Monthly Archives: October 2012

My Road is a River…and the Rooster that Raced the Bus

“It is preferable to think of a course of study not as a series of classes but as a series of planned experiences.” – Two Ears of Corn

Paraguay has not disappointed me in my ongoing quest for adventure.

This morning, after a 6-hour tempest of rain, hail, wind, and more in the hours leading up to, and including, my journey to the bus stop my road was literally… a river.

I was wet as soon as I stepped from the porch. Our normally-dry driveway had turned into an angry brook. Quickly realizing I would spend the day with wet feet despite my rubber boots and best intentions, I sloshed my way toward the road leading toward the bus stop. What was normally a 30 foot wide, grassy shoulder was underwater, forcing me into the road, deserted save for the occasional public bus and moto drivers taking their chances. Here schools close when it rains (not kidding), but not Peace Corps training! I made my way to the Cruce (a crossroad with a bus stop and despensa) through ankle-deep water, torrential rain, lightning and booming thunder with my backpack of lunch and books snuggled cozily under my raincoat. Instead of the regular soft, dry red dirt road I found a roaring red river. It had rapids, it carried discarded Coke bottles to new destinations, and, with a current strong enough to pull my feet from under me, was impassable. .. perfect day for a kayak, if only I’d had one! A look around provided today’s architecture award in what mimicked the Mississippi Delta pumping silt into the road, producing a striking fanlike arrangement on the pavement. Of all days, I wish I’d had a camera. It was perhaps the most interesting scenery of all my four weeks here. Power, destruction, beauty: nature rearranging itself.

The day quickly turned beautiful – blue sky, hot, humid, and oppressive. We have a saying in Maine: “If you don’t like the weather, wait a minute”. I think Paraguay has Maine beat. It, too, provides weather extremes in a single day and makes planning a day-long excursion worthy of a Girl Scout badge. Always be prepared. We toured a government-run agricultural operation in Ca’acupe that offers services similar to the US Cooperative Extension. They test varieties of tomatoes, melons, potatoes, and garlic and are currently growing macadamia nuts! Did you know that garlic doesn’t grow well in Paraguay because the heat is too intense and it prefers more hours of daylight than found here?

The day continued to improve with what became a breakthrough in my language training. Something clicked in my brain and I was unstoppable. Haha. Finally! Just in time for language assessment interviews next week…

The week provided many more ‘firsts’, including a rooster that began racing our bus every day! No joke. He was boss and cocky and I think he truly believed he would win…except for that darned fence. But he keeps trying. Then came my first experience in beekeeping –everyone should try it once, even if you decide it’s not for you. Being witness to bees working inside a hive is nothing short of a miracle. However, I don’t recommend starting with the Africanized bees we have here. EEEK! These guys are aggressive! It was intense having hundreds of bees pinging off my veil, climbing over my body, not knowing if or when they might sting through my clothes..and really hoping it didn’t happen when I pulled a panel of honeycomb from the hive and held it delicately in the air. No stings for me this time, though others were not so lucky. This week the jasmine trees are blooming and smell divine, similar to lilacs. I tucked the little white flowers behind my ear so every time I turned my head I would get a whiff. Heavenly! My host Mom and sister also taught me to hand-milk a cow for the first time. While we were milking, her baby was nearby playing HeadButt with the dog. Haha – adorable! Next on my list: killing a chicken for Sunday dinner. I’m in no hurry for that one. And I finally went running – my first real run since arriving. While I didn’t get as far as I’d hoped, my body was thanking me every step of the way. Pure luxury. Lastly, host Mom is teaching me the art of herbalism, second nature to Paraguayans, super useful for me in the campo (along with milking cows, killing chickens, speaking guarani, and wielding machetes… I’ll be super Guapa by the time I arrive!)

As part of my training each person recently had to research a type of Abonos Verdes (green manure/cover crop). A classmate outdid himself by composing a rap on Kumanda Yvyra’i (ku-man-DA u-vra-E)—similar to a black bean–, in Spanish, perfectly rhymed, making complete sense and absolutely hysterical. If he ever gets it on YouTube I will share. Never dreamed an Abono Verde could be so funny. There is no shortage of entertainment in my group of trainees.

This week was the ultimate combination of intensely taxing and extremely rewarding. Working in the kokue this week I paused and took inventory: I felt both exhausted yet fully, exuberantly alive, aware of the slip of my shoes against my bare feet, the sun warming my arms, the dry clay soil desiccating my hands, each nerve cell in my body like mini antennae, soaking up every sensation, my heart full of appreciation and gratitude that I am here as well as sadness that my Grandma is quickly slipping away and I can’t be with her. I looked across the road and admired the vista: miles of Paraguay, campo, and Argentina in the distance. Tranquilo.

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Struggles and Perspectives: Testing Our Mettle

“You never doubt your anger, your depression,
your sadness, your sorrow, your misery;
but you doubt all the positive qualities that you have.
You doubt in your capabilities –
You don’t doubt your incapabilities.
Doubt the incapability in yourself, doubt your limitations,
Then the faith in your capabilities grows.”
-The Honorable Sri Sri Ravi Shankar

This weekend was a struggle. I am resenting my pride that squirms and resists admitting this, but I am feeling fully human and frustratingly inadequate.  Every volunteer and every Peace Corps staff member has said the roller coaster is typical- to be expected- with highs and lows often happening in the same day. Yes, I have already experienced this multiple times in the past three weeks. This is part of the journey and is what tests our mettle.  And, yeah, part of my being here IS to test my mettle…some days though I wish my test had cliff notes. I know these feelings will pass and that I can help this process by practicing gratitude because, no matter what, I have MUCH for which to be grateful; afterall I AM here making a dream come true, here to help others and to learn from them, I have the support and love of a wonderful family and tribe of friends, I am healthy; I need to stop doubting my capabilities.

I find these emotions particularly disappointing after sharing several wonderful days earlier this week with a fantastic volunteer currently working in a tiny pueblo in the Department of Cordillera. The intent of the visit was to help me understand and participate in the real life of a Peace Corps volunteer. The Monday morning, 3-hour bus ride was more nerve-wracking than any race-day morning butterflies back home. All my Spanish vocabulary seemed to evaporate out of my head the instant I needed to ask if the bus driver was going where I needed. I hoped I would not find myself in Argentina at day’s end! But I arrived safely and without incident, passing beautiful scenery and an ostrich farm en route. Score one for me.

My volunteer, Emily, lives among some 200 homes spread over a few square miles, in a tiny one-room, thatched-roof cottage with a single light bulb, cement floor, no bathroom and an outdoor shower stall by which she can ‘bucket bathe.’ She draws her water from the nearby well, one small pail at a time.

Together we visited the local school (with a total of 20 children, grades K-6) and made beet and carrot juice so the kids could see the ‘fruits’ of their labor using veggies from the school garden they created with Emily. L ater, she and Itrekked a half-hour to work in her kokue (ko-KWAY), a field where she has a demo garden and experiments with various crops to see what new techniques or crop combinations might increase yields and income for farmers in her community. One of Emily’s students, 11-year old Gloria, took a shine to me and joined me on a long evening stroll down a red dirt road lined with eucalyptus trees, watching the sun set behind a pasture of race horses, and teaching each other words in our native language. Kids are wonderfully patient teachers (but don’t hesitate to laugh at you either). The night that followed produced a fantastic storm of torrential rain, thunder and the most fabulous heavenly show I’ve ever witnessed:  more than 2 hours of non-stop lightning that colored the entire sky and threw eerie shadows in every direction.

On my final day, we visited with some neighbors and drank terere, talking of everything and nothing. I sat in awe as my fellow volunteer and a friend practiced their guarani and spoke, laughed and cajoled effortlessly in Spanish. I felt like a child, focusing fiercely on every syllable and watching my companions converse animatedly but still unable to comprehend the bulk of the conversations, much less contribute to them. However, my redeeming moment came when the husband patted me on the shoulder and told me I was mucho Guapa, more Paraguayan than my fellow volunteers, because I listen and watch …like a typical shy Paraguayan. I beamed. And I vowed to remind myself to check my perspective…frequently. (And remind myself I’ve only been here 3 weeks. Tranquilo!) Eventually we toured one of their kokues where they grew pineapples, bananas, watermelon, peanuts, beans, guava and papaya trees, mandioca (yucca root) and much more. We wrapped up the day by attending a rezo, a multi-day religious tribute, in honor of a neighbor who died unexpectedly from a heart attack. This country is largely and fiercely Catholic and one is hard-pressed to not see signs of devotion everywhere, including mini chapels fit for dolls along ditches to memorialize accident victims. Unfortunately, these are numerous.

Friday brought my first day of guarani (pronounced gwa-rah-NEE) class, a very old and native language of Paraguay. It and Spanish are Paraguay’s official national languages. It is a difficult language to say the least but absolutely necessary for integrating into my community once I reach my site. Fortunately, my host family is quite eager to help me learn so here we go… and here’s a sample:

Mba’ eichapa! (How are you?)

Iporaminte ha nde?  [or]   Tranquilopa ha nde? (I’m well, and you?)

Iporaminte avei  [or]  Omarcha avei (I’m well also)

Mba’eichapa nde rera (What is your name?)

Cherere Wendy (My name is Wendy)

Mooguapa nde? (Where are you from?)

Che estado unidogua (I am from the United States)

Mba’epe remba’apota? (What do you do?)

Amba’ apota agriculturape (I work in agriculture)

Adio!  [or]  Op! (goodbye)  [or]  jajotopata (See you later)

[and my 2 most commonly used:]

Nahaniri nantendei. (No I don’t understand)

Ikatupa rerepeti ? (Could you repeat please?)

I knew I was making progress this week when realizing I was taking notes in Spanish instead of English! A good sign indeed. Score two for me.

Another first was attending with my family a ‘Quince Año’, the traditional birthday bash, like a Sweet 16, given to girls turning 15. In Paraguay, a girl becomes a woman at age 15. Boys don’t get this credit until age 18. This was not your average birthday party but rather a gala that rivaled the best weddings. And I got to dance! Not tango but it still felt great to get my boogie on nonetheless. The 1 am ride home proved quite harrowing in yet another torrential downpour, our only saving grace being the tiny reflective flaps fastened to the center and fog lines. Otherwise visibility was zero as there are no street lights outside large towns and significant intersections. Just when I thought it couldn’t rain harder, it did. And again and again. I learned that October and November is the ‘rainy season’ here. We definitely needed it, as the country has suffered from drought all year.

I am closing this segment with some random but interesting observations: Did you know KISS and Lady Gaga are performing in Paraguay in the coming weeks? Did you know that Tuesday’s official forecast calls for ‘tons of rain’? Did you know that Coca Cola so strongly dominates the Paraguayan soda market that many locals think Coke is a Paraguayan company? Did you know that most trucks larger than a pick up are Mercedes though it’s rare to find a Mercedes car outside the larger cities and universities? Did you know you can find popular US brands here like Huggies, Colgate, and Proctor & Gamble (and even McDonald’s in Asuncion)? Did you know that gasoline is sold here by the liter and costs the equivalent of $4-7 US dollars per gallon? (Yes, we are on the metric system here and it’s very fun to talk in kilometers, meters, kilograms, liters, degrees Celsius, etc) Did you know that cell phones are so popular here that only 25% of Paraguayans still use a landline?  (though fortunately the smartphones are not as common as in the US, nor is the sight of seeing a table of people all staring down at their smartphones instead of talking to each other). Did you know that Paraguayan time is currently one hour ahead of the US East Coast until US Daylight Savings in a couple weeks?

Enjoy your week. Tell your family and friends how much you appreciate them. Be grateful for the abundance in your life. Make every moment count.

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Sunsets

My grandmother, my last living grandparent, turned 88 the week after I left for Paraguay. I knew when I went to visit her in the days before I left home I would likely never see her again, as she has been battling a range of health issues for a while now. I lingered during that visit as long as I could, trying to record in my head the sound of her voice as she asked with hope that I write to her, trying to burn into my brain every detail of that visit, trying to choke back the tears that fought desperately to spill down my cheeks before I could catch them, knowing this was likely the last time with her … for anything. I did not want her to know that I knew. I wanted to pretend everything would be fine. She has bounced back and surprised us before. But this time is different. Even her doctors have said it’s time. She is in hospice. It is simply a matter of time.

She knows. She’s ready. She’s been ready. It’s the rest of us that struggle to come to grips with the sunset of her life, to miss the love that she spreads so naturally, to feel the warmth of her home and the delighted twinkle in her eye when you enter the room. None of us will ever question her love for us.

Though I am 5000 miles away and unable to be with her, I’ve been fortunate to have had her all these years, to have the chance to say goodbye, to tell her I love her, to wish her a final Happy Birthday, and hold her hand one last time.

Please keep my family in your thoughts.

(PS- I will be traveling to other parts of the country this week for training and unable to post again until next weekend.)

Categories: Peace Corps Paraguay | 6 Comments

Live and go ‘live’

Today I officially make my blog public and am excited to share my journey with you!  I arrived in Paraguay, South America on September 27, 2012 to begin my Peace Corps training, a dream 25 years in the making.

If you are just joining the adventure let me give you some context on how the Peace Corps process goes now that I’m incountry: My cohort is a group of 54 individuals, some destined for the agriculture sector (like me) and the rest will work in the environmental sector. Our first 10 weeks in Paraguay are strictly training, learning language (Spanish and guarani), culture, technical skills, health, safety, and more. Training 1) prepares us for life in the campo (countryside) where each of us will be assigned a community do the work we came to do, 2) gives us a chance to examine our reasons for joining Peace Corps and question and explore if this continues to be the right choice for each of us and 3) is also essentially a 10-week job interview. Throughout this time we are continually assessed and tested to ensure we meet minimum competencies that will support our success in the community. If we do not measure up or decide this isn’t really what we wanted afterall, we go home in December. Few people do this. Otherwise, in December we will be sworn in as Peace Corps Volunteers (PCVs) and be in our sites by mid-December where we’ll live and work for the next 2 years.

Recently, my host sister gave me a pile of magazines in which her Paraguayan recipes had been published; her gift to me for when I’m on my own in the campo. I knew she was a baker (the family owns a bakery here on the property) but apparently, she ‘s a regular contributor to Gastronomia.com, an ‘ABC Color’ magazine known throughout this country for its quality and reputation. This gift was really personal and meant a lot to me. Now I can make my own chipa (looks like a bagel but made of mandioca flour, cornmeal and anise) and other culinary delights!

Yesterday finally brought relief from the heat with cooler temps, periods of drizzle and a lovely breeze. It also brought my second round of rabies vaccinations, standard practice for all Peace Corps Volunteers in this country, and about 50 new Spanish words. My host family continues to comment that my comprehension is rapidly improving (well, it could only go up!) They are wonderfully supportive of my journey, my language training, and ensuring I have a great experience in Paraguay.

Last night I was treated to Skyping with several family members including my daughter. Hearing her voice was the most precious thing in the world and she was able to hear mine for the second time since my arrival. (My internet connection here is a bit too slow for my audio to work most of the time.) The hardest part of all this is being away from my wonderful family but we are all adjusting.

This morning, following a super yummy omelet with fresh tomatoes, beans, and Mom’s homemade cheese, my training group traveled scavenger-hunt-style to Ascuncion, the capitol, where we eventually met dozens of volunteers currently serving in various parts of the country. On a bend for good chocolate, my secondary mission was to stock up on premium dark chocolate as well as find a good sombrero, some dice, and maybe some extra clothes. While did find some chocolate in the supermercado, the choco-snob in me was underwhelmed and unsatisfied…it’s not the same as home but, alas, it must suffice. I also learned that the US Embassy has a  fabulous swimming pool and, once sworn in as Volunteers, we can use it while in Ascuncion. December can’t come fast enough!!!

Today’s National Geographic (NatGeo) moment:  this morning I watched a young boy (maybe 5 years old?) ‘riding’ a stick as if it were a horse, galloping across the red dirt and cobblestone road in his little bare feet, hair tousled, clothes askew, unconcerned of our oncoming vehicle and seemingly happy as could be. My heart skipped, my eyes smiled, and I was again reassured that I’m exactly where I’m meant to be.

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Vori Vori, Mas o Menos, and a Pig on a Moto

I promise I won’t talk about the weather in every post but I find it simply wonderful and fascinating here. Yesterday was over 100 degrees in the fields where we worked….a real ‘scorchah’ as we’d say in Maine. Today, slightly more tolerable. And it’s only Spring. Both days left me looking like I’d showered in my clothes. haha. Actually, today I did hit the shower in my clothes because I was grungier than I remember being in a long time. The red soil on my feet and calves looked as though I’d waded through rusty-water. The shower is also a great place to do laundry, though I have recently determined the water heater’s maximum to be exactly 1 shower and 2 pieces of laundry. And the weekend laundry ritual will likely continue in tandem. So it is. Tomorrow I will buy myself a wide-brimmed sombero because we still have more planting to do on Saturday. Today’s technical training session had us planting mandioca (yucca root, which is served with nearly every meal as a starch), beans, corn, soybeans, watermelon, jety (pronounced jay-TU, guarani for sweet potato), and more. We came home for lunch the past two days (normally during regular class we eat at the training center). Despite the heat, my family made hot stew both days (fight fire with fire?) Yesterday was a traditional paraguayan favorite and my first experience: vori vori, a stew of small hand-rolled cornmeal balls. Today’s lunch was a beef stew of sorts and the best meal I’ve had since getting off the plane. Yummo! My family is seriously overfeeding me but I’m down with that.
Tonight Papa showed me how to prepare and cook mandioca. Peel, wash, cook for an hour, “mas o menos” (more or less). “Mas o menos” has become the preferred phrase of my training group this week. When in doubt, mas o menos, or ‘Close enough.’ From the title of tonight’s post you may be wondering “Is she really going to talk about a pig on a moto?” Yep. It’s true. In my last post I mentioned that paraguayans carry everything and everyone on their motos: babies, groceries, picnic coolers, and today ….we spotted a live pig, hog-tied and lying (comfortably?) on his back. I’m glad I’m not the one trying to hold that critter on a moto! (And no, it was not the driver holding the pig.)The past several days have involved many hours of language training (4-6 hours per day). Initially, this was exhausting. However, with increasing vocabulary and comprehension I now look forward to it and am taking this as a good sign! This week I feel so much more relaxed and settled and it’s showing in every aspect of my days. Tranquilo.From me to you: Tapeapovo (tahp-A-o-PO-vo), guarani for “Make your path as you go”.

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Paraguayan Texting, Daylight Savings, and Nescafe

Never did I think I’d have a class on how to send a text message (much less in Spanish!) but all that changed today. Peace Corps actually trains volunteers on Paraguayan texting norms! For example, ‘Adios’ is a2, ‘Todos’ is to2, ‘Que tal’ is Q tl?, ‘Fuerte’ is simply ‘furt’ (my favorite of all!). Pretty fun, actually. Except the part where class was taught 100% in Spanish. I didn’t realize Paraguay participated in a form of Daylight Savings but tonight we move our clocks ahead 1 hour. Instead of being in the same time zone, in a few weeks we’ll be 2 hours apart from the US when you move your clocks back. I’m looking forward to more daylight at day’s end! Many people associate Latin America with delicious coffee, complete with organic and fair trade options. In Paraguay, Nescafe is THE coffee of choice and readily available at every grocery despensa (I have fond memories of those coffee commercials from childhood!) You will be hard pressed to find a whole-bean gourmet coffee anywhere in this country except perhaps Ascuncion. Paraguayans like to keep things simple and prefer their terere or matte over coffee.I miss music. I knew I would. Once at my project site I hope to learn to play a Paraguayan musical instrument but last night I really needed a music fix and was especially longing for some tango tunes (while my house has many amenities, television is my family’s entertainment of choice and they do not listen to music). I brought no MP3 player as I planned to rely on Pandora. To my dismay, Pandora is not licensed in Paraguay. Major bummer. However, just in time for the weekend, the neighbor across the road is playing a danceable, throbbing Latin number that will fill the void. My curtains are drawn and I’m relying on the TV in the next room to drown out the sound of my flip flops sashaying across the brick floor.

Today’s temps were in the high and humid 90s but it felt more like 100+. A perfect day for siesta but it was not in the cards for me. Each day at training, lunchtime becomes this wonderful adventure of my fellow G-mates comparing our mystery meals (EVERYone’s host Mom prepares their lunch for them, including mine). Most of us are still learning the various typical Paraguayan dishes and we’ve made it customary to try a bite from everyone’s lunch around the table. The majority of dishes are primarily meat and starch so when a classmate brings something resembling a vegetable or fruit, the negotiations begin! My family bought watermelon for me this week (wow-so grateful!!) and I was the envy of every trainee onsite. Those who helped translate this morning’s texting class for me got extra slices! 🙂 I’m spoiled because a typical lunch for me includes a large portion of meat (or something resembling meatloaf soup), plus beans, boiled potatoes and carrots, a couple leaves of lettuce, and sopa (cornbread) or chipa (a bread made of tapioca or mandioca flour and anise). This is popular with me since I need a gluten-free diet and can’t have regular wheat-based foods. Now THAT is something Paraguayans really don’t understand (the gringa from norteamerica who doesn’t eat ‘harina’/’trigo’ quickly became the topic of conversation in the neighborhood)- it’s virtually unheard of here – but my family has been wonderfully accomodating. Breakfast is always a slice of quesa paraguaya (cheese) with peach jam, yogurt, fruit, and sometimes meat and chipa. Today I got ham and eggs upon request! This week my sister made delicious galletitas (cookies) with tapioca flour and chocolate chips just for me! Chocolate… aaah.

Usually we are chauffered to and from class by our Peace Corps bus. Tonight’s commute was my first venture on the public bus, affectionately referred to as the ‘micro’ or ‘colectivo’. It was packed with people, spooned in like sardines, bellies to backs, making the ’97 degrees’ soar to ‘soaking wet’. But the sunset along the way was spectacular; the kind when you can see the actual sphere of the sun, glowing on the horizon, shining it’s last furtive rays across harvested sugar cane fields, peeking between palm fronds and glimmering off the last copper strands of my youth amongst my graying hair. I love those sunsets and today’s brought the broadest, most natural, straight-from-the-heart smile to my face. I’m here. I’m doing this. I was pure happiness in that moment.

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Machete lessons with Wendy the Elder

Today was my best day here so far, except that I was sick this morning, I forgot my deodorant and it was 95 degrees. And of course it was our first day of physical labor that had us making compost piles and vermiculture bins (for red worms) all afternoon. But I loved it and everyone else was smelly by day’s end too. However, the highlight was…wait for it… machete lessons! Cool, eh? We learned how to cut bamboo with our machetes and explore the many handy ways it can be used (fence posts, compost piles, etc). That stuff is tough as nails, especially once dry.

I also learned that I am officially the oldest in my group of trainees though there are a couple of folks not far behind me. Most are between 22 and 26. I overheard an interesting conversation among some of the younger, just-out-of-college volunteers who were discussing that Peace Corps was the first time they’d had ‘colleagues’ instead of ‘peers’. I had to laugh inwardly as that revelation for me seems like a million years ago.
There is an Olimpia Club soccer field 2 doors down from our house and a volleyball area set up across the street. Though I’ve not seen anyone (other than cows) use the soccer field, complete with official-looking goal nets, I plan to ask my host family about its use. Could make for great space to get my fellow trainees together.

Mama took me out back a couple nights ago to proudly show me about 20 baby ducks that recently hatched. Some are following their mama around, others are not quite ready. All are too adorable.

Oxcarts are a popular mode of moving sugarcane or other goods from the fields of small farms to the barn or to market here. I hope to get a photo for you soon so you can enjoy the sight with me. Sugarcane is typically harvested by hand with a ….machete. Yup. It is a lot of work. There’s not a lot of mechanized agriculture here and farming provides employment for 60% of the working population. There are 260,000 small family farms throughout the country which provide all of the variety of foods needed for families throughout the country (unlike larger farms with monocultures of soybeans, cotton, etc, much of which is exported).

Every day is an adventure. We’re putting in long days at school, 6 days a week, and coming home to practice more Spanish with our families. It’s tiring but fabulous. I’m so blessed with this opportunity!

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On Puppies and Piglets

Sorry this is a lengthy one but there’s so much coolness to talk about everyday!!
Last night I had the best evening yet with my host family. I told my ‘sister’ that I needed exercise so she took me for a walk in the back 40 where I learned my family owns a large sugar cane plantation and significant acreage in cow pasture (I’ve been here a week and just learned this and that we have about a dozen cows and a bull). Two things: 1) the sugar cane is fed to our cows and also harvested for table sugar for extra income; 2) you can always tell a cow pasture from other pastures by the clumps cows leave behind. In this pasture, the clumps are actually a popular herb Paraguayans use in their matte that I learned about in class. This one is called Malva and used as an anti-inflammatory and expectorant. Also tonight, my host Mom showed me the ‘traditional’ way to grind corn before the electric mills were invented. It looks like a tall mortar and pestle and you pound dried corn kernels to fine powder with what looks like an oversized baseball bat then put it through a sieve to make cornmeal. Very hard work. Pics forthcoming of host Mama gettin’ it done.

Two totally cool observations from the bus today: I noticed for the first time a beautiful mountain range in the distance. I believe it is Argentina as we are impressively close to the border and people from this area go there like people from Maine go to NH to buy groceries and cigarrettes. Stay tuned for more details on that topic another time. As for the other: puppies and piglets hanging loose and tranquilo on the roadside. No one watching over them, they weren’t phased by the bus whizzing by, and the cutest sight ever. I’ve gotten accustomed to seeing horses, cows, goats, and even grown hogs tethered (or not) on roadsides, in ditches, pretty much anywhere the grass grows… or walking down the middle of the road. Piglets, that’s a new one.I realized I haven’t talked much about my family or the environment in Paraguay so here goes. My family is large (Mama had 7 kids who all visit on Sundays) but only 2 of the kids (brother and sister) live at home. Mama rules the home and ensures everyone is taken care of and all is in order. Papa works long hours and takes care of the ‘manly’ things around the house like killing chickens. My sister is 32 and a baker at the family’s roadside bakery in front of the house as well as an accountant in Ascuncion. My brother (don’t worry, Bub, he’ll never replace you) is 25, a college student and event planner for a hotel in Ascuncion. They are a very close, proud, hard-working family and treat me better than I could have imagined. After being a ‘grown up’ for a number of years now, it is a bit strange to be waited on, have someone make my lunch, serve me breakfast and keep me company at the table while I eat, ensure I never go hungry, and show me how to wash me clothes (the traditional way on a washboard sink, by hand)….very sweet actually. More detail on laundry another time when I have less to talk about.As for the environment, the scenery here looks like a combination of Maine and Florida. Very interesting. There are red pines growing beside coconut-bearing palm trees. Spear plants and tropicals next to bushes closely resembling New England species. Semolina and mango trees next to what looks like sumac. All growing in the red soil. Fascinating. PS – the semolina trees bear this totally cool pod that is nothing short of an overgrown, flattened vanilla bean and when they fall to the earth, they are dry and make great noise-makers when shaken. Yeah, the guys in my group discovered this the first day. Go figure. 🙂

One of my fellow ‘aspirantes’ (trainees) and his host mother had a tarantula in their kitchen last night. Apparently his host mama, a tall woman of ample mass, jumped on the arachnid with a serious stomp but the spider was nonplussed and collected itself to continue it’s journey toward her kitchen chair. It was finally suppressed by application of boiling water. I have nothing against spiders as long as we each stay in our own space but I really hope I never find one of these in our house. No tranquilo!

Though my brain is totally fried from 6 hours of Spanish class today (that’s right, 6, six, seis) plus 2 interviews with my assistant country director and field supervisor, I found myself in uplifted spirits, feeling like a switch flipped yesterday and things are settling and coming together. My host family commented on how much my Spanish has improved suddenly in the last two days! WOOHOOOO – something is finally clicking! I think I have not given myself enough credit to acknowledge how much change I’m actually going through right now. At home, I thought I had prepared to the nth degree. I thought I had considered a full spectrum of changes I’d undergo and adjustments I’d need to make. I practiced conversations in my head I thought I might have. Little did I know how UNprepared I would be despite those efforts. They told me this would happen but today they also told me I was right where I should be and that I will be just fine. No matter that I want to ask your name in Spanish and am probably inadvertently asking how many keys you have instead. But it’s nice to see progress. Tranquilo.

Jajotopata
xoxo

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Skype and Letters from Home

I was very happy to Skype with several family members last night and feel so fortunate to have internet access during training. Such a luxury!

A few struggles today but all were vanquished with the arrival of my first piece of mail! Woohoo! Thank you Aunt Terry and Uncle Wayne! It totally made my day.

Last night’s ‘rain event’ brought pretty near perfect temps today.

Today also brought my first of three rabies vaccinations (the peanut gallery can withhold comments on that one) plus several talks from the medical team discussing everything from treating water to using an EpiPen since we’ll be working with bees. I also had several laughs with my groupies today but the best one was in Spanish class. I had a total brain freeze when my turn came around but eventually stumbled my way through my answer describing a fellow student at the table. The teacher then moved to the young woman next to me who was asked to describe me. She tried to say “Ella es linda” (She is pretty) but instead said “Ella es lento” (she is slow)! While she was horrified, the rest of us almost fell out of our chairs laughing because it was very true today!

I’m off to spend time with my host family… I hope you are all well!
Jajotopata,
xo

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104 Degrees and Loving It

It was 104 humid degrees today. I love it, even though I had sweat pooling in my sandals. 🙂

Everyday brings new learnings. Today’s highlights: I’ve learned a lot from the 20-somethings in this cohort and their fresh, inquisite approach to this adventure; I learned I am not alone in some of my frustrations and feelings of being overwhelmed; I discovered there are 2 sugar factories near our training center which process the sugarcane from the many plantations here (one is organic and sells to the US); I made my first purchase using paraguayan “guaranies” (gwa-rahn-ee-ays) – I was desperate and bought Coca cola and ‘potato chips’ to get change for the bus (which my group was supposed to ride for the first time tonight but didn’t…long story…instead we took the Peace Corps bus to our village bus stop and had to walk the remaining way home after dark – yikes, not cool especially after our bus safety lesson- but fortunately it was a quick trot to mi casa); I learned how to make newspaper plant pots and start swiss chard seeds in them; I learned LOTS and LOTS of new words in Spanish and guarani especially concerning food and laundry (‘Hee, chegustaiterei’ [hay, shay-GOOS-ta-ee-ter-ay-EE] is guarani for ‘Yes, I like it very much’ and ‘graciamante’ means ‘Thank you very much’); I saw my first Paraguayan frog… yeah, it was in the house hopping around and gigantic… as long as my size 8 foot and the size of a small grapefruit (brother Ramon tells me it is not poisonous though it does inflate itself when threatened, unlike the butterfly my fellow trainee saw over the weekend which bites and WAS poisonous!); I realized I might go out of my mind if I don’t start getting some regular exercise (nothing but 3 minor yoga sessions since last Monday…all non-cardio); I discovered that mosquito nets are perfect for drying laundry and that braids are great for curly hair in humid weather (not my best look but it’s very functional here). Overall, Paraguay is great so far.

Jajotopata (ja-jo-to-PA-ta, guarani for “until next time”)

Categories: Peace Corps Paraguay | 1 Comment

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