Monday, November 24, 2008

In-service training in Guarambare etc.

November 24, 2008

As of today I am no longer living out of my suitcase. I bought a wardrobe today from a local furniture shop; made out of a nice smelling wood. It has a mirror on the outside, which I am using to put my photos up. It is nice not to have to dig so much through my suitcases anymore.

I just returned from the indigenous community looking for a straw hat for another volunteer friend of mine. They cost only about 10 mil Guaranies, which converts to about 2 USD. I bought myself a necklace made out of seeds for only 8 mil Gs. The woman who runs the artisan shop, Ermina, speaks Guarani, another indigenous language called Qom (Kom), and some Spanish. It was nice to have to practice my Guarani because she didn’t understand Spanish that well. The problem with practicing Guarani is that most people speak Spanish as well, so if I am expressing myself slowly, my conversation partner reverts to Spanish to facilitate communication.

It is a steamy 92 degrees today, which makes today the hottest November 24th that I have ever experienced.

From last Wednesday until this past Saturday I was in Guarambaré, where my training group spent our first ten weeks in Paraguay, for our first in-service training. I stayed with the same host family, and in spite of my host dad saying that my Guarani is zero, I feel like I have progressed. Not as much as I had hoped, but progress nonetheless. The training consisted mostly of Guarani classes, but we also had a visit from our country director, Michael Eschelmann (an Athens, Ohio native). He asked us what our first three months in site were like and gave us an update on the interview process for our new Assistant Peace Corps Director for our sector, Rural Economic Development (my sector, Municipal Services Development, is included in this larger category).

The second afternoon our volunteer coordinator, who is going back to the States after three years in Paraguay (two as a volunteer and one as volunteer coordinator for our sector), showed us how to fill out progress forms so that Peace Corps Paraguay can report back to Washington DC about our activities. We have to state what age groups we work with, what gender and about what topics. The third afternoon of training we had a round robin session regarding civic education, environmental education, working with NGOs and also AIDS education. I missed the NGO and AIDS sessions but I got really good info from the environmental education session. There was a whole template for giving a workshop with youth about trash management. I am hoping to find some young people in my community to help give it along with another urban youth volunteer in Asuncion. Current volunteers gave all of the sessions.

I am proud to say that I was in the most advanced Guarani class with four other people, one other from municipal services development and the other three from rural economic development (they work with cooperatives). It was nice to be in class with people who knew more Guarani than I did because they challenged and motivated me. I have a lot of new grammar in my notebook and a nice handout of phrases such as, “Nde tavy ne akame,” which means, “You’re crazy in the head.”

After the last day of our reconnect aka in-service training, Laara, Julie and I went to Asuncion to buy our bus tickets for Christmas in Montevideo, Uruguay at the bus terminal. The trip will be 20 hours, not 28 as I expected. The bus is double-decker and we will be sitting in the front. I am looking forward to being on the beach and seeing another country. They uruguayos talk more like Argentineans, so it will be harder to understand them after being here in Paraguay for so long.

This week the majority of Peace Corps volunteers are celebrating Thanksgiving in Encarnacion, on the border of Paraguay and Argentina. We will have a traditional feast and there will be a talent show. I leave Friday morning early. I am bummed to have to leave my site again, because it’s not helping me to integrate more, but I am looking forward to seeing another city.

Hope everyone is doing well! Glad to see the Bucks beat Michigan! Woot!

A house in my town
Me hydrating with the people in the Chaco

A really cute kid. Adorable

The flooded area from when I helped to hand out food with the local government employees, now two weeks ago.

Monday, November 17, 2008

My first visit farther out in the Chaco!

Deputy in Paraguayan government, Enri Mineur. Us at a police station farther out in the Chaco but still in the district of BB, my town

A grandmother and two of her grandchildren in a flooded district. I went with the mayor of my town as well as others from the local government to hand out bread, noodles, meat, water, fruit juice, and other items to 35 odd families there

Chaco landscape

Friday, November 14, 2008

Hopefully I can put a video in the next entry!

November 14, 2008

The flies are out in full force now that each day we are getting closer and closer to the first day of summer. If Cristina or I leave any food out, we have to cover it; otherwise it will be covered with 20 flies in five seconds.

It gets so old introducing myself and telling people what I’m doing here in Paraguay, or rather what I should be or wish I were doing in Paraguay. I have introduced and attempted to explain myself, but people don’t seem to grasp what it is that I’m doing. The most difficult part about this whole Peace Corps thing is that there is so much time spent waiting for others to take responsibility, to fill you in on what’s happening and to clear up misconceptions and misunderstandings. Therefore I get jaded and discouraged because I feel like I’m not working and I’m not getting anywhere. It is impossible to quantify Peace Corps work until a year or more after a volunteer is in his/her site, by my calculations. It takes so long to gain trust from people and to understand the insane mix of Guarani and Spanish that isn’t completely Guarani nor is it completely Spanish. It leaves us students of Spanish and/or Guarani wondering why we bother to study any type of grammar constructs when most people here throw it all out the window.

I arrived in BB three months and five days ago. Some days I speak better Spanish and can remember more Guarani words than others, and other days everyone sounds like Charlie Brown’s teacher. You could turn on a white noise sound machine and Spanish/Guarani would sound the same to me. I now feel that I will never be able to listen to Spanish and understand it passively (without any effort or focus) as I can with English. It’s amusing to speak English after days of thinking mostly in Spanish and Guarani because the English words don’t come as easily. For that reason it’s easier to speak to other volunteers than people from back home simply because if I can’t remember an English word, I can just say the Spanish or Guarani and they will understand.

I was in Asuncion this week and met some of the G-22 group that is getting ready to close their service. I met one girl who is from Cincinnati and whose sister teaches in Mt. Airy. Like I have said before, there is not a lack of Ohioans in the mix here. There has been an increase in the number of Ohioans participating in Peace Corps in the last few years.

On Wednesday I was somehow not informed of the anniversary of President Rutherford B. Hayes awarding of the present-day Paraguayan department of Presidente Hayes to Paraguay instead of Argentina after the Triple Alliance War. As in the case of various international conflicts, a third party is often asked to intervene in the post-war settlements as a mediator. That someone was President Rutherford B. Hayes, born in front of my grade school, thank you very much. Eight United States Congress members were present there as well as the United States ambassador to Paraguay, not to mention the mayor of my town and my community contact, the secretary general of the municipality that is hosting me as a volunteer. I am quite bummed that I was not informed since I have some pretty close ties to good ‘ole President Hayes. Unfortunately, it’s only an illustration of how I have to take responsibility for what is happening in my town because it is rare that people just up and tell me.

Yesterday I had the adventure of finding the Encomienda Internacional Postal: aka a huge, partially wooded, dilapidated, rave-appropriate and scary warehouse on the edge of the city center of Asuncion. Loads of traffic passes by, but it’s creepy nonetheless. Besides, right behind it are sketchy government projects with mounds of trash and consequently flies and a most unpleasant odor. There are about four streets that all come together around this warehouse where I had to go pick up my package, and I was wandering around for about half an hour (after getting on the wrong bus and finally finding the right one) before I found the building. The most annoying part is that I passed right by that very warehouse without knowing on my initial entry into Asuncion that morning. Long story short, I had to pay 10,000 Guaranies ($2.50) to retrieve my package. Then I realized that I would have to carry it all over Asuncion as I still had to go to the ATM to get my money. So the postage lady offered me a transparent plastic postal bag to put all of my stuff in. My Nature Valley granola bars, contact solution, tampons and clothing (thanks, Mom!) for the world to see, ha ha. On days like that I wish I had a car so bad. When I get down I just have to remember that at least I’m not a Peace Corps Volunteer in Mauritania or some super duper remote, hot, dusty place where I have to shower with a bucket and gather my own water.

Lately I’ve been walking around with crooked glasses and my nerdy clip on sunglasses on top of them. I tried to get them bent back into shape while in Asuncion, but the optometrist people told me that if they bend it anymore “back into place” they’re going to break my glasses. Of course they are my newer pair that I just got last year. I suppose this is where the one free pair of Peace Corps glasses comes in? Too bad they don’t cover laser eye surgery. If I could sit on Santa’s knee this year, I would ask him for laser eye surgery most definitely. I keep intending to investigate it in the internet café one of these days.

Last night I met a very mentally and emotionally mature girl of 14 years. She lives only two houses down from mine and that was the first time that I met her. She is very honest, direct and is interested in my presence here. I am excited to have met her because I think that she will be not only a friend but also a great starter for a youth group and a great helper for other projects I plan as I move forward here.

So, a summary of what I’ve been doing “work” wise:

I attended another neighborhood committee meeting last Saturday close to the indigenous community in our town. The purpose of the committee is to promote production projects to create more income. The committee members raise chickens to roast and then sell. Their request to the municipality for Itaipu royalties money was successful, and whenever the royalties money comes (next March, hypothetically), they will buy more chickens and have a huge freezer to preserve more chickens. Pretty cool.
The committee president invited me to her committee meeting on Saturday but I won’t be able to because the mayor invited me to go with some senators farther out in our state to hand out food and clothing to people who are experiencing a flood. Ironically they were in the throes of a drought but now have the opposite challenge. I am excited to see more of the Chaco! Yay.

I also visited my neighbor who ran for mayor in the 2005 elections. All elected officials hold office for five years, by the way. He is very active with youth in the community and has created the Center for Promotion of Young Protagonists (Leaders sounds better than Protagonists, but that’s the literal translation). He is a good community organizer…did I already talk about him? I believe that I did. Anywho, he gave me some leads on how I can begin working with youth as I smeared the blood of swatted mosquitoes on my leg in his infested electronics workshop. There is an Italian NGO that is leading leadership seminars the next three Saturdays about 200 meters from my house. Unfortunately I won’t be able to go tomorrow for the aforementioned reason.

However, he did give me the idea of starting a youth commission of volunteers to assist the neighborhood commissions with their fundraisers.
For example, if a neighborhood commission wants to have a raffle to raise money to build a school classroom, the youth can volunteer to go door to door to ask for donations etc.

Yesterday in the Peace Corps Office I handed in solicitation to participate in the Ahecha (“I see” in Guarani) Paraguay photography project for Paraguayan youths. I will hopefully be teaching four photography classes between January 10 and February 24th with five youths. I will develop selected photos and then put together a photography exhibit for my town. Later on I will exchange the BB youths’ photos with photos from other kids in another volunteer’s site. Next summer there will be a large exhibit in Asuncion of the best photographs. This past summer this year’s Ahecha (ah-hay-SHA) photos were on display at the United States Embassy’s 4th of July fiesta. It is a cool project because kids outside of Asuncion and other large cities have hardly any access to arts or cultural programs. Ahecha is a way for them to experiment with the art of photography at no charge to them.

Today there was a meeting in a rural school for seven neighborhood commissions whose focus is increasing their agricultural production. Some also have cows, horses, chickens, etc. There were some engineers and employees of our state’s capital’s agricultural credit bureau to give micro-credit to the commissions for them to expand. One of their main concerns is commercializing their products. There is no central market for their goods. I missed parts of the seminar because I was coordinating with the head of the municipal environmental department and consultants from the ORDAZUR project. ORDAZUR was the main reason that I attended the meeting. The latter stands for Ordering of the Urban Zone. Aka setting up a zoning structure for the future of BB. It is important to organize the industrial zones versus the residential and urban zones in relation to natural resources such as fresh water. It is a difficult project to explain but it will not be difficult to understand in the future as BB’s population keeps growing: for instance, when a school wants to expand into the same area that the cattle rancher wants to expand. If there is not some sort of zoning code, BB will be a veritable mess in no time. I am super interested in working with the environmental department in the muni, so I am on board for organizing the meetings to tell the neighborhood commissions and the industries in town about ORDAZUR. Unfortunately it’s just uber hard to explain especially to Paraguayans, most of who have no concept of zoning as Americans do.

If all goes as planned, I will be moving into my own place at the beginning of December. I have to look for a bed and refrigerator. I am trying to get some American friends to help me with the bed, and I already have found a nice wardrobe, table and nightstand almost across the street from my new apartment. The place is on the second floor, with a balcony, little kitchen, two bedrooms, bathroom and living room. I’ll be living behind and on the property of a friend of Cristina, the señora I’m currently living with. I am having second thoughts of moving, though, because of the expenses of buying all of the furniture, cooking all of my own meals, cleaning everything myself, etc. However, what I try to tell myself is that I’ll have more space to do my own work and space to host other volunteers when they come visit. I could wait until later to move, but I’m afraid that if I wait until I’m chomping at the bit to move out of my present situation, that same apartment will not be available. And it doesn’t appear that there are very many available places in BB. I also would feel bad backing out of my oral promise to the department owner that I am interested in the place and will move in at the beginning of December. But then again, I haven’t signed any contract, right?

I think that I set the record for longest written blog discourse in one sitting.

October 25, 2008

It had been trying to rain here for the past three days until it finally rained tonight for about 20 minutes. I could have stood in the rain the duration of the shower because it was so boiling hot today.

This morning I arose at 6 am to be in Villa Hayes by 8 am for the First Popular Congress of the Low Chaco in the Center for Ex-Combatants of the Chaco War. The chairs for all of the guests arrived at about 8:20, and the governor, mayor of my town, leaders of the Without Roof and Without Land movements (Sin Techo and Sin Tierra, respectively) arrived at about 9 am. At about 9:15 I assume the meeting began.

I was already a bit irritable on the way to Villa Hayes because the bus was wall to wall people, I felt dizzy because of my lingering cold or sinus infection (not sure which), then I had to walk all sweaty to the Excombatientes only to find out that all of the neighborhood commissions in my town came in a chartered bus for free an hour after I arrived. Lack of communication and information, I’d say.

In spite of my lack of attention span during the meeting that lasted until about noon, it was a promising event. There were a huge number of people, about 300, I’d say. The majority was there to voice their concerns about not having a home to live in or land to cultivate. At times the leader of the Sin Techos or Sin Tierra movements became so loud, booming and forceful in his speech that I got a bit annoyed. When someone gives a speech in a stern, strident tone, I get the impression that the voice is unwilling to reason with new information or other points of view. I can’t imagine the vociferous man retracting anything he says or admitting an error if he ever expressed one.

The heat and my lingering sickness made the meeting a bit of a waste for me because I couldn’t understand what was being said 96% of the time. It was so frustrating because it was an important meeting; about how to get financial support from the departmental government in Villa Hayes, but I couldn’t force myself to focus. I felt guilty when a great leader from my community approached me to explain the importance of the meeting and to ask me what I was interested in doing in BB. I usually start out vague and non-committal, simply because I don’t want to make promises that I can’t make. It’s true that I have interests in possible areas of work but I haven’t fine tuned the specifics yet. However, this leader of one of the most active neighborhood commissions and also head of the Department of Culture in the Departmental Government, invited me to his neighborhood commission meeting and was active building a school in his community about 20 years back: it goes to show that he not only talks the talk, but walks the walk. The problem with many of the commissions in BB is that they don’t last more than two years. Did I already say that in another entry?

There was a toad in my room last night. I saw him again tonight. After returning from the cyber, he had disappeared. However I did see a small mound of excrement on the floor near the window. I asked my señora if toads poop like that; “I don’t know,” she responded. If it wasn’t that toad it must have been my idiot dog Lupi. She is blind in her right eye because a rat bit it, ha ha. I must be mean because I somehow find it funny. I think you just have to see my dog and know here personality to find it humorous that a rat got the best of her.

I still don’t know how I’m going to adjust to this heat. According to the Internet it was only 36 degrees Celsius today, but it sure felt like 104 with the humidity. If you include that factor, I suppose that it was. As I watched people enduring the heat and walking down the street, I got irked that I was not coping with the intense sun. The heat makes me crazy! But as soon as it subsides, I forget what it feels like, and how desperate it makes me for ANY relief--- a pool, ice, a refrigerator, ANY cold beverage, ANTYHING to distract me from the calor.

Wish me luck sleep in this nasty humidity tonight.