Aug. 14, 2009
US Embasador's Residence
This speech is going to go fairly quickly. I am kinda in a rush. I have an appoinment with a banking official becuase I am just hours away from becoming millionaire!...well a Paraguayan millionaire and I dont know about you guys, but this is my first time, so I am kinda anxious to get out of here and reap my fortune? Now, if I get my phone aftewards, I wil call you and tell you where I spent my guaranies.
Mba’echaepa Madame Ambasdasor. On behalf of G-30, I’d like to thanks for your hospitality and opening your home to us on this occassion. Also, Buen dia to Donald Clark, Director of Peace Corps Paraguay APCD Elisa Chague.
Buen dia guests.
And buen dia G-30!
Most of us who came to Paraguay on May 28 of this year quickly discovered that the Peace Corps Paraguay packing list was quite inadequate. My fellow group mates and I have come to the conclusion that the very things that we were advised not to pack were some of the items that we want and need most. As says the packing list, denim jeans, sunglasses, baseball caps and other items were some of the things that most Paraguayans don’t wear. That may have been true a few decades ago, but I would say that things have changed. but I’d like you to check out what the folks are wearing on the colectivo and in the campo. The ironic conclusion though, is that we could have left all luggage and bags behind in the US, and still made it to Paraguay equipped with what we truly need to be able to connect with this country and serve its people. Igual, podemos servir al pueblo Paraguayo sin nuestras cosas materiales.
Furthermore, there are some items that we came to find that we need but actually did not pack with us. But we still brought them. We were not able to actually pack them, but we still carried them with us. Thats because they are intrinsic to what makes us human. We were born with those items that we need most to live and serve in the world. We came into life with our brain, eyes, ears, hands, mouth, legs and most importantly, our heart. Lo mas esencial es el corazon. These items, though not on the Peace Corps Paraguay packing list, we have found them to be most practical, most useful and most effective at completing our mission of service and sharing. Unlike clothing, flashlights and laptop computers; our brains, eyes, hands, mouths, legs and hearts give us the tools not just to stay warm, navigate blackouts or type up pedidos. But they also give us the opportunity to absorb both tangible and intangible elements of our new environment, process new events and feel love. Amor para la gente, para el pais, amor para el mision de Cuerpo de Paz.
Yes, business apparel will give the appearance of a well-spoken man, but the contents of his brain and the eloquence of the words from his mouth, and mastery of the language will be the manner in which he can prove it. Expensive water-proof hiking boots will help us to maneuver rugged terrain, but our eyes and ears will be the tools we use to help lead us back to town if we get lost. We will follow the smell of carbon burning, sopa paraguaya cooking and the sound of kids playing. If the very laptops that we were told not to bring, but are thankful that we did bring, decide to crash, it will be our hands and need for human interaction which brings us back to reality. We will meet people, and shake their hands. We will be pulled along dusty roads by mita’i who will attempt to show us the way to get away from what we brought in our luggage and to reconnect to la vida pura.
Our legs will carry us. So far, they have led us down empedrada roads, caminos feos and into the homes and patios of people that we now call neighbors and families. And once more they will carry us to new homes. These legs will propel our bike petals. Apparently we are the only folks in the entire country that cannot ride motos.
Our hands, mouths, eyes and ears allow us to absorb our new surroundings. When we touch hands with a Paraguayan in the campo, we touch his life-source, the tools that don’t require sharpening or lubrication, the hands that carpir, sembrar, and cosechar cada epoca.
Actually, Peace Corps tested this “built-in luggage” before we were even accepted into the program. Remember those physical exams? and for some of us, rigorous tests to show that our human suitcases were still in working order: legs still ready to walk and or run, eyes still ready to soak up oceans of images, ears able to comprehend a new language or two, mouths ready to smile warmly and make cultural chasms fade away, hands ready to greet others and work in side-by-side Paraguayans, and brains ready to process all of it, learning from the people, allowing us to pack and live lightly. This human luggage as we can call it, allows us, as Peace Corps volunteers and citizens of the world to seamlessly move in and out of contrasting environments. From talking to the president of a comite vecinal, to (in the case of today) potentially giving a speech in front of the President of the Republic of Paraguay. We can seamlessly, go from speaking English, to Spanish to Guarani. Well, this is our goal anyway.
How many of us had an airline loose their luggage? Yes I have too. And just think, we all made it through those next couple of hours or overnight without the seemingly essencial things that we had packed for our trip. And why? Because we are human, we are a part of the animal kingdom. Animals don’t carry sacks of stuff on their backs wherever they go. They already have exactly what they need to survive. And we do too.
So yes, the PCP’y packing list should be revised. Yet, at this point that list would never be able to adequately cover the most essential items that a future volunteer would need. Those items are made up of the things that make us human.
At different points during this training season, I created several Top Ten lists in an attempt to process and annotate all of the things that I was experiencing. And today, I would like to share a new Top Ten list with you all. This list focuses on how I have changed and become a little more tranquilo, a lil’ more Paraguayo, or Brasilero, or whatever. This list includes some things there were difficult to get over for me. And I am sure that you have your own ideas and that you have jumped some of the same hurdles. I hope they have resulted in true changes and adaptation that does not compromise who you are.
Top Ten Things That I am Now OK With:
TEN- I am ok with not having constant internet access. But I think Bambi has found the remedy for that problem.
NINE- I am ok with being the only black male in the group.
EIGHT- I am ok with being asked whether I am Brasilero and explaining that my parents are actually American.
SEVEN- I am ok with letting the women serve me. But on a serious note--I mean to say that I am ok with being a guest in someone’s home and being a guest in someone’s country.
SIX- I am ok with peeing in public. Phew... Sorry girls.
FIVE- I am ok with being the tallest person in almost every setting. And I am ok with people pointing at me and asking me why I am so tall.
FOUR- I am ok with being called el Michael Jackson original, Michael Jordan, and I am definitely ok with being called Obama! And now, I wouldn’t mind being called Aarron Williams...if folks besides Don Clark knew who that is. If you didn’t know, he’s the new PC Director.
THREE- I am ok with my proficiency level in Spanish. And that only means that I understand how much more I need to learn. And that goes for Guarani too.
TWO- I am ok with missing some things that are going on back home. On Fridays, I miss going out to the clubs or out to eat with friends. And on Sundays, I do miss spending time at my grandmothers house. It may just mean that I will have lots of appointments with friends and family to make up when I get back.
ONE- I am ok with Ronnell Perry or Ron as he is now known in the campo. I was ok with him back home, but its totally different in a new culture while still connected to a bunch of Americans. I am ok with who he is as an individual, and who he is in a group setting amongst all of the other personalities and opinions. It doesn't mean that I wont continue to evolve him, but it does mean that comparing him to someone else, or changing him because of negative outside forces wont make him any happier.
Each of us is on that journey. So, when you find it hard, just put on your American hiking boots and your headlamp, and you’ll get there...even if you run into a couple of empedrada roads or a few arroyos y esteros. Remember what you packed and what you didnt have to pack---because those qualities and intangibles will always serve you, you’ll always carry the most effective tools inside.
Thank you for your time. Jajotopata!
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