Thursday, August 21, 2008

Holler from mi sitio

St. John party in San Juan Bautista, Misiones during my first volunteer visit to a rural health volunteer.

My room in Guarambare.

This is our Guarani class. This is Marcos getting frustrated.

Three kids in the Peace of the Chaco parade on June 12th in Guarambare. The day commemorates the end of the Chaco War with Bolivia in 1937.

All of the kids are off of school and the parade lasts about four hours.

Me with chipa, made of mandioca flour with a bit of cheese in side. Delicious. This photo was taken in my kitchen in Guarambare.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Although I am a municipal services development volunteer, I do not feel called to work within the four walls of the municipality. I do not feel productive there. One reason for signing for Peace Corps was to experience another country at a realistic and face-to-face level, not to close myself off from the people outside of an organized office. As a Peace Corps Volunteer, I have the ability and lack of schedule to go where I want, when I want looking for work, unlike the civil servants at the muni. At the same time, I can’t go about my work alone. I need to find a good Paraguayan partner to work with when the majority are all in the municipality from 7 – 1 pm. I could hypothetically work with the muni folks on projects in the afternoon, but the majority has other jobs or they go to class in the evenings. One woman is the director of a school in the afternoon whereas another guy goes to law school in the evenings. This is not unusual for a Paraguayan municipality. How one can possibly go to law school and work at the same time, I don’t know. I assume that the school work is much less difficult than in the United States.

Long story short, I still don’t have defined work. After shooting the breeze in the muni while drinking large quantities of terere and mate, I went to another neighborhood which is apparently lower-income. The Christian Canadian Fund (?) funds one school and the other is a Catholic school funded by the Ministry of Education because the kids’ families can’t afford to pay regular tuition. Imagine the private school vouchers., I suppose. My guide to these schools and neighborhood where I had never been before was a 10-year-old girl who allowed me to ride her beat down bike with her hanging off the back. It was quite fun riding a bike on a dirt road for the first time. It felt like the quintessence of the Peace Corps experience. At one point I thought a group of 9 cows were going to run into us as I went through a watery ditch. They mooed at us, but fortunately were not aggressive.

In the Catholic school, the first young boys who saw me started speaking to me in English. I assumed at the first second that they were kids I had already met, but as with most people I meet; I forget their names or that I even met them at all. I asked one boy candidly, “Have I met you before?” He responded, “No.” Therefore I must have looked blatantly americana, norteamericana to these criaturas (kids) for them to start in English from the get-go. Next I chatted with the director of the school, telling her what I say what feels like 10 times a day: name, title, country of origin, organization, what the heck am I doing here, what’s your favorite color, etc. It’s really not fair that I have hundreds of people to remember and they have one person to remember.

Doing Peace Corps is like running a marathon: a lot of people think you’re crazy for doing it, it pushes you to limits you didn’t know you could surpass, and you are always better for doing it. Let’s hope I still use that same analogy by 2010, savvy?

** Guarani funny phrase of the day*** (My first, hopefully not the last)

Hesy kavaju resa [Hey-suh kah-vah-u rey-sah] (Horse with bright eyes) – Figuratively means you have no money.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

“I like to think of the Bengals as a bowl of Cincinnati chili and Chad Johnson as the hot sauce. The chili is good in its own right, but when you add that hot sauce, it’s soooo much better.”
-Sports Illustrated (2005, I believe)

A married couple volunteering in some sector somewhere in Paraguay posted that quote on their mailbox in the Peace Corps office and I couldn’t help but post it because it made me think of my peeps back in the Nati or with roots in the Nati. Shout out!

Today was a shopping day in Asunción. I went with my host señora and her daughter Rosie. Luckily Rosie has a car, so we peaced out of town at about 6:35 and dropped off Rosie’s husband off at his work. Next we went to the Peace Corps office so I could get my gigantic red suitcase, sleeping bag and backpack out of long-term storage. I now have my Reds hat to shield me from the sun, although it doesn’t match a lot of my clothes. Besides, wearing a lot of red within a municipality can give people the idea that you are affiliated with the Colorado political party. The presidents of Paraguay were Colorado for 61 years until the most recent election on April 20th of this year electing Fernando Lugo of the Liberal Party. Lugo was previously a Catholic archbishop and rumor has it that the Catholic Church was not so happy about his leaving behind his clerical profession to take up Paraguayan politics. He seems to be good so far, and there is a lot of hope that he will lead Paraguay down a better path. I see tidbits on the news in the morning and at night.

I visited another school today on the edge of town. There are about six classrooms. One or two of the teachers and the director were not present, and there were no substitute teachers. The only class that seemed to be learning anything were the first graders, attentively writing down the number between 100 and 200.

The other classrooms were writing down questions and answers to study for their final exams taking place tomorrow. Some teachers just walk out of their classrooms and don’t supervise the kids. Consequently there are kids sitting in the windowsills, getting up in the middle of class or eating ice cream. Two of the teachers with whom I was talking didn’t even offer to step outside of the classroom with me to talk, so we were standing right in front of the kids, distracting them with our conversation, while many of them were trying to copy down their work. Teachers can try their hardest and kids are still uncooperative, but in this case there were apparently interested students but the teachers were the problem. I made a date to make a map of my town with two kids from three classes for a total of six this Monday. I will go in the morning at 9:30 am and again at 2:30 pm. I am going to get some huge sheets of paper (think Win Lose or Draw) and some colored markers, hopefully from my contact at another one of the schools in town. If I can’t get the paper I’ll have to go to Asunción tomorrow to bring it from the Peace Corps Office. In other words I’ll have to spend the majority of the day traveling to and from Asunción because the bus takes way longer than it should. It would only take about a half hour to travel the distance from Asunción to my site if I were in the United States. Here in Paraguay we compete with horse drawn carts, mopeds passing on your right and left simultaneously and riding on the dotted line, vehicles running red lights and/or sitting in the middle of oncoming traffic.

A ride on a Paraguayan is so exciting that I’m shocked that I haven’t mentioned it here yet. First off, they are all private companies originating in whatever the bus’s destination town is. For example, Guarambaré has its own bus. Each bus is painted different colors, and a lot of them have Jesus stickers on the windshield and back window. The drivers take your money, give you your receipt, give change, drink terere or talk on their cell phones while they are driving. Somehow, I haven’t seen any buses wreck yet! There are hardly any official bus stops, so the bus stops what feels like ever three minutes to pick up someone or drop them off. The twist on the Paraguayan bus system is that many bus companies have a deal with the municipality in which they reside to be the only bus company in town. No other bus companies are allowed to transport people to or from Nueva Italia, for example, even though the few buses that do run are perpetually packed. So much so that they are called salchicha (sausage) factories. I don’t know how most of the buses are still running because they are old enough to be antiques. All of them run on diesel, producing a lovely smog cloud above the city. Most other vehicles use diesel as well, so that smell is always lingering in the air in the center of the capital.

This is my Peace Corps training group when we were learning to make laundry detergent with a women's commission in Guarambaré. We also learned how to make a cough syrup from plants. Both the detergent and the cough syrup are sold to the community to raise money for their children. Most of the women in the commission are single and don't make enough money to pay for their children's surgeries or other medical needs. Two of the other trainees are not in this photo.

From left to right in the back row are Joan, Shola, me, rebecca, Courtney, Julie, Erik, Liam and Tessa. Laara is in front of Joan on the left. Missing are Jesus and Marcos.

If you would like to send me a package, you can enclose one or more of the following:

Cliff Bars, incense, Trader Joe's dry fruit mix, fiber anything, magazines such as The Economist, National Geographic, or even Us Weekly or People. I don't want to miss out on the lifestyles of the rich and famous, homemade CDs of the latest music, gum, mint, Japanese Cherry Blossom body spray from Bath and Body Works, Juniper Breeze from Bath and Body Works soap or any soap of that sort, St. Ives normal skin facial scrub, a red Ohio State T-shirt. And of course any other surprises you want to throw in would be fantastic.


  1. hopefully you aren't too frustrated to try to load the photos of your friends again! i want to see everyone! it is really good to see some pics of you and your "homestead"! it was so good to talk to you the other day---oh! i have a project for you: get those teachers under control!!! love you, lins

  2. Karen, i LOVE reading your post. i am so excited to hear of your latest adventures and will you email me your address so i may "surprise" you with american goodies - i got you covered on the latest celebrity gossip and hot new music.

    hope this message finds you well.

    all my best,