March 18, 2015

Day 526 – Expect the unexpected

Working two jobs, aboard and speaking little of the local language is quite an experience.  Sure, I’ve had plenty of jobs and I worked overtime, no problem but I never worked a 17-18 hour day. Now, some of you reading this, may think it is crazy and against EU law, sure but here there are no such laws. I never really planned on working this much but have to say, I quite enjoy it.

From working as an independent domestic violence advocate and empowering women, I now teach English and inspire students. I was given the opportunity to teach English to students from various ages and abilities and I love it. I initially thought of becoming a teacher once I graduated with my history degree but then opted to study social work instead. I could never see myself as a history teacher so at the time it was the right decision for me. But now, I appreciate the difference I can make whilst teaching English. I find it intriguing listening to their thoughts and views on culture and life. I had one class tell me that they had the perfect work-study balance and I had another give me their definition for the word ´perfect´.  What I love most, is getting my students to think outside of the box, to question the role of women, to be curious and to continue chasing their dreams. Ultimately, I believe my students can achieve anything and I want them to believe the same.

My second job, for a short period of time, is working in a hostel.  Ever since I arrived in South America, I met many backpackers who were working in hostels, making and saving money and truthfully, I wanted to work in a hostel since then. I didn´t think it would be possible however, given that I speak very little Spanish.  But, the hostel I stayed in, here in Encarnacion, were seeking another member of staff, I was informed by a friend and so talked to the owner and bang, I got the job. I didn´t really have a interview and the owner didn´t even ask to see my CV, not that I´m complaining or anything. So I work twelve hours, seven in the evening until seven the next day. To be fair, I work five of these hours and then sleep for the rest so I don´t really work twelve hours. My idea was, working in a hostel, would also help me practice/learn more Spanish but no, instead I have backpackers talking to me in English.

I have been in Encarnacion for six months and I had only planned to stay for three days. Subsequently, I have been asked several times, by locals here and friends back home, why am I still here? Why did I decide to stay so long? Well, for me, the energy and pace of life appeals to me, it is very different to London. Whilst not a slow city per-se, it is slower and friendly than London. I feel positive vibes from the city and made several good friends here. Both the simplicity and culture is also something I appreciate.

Of course no city or place is perfect and the same can be said for Encarnacion or even Paraguay as a whole. Here unfortunately, because it is still a third world, developing country, both the mentality and attitude is also old school. There is a lot sexism and narrow minded views on women. Infidelity is also surprisingly high, of course this exists in many parts of the world but I was a little surprised to see how it appears to be the norm here. Whilst I believe in humanity and trust people, Paraguay is the exception. Here everybody lies, people want to save face so rather than tell you that actually they won’t be able to come or help you, they agree and then simply don’t show. For locals here, this is the norm and accepted but for me and other Europeans and Westerns, it is hard to get your head round. Honesty and reliability and punctuality are all questionable and in some cases non-existence.

When I first arrived in Encarnacion, I stayed in a hostel and I stayed there for several months because I liked it and eventually I got a discount. I then stayed with one friend inEncarnacion, she lives with her parents, just outside the centre. Living with her was great fun, I got to know all three of her dogs and became very fond of one in particular.  Her parents are super chilled, warm and welcoming and they treated me like a daughter.  I learnt a lot about my friend and given we spent a lot of time together, we shared a lot. I met many of her friends and family and it was grand.  But with the summer holidays done and university opening, it was no longer possible to stay with her.

I then had another friend, who said I could stay with him. Now, whilst I lived alone and with other girls, I have never lived with a guy. I have many male friends and over the years I worked with, dated and travelled with guys but to live with one, well no, never.  So, yes I had several reservations and quite frankly thought it was a bad idea.  But, it turned out to be a very good decision.  My friend is chilled out and easy going.  He is from Belgium but has lived in Paraguay for two years now.  He speaks French, Spanish and English – he would much rather speak to me in Spanish or French but given I speak next to no French and my Spanish is limited, we talk in English.  So, yes as he quite rightly points out, I am at an advantage but I can´t help that. I do speak slowly and clearly, as when I teach, but I appreciate it is hard to converse in any language if is not your first language. I would love to have a conversation, with a backpacker, in Gujarati but that hasn´t happened in the last year.

So, it´s no surprise that he doesn´t like to clean, apparently most guys don´t like to clean, perhaps there are some exceptions but on the whole, no.  I have no problem keeping the flat clean given that he does most of the cooking.  For me, cleaning is therapeutic and for him cooking.  He is far better at cooking than me and initially, I was surprised at how well he cooks but as he says, it´s easy.  This got me thinking, if only other guys thought like this as opposed to – I´m a guy, so I don´t need/want/have to cook, but as a woman/daughter/wife/mother, it is your responsibility to cook.   I have learnt a far few recipes from him and whilst I still take longer to cook, I´m getting better.  Now, I’m still a vegetarian and yes I tried a little fish but on the whole I have no desire to eat meat.  Consequently, my friend doesn´t cook meat other than once a week or so.  Meat has been substituted with soya meat.

Whilst back home and in other countries, a guy living with a girl would raise no automatic assumptions, here it is different.  For the most part, especially those of whom are older, appear to think that my friend and I are in a relationship, which is not the case. Each time either one of us has to explain this or reiterate this, it makes me laugh because back home it would be accepted that we are just good friends, living together. My friend and I are good friends but we are chalk and cheese. He enjoys sci-fi, escaping into different realities, playing computer games, afraid of nothing, thinks small ants are cute and wants a spider for a pet. I love to watch comedy movies or shows, I want to live and read about this reality, horror movies and cockroaches still scar me, I can´t bear watch graphic warfare movies and find puppy dogs cute.

There is endless music that I haven´t heard and initially it shocked him but now I think he is over it thankfully.  Of course there is heaps of Indian music that he has never heard too. We have seen and continue to watch very different movies. He enjoys Lord of Rings, The Hobbit and pretty much any movie that has a beautiful, visual scenery and impact. Where as I, on the other hand, want to watch something that will make me laugh, something that will move me or inspire me.  I agreed to watch Game of Thrones (having never watched or followed it previously) and he agreed to watch Grey´s Anatomy, again never having watched it.  I have to say, I hate Game of Thrones, there is nothing I like, all the scenes consist of war, violence, blood, death or sex. I gain nothing from watching it and there are perhaps two characters I feel sorry for but other than this, nothing. I finished the first season and managed to get through half of the second before I drew the line. It is simply not for me. He on the other hand, quite likes Grey´s, I mean how can you not, it is realistic, deep, funny, emotional and amazing.

These differences a side, he is very kind and caring and always helps others. From lending his laptop to giving his time to giving advice. Yes, he is a little shy and he is an introvert but once he gets to know you and there is some connection, it´s done.  He is very good listener, lord knows I drive him crazy with my constant rambling, half of which I know he doesn´t need to know but I´m a rambler and need to share my day. I am also more of a people person than him, as he says, I am more social working than him.  If I want to achieve something or try something, he works out a way of making it happen. For example, me trying to learn Spanish, his suggestion, pair up with someone here, teach them English and then they would teach me Spanish.  Also, me wanting to volunteer with women, he made a call and then helped me translate my CV into Spanish.

I have also been fortunate enough to meet many of his friends. One of whom is more like a mother figure, she is perhaps as old as my mother, very kind and warm. I have met her a few times now and she is so full of life and happiness and she generates this energy that rubs off onto you. She talks to me in Spanish but slowly so I can understand more or less what she says.  For the most part, we are joking or laughing and she is sharing life stories which I love listening to. She is humble and makes you appreciate all the things you have in life. She has a simple life here, she is not materialistic, she has nothing but love for her husband and whilst she was not able to have children of her own, she has nothing but love for the children/young people she knows.  I had her dancing to Indian music and eating empanadas filled with curry! I couldn´t help but think of my mum and home.

I truly believe where you live and whom you live with is important. I never thought I would stay here for as long as I did and I certainly didn’t think I would stay with my friend in his house. But, living with him, reminds me of living with Suzi (my flatmate back in London) both of them accept me and understand me and neither judge me. Neither of them are rude or mean and we don’t argue. Both Suzi and my friend have a different culture, religion and principles but none of these differences prevents them from letting me be me. My friend here knows little about the Indian culture, there are no Indian people here and he knew no Indians back home. So, I have shared my culture, religion and most importantly cooked Indian cooked, well at least tried, with the spices available here.

Essentially, it doesn’t matter where you live or who you live with, whether it is a guy or girl, whether they are white or African, whether they are straight or young.  If you manage to make some connection, if you manage to form some mutual understanding and you have the space to be yourself then it really is golden. I’m a pretty chilled individual, little things make me happy and I like to spread joy wherever I go and laughter. I also like to hug and do what I can to help friends.  The aim is to have my mind, body and soul at peace, when I can, as much as possible.  Living here, I have managed to achieve some of this, we all have our highs and lows and things change but for the most part I’m happy here for now, working and volunteering, doing what I can for others.  I found a sense of belonging where I least expected to.  It is difficult to explain and I know some of my friends and family member won’t understand it, they won’t see it but it is something I feel.  It is this feeling that made me stay and I believe that I will get a feeling when the time is right to move.  This is why I don’t plan, how do you plan when feelings change or when you feel too many things all at once?