Saturday, June 19, 2010

June 9

I realized I really haven't described very well where I'm living right now. I'm about 2 to 3 hours south of the city (I say 'the city' because there is only one in Suriname, Paramaribo). I'm in a little community on a dead-end dirt road with about 300 people living in it. It has two creeks, one small grade school, three little "corner stores" (there aren't any corners) and a bakery that seems to only sell buns and opens when it feels like it. The corner stores sell next-to-nothing. One of them sells literally probably 15 items. Another of them is never open. We've stopped by every day for about 2 weeks because it's the only place within an hour that sells notebooks and it's never been opened. Finally, yesterday we succeeded.

I'm definitely in the jungle. About 10 feet from my house the deep jungle begins. Like, I wouldn't step into it without a guide and knee-high rubber boots on kind of jungle. I haven't eaten anything crazy (that I know of, I don't ask what I'm eating for fear of finding out) but a few of the other trainees have had some interesting things. One ate sloth, which he was lucky enough to see caught. He was walking down a road when the woman in front of him walked into the bush and just grabbed an adorably smiley sloth off the ground. That was his dinner that night. And the other trainee in my community ate armadillo yesterday. She said it was pretty good. I watched her family skin it on my break from class yesterday. It was like watching a car crash. I was horrified, but just couldn't look away.

My community is made up of little tiny (and when I say tiny, I mean TINY) wooden huts. They're very simple and rectangular. Most are probably about 20 feet by 15 feet, although some are even smaller than that. There is usually a duro-tank out front. My community, since it is relatively close to the city, has 24-hour electricity, generously supplied by the government. My family seems to be fairly well off (that is extremely relative). We have a TV and a refrigerator. They do about half the cooking inside. There is no running water. Most of the water I use for washing and laundry and stuff like that comes from huge plastic drums that collect the rainwater outside. There's something really nice about bathing from rain water. We have a porch that wraps around 2 sides of the house. I love the porch.

There's only one real "street" in my community. It's a dirt road, but it's the only thing that's actually straight and I would really consider a street. There's another one that's pretty close, but I'm not going to count that one. Women wear the wrap-around cloth (pangi) and usually a bra or shirt when they leave their home, although if you come to their house there is a pretty good chance they'll be totally topless. I'm amazed how little it phases me. My American aversion to nudity is getting quickly beaten down.

I actually feel fairly lucky to be here for my training. It's a decent little community.

June 7

I had my 27th birthday yesterday and it was pretty great. Most of the trainees got together at the beach nearby and we had a party. The other trainees were so sweet and made my birthday really special. They made me 3 (yes 3!) cakes and posters and gave me fun little presents and everything. It was pretty great. And we got to spend the day swimming in piranha-infested waters. Fun fun fun. It's funny how the things that I thought I would never ever do (like swim in a river that has piranhas), I'm now doing without much fear or worry. I guess you get used to just about anything.

Speaking of getting used to things, I'm starting to feel really comfortable and happy here. The language is coming along and I'm able to actually have little conversations with people, which is super rewarding. I talked to an old woman yesterday who was drying out the rice she had harvested. It just felt nice to have a human connection about something. Not speaking a word of a language is frustrating on so many levels and it's nice to start overcoming those frustrations.

Tonight was fun. The little teenage girls gathered around and braided my hair and some teenage boys came and played the guitar on my porch.

I know that I'll have a lot more really hard times where I'm lonely, or homesick, or just physically sick, but these happy days are really encouraging. It really makes me feel like I can be really happy here. I hope that my future site is as welcoming as my training site, because everyone is so great here. Every day I just wander around this community, ending up in people's yards, next to their wash house, where they are half-naked and washing (sometimes fully naked) and they are nothing but friendly and welcoming. I've been very impressed by the people here.

So I'm hearing more and more about my future site and it's apparently really deep in the bush. Another volunteer was telling me today that I'll probably see some pretty crazy animals. I may even see a jaguar. I'd rather not see things that want to kill me, but I guess I don't have a whole lot of choice.

June 2

I'm about 3 weeks into my homestay experience. It's definitely been a learning experience. I'm so glad that they have us do our first few months with a family and with a different community than the one we will be living in permanently, though. It gives us the chance to basically screw up and not have it affect the next 2 years. We can realize how we should do things, and change when we get to our permanent site. I don't think I've made any major blunders so far, but that's not to say I won't.

It's so easy to get frustrated with the language and feel like I'll never truly learn it, and then I take a step back and remember that I've only been learning it for about 3 weeks. I'm able to have very small conversations and express many of the basic things I want to get across. I'm pretty impressed with how much we've been able to learn in 3 short weeks. Living in the language truly is the fastest way to learn. When the two-year-old hits his head and says "mi naki mi ede" about 10 times, I quickly learn how to say "I hit my head". Quite helpful.

I'm really anxious to see my site. I've heard it's really pretty and great. People have said really good things about it. There's supposed to be a beautiful little creek by it. Also, I've heard my house is relatively large compared to some of the other PCV houses. Also, my place is supposed to have a bit more privacy, which will be nice. I think it will be pretty overwhelming going to my site the first time. It seems like we're kind of just dropped off for 3 days with a hammock and a box of mac and cheese. I think I'll come out of this with a fair amount of resiliency at the very least.

I miss my family a lot. I remember when I came home from my year in Spain, I thought that I could never go that long without seeing my family again. And here I move to the Amazon for 2 years. Hmmm... I talked to both my mom and my brother Maia tonight and it's amazing how talking to family can lift my spirits. They know me better than anyone in the world does and it feels great right now having someone who knows me that well. I'm surrounded by people who have only ever heard me say things like "I want food" or "I wash myself". I don't exactly feel like my personality shines with those phrases. That'll come with time though.

The last two days have been kind of....egh. Just hard. I think I was just down. I get down at home too, though. But, the entire week before that I was legitimately happy to be here and that felt so good. It made me really hopeful about being really happy here. I am simplifying my life though, which is one of the reasons I wanted to join the Peace Corps. My host mom gave me a battered and deep fried banana last night and it was like a little piece of heaven. It truly made my night. Simplify life: check.

I don't have time for titles

I'm at homestay for training and it's...I guess it's everything I imagined the Peace Corps to be. It's difficult, it's exciting, it's intense, it's exhausting, it's intensely beautiful, it makes my brain hurt and I want to jump up and down and just scream sometimes. And even though it's everything that I expected, every second of it has surprised me. Anticipating something and actually living something are very different, even if your expectations meet the actual experience.

For some strange reason I think the most comforting thing for me right now is the rain. It comes pouring down, sounding like hammers on my tin roof and making little ravines down every dirt path, and I just feel safe. It feels just like a rainstorm at home and I just want to curl up on the couch and smile. It also cools it down significantly, which is so necessary here. I just washed (for the third time today, just like every day) in my wash house an hour ago and I'm laying in bed, under my mosquito net, and sweat is just dripping down me. Very attractive.

I dropped my phone in a bucket of water tonight. So it's currently not working. My last phone mysteriously just stopped working, so that means I may be going on to phone #3 in about 2 1/2 weeks in country. I wonder if that's a record. I did have the record for most broken computers at my last job. 5. I was pretty proud of that. None were my fault (I think) though! Anyway, my phone is currently all taken apart and sitting in a 5 gallon container of rice. Makes sense, it'll suck out the moisture or something like that.

I'll give you a little example of my normal day here. My host mom wakes me up at 6:30. This morning she actually let me wake myself up. Maybe she realized that as an almost-27-year-old woman, I'm very capable of waking myself up. Probably not. She'll probably wake me up tomorrow. So, at 6:30 I immediately head to the scary latrine, because although I do have a shiny new green pee pot, I haven't really used it in my bedroom yet. I haven't quite assimilated that much...yet. So then I head to the wasosu (wash house) for my first bucket bath of the day. After that I go inside for a bun with either just peanut butter on it or peanut butter and cheese. Not as bad as it sounds, I actually quite like it. Then I head over to my language teacher's hut/small wooden shack for 4 hours of language lessons. About half of the days we go out for a koi (a little walk around the village, greeting people) for the 2nd half of our lesson. Then I head back to my place at noon. I wash up for a second time and eat lunch. Then I either have technical training in the afternoon, or I do laundry. That consists of 3 buckets of water and a washboard. I'm going to have some serious forearms by the end of this from all the clothes wringing. Then I try to fill up the rest of the afternoon without going insane with all the teenage girls staring at me. Then wash-up #3 and dinner and family time. I usually hang with my mom and 3 younger brothers and 1 younger sister for a few hours. Then it's "me time" (what I'm doing right now). Night is my favorite time here. Everything settles down a little. There aren't quite as many random kids screaming and running around my house and I get to spend more time with my host-siblings, who I really like.