As is probably obvious from the fact that I am able to sit hear and write this, I have made it to Paraguay safe and sound. My luggage (or American Airlines) decided to act on a whim, so the bulk of my possessions did not arrive until a few hours after I did. Beyond that, the actual traveling was pretty uneventful. I had a lay over in Brazil, but since I did not leave the airport, I’m not sure that I can count it as having visited the country. Currently, I am hoping that I am in the “calm before the storm” phase. We haven’t yet met with our in country partners and won’t until Tuesday. Until then, our jobs seem to be getting to know the city of Asuncion, meet with random people, and trying various forms of empanadas for eateries all over town. As much fun as that sounds, it is difficult being so far away and yet stuck in this liminal phase.
To add to this, I made a major miscalculation. You see between middle school and high school, I took six years of Spanish. I have spent two different summers in Spain, grew up in Texas (which is rapidly becoming simply another part of Latin America), briefly taught in Los Angeles, and have even done short stints in Peru, Costa Rica, and Mexico. Also, I have known for almost six months that I was coming to Paraguay and that my life would be operating mostly en Espanol. However, thanks to an outstanding personality conflict between me and Senora Galivan for Spanish 3 and 4, my grasp of Spanish is much more limited than my credentials would indicate or even than I remembered. You know that old saying about if you don’t use it, you lose it? It turns out that Spanish falls into that category. For the most part, I understand about 70% of what is said. In terms of speaking, which is essentially what I do for a living in my mother tongue, the results are not so good.
In one of my other lives back in the United States, I work as a video editor for a Candler professor, Dr. Ellison. One of the major things that he talks about is this idea of the “unseen.” The people that exist in our world, but for whatever reason, social position, prejudice, historical inequity, we don’t actually notice them. A perfect example of this is when we were in Peru, Dr. Ellison became good friends with one of the grounds keepers who was meticulously planting grass. Despite this being a convention of pastors, no one else spoke or even really took notice of that grounds keeper. I bring this up because my inability to speak means that I am less spoken to, less looked at in conversation, less seen. It is an interesting and educational reversal.
The last time that I was “unable” to speak was my freshman year of high school. Some youth group friends and I cooked up a ridiculous plan to make a couple of them seem more sympathetic to some girls that they were trying to impress by having me play their “mute” friend. I understand that the logic of this was questionable, but at the age of 15, logic seldom enters the equation when it comes to mating rituals. So, whenever we were around these two girls, I deliberately did not speak, and instead we communicated through our vaguely made up sign language. Despite my historically talkative ways, I only slipped up once. We were at Disney World riding some water ride, and I unexpectedly got hit in the back of the head with a wave of water. Even then, I only made a small gulping sound that the girls did not seem to notice. However, this time around, I am more involuntarily mute, and it is a valuable reminder of what it is to be unheard and unseen.
Theoretically, my Spanish will get better. Even still, as some one who claims to stand up for those that often get left behind, there is value in spending summer not being the loudest and most vocal and experiencing what it is not be able to speak up or get my ideas across.