In the past year of living in Paraguay I’ve come to appreciate many of the reasons Paraguayans do what they do. Like never being too busy to stop, chat and invite you to some ice cold tereré in the bloody hot weeks of summer or a thermos of hot mate in the frigidly cold days of winter. The communal act of slowly drinking from the cup when it is your turn is a tradition I’ve come to love. Whether it is with strangers on the bus, the neighbor down the road or just Isaiah and I at home, it brings pause to the day and connects us to one another.
Then there are other ways of doing things that I still don’t love but have pretty much accepted like nothing actually starting at the stated time. While it can be confusing to me when to realistically arrive for an event, I appreciate the non-rushed, non-stressed-out mood of the country. You’re not going to hear huffs and puffs or threats of lawsuits if a bus driver stops along route for an indefinite period of time for bite to eat at a little comedor. Heck, maybe I was ready for a snack too.
But what can I do with those aspects of my life here in Paraguay that I can not find value or appreciation in. Like cars and motos making the tightest left turn you’ve ever seen, actually passing along my right-hand side when I’m waiting on my bike at the cross street. It’s confusing and dangerous and I know that’s not how Driver’s Ed Fred taught us!
Or when it seems to me that much of the education is going through the motions to check the boxes and call it done. Like not minding if the 4-hour school day gets cut down based on starting late and enjoying some long breaks in the middle. Or when too many of the tests are like those in my 7th grade shop class where a few days before test day he’d read the question, then the answer and have us copy them down. And sure enough, there were the exact same questions in the same order on test day.
So when Isaiah and I would introduce a new concept in our entrepreneurship class we’d not only explain it but interact with it and make sure it was relevant to our students’ lives. After a check-for-learning activity that showed each student understanding the concept, it was like nails on a chalkboard to have one of them raise their hand to ask for the definition of that concept to be read. We’d respond that they already proved they understand what it is, so to write their notes in their own words. Although most of them did it eventually, boy was it a new concept.
And that’s just it. A new concept. These neighbors of mine didn’t have Driver’s Ed Fred to teach them the rules of the road. In fact, there aren’t those same rules of the road here so I’m getting frustrated at them not following road rules from some foreign country. Now who looks silly?
They probably figure the tight left turn is the shortest distance between two points, or are being polite to not cross in front of me and my bicycle making me wait unnecessarily. It’s probably true they’re trying to stay out of my way. My heart begins to thaw when I look at things from another’s perspective or give them the benefit of the doubt.
And if their teachers have always graded them based on whether or not they knew the word-for-word definition of a concept, who’s to blame them for wanting to have the real thing in their notebooks? They know what they know and I know what I know. And the longer I live here the more obvious it is that people aren’t born with knowledge of all these things we call “common sense”. Those are things we were taught. Taught by our families, school, books, TV and through every different environment we’ve ever been in.
It is a balancing act to know when my role as volunteer in Paraguay means gently nudging toward a new way of doing something and when it means accepting things just how they are. But whatever I choose, it’s best entered with a thawed heart of looking through the lenses of the other and taking the time to understand. In doing so, I can feel my own lenses adapting and changing. Just like me.