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.