At 143 days, my time in Paraguay has now exceeded my time in any other country outside the U.S.
In 2015, I studied abroad in Chile for 142 days. The extent to which my current experience differs from the one I had during that semester in Chile is astonishing sometimes. I was recently talking to a friend I met in Chile about how unique our time there was (in large part because we had no responsibilities, to be honest).
Besides two armed robberies and a few school assignments, my time in Chile was mostly a carefree adventure. We wandered art-filled streets, listened to live music, ate lots of ice cream, watched soccer games in rowdy bars, climbed things in high heels, ate live sea urchins we were given by some random men on a cliff, sat on sand dunes to watch the sun set over the ocean, danced in a geodesic dome after eating nothing but honey for dinner, and shared french fries at 3 in the morning on a street that still smelled like pepper spray. I lived in Casa de Colores – a house that was colorful because of both the funky murals on its walls and the diversity of its occupants. These 5 months in Chile also included a backpacking trip that is probably the highlight of my life so far: 10 days during which we plunged into glacial lakes, laughed hysterically in the middle of long hikes, jammed with a ukelele and harmonica, brushed our teeth while looking up at the Milky Way, and got really close to new friends (like 3-people-to-a-2-person-tent and 6-people-to-a-bathroom close).
Besides eating a lot of empanadas in both countries, I haven’t done much in Paraguay that compares to the adventures of Chile. The first 10 weeks here were spent in training with a full-time schedule Monday through Saturday. Then I got to my site, where I have relatively little structure to my weeks but a lot of boundaries set by cultural and professional expectations. I live on a long dirt road surrounded by farmland. There is little in the way of accessible art or nature. I help around the house, walk to town to do errands, and visit neighbors to drink tereré. I constantly assure my host mother that not finishing the mountain of food on my plate does not indicate a profound unhappiness.
Don’t get me wrong, this is how it is supposed to be. I’m not here for an adventure; I’m here primarily to form relationships, and it is a great place to do so. The people in my community are wonderful and that long dirt road is relatively scenic. I enjoyed organizing a summer camp recently. I am looking forward to working in the school to increase environmental awareness. I might also teach English, encourage people to compost, or plant trees. In a few weeks I will move into my own house and start a garden. I think I can have an impact here, and I know the people here will have an impact on me. I am happy enough of the time, and I get more happy here every week.
I’ve made a list of what gives me emotional energy (here and in general), and since one of the things that makes me happy is oversharing, I have included the list below. It’s pretty obvious stuff, but sometimes it’s nice to have the reminder for when something frustrating or unpleasant happens. Maybe making a list like this can also help those of you at home who are going through a difficult period. (I’m talking about our country being led by a fascist with the temperament of a two year old, a white supremacist who profits from lies, and a Congress full of corrupt cowards.)
Here’s my list:
– spending time with people who could become great friends or professional contacts
– feeling productive (stay tuned for a blog post about visiting 115 families in 5 days)
– reading often and a lot (I’m hoping to share my love of reading with people in my community. Paraguay has a high literacy rate but almost no reading culture.)
– getting mail (unfortunately it’s too expensive to regularly send mail from here)
– eating chocolate (usually from the packages I receive)
– sleeping at least 8 hours a night
– drinking plenty of water
-snuggling with my kitten
– staying active (bonus: when I work up enough of an appetite to finish my whole lunch, my host mom takes this as a sign it will rain the next day, and rain is a nice break from the heat and smell of burning trash.)
– telling myself that I am happy or am a happy person (This is probably dependent on a certain level of mental health as well as fortunate circumstances, but I really think happiness and unhappiness can be decisions.)