Friday, June 1, 2012

Random Lessons from Paraguay

In no particular order, here are some interesting things learned this past month, in Paraguay, as I was teaching one class to Paraguayan college students for my university.

*horses and carts are still used in the city to transport people and goods
*there really are things called Bodegas. While I didn't go into one, they looked sultry and exotic.
*although it is winter, it is very warm. However, it is winter, so it gets dark early. That is confusing.
*one semester of basic spanish conversation a few months before coming here really was invaluable.
*when you don't know the word in Spanish, you say it in French. Apparently, your brain tells you that's okay.
*it is no good to say something well and with good accent if you can't understand the response you prompted.
*a "grande americano" from Starbucks is called... a "grande americano."
*at some point, the math of dividing all those zeroes on the local currency by 4 becomes reasonable.
*it is invigorating to be in a country where you barely understand the language. It is more invigorating to be in a country where people just look at you with pity when you say "lo siento, pero no comprendo. Hablo ingles."
*you can teach your way through the recurring teaching nightmare you have had every semester for 15 years and, hopefully, be stronger for it.
*group work is better in a collective culture than the same group work done at home.
*the Spanish have an expression meaning "all clear": "no Moors on the coast." Students will reference this in their Othello essays.
*it is difficult to plan and be organized when the power goes out, internet access sometimes goes out, or is painfully slow at the university.
*having everything in cloud storage is only as good as your downloading capabilities from the internet. See previous.
*on any given class day, and despite all kinds of carrots and sticks, only 1/3 of the class will be in the room when class actually begins.
*there are many large, stray, hungry dogs. When the doc said "stay away from stray dogs" so I didn't have to get a rabies shot, I didn't realize it wouldn't be an option.
*there is a plywood slum exactly 10 parked car widths from the front doors of the university.
*private security guards carry rifles.
*if a motorcylist hits a cyclist, the moto is at fault. If a car hits a motocyclist, the driver of the car is at fault. If a mercedes on its way to pick me up hits an underaged and uninsured motocylist who, miraculously, is not killed, the motocylist runs away.
*it is rather nice to have students do the cheek kisses as in France, when saying goodbye.
*at some point when it is very clear that you just can't recognize which white mercedes is coming to pick you up every day from the college, the security guard at the university door will take pity on you and start to call your ride.
*the amount of diesel coming in giant black clouds from every bus and many other cars will cause you to taste gas for hours after you get home, leading you to suspect you have lost months from the end of your life.
*in the space of 4 weeks, your children can go from sobbing on skype to living their lives and cheerfully including you at the dinner table or piano with them, to answering "no, we're good," when asked if they want to speak to you.
*if you aren't careful and are, say, lounging on the bed when your husband skypes you, you can suddenly find yourself staring at a bunch of people in a restaurant. Lesson learned.
*if you are scared enough to see one in the "wild," all the tarantulas will be courteous and stay out of sight.

These are the first musings from the trip, before it is even really over. They aren't very profound. I'm hoping profound will follow.