In the movie “Ruthless People,” one of the villains is infamously incompetent—he thinks he and his girlfriend will run off “to Haiti,” when her plans are to run off to “Tahiti.”
Neither Jon nor Nalena has run off. But, they are headed far away. Not to Haiti nor Tahiti, but to Paraguay.
Paraguary is a landlocked nation along the Tropic of Capricorn in South America, roughly twice the population of Iowa, roughly three times the square miles. Iowa is not a very dense place, which means Paraguay must stretch out a bit. Like Iowa, the western half of Paraguay is the empty half, but the disparity is much greater there—the country is divided into a fairly densely populated eastern part and fairly empty and much larger, somewhat arid, western part.
We don’t know yet exactly where in this tropical land Jon and Nalena will be living. They have some training time before being deployed by the Peace Corps. The both have an advantage—Nalena is from Puerto Rico, Jon had a semester in Spain and minored in Spanish at Iowa State—they both speak one of the two languages of Paraguay, Spanish. They don’t speak Guaraní, the other language. Most people in Paraguay understand both, although the indigenous tongue prevails in rural areas. If they are posted to a rural village, the training Jon and Nalena will receive in the coming months on the rudiments of Guaraní will be important to them!
We don’t really expect that they’ll be in a rural village. Jon is a computer scientist and worked for Microsoft, the Peace Corps has already told him he’ll be doing computer-related economic development. To me, that sounds like “city,” but which city? And what is a “city” in Paraguay?
I know it was a big “uh-oh” moment when they left. We got them to the airport in Cedar Rapids around 7 a.m. this morning, and it seemed like check-in went too smoothly. Before we knew it, it was time for farewell, and they slipped away from us, bound first for Chicago, thence to Miami to enter the Corp, and finally, in an overnight flight tonight, to Asunción.
It will be a bit before we hear from them, and even longer before we can see them again. It’s only a bit over two years—27 months—and we may fly down to Paraguay ourselves at least once during that time.
Well, if you don’t wait until you’re retired to join the Peace Corps, I suppose it’s best to do it when you’re young. Good luck, Jon and Nalena. May you feel that you’re doing good work, may being tri-lingual be a cool experience, and may you learn to love the people and places of far-off Paraguay.