Change Yourself…Change The World.

Be Present
March 16, 2013, 1:58 pm
Filed under: Paraguay

This morning, I went to check the hotel my family will be staying at while visiting me, where there’s a near-by laundro-mat shop that I avoid like the plague. When I first got to Caazapá as a Volunteer, I brought my laundry there to be washed, and was told by the lady that it would cost 20 mil (5 dollars). When I came back to pick up my laundry the next day, it suddenly changed to 50 mil (13 dollars). If there’s anything I hate most from traveling, it’s being manipulated and offered the ‘foreigner’ price. I basically got into a fight with the laundry lady about the discrepancy of the price, and told her it wasn’t fair that because I was ‘the American’ I was subject to more than double the price change. But I paid my bill, and left. I never used the laundro-mat in Caazapá since then.

This morning, and nearly 2 years later, I went to the hotel with my best Paraguayan friend, Denis, to confirm the reservation. Since the landro-mat is the only place in town where you can wash your clothes, I stopped by the shop to find out prices in case my family needed it.
A summary of the conversation that followed (which included sneering, jeering, and name-calling) from the lady at the shop was this: “I know who you are, you’re the bruja (English translation: bitch) who fought last time about the bill. Get out of my shop, I want nothing to do with you.”

Now, I’ve been in the Peace Corps long enough now to know that my elatedness/happiness and frustration/sadness with living in Paraguay is cyclical, though it is independent of time. One day/week/month I’ll be on top of the world, and will feel that my time in Paraguay is the most incredible and formidable experience of my life. I can’t even think about how sad I’ll be the day that I will have to leave Paraguay, a place that’s become my home. The next day/week/month after a series of negative experiences and cultural interactions gone awry, I’ll be totally down in the dumps and shut up like a hermit in my house for a period of time, cursing Caazapá and counting down the days until I can get on a plane and leave this place.

I’m not exaggerating- the range of feelings are that vast, and there’s not much middle ground. While a lot of my first year as a Volunteer has been learning how to deal with this constant roller coaster of emotions, during my second year I’ve started to accept them as inevitable and part of the experience. A lot of the challenge has been learning to deal with those negative experiences completely alone.

So, I could tell this coming week with a few negative experiences (out-of-control English class, unkind indirect comment from the Head of a School about my performance as a Volunteer, controlling neighbors chaining their dog inside their house because he always follows me everywhere, etc.) was going to be one of the low times when I feel really frustrated with Paraguay. The laundro-mat lady treating me as if I was less than a human felt like the tipping point. Ashamed and embarrassed in front of Denis, I was ready to run back to my house and feel super sorry about myself.

While these kinds of experiences happen anywhere in the world, they feel a lot worse when you’re the only foreigner and American who lives alone and depends on other Paraguayans for human interaction. Hearing unkind comments or people who have mal-intent about me when I’m constantly alone and vulnerable can be really hard.

I tried to control how upset I was around Denis and shrug it off, and we went back to his shop to hang out. Denis was in an apparent ‘I’m-going-to-cheer-Brittany-up mode’ and put on happy music, trying to get my mind off of the incident. I half-heartedly laughed at his jokes and plastered on a smile, but I kept blinking back tears.

“You’re not really here, Brittany,” Denis finally told me, giving up. “Are you still upset?”
“Yes,” I said truthfully.
“Do you know metaphysics?”
“Yes,” I repeated glumly.
And Dennis stared out onto the street in a very philosophical way. And suddenly, he said with such clarity and grace, “Well, there are 2 main rules from this that I’ve learned, that I always follow in my life. The first rule is that you should always be in the present moment. So that lady was stupid and treated you badly? Forget about her- that’s already in the past. Focus on what’s happening right now. We’re sitting together and listening to good music, it’s a beautiful Saturday with wonderful weather. Don’t let her ruin your day- stay in the present and appreciate what’s in front of you.”

“Wow,” was all I could say. I was deeply moved by his little speech. Dennis was absolutely right. I was stuck in the past, embarrassed and hurt by what the lady had said to me. But really, continuing to be upset about it wasn’t hurting her- it was only hurting me. And it would be a shame for my day to be ruined because of it.
And moreover, all of the little things that had built up over the past week that made me feel frustrated didn’t ultimately serve me in any way, except to make me feel bad about myself and my place in Caazapá, and Paraguay. It was as if Denis had completely snapped me out of my downward slide into negativity and cynicism. It was amazing how such a simple speech could be so true.

“And what’s the second rule?” I asked, intrigued.
“And, the second rule is also the first rule.” Dennis improvised.
We laughed.

Dennis then asked me if I believed in elves, and proceeded to tell me with complete seriousness that he saw one running around his backyard last week. I tried to keep a straight face. Then we sang karaoke.

At the end, I felt so much better and happier. Dennis was right.

Enjoy the present moment.

And the apparent elves in Caazapá.

My Wonderful Friend Denis

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