Monday, December 21, 2009

Welcome to Carapegua

So it’s been six days now since I’ve arrived in site, and they go really fast! Without the structure of training and need to be somewhere I now take advantage of the freedom I have to: read, study Spanish, sleep, eat. Repeat. And text and call people on the phone. A lot. Peace Corps gives us phones that we can call other volunteers with for free for the first ten minutes. And the phone just happens to come with a nifty timer that we can set to hang up the call at 9 minutes and 55 seconds. So we’ll be talking having a conversation when one person will say “OH THREE SECONDS” the phone will hang up. The person will call back and continue the convo where we left off. This terrific little cell phone is helping us out through this transition period, having been so used to seeing and talking to each other everyday we can still continue to do so.

The swearing in ceremony was very nice, It was at the American embassy at 10 am. Apparently this embassy is the nicest one in South America with the best grounds, and it was very pretty. Also apparently there is a deer living in the grounds. I saw the crossing sign! While waiting for the ambassador to arrive all sat under this open part of a building (I think the ambassadors house) next to a waterfall that looked like it could be used to take prom pictures next to (which is what we did). Once she came Don, our country director, spoke, followed by the ambassador and then by Charles, one of our very own, who did a terrific 5 min speech! The press was there taking pictures the whole time and apparently the next day we were in the paper, but I didn’t get to see it .
After we had the cake everyone talks about, it was very good, and left the embassy for the PC office. We can come to the embassy anytime to use the pool now that we are volunteers! At the office we waited around to get our cell phones and repack some bags, then headed out to San Bernadino for the goodbye party of G25, the group swearing out. The party was at a really nice hotel with a pool, we were served dinner and then danced the night away. Of course I got sick this weekend with a tiny cold, I’ve only been here for 11 weeks totally fine but when the party weekend comes I get sick. Oy. But it was still fun.
The next day we took the 2 and a half hour bus ride back to Asuncion and to the Chaco hotel where we stayed until Tuesday. On top of the Chaco hotel was a pool and in the distance you could see Argentina, very nice. That weekend was really fun, we needed it as well. A weekend to just hang about, not have to tell any h fams where we were, could come and go as we pleased and had lots of good (expensive) food. Then Tuesday came…a sad day. A few of us had left early that weekend to get to their sites, but most of us waited for the last day. I took the bus to Carapegua at 12 and go there at 2:30 ready to face my moldy bed bug room. Once I got off the bus Rebecca came to help me move my 4 bags (4!) (and yes I still have more at the PC office, I don’t want to talk about it). We brought them to the house I stayed at last time and Rebecca left, I took a shower and quickly went to the internet café (cyber). 2 hours later I got a call from Rebecca saying I couldn’t stay in that house. I was ecstatic! I didn’t want to live there anyway because of the bed bugs and mold, apparently the woman there wasn’t comfortable with a stranger in the house (although she was fine last time I was there) or another story was her son (who lives w his wife and kid down the road) didn’t want anyone using his room. Whatevs. I was happy. 9 pm that night Rebecca and I were throwing my stuff into bags to move out of the house and I went to her house for the night. The next day I moved into a friend of my contacts house, a retired science teacher, with a very nice family. We went to a talk on nutrition (the food here is so much better and nutritious than what I’m used to!!) they took me to their fams house in the country where I got to ride a horse, and they show me around. The husband is older and, while he’s very nice, we have the same convo every day. Yes there’s snow in NJ, did I know there’s a lot of north Americans in the town up the road, all mormons run by Armond Smith, do I know him? It’s actually pretty funny. He loves to talk about NJ and the Christmas lights. He’ll say “en Nueva Jersey (he pronounces it Jersay) there are a lot of Paraguayans. I’m going to go in your suitcase to visit Nueva Jersay” hehe.
Then yesterday she told me that I need to move out…. Her husband is sick and she is overwhelmed. So I will be packing my stuff up and moving once again. We were told to have patience and be flexible, so I take it all with a smile on my face. Of course in my head I’m thinking about when I can move into my own house…and only 3 more days till Christmas eve! Here I’ll be spending it with a fam I just met. How peace corps of me!

all the stuff i had to pack before swearing in!!
the cake we got to say thanks to our teachers
the saddest moment. tom the hot dog watching us leave him :(
something yummy i ate in asunción
the rooftop pool w view of argentina
horseback riding in the campo
birthday party at my contacts house. that´s her and her fam
one of the kittens that live outside my house now

Friday, December 18, 2009

Capturing the Queen

(a little late this post but better then never!)

Today was awesome. With only 4 days left before we swear in as volunteers the days don’t seem as structured, and today we had the chance to do some ‘independent studying’ i.e. language study, talking to tech trainers, napping or washing underwear. I decided to try my hand at beekeeping. Ever since Nick and I learned about them at the New Jersey State Fair last August I’ve been very interested in bees. They are so amazing once you discover the nuances of hive life, like the fact that all worker bees are females and they can grow males (drones) when they need them to mate with the queen who only mates once in her life (after the drones grow they just hang about eating honey and stumbling around the hive. Men.) Or how they dance to tell the other bees exactly where to go to get the good nectar.
Me and four others not from the beekeeping group stayed late at our training center to help capture a wild hive that had set up residence in an old bee box in the back of the yard. Not exactly the most ‘wild’ of captures since instead of hacking into a tree we were just taking them out of a beebox and into another, but still they were wild none the less! The hive had only been there for about a month and we were not sure what we’d find inside, if they’d be more on the docile side or more upset. The bees here in Paraguay are Africanized bees, meaning they have roots with the African bee aka the killer bee that, in the 90s, made the front page because they were heading into the States to chase you into your house, knock down your door, make fun of your carpet and sting you to death. I remember the hype about them back in elementary school and I remember being terrified! (of them and acid rain). But looking at them today they looked cute with their big black eyes and fuzzy vests. They were brought to Paraguay for beekeeping purposes and, like with all introduced species, escaped, mated with the bees here and made a crossbreed of ornery but hard working lady bees.
The first thing we had to do was get the smoker smoking. The smoker is like a mini fire puffer that people used in the old days to blow oxygen into the fire, with the wood on the outside and the middle that would scrunch and stretch like an accordion. Attached to the mini fire puffer is a tin can that you put hot coals or light paper in to burn, then you add woodchips or dried cow poo. Attached to that is a spout where the smoke will come out once you have your woodchips and poo burnin and close the lid. After a considerable amount of forearm work using the mini fire puffer I finally got my smoker smoking. We needed the smoke to puff on the bees when we opened the box to subdue them, I think it makes them think the hive is on fire which makes them want to stay in and eat a lot of honey. I can lay no judgement for them wanting to stuff their faces in bad times, I understand.
After the smokers were ready we donned our beesuits. A baggy canvasy white shirt (because dark colors make bees angry and want to sting) with a screen on the top where your head is, a whole on the top where we put a straw hat in so bees couldn’t get in and it made the screen stick out away from our faces. Rubber gloves went over our hands and over the sleeves and we tucked the bottom of the shirt into our light colored pants, and the end of our pants into our socks. Beeproofed and invincible! (and we kinda looked like those people at the end of E.T.) Now we’re ready to open the box! Jonathan, the bee group trainer, opened the lid and we quickly puffed smoke into the box. The buzzing sound got really loud and made me think of Amityville Horror when all the flies were in the bathroom. But the bees pretty much stayed in the box with their comb and weren’t very aggressive at all. Then we set to work capturing it.
The main thing in capturing a wild hive is you have to find the queen and put her in your beebox, without the queen, there is no hive. Since this hive decided to reside in an old beebox and use the slides that the beekeepers pull out when they want to get honey, our job was pretty easy. All we had to do was pull out each slide one at a time, cut off any excess comb that was stickin out in a weird direction, and ‘sew’ it onto the slide drawer thing. This is how it works. You take out the slide thing which is a rectangle shaped ‘drawer’ with only the edges, which are wood nailed together. The middle has wire going across so the bees can start a comb on the top wood piece and use the wires to build down on. We pulled each ‘drawer’ out of the old box had a look to see what had been going on with the hive since it moved in. They were pretty hard working! They had some big combs with honey and pupas! We had to cut off any moth larva (pesky moths comin into the hive uninvited) and make sure the comb was centered on the piece of wood. We would take a soft string and tie it to the top wood piece, then wrap it around to the bottom and ‘sew’ the comb in place so the bees would continue building it on that drawer and not mesh it into another one so that there wasn’t room to slide it out of the hive later. We did that with all the drawers in the box, and any excess comb hanging in wrong directions we took off and put it in a pot for later consumption.
Each time we took a drawer out it was cooooovered with bees, and we would have to give it a good shake (after looking for the queen) and dump them into the new box so we could get to work sewing and scraping off moth larva. Soon we got to the last drawer with no sign of the queen. Off on vacation eh!? Actually the queen mates once after she has hatched and spends the rest of her life laying eggs from that one mating with a bunch of worker bees at her side feeding her and cleaning her. If anything happens to the queen the bees have the ability to turn one of the regular pupa into a queen pupa by feeding her royal jelly that they can make with a secret recipe. Finally Jonathan spotted her hiding on the wall of the old bee box. She’s bigger than the rest of the bees and her abdomen is kinda orange. He scooped her into a small hair roller with one side taped and the other side he plugged with wax. Then placed her at the bottom of the new hive where she will sit in her new throne until someone chews her out, and she will reign over her new kingdom of beebox in Guarambare.
Then we just had to scoop up piles of bees that mingled about on the outside of the boxes (a very weird feeling to have a jumble of bees in the palm of your rubber gloved hand) and just like that we have transferred a wild hive in an old beebox to… a new beebox. The only difference for them really is their hive will be better maintained with no moths, oh and we’ll be eating their honey, which we got to do today with the pieces of comb we broke off, bit right into it (watch out there’s no pupas first!) with some peanutbutter and bananas. mmm mmmm. And we didn’t have one sting! Until Dan took off all his beestuff and was standing around watching a toad eat some bees, she got him on the back of the neck. Ah well.
Way cool and super jealous of the work the beekeepers get to do, well we could have bees to in our site if we wanted, except I’m in the city so…. But there is a bee here that is stingless and tiny and they live in a little box so hopefully I will be able to get them for my new house! Me and my stingless little bees hangin out at night singin songs and roasting empanadas over the fire, I can’t wait. But until then I have to pack (stress!) swear in as a volunteer (cool) and figure out my living situation in my new home of Carapegua (ultra stress!). Looking back I should have packed an empty duffle bag or something to put the massive amounts of books and medical stuff that we get during training. Who has extra room for 15 books in their bag! Not me!

P.S tomorrow is a holiday for the day of the Virgin of Caacupe. Thousands of people pilgrimage to Caacupe to pay tribute and listen to mass at the church, a bunch of trainees are going, left earlier today and will walk all night to get there then take a bus back home. I decided a religious pilgrimage, while should be experienced once in everyone’s lifetime, was not in the cards for me this year. Maybe next. But think of all the chaffing! Uh.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

last day as a trainee

I had a whole blog written out and forgot to put it on my pendrive!!!

hm..ok well today is my last day and etry being a trainee! Tomorrow we are getting picked up at 7am and heading off to the bank to get some cash money then to the embassy for swearing in!
Today we had our talent show, each sector plus the trainers did some skits or sang some songs. It was pretty hilarious. We sang a thank you song to Riiichard our trainer to the tune of that graduation song by vitamin C.

I´ll miss training! Everything is familiar and comfortable but it´s time to make the next change and move into my site and do volunteer stuff.

well, next time you hear from me I will be a volunteer!

(and will have posted what i meant to post today)


Sunday, November 29, 2009

Dia de accion de Gracias

was awesome. We went to the country director, Don´s house. really nice. only my group and the beekeepers went. the other groups stayed in Guarambare and had their own, we were gonna but Don offered us his house and a free bus to his house in asunción and food and a pool. We were convinced!
it was really nice with lots of food and good people!

Future site visit

I better get this started before I get to far behind!
Last week we got our site, which means we now know why we are here. As well as where we’re going to be living, what we’re going to be doing and who is going to be around us. For weeks on end we had been speculating where we would be and what kind of site we would get. Many a language class was used to talk about where we would be, mostly in English. Finally the day dramatically arrived, we all were in Guarambare but wouldn’t find out where we would live until 3:45 pm. Torture! I think we had a language class in the morning and that afternoon we did some Paraguayan polka and listened to some Paraguayan harp and guitar playin. Finally at 3:45 we broke into our respective groups, the environmental sector and the crop sector, meaning environmental ed and agroforestry and beekeeping and agrocultura. We all sat in a circle and Holly our person in charge of finding our sites came in with a bunch of folders in her hand. Without further ado she just jumped right into it, very anticlimactic like after weeks of talking and thinking about it. She picked up a folder and handed it to the person, on the folder it said where your site was, and then Robin, her sidekick, put up a sticky note on a big map of Paraguay that was in the room. My name was called, I was handed a folder, a post it note was stuck on a map, and the next name was called. That was it. I looked down at my folder and…. Carapegua. All right! No clue where that is or anything about it. I soon learned it was the hammock capitol of Paraguay and there are a lot of artisens there. It’s a city with about 15,000 people and actually kinda close to La Colmena, where I went for my volunteer visit (with the Japanese food!). I will be living in the center and will be mainly working in the schools. I will also be directly following up 2 EE volunteers, preeessure! The last volunteer who just left, Scott, was very guapo (hard working) and did lotsa projects, so I have a lot to follow up on! I’m down with that. So the next day we were to meet our contacts who would take us to our new site and present us to the community. They would arrive in our towns and would eat and sleep in our houses. How…awkward. But, as we all know, it’s not PC Paraguay if it’s not awkward.
The next day we were ready to meet our contacts. We were sitting in our CHP and a van pulled up full of Paraguayans, they were probably as nervous as we were. They got out of the van and some of them were taking pictures of everything. They filed in and we formally met our contacts. My contacts name is Paula and she was very…very.. .happy to meet me. She was hugging me and everything, taking pictures, talking, talking…more talking. She’s a talker! She’s also from Argentina but moved here when she was 21, she’s 34 now and is married to a Paraguayan and has 3 kids and teaches at a school in Carapegua. She was very excited to be part of this and was into all the activities we had to do. That night she slept in the other room in my bed and talked to my h mom, and the next morning we left for Carapegua. Oh, and I changed my name to Lola, so as not to be confused with a parrot anymore since lora in Spanish means female parrot.
Carapegua: the main plaza is very pretty. It has a bunch of old trees and a statue in the middle. There are some vines and mosses hanging from the trees that gives it that old time feel. On one side of the plaza is a big church, and close by is the fire house with 2 fire trucks (not the big red ones we’re used too). Branching out from the plaza are streets set up in a typical city block fashion. Looking out into the distance you can see hills and at night a beautiful sunset. Getting further out of the city center the land becomes campo very fast. There are more fields and the houses are spaced further apart so it’s very easy to ride a bike to the outskirts and see some nice views. Very beautiful sunsets too.
Everyone and their mom drives a motorcycle here…and I mean that. No one really has cars unless you’re rich. Motos (as they’re called) are much cheaper and easy to get. I’m not even sure what kind of license you need, I’ve definitely seen a 12 year old riding one. They actually really annoying though, very loud and I’m always getting out of the way for them. Not to mention that we are not allowed to get on one unless we want a quick one way ticket back to the US, it’s a little disheartening walking down the road in 100 degree weather as people zoom by on motos. But not to worry, I’ll have my bike soon (bici).
My week: ok. The first night I spent at Paula’s mom’s house. Very nice woman, yummy food, chuchi bathroom…. and a bedroom that makes me cry thinking I have to go back to it!!! It smells of mold and the floor is cement, the bed and dresser take up most of one part of the room. The mattress was probably 30 years old and an inch thick in the middle. The pillows smelled pretty funky. But this is the Peace Corps right? So I happily took it. The next day I met up with Rebecca, another volunteer who lives in the city with me (it’s not that common to have 2 in one place). She showed me Scott’s house where I will be living in the future and met 2 other guys who were in town at the house (it’s kinda used as a hotel at the moment for volunteers passing by). These guys kinda close, which means they are in my VAT group. The VAT group is all the volunteers close by you, we meet every other month to talk about stuff then one person goes to Asuncion and tells Peace Corps how things are going.
The next day I went to a town near by with those people plus some others. I have 2 people from my group (a beekeeper and an agroforester) in my VAT group, we went to the town where the agroforester is now going to be for a goodbye party for the volunteer who is leaving that town (she’s gonna be taking over his spot). He had been raising a pig for this occasion and the day before he had killed it and today was the eating of it, thank god he killed it yesterday. Not something I want to see. But it was fun and good to meet other volunteers and watch them have a jam session with guitars and a banjo. While at the site I started to get itchy on my stomach, I looked to see where the mosquito bite was and saw two, then three, then four, they were all over my stomach and I realized they weren’t mosquito bites. They were bedbug bites! That damn 30 year old mattress was infested with bedbugs! I guess I didn’t sleep tight since I was bitten everywhere! So uncomfortable (though not as bad as poison ivy).
I didn’t want to go back to that bed the next night so I slept in Scott’s old house (my future house) but knew I had to go back at some point. When I did I told Paula and her mom that I think we should put the mattress in the sun to kill the bugs, they said I was allergic to the dust in the mattress and just put a blanket over the mattress then the sheets. No no no. that’s not gonna keep them away! But I don’t want to be disrespectful! Ugh. So I had to sleep three more nights in the cave room with the bugs. I don’t know what I’ll do when I go back in 2 weeks because I don’t want to disrespect Paula and her mom by moving out of the house but…let’s be honest it’s gotta happen! Very nice people though.
Anyway Paula and Rabecca took me around and I got to meet my other contacts and teachers in other schools I will be working in. But I was really happy to be going home to my nice room that is only plagued by giant spiders and the cat. On a fluffier note Rebecca has a rabbit who just had bunnies and she’s gonna make her have more and I’m gonna get one. Pet bunny for my house. Do you think I can have a kitten and bunny and have them get along? Perhaps we’ll find out.

P.S. Advice for anyone who wants to join the Peace Corps, we’re card playin people so brush up on you’re card games, especially yuker and hearts. And rummy. My VAT group says I better learn how to play hearts in the next two weeks because that’s all they do at meetings. Good thing it’s on my computer!

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Terere: how we live with the heat

It’s time we talk about terere. It’s hip, it’s cool and everyone’s doing it. I figure tonight’s a good night for this entry. It was about 41 or 43 degrees Celsius today, not really sure what that is in F but probably somewhere in between 100 and 145,296,238. The radio actually advises you to not go out during the afternoon hours without an umbrella to hide from the sun (or course I didn’t bring one). Ok riddle me this… why, in a country with this heat, do they think it’s a good idea to have hot soup, rice or pasta at lunch every day?!?! I mean HOT soup! What?! Why does this make sense!?? Ugh I can’t even think about it right now.
Anyway, last night I went to bed at ten and at 10:45 I awoke not by a noise, but by a lack of noise, lack of my fan noise to be precise. The power had gone out!!! Oh em gee! My room became a sauna in about 2 minutes. It was awful!
So, girls aren’t supposed to sleep with the window open because it could be perceived as you’re waiting for a guy to jump in your window or as an open invitation to jump in your window. We call this midnight visitor a jakare and it happens more in the campo (country) but it’s still known about here. There have been stories of volunteers who have innocently smiled at a guy every day as she walked to work and innocently slept with the window open not knowing that that guy thought her smiling and open window was something more, and one night he showed up at her window!

Anyway, jakare or not I was opening my window! It was so hot I figured I’d take my chances! Besides, there are bars on my window and I live way off any main roads. Plus, Sadam would here them and bark, maybe. Actually I was more worried about mosquitoes. But there was a nice wind outside and I laid on the other bed I have next to the window as close as I could to the breeze and thought about cold pools. About an hour later the power came back on and I was able to go back to my bed and resume my hot, sweaty sleep. I’ve learned it’s very hard to sleep in the hot hot heat, but when I do fall asleep I seem to have dreams that, if I were to write them down, would actually be a terrific scary movie. I’ve had 3 nights of horrible dreams, the most recent involving zombies.

One thing that’s amazing to do in this heat, cold showers. Absolutely important in my life right now. We’ve been running at night around 7 and I come home and have a cold shower and do not want to leave my bathroom hut. So good! The fun thing is, it’s only spring!! Weeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee! So this brings me to my second subject…what can you do as a Paraguayan living in an oven to stay cool for the months of spring and summer??

Well, I’ve been told multiple times by various Paraguayans that without terere, they wouldn’t be able to survive. So what is it? It’s a drink, it’s a conversation, it’s good company, it’s cooling, and, like I said, everyone’s doin it.
Basically, it’s a drink with herbs, kinda like tea. It can be drunk hot (mate..pronounced ma-tay) or cold (terere. It’s also the reason we don’t get a water purifier here like many other volunteers get around the world, but I’ll talk more of that later.

What you need to drink terere:

A termo –thermos

A guampa- special cup usually made out of a cow horn or metal with leather around it or wood. if you don’t have one any cup will do really

A bombilla- straw. Special metal straw, the bottom is shaped like a spoon with holes to let the water through but to strain the herbs out

Water and ice

Yuyos- the herbs

There are many different kinds of yuyos and they can make the terere or mate taste different and have different properties. Like using menta’i makes it taste minty, kapi’i kati helps if you have a fever, cedron kapi’i is lemon grass and koku is for digestion and hangovers.

So as you’re chillin sittin in your circle someone will bust out their termo full of ice water and guampa with dried crushed up yuyos inside. These can be bought or you can find your own and grind them up, it’s like a tea bag but without the bag part and a lot of it, in a cup. One person will act as the server and will pour water into the guampa, the first pour soaks into the herbs and disappears so the first pour is for “Santo Tomas” since it just disappears like someone drank it. Then the server will pour more in until it’s almost to the rim and the server drinks it through the bombilla. Next he’ll pour in more water and pass it to the next person who sips it through the bombilla and hands it back to the server. It goes on like this till everyone participating has had a turn and starts again with the server.


When given the guampa don’t say gracias unless you don’t want more after that. Once you say gracias it means you’re done and don’t want to be included in the circle anymore.

Never touch the bombilla while you’re drinking. I don’t know why, just don’t do it.

Pass it back to the server when finished

Remember, it’s not a microphone. Drink it quick and pass it back

Drink all the water in one gulp more or less. It’s not much really. You can take a bunch of sips just don’t take a sip and take your mouth off and then take another sip…nahaniri (no) all at once. Unless it’s mate (when they use hot water not ice water), that can be really hot and you don’t want to burn your tongue.

When finished it’s best to clean the guampa and bombilla right away so it doesn’t harden

Ok that’s it. Cool and refreshing and keeps everyone alive. There are commercials on the tv for different brands of herbs you can buy. And everyone carries around their termo and guampa with them, you will see police walkin around with them, teenagers after school, all our trainers, bus drivers have a helper who pours the water for them to do it while they drive, and today when we went to visit the sugarcane factory there was a sign that said: prohibited to smoke, talk on the cell phone and drink terere, and it had a picture of a guampa and bombilla with a red slash through it! In guaraní there is even a verb for drinking terere: aterere! It is a huuuuge part of the culture and some of us have bought our gear and are ready to go. I still have yet to but I’ll get there soon, then I can be a real Paraguaya!

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Updates, tech excursion and dia de practica. Holloween

Kinda long, get comfy, turn off the phone, here we gooo…….

So after my food post we were thinking about, even though they don’t eat the best or exercise really, how do they end up living so long? I’ve seen examples of people living into their 90s. We figured that even though it’s a bad diet they don’t do some of the things we do back home, like snake between meals; and if they do it’s usually a fruit like an orange. They do a lot more physical work in general than many people back in the states, a lot of walking around too. And there are not a lot of processed foods getting shoved down their throats by commercials and ads, so what they are eating is more natural. If they don’t eat the fat on their meat (in fact if they just don’t eat as much of it in general) and cut way down on their table sugar intake and upped the wheat bread and ate more veggies and fruits they would be pretty healthy! Not so much to ask no? :p

Ok this weekend we went on our tech excursion to a couple places. One was a tree nursery called Reforpar. It’s owned by a Dutch man who retired down here with his wife, there’s about 7 or 8 Paraguayan workers and they work a lot with Peace Corps volunteers. The Dutch dude funds it himself and the company pretty much raises trees and gives them away for free to help reforest Paraguay. All you need to do is write them a nice letter telling them what you want to do and how many trees you want and that the people you’re going to work with show initiative to care for the trees. On the way to his tree nursary I saw a cow in a yard and something was weird with her...she deff had two little hoooves comin out the backend! She was havin a calf! we really wanted to watch but we had to get to the nursary, so of course when we passed by after there was a little wobbly calf trying to walk! It was v cute! After we went to Caacupe where the Dutch man lives and also there is a church that people make a huge pilgrimage to for the Virgin, kinda like people in Mexico traveling to see the Virgin of Guadalupe. It’s a religious tourism place. I didn’t find her, but there were a lot of kids receiving communion that day.

That night I stayed at a house that Lindsey, who’s site we went to visit after Caacupe, had set up. It was a young fam, a 29 year old teacher with a 8 month old son, her husband who didn’t talk to me really and the girl who watched the kid while they work. I slept in the room with the girl and the fan was soooo noisy all night and they left the lights on so the bugs go to them during the night. I didn’t sleep very well. Next day Ricardo picked us up and we went to Lindsey’s house so he could tell us about his experience as a volunteer in a campo (country) site. He’s extending one year to work with Reforpar. We left him and met up with the other half of our group (they stayed near Caaucape at Dan, another volunteer, his site).

After we went to a national park that Dan had planned a trip with a group of jovenes (youths) about 40 of them plus us. The park is called Cerro Kavaju and it’s really pretty. It has rock formations and we actually had to climb up and slide down some pretty tricky paths. And to get there we all climbed into the back of this truck, kinda like a dump truck, and then put a huge tarp over us, so we were squished in this random truck going who knows where in the dark with a bunch of teenage Paraguayans and Dan’s dog. It was fun and there were beautiful views and it was worth it even though it was raining and I got my pants dirty. We didn’t realize that we would be practically rock climbing so no one was prepared. It went well, the jovenes had fun. Then we returned home.

That brings us to Monday, I had my language interview meant to gauge where we are with our Spanish and if we can move into Guarani yet… and Tuesday we all learned that our group can! That means we all hit mid intermediate Spanish! We started with the Guarani alphabet. It’s hilarious. There are very different sounds than our mouths are used to making. Every vowel has a double, one is pronounced regularly and the other is pronounced nasaly, using the noise. And the Y sounds like some sound you make when you lift heavy objects. Here’s what the alphabet looks like:

A, Ã, CH, E, Ẽ, G, G̃, H, I, Ĩ, J, K, L, M, MB, N, ND, NG, NT, Ñ, O, Õ, P, R, RR, S, T, U, Ũ, V, Y, Ỹ, and ' (puso or glottal stop)

weeeeeeee! So why learn this language? Because here we are a bilingual country, Guarani is their mother tongue. Here’s what my language book says:

“97 % of the Paraguayan population speak the Guarani language…. (the rest is prob the ppl who live in Asuncion who only speak Spanish or immigrants. Or German. Since there are a lot of Mennonites)… This is especially true in the countryside, where most of the rural population uses Guarani to express themselves within the family, community, and at work. The language originated with the Guaranies, an indigenous tribe who lived a long time ago in Py. These days, some portions of ethnic Guarani speak the pure Guarani form”
The rest speak Jopara, a mix of Guarani and Spanish, although a couple years ago when the school reform act was passed they are now teaching pure Guarani in the schools to revitalize the original language.

Never the less, it makes my throat hurt but I’m determined to learn it because it shows the people that you’re willing to learn their language and they’ll respect you more, and keep learning Spanish. And when I return to the US I’m headin to NYC to find little Paraguay (it’s there I’ve heard about it) and I’m gonna go in and speak some Guarani!! I should be studying it now!!! OPA!

But first, today. It was our third dia de practica and Leah my partner and I had to go to the school to teach a class!! Our class was on why we need trees and we were going to present it to 4th graders. We had a newspaper article to talk about, a story to read, questions for them to answer and trees for them to plant. We wrote up the questions all lindo (pretty) on this big paper and the answers on others so we could tape them up after we had them guess.
So we get to school with our stuff and our tree and find out that the teacher was sick that day, which was actually better because we had full run of the class. The directora even said we could stay and teach all day if we wanted. We turned that one down though. The sub was in the class and told the kids to listen and we went in and introduced ourselves. Laura, our language teacher, also was there to watch us and help just in case we couldn’t get our point across. But I had written out what I wanted to say about the newspaper article and then I read the story to them, after Leah asked the questions and put up the answerers. Kids here aren’t used to really having questions asked to them, they pretty much just copy stuff off the board, no critical thinking, so they weren’t really answering our questions but toward the end they started too. After we had them copy the questions into their notebook since apparently doing that makes things more official. Copying is very important to them. Then we went outside to plant our trees! The gardener had already dug us holes and everything since the sub teacher went out and told him what was going on. It went really well actually. What we would have done differently was before we had them head outside to plant, we should have went over what kind of trees we had and how to actually plant and put them in groups inside the classroom. Because once you get 25 4th graders outside you lose their full attention! But other than that it went very well.

Yesterday was halloween. first, my 15 year old ASPCA poster dog decided to take the long sleep. He passed away, thank god, because he was a mess looking. Was not having a good end of life so I was happy he finally decided to die. It was 95 degrees so it didnt´feel very halloweeny since it wasn´t fall. Didn´t do much actually, had class then had many naps because the heat just drains you! But Emmy and I went to this discoteque in Guaramabare that night with her brothers. It was a very pretty venu with an outside dance floor and DJ and bar and really chuchi bathrooms. apparently people stay till 6 am but we peaced out at 1:30 am because we were gonna walk back and not ride with anyone who was drunk!

Today is Dia de Los Muertos where families go to the cemetary to celebrate a dearly departed´s life. it´s two days long and today is for anyone who had a child who died, tomorrow is for everyone else. unfortunatly we have to go today :(

on that note here are some fotos!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Food, Comida, Tembi’u

As I sit here on my bed, stomach full of pasta and empanada, I feel the need to touch upon everyone’s favorite subject to complain about here: food. Here’s the rundown…

Lets say you make a list of everything we know we should eat and a list of everything we know we should limit. The “good” list would probably have fruits and veggies and whole grains, legums and lean proteins and the like. The “bad” list would have include lots of sugar salt, oil, animal fat, empty carbs like white bread, rice and pasta and fried things. Good. Now take the bad list and that is what your Paraguayan daily menu will look like…. HOLY CRAP I JUST SAW THE BIGGEST SPIDER ON MY WINDOW. UUUUGH.

Ok, disposed of. by the h mom, who was not grossed out at all. Real mom would have been in the other room. Don’t worry I took a picture.

Anyway, I shouldn’t say everything is unhealthy. We do have salad for lunch. Of course it’s lettuce with tomato with oil and lots of salt on top. And I do get an orange and some bananas every day (the bananas here are much smaller than back home so I get a couple). Here’s a sample of my daily food intake:

Breakfast: cocido. I forget exactly how it’s made but it’s boiled water made on a brasero (charcoal grill) and you put sugar in the water along with some of the charcoal so it burns. Take the charcoal out add milk and that’s my breakfast. Burn sugar milk tea with white hard bread sticks.

Snack: my banana and orange (yay fiber!)

Lunch: some form of oily soup with white pasta and tough beef fat (which I usually cut up and pick at so it looks like I eat it, but I sneak some to the dog) and oily salty salad. To drink a glass of juice made from a powder you mix with water which is all sugar. And of course mandioca, a tuberous starch kinda like a potato that they eat plain with every meal. It’s a staple here.

Afternoon snack: we’re in training for this Ricardo usually brings us cookies and bananas. We also found this amazing ice cream place we sometimes frequent after class.

Dinner: usually something fried like empanadas filled with hard boiled eggs or tortillas which are not what we think of tortillas. It’s pretty much fried dough greasy oilyness. The first couple I had were pretty good but, I’m over it now.

So when I weighed myself today and realized I’ve lost 8 lbs since I’ve gotten here I thought ‘there’s no way…’ then I realized, it’s my muscles! Atrophying away from inactivity! Weeeeeoooooo! But I bought an exercise mat and will try to do more pilates in my room, maybe some running although 1. it’s hot and 2. I will get laughed at. Apparently someone running just to be healthy and active is extremely funny although the humor goes right over my head.

Unfortunately we have no control over what we eat until we get out to site and live on our own. Some people have it a little better in their house, some the same. Ways we’ve coped: buy fruits! They have fruit in the market, I just never see my fam eating it. We don’t eat everything they serve us, if you try to please them by eating everything you’re just hurting yourself. and if ever we’re served raw veggies we devour them in seconds. They can grow many things here, but unfortunately a lot of Paraguayans when they see a garden they say ooh how pretty, look at all the cebollita (green onions) they’ll be great for our tortillas. Yep, put em in dough and fry em up, then we’ll eat em.

I just have to keep thinking, things will get better in 5 months when I can start to reverse the effects the Paraguayan diet has had on my poor body!

mandioca, salty salad and rice. the rice wasn´t to bad actually it was pretty good. sure beats oily soup! and i had fresh made carrot and orange juice, really good as well. still to be determined if she puts sugar in it or not though...

Soja! a blog in pictures

Today we made soy stuff!! The beekeepers came over and we all split into 4 groups depending on language (spanish or guarani) of five or six and went to different houses to cook some soy foods. My house was one of the houses which was aaawsome. course it was with a guarani group but it´s ok. We went to the house with 2 language teachers and my h mom and Lizzy were there. We had the soy beans soaking overnight so they were ready to go in the mornin for us. here´s how it went...

unfortunatly i can´t caption the pictures but..first we took the shells off the beans. then we made some tortillas by fryin up some stuff.then we blended up the soy beans and made some milk which we added apples to for sweatness. we squeezed drained the milk thru a cheesecloth and used the soy ¨meat¨ to put into our empanadas which we fried up. we also made some salad. We had a very good lunch that day :) (that´s my h mom in the red shirt)

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Visit to a real live volunteer!

This weekend we went to visit a volunteer at their site just to see what life is like as a volunteer. Environmental volunteers who have either been here for a year or two years were to have us at their site and stay with a host family and show us their life. After our day in Asuncion on Thursday we found out who we were going to visit and if we had to leave Friday because they were far away or Saturday if they were closer. So I was off to visit Kevin two hours away at his site where he’s been living for a year. Not a bad ride since other people had 7 and 8 hour bus rides, plus another volunteer was taking the same bus and getting off before me. the bus was crowded so we had to stand for most of the ride in the isle and there were all these vendors selling snacks going up and down the isle that had to awkwardly squeeze past every 10 mins. They would jump on and off at random stops, must be the thing to do here. Kinda like the knife salesman that came on our bus when we were going into Asuncion thurs.

So I got there around 11am and Kevin was waiting for me at the terminal. After introductions over lunch we went to his house which on the outside looked like an old big shack but it’s a sweet deal what he’s got. The yard is big with a lot of fruit trees and it’s all fenced in. The house belongs to some guy in Italy and the landlord is letting Kevin live there rent free to look after it. It needed some work like a new sink and he bought a fridge and a mattress but everything else he is borrowing from neighbors like his bed and tables. There are four big rooms but no doors other then the bathroom door, and the bathroom is nice. Running water, hot water, electricity, the works.

We had a lot to do though, first we went over to this church that some of his friends volunteer at. Ever Saturday they provide a snack to the poorer kids in a community near this one. The snake was just rolls that we put some jam in but the kids came, about 37, and first they all sat down and got ready to sing. They love to sing songs here with kids and the kids love doing it. They sang along to this tape they played with kid church songs on it, then the girl running it taught them a mini lesson about being nice, then they went to the park next door to pick up trash. So that’s good, teachin them some garbage management, but then of course they burn the trash so……that’s not so good. Then they ran back in and washed their hands and had their snack with hot chocolate. They kept staring at me like they do and I think they were calling me Miley Sirus … or at least the one girl was talking about her.

After we had to go to another church and give a speech on global warming. A youth group was doing a campout that night so we walked out pretty far out of this town looking for the church. We were alittle late but we knew they were watching the movie first, or so we thought. When we finally got there turns out they hadn’t even started it because they were waiting for us, and asked us if we needed to rest before they started it. we told them we’d be able to sit and watch the movie without resting first because we’re guapo like that (here the word guapo doesn’t mean pretty like it does in other Spanish speaking countries, it means hard working. It’s very important to be guapo here they like that). So the movie they picked out to watch for our global warming charla (speech) was… the day after tomorrow. In Spanish. It was pretty long. But after we played an icebreaker game and then Kevin did a chat on global warming and how they can help reduce it in Paraguay. (most of their power is from a hydroelectric power so they’re good on that one, although they cut down their trees like there’s no tomorrow).

After that we had a birthday party to go to. A teacher he works with at school was turning 24. So we walked back down the long dirt road and got back into town and to her house. Tables were set up in the dirt yard and there were lights all over the trees. It looked very nice, the food was already on the plate at all the seats so we just sat down and started eating. Ok so on the plate was hunks of meat, and potato salad and rice salad and..a salad and of course sopa paraguay. Ugh. There was a lot on it and the only good thing was the potato salad. I didn’t want to appear rude and have it look like I wasn’t eating anything but I couldn’t’ eat all that! So it sat on my plate for awhile and what luck, a dog came by. He had a good meal that night… during the dinner there was a Paraguayan group singing traditional Paraguayan songs! 2 guitars and a accordion, it was really nice to hear. After we ate came the cake. It looked really nice a lot of icing, and it was a circle shape. They cut cake different here, she cut a small ring around the outside of the circle and then cut little pieces of that ring so it was like little slivers of cake. And thank god it was! Because I was all excited and took a bite and it was…not yummy. Ugh another thing I had just get it down and over with quick and hope she didn’t’ give me more. So that was the party. And what would be a birthday party without a lot of sitting around and staring, which is what we did. Then we left.

Sunday was a chill our day. We watched movies and there was a huge rainstorm that killed the power for a few hours but it was nice and we walked in it and got soaked. Made a stir fry for dinner though which was an awesome change.

Monday Kevin does a radio show for an hour at 8 with some other volunteers. We went over to the station, or room with a computer in it, and we were the only ones there. So Kev had to do the show on his own. I wasn’t about to get on air and wing a radio show about the environment with my Spanish! So I just hello. That’s all they get from me. but it went well, played some music, talked about gardening, who knows who listens to it but I’m sure there’s gotta be one or two people! After we went to one of the schools he works at on Monday where he made a garden with the kids. It’s a special needs school which is kinda unique there’s not many that I’ve seen or heard about around. There’s a fica volunteer here, it’s kinda like the Peace Corps but a Japanese version. Speaking of Japan, this community has a lot of Japanese Paraguayans living in it. A bunch settled here to grow rice or something awhile ago and they’re pretty integrated now. But they do still learn to speak Japanese and about their culture. I met one volunteer and it was cool because her Spanish was like mine, we’re both still learning.

After we went to lunch, had some terere during the siesta, then went to Kevin’s main school that he works at every day. He made a huge garden there with his different classes! So sometimes he just goes and sits in the library, other times teachers may ask him to teach a class on some environ theme, he also just got a grant to buy more books for the library because they really don’t have many. He’s doing a good job over there. After that we met up with another volunteer who was hosting a trainee as well and we all went and had a Japanese dinner at the Japanese hotel in town. IT WAS SO GOOD! Such a nice chaaaange. They brought out a nice spead of sushi and noodles and tofu with shitake mushrooms and dumplings and other things. Nice change of pace. After we all played uno.

Left Tuesday morning at 11 and got home around 2 (after spending time at the internet café). At home I hung out with the fam for a bit then decided to have a nap. Ok. So this is random and weird. I go into my room and close the door, unpack my bag and lay on my bed and have a 30 min nap. I’m drifting in and out of sleep and at one point I hear a little noise under my bed like a cat is under there. I figured it was just Pingy and went to look if she was under there. No. it was not Pingy. It was a small child!?!?!?!? He appeared to be sleeping on my cold tile floor, I left my room and told my h mom there was a small child under my bed, she was like what? And I repeated and she went to look, she came back and was like “ooh that’s just Gustavo, he’s so crazy. He’s your friend” I don’t know little Gustavo nor did little Gustavo ask to sleep under my bed. I think what happened was his mom was gonna take him to the dentist and he was hiding and my door was open so he went in there and hid and fell asleep. So lesson learned, always check for small children under your bed.

Speaking of which I’m gonna do that now. It’s 8:14 pm! Bed time waits for no man! Night!

here´s some pics of the massacre of my toe to get out my third pique. some uno times in the room that looks like it could be out of one of the texas chainsaw movies. and a really good dinner we cooked!

Friday, October 16, 2009

a quicky

I came here with all intentions of posting my blog about my weekend site visit, but subsequently forgot my pindrive in my room. Que lastima! So I´ll take this time to report that yesterday I was pretty sick with a fever and stomach probs, today I´m ok. I was still pretty guapa (hardworking) though since I went to class anyway, fever and all. But I did go to bed at 7 pm...

Today Leah and I started our Dia de Practica, our practice days to do a project in the community just like a real volunteer. we have five days throughout the next 2 months to pull this off even though in real volunteer time this would happen in like 2 days. Anyway we decided we´re gonna go to the school and ask the directora what she would like. They were pretty into it, I brought some school books to show them that we could work with and they were very excited about that. So we decided we would do a class about trees an animals and why we shouldn´t randomly go around killing them with our slingshots for target practice. Then we´ll go outside and plant some trees. Hopefully it will go well!

Chiquitin, my piglet, has become pretty friendly and i can pet him and he rubs his dirty nose all over my feet. Images of Wilber come to mind, I need a spiderweb....

more later..

Sunday, October 4, 2009

La Huerta y El Chanchito: Farmville Live!

La huerta y el conchito: Farmville Live!

Yes that’s right, after my summer months of planting and tilling and harvesting and collecting eggs on my electronic farm on facebook, I can say it all prepared me for… absolutely nothing to do with planting a garden. But I’ll get back to that.

Yesterday we went into Guarambare with the agroforestry group for some more information sessions which included reminding us that although we are here we are not volunteers yet, we still need to earn that spot. So while we already have applied and gotten in (kinda) we’re still on a three month long interview and job training process. So come December when we’re sworn in it will have been a year long application process! And of course, this being a government position, we had papers to sign. Then we watched a movie called “Living on the edge of Death” or something like that which was just as depressing as it sounds. Not about us living on the verge of dying! But about helping communities learn to help themselves as opposed to not teaching them and just giving them money. You know, the whole “give a man a fish and he eats for a day, teach a man to fish and he eats for a lifetime”.

After the other 2 groups showed up and we learned all about vegetable gardens (huertas). We learned how to transplant and why, where to put what in the garden for the best results, how to make organic compost and a fence out of bamboo with a machete and wire, and of course a practical lesson on making of the garden itself. Hoeing, turning the soil, making a raised bed, putting on the fertilizer (compost) and transplanting some little onions and lettuce plants. Good information but I felt like a lot of people knew a lot more about growing plants and organic gardens and soil..and they did, because all I know about was the tomatoes my mom and I tried to grow which just got really big and turned green and fell off (although looking back we could have had fried green tomatoes). On a side note they made us a spread of all sortsa fresh veggies and dip to eat, we descended on the table like Paraguayan children at a candy store. Eating raw veggies here is a big deal, something you don’t get a lot since healthy food here consists of white bread on sugar on white bread on meat and mandioka. It was a fiberus surprise we all needed!

Walked home, watched the news and the lottery like we do every night. The lotto here is a bit different and I’m not sure exactly how it works but the host fam seems to win something like every night. Last night was $3 tonight was $20! After a whole buncha things happened at once. Well two things. First a moto semi crashed, more like fell over in front of the house. The one kid got up and got the moto up and the other wasn’t really moving so my host mom went down there and then he got up, he had just cut his leg. Then this boy showed up holding a screaming piglet about a month old. I’m not sure who the boy was hmom started to tie a rope around its neck and middle like a harness and I thought the boy just need a rope and was showing us his piglet, but then he walked away and left the piglet with us. But he was sooooooooo cute and little. Also terrified out of his mind, deff taken away from his mom way to young but, I could go into a whole entry about how they treat animals here which I won’t do right now. Uh. Anyway after we gave him food for him to step in and he stopped squealing I asked “Por Que tenemos este conchito?” (Why do we have this piglet?) and apparently it was a regalo (gift) and then I asked the question I already knew the answer too : What are we going to do with it *wince*. “We will kill it in four months and eat it”. Of course this I knew. But he’s sooo cute! Can’t get attached! Just like the fuzzy little chicks that hatched last week! Our yard is overflowing with cuteness I can’t even handle it. and more chicks are going to hatch in a couple days!

So today was our half day tech session in which we started our own huerta! We had to finish building a fence, hoe out all the grass, turn over the soil with shovels to aerate it, rake it down, make raised beds and plant the veggies. No standing next to a plot of land and it’s all of a sudden a plot to sew (Farmville). NO! this was 3 hours of hard labor with the hot hot hot sun on our backs and Terere by our side. So much work to get some lettuce, I now have a new appreciation for those little veggies we all eat.

The other night when we were walking our friendly neighborhood farmer invited us into his garden to see his vegetables. He had rows of goodies and he gave us some lettuce and squash to take home. He was just a random guy who said hi to us on the road who wanted to share his garden with us. He was very excited about it. He also showed us his pig he was going to slaughter for new years and invited us into his house for a piece of something that was a pig skin roll with fat. It made my stomach turn just to look at it but he was so happy to give it to us and 4 slices off so we could try it. Omg. We all didn’t know what to do. First off more than half the people in EE are/were vegetarians or ate little meat, which is funny (but not really) because we’re all here in a country who loooooves their meat and thinks you’re absolutely crazy if you don’t. So we all took our slices in a napkin and said we would try it later (by that we meant we’d give it to one of the street dogs). Then he gave us a piece of sopa Paraguay, the countries national dish, which I already knew I didn’t like. I took a bite (it’s kinda like corn bread) and chewed for awhile until I knew I could muscle it down without gagging. After we said our thanks and left I gave my pig skin roll to Mangey, our favorite street dog who we named for his mange, who was very happy to have it.

On another side note, I was sitting outside tonight with the h sis and h dad talking about the environment and the US and Paraguay and Mayans and toads when I realized we were having an actual fast paced conversation without me stopping to think about what words I need to use. Grant it I’m sure my grammar was scary but it’s all about the small steps!

here are some pics: the first one is our Pingy the cat