Monday, September 7, 2009

The Dating Game

Evidently Paraguay has one of the highest incidents of volunteers marrying host country nationals or each other. During the first week of training, Country Director Don Clark and Deputy Director Jason Cochran estimated that four people in our group of 18 would get married/engaged during our service. 2 of the Trainees are already a married couple and one girl is engaged to someone back in the US. That leaves 15 non-married/engaged trainees. That means our directors think that over 25% of us will get married!

After being here for just a few weeks, I understand why they gave such a large percentage. I have met a significant number of volunteers who are getting married to either 1) other volunteers or 2) to Paraguayans. Some people are taking their counterparts to the US, some have decided to stay in Paraguay. Our Technical Trainer, Ricardo, knows of several volunteers who moved into their sites permanently and have been living there for 10+ years. One of the trainers for the next G was a volunteer here who got married to a Paraguayan woman, had children, and now has a tree farm. I can think of a few volunteers in our G who may follow this path.

Even if volunteers don’t get married, dating amongst volunteers and Paraguayans is very very popular.

The rules to dating game with Paraguayans here are pretty old school:

The official dating days are: Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday, Sunday.
Monday, Wednesday, and Friday are the ‘mistress’ days.

Basically if a guy keeps asking you out on the first four days, he wants you to be his official girlfriend. If it’s usually the last three days, he’s probably just looking for something on the side. It’s not a fixed rule, but evidently they do still somewhat follow the dating days in the more rural areas.

The basic dating dance is that the guy is supposed to be the aggressor, the girl is supposed to resist the advances and/or set all the limits. So yes, even if a girl likes a guy, she might rebuff him a few times just for good measure to… I don’t know… let him know she isn’t easy or that she has boundaries or that she can’t be taken advantage of.

Unfortunately this basically has created a society where ‘No’ doesn’t necessarily mean ‘No.’ This is one of the reasons that the men here can be really persistent. They don’t know if it’s an actual ‘no’, or a you need to try harder/try again a little later ‘no.’ It also means that men are looking for the slightest signal from a woman that she might be interested. She isn’t supposed to give any obvious signals, so things like smiling too much or being just a little too friendly, gets us Nortes into a lot of trouble, because that’s what the guys are looking for to initiate their little dance. Also, hitting on women is so a guy who doesn’t make a pass at every moving target may be considered odd by his friends.

Evidently it is common for a girl to bring along a female friend on a date with her to keep the guy in check. Therefore isn’t not uncommon to see a pair making-out on a bench with the official third wheel friend off to the side a little.


Literally a jakare is a crocodile. Socially, a Jakare is a man who has a ‘special’ relationship/arrangement with a woman to come visit her during the night for some extracurricular activities. Often times, he would enter the home through a window, so an open window is sometimes understood as a signal to the men in the community that you intend on having a visitor, or that you would like to. FYI, I had bars put on my window, not that anyone could have fit through it anyway, and there is a gate around our house that is locked at night.

Evidently some men need only the smallest hint of attention to think you have invited them to be your Jakare. One of the administrators at CHP was a volunteer years ago, she is now married to a Paraguayan man and has 2 kids. She liked to sleep with her windows open. One night a man came to her window and started asking to come in. She had no idea what he was doing and told him to go the front door. When he got there she could tell he was very drunk and wearing cologne and had more or less clear intentions. I think her host father and the family dog ended up scaring him off. The volunteer thinks he was a family member who lived out of town of some people she knew. She vaguely remembers possibly seeing him working alongside this family and greeting them. She is a very happy, smiley person, and evidently that was all the encouragement this man needed to come to her house in the middle of the night.

While I think adults are welcome to make whatever arrangements they want however they want, I’m pretty sure that a smile and a ‘hello’ directed at a group of people don’t mean ‘oh baby, oh baby, you hot thang, sexy stranger man; you, me, my window, tonight.’ Actually, maybe if this was someplace in the Middle East where women were covered from head to toe and aren’t allowed to speak to men who aren’t related to them, then maybe smiling and saying hello could be misconstrued as interested. But here, there are naked/might-as-well-be-naked calendars, magazines, porn videos all over the streets and homes. The women in one of the most popular tv show, Polibandi and el Conejo, are essentially strippers with a few speaking parts, scratch that, they don’t always speak.

In general the Paraguayans can be so nice and helpful, which is why I don’t understand why there is an overabundance of men with the social graces of Tarzan. The official adjective for these men is ‘pesado’ which literally means ‘heavy. I can’t pretend like we don’t have slovenly men like this in the states, but they seem more contained. The women here can hardly believe me when I tell them that men only behave like this when they are young, drunk, out at night, in a group and not in the company of women who will knock them off the curb, barstool…

I’ve already had two too friendly guys at the muni. One who keeps asking if I have a boyfriend and if I like to drink, the other, well I’ll just give him the benefit of the doubt right now and keep him in the ‘suspiciously helpful’ category until I know more. He has a wife, but that doesn’t mean anything here.

Thankfully the person I work with most in the Muni, Nelson, is dating another funcionaro who is also the Mayor’s niece. If he does anything suspicious not only will she see it but the Mayor will also know, which could threaten his job. Apart from this, he does seem like a nice, non-pesado guy, so I don’t think he would hassle me even if he didn’t have a girlfriend.

The women don’t help the situation; they are obsessed with being in a relationship as well. I have one lady I’m trying to make friends with at the muni, but all she wants to talk about is:
• Did I have a boyfriend before I came to PC.[Answer: Yes]
• Are we still dating? [Answer: No].
• Why did we break up?
• Why aren’t we trying to keep the relationship going while I’m in the PC?
• Are we going to get back together when I go back to the states?
• How much do I still talk to him?
• Do I miss him?
• Why didn’t he become a volunteer?
• Why didn’t we get married so that we could be volunteers together and get placed together?
• Do I have a new boyfriend yet? [Answer: No] Why not?
• Am I going to stay in Paraguay and get married?
• Am I going to take someone back to the US with me?
• And so on…

The last conversation I had with her went like this (remember I’ve been here about 3 weeks):

Francisca: ‘So do you have a boyfriend yet?’
Me: ‘No’
Francisca: ‘You need to look for one; no, not look, you need to find one.’

She also felt that it was important to inform me that Paraguayan men are very affectionate. Francisca is totally enamored with her boyfriend of two months. No doubt she is planning the wedding by now. I wonder if she has names for the kids yet. Evidently it was love at first sight. Well isn’t she just so lucky.

I may be making up a boyfriend very soon. That could be fun actually. Any name and characteristic suggestions?

Fidelity is not a priority here. In fact, if you tell the women you want a man to be faithful, they’ll often just laugh at you in a ‘boys will be boys’ manner. From what I hear though, the women aren’t particularly faithful either. And everyone has no idea about using protection or birth control or preventing STDs, oh don’t get me started.

Again, I’m not going to pretend like men and women don’t step outside of their official relationships in the US, shit happens, but I’ve never seen infidelity so open and prevalent in a dating/marriage culture. It isn’t in the hippie free love way; it is in a way that makes ‘official’ relationships have no value because no one respects their partners.

One theory about why people are loose with their relationship is because that is how one of the more notable indigenous groups, the Guarani, also maintained their relationships. From what I remember, the Guarani didn’t seem to have official relationships at all, or fidelity wasn’t an expectation. However I feel like there is a notable difference from being in a relationship where fidelity just isn’t in the rule book at all, like the Guarani, to being in relationships that are official, clearly between two people and where fidelity is expected but regularly violated.

The whole thing, the women on TV who look and behave like strippers, naked women all over the place, everyone cheating on everyone else, divorces and people living together being quite common, seems to contrast strongly with the country’s Catholic image.

Almost everyone is Catholic, if you aren’t catholic but you are some other Christian denomination, they may look at you a little funny, but you won’t ruffle their feathers too much. If you are any sort of non-Christian, they look at you like you’re an alien. When it comes to any sort of reproductive or women’s rights, they are the most controlling, straight-laced people ever put on this earth. Tell a man to stop cheating on his wife with 14 year old girls and he will look at you like you’re a prude.

I don’t remember if I’ve mentioned that before, but yes, 14ish girls with 40-year-old men is very common. One mayor in another city evidently has a little harem of underage girls going. Actually the married guy at my muni’s wife is 17, they have been married for 1.5 years, which means she was about 15 when they got married and who knows how old when they started dating. He is around 28 I think. Definitely on the misdemeanor side of the skeevy scale, at least comparatively, but still something that you’d want to be the exception, not the light side of the rule. It is also really common for the teachers to be dating their high school students. The parents don’t seem to mind, especially when it’s a man with a good job. If the ‘boy’friend takes care of her, or wants to marry her, all the better.

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