“The Devil has put a penalty on all things we enjoy in life. Either we suffer in health or we suffer in soul or we get fat” -Albert Einstein
Óga Ita, Itapúa, Paraguay
I… Am fat. At least that’s what everyone tells me. Iky’raite Chance is my brother Abundio’s favorite saying when I’m around. He says it when I’m at his house, he says it when he’s over at our house, it was even his opening line for my site presentation in front of my bosses in January. Chance is really fat. Chara’s sister Sani said it while I was putting my backpack on last week. My community contact says it to my brother like I’m not even there. My host family in Guarambare said it with surprise like I’d gained a hundred pounds when I came back for reconnect training. What can I say? I’m a fatty.
The thing is, yes, I have a little extra insulation, but here in Paraguay, being told that you’re fat isn’t entirely a bad thing. In the campo, where there’s not a lot of work beyond trying to feed your family and grow a little extra to sell on the side, being fat is a sign that you’re happy, you have food, you have a life where you can eat more. However, my American brain still has a negative stigma attached to the word, and when my brother-in-law, Mario, who is either the happiest of all or pregnant with triplets, tells me I’m fat, I grin and bear it. Some of the other volunteers, who are much more fit than I am, have even been called fat a few times. Fat = Healthy. Skinny = Sickly. My host mom actually thought I was sick when I lost a little weight from my regular jogs through the campo and promptly tried shoving chipa down my throat to get me back to my original fatty self.
At first, I took it as offense. In America, you do not greet someone by commenting on their body or appearance, but here, it’s standard. Not only have I been told I’m fat, but also that I’m blonde (not really), how nice my white skin is (thanks, I polish it daily), how tall I am (most Paraguayans just can’t make it past 5’6″), and how big my feet are (I can’t find my size here in Paraguay, yet I’m only a standard 11 in the U.S.). I’M A FREAK. A FATTY FREAK. And I’m informed of it daily. But now I know that no one actually means it as an offense. It is a way of telling me that I look happy. That I must love Paraguayan cooking. So I tell them I do (bold faced lies), and that my mom has the best cooking in Paraguay (the lie of the century) and they love it. They understand. Heterei la tembi’u paraguaio.
So here I am. The fatty of Óga Ita and proud of it. All I can do is keep going running and hope that my mom doesn’t think I’m dying, or else I’ll get a big mouthful of chipa guazu and a strange herbal concoction brought to my door.