Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Running on a dirt road, dodging cows, prickly cactus

This afternoon I went running along the Trans-Chaco and ran with Humberto's little brothers and one of their neighbors along a dirt road out to a river where there are some really cool birds. Along the way we saw a huge herd of cows, a dog carcass and a really cool cactus with red fruit. Hugo passed through the wire fence to get some of the fruit for us to eat. He had to be careful though because there are soft little spines that are almost transparent, although you sure can feel them when they prick you! I took one from him and it definitely left spines in my fingers that I felt even as I was washing my hair in the shower.
After our run we drank terere underneath the Santa Rita vine in their front yard. It was already dark at that point. I let Hugo listen to my iPod; first he listened to "The Way I Are" by Timbaland, then "Mi Dulce Niña" by Kumbia Kings and the last, his choice, was "La Fuga" by Daddy Yankee. Even though he's only nine years old he knows all of the words! It's pretty impressive.
I get scared sometimes that I have adjusted too much to being here! It is frightening to think that I am really comfortable here, but at the same time really nice.
I have been feeling guilty for not doing more work lately, but it's hard to stop and go between working on my house and trying to create work for myself. Just watering my plants, washing my clothes, going to the hardware store to buy random things like a paint brush or lime to paint my walls, a sponge and dishwashing detergent for my dishes, takes up a boat load of time. Before I know it's lunch time and I just hope that someone will invite me to eat lunch. Luckily my friend's family is really good to me; even though he's not around they invite me to eat lunch. Today we had wild chicken that's only out in the Chaco with rice, cabbage salad, bread and grapefruit juice from grapefruits on the tree in their yard.
I tested my old stove today to see if it worked; turns out that only one of the burners lights. I still don't have a fridge so I have to go next door and get ice and put my yogurt and random items in there. So I'm not completely independent yet. Also, my neighbors can walk into my yard at any time because there's a gate in the fence separating our yards. It doesn't bother me much because they help me clean my yard a bit and they will hopefully help me plant things in the future. However, what with the little time that I have now, I doubt that I will be able to!
The weather is getting cooler--80s during the day and 70s at night. Not too shabby. The downside is that there has been a drought lately, which has been affecting a lot of crops. Luckily there is still plenty of food and there are no water warnings. Word on the street is that it will rain tomorrow. I've heard that before.
What is the deal with the porcine flu? I feel uninformed and it's frustrating! I just got a message from Peace Corps saying that there are no cases reported yet in Paraguay but that we should remain informed and let them know of any news.

These photos go from most recent to least recent. One of these days I will learn that I have to upload the photos in reverse order so they come out right chronologically. The two girls in front are from the newest group of volunteers, the three guys in the back are Paraguayans that we invited to a Peace Corps triple threat birthday party.
More of the same. Alberto, Humberto, I don't remember and Rebecca
Youth Congress in my town this past Saturday, April 25th in the Paraguayan military base. These were the cheerleaders to get us fired up. I did a little bit of dancin' with my friend Carlos. They made me nostalgic for TBDBITL.
Viceminister of Youth (of the Paraguayan government) who organized and led the event to form a group of volunteers in my department (aka state)
"Welcome! to the Departmental Congress- Change Makers(?)" Not sure how to translate impulsores but it's a cognate so you should understand.
Waiting in line at the registration table. It was all free.

In Service Training in Asuncion for the Municipal Services Development sector. April 1-3
March 30- Marzo Paraguayo to commemorate the injured and killed in a protest in Asuncion regardingthe assassination of vice president Argaña and corruption in the government in 1999. 10 year anniversary. I could be wrong on some of that information--my memory is a bit rusty. The youth in my site did a commemoration of the 1999 events. This is me with another Karen!

The road that my house is on. Shade from the mango trees.
Municipal Water Council Meeting, April 27, 2009.Everyone was following along as the head of the muni's environmental department read the statute, which states, among other things, that at least at the beginning the mayor must be the president of the council. The mayor is a nice guy but is busy with too many tasks, therefore the work of the Water Council to obtain official recognizance from the national government remains delayed. They have not started really working yet.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Trash clouds, new house, English class closing ceremony

I was so impressed by the huge smoke clouds from burning trash and sugar cane fields that I took a photo of it.

More smoke

My new house! This is the window in my bedroom.
My front door.

My back yard. It looks like there are no nieghbors around, but there are. Next door to me is a señora named Ursulina who watches out for me. She is Cristina's friend :)

Monday, April 13, 2009

Paraguayan currency: Guarani

100,000 Guaranies:


5,000 Gs, the back side- one hour of internet. A one liter bottle of beer costs 6,500.
The front of the 5,000 bill

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Environmental education activities in elementary school

The fourth graders posing in the middle of putting together their half of the trash decomposition timeline.
The other half of the fourth grade with the other half of the timeline---the second half, or the pieces of trash that take longer to decompose than those in the first half

I love this photo. I don't know what he was telling his buddy.

Fifth graders sharing their trash decomposition timeline hypothesis with the other half of the class. They like to goof off for the camera. Instead of saying "cheese", they say "whisky!" I still haven't figured out why. I found it strange even when I was in Ecuador back in 2003, because they say the same there.
Me with the fifth graders
Half of the fifth grade class with the first half of their trash decomposition timeline.
Putting it together


Fourth and fifth grade boys playing soccer on recess. Their recess is from 3-3:30 pm each day. They start class at 1 pm and end at 5 pm.
Pre-escolar, or preschoolers. I don't teach in their class but they were cute so they deserve a place here.
Which one is mine? ;-)

The bathrooms, separate from the school

The flagpole

About three or four weeks ago I started teaching environmental topics in the 4th and 5th grade natural science classes. The first Tuesday afternoon I taught about the difference between organic and inorganic waste and different types of trash within those categories (plastic, glass, rubber, electronic waste, etc.). The following week we learned that in Paraguay, on a daily basis, the average person within the metropolitan area of Asuncion produces 1 kilo of trash. That means 6,500,000 kilos of trash a day, meaning that we could fill the Paraguayan national soccer team stadium to the brim in less than ten days. I broke it down a bit further, giving stats: 70% of waste generated is organic, 10% plastic, 8% "other" (batteries, aerosols, lightbulbs, CDs, etc.), 7% paper and cardboard, 3% glass and 2% metal. They learned about the three Rs of Reduce, Reuse and Recycle. And last week was the trash decomposition timeline. The materials were clothesline, clothes pinzas (I can't remember what they're called in English! Crazy!), 15 different types of trash and scraps of paper with different periods of time written on them, from 3 weeks to millions of years. The kids had to pin the pieces of paper on the clothesline, starting with the least amount of time to decompose and ending with the longest amount of time. Next step was to place the piece of trash accordingly next to the amount of time it takes to decompose. Thank goodness that the 4th grade teacher helped me to explain this partially in Guarani; it helped the kids understand better. Furthermore, at the end of the activity, when it is essential to summarize, I couldn't articulate well the importance of what the kids had just done. Why is it important to know how long it takes for a plastic bottle or plastic bag to decompose? How will this make us change our daily life, if it will at all? I was delighted when the teacher summed it all up, thereby showing them that the topic was also important to her. I was so happy that she was on board with me and that she liked the activity. That is when you have "a good Peace Corps day", when you feel like you're not working alone and flying solo, but rather other people care and want to work with you. That was a good day.

My most recent World Wise Schools letter to an eighth grade class

March 23, 2009

Dear Mrs. Valentine’s Eighth Graders,

It is great to hear from all of you; to learn your nicknames, your likes, what is happening with school, sports, the play, the science fair, your artist papers, etc.! It’s important for me to stay connected to life back in the States because sometimes I get wrapped up in my life here and don’t realize how out of the loop I am!

When I was in eighth grade St. Mary’s didn’t have a softball team! I played basketball from fifth to eighth grade; eighth grade was my favorite year of basketball. How was the St. Mary’s of Ohio tournament? I remember it so well! I loved going to watch my brother play in it and also participating in it myself. Unfortunately my eighth grade year we lost to St. Mary’s German Village. I fouled out but scored 17 points. It’s nice to hear that some of you have nicknames on your sports teams; jokes and nicknames make being on a team special and fun. When I was in fifth grade I only scored one point in basketball, ha ha. I also played volleyball in sixth and seventh grade. In the fall of eighth grade I ran cross-country for St. Michael’s in Worthington. I went to Watterson, where I ran cross country for four years, track for two years, and basketball for two years. I still enjoy running to this day; I even ran two marathons when I was in college. I also was in the spring musical, Fiddler on the Roof, when I was a senior.

My favorite animal is a tie among manatees, turtles and monkeys. I saw monkeys in Paraguay in an agricultural school not far from my house. I have also seen leopards, tapirs, carpinchos, pumas and different classes of birds and monkeys that are in danger of extinction. I saw the latter animals in a zoo near the border of Brazil and Argentina, close to the Itaipu dam on the border of Brazil and Paraguay. Most of those animals are not found as much in the wild anymore because people over hunt them.

I actually never did science fair, either! It sounds like you all came up with unique and interesting projects. If I had to do a science fair project I would do it on why/how different types of music affect brain activity or why/how different scents affect brain activity and emotions. With regard to your artist essays, two of my favorite artists is Pieter van Bruguel and Bosch; I think they were Flemish painters. I like Northern Renaissance style paintings because they are so realistic like photographs. Caravaggio is also a great painter; when I studied abroad in Madrid I had the opportunity to see some of his works in the Prado museum. Elizabeth, for your essay you can write key points that you will expand upon on a separate sheet of paper, in a brainstorm or outline. Write a sentence that summarizes the main ideas that you will talk about in the body of your essay, and then use that as your guide. To add details to the body, return to your brainstorm or outline page and write down more notes/ideas that are more specific than the main ideas. Write down page numbers of quotes or information that you want to cite.

Most of the time its fun to be a Peace Corps Volunteer, but other times it’s difficult. [To clarify, Peace Corps is not a missionary program; our mission is not to evangelize. Peace Corps is not religiously affiliated.] The most difficult part is capacitating people to change their lives for the better and getting a native Paraguayan to assist me in the effort. The key word in the Peace Corps’ mission is sustainable: I am not meant to work here all by myself, me, the American on one side and the Paraguayans on the other side. Rather, I am meant to work alongside Paraguayans, motivating them to do things themselves. My purpose is to catalyze and facilitate rather than doing things for Paraguayans. They are perfectly capable of doing most things I could do for them themselves; the hardest part is convincing them of it! Have you ever heard the quote, “Give a man a fish and he eats for a day; teach a man to fish and he eats for a lifetime”? That is the philosophy of Peace Corps in a nutshell. Because our work does not call on us to do things for Paraguayans without requiring their participation, we work very slowly. We have to convince, persuade and talk. It takes a long time to make real, sustainable change. In the long run, sustainable change is the only real change. Think of it this way: I could have my friends and family send money from the States to build a library here in my site, but if there is no one in my site to be the librarian, to manage the books, to make sure leaks in the roofs and other maintenance problems are fixed, what good is it? It’s necessary that Paraguayans be invested in the long-term work and maintenance that an institution such as a library requires.

I don’t help out specific people or just families, but rather any one I can. To be honest, the people here help me out more than I help them because I am dependent on them to explain things to me when I get confused and don’t understand what’s in the food, how to prepare food, how to wash my clothes by hand, how to get to a certain store in Asuncion, the history of Paraguay, etc. It was like being a kid all over again when I arrived in Paraguay, because everything was new to me, and I still have to ask questions. Not as much anymore, but still I do. What’s strange now is that my town is so familiar; I feel like I have lived here for ages. I could find the spoons in the kitchen in the dark, I can unlock my front door in the dark, I know which convenience stores in town are the cheapest, I know which friend of mine has the best terere and makes the best birthday cake, where the best running routes are, where to get my bike tires inflated and where all of the schools are located. I know more people in town than some people who have lived in my town their whole life. Sometimes I realize all of a sudden how cool it is to feel comfortable in a place that was once foreign to me. When I first arrived, Paraguay was a foreign country, but now I can no longer call it foreign, in the sense that it is strange and that I don’t understand it. I learn more things about its culture everyday, but I have learned a lot about Paraguay in the nine or so months since I landed in Asuncion.

I have yet to get bored being in Paraguay; there are always new people to meet. The time is flying and there is so much that I still want to do, other volunteers I want to visit and other parts of Paraguay and South America that I want to see. I am always busy visiting schools, talking with teachers, visiting the municipality (the local city government) or giving final English exams. Every once in awhile there are meetings in Asuncion for Peace Corps, also keeping me occupied. Since my schedule is hardly fixed, I don’t get into a routine long enough to get bored, either. I would like a routine at this point in time, because it’s hard to be productive otherwise.

I do go to mass on Sundays, or on Saturday evenings in my site. The church is called Santa Rosa de Lima, or St. Rose of Lima. Maybe you have heard of her? There are also opportunities to play volleyball and soccer; there is no basketball court near my house, and basketball is not popular in my town. I have never seen anyone playing baseball here, either. I like to go jogging, play volleyball, do yoga and dance. I miss basketball a lot! My favorite color is royal blue and my favorite foods are mostly Italian foods, too. I love garlic and basil flavors. I also like Thai food and Ethiopian food. Guinea pigs have never touched my plate and as far as I know they are not customary in Paraguay. In parts of Asia it is more common to eat that. I will be coming back to Ohio in August for three weeks because my brother is getting married. Then I will come back to Paraguay for another year.

When I was getting ready to leave St. Mary’s to go to high school, I visited both Hayes and Watterson to see which would be a better fit for me. It was sad to leave St. Mary’s, especially because I loved my eighth grade year so much. However, I was excited for the the new subjects I would study in high school, the sports I would play and the people that I would meet. When I was in 8th grade, I was excited to learn Spanish in high school, because there were no foreign language classes required at St. Mary’s at the time. I always loved foreign languages, so in a way that foreshadowed that my life would lead to an international destination. Being a future Peace Corps volunteer did not enter my mind in eighth grade. I didn’t have a desire to do it until 2007. When I was in the airport on the way to Paraguay, it finally hit me how long I would be gone from the States, from my family and friends. I cried at that point, especially because my parents were crying, too. I didn’t cry up until then because I was too busy packing, saying good-byes and losing sleep because I had no idea how my life was going to change.

You all are lucky that you get to go to Washington DC! We went to Chicago my eighth grade year. It was fun, but Washington DC would have been more interesting to me. When are you going?

Take care and I will write again next month!


Karen Harmeyer
Peace Corps Volunteer, 2008-2010
Municipal Services Development
Paraguayan Chaco

P.S. – Thank you for sending the photos of your class :-).

P.P.S.- I have attached a few photos for you all as well.