10 May, 2014

Mi Mejor Amigo in Paraguay

There are so many wonderful things to write about that it's hard to pick just one. But I think today I should talk about mi mejor amigo in Paraguay, Emilio the waiter. Emilio works in the restaurant in my hotel, where I have eaten the majority of my meals this week, and to me, he seems to typify the people I've met here: kind, friendly, and willing to work a little to communicate with la mujer norteamericana loca (that's me).

On my first day here, after traveling for over 24 hours, Emilio brought me the first of a series of delicious dinners. At the time, I wasn't thinking about the audacity of my request: dinnertime in Paraguay wouldn't start for another two hours, but there I was with a stomach still set on a midwestern US eating schedule. As soon as he realized I didn't speak Spanish particularly well, he changed his way of speaking from the lightning-fast, liquid sounds of a native speaker to the slower, more measured (and simple) phrasing my tired brains needed. That first night, he was willing to slow down, to have a conversation with me, not just a bare-bones communication. I walked to my room knowing how to thank someone in Guarani, and feeling confident in my decision to come here.

"My" table
Over the course of the last week, Emilio has continued to chat with me. We're not always the most adept at understanding one another, but his willingness to work with me makes all the difference. Emilio makes sure that what I ordered is what I want, and he explains the things I see during the day as clearly as he can. He reminds me to put on sunscreen, and asks about my husband, my work back home, and he listens to my fractured Spanish indulgently. We write things down, make frequent use of Google translate, and we get it done. Also he tells me I look "muy bonita" and saves the best table for me, and that's nice too. 

I can't help but contrast that with what would happen back home, if the situation were reversed, and think we could take a lesson from the people of Paraguay. How many times have you seen Americans avoid talking to people who are learning English? How many times have you heard them roll their eyes, exclaim "speak English or go home," or just repeat themselves in English at increasing volumes? None of that has happened to me. Not from any single person I've interacted with: money changers at the bank, vendors on the street, the woman who cleans my room, and of course the famous Emilio, all of them trying to help me, not scold me. 

I'm not saying there's been no culture shock, and I will admit that my ears perk up when I hear English being spoken, but this experience has been made so much better by the patience and kindness of the people I've met. If you'd like to do me a favor, do this: the next time you find yourself talking to someone who speaks a different language, don't get frustrated. Be patient, be kind, and really try to understand not just what they say, but who they are. They will thank you for it, I can promise you. 

On an unrelated note, here are some pictures of the things I've seen this week: 
Bas-relief sculpture at the Cathedral 

Plaza Juan E. O'Leary

There were parades all morning for Independence Day

A shot of my walk to work

The Cathedral associated with the university where I'm teaching

A beautiful tree-lined street

Pediment of the Monumento a los Heroes

Woman making lace

Who says punk is dead? Not Paraguayans, apparently.

Protesters at the Monumento. 

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