Sunday, August 17, 2008

Updates from the Chaco

August 10, 2008

I did not preconceive my Peace Corps experience as “hanging out” with people, but that is exactly what I’m doing.

My first full day in site has come and gone. I am officially cut loose from training, and now my time will be even more so what I make of it. I have been prepared well: when Paraguayans here me speak Spanish and some Guarani, they are often surprised. Some even ask me if I am from Paraguay before they hear me speak. Others ask if I’m from Germany. In a way, I guess I am--- three or four generations removed.

It is darn near impossible to be alone here in Paraguay. People are always trying to include me, and as soon as I am about ready to leave a party, they usually tell me when the next fiesta is so we can see each other again. Paraguayans love to party; they are ready for some asado (grilled steak) and Brahma cerveza anytime. The party today was a 40th birthday for the local owner of a bar and restaurant. He loves old school American rock like Billy Idol and Jethro Tull. He knows the words and music better than I do. If I thought I was going to miss the Columbus classic rock station, I was mistaken. Queen, Guns ‘N Roses and Bon Jovi are all popular here. At the party there was sopa paraguaya, Coke, grapefruit flavored soda, coleslaw salad, rice salad, asado, chicken and sausage. Julia, a girl about my age, introduced me to a lot of people. She is a lawyer in Asuncion; she just graduated from law school last year. Here it’s normal to start law school right after graduation from high school. You graduate from law in six years.

Last night there was a party in what I think was a walled-in, concrete soccer field. A retro band called the Bufalos was playing “Easy Like Sunday Morning”, “Hotel California”, “My Sharona”, CCR and “Can’t Buy Me Love” by the Beatles. The accompaniment was right on but the lyrics were lacking. No surprise, ha ha. Two guys running the event met me before the band was introduced, so when they were presenting they even mentioned my name, saying, “Karen from Washington” even though I’m not from Washington. It was a nice gesture nonetheless.

I am tired, so I’ll see if I get up with my alarm tomorrow or sleep in. Tomorrow I am visiting a colegio (school), Santa Rosa de Lima, where two girls I met today, Tania and Analia, will be showing me around and introducing me to people. The high school is only about two blocks away. My host nephew is one year younger than Tania and Analia and attends the same school; he’s 12 or 13. There is a possibility that I could work in the schools with environmental education, which I am motivated to do every time I see the smog over Asuncion and smell trash burning in the air. After I visit the school I’m going to make my first officially appearance as a Peace Corps Volunteer in the municipality.

So long, farewell, aufwiedersehn, good-night.

P.S. – I am so happy to have a cell phone . My number is 595.971.981.390.

August 12, 2008

It still catches me by surprise how natural it feels for me to be walking down the street here in my town. It does not feel like walking down the street in my neighborhood in Ohio or in Seattle or Cleveland, but it feels normal. In spite of deep ruts, cows, decomposing dog bodies and rushing creeks in the rain, these streets are quite familiar.

This morning I went to the city council meeting, which I should have expected to start late as everything in Paraguay does. There are 12 members of city council. There were about 9 that showed up; 8 for the beginning of the meeting. The secretary read the points of discussion so fast and without any inflection, so I did not retain more than 20 words of her 10-minute litany. There is a former senator, a teacher and some other people I had already heard of from other acquaintances in my town on the city council. One lady may take me to the steel foundry in the nearest big town next week. The teacher on the council has already asked me to go with him and some other members to turn in some paper at the US Embassy. I don’t know for what; I assume to request $ of some sort.

In the middle of the meeting the mayor and the secretary general (aka the mayor’s right hand man) came in. The mayor started to talk about his upcoming trip to Encarnación bordering Argentina to meet an engineer to discuss biodiesel fuel. I couldn’t gather if it were about using biodiesel or growing it in our municipality. When I attend meetings like this one I know that I have a ways to go to understand everything in Spanish.

The plan as of yesterday is to live with the woman I am with now until the beginning of September, at which time I will (hopefully) have found another family to live with until November. I would like to get to another family with children that hopefully speaks more Guarani before I move out on my own in November. There are many pieces that must be fit together to finish the housing puzzle. I first must find a second family and then find my own house or apartment or some sort of private space next to or in the back of someone’s house. I’m not worried about it, although I suppose I should be. I am busy meeting new people, shopping for food, organizing my thoughts, and just living.

Today it was lighting and thundering just as it does in Ohio. It was blustery even after the storm, and I wore my fleece almost all day. Orchids have started to bloom. There is a huge tree with what looks like poinsettias on it. After the city council meeting I had a meat and vegetable soup with mandioca and salad with cucumbers and tomato. I ate with my señora and with her grandson who is very cute and is very interested in the US. He is only 13 but definitely fun to shoot the breeze with about why Toddy hot chocolate is better than NesQuik and about everything from Paraguayan soccer players to music.

I have met other females my age but the majority are already married with kids or divorced with kids. Getting married when one is less than 20 and having kids before you’re married and/or when one is really young is normal here. It makes for a confusing family.

My room here is about 20 feet long and 15 feet wide. I have tow windows and a door that goes out into the backyard. The ceiling is wood and I have one fluorescent light. I have seem one incandescent lightbulb since I came to Paraguay. Everyone uses fluorescent. My walls are mint colored and the floor is brown tile. I also have a wooden table and three wooden chairs that was probably my señora’s mother’s kitchen table because the chairs are not in great shape. I keep most of my clothes in my suitcase because there is still no chest of drawers. Come to think of it I won’t be getting one until I move out on my own, most likely. In Peace Corps you’re always living out of your suitcase.

Today I also went shopping and bought a kilo of red beans that cost 6,000 guaranies ($1.50ish), a small box of laundry detergent ($2.00), wheat bread (8 dinner rolls for less than $1.00), yogurt for 2,000 Gs (guaranies). If you haven’t figured it out yet, $1.00 = approx. 4,000 guaranies. We volunteers are paid in guaranies, so we think in guaranies so we don’t think we’re richer than we really are by converting all of prices of our commodities into dollars.

Hasta luengo

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