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!