Monthly Archives: September 2013

Wendy the Viper Slayer Celebrates One Year in Paraguay

September 28, 2013

If it doesn’t challenge you, it doesn’t change you. – Fred Devito

This week marks one year since I arrived in PY, embarking on a quest to improve the lives of others and, wow, what a year it’s been. In some ways it feels like the blink of an eye; in other ways it seems like I’ve been here forever. I’ve been blessed with many amazing opportunities, memories, friends and a unique education this past year and have been witness to incredible personal development on many fronts.

One thing is sure: this adventure is never boring. Occupational hazards in the last 3 weeks: charging cows, aggressive dogs, flipping my bike, fire ants in my pants, bronchitis, killer bees, pique (fleas that burrow and lay eggs under your skin), electrical shocks in the shower, frogs in my toothbrush cup that scare the daylights out of me, falling in love with baby goats, a plethora of spiders in clothes, bedding, house, etc and a viper. It’s been a doozy of a month!

Wait, what was that? Yup, the return of warmer temps also brings the return of summer critters. Earlier this month I found a viper in my garden. After a stretch of hot, dry days, this two foot snake decided the cool, damp soil under my well-watered, shady lettuce was the perfect hangout. I’d been working in the garden for a while that day and when I reached down to harvest a few lettuce leaves for dinner, I saw a loop of its body slither back under the robustly broad lettuce plants. Thinking it looked somewhat like the serpent my neighbors had killed and announced as dangerous, I trotted over to my pick ax/hoe and killed it. I didn’t think about it, I just knew I didn’t want it in my garden (apologies to you snake lovers out there; this also goes against my Buddhist teachings but I did not want to be afraid to return to my garden and I also live at a school and did not want this snake encountering any of the kids!) It was probably much better that I didn’t know what I was dealing with at the time or I might have been terrified. A Google search that night revealed I’d killed one of the most dangerous snakes in PY: Bothrops jararacussu, also known as a Lancehead. In fact, the description warned NOT to attempt to kill it, as the species gets angry and aggressive quickly and can also jump large distances! Well, the universe was on my side that day and I earned myself Superhero title of Wendy the Viper Slayer. While my community was concerned that I had done something so crazy as to go after this snake (that Norte is crazier than ever), it was important for them to realize that yes I, a human with breasts and ovaries, can take care of myself and kill a snake as good as any man if the job requires it. Hrrmpf.

Viper - Bothrops Jarara aka Lancehead

Viper – Bothrops Jarara aka Lancehead

And of course we need consistent practice with the Awkward Moments component of our Peace Corps service, which is never in short supply. This week my community had a follow up meeting with an Asuncion-based manager from the running water project to gauge satisfaction and address any issues. While asking targeted questions to the group he filmed the answers as well as panned the crowd in the room. Toward the end of the meeting he finally did what I dreaded: focused the camera on me (for the upteenth time because I’m different and he thinks it’s funny, and normally I wouldn’t mind the camera, in fact, I kinda like to ham it up for the camera because I’m a Leo and we Leos can’t help ourselves with these things, but I was self-conscious of my language…the whole meeting was in guarani…and my face was beet red and I stalled by doing a princess wave to the camera hoping he’d go away and question someone else. Nope.) And of course he asked my opinion about the water project. Has it improved my quality of life and how? Well, I wanted to say “Now it’s much easier for me to bathe” but in my brain’s pandemonium to scramble together a sentence, what actually spilled out of my mouth was “It washes much better now.” A few seconds elapsed before I realized…OMG. Did I really say what I think I just said?

pic- shocked face

Folks, I couldn’t make this stuff up if I tried.

I didn’t even know HOW to say that on purpose! Not a single individual could keep from laughing and slapping their knees and between gasps of breath one of the ladies who knows me best finally translated to the group what she knew I meant to say. The whole time the camera remained trained on my suffering face and I just wanted to disappear like steam rising over hot mandioca. Peace Corps: we are here for their entertainment.

My boss recently asked me to describe the lessons learned about my project, community or myself. Seems apropos for a one-year anniversary to share with you now.

Where do I start?

pic-thinking monkey

1- Asking for help is NOT the end of the world. In fact, my community is honored to assist and I feel very supported when I let them.

2- I don’t have all the answers nor do I need to.

3- When it’s time to teach, sometimes stopping and listening teaches ME far more than I could have taught THEM. (They say we have 1 mouth and 2 ears for a reason…)

4- A person can be happy with very little.

5- Laughing at myself is good for me.

6- Ego is your worst enemy, humility your best friend (and let’s not forget humiliation which is like a pesky little brother who never leaves you alone!)

7- Check your assumptions frequently. Remember that a situation is not always as it appears.

8- Just because you got a particular outcome the first time does not mean that’s what you should expect every time. Try again and see what happens. Then try again.

9- It feels good knowing your family, neighbors, friends will drop what they are doing to help. Any time, every time. It allows you to be imperfect and keep trying.

10- In Paraguay, things take time. I’ve learned that it’s ok if things don’t happen with ‘my’ sense of time.

Ok. Let’s wrap it up with some Fun Facts: Did you know? (The first two are from my friend and fellow PCV Lauralee Lightwood-Mater)

The Itapu dam that is built across the Parana River on Paraguay’s South-Eastern border houses the world’s largest hydroelectric power plant.

Dueling is legal in Paraguay as long as all competitors are registered blood donors and there are medical staff on hand.

To learn how to terere watch this video: http://www.ozy.com/good-sht/terer-paraguays-social-tea/1453.article. Be aware that, if you touch fingers when passing the guampa….that’s considered flirting!

The toughest job you’ll ever love is exactly that. I’ve been challenged. I’ve been changed. I’ll never be the same again. Let’s all thank the universe! If the coming year is anything like the first, it promises more adventures, memories, friends, bonding, skills, learning, sharing and a positive impact on the lives of my community members. Blessed and grateful am I.

Until next time…Jajatopata!

Categories: Peace Corps Paraguay | Tags: , , , , | 3 Comments

Celebrating Success, Awkward Moments, and Creative Energy

September 8, 2013

Your life. Your version of success.  – Danielle LaPorte

Despite everyone being down with the “Gripe” (pronounced GREE-pay), or common cold, it’s been a pretty stellar week. Success on many levels.

I’ve felt the benefits of much fantastically powerful energy from the universe these last few weeks and it, coupled with the arrival of purely blissful tropical weather, has provided one of the most creative weeks of my adult life.

New crescent moon - September 2013

New crescent moon – September 2013

The cherry on top was just yesterday when I gave a major presentation to my community that was well-received and the results of which got community members very excited. I don’t think they ever realized how many resources they have available to them right in their community or the multitude of new opportunities available using those existing resources…all right here, all this time, at their fingertips. A few of them looked at each other in disbelief as if to say, “Really? It’s been here all along?” The result was an empowered community who learned how to identify and prioritize their needs, find new uses for existing resources and thus giving me some good direction and a whole new set of projects! A true success by all accounts.

But most of the time, the joys and successes of my job don’t come neatly packaged as well-attended meetings with positive outcomes. Sometimes it’s comparing recipes for mandio chyryry with a local señora or being invited to the San Juan Fiesta of Fire in June where, in the darkness after sunset, people are literally kicking flaming soccer balls and throwing blazing chunks of straw at each other, delighting in being chased by a man in a bull’s costume whose horns are on fire, or climbing a greased pole to get the prize at the top (this took collaboration of 4 men standing on each others’ shoulders).

San Juan Festival of Fire  June 2013

San Juan Festival of Fire June 2013

San Juan Festival of Fire - Flaming Soccer Balls! June 2013

San Juan Festival of Fire – Flaming Soccer Balls! June 2013

Sometimes it’s visiting a neighbor to discover she has six brand new baby goats and falling in love with the little guys and being invited to visit every day.

Goat babies steal my heart...

Goat babies steal my heart…

Or working in an environment that exults my senses and insists I pause with appreciation like the friendly wave of a neighbor heading to the field, a perfect tropical breeze, the glowing crescent of a new moon, the arrival of new birds and butterflies for the season, outdoor yoga on my brick patio in a warm splash of sun, siesta in a hammock under a guava tree humming with happy foraging bees, the sweet call of goat babies wanting their mamas, fireants that leave a rash of itchy bites…

Sunrise yoga on the patio. Nothing finer.

Sunrise yoga on the patio. Nothing finer.

New arrival.

New arrival.

Speaking of unfortunate situations (like stepping on fireants), sometimes you’re so far from success you want to evaporate, dissolve into the soil, teleport yourself back to your house and never come out again. Here are a few things that haven’t been so successful:

Awkward Moment #951: Asking the local Professora if she had worms when I meant to ask if she had onions.

And it’s twin, Awkward Moment #952: On a sweaty, sweltering day, telling my host family I was horny when I really meant to say I was hot. Oops.

Awkward is the name of the game…The morning after making arrangements with a neighboring señora to work together in her field, I arrived at her house (fashionably late, as dictated by “Paraguayan time” standards), to learn from her confused look that not only had she forgotten our plan but she had made other arrangements in the last 14 hours (Paraguayans really do live only in the present moment.) Now I know I miss a lot due to my limited language skills but I KNOW I wasn’t wrong about the agreement. I offered to come back later or another day but she insisted that no, we’d go out now. We quickly hoed two rows and she cut me loose. What does one say? The following day she finally admitted she’d forgotten. Ultimately we laughed that she had killed 2 corn plants and I killed none then I showed off my fire ant rash that memorialized the event. Tranquilo. Success.

And just to ensure that I’ll be a pro at “Awkward Moments” when I finish my service….there’s my old favorite: To my 10 community members who spent all afternoon bringing my garden to life building a fence, turning sod and dodging tarantulas I MEANT to say ¨Thanks so much for your help.¨ (“tanto” in Spanish) After seeing confusion and concern on their faces I raced to my dictionary and to my horror realized I´d INADVERTENTLY said ¨Thanks for your STUPID help.¨ (“tonto”) Yup. What a difference a stinking vowel makes. This is my life in PY.

Did you know?

I’ve had readers from over 30 countries visit my blog.

Eating raw, organic carrots can temporarily soothe a sore throat and cough (refer back to the Gripe at the top).

A local rooster visits me daily (because he thinks I’m the chuck wagon) and coos like a cat in heat. No joke.

We’ve recently had an invasion of flying ants – you can see tens of thousands of them in the setting sun- and when they land they instantly shed their wings and start crawling. Freaky!

Paraguay’s national flower is the passionfruit flower.

Passionfruit flower

Passionfruit flower

Let your lives speak. – George Fox

Until next time…jajotopata!

Categories: Peace Corps Paraguay | Tags: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

What do Bullfights, Granny Pants and Moving Day have in common?

September 1, 2013

“It takes the power of an inner force to live life on your terms and not someone else’s.”

If you aren’t intrigued by today’s title, I don’t know how else to help you. This post was originally written back in March as I was moving into my new home and on blogging sabbatical so there’s a LOT you’ve missed but now I’m getting you up to speed. But first, I feel compelled to share a couple of highlights from this week.

In my last post I wrote of how cold it has been and this past week was equally frigid….so cold 4,000 cows died this week across the country (and you thought I was just being dramatic about the cold temps, right?)…. So cold (and wet from 4 days of rain) I hadn’t left my house or opened my front door in days, causing my neighbor to finally call and see if I was still alive, injured or moved back to the USA…so cold I finally had time to figure out this blogsite and actually put some cool stuff on it besides stories (so browse around when you have a few minutes)…so cold I’d taken up the habit of keeping my perishables on the counter instead of the fridge because, why not, it was the same temp either way.

As temps started to warm (we’re now back in the land of heat and sweat and I’m loving it) a friend asks if I can get a photo of the dueling male hummingbirds I see in the lime tree outside my window every day. I agreed to try but was doubtful I’d get a decent shot since they’re fast and always zipping in and out of the foliage. BUT, because the universe is always right on time, the VERY NEXT DAY those 2 dueling males delivered a stellar performance in the grass right outside my door that allowed me to get some pretty sweet photos:

Resting male Glitter-bellied Emerald Hummingbirds in Paraguay - outside my front door!

Resting male Glitter-bellied Emerald Hummingbirds in Paraguay – outside my front door!

Ok…now back to our program where you catch up on much of the exciting things that happened during my writing sabbatical. Envision us in March as I ask you: What do Bullfights, Granny Pants and Moving Day have in common?

They were all firsts. This pile of new firsts along my journey provided an exciting week and included other firsts like branding cows, making empanadas, teaching yoga in guarani and accepting a position as the school’s new physical education Professora.

First, let’s clarify the granny pants issue, lest you don’t read the entire post and start developing opinions of me. I was working in the school garden with my host family’s six year old, Ingrid. When I’m working in the field, garden or anywhere that I’m sure to get dirty, I dress appropriately in pants brought for the purpose. Function overrules fashion. (You’ve seen my photos…’nuf said.) While it’s not my best look, it’s not bad, or so I thought. On this particular day, we were hoeing weeds when Ingrid asked if I was wearing my grandmother’s pants! Caught between comic relief and horror at being called out as a granny dresser (back home I’m a true clothes horse) I asked “Why… do they make me look old?” Without pause she assertively replied, “Yes. And on your next birthday you’re going to have 91 candles, right?” Huh? Is it possible for a six year old to have mastered sardonic humor? I reminded her that I’m the same age as her mother. Maybe the lack of mirrors here in PY, which I came to find quite liberating, has taken a bigger toll than I realized. The long shadows in the dirt road have been lying all these weeks…

A couple gents from the community were harvesting honey from a wild hive when their smoker caught the nearby plants on fire, a fire which consumed a great deal of my family’s kokue down the road, including their corn and mandioca. Months of food was destroyed without apology. My family was devastated. Fortunately, they have another sizable plot near the house but this covers only a portion of their annual needs. (Fast forward to September 1 and see malnourished cows and the thinnest pigs ever, for lack of this resource that went up in flames. The cows can barely feed their newborns, much less provide extra for the family’s needs of milk and cheese. Their hunger makes them more irritable and aggressive, resulting in injuries and infections among the herd. I am working with families currently to plant a more diverse and well-rounded feed supply for their animals that includes protein, which they are not getting in appreciable amounts.) It’s not uncommon for locals to raids others’ gardens or fields or steal animals. Over the summer families resorted to using the river for all their water needs when everyone’s wells went dry (and before the running water project was completed). This included driving cattle down there for water, as all the reservoirs had disappeared. After farmers left their cattle to roam free for the day, several cows were shot and butchered on the shores or led across the river by thieves from a neighboring community. People were desperate on both sides of the equation.

I have discovered how precious supplies are here. In an effort to 1) be gentle to the environment in a country with no trash management system, 2) live within my means and 3) use my creative abilities I find myself hoarding packaging like soda and yogurt bottles to keep seeds, yogurt cups and cut-off wine bottles that make great drinking glasses, plastic pouches from dry beans and rice that make great containers for starting seeds, etc. I recently started a page on this blog called Create It which is designed to share instructions for cool projects, including those made from upcycled materials. If you have a great idea to share, please send me a note and I’ll look it over!

After being delayed two weeks due a Dengue fever epidemic, the first day of school (school calendar usually goes from late February to November) was met with much excitement by the kids in the community. However, the two oldest girls in my family were made to stay home to prepare food for an all-day meeting held to celebrate completion of the running water project. They were disappointed to say the least but this is very typical in PY. Education is too frequently sacrificed when kids are needed to care for family members, help with household chores, etc. I asked the Professor if all the kids in our community attend school and he replied “All but three.” Two are mentally challenged, including a 16 year old young man with Down’s Syndrome who incidentally has a big crush on me, blushing like a June bride and shyly hanging his head anytime I so much as look in his direction. It’s adorable. The third is a girl with crossed eyes who is likely capable of being successful in school, despite her vision, but her mother doesn’t want her to attend school. (Winter break is usually a 2-week vacation in July when it’s super cold but this year that turned into a 6 week vacation due to an accompanying teacher strike. The kids will have to attend classes longer into November to make up the time.)

In March, I attended my first bullfight. This much-anticipated event was the talk of the town and all surrounding pueblos for the weekend. Here’s how awesome my host family is: because the bullfight was after dark and it’s not safe to be outside alone at night, and the only way for me to get there is to walk or ride my bike because riding a moto is against Peace Corps policy (the #1 killer in PY), my family walked the 6-mile-2-hour round trip with me in the dark, arriving home at 2:30am. Had they used the moto like they normally would, they could have made the roundtrip journey in 10 minutes. Wow. And the walk provided a breathtaking view of the Milky Way that I couldn’t takes my eyes off plus a raging prairie fire that lit a line of scarlet, beautiful across the black-of-night prairie and inky sky. It reminded me of a burning oil slick on the ocean. The contrast of red on black was striking. Anyway, three matadors were dressed in tight pants and sequined jackets, looking sharp and playing the crowd, including acrobatics over the bulls’ heads and backs. Despite the fanfare and at-times-wild action with the bulls, my favorite part of the night was when the DJ-clown invited some 10 year old-ish boys from the standing-room-only crowd into the ring. After some intros and joking, he got down on all fours and proceeded to give each kid a ‘horsey-ride’, complete with bucking and rearing, his intent to dislodge his rider. His antics and 100% success rate were wildly hilarious. The shadow side of the bullfight which spoiled the night for me was watching how tired and petrified the animals became after a few minutes of bullfighting. Once the animals became exhausted and less aggressive they were chased, prodded and jumped on to encourage them to get feisty again. I would have been terrified too. Other highlights of the night: the make-shift bleachers were cause for close inspection before I dared get on them and even then I considered standing. Simple 2”x5” vertical supports with planks laid across the top like staging, and the ends lashed with nylon rope. And in fact, the front row DID collapse toward the end of the night and two weeks later an entire section collapsed, injuring many.

Bullfight with matadores and acrobatics

Bullfight with matadores and acrobatics

I’ve continued teaching yoga to my host family’s kids and after a particularly fun session where I’d been furiously practicing some new yoga-appropriate guarani vocabulary, the Professor asked if I’d like to be the Professora for Physical Education at the school. With a mix of excitement and intrepidation, I accepted, knowing it would force a whole new set of vocabulary. This was supposed to entail me teaching two classes on Thursdays starting in April. However, as of August, I’ve only taught class once, due either to weather (we were approaching winter), canceled classes for community celebrations, or necessary travel on my part. Hopefully, we’ll get back at it when the weather warms. However, the older kids did start inviting me to afternoon recess to join their volei ball game.

One of my yoga students posing with the rainbow on the soccer (futbol) field.

One of my yoga students posing with the rainbow on the soccer (futbol) field.

The families in my community have relied on hand-dug wells for their water supply since the community was first settled somewhere between 1840-1860. In early March, they finished installation of the running water project which provides unlimited running water to every home. Each family received a tiny outbuilding containing a toilet and shower with a multi-purpose sink on the exterior. The bathroom alone was a major upgrade for most families. Running water was a dream come true!

I was excited too because exactly a week later I moved into my own home, a classroom in an old school building. I affectionately call it my ‘schoolhouse’. I feel a bit spoiled that my community installed an Indoor bathroom for me and I paid extra to have a HOT shower, you bet. I’m honored that they really care about my safety, so I wouldn’t have to go outside at night. It is unheard of for a single woman to live alone here. People are always asking me “Aren’t you afraid living alone?” Nope. No way. I might sleep with my machete next to my bed just in case but I’m beyond content in my own space.

Sunrise from my front door. Good morning!

Sunrise from my front door. Good morning!

I think that’s enough for now. I’m sure this coming week will be no less exciting! Have a fantastic week!

Categories: Peace Corps Paraguay | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Blog at WordPress.com.

Svalbard Eclipse Adventure

Eclipse in the Arctic

In All Our Years

Practicing love and kindness for all.

Passage to Paraguay

.. helping the world one sunflower at a time ..

Emmalina’s Kitchen

Everything about healing from home

Bucket List Publications

Indulge- Travel, Adventure, & New Experiences

The Manifest-Station

On Being Human

Cathy Kidman Consulting

Organizational and Leadership Consulting

Pompatus of Pete

.. helping the world one sunflower at a time ..

Simply Intentional

love. serve. live.

Tiffany

... following my heart and soul through this world...