Sunday, November 13, 2011

Living the American Dream

The Río Paraná, from the front of our house.
Although a common mission runs throughout the Peace Corps, most posts operate a little differently from each other. In some countries, Peace Corps volunteers move into their own home the day they step foot in site. In other countries, volunteers live with host families for the entirety of their service. 

In Paraguay, volunteers live with a host family for training and then during their first three months in site. This gives the volunteer an automatic support network while they get acclimated to the community.  Some volunteers hop from one family to another in an effort to meet more people by staying with each for a few weeks. Other volunteers stay with the same family for six months, a year, and beyond.

In special circumstances, occasionally volunteers move into their own places sooner then others. For example, the other married couple in our G moved into their own place after only about a week in town. Among other issues, their host family’s pig kept getting into their luggage and leaving snout marks on their belongings.

After a mere five and a half years of marriage, Kevin and I have reached the American dream: a house in the suburbs. Granted, our suburb lies in southern Paraguay, but with four walls and a lawn it still counts.

From the moment we first starting talking about the Peace Corps, I knew that service would test me. I anticipated cold showers, bugs, and weird food. I expected the 5,000 miles separating me from my family and friends to make me ache. I assumed roosters would bother me while I tried to sleep. Peace Corps includes hardship in the deal. Never, though, in my many Peace Corps daydreams (or alternatively worst case scenario nightmares) did I expect to run into trouble finding a place to live.

In Paraguay, most children do not rush to leave the nest. Host families often do not understand why volunteers (single and married alike) desire independent accommodations. Here, multiple generations of the same family often live together under a shared roof. Getting married does not automatically mean a child will move out. More commonly, a spouse will move in. Most parents do not see their children as adults (and thus having the responsibilities of adults) until they reach their 30s- even if they have their own children. A lack of children (especially upon reaching 30) implies a lack of knowledge in all things domestic. Accordingly, if someone does not know how to take care of a house, they certainly do not need their own.

The delicate dance of finding our own home began with getting our host family on board. In this case, a little white lie did the trick. (The ubiquitous “Peace Corps makes us” also helps volunteers put up mosquito nets without offense and stay off of motorcycles.) Begrudgingly, our host mom accepted and we started the hunt. Naturally, she suggested the overpriced place directly across the street. Our contact, had leads on a few other places in different parts of town. Each one fell through at the last minute. (And the one that didn’t had no windows.)
Home, sweet home.
With every false lead, our contact would say “don’t worry, we’ve got plenty of time” and push my blood pressure up a few points. Finally, in true Paraguayan style, a nearly perfect option surfaced in the eleventh hour. Even our host mom, who announced throughout town that “Peace Corps is stupid and crazy” for forcing us to move out, approved.

We have shared living room and bedroom space, a modern bathroom, an over-sized covered patio, and an additional bedroom. Behind the house oranges, mangoes, grapefruits, orange limes, and grapes grow in the sprawling lawn. We even have two cats in the yard- although one struts around like a real jerk and the other apparently is in heat. (Developments on this to follow.)

We live about two kilometers from the main route, two blocks from the beach, and, not surprisingly, two houses down from our host family. To keep us from starving, our host mom visits daily and never empty handed. Slowly, she has started to believe that I know how to cook and clean after all. At about the same pace of acceptance, I have started looking forward to her visits.

Back in the saddle again.
Our backyard, cats unavailable for photo.
Who needs a medicine cabinet when you have a bidet?

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