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)