Imagine jumping on a plane,closing your eyes for 11 hours,waking up, having some papers stamped,collecting your luggage,getting fetched at the airport and then all of a sudden you realise…Wait a moment! Im in South America!
Sounds simple doesnt it. Hmmm. Well actually I am now of the opinion that it is one of the hardest and most challenging things a person can possibly and willingly do.
Especially if you dont understand the language. That translates into not being able to read street signs,magazines, listen to the news and most importantly communicate to the local population. Haha. Not funny.
Right about now the intrepid traveller is in the thick of a commonly spoken about ‘phenomenon’ called Culture Shock…………………….
I didnt think it was as real as literally feeling like I have just been born and dont know a thing about anything! I must admit,I have been talking to the plants and animals a lot! For those who dont know me it must be noted that this is not unusual.
So,here in Paraguay when it comes to greetings,every morning you shake each persons hand,enquire how they are and if its a woman,a kiss on each cheek. That said,I dont greet each individual student every day, that would mean over 150, Hola! Que tal? como estas? per day! Nope.
Respect is earned here. They dont care if you have a B.Sc or a Phd. Show your capabilities whether its on the football pitch, working on the fields or just setting a good example and they will accept and love you.
Now one of the main points of culture is drinking ‘terere’ which is a native,local herbal concoction. It is carried in a leather bound canteen with a side pouch for the beaten silver container into which you load the herbs and pour water over. There is a specially designed straw also made from silver that is shaped like a spoon.It has been hollowed out all the way so you sip(suck) out of the end that you would usually hold. the round, concave end of the spoon/straw has little holes in it like a sieve, which allows the cold herbal water to drain through into your mouth without swallowing any bits and pieces. Clever!
They drink this everyday,especially when its hot as it cools down your core temperature considerably. This I am very thankfull for because it is between 30 and 40 degrees everyday… Think Karoo heat with Durban humidity and you get a general idea of the climate.
I spoke briefly about the birds and trees in my last post, now I wish to tell you about the lesser seen but more felt wildlife… Mosquitos: Hundreds of them, day and night making big,itchy bumps on your skin when u least expect it, I tell you these are serious stealth ninjas. Ants… Hectic ants. many varieties that all seem to bite except the largest ones which tend to just creep you right out when they are running along your bed. Frogs are rife and come out every night for a little sing and to catch the cooler part of the day. Varying in size. One thing I am gratefull for is the lack of flies.
Back to the people.They are mostly all a mixture of Spanish and Guarani Indian descent. They have quite fierce features,with an almost asian like quality mixed with a native American Indian. Short, compact and tough. They really stick together here. Although they are loud and expressive in certain situations (football disagreements) I cant even imagine there being a fight or aggresive behaviour between the students. All seem to bond together and while there will always be leaders and followers,there is a common unity and genuine,easy going connection between girls and boys,men and women. Its great. I believe its got something to do with the fact that most of of the population is very poor. Leaving them to rely and trust one another.
Side note: Money only makes you happy if you base your reality on it. And even then its not sustainable. Its a man made illusion and pretty much worthless.Most of the ‘poor’ countries out there have the happiest people. More on this perspective and train of thought to come later.
I have experienced small measures of their kindness, a pat on the back here and there,a smile with a joke and a twinkling eye or an invite to come watch T.V and to play pool. As we begin to understand each other I can see these interactions will grow in meaning and stature.
It has to be said, they cant really fathom why someone from South Africa (where’s that? Oh they had the fifa 2010 world cup there!) would come to their small,third world country to teach them English. Huh? Who needs to know English in South America? Well,in fact these kids are privileged that their school directors know that English is the worldwide business and communication language and 80% of google information is in English.
Just like anywhere in the world, I have seen that there are people here who are cast in certain moulds or stereotypes.The mischevious jokers, the deep thinkers, the easy going ones, the self conscious ones, stubborn, happy, melancholy, quiet, loud, confident, nervous and the list goes on.The only difference I can discern lies in their attitude and respect toward each other. Even though I have not been to all the countries in the world, I feel like this is leading me to conclude (prematurely, I feel obliged to add) that all humans, no matter their background are inherently the same. I am very honoured to be sharing in the way of life with these people.
They teach me more everyday. I hope to enrich their schooling experience and share with them as much goodness as i can pass on while I am here.