Change Yourself…Change The World.

January 22, 2013, 11:25 am
Filed under: Paraguay

When you travel alone in a different country, there’s bound to be certain aspects of the culture that you don’t agree with or can’t understand. Perhaps the way someone says something rubs you the wrong way, or you see an action in public that makes you cringe and think “never would I see that in my home country…” There will always be things that will range from slightly offensive to majorly insulting about certain cultural traits in relation to your own. How have I personally dealt with them? Well, while many times I don’t understand cultural traits while I’m traveling, I try to remember that I’m a visitor to the country, and that I may not understand the context or their value system.

Well, I’ve been living in Paraguay for 20 months now, and I am no visitor anymore. I live and breathe Paraguay every single waking moment of my life, and I’ve given and both received a lot from the country in the year and a half that I’ve been here. I’ve integrated and know my community well and understand so much of the underlying cultural factors that go into living in this society. But perhaps it’s because I’ve integrated so well that I started to think as part of Paraguay as mine, or that I’m really a part of Paraguay. And so after 20 months of living here, I’ve suddenly entered a new territory: I’ve come to the realization that some of the ways that people act here and do things are absolutely not okay with me, and they never will be- nor will I never assimilate into it.

Two months ago I came back from my vacation in the United States to find my neighbor’s dog, Lassi, gone. Lassi held a really special place in my heart- perhaps it’s because I’m a huge dog lover, because he is such a sweet and loving little animal, or because he looks almost exactly like my dog at home- but against my better judgement of getting attached to any animals down in Paraguay, I fell in love with this little guy. Lassi followed me everywhere around Caazapá, nearly every day. He’d sneak into my English classes and surprise the kids, or sit faithfully outside my friend’s shop as we sat and drank tereré in the mornings. My near-by Peace Corps Volunteers liked to say that if I was ever lost all they had to do was look for Lassi.

So I was really torn up when I came back and found out my neighbors had suddenly and inexplicably given Lassi away to someone else. When I pressed them about it, the mother of the household Mari, gave me this whole song and dance about how Lassi was always on the streets and it was dangerous, and that if he was run over by a car they would have to pay the owner over $200 in damages. Her daughter Fanny, about my age, told me that her old dog had eaten meat with glass in it and died, and she didn’t want Lassi to suffer the same fate. I understood, but was heartbroken. I kept having dreams about Lassi at night, and I really missed his presence. I kept thinking, ‘if only Mari’s family had told me they were giving him away, I would have taken him.’

Last night my friend Zoe was sleeping over at my house, and I had just been commenting to her about how much I had been having dreams about him and that I probably would never see him again. Then, in the craziest of ‘Homeward-Bound’ events, Zoe went out of my house to go get some ice cream, and there was Lassi! He had returned to my house. Words couldn’t describe how happy I was to see him,  and I decided in that moment that I wasn’t going to let Lassi go again. I became so excited at the possibility of taking care of Lassi for the next 6 months of my service- he would be my constant companion, and I would feed him well, wash the fleas and scabies out of his fur, and finally get to pet his entire body and hug him. I couldn’t sleep as I started googling things like “how to house-train a stray,” and envisioning myself fixing up my fence so that he could romp around my yard but not get out into the street.

The next day as I readied myself to go into the town to buy him food and flea powder, I came upon Mari who was sweeping her front porch.
“Mari, Lassi came back last night!” I announced happily. “And I’m going to keep him as my dog and feed him and take care of him!”

Let me back up for a second and give a definition of what I meant earlier when I said that Lassi was my “neighbor’s dog.” By ‘neighbor’s dog,’ I mean that my neighbor’s never once took care of him, never fed him well, kicked him, spat at him, screamed at him that they hated him, and threw their shoes at him at every chance they could get. But now all of a sudden that the American wanted it to be HER dog, Mari, the manipulative drama-queen that she is, decided to take matters into her own hands.
“Did you hear that Miriam?” she shouted to her 5-year old granddaughter in the next room. “Brittany is going to take YOUR dog!” Never mind that up until 5 seconds ago she had no idea that Lassi still even existed.

What then transpired was a screaming fit of unknown proportions that I had never witnessed. Mari literally had pitted me against a 5-year old throwing a HUGE tantrum, screaming and crying to high heavens that it was HER dog.
“Yes you see Brittany,” Mari said sadly, “Miriam was so sad that Lassi was gone that my husband brought her back last night!”

This was an outright, 100% lie.

“Don’t worry Miriam,” Mari and Fanny crooned at her and she wailed and beat her fists on the floor. “Brittany will be bringing you your dog back now!”

So perhaps this is something that doesn’t sound upsetting to you reader, but it is really upsetting to me. It’s upsetting to me that a family that could care less about a dog that they always treated poorly, that was so thin its’ ribs were showing and that had scabies and fleas and was continuously dirty, suddenly ‘wanted’ Lassi because he was just a possession to them- even though they had given him away to someone else and was technically no longer ‘theirs.’ A dog who owed no allegiance to them, who showed up on MY doorstep because I always fed him and cared for him and petted him, was suddenly “theirs” again without regard or care for his actual well-being. And on top of all of the pleading and discussion I had with them about it, they manipulated and lied just to get what they want- a dog that they didn’t even want in the first place.

It’s pathetic. It’s not okay. I don’t accept it. And this is not something where I will just nod my head and chalk it up to cultural differences.

It’s hard to tell what I’m more upset about: that Mari and her family blatantly lied and manipulated me to give them back a dog that they care nothing about. That Lassi will continue to be mistreated and a dog on the street (or even worse, forever chained on a leash). That I’m so disappointed because I was very excited to have him as my companion. Or that I’m just so fed up with the way that people treat others with such disrespect.

I try not to write about these kinds of experiences on my blog, the ones that make me cry or write long pages in my journal about situations I’ve seen where women are treated so inferior in this country, or blatant corruption, or the fragility of any sort of relationship, or severe disappointments from broken promises that people make, or seeing people lying and manipulating whoever they can to get what they want. But that’s the truth, and the Peace Corps and living in a developing country is not all sunshine and rainbows and happy times. It’s hard, and sometimes it is just not okay.


3 Comments so far
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ugh this is terrible 😦 the treatment of animals is always the hardest cultural difference for me to accept.
lassi is such a cutie!

Comment by Joyce

I think it would be fair to mention that the problems you have labeled cultural differences are in actuality human problems. The inferiority of women, mistreatment of animals, and blatant corruption occur in every society, it just might not be as visible. In the the U.S. alone, citizens are frustrated with the rich and powerful’s manipulation of policymaking through means that could be labeled ‘corrupt,’ i.e. financing campaigns in exchange for government contracts benefiting one’s business. Women are paid wages well below their male counterparts, and domestic violence is still a significant issue. Animal abuse is, just like the aforementioned problems, present in U.S. society also, not to mention the amount of animal testing for product development and experimentation.

I don’t mean to minimize the fact that you are very affected by these particular problems in your community. These things happen in different degrees and I’m sure that they are pretty significant in your community. I don’t live the life you lead and can presume to understand it.

As far as the dog is concerned, it sounds like its possible for you to still be a part of its life. He/she seems to gravitate toward you. You can feed it, treat it for fleas and more importantly love on it. Calling it your dog isn’t as important as caring for it as if it were your own. Your neighbor’s behavior sounds rotten and it really bums me out. I am also a crazy animal lover.

You seem to be a person with the kindest of intentions and I don’t mean to sound like a jerk commenting on your post, but I felt compelled to put in my two cents. I didn’t intend for any of this to come off as condescending.

Comment by Alba

Alba, I understand the point you are trying to make, but this is not just a human problem. The level of inferiority of women and corruption are on a level that you could not understand unless you lived here, and there are cultural traits that reinforce these issues.

For example, in Paraguay is considered extremely rude to say ‘no,’ even if you’re saying ‘no thank you.’ It’s an entire culture based around different ways of saying no, such as ‘maybe later,’ or ‘yes I’ll see you there,’ and then just not showing up. What’s a negative consequence of this cultural trait? People oftentimes lie or make up excuses on the spot to get out of commitments they don’t want to go to; therefore, someone’s ‘word’ is not taken nearly as seriously as it is in the United States. Does this bother me as an American? Sometimes, but it’s something I’ve been able to assimilate into. When is it NOT okay? When people are so accustomed to lying to get what they want, that they use it for their own selfish reasons.

My post isn’t trying to say that all Paraguayans do this, but when you grow up in a community where the value of your word doesn’t mean much and you’re accustomed to lying to get out of commitments, it is much easier for you to abuse it. My neighbors made up a bunch of lies and excuses because it’s culturally acceptable, except they used it for their own selfish reasons without regard for a living animal. I am NOT okay with that. I hope that you understand the difference.

Comment by brittanygoesglobal

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