I wasn’t really Jewish but thanks so much for the ride. Then I said God Bless and I left.
  • On that same trip, I got on an unusually crowded bus for a Saturday with my GIANT backpacking pack. There was one empty seat, which no one bothered to inform me was broken…the base and back were not connected, so when I hoisted my pack onto it, the back of the seat and my pack fell onto the sleeping nun behind me. I put my pack in the aisle and sat up very straight so as not to fall on top of the nun again. When the Chipa lady came on, she tripped over my bag and I witnessed the only chipa avalanche known to man.
  • Heading home from Thanksgiving with my site mate, we didn’t sit together because we spread out on multiple seats. As the bus filled up, a creepy gross drunk man sat next to me. When I wouldn’t acknowledge him (I turned up This American Life and let Ira Glass distract me), he stood up and put his hands in his pants. He approached my site mate and asked for my phone number, thankfully Andrew told him we don’t have phones. He asked my name, Andrew replied “you don’t need to know.” A pregnant woman sat down next to me and insisted I just give him my phone number so he would leave me alone. (“He just wants your phone number!” she said, as though these aggressions are accepted and normal) He continued to stand, hands in pants, staring at me as we passed through town after town. I started wondering what I would do if he was still on the bus when we passed my house. I pulled out my phone thinking I’d give him the Safety and Security Officer’s phone number when he pulled his hands out of his pants and put them on my face. The bus driver stopped the bus and threw him off.
  • I was heading back home on the bus and had fallen asleep. When I woke up there was a woman with six chicks on her lap and chicken poop all over both of us.
  • I had been out of site for two weeks and was dying to get home. When we got into the pueblo the bus driver made a pitstop to pay his electric bill, buy groceries and pick up some whatever at the hardware store. I could have walked home in the time he spent dilly dallying around town.
  • Every once in a while musicians come on the bus to busk. One day a rapper was on the bus and their usual schtick is to rap about the people on the bus. His line about me? “This white librarian would be a lot hotter if she brushed her hair and took off her glasses.”

The bus is an adventure in and of itself, but it definitely goes on the list of things I WON’T miss about the ‘Guay.

When there is no Target…

Mba’eichapa!

The closest “real” supermarket to me is about 70 kilometers. In my Pueblo, I can find most things I need, but when it comes to luxuries like deodorant or nice face soap or moisturizer, I generally wait for a care package or create my own. I just took a shower and literally everything I used was some kind of home remedy and I think that’s pretty cool, so if you’re ever feeling too kaigue to get your butt to Target and want to try some Peace Corps home remedies…here are a few of my go-tos

What I’m out of: Deodorant

What I use instead: Tea tree oil and baking soda.

I learned this from another volunteer. I am not one of those who refuses to use anti-perspirants. Mostly because I am a sweaty person and it’s generally a million degrees here so why make me and everyone around me suffer my stank. Back in the day when I swam I used to sweat the smell of chlorine…man I miss that. But nowadays, when my mommy-sent Costco pack of Dove deodorant has called it quits, I sprinkle baking soda and a couple drops of tea tree oil on my pits and voila! I am less stinky than I would be otherwise…at least I hope so.

What I’m out of: Exfoliating scrub

What I use instead: Coffee grounds

Since my neighbors refuse to build a chicken coop, my many attempts at starting a garden have been thwarted, so my used coffee grounds were going to waste. I started using very, very finely ground coffee mixed with Cetaphil on my face last summer when the combination of sweat, dirt, sunscreen and more dirt was too much for the mild cleanser alone. For my whole body, I mix it with Dr. Bronner’s peppermint soap and get my scrub on once a week. Bonus points: coffee brightens your skin, makes it feel all tingly, and helps me wake up.

What I’m out of: make up remover/moisturizer/conditioner

What I use instead: coconut oil

How I love coconut oil, let me count the ways. A very kind human recently sent me a TJ’s jar of it, and I can find it here at the weekly farmers’ market in Asuncion but it’s kinda pricey. I very, very rarely wear makeup here, but my mascara is waterproof (either my mom accidentally sent me waterproof mascara, or she knows that I am the biggest crybaby in the world and didn’t want me to weep black tears). Since those makeup removing wipes create waste that I usually have to burn, I try to avoid buying them. coconut oil on a washcloth wipes it off no problem and also smells way better. I can’t afford lotion (except for the free sunscreen given out by PC doctors) so post shower I’ll rub a lil coconut oil on my skin. When my hair was falling out in chunks (cheers to my first shower with ZERO HAIR LOSS this week!!!!!) I mixed coconut oil, avocado and an egg every week until my scalp wasn’t dry and cracked and scary. Coconut oil also makes your cookies taste better and can be combined with the coffee grounds for a real treat-yo-self scrub.

What I’m out of: Shampoo

What I use instead: baking soda, apple cider vinegar

I tried to embrace the whole no-poo lifestyle but it ultimately led to my massive hair loss (about 50% of my hair). But still, when I’m in a pinch and my hair demands to be washed, this does the trick. Just make sure you use conditioner or you will have a “scalp that looks like you stuck your head in a tatakuaa.” (direct quote from the girl who cut my hair last month)

What I’m out of: spot treatment/benzoyl peroxide

What I use instead: tea tree oil

I have been singing the praises of tea tree oil since I used it to treat my horribly dry chlorinated skin and hair. But honestly, my skin has never been better. Every night before I go to bed I apply it on my face like you would a toner or astringent. It makes my eyes water but it makes my skin tingle and it’s also a natural mosquito repellent so that’s an added bonus!

What I’m out of: patience for the heat

What I use instead: peppermint oil

Peppermint oil is magical. Everyone needs it in their lives. Apply it like perfume — a dab on each wrist, the back of your neck and it’s a magical cooling agent for your whole body. If you’re feeling fancy put some on the bottoms of your feet.

What I’m out of: Drain-O (does that even exist here?)

What I use instead: Baking soda + vinegar

The fourth grade science class volcano is a lifesaver when it comes to cleaning out my pipes. It also kills mold and helps me clean my “floors”

What I’m out of: Wheat flour

What I use instead: “oat flour”

When I make pizza dough or bread I like to use half wheat flour but that requires hauling a 5kilo bag from the city on my bike…so I’ve started throwing old-fashioned oats in the food processor and using that instead. Works like a dream. Tastes kinda nutty. 10/10 would recommend.

What I’m out of: laundry detergent

What I use instead: Dr. Bronner’s + Baking soda

Dr. Bronner’s should pay me for how much I praise their products. My life is better because I have had a pretty constant stock of peppermint DB’s since I got to Paraguay. It’s biodegradable, multi-purpose, and feels tingly (can you tell I like feeling tingly?) I had some pretty bad allergic reactions to laundry soap here in my first few months. Hand washing my clothes was literally giving me chemical burns. So when I throw my clothes in my washing machine/bathtub (ok it’s a bucket), I use my trusty DB’s, a few spoonfuls of baking soda and sometimes a little vinegar. Also, my clothes smell like peppermint. Can’t complain there.

But that’s not to say I wouldn’t welcome any of these luxury items showing up at the post office sometimes soon…in case you were wondering 😉

The new normal

This morning I sat on my porch drinking coffee and playing guitar as tranquilo as could be, while my neighbors across the street butchered a pig. A year ago the human-like cries of a pig being slaughtered made me shiver in my soul. Now, it’s a sign someone’s celebrating.

“Who’s birthday is it?” I called across the street.

My friend calls these moments of pure Paraguay, the new normal we’ve grown accustomed to that will never ever be normal again, but for now, is almost comforting.

I’ve changed a lot in the past year and a half, in ways I didn’t necessarily expect to. I think that’s part of what drew me to the Peace Corps, that how I would come out on the other side was a complete mystery. But since we’re in the dawn of grad school app season (more on that later), I’ve had a lot of time to be introspective and think about how Paraguay has changed me both for the better and the…Paraguayan.

I am self sufficient. That’s not to say I’ve become self-motivated…I haven’t. But I make nearly everything from scratch, brew my own Kombucha, mend the ever-multiplying holes in the inner thighs of my jeans…if I need something, I figure out how to acquire it myself. My carbon footprint has been cut to nearly zero. There is almost zero waste in my house.

My skin has been thickened by gossipy women and cat-calling dirtbag men but I have not let those things harden my heart. In fact, I’m pretty sure I’m even more prone to melting like a popsicle at beautiful things, kind things. I have embraced my unrelenting love of love despite efforts to pretend like I’m cold and dead inside and unmoved by puppies being friends or people getting proposed to.

I have chilled the f*** out.

I am comfortable in silence. I can also talk to anyone about pretty much anything, in a language that isn’t my own, so I can say chau to my old fear of small talk.

I will eat almost anything. Even fried intestines.

I talk about poop, a lot.

I am more appreciative.

Probably most importantly, I know what I want to be when I grow up. My time in Paraguay has really challenged me to figure out my role in eradicating injustices and inequality in the world (lol, don’t burden yourself with too much responsibility there, Han), and I have a much clearer understanding of what that is. Anyone who knows me knows I’ve spent the past 24 years saying “I’ll figure it out.” For the first time, I have a vision for my future, and I’m excited about it.

I am ready. I forget that I’ve already had two birthdays here, so most of the time I still think I’m 22, but 22 year old me who left California almost 18 months ago was such a chicken. She didn’t trust herself. Peace Corps, and Paraguay, have taught me a level of self-acceptance I never thought possible or necessary and I am constantly in awe of how unafraid I am…to fall in love, to let things go, to dive deep, to try new things.

And I have nine more months to see what else I’ll add to this list…

 

Intentando a escribir en Castellano

Hoy, intenté a traducir algo que escribí en Ingles la semana pasada, sobre un día tan lindo que me siento obligada a compartir en castellano…

Hoy era un dia cualquiera y diferente a lo mismo. Uno de los días que suele pasar en las primeras semanas del verano en California, cuando la toque del sol a tu piel es un novedad todavía, y lo dejes a despertarte porque estés tan feliz a verlo. Mi despertador iba a soñar a las 8, pero saltaba de la cama a las 6 y preparaba el primer café del día. Trotaba al rio y lo veía brillando, un espejo para el sol. Regresaba a casa y me bañaba y lavaba la ropa aunque me hace doler las manos el agua frio, no importaba. Me sentaba en el patio, tomando el segundo café del dia, admirando como la neblina desaparecía, dejando una mañana de oro casi perfecta…

Puse bloqueador en mis brazos y el olor me hizo recordar… Veranos pasado en la playa Avila, semanas en el campamento en que crecía, pero también me hizo recordar el otoño y primavera en Paraguay. Saldría en mi bici sintiendo todo de nuevo y todo familiar a lo mismo. Ya conozco mi rutina…ya pasaba días así acá. Noticias viejas. Pero esta sensación, la idea que algo puede ser noticias viejas acá es una noticia nueva. Y eso, sentía tan bueno. Me paraba en la sombra de un árbol para quitar mis mangas largas…dejaba el sol a saludar mis hombros por la primera vez en unos cuantos meses. Atajaba mi camisa — uno tan viejo, de tercera mano, que robé de mi hermano — por mi cintura.

Y andaba, pensando de todas las cosas que amo de Paraguay, de Arroyos, de Urunde`y. Soy encantada con todo. Que mi bici es mi única manera de transporte. Que ya conozco mejor que mis manos propios el camino hasta el pueblo — cuales partes son suave, demasiado duro, con las piedras mas peligrosas. Que grupos de niños me persigan al lado de mi bici, pensando que puedan correr con tanto velocidad. Los bueyes, tan lentos, llevando caña dulce desde la chacra hasta la fabrica. Aun me encanta el olor — caña dulce mezclado con mierda del buey, que cobraba la compañía como una frazada durante el cosecho. Amo que cuando llegaba al pueblo, siempre veía alguien quien conozco y amo y gritábamos ADIOS y sonreía porque sin duda, este es la mejor bienvenida que alguien puede recibir. Amo que siempre sabía que hay alguien con helados Pepas por el sonido de su flauta, que suene cada cuadra. Amo el sentido de compañerismo, de ser en mi hogar, cuando charlaba con la señora en la verdulería mientras ella juntaba todos mis verduras. Amo sentando en mi patio, tomando terere hasta la tardecita, mirando como crezca las sombras de los arboles, de todo.

Hoy, me siento como todo el mundo es un poco mas brillante. Como el cielo es un poco mas azul, la tierra un poco mas rojo, que mi risa sale de mi alma, sino solo mi boca. No hay razón exactamente. Solo que este lugar se hace así de vez en cuando. Algunos veces, este sentido brillante se deja de esconder detrás de las nubes o el calor, y te hace recordar que bendecida que eres, que suerte que tienes. Te hace recordar que Paraguay, que Arroyos, que Urunde`y de verdad, ha hecho por ti, y to has hecho por lo. Avy’aiterei. Estoy feliz. Estoy mas que agradecida. 

Bright

I am having one of those days. The ones that usually happen during the first few weeks of summer, when the sun on your skin is still a novelty and you let it wake you up because you’re so happy to see it. My alarm was set for 8 a.m. but I leapt out of bed at 6:30 and made coffee number one of the day. I ran to the river and watched it sparkle and came home and showered and didn’t even mind that doing laundry hurt my hands and sat on the porch with coffee number two and sighed as the fog burned off and made way for a perfectly golden morning . . .

I put on sunscreen and the smell of Hawaiian Tropic felt familiar. Like summers at Avila, like a week at camp, but also like fall and spring in Paraguay. I headed out on my bike with a sense of familiarity and comfort. I’ve been here before. This is old news. But that it’s old news is new news, and it feels so good. I stopped under a tree to remove a layer and let the sun say hello to bare shoulders for the first time in months, my threadbare flannel, third hand from my brother, a thrift store before, tied around my waist.

And I rode and I thought about all the things I love about this place. I love that my bike is my primary mode of transportation. I love that I’ve mastered now which parts of the road have the hardest packed dirt and least amount of rocks. I love that kids run alongside my bike thinking they can keep up. I love the slow-paced oxcarts dragging sugarcane from the chacra to the factories, and somehow I even love the smell of fermented sugarcane mixed with ox shit that covers town like a blanket during harvest season. I love that when I enter the pueblo I see at least one person I know and love and shout “Adios!” and smile because that is absolutely the best welcome you can receive. I love that you always know when there’s an ice cream man nearby because they each have the same penny whistle they sound off every block. I love the feeling of belonging that comes from making small talk with the woman at the veggie stand as she bags up my “usual” haul. I love sitting on the patio drinking terere late into the afternoon.

Today, I feel bright. The sky was a little bluer, the dirt a little redder, my laugh a little heartier. There’s no real reason, exactly. Just that this place does that to you every now and again. Every once in a while that bright feeling peeks its head out from behind the clouds or the blazing hot sun and reminds you how lucky you are, and how much this place is really for you.