Friday, December 16, 2011

The Fourth Goal

In an effort to support one of our favorite Peace Corps Paraguay extra-circulars, this past weekend Kevin and I once again traveled the length of Ruta 1 back to Asuncion.

Ahendu Paraguay (Guarani for "I hear Paraguay”) takes place three times a year and features solo and group performances from Peace Corps Paraguay volunteers, KOICA volunteers (Korea International Cooperation Agency, aka the Korean Peace Corps), and Paraguayans.  Musicians and music appreciators alike gather for an evening to connect through song and a few drinks.

KOICA volunteers warm up.

The dancing starts when the sun goes down.
Not every participant in Ahendu played an instrument before arriving in Paraguay.  Transitioning from our overbooked and overstimulated lives in the States to a country where during the summer months no one leaves their home between 11am and 4pm and in the winter small towns roll up their metaphorical sidewalks before 5:30pm, leaves many volunteers, well, bored.

To clarify, signing up for Peace Corps means agreeing to work seven days a week, twenty-four hours a day.  This does not mean that we do round-the-clock traditional “work”, constantly running charlas or youth groups.  Rather, we spend our days on display.  Integrating into a new culture drains you.  Even those who already speak the language still need to adjust to different foods, climate, lifestyle, living away from friends and family, and near complete loss of privacy.  (Our neighbor has even gone so far as to report what we prepare for dinner back to our host family.)  We try to fill our days supporting our communities in meeting their training needs (Peace Corps goal one) and exhausting opportunities for cross-cultural exchange- educating Paraguayans about the US and vice versa (Peace Corps goals two and three), but we always have time left over.  Many volunteers crave projects to fill this time and decompress from the pressures of the day.  As such, fourth goals start to emerge.  Long stressful days without typical American distractions encourage- nay, require- hobbies. 

Some volunteers get pets during their service, others become exercise fanatics.  Almost everyone reads.  Even Kevin, who hasn’t picked up a book in years, has already finished eleven novels- including a Steinbeck.  I spend the hotter-than-the-surface-of-the-sun afternoons perfecting my Paraguayan finger wag.  (More on this later.)  I also spend some time working in CS4.  (Who would think that moving to a third world developing nation would actually improve my technology skills- even if everyone else has moved on to CS5.)  Kevin spends much of his unscheduled time working chords and scales on his classical guitar- of course manufactured in Luque, the center of Paraguayan guitar making.

Perhaps more than other Peace Corps posts, Paraguay creates musicians.  A lucky side effect of isolationism, this country has a strong and unique craft heritage.  Paraguayan folk music sounds as distinctive as ao’poi looks.  Some of the greats make Lindsey Buckingham seem like a hack.  Although many people associate this tradition with the harp, Paraguayan parties do not start without a guitar.  Whether polka or reggaeton, every party I’ve attended thus far starts when the music does.

On one of our first nights in country, our host mother invited a decent portion of the extended family over to meet us.  We could barely speak the language and felt so tired from training that we could hardly keep our eyes open, but we stayed up with the family for hours.  Upon hearing that Kevin played, our brother-in-law near instantaneously produced a guitar.  Kevin fooled around for a few moments until our sister suggested she preform a little something.  Next thing we knew, the room divided into two part harmony and the most beautiful music filled the air.  Guarani has a melodious quality when spoken that naturally translates into song.  That night Kevin set his sights on learning a ballad in the indigenous language of this land.  I’ve set my sights on understanding it- michimi.

Country Director Don Clark takes the stage for early arrivals.

No comments:

Post a Comment