Thursday, August 18, 2011

The same, but oh so very different

Some people say that a magic age exists when- as part of the process ushering us into fully fledged adulthood- we learn to accept our quirks as parts of our whole.  Somehow, we start to identify ourselves by the very same characteristics that tortured our teenage years.  Little by little, this happens to us all.  Now, I may have yet to celebrate my chin, but I know for certain that the next time I trip and fall, I will not feel embarrassed.  Why?  I fall down a lot.  Always have, always will.  I don’t remember my age when I first started to embrace my clumsiness, but I certainly own it now.  I’ve tried paying closer attention, I’ve tried focusing, I limit physical multi-tasking.  Nothing makes a difference.

The other morning, my true self emerged once again when I slipped in the shower.  Upon realizing that I managed something a little more serious than bruise, the PC Medical Officer sent me to see a doctor in a nearby large city.  Although relieved to avoid the six hour bus ride to Asuncion to meet directly with PC medical team, venturing into Encarnacion seeking medical treatment would truly test my wobbly Spanish.  Luckily, PC takes medical very seriously and one of the PC doctors held my hand via cell phone basically the entire time.

Medical standards in Paraguay are right on par with those in the US.  Doctors receive nearly identical training and follow similar treatment methods.  However, some things just work differently.  For example, before I could see a doctor in the emergency room, I had to prove I could afford medical care- and no one accepts American Express.  (Special thanks to the PCMO for handling that bear!)  After convincing the woman at the desk that the hospital would indeed get paid if I saw a doctor, someone finally brought me over to wait for the orthopedic guy. 

Here’s another difference, I didn’t see much in the way of patient codling during my time in the hospital.  For example, I entered the facility barely able to stand and the receptionist walked me over to the doctor’s office.  As in I walked too.  After a short wait, the doctor examined my foot and sent me- again to walk- over for x-rays.  After radiology, I walked back over to the doctor’s office to wait for his evaluation.  As it turns out rather than break my foot, I managed to tear a ligament in my heel.  This requires a cast and fifteen days rest.  He explains this to me, confers (via cell) with the PCMO, and then she repeats his diagnosis back to me- using the strictest of tones, she stresses that I may not put any weight on my foot for the next two weeks.  The PCMO and I hang up, and the doctor WALKS me to room where I’ll get my cast.  Classic.

Fresh out of crutches at the hospital, Kevin goes over to the pharmacy around the corner while I wait for my cast.  Of course, they don’t have any.  So he tries another pharmacy, then another.  The 3rd largest city in Paraguay has evidently run out of crutches.  Someone suggests that he check Posadas.  No, Posadas is not the Paraguayan Walmart.  It’s a large city just over the Argentine border.  Now, crossing international borders without prior approval from our Country Director is a big no-no to begin with, but chances are that if Kevin right now crossed into Argentina he wouldn’t be able to re-enter Paraguay.  Paraguay makes visas tricky for Americans and currently our passports are in the capital waiting for visa extensions.  With no other reasonable options, Kevin and the orthopedic specialty pharmacy (they were out of crutches too) decide to order a set from Asuncion.  They will arrive the following day.  Annoying, but done.

Meanwhile, back at the hospital, things start emptying out and I find myself alone in triage.  In Paraguay, businesses in the interior often close for siesta.  But a hospital in a major city?  Yes, evidently they shut down too.  With the now abandoned hospital starting to look like an opening scene of a zombie movie, my doctor, clearly ready for his nap, and an orderly then proceed to slap this half hard, half mesh sloppy cast on my leg.  Part of it is held together with plaster, half is held together by tape.  And did I mention no effort was made to clean my leg or stinky foot first.  Nary a single alcohol swab in sight.  Once the cast set, my doctor reminds me to stay off the foot and sends me on my way.  Once again, walking.  Oh, and as I hobbled out of the hospital, someone finally offered me a wheelchair.

The following day, Kevin returned to the pharmacy where the woman at the counter informs him that the crutches would arrive “enseguida”.  One of the most hateful phrases in the Spanish language, enseguida could actually mean “in a second” or in Kevin’s case (and more commonly), 90 minutes.  When the crutches do arrive, the clerk tells him the great news- they obtained a higher quality set.  What does higher quality mean this time?  Bigger- the crutches are designed for someone minimum 5”10’.  Even with the metric system, my 5”5’ falls a wee bit short of this mark.  Accepting defeat, and realizing that this is the best Paraguay has to offer in this situation, Kevin returns home with the tall man’s crutches.  While on the way, the wind picks up and thunder starts to rumble.  As he steps off the bus, rain begins to fall progressively harder as he walks the 2 kilometers back.  As soon as he arrives at our door, the rain stops.

I suppose the good thing about the questionable cast and bad crutches, is that they actually force me to keep doctor’s orders.  Since I can only last about 100 feet on them before requiring a long break, I spend most of my time confined to bed- the one covered in cast dandruff, with my leg gently raised.

Go ahead, call me a klutz.  It’s who I am.  At least in Paraguay it’s funny.

Note to self: If already laying on the shower floor, go ahead and shave legs.

The Square G

With Mama Tuti at Swear-In
Along the banks of the Rio Parana
Settling in at our new site
G: Refers to training class.  Training groups are identified by the first letter in the name of the training facility followed by their successive number.  (Training facilities move every handful of years.)  Kevin and I belong to G-36.
Moving-in Allowance: New volunteers receive a small stipend to assist with the associated costs of moving to site and settling in.  Although some move into furnished houses, more often volunteers need to purchase basic home necessities, e.g. mattress, refrigerator. 
Swear-In: During PC service, one does not become an official volunteer until completing three months of training and taking an oath.  The formal ceremony includes PC staff, local government officials, and wonderful cake. 
Swear-In Weekend: Post swear-in, volunteers have a few free days before they move to their new sites.  Most volunteers use this time to relax, spend time with G-mates, and purchase last minute basics while in the capital.

Well, at this point we can not deny it any longer.  Really, though, we never stood a chance.  If swear-in weekend defines us, we truly are the square G.  Some Gs drink away their entire moving-in allowances during swear-in weekend.  Other Gs get banned from certain hotels.  Some even spend the weekend fighting.  We, on the other hand, spent the weekend in bed.  And no, not in any infamous sort of way.  Our entire G has picked up a nasty cold.

Not that any of us expected the type of antics that turn into legend.  Generally, we keep things pretty tranquilo.  No one drinks too much (PVCs are at extremely high risk for alcohol abuse during service) and somehow everyone gets along.  Still, though, I doubt anyone expected an incident free weekend.  At least we have the next two years to gather stories of mythic stock. 

For now, we have all scattered throughout Paraguay to carve out homes and adopted families in new locales.  I will miss you, G-36.  You are all in my heart as we start this new adventure together.  And if we need to get any closer, we’re just a text away.  I’ll see you in three months.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

A nation watches with baited breath...

This week, a wave of sadness washed over Ita.  Hometown hero and all around super nice chick, Claudia, lost in the final round.  Although she rocked the obstacles and ate raw cow liver while 20 or so mice crawled over her head like a pro, nasty Fabisol cleaned the floor with her during the talent round.  In the end, it did not matter that Fabisol had so many penalties during the physical contest that she disqualified before completing the course.  She just sings better than Claudia dances.

Confused?  Welcome to Yingo- Paraguay’s favorite prime time reality game show.

This show somehow combines American Gladiator, Fear Factor, American Idol, So You Think You Can Dance, Jersey Shore, and then adds in the interpersonal drama between contestants that comes from extended elimination shows.  The difference?  No one here can really sing or dance and levels of physical fitness vary greatly.  Oh, and because this hit show aires in Paraguay, all the obstacle courses involve fire.  To make things even weirder, between actual commercial breaks, contestants awkwardly dance while holding candy, cellphones, or maxi pads.

In the episode leading up to the finale, the women (men and women compete separately) started with a fairly long obstacle course (the top finisher clocked in at around five minutes, last place quit before completing between nine and ten minutes).  Yingo broadcasts the entire, painful challenge, plus banter.  Next, came the talent portion (also sometimes painful), followed by the psyche out.  Each contestant had her head locked in a clear box filled with mice.  In order to break out, she had to test keys laid out to her left.  Each time she chose an incorrect key, the host fed her a large spoonful of raw cow liver.  Previous episodes involved women shaving their heads and someone having to tell their parents about a secret marriage and subsequent divorce.  (Full disclosure, I did not see this episode and found the retelling especially confusing.  I do not know whether to attribute this to my language skills or the strangeness of this show.)

The Jersey Shore comes into play when considering the fashion choices made for contestants.  Picture the douchiest possible dude you can imagine.  Next, make all his dance moves thrusts.  Women do not fare much better.  For example, for the obstacle course, the ladies donned long sleeve turtle necks and thongs.  Some of the thongs started as shorts, only to become thongs upon leaping through the rings of fire.  Totally practical.

Now, Yingo’s incredible popularity in this town probably has something to do with raising one of the final contestants.  Still, as far as ratings go, Yingo tops the charts.  Contestants do crazy stunts and air all their personal business.  My host sister tells me that I shouldn’t feel too bad for Claudia (did I mention she supports her four younger siblings because her mother neither hears nor speaks and her father disappeared years ago?) because more likely than not she’ll get lots of money making opportunities, even as the runner up.  What these opportunities include, however, I didn’t dare ask.

Either way, when this show starts again next season, surely the writers will find even more bizarre challenges to keep the nation on the edge of its seat.  Cheers.