Sunday, June 29, 2008


Sunday being our only day we have free of CHP training, it´s my only day I have time to reflect on the fact that I´m in Paraguay and not in Ohio still. It´s still a shock to my system when I think that I´ll be here for two whole years which won´t begin until August 16th. The other lovely factor is that none of us know where we will be after we are sworn in at the US Embassy in Asuncion on August 14th. I am surprised and proud of how well our group deals with this uncertainty and the uncertainty of how the next two years of our lives will go. The flexibility PC staff stresses during the application process in the States and training is only preparation for he constant flexiblity vols must have to live two years in a foreign country.

The first few weeks here I felt that the culture was not that different and it would not be that difficult for me to communicate. During week three or four, the smallest differences or idiosyncracies have begun to wear on me. Paraguayans do not enunciate their words like Colombians or Mexicans; they don´t open their mouths enough for the full vowels to come out, so my brain and my ears are exhausted from straining and trying to understand what should be easy after studying Spanish for eight years. The Guarani has influenced the Spanish spoken here and vice versa, so when I expect people to speak Guarani they throw in some Spanish words, and my brain becomes a tangled mess. At that point I like to go in my room and listen to some English music to let my mind relax for awhile.

As a summary for those of you who may be tuning in recently or who I haven´t told much about the what, where, when and why of me and Peace Corps, I´ll explain in a nutshell:

Who? Me

What? Peace Corps Paraguay, group G27 (27th Peace Corps group in Pgy), municipal services development

When? May 29th-Aug 12: training at CHP, contracted by Peace Corps to teach us how to speak the languages here, how to adjust culturally, not be robbed or assaulted, maintain our personal health and how to be good professionals technically within our field or work.

Aug. 16, 2008- Aug. 16, 2010: service at a yet to be determined site somewhere in Paraguay, probably in the eastern part (east of the Rio (river) Paraguay).

Why? I have been wanting to cement my Spanish skills for years now through a long term immersion such as Peace Corps offers. I didn´t want to do PC for a long time because volunteers seemed to live so far from the support of counterparts, volunteers and/or other USCs (US citizens). Without a spiritual and community component such as Rostro de Cristo has, I didn´t know how PC vols sustained their motivation. I still applied for PC b/c I met so many RPCVs (returned PC volunteers) who had only good things to say. Furthermore, I figured that if so many people could live two years abroad, then so could I.

After working in Seattle with immigrants for a year, I still had the travel lust and wonder lust to learn more about how another part of the world lives, works and functions. I wanted to understand what it is like to live in a developing country and to be a facilitator to teach a man to fish so that he can fish for a lifetime. In short, that is the philosophy of PC: to be teachers and assisters; to teach people to BE more so that when we volunteers leave Paraguay there is sustainability in our solutions; we don´t create dependability. Being a facilitator is in many ways more difficult than just doing for Paraguayans what they don´t yet do, because if I want something done quickly and effectively, I´ll do it myself. That mentality doesn´t work so well in PC projects, so the going is slow. Just like the cows crossing the main road in my town now as I look out the cyber cafe doorway.

I apologize to those who didn´t know I was leaving until I was gone, but I didn´t find out until the beginning of April that I was leaving for Paraguay at the end of May. Events developed quickly and I myself didn´t believe I was going to Paraguay until I was actually here. Therefore I didn´t want to tell eveyone I was coming for fear that I would change my mind and then appear like I couldn´t make up my mind or follow through on my decisions. I´ve been known to waffle!

I nearly declined the invitation to be a PCV in Pgy because I had been waiting so long to hear from PC and had adjusted to being back in the comfort of my family circle in Ohio. Uprooting myself again after I had already done so to leave Seattle and return to Ohio was not appealing. What motivated me to stick with my instincts and deeper desire was the remembrance of why I returned to Ohio from Seattle in the first place: to apply for a program like PC and not go broke trying to live and work in Seattle at the same time.

Today I feel very far away from home and wish I could snap my fingers to be transported back just for today. I´m tired of the gristly meat; whole milk, eggs, lard and corn meal combination that I had for lunch today. On the bright side last week my Pgy mum made vegetable soup and beans and rice instead of meat. I hope that it continues and I will continue to exaggerate my positive responses to vegetables.

Even though I slept for a long time Friday and Saturday nights, I am still fatigued. Hopefully I will sleep well tonight and will be ready to rock and roll tomorrow.

This week we will have a Fourth of July Party at the US Embassy. There is a volleyball game with the Pgyan employees, US Marines, PC volunteers and other embassy staff. It´s a cookout and should be a good time, but not too good since it starts at 11 and ends at 2 pm. Word on the street aka palabra in the calle is that we will have a mini 4th of July fiesta on Saturday. For all of us awesome people from the land of the free and the home of the brave, we deserve more than a 3 hour party in the middle of the day! Happy Independence Day; I am alread sad I don´t get fireworks and the Central Ohio Symphony Orchestra to make me feel patriotic.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Belated update

17 junio 2008

Paraguay celebrated Father’s Day on Sunday just as we do in the States. Unfortunately, I didn’t have access to a phone that day to call my own wonderful dad, so I had to wait until Monday…another story for later on in this update. Beginning this past Saturday, I went to San Juan Bautista to visit another Peace Corps Volunteer that works in rural health. I could have used the volunteer’s cell phone, but I didn’t want to use her minutes—it’s expensive, and as volunteers we get very few guaranies ($$$).

San Juan Bautista (SJB) is located in a different department (the rough equivalent of states in the US) than Guarambare, which is located in the Central department, whereas SJB is in Misiones, located approximately 2.5 hours to the south/southeast of Gurambare. Peace Corps gives us a sheet of travel information and emergency phone numbers in case something happens to us. I set out at about 7:30 am on Saturday morning to arrive at the bus interchange to catch the southbound bus. I waited for about two hours in the cold with my stuffed backpack and laptop bag. There is a small bus stop by the side of the road, but the most people waiting just stand in the berm of the highway and then flag down their bus as it is about to pass, as though it were a taxi. On the weekends, the buses are wall-to-wall people, and my bus was no different. I had to stand up by the driver. He put one of my bags in front of him in the windshield to avoid wasting time placing it underneath in one of the storage departments. In spite of no seat and no seatbelt, it was the best view of any in the windshield. I wanted to see everything, since this was my first trip to another place in Paraguay.

We passed through cities much nicer than Guarambare in my opinion, such as Ita. Between the cities were miles and miles of countryside with cows, oxen and bulls scattered across the meadows. There were some random hills in the distance that looked so out of place as to be artificial, built by some golf course designer.

After some awkward small talk with the bus fare collector man who needed some mouthwash and tweezers for the hair in his nose, I finally claimed my seat for the last 40 minutes to SJB. Mr. Fare Collector, Jose, was kind enough to advise me when my stop was approaching.

When I stepped off the bus, I realized it was actually a warm day. I arrived earlier than my volunteer host had stated she would meet me on the travel instructions, but she was fortunately early, and we found each other no problem. She is a fellow C-bus native and Ohio State alum, born in Riverside the day before I was in the same year. This world keeps getting smaller and smaller!

SJB is a super lindo (beautiful) muni with many paved and cobblestone streets, a beautiful library, several clean sit-down restaurants, well-kept houses and plazas, receptacles for collecting organic waste, plastic and glass. There have been Peace Corps Volunteers in SJB before, as manifested by the world map painting on the wall of one of the muni buildings. Maybe they helped raise awareness about the pollution generated and health risks of burning one’s own trash, therefore I didn’t smell or see anyone burning theirs while there. When I returned to Guarambare today, I saw at least ten piles burning away, and at times I can almost feel the carcinogens coming into my lungs. Perhaps that’s an exaggeration, but burning one’s trash is just not a good idea.

June 21, 2008

Word on the street is that it’s going to snow tonight! My Py (from this point on means Paraguayan) grandfather (taita) said so. It has been an exceptionally cold day by Paraguayan standards, and really cold for me considering that my entire family is at the beach and it’s probably 90 degrees in Myrtle Beach. I am bummed I am missing out on the summer at home, but more bummed that I am missing out on our bi-annual family gathering at the beach with 40 odd of my awesome cousins.

It really isn’t that cold by Ohio standards, so I’m comfortable in a sweatshirt, fleece, windbreaker and headband here in my room. I love sleeping in my sleeping bag. It´s my favorite item I brought from home.

This morning we had class this morning in the satellite training community where the rural economic development (from here forward referred to as RED) trainees have their class most of the week. Occasionally the RED group and us muni trainees get together for general info sessions, this AM being the theme of the San Juan (St. John) festival that is particular to Paraguay and takes place over most of the month of June. St. John’s official feast day is June 24, but tonight there will be parties all over Py. For the first part of the morning I had Guarani class and then visited families in the community to ask about particular elements of celebrating San Juan. Erik, Sasha, Jesus and I asked one woman and her 12 year old daughter about the tradition of hitting a catorra(?)(aka a huge jar, and don’t ask me what it is in Guarani b/c I don’t remember) filled with flour, tiny paper pieces and caramelos (candy). Think a piñata and you get the picture. Other groups learned how to prepare mpembu, a crumbly pancake made of mandioca flour, milk and eggs I believe; pastel del mandioca: a meat and egg filled empanada with mandioca shell, and cocido. Cocido is prepared by lighting a charcoal on fire while waiting for water to boil on the stove, then placing the smoking charcoal onto a plate of yerba mate mixed with sugar. When the water is boiling, pour the charcoal and yerba mix into the H20 and let it sit for a few seconds. Remove the charcoal and add half a glass of room temp. water. Stir, possibly add milk or more sugar, and enjoy. The quality varies by how long the charcoal sits in the boiling water: the longer, the more burnt it tastes. I get the feeling that drinking something that has had hot charcoal sitting in it cannot be good, for the same reason that burnt meat and toast aren’t good: they are carcinogenic. A super paranoid person about food would not do well here.

While the food was cooking, Eric, Erik, Sasha, Jesus, Joan and Laara started an improv game of jump rope with the rope we should have used for the piñata game. It didn’t matter, b/c we had already hung the jars in the tree and didn’t need it. It was super fun to jump rope for the first time in years while the Paraguayans laughed at us crazy, random Americans from outside of the gate of the training center. About 10 of the kids entered the center to see how a bunch of adults played their own traditional San Juan games. We did the games up right, including a potato sack race tournament. Winners earned chocolate and the champions won socks.

In the afternoon two female Paraguayan architects presented information about the politics and history of Paraguay. One works with the German version of Peace Corps and the other just returned from the US through a Rotary Exchange. She lived in Arkansas.

I learned that 75% of the Pgyan population is under the age of 35 and that the richest10% holds 43.8% of the wealth and the poorest 10% hold .5% of the wealth.

June 22, 2008

Today dawned another chilly and cloudy day. After a quick breakfast of cocido and enriched white bread without any fiber, I threw my Guaranis into my bookbag and headed down to Laara’s house to catch the bus to Asuncion for a shopping day with Courtney and Joan. I brought my shopping list but didn’t buy one thing on the list. Today was more of a day to familiarize ourselves with where things are rather than to accomplish things.

First stop was the Super 6, where we lingered at the whole-wheat pasta, soy and high fiber food sections. Joan and I both bought high fiber cereal and yogurt. Next stop was the Mariscal Lopez shopping mall across the street, which made us feel almost like we had stepped back to the United States. We all ate plates heaped full of six different types of vegetables or salads since many of us are lacking in that department at our Pgyan homes.

The dollar exchange rate today is less than four dollars for one thousand guaranies. Our money certainly doesn’t go that far, especially is one wants to buy a paperback novel that is 140,000 guaranies: about 38 dollars! For some reason books here are very expensive, so most volunteers rely on the Peace Corps office library or exchanging books among themselves.

I have been trying to maintain some semblance of an exercise schedule with Courtney and Laara. Each morning we run at about 6 or 6:15. The cobblestone streets make it challenging, but we recently found a dirt road that we will be trying tomorrow morning. We don’t run that far but at this point it feels good to do anything that gets my heart rate up. The volunteer I visited in San Juan Bautista has plans to run the Asuncion half marathon in August, but it may not even happen b/c there are no enough sponsors yet. There is also the Buenos Aires marathon in October I believe, but I know that I will not be in nearly good enough shape to do a marathon again by then! It is hard to find the time and place to run longer distances around here. It seems that if I were out in the country it would be much easier. Here, I have to compete with motorcycles, buses, bikes and cars that could care less about pedestrians.

Aketa! (I’m going to sleep!)

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Link to my photos

Here´s a link to my Paraguay photos:

Tomorrow I´m going to Asunción with another trainee to explore the train station, ABC Color (the equivalent of the New York Times or The Washington Post in the US), a store that sells handmade goods and artisan work and Lido Bar, the most famous restaurant in all of Paraguay for its history and food. There they say that the waiters dress up like actors from Happy Days, the TV show. How it has come to be the most famous restaurant considering that is beyond me.

As for the photos, I have not uploaded all of them yet. There will be more to come later.


Sunday, June 8, 2008

New Cyber Cafe in Guarambare

I just left mass in Guarambare to smell popcorn and seeing couples getting cuddly in the plaza. One motorcycle nearly ran me over. Pedestrians have absolutely no rights here. I just have to hope that they won´t come up on the sidewalk.

Last night I went to a bar with my host sister and her boyfriend. The bar only places English classic tunes like Air Supply, Aerosmith, the GoGos... you get the idea. It´s a pretty cheesy place and one of the only sit down restaurants that I know of in this town. I would know more but I feel like my host mom is pretty protective. For example, today I wanted to go to a soccer game in town but my host mom said it´s dangerous b-c people throw rocks. I don´t even know who to cheer for, so I don´t know why ppl would throw rocks at me. However the fact that there are police at the games shows that things do happen sometimes. People are so nuts about futbol here that there was a semi size truck full of about 50 ppl waving their team flag; yelling, screaming, cheering and the driver honking his horns in rhythm.

For the first time ever I washed my clothes by hand and I would rather never do it again. It doesn´t seem to really get clothes clean and is much too labor intensive when I know that there is a washing machine right in my kitchen. My madre washes my bigger clothes in the machine but insists that she has a lot to teach me about living such as washing my clothes b-c "a lot of ppl don´t have washing machines", she says. My nerves were getting short today b-c my Guarani is malo (bad). Therefore I can´t talk to my abuelos (grandparents) next door and my host padre says he won´t talk to me anymore in castellano (what they call Spanish here). Lucky for me he´s gone most of the week in the Chaco working in estancias.

This week I get to go to Asunción, finally! I wish I had time to shop in the mall at Mariscal López, but in keeping with the training theme, Peace Corps controls most of your days. Wed. morning myself and another trainee will be sent on an assignment to find something in Asunción and then in the afternoon we get a tour of the Peace Corps office. The PC director, among others, works there. The director is Michael Eschelmann and is actually from Athens, Ohio! I may have already mentioned that...

I miss the freedom of being able to arrive home whenever I want and not having people tell me what to do. My wings are definitely clipped a bit living with a host family, but all the same I wouldn´t be integrating as well. There are definitely strange things happening everyday, like a random cow on my street that my little sister had the desire to throw rocks at, the poor cow; the lack of any organized water runoff system, therefore there is water standing in people´s yards and flowing in creeks that flow to who knows where; and the piles of trash you find in meadows blocks from the main plaza and city govt. building in town.

I´m eating so much meat here that I think I´ll tell my host family in my placement that I´m a vegetarian!

Saturday, June 7, 2008

"School" on Saturday, woohoo

Today all of us learned about composting and gardening here in Paraguay. The bugs were out today and my friend Joan started getting big red welts on her elbows! Aaaah. I still haven´t broken out the mosquito net, but I believe it will be in order in spite of Peace Corps dr. telling me that we won´t need them until the summer. Considering that it´s winter here, I´m nervous for the summer.

The Guarani is coming along, more or less, but it´s hard around my host dad because he talks super fast.

The food is pretty good, but at my house we don´t eat enough vegetables! The most that I get is romaine lettuce for a salad every two days, if that. The staple ingredients are meat, meat, meat, mayonnaise and mandioca. There is a lot of starch eaten in my house and I haven´t gained loads of weight yet, but it will come if I don´t start working out soon. Last night I went running with Courtney for ten minutes because it was dark and we did not want to trip on the empedrada (cobblestones).

Welp, I´m going to check some Facebook and then go back to reunite with my family. i would prefer to spend time with the other trainees, but I feel the push to spend time with my family and speak more Guarani.

Jajotopata! (Later!)

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Here is the corner in my town of Guarambare. I would add more photos now but it took five minutes just for this one!

Week 2 in Paraguay

1 June 2008

Today I passed my first Sunday in Guarambaré. I set my alarm to wake up for mass at 7:30 am, but when I was getting ready the entire house stayed dark, so I discovered that everyone was sleeping in! I had the impression that attending mass on Sunday is a central part of Paraguayan culture since its culture is influenced strongly by Catholicism. Perhaps this Sunday was different because the family with whom I am staying had many family members visiting today.

Most of my time I spend with Addie because she is thoughtful and is often ready with a laugh and smile. She and I were on our way to pick up her aunt at her house, when we met her aunt on the way. Addie´s family has many family members in the local cemetery, so we went to give our regards. The cemetery in Gurambaré is full now. There were at least 10 family members or relations of Addie buried there. Her aunt lit some candles at her husband´s and stepdaughter´s graves. Her stepdaughter passed away in an accident when she was only 18 years old. While we walked among the graves, which are nearly all monuments—think a small room with a door that the living can lock and enter with a key to light candles, place photos of the deceased at an altar and to place flowers by the deceased. Some are quite elaborate, with dark blue ceramic tiles. Addie kicked over some of the plastic bottles full of water and flowers because they are an attraction for mosquitoes that carry dengue. I thought, go for it, dengue is one of my biggest fears of being in Paraguay. It´s on the list along with tarantulas, yellow fever and malaria. I had my yellow fever shot this week and I´m not sure if when I´ll start taking the malaria prophylaxis pills. It´s possible that since it´s winter here now, the Peace Corps doctor will hold off until summer.

I went to the granja (farm) to feed my family´s pigs some potatoes and get some milk with Addie and Laura. The pigs are cute and ugly at the same time; more ugly when they are oinking and squealing when they are about to be fed. I think to myself, “Oh, you´re such pigs!” Then I think, “Yes, you are pigs! I suppose that´s not a fair accusation.” Again, we were with the people who don´t understand much castellano style Spanish, so I didn´t say much.

My host father “papa’’ cooked loads of pork and beef for his family and relatives. The relatives included a great uncle of my sister Addie, her uncle Jose, the aunt that I went with to the cemetery and helps me with Guaraní and her cousin Patricio. Patricio is in his 20s and lives nearly four hours away. He works on a boat that goes among Paraguay, Brazil and Bolivia. Along with the meat I had mandioca, a soft textured vegetable that has a similar consistency to a potato. It is an off-white color and is a staple of Paraguayan meals. In addition I ate salad of leafy, rich green lettuce, grated carrots, mishi mi (a little bit in Guaraní) of salt and sunflower oil.

I was supposed to meet the other Peace Corps trainees in my town, which number 11, at the local Cyber Café at 2 pm, but I was late because I was still finishing the lunch with my host family. When I finally got to the Café, it was closed and was 2:20 pm. I kept walking down the main route in the town and started talking to a woman that has known a lot of the Peace Corps trainees in Guarambaré. They have been coming here for years now. While we were talking, her neighbor who is a veterinarian pulled up to buy some gum from her store, one of the few that is open on Sundays. He has known some of the trainees as well and speaks a little bit of English because he spent a year in the United States studying to be a vet in Minnesota and some time at Cal Poly in LA. I thought of you, Erin!

Please write and comment or let me know how you are, I would love to hear from you!

Week 1 in Paraguay

May 29, 2008

Greetings from Paraguay! I am writing this from my very own room in my host family’s home here in Guarambare. I am not too far away from my other fellow municipal services volunteers, but the rural economic development volunteers are outside of Guarambare to get a better feel for the realities of living with a family in a more rural area.

Today our group of 18 arrived in Asuncion, Paraguay after our long 9 hour flight from Miami to Buenos Aires, Paraguay. The flight was not as long as I expected it to feel, but wrapping my mind around 4,000 miles was a bit interesting. I forget how the world is larger around its center, so it takes longer to fly to places that appear close on a map.

It was definitely chilly while we waited for the porters to load our absurd amount of luggage in Paraguayan minds into diesel trucks. Welcome to winter in the summer hemisphere. If I make it to my birthday here next year, it will be my first birthday ever celebrated in summer!

Our first lunch in Paraguay was banana bread, some tomato lettuce and cream cheese sandwiches, oranges, apples and small little bananas that I daresay are not bananas at all but rather plantains. The Cuerpo de Paz CHP (Peace Corps Center for Human Potential) has stone paths connecting different shelters in the side and back yard, about four shelters in all that have straw on top and plastic covers on the side to block out the rain, or, as today, the cold air. It was hot and humid yesterday, then rained, which nearly always brings cold weather, according to one of the locals who I spoke with at the CHP house, where our training will take place for the next three months.

At about 3 pm today our host mothers showed up at the training center to meet us. RPCVs (Returned Peace Corps Volunteers) warned me that this face to face volunteers in one line facing the hosts in the other would be one of my most awkward experiences. I did not feel that it was such. I expected it to come and perhaps I was too exhausted to get embarrassed.

My host mother’s name is Laura and she has a small peluqueria (hair dressing shop) added on to her house. She also sells sweets and other items in her hair salon. It consists of only one sink for washing hair and one chair for cutting and styling.


Well, I officially made my host family worry about me today: I was supposed to be at home for lunch and then was tardy reaching home until about 5:30 because I went to send e-mails after training and also because my nearest Peace Corps trainee neighbor Jesus and I dropped Liam (another PCT – Peace Corps trainee) off at his house. We met his “brother” Antonio. Liam has the nicest house of anyone I heard describe theirs during training, although most of muni volunteers have nice homes by Paraguayan standards. He says he has an internet connection in his house, but he doesn’t know the password. While there we saw there bua (owl) which is actually an illegal animal to have, ha ha. It was pretty neat to see one so close. It was white with black spots. Antonio said that he gives it rats and meat to eat. He also used to have a monkey, but since monkeys are hunters, it killed one of his dogs. Incredible. The best part is that his brother has (or had?) a toucan! hahha ha. As we left Liam´s house, Jesus askes if he could have a aguava fruit that grew in a tree. Antonio conceded, so he climbed the tree and picked us each one.

The yards of those in Guarambare are pretty large, consisting of three or four guard dogs and some parakeets. My parakeet says, “Mamá, mama.’’ I believe that´s b-c my host mom has her mother next door, and frequently comes through the side gate to hear her saying, ¨¡Mamá, mamá!

The food I had for dinner tonight was wonderful, as it was for lunch. I had rice cooked with milk and maneca. Manecas look like white lima beans. I also had more sopa Paraguay, that looks like cornbread but tastes more like a salty omelet. It contains egg, milk, onion, salt and flour. I had sopa Paraguay for my first dinner last night, and then for my second I had a small pizza with tomato sauce from fresh tomatoes. They are so red here; it is not often that you see some so red in the US.

I am so glad that I have a sleeping bag here because it is so cold. It feels like JVC Seattle Cherry Abbey in the winter when our heat didn´t work! Nothing new, right? Just wait until it´s 105 degrees and humid. They say that people actually shower 5x a day then! I wonder, how do you get anything done then? I guess you don´t, you just sit around and drink terere, which is an herbal tea that Paraguayans drink constantly it seems. I won a box of it during a Jeopardy game show to learn more about getting along in Paraguay today at training.

I´m about to fall asleep as we speak. All is well here so far, I am sorry I cannot communicate more often!