Wednesday, November 28, 2012

things to be thankful for

Near the beginning of November, I saw several of my facebook friends posting reasons they were thankful, or posting something they were thankful for every day.  The idea stuck with me and I couldn’t shake it.  One persistent thought was that when people are asked what they are thankful for, they usually immediately think of friends and family.  Those are nothing to be scoffed at, and that I am thankful for my friends and family goes without saying.  I couldn’t help thinking though, about the simple things in life that I am thankful for, things that I encounter daily or what make me who I am.  A mental list started growing and continued expanding until I wondered if I could think of 100 things for which I am thankful.  It started getting difficult towards the end of the list because I didn’t want to just start naming off everything that I own or naming things that make me happy.  I thought individually and intentionally about each thing on my list.  Some of them are simple and others complex ideas; some of them are silly and some of them are serious; some I think about every day and others I often forget.  They are not numbered, but there are 100.  I promise.

I am thankful for:
My dog and her abounding energy
That my dog stayed alive to two years in the Paraguayan campo
My thirst for knowledge
How the first sip of coffee in the morning always is amazing
Hot showers
The privileges that come with my United States Passport
The education I have received
My mother never yelling at me for the perpetual holes in my jeans
The freedoms that come from being a woman in the 21st century
Luxurious hours spent reading good books
The quiet and peace of early mornings
When I can see the sky full of stars
The fact that I grew up near the Pacific Ocean
The profundity of silence
My mother never expecting me to be anyone but myself
Growing up an athlete
Doctors who have kept me healthy and many times saved my life
The clear mind I get from a good walk or run
Contagious laughter
When I cook a good meal and am able to share it with someone
Dark chocolate
Pictures that become memories of my past
The lingering smell of campfires
The women I have worked with who have taught me how to listen and be patient
Large cups of tea
The sound of the ocean
My computer
My ability to laugh at myself
(in my Aunt Lissa’s words) Successful bowel movements
Knowing more than one language
The English grammar that was drilled into my head growing up
The beautiful innocence of children
Terere on hot, humid days
Wine and cheese nights with my family
Warm jackets
The magic I still feel on Christmas morning
My mother forcing me to learn to play the piano
Growing up with cousins
The awe I feel when I’m on top of a mountain
When I can justify buying new socks
Afternoon naps
Public transportation
Mexican food
Never truly going hungry
The fresh smell that is present after the rain
Being able to see growth in myself
Easy access to fruits and vegetables
My Ipod
Having a kitchen furnished with dishes and utensils
My “large” New York apartment
The opportunity to live in New York
My experiences in Paraguay
The diverse landscape of the United States
Holidays which give reason to get together with friends and family
Living in a relatively stable society
The ability to see
Bright colors
Good roads
People in my life who make me laugh
Access to clean water
Not needing to make a fire everyday to cook my meals
Insulated walls
Mate in the winter
The invention of sliced bread
Having a warm place to sleep at night
My dog always being happy to see me when I come home
The right to vote
People who understand me
My earring collection
Being allowed to wear pants
The way that the smells of homemade food waft through the house
Frozen yogurt
Feeling safe when I sleep at night
Washing machines
Indoor plumbing
Memories of camping trips
Good dental health
The ability to express myself

While maybe it goes without saying that I am thankful for my family, that often goes unsaid.  My family and the idea of family are sacred to me and I can’t bring myself to just add people that I love to a list.  Instead of listing my sisters, my mom, and my cousin who is like a sister to me, as people I am thankful for, I find it appropriate to list reasons why I am thankful for each one of them.  Because they are what are most precious to me, I think it right to leave these reasons at the end.

Jody’s joy for the simple and natural life
Chelsea’s drive to continue, even when she doesn’t understand
Dani’s brilliant, satirical wit
Tessa’s stunning brilliance and beauty
My mother’s compassion and ability to see 

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

What I like about New York

Since moving to New York, I’ve had quite a number of people ask me about New York and my life here.  What’s it like?  Do you like it?  (As if everyone either loves New York or hates it… but mostly loves it.)    I’ve wanted to write about it, but had a persisting writer’s block.  I think part of that had to do with my involvement in classes, but part of that was because I was still trying to figure it out myself.  How am I supposed to really know if I like a place when I’ve only been here a month, two months, even 3 months?  That’s not enough time for me to fall in love with a place or decidedly dislike it, especially when I have had little to no time to explore it and understand it.  I think there is this expectation from some people that I will adapt and become a “New Yorker.”  I’m not sure what that’s really supposed to mean, because I think it means different things for the people that live here.
When people think of New York, many people think of the Statue of Liberty, Wall Street, Times Square, the World Trade Center, Central Park, the Empire State Building, or things like that.  So here’s an interesting fact: the Statue of Liberty is actually not part of New York City; it’s owned by the state of New Jersey.  Wall Street is just another stop on the train and where I go every Monday for student seminars.  On a whole, not that impressive unless you’re talking about the amount of money people probably spend on those suits.  I believe that most “New Yorkers” stay away from Times Square as much as they possibly can.  I admit, it looks impressive when it’s all lit up at night, but it’s good for a snapshot and that’s all.  After that, the tourists start getting in the way and it’s like rush hour on the 405 freeway in Los Angeles; you have to swerve to get around people.  I see the tip of the Empire State Building frequently when I’m downtown at night and it is quite pretty, but at the end of the day, it’s just another skyscraper with a famous name.  
To me, New York is so much more than that.  It’s not just about these buildings or monuments.  It’s about the people and the diversity that are the fabric of the city.  You can travel to different parts of the city, like the South Bronx, or Washington Heights, Harlem, Sunnyside Queens, Chinatown, or downtown Brooklyn, and find wildly different people and scenery.  The South Bronx is one of the poorest areas in the nation and predominately black.  I’ve accidentally jumped on the D train headed for the Bronx, not only to realize that I was on the wrong train, but that I was the only white person on the train.  The area I live in, Washington Heights, is predominately Dominican and most people here speak Spanish.  Sunnyside, Queens is home to the only Paraguayan restaurant in New York (and possibly the only one outside of Paraguay) and it has more of a suburban feel to it.  Chinatown is this strange area very close to Wall Street, but still filled with middle-class to poor people, many of whom don’t speak English.  In Brooklyn, the top five languages spoken other than English are Spanish, Russian, Chinese, French, and Yiddish; Creole is in the top ten.  Yiddish and Creole aren’t even among the world’s most spoken languages, but they are in Brooklyn.
One of the funny things about New York is that it’s an existing, perpetual oxymoron.  It’s one of the few places in the world where you can find such vast diversity, but most of these diverse groups stay segregated from one another.  In one city, you have one of the biggest financial centers of the world and some of the poorest people in the country.  Many of the country’s most renowned institutions and intellectuals and fashion gurus claim this city as their home.  I have also seen people begging in the street and trains and people yelling about incoherent life problems to unwilling but captive audience in subway cars; I’ve seen people dancing on subway platforms as if no one was watching, and women screaming at each other because someone touched someone else but wouldn’t move over.  I’ve been pushed because my bag was “too close” to someone’s face and shared a laugh with complete strangers over something random that no one else saw. 
I am consistently in awe at this city and how it exists with all of its contradictory places and people.  There are so many beautiful things here, including the many famous skyscrapers and monuments… even if some of them really belong to New Jersey.  There are also some not so pretty parts of humanity that simultaneously exist, even if they are just a few blocks away.  And there are these confusing parts that aren’t necessarily pretty and aren’t necessarily ugly, but they exist nonetheless. It’s this beautiful, contradictory, and sometimes tragic mosaic that is pulsating and always moving, even after tragedies like Hurricane Sandy. When it comes down to it, I think that’s what I like about New York.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

don't forget to breath

Assess.  Prioritize.  Readapt.  And don’t forget to breath.  This has been somewhat of a mantra for me the past several months.  But mostly just the breathing part.

I flew from Paraguay to LA in the beginning of April and burst into tears went I saw the ugly urban sprawl that is Los Angeles.  I had forgotten what it looked like and it terrified me.  I soon found myself in a steady and comfortable rhythm working at a gear shop and spent most of my free time doing things that I had enjoyed in Paraguay like cooking and reading.  I initiated a wine and cheese night once a week at my house with my family and traveled to Orange County, Colorado, and the Eastern Sierras.  That now seems like a long lost dream to me, a time of much needed rest and peace.

For whatever crazy reasons my mom and I decided to do this, at the end of the summer we packed most of my belongings in a rented car and drove from LA to New York.  Thus began the hardships in my life once again.  I have always loved the idea of road trips and dreamed of traveling cross-country on a motorcycle ever since my mom began telling me stories of how she did that in the 70’s.  Comparatively, road tripping in a car is easy.  I fed my mom snacks, looked up directions on a map (because I have no smart phone), changed the music, told stories and asked questions.  But sitting in a car for 8 plus hours a day gets uncomfortable and sleeping in a different place every night is not conducive to getting a good night’s rest.  We were spending time with family along the way though, seeing different parts of the United States, and largely enjoying ourselves, so the discomforts we had to bear seemed minor because they were temporary. 

But really, they were temporary for my mom and not for me.  After a week of driving around and seeing cousins and aunts and uncle, we drove into Manhattan.  Literally the first thing I did after getting out of the car and greeting my roommate was to leave my mom with the car to go check out a couple of potential apartments.  Thus ensued the craziness.  My mom left the next morning and I moved all of my baggage into a friends’ two-bedroom apartment where five of us (three of us looking for another place to live) would stay for over a week.  If I didn’t have pictures to prove we fit four people’s lives into one bedroom minus a bag or two, I wouldn’t really believe it actually happened.  We rotated sleeping on the bed, the couch and the floor.  Two of us started a weeklong orientation a couple of days later and we all continued the apartment search.  It really was as crazy as it sounds and some mornings we actually filed in and out of the bathroom as it was available.  Miraculously, I think it bonded those of us who didn’t know each other before and somehow we all enjoyed it.  I think.

My roommate and I found an apartment relatively quickly and handed over all of our money from loans for a security deposit and first and last months rent.  It’s not worth explaining what we went through to get the place, but I’ll just say we dealt with a broker that I would rather not see again.  Although we gave documentation that looked like Word doc or web printout supposedly proving that we were accepted into universities and borrowing exorbitant amounts of money to attend school and pay for personal expenses, he was far more technical on things like our W2’s which proved jointly we made less than 6 months rent over the course of two years.  Nonetheless, we moved in on Saturday and started searching Craigslist like mad.  By Tuesday we had a fully furnished apartment, had been all over Manhattan to pick it up, talked in Spanish to taxi drivers to get discounts, carried a table and chairs on the subway, carried everything up five flights of stairs to our apartment and I’m pretty sure sweated literal gallons with 90% humidity.  By then I was exhausted and sore all over from sleeping on the floor and lifting furniture. 

The next day I started classes and was assigned (after already completing reading before the first day of class) more reading than is humanly possible to get through in one week.  I also had a community project, an advising assignment, and four syllabi packed with more information and more reading and more assignments to be doled out over the course of the semester as my professors see fit, I believe with the intention of disrupting my sanity and furthering my education in that order.  Because a full load of classes isn’t enough, I also have twenty-one hours of internship a week that I started this last Monday.  This internship also started me off with training, information, forms to keep tabs on, reports to write up, training and meetings every week throughout the semester, and, oh yes, the clients.  After a day and a half largely filled with informational meetings, tours of the Manhattan and Brooklyn offices, and introductions to far more faces than I could possibly remember or could possibly interact with over the next year, I had a one-on-one meeting with my supervisor.  When she asked me if I had any questions, I just looked at her blankly.  I don’t even remember what I said, but I think it might have included “information overload,” “hands on learner,” and “questions later.”

Today after calling the Columbia doctors to get refills on prescriptions, I found out that my time is far less flexible than theirs because I repeatedly responded with, “No, I’m in Brooklyn that day,” or “I have class at that time” and resolved the problem with deciding to leave a class early to get to an appointment.  I started wondering, “How in the world did this happen and what am I doing?” 

I won’t even begin to talk about the kinds of transitions that I have been through the last couple of years but clearly I have been through many.  Some of them have been gradual and some of them have been rather harsh.  I’ve learned to take a step back when I get thrown into life changes and adapt as necessary.  Sometimes though I forget about taking the step back or get so lost in my reading assignments and looking for apartments that I can’t figure out how to prioritize or adjust.  There is a song I like by Alexi Murdoch that says, “keep your head above water.  And don’t forget to breath.”  That is how I think sometimes when I feel as if I’m losing my grip on reality.  I’ll forget about that whole prioritize, reassess and adjust process but as long as I don’t forget to breath, I’ll be alright.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

when you trade one life for another

I can’t tell you when it happened or how, but it happened through a string of events that took place over the last 26 months. Paraguay became my home. There were many phases: I was enamored with the place and the people, I hated everyone and everything, and finally I came to appreciate the country and the people for what they were, good and bad. Here I am with only 3 weeks left in country, trying to figure out how to pack up and say goodbye to what has been my life for the last two years. Even as I write this, I struggle with what to say and what to leave out because there is so much to tell, so much that has happened, so many events that have made me who I am today. I have already started packing and cleaning out my house, sorting out what things to give away to other volunteers, what to give to my family, and what to leave for my follow-up. I have few material possessions that mean a lot to me, but I am leaving behind the things that mean the most and have been vital to my survival here.
When I started my women’s commission, it was painful dragging them through the meetings and making them participate, but at my last meeting, they conducted the entire meeting and made all the decisions, including when and where my pig would be killed for my despedida. Many of those women have overinflated ideas of what I am capable of, but I appreciate their faith in me nonetheless. I can not imagine a job more fulfilling than watching their progress these last two years. I will soon be trading these commission meetings on tajy benches under my mango tree for classes at Columbia’s School of Social Work in New York City. I don’t think I can speak full sentences in English without reverting to Spanish and Guarani phrases, much less write papers at a masters level. Rather than passing around a terere guampa with señoras, I will be passing around notes and ideas with my classmates.
Upon arrival in Paraguay, I got teased because I complained about the food more than everyone and would refuse to eat the greasy tortillas and dry mandioca. Now if I eat with Paraguayans, I prefer to eat with mandioca and my family makes fun of me when we make chipa guazu because I will eat as much of it as I can get my hands on. If we make tortillas, I ask to put cheese in it because they are absolutely delicious that way. I buy chipa all the time when I’m on the bus and there are very few days that go by without me drinking mate at least once. Terere is a must. I realize I am returning to the land of coffee shops, endless peanut butter, a variety of vegetables, good hummus, pickles, and cheddar cheese, but I will never again be able to gobble down half an asadera of chipa guazu, eating until my stomach hurts. Nor will Claudia ever send me home again with more chipa that I could possibly eat in a week. Also, the idea of having the amount of choices offered in grocery stores just plain intimidates me.
I have come to love and appreciate the outdoors in a way I never knew. I rarely eat inside and want fresh air if I am indoors for more than a couple of hours. I can name all the trees in my backyard and tell you which ones are used for remedios in mate and terere and will sometimes pick plants from the street to smash up later for my terere. I love listening to the rain and the thunder and am fairly good at predicting whether it will rain or not depending on the clouds and the air. I can also usually tell you about what time it is by looking at the placement of the sun in the sky. I am leaving a tropical environment full of trees for the semi-desert of California and the skyscrapers of New York. How I have missed the ocean! But I can’t begin to put into words the aching of my heart for the red dirt and the trees and the indescribable sunrises and sunsets of this place. I wonder how I can give up my wooden house for an apartment and trade my trees for taxis.
I remember the awkward feeling I used to have sometimes just walking down the street, or sitting with people because life here was not normal yet. I don’t know if the awkwardness is still there or if I just don’t notice it anymore because people look at me as one of their own. People have told me that I am an important member of the community, someone that is like family to everyone, and a Paraguayita. While visiting my friends and families, strangers who pass by will ask if I am a daughter, a cousin, etc. because I talk and act like them. My friend Aquilina has referred to me as a granddaughter, my friend Claudia has called me her daughter, and my closest and dearest host family always tells me that I am another member of their family. Even though I live by myself, I will often spend the entire day with my family, showing up for breakfast and leaving at bedtime. I sometimes spend the night and have shared beds with all of my siblings. My sister tells me her secrets and my little brother likes to see how much he can tease me before I yell at him. How do I even begin to say goodbye to that?
It’s not that I don’t miss my family in the states and it’s not that I don’t want to see them, it’s just that I still don’t know how to leave behind this life I have built for myself and transition into another. I will live within easier access to my family, with cheaper phone calls, and better internet, but I will live across the country and a three hour time difference, the same time difference there is currently between California and Paraguay. I am not “coming home” in the way that many people think I am. I am leaving a home I have created here and am going to create another one. It’s not even truly fair to say I am trading this life in Paraguay for one in New York because I will always keep a little bit of Paraguay in my heart just like I will always have roots in Southern California where I grew up and the sun always shines. I will perhaps one day allow the New York skyscrapers to take a place in my heart next to the Californian ocean and the Paraguayan trees.

Monday, January 16, 2012

even more fotos

check out recent photos of my trip to uruguay, my commission and their fogons, and other stuff around my community.

Monday, December 12, 2011

school library

My mother, being the wonderful person that she is, asked me what I wanted for christmas this year a few months ahead of time so that she could send me a package that would arrive before december 25. I directed her to my blog page where I had put a little blub on the the side saying that I didn't want anything more for me because of my limited time, but if people felt so inclined, they should send me books. She went out right away and bought me a stack of books in Spanish and got my grandma in on the project. Within a couple of months, I had a box of wonderful books sitting in my house here in Paraguay. A couple of days later, my neighbors came over to play with my camera and I asked them if they liked to read. I got a resounding "yes!" from each one of them. I dragged out my box of brand new books and they went at it, grabbing books left and right, claiming their favorite ones.

I had to explain several times that these books were not for giving away but for starting a library at the school. But because I had them at my house and it is currently summer, they were more than welcome to come over every day to read. Despite the fact that I was running on 3 hours of sleep, had just got home, and all I wanted was to eat something and sleep, we stayed on my porch for about an hour reading. They even called in another kid walking down the street and demanded that she join in the fun. Araceli and Elias took me quite literally when I said they could come over every day to read and not only showed up the following morning, then waited for me all day and came back at 8pm that same night. Araceli has claimed "Donde Estara Spot?" as her own and says that we have to read it every day. I brought out my construction paper and pencils and they have started copying pictures out of Curious George. I could not be more happy about the immediate success of this project and am excited to pass off an already functioning project to the next volunteer.

I also, as I said in that little blub on the side, would appreciate any donations. Books are difficult to get and expensive here in Paraguay. I have high goals of furnishing the school library with children's stories, maps, technical resources, encyclopedias, etc., before I leave. I am turning in grants in Asuncion to organizations that donate books but am still looking for extra help from the United States. If you would like to help out a rural Paraguayan school and it's children, help children learn to read and develop a love for books, I would love it if you could help me. You can send me books through snail mail or you can send me a money order through Western Union and I can buy books here that are printed in Argentina and Spain that are unavailable in the United States. Words cannot express the gratitude I have for my mom and grandma who have already helped me. If you would like to see pictures of my neighbors reading or other pictures of me in my community, please check out my previous blog post and look at my pictures on photobucket. Please contact me if you are interested or want more information.

For those of you who are interested in looking for books, here is a list of books that I already have. I will accept books that I already have but would prefer to have more variety.
¿Dónde está Spot?
Jorge el Curioso
La Mariquita Lara
Escalofríos- El Fantasma Aullador
Alexander y el Dia Terrible, Horrible, Espantoso, Horroroso
Cocodrilos del Nilo
Crees que conoces a los hipopótamos
Crees que conoces a las cebras
Harold y el Lápiz Color Morado
Jackie Robinson
El Cuento de Ferdinando
Las Aventuras del Capitán Calzoncillos
El Ratoncito de la Moto
Ramona Empieza el Curso
Esteban El Plano
Cómo Nació el Arco Iris
Mi Diario de Aquí Hasta Allá
Quiero un Perro
Tengo Todo Esto
Quiero Aquí a mi Chico
Voy a Dormir
¿Por qué Me Sigue?
¡No es Tuyo!
Ese Perro
La Feria Musical de Matemáticas
¡Ya Era Hora, Max!
La Limonada de Lulú
James y el Melocotón Gigante
La Telaraña de Carlota
Arroz con Frijoles... y unos amables ratones
Donde Viven Los Montruos
Esos Desagredables Detestables Sucios Completamente Asquerosos pero... Invisibles Gérmenes

Sunday, December 11, 2011

more pictures

updated photos. i changed the photo site to photobucket.