December 8, 2009
Grab some Coffee, I'm on My Soapbox...
(WARNING: It's late and I'm pensive. This disclaimer does not discount anything you're about to read, but should you choose to read on, do so with that in mind and DO NOT HATE ON ME IN THE COMMENTS. It makes you look bad...)
So, today is the day Paraguayans set aside to pay homage to the Virgin of the city of Caacupe, which you can read about here. Tonight, we went to a class about Catholicism, tracing the roots of not only the religion itself, but where the adoration of a woman (often goddesses in ancient societies) originated. Very interesting.
After the class, we were invited to a friend's home for ice cream (making and selling ice cream is their family business, complete with a bunch of hand carts--coolers on wheels--that are pushed through town). As we sat around enjoying the company of really nice folks, the conversation turned the direction it always takes. "How are you adjusting to here? Do you miss your family/your traditions/your food/___ (fill in the blank) very much? Do you need any help? Are you understanding the Guarani?" etc. Bless their hearts, these Paraguayans are SO neighborly and just go out of their way to make us feel comfortable.
When we visit a new church, for example, it's often a bit awkward because we're offered "the best seat in the house," and acknowledged from the pulpit. In stores, people want to touch the girls' hair or remark on how beautiful they are or make a quick conversation with us. Our neighbors look in on us to help us learn new recipes or show us how to do things without the tools we're used to. People just go out of their way to be nice.
Now, I've heard it explained away that it's not friendliness, it's an awareness of the American dollar. I don't go for that. Okay, sure that happens sometimes, and sometimes the merchants give us a "special price" that means they're increasing the normal cost to take advantage of our ignorance. But more often than not, people are extremely helpful and generous.
MY POINT? Every time I am asked about how we're getting along here, I think about those friends we made in the U.S. who came FROM these Latin American countries. I think of the "warm" reception they received. Mind you, this is not a political discussion. Please don't hate me in the comments. I don't pretend to know all the in's and out's of the spectrum of topics regarding immigration into the United States. All I know is that I met precious people, that, for whatever reasons, moved to my home country. Not unlike what we did in moving here. Regardless of their background or their reasonings, they were often in great need of some assistance. Not unlike we've been here. The times I was blessed to accompany them in seeking this assistance (enrolling children in school, trying for a driver's license, going for dr's appointments), I'm ashamed to say that my fellow citizens treated these new residents quite poorly. The worst examples were from appointments wherein my friends were trying to do things legally. I then understood (not condoned, but understood) why so many choose to fly under radar.
I've reflected on those experiences a million times here, like when we'd only been here a few weeks and my ear/tongue had not adjusted to Paraguayan Spanish. I made several emergency room visits where I was unable to speak or understand very well. Did that make my need any less? If anything, it made me MORE sick, from the added nervousness of the language and not knowing how their healthcare operates here.
I've thought about the people who go out of their way to smile at us or tell my children that they are beautiful. (One of which sticks out like a sore thumb here, from a mile away, and is acutely aware of that.) When our friends, the Cediels, came from Colombia, South America, they came with their own two adorable daughters with them (and a handsome son...), but I'm guessing not many they met bothered to tell them they were pretty.
So many times they talk about wanting to visit the States and see some of the things from the movies (mostly snow). They ask if people's yards really are THAT big, or if practically everyone really does have a car. They want to see the beautiful scenes of all the natural beauty we're blessed with. But when I imagine the good people I've met here, who have helped us so much, stepping foot on my turf, I cringe a bit. I know that sounds bad, but you gotta know what I mean. My tendency is to protect them from us by lying with, "Nah, it's all just Hollywood trickery. Save your money and stay here."
I could go on and on, but my point is this: regardless of your stand on immigration, people are human (most of us) and we all have needs. So the next time you're in Berea Wal-Mart and the Mexican gentleman fumbles through his wallet trying to understand how many coins he should give the cashier, think of me doing the same thing here and help the guy out. Show your foreign neighbor how to use some of the appliances he can't figure out. Sit next to the new kid that's too nervous to speak the English he's learning. And to the child who had no choice in moving and probably DIDN'T want to leave the familiar behind, a smile and "hello" goes a long way. Let the government handle the messes--and even get involved in that if you'd like (more Christians SHOULD)--but love the people you come in contact with day to day, like Jesus would. Don't send the Samaritan woman home without water just because someone said you shouldn't share the same drinking glass.