Last Thursday we had a special visit from the head of our sector (Community Economic Development) Elisa, and our volunteer coordinator, Ben. They were in Yuty to check on how things were going and officially present us to our community. So two days prior Isaiah whipped up some invitations, printed them out at the local cyber cafe, and carefully cut them apart. (We’ve long since determined the king of careful, tedious tasks in our relationship so I happily get a free pass from joining activities such as cutting straight lines.)
Then one day prior to the big event we strolled around town hand delivering our invitations to people we know, places we’ve started working (or at least talking) as well as potential places we could work in the future.
I comment on the time frame of all this to draw attention to one of the big differences in American v. Paraguayan cultures. Back home you’d need to pass out invitations weeks before an event to get yourself squeezed into the busy schedules of all. The me from back home would have been a bit taken back, even annoyed to receive notification only a day before. “As if I can just drop everything on a dime…” I would have thought.
Here in Paraguay to invite someone weeks in advance guarantees the majority will forget all about it or expect that it’s cancelled lest they’ve received a reminder or update closer to the event. The ideas of long-term versus short-term are very different between these two countries and I’m just starting to figure that out and work with the system in which we find ourselves.
For example I’ll send out a text to the soup kitchen committee the morning of a meeting and lo and behold, people show up! If you knew me before you can imagine this is a stretch for me. I like to plan and schedule and know what to expect. And no one is more surprised than I when I admit (not too loudly lest my traditionally procrastinating husband should hear) that I’m really liking this change. I’m rolling with it and it has been relaxed and even fun. I’m learning to trust that things do get accomplished even if at the last minute.
Sometimes I wonder what will come of me when I return to the States in two years if I let myself get too comfortable with this tranquilo, laid back lifestyle. Will I annoy my friends with last minute plans? But for now I think it best to dive in and swim around like a true Paraguayan.
But back to our presentation. We all gathered into the municipal library where Elisa explained a bit about what Peace Corps is. Then Ben spoke on the four pillars of our sector (family finance, entrepreneurship, information technology, civic participation) and different project ideas that we could do with our community. This part really got people thinking as there were a lot of ideas flying around afterwards – nice!
And the last section of the presentation was done by Isaiah and I where we talked about our old jobs and work experience, the types of projects we’re each most interested in here, and told more about ourselves with the help of a little picture slide show. We kept it short and sweet partly because we had made delicious treats to share with those who attended and partly because I was a bit nervous to speak in Spanish and Isaiah was a bit nervous to speak in public.
Thankfully it went very smoothly! The local TV station even aired bits of it. I’ve been handing out my autograph for days now (just kidding!). And it was fun to chat with Elisa and Ben while they were in town. Not to mention the goodies they brought us – oatmeal, peanut butter!, and our brand spanking new bikes! And equally exciting, the basil seeds from our mail box in the Peace Corps office. (Thanks to whoever dropped those off for us!)
Now that we’re officially presented, the town is clearer on what we’re doing here and I am too. It feels like one more big step toward community integration, last minute preparations and all.