OMG. Today was hard. The heat – no problem. New friends and food – no problem. Mountains of new information, our first test, my first Spanish class, meeting the Country Director, and missing my family and friends and dancing- muy dificil. I don’t remember the last time I was so mentally exhausted for days on end. I quickly ate my lunch under a small, quincho (hut-type construction with thatched roof) next to the bamboo patch, lined up 4 metal chairs for a 20 min catnap in broad daylight, with 6 of my cohorts finishing their lunch at the table 2 feet away and the next group filing in for their guarani class. Didn’t matter. I needed that 20 minutes like I needed oxygen. Where are my tangueros when I need them (because dancing with the wall just doesn’t cut it)? Tango would totally provide the attitude adjustment I’m looking for.
Today several trainees had similar experiences and we all had to keep reminding ourselves that it’s Day 1 of training and that training is very different from the actual field work we’ll be doing in a few weeks. I already feel like I’ve been here for a month.Today’s bonus that turned me around was a stellar sunset… a drop-dead gorgeous scarlet sun made more magnificent by today’s atmosphere. And when the sun fell before the horizon, the sky erupted into a blaze of oranges and reds, matching the rust colored soil that colored my white sandals as I hurriedly made my way from the bus stop to mi casa. A sky like that in Maine would have us watching for tornadoes and indeed there is a storm watch across parts of Paraguay tonight but tornadoes not likely. The wind is fiesty and my host sister encountered massive rain on her drive home from work though it hasn’t made it’s way here yet.One thing I love about Paraguayans is that they all think I’m in my twenties. In this culture it is not considered bad form to ask a person their age, weight, how much money they make, to call a person fat, thin, gray, etc. I was prepared for this but no one believed my age until I showed pictures of my grown daughter. 🙂 The other fun thing about Paraguay is the tradition of drinking terere, or yerba mate. It is a cold tea (terere, pronounced teh-reh-ray) in warm season and served as hot matte when the weather turns cold. Drinking terere is as essential to this culture as breathing. Paraguayans need no reason to stop and sit for their terere and it happens multiple times a day. They pour the prepared tea or dry leaves in a guampa (fancy cup) and add water. Tea is sipped through a metal bombilla (straw with a sieve at the bottom). And, yes, we all sip from the same bombilla. The guampa is refilled and passed around the circle of family or friends until everyone has had their fill or terere is gone. I’m not sure if either ever happens. This is a relaxing, social activity here and totally fascinating to observe. There are many herbs used in terere, depending on the properties you seek, whether for relaxation, straight flavor, medicinal, etc, and many are grown at people’s homes and cut fresh each day. Paraguayans are fantastic herbalists and can list the properties of every herb and its use without a second thought.Enough writing tonight. Homework time. We have class from 8am-5pm Mon-Fri and most Saturdays until 4pm. My family invited me to a birthday party on the Brazilian border on the other side of Paraguay (15 hr drive!) this coming Saturday but I had to pass because all classes are mandatory.
Thanks for your comments and well wishes. Stay tuned for more from Paraguay. xoxo
Today was a lovely 25 Celsius, which means… it was hot. I write this soon after reading that my real Mom back home is using her furnace nearly every night now. I am not envious of this. Apparently the weather in Paraguay comes in waves. It starts cool and warms a bit each day until it’s oppressive then it rains and cools down again. We’re on a warming trend until Wednesday. Luckily I love the heat and will take oppressive heat over cold any day.
Sundays are a family day in this household. I think somewhere between 17-20 people were here, all immediate family, so we ate lunch in shifts. Not organized shifts; it just happened. And lunch preparation seemed to ‘just happen’ too, without a lot of discussion. Vegetables were peeled, meat prepared, cabbage shredded, tables set, etc almost magically. Everything is very ‘tranquilo’. No one is ever, EVER in a hurry, even when things become urgent, like an uncle nearly running over the dog, but somehow it always works out and comes together ‘just in time’. Not surprisingly, people frequently use the term ‘tranquilo’ with me when I appear to be stressed, whether not understanding the conversation or trying to make something happen. They look at me, lower their hands toward the floor, and say ‘tranquila’ (basically, “Chill out, Chickie!”). Paraguayan culture will be VERY good for me! People came and went all day, mostly came. All were incredibly friendly and tried valiantly to include me in their conversations. Despite myself, I do learn many new words every day and my host sister is determined to help me learn the native tongue, guarani (wah-rah-NEE). While it is a beautiful and intriguing language, with a few exceptions it is nothing like Spanish. For example, is there anything about the word Mba’eichapa (ba-A-shappah) that hints it means ‘hello?’ Or that Ka’a Hee (ka-ah-hay) means ‘peaches’? I didn’t think so either. I have my work cut out for me because I’m learning both languages simultaneously (it’s times like this I wish I had my 22 year old brain back).Ok, I’m off to do homework as my battery is nearly spent. Talk soon!
I’ve decided that learning a new language is incredibly humbling. A communication barrier like this quickly makes an otherwise intelligent woman feel like a toddler, both of whom resort to hand gestures and occasional verbal babbling when the correct word escapes them. However, I’m proud to say that, unlike a toddler, I replace tantrums with a smile and a laugh at myself ;). My family is not afraid to laugh at me either so we all try to have a good time with it. There are moments though when one of us is really trying to make a point and it just doesn’t happen, despite use of the dictionary which has become a permanent fixture at my side. I learned never to leave my room without it! haha
The roosters started their wake up calls about 3am today, which was no problem as I’ve learned to ignore them. By 6am there was a plethora of songbirds singing their delights in the trees around the house. The other bird here is the family’s parrot, Lodo. He lives on the patio on his circular perch, unable to fly, and sleeps in the kitchen at night. The bonus: he talks.Typical foods here are simple and plain. Spices are not common other than salt. Mandioca (yucca root) is similar to a potato and served as a starch along with meat and my host Mom’s plain, nondescript Paraguayan cheese at nearly every meal. The Paraguayan version of yogurt (yogur) is more like cream and is served by pouring in a cup. Of course, corn, rice and beans abound (yay!) and my family usually has some type of fruit as well. Yesterday I watched host Dad, Señor Julian, use the cornmill to grind dried corn into cornmeal for the cow (vaca) and the tiny despensa (mini mart) in the house. Señora Maria Celestina milks the cow to make the cheese. The water here is fine to drink. It’s when I move to my project site in December that I need to be careful. While Paraguay has the largest, cleanest aquifer in the world, household and surface water become contaminated through the delivery systems and pollution so extreme caution is advised.PS – Note to teachers….Peace Corps has a correspondence program with US schools. You can be assigned randomly to a volunteer or you can specify a volunteer (like me ;D). Check out the link below and, if you´d like your class to participate with me, give them my name! http://wws.peacecorps.gov/wws/correspond/faqs/
Ok, I’ve got to run, get some breakfast and do some homework for class tomorrow. I hope that you enjoy learning about Paraguay along with me. Thanks for your thoughts and support! xoxo
Ok. So tonight I have more leisure to write. Last night I had two very curious kids watching over my shoulder and asking questions about everything in my luggage. It was too cute.
I´m fortunate to live with a host family that has most amenities including a great hot water shower, massive kitchen (seriously the size of something you´d find in a 1500s castle…we could fit 50 people in there!), washing machine, electricity, and internet! Imagine my surprise! The walls are concrete and floors are brick. Everything here is made of concrete or bricks, which are red from the rust colored soil. None of the houses have central heat or AC and, because they are not insulated, they are also not sound proof in any way.
It has been very windy since I arrived with temps in the high 60s to low 70s and I have worn long sleeves everyday.
Today my host family brought me to a Paraguayan wedding. The bride is my host Mom´s sister (age 82!) and the groom is 85! They have lived together for 60 years and decided it was time to make it official. It was the cutest thing and no expense was spared. In fact it was very much like weddings in the US without dancing and drinking. The live entertainment included a winner from the Paraguayan version of American Idol, 2 harpists, and a Mariachi band. To prepare for the wedding my host family cooked all day yesterday and this morning, creating mountains of food including corn bread (pan de maiz) cooked in a tatakua (outdoor cave-like clay oven) in the barn, lasagnas, rice salads, bean salads, green salads, and more. On the way to the wedding we had to stop for a herd of cattle crossing the road. No rancher was herding them, they were just meandering aimlessly. This, apparently, is common. Once at the wedding, every newcomer greeted me as if I was part of the family, no questions asked. They didn´t even need to know my name to warrant a hug and the traditional double-cheek kiss. However, they were all fascinated with my blue eyes and the ´girl´ from North America quickly becames the topic of conversation and everyone wanted a picture of my eyes! I think many of them had never seen blue eyes before.
My host family is taking good care of me and I feel quite safe here so far, though I haven´t yet had to venture anywhere by myself. My nearest fellow volunteer is just a couple doors down the street.
Will write again soon.
Hola, amigos! I have landed safely in Paraguay and am spending my first night with my host family. They live in a large home in the country and have an active farm. We have ducks meandering through the kitchen, baby chicks being warmed in a towel next to a boiling pot on the stove, cows and chickens out the backdoor and animals of every type in every direction. Host mom runs a couple businesses out of the house and it seems perhaps extended family lives here too though I´m not yet sure. Tonight my family invited me to watched while host Dad killed a rooster for a wedding tomorrow in Ascuncion, which I´m invited to. They´ve been incredibly patient with my remedial Spanish and even more elementary guarani, the native tongue which everyone in Paraguay speaks. My guarani language classes are being taught by Spanish speaking teachers so it gets very interesting. All good. My classmates are an amazing group of individuals, nearly all of whom are under 25 but have traveled the globe extensively providing for great storytelling.