Thursday, October 23, 2008

Update from the ciber

Photos from my trip to the local indigenous community when the German deputy visited two weeks ago: Above is the home of one family, to the left: men digging the hole for the water well. They would soon hit rock and have to move this excavating apparatus to another place, where they would hit rock again.
BELOW: The mayor of my town talking through the German deputy's German-Spanish interpreter about the water study and importance of the water well for the indigenous community. In the background is an active member of the indigenous community (in red) and the cacique (chief) of the indigenous community.

October 21, 2008

I saw a frog in the street tonight as I sat with my two señoras in front of our house. Its presence is the harbinger of rain tomorrow. I don’t know how the frogs can sense that rain is coming. After it starts raining, we usually see huge toads in our kitchen or in the street. Although rain enters our kitchen and leaks through the roof in some places, I welcome it because it has been in the 90s yesterday and today. On hot days such as these it’s so nice to have some ice cream or some fruit juice. Tonight we had watermelon and a mix of watermelon and pineapple juice that I bought at the depsensa (aka Mom and Pop convenience store). We threw it into a blender with some sugar, added some ice, and voilá. The cooking practice continues: last night I made soy empanadas; or rather, I went to the despensa across the street to buy some green pepper to add to the empanadas while the other señora who lives with me cooked the vegetables and soy. Nevertheless, I saw her technique and I will be able to do it by myself the next time! She used two tomatoes, two onions, soy (obviously), black pepper, oregano, basil and garlic. After that mix is cooked, I had to wait for it to cool. Then you put it in the store-bought empanada discs, fold it like a taco and close it, assuring there are no holes where the mixture within can escape. We cooked our empanadas in the oven rather than frying them in sunflower oil like most do. They are much better for you if they are baked rather than fried. One must beat one egg and then spread a bit on top of the closed empanadas to make sure that they get hard in the oven, I suppose. Currently I am fighting a nasty cold. Kleenex surrounds me here on my bed while I listen to Julieta Venegas. The Paraguayan diagnosis of my ailment is that it’s too hot and there is too much dust, which makes my throat hurt. They suggested that I go to the health center, but I only started feeling under the weather on Sunday. If it continues, then I’ll go. But I don’t feel any different from when I have had colds in the past. It’s just a matter of riding out the stuffy nose, congestion and lack of energy. I hope that it doesn’t turn out to be a sinus infection, because then I will probably have to go to the doctor and get a prescription. I am thinking more about moving out these days because I don’t like using my señora’s pots, pans, refrigerator, and her general kitchen space. The downside is that living by myself requires that I do more cleaning and that I spend more money to buy my own appliances like a fridge, microwave, etc. I know volunteers who have lived without a fridge, but in the middle of a Paraguayan summer, I must have a freezer for ice! New volunteers who are following up another Peace Corps volunteer are more likely to live in the former PCV house already equipped with necessities. That is not the case in my town since I am a first time volunteer here in the urban area (about three years ago there was another Peace Corps volunteer in a rural part of my town). Yesterday and this weekend were boring and depressing. Two years started to feel like an incredibly long time. I started to consider if it’s worth it to fly back to the States for Christmas…or stay here and go somewhere like the beach in Uruguay or Argentina. At this moment I am thinking Uruguay; a friend of mine has family there and invited me to spend Christmas there. Tomorrow, however, you may find me checking flights to the States. I am disappointed to be missing my favorite season of the year, with the colors of all of the leaves changing, the brisk air, the clear blue skies, the high school and OSU marching bands, football games and cross country meets.
October 18, 2008

Today I hear that some city council members reported the mayor of my town to the National Control Office (Contraloría) because he is allegedly misusing royalties funds from Itaipu and Yacyreta dams. Every municipality in Paraguay receives some royalties money to support community projects.

The part that is most difficult regarding this report is that the guy (Robert) who reported it ran for mayor in the 2005 elections, the most recent election year. He is my next-door neighbor, and I visited him this past week to learn more about the community work that he has been doing. He rode around on his bike for two years interviewing everyone in BB (that's code ;)), my town. He knows what parts of town flood when it rains, where bridges are needed, the phone numbers of all residents; the specific needs of each barrio.
He has at least 10 pages of detailed maps of the whole municipality to appropriately plan his work with neighborhood commissions, youth groups, etc. He has helped put on painting and theatre workshops and has recently started giving talks in school regarding leadership. At the conclusion of said workshop, the students wrote their suggestions for future talks. From these suggestions, Robert is formulating 35 more talks regarding sexuality, politics, pride, drug addiction and professional skills such as how to write a resume. I was so excited to meet him because I felt that I had found a community contact that could be my door into effective, meaningful work. He inspired me to work more with youth as well.

Nevertheless, what with these city council members’ accusation of the mayor, I don’t know if I can or if I want to work with Robert anymore. People in BB will start associating me with him and will assume that I am a member of his political party. There are people who don’t like Robert and say that he doesn’t do anything for BB (whereas it seems to me that he apparently does). I still haven’t found a good community contact with whom to begin my work. There are many people who say, “We’re going to work together,” or, “Anything you need, let me know,” as though they really have the time and energy to dedicate to helping me form and carry out a project. Then when I text so and so, they are consistently busy, don’t respond, or their responses are shallow and don’t answer me directly. It is hard to find someone genuine with whom I can work, who has the best interests of Acevalenses (people who live in BB at heart, doesn’t think I’m a spy and is a good listener?

I don’t know what sources of information to believe anymore. I doubt the ability to know the truth about anything going on in this town; or in Paraguay, for that matter. Now I understand why development work is so difficult: it’s unbelievably, inextricably political. It’s a game of lies and power grabbing. It’s no wonder that people are apathetic and jaded about progress here.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

More photos from the soccer game

From top to bottom: Estadio (stadium) Defensores del Chaco

Mateo and Eric. Both are in the Rural Economic Development Sector. Notice the Ohio State jersey?

That's me in the red hat. Eric took this photo in the stadium

We were sitting near a huge base drum that led cheers during the game and also next to a guy with a Jim Morrisson flag (the lead singer of the Doors...what is his name again?). People here are crazy for old school US rock like Queen and Aerosmith. What the Doors have to do with the Paraguay v. Peru soccer game, I have no clue.

Craziness, and great advertising for Claro, a phone company like Verizon.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Paraguay vs. Peru soccer game

On Wednesday a group of about 24 Peace Corps Volunteers gathered to go to the Paraguay vs. Peru World Cup qualifier soccer game. I daresay we all had a fantastic time, what with the huge bass drum five rows over leading all of the cheers, like "Albi, albi, albirroja...". By the end of the game we were chanting along with all of the Paraguayans.

Luckily Paraguay scored a goal at the last minute, winning 1-0.

I am so sweaty in the photo to the right; it was definitely upwards of 90 degrees the day of the game and there is virtually no reprieve from the heat. Few stores have air conditioning and only the upclass restaurants have air conditioning. The first photo is my friend Julie and I and the second is me and Courtney. They are both from Virginia and are both in my "G" or group. We all were in staging in Miami together and went through training in Guarambare together.

Today I have some food shopping to do...I am pretty sluggish. It is frustrating to think about working here because people can be very political: they refuse to work with so and so because they are from a different political party.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Language frustrations, meeting German deputy

October 12, 2008

When I wear my contacts, people stare at my eyes and ask me if my real eye color is blue or if I wear contacts to change the color of my eyes. Apparently the main reason people here wear contact lenses is to change the color of their eyes. I haven’t had Paraguayans asking me the same question recently because I’ve been wearing my glasses all of the time. Not my preferred eyewear, but either the dust or the contact solution I buy here doesn’t allow my lenses to stay very clean. As soon as I put them in my eyes they are bothering me and I can’t wait to take them out. (Above is a monkey in the agricultural school in my town :))

Tonight I picked up some eggs and cheese in the little general store across the street from my house. Luckily I wasn’t in a hurry, because the lady that owns the place never hurries, even when there are four people in line. As I did my best to ask for the items in Guarani, three girls, a boy, and an older man and woman stared at me. There are moments such as this from time to time, particularly in despensas (Paraguayan style convenience stores) or in front of despensas. The scenario is either the other customers in the despensa are checking me out or there are neighbors of the despensa owner drinking terere and staring at me, speculating about my origin, how white my skin is and about how I’m Mennonite or German. There’s also of course comments about how all of the mosquitoes here like foreign blood, so that’s why I am getting so many bites. On that theme, the bugs have come out in full force after Friday’s rain. Today was so hot; about 36 degrees C (somewhere in the 90s). I wished so badly that I could find a pool.

The señora with whom I live has been cooking lunch less and less for me, at least it was so in the past week because she spent all day in the kitchen catering for special events or making birthday cakes that there was not enough time to prepare lunch. Therefore the responsibility has fallen on me to actually buy the ingredients and put something together. Cooking in Paraguay requires real work: there is no microwave nor are there frozen pizzas, Lean Cuisines, or any frozen food in general. Therefore I have to devote at least an hour and a half it seems from start to finish. Then of course there are the dishes to wash. Cooking itself is not so bad, it’s more that cooking for yourself only is not much fun, and when you are the one that has to buy the food, cook it and clean up afterwards, eating just isn’t as enjoyable. I now understand why people say that food tastes better when someone else cooks it. I certainly agree. After I cook sometimes I don’t have an appetite.

10.9.2008, Two-month anniversary of my arrival here in site.

Unlike most other places in the western half of Paraguay (aka the Chaco), my site is situated on top of an aquifer that supplies water for the peoples and industries that live and work on top of it. We are very fortunate for that reason. However, if we begin removing water at a faster rate than it can be replenished, the salt water that is at the edge of the fresh water deposits will begin to penetrate, therefore contaminating the fresh water and making it unsuitable to drink. Septic tanks, agricultural and cattle waste, and landfills not strategically placed can also adulterate the fresh water deposits.

For that reason the Environmental Ministry and the German Embassy have been doing water studies to find out where exactly the fresh water ends and the salt water begins. They have already found a proposed landfill site away from the fresh water. Today I attended an assembly to form a legal body of citizens from different sectors that will work to better protect the water in BA.

Next I went to the indigenous community to meet a deputy from the German government who came to assure that the funds the German embassy has been donating have been used efficiently. Recently Embassy donated 30,000,000 Guaranies to our municipality to install a water well for over 100 families in the indigenous community located within our municipality. He brought his interpreter who reminded me of my fascination with the profession and with linguistics in general. Also in attendance were the German ambassador, his assistant and two other people in the deputy’s retinue. The mayor and head of the environmental department of my muni were kind enough to invite me along to the event.

October 2, 2008
The sentiment of uselessness is settling in. I thought that I could cope with a language that I’ve studied for 8+ years. But Spanish still sounds like white noise and there are few phrases that I understand completely without asking for clarification. Even after asking for clarification, I still don’t understand. I don’t know how to communicate because I don’t understand 2/3 of what is said. How did I reach this stage? How am I regressing rather than progressing? I am the victim of the economic law of diminishing returns: I have been studying Spanish for so long that for me to improve notably at this stage requires much more work than if I were a novice student of Spanish.