February 10, 2014
“What the mind expects, it finds.” – Madisyn Taylor
It has been a while since my last post and I was a bit overwhelmed at the thought of how best to bring you up to speed…so much has happened since November! However, I’ve decided to start with this little ditty I wrote this morning that pretty much sums up how I’m doing these days:
“Greeting the day with gratitude and a celebration of my many blessings: connecting with family from home; these Paraguayan summer days that are so hot I can create a sweaty Bikram yoga workout by simply tossing my mat onto my patio; formation of a women’s club with lots of laughter, ladies brave enough to try zucchini cake and who want to dance, and a new bellydance student as a result (gulp!); formation of a kids’ club where every child is begging to practice yoga and learn English at each meeting; deep conversations in Spanish with my English student on the history of the Roman Empire, his law school thesis research on sexual abuse of children (and the nasty cycle of its manifestation into adulthood) in a nearby pueblo, and a reminder that there are no coincidences; gratitude that I’m up to 10 mile training runs these days and feel ready for next month’s race; the joy of picking guavas and limes from my own yard; neighbors who miss me when it’s been too long between visits; practicing patience and forgiveness with myself; foreign languages that become a little less foreign each week; the meditative quality of doing laundry by hand; recognizing a “tribe mate” when you meet them; and friends you can call at midnight just because. My cup is overflowing.”
Life is good.
The school year ended in late November with a flurry of activity, including the 6th graders’ graduation or “despedida”. I was so honored to be invited and participate in one of the traditional Paraguayan dance performances that accompanies this important day and the community got a kick out of it too.
Shortly thereafter, I went on a much-needed vacation in December. A fabulous week dancing some delicious tango in Buenos Aires, Argentina, meeting dancers from the world over, and connecting with friends from BA and home. Then I met up with two fellow Peace Corps Volunteers for a week in Punta del Diablo, Uruguay. We celebrated Christmas Eve with dinner at our hostel on the beach, stargazing, and listening to the surf in the darkness, practiced yoga on the beach and swam with jellyfish, took our first surf lessons (I’ve found a new hobby!) and went horseback riding with a nice long gallop down a secluded section of beach at sunset. This tiny town was a little sleepy in those last few days before the busy season began and provided a beach-bum, tranquilo atmosphere with amazing ocean views perfect for relaxing and having fun.
Upon arriving back in Paraguay I welcomed a friend and his daughter, Emily, for their visit from the states to work on her senior project in photography and Latin American studies. They arrived in my community on New Year’s Eve, normally a festive holiday, but this year the neighbor’s 33 year old daughter died Christmas week from dengue fever, leaving behind a husband and one-year old son, much to the devastation of everyone. I don’t know if it could be any more awkward for my friends than arriving and going directly to a final rezo (which is like a funeral) in which half the town attended and was grieving. But it was certainly a unique cultural experience. On a more positive note, they learned to throw a lasso, did some beekeeping, made cheese with a local señora, had some serious hammock time perfect for reading and siestas on these hot (I mean HOT) summer days, harvested a crop of sunflower seeds, visited families and learned to make chipa guazu, attended a “quince año” (girl’s 15th birthday), helped me kick off a new women’s group, make a solar food dryer, got lots of great photos and wrapped it up with a trip to a gorgeous local waterfall, Salto Cristal.
At this time I also learned that my grant proposal was approved to build solar food dryers for my community! The next step was to build a ‘practice’ model with everyone that would receive one in the coming weeks. Once finished, I will work individually with each family to build their own. This is a project they are very excited about! The ability to dry fruits, vegetables, meats, herbs, etc in the sun and preserve them without need for refrigeration will improve the nutrition of the families year-round. Yay! Stay tuned.
So I mentioned that we started a women’s group which we call “Club de Mujeres” (actually they prefer my nickname for them, “Club de Brujas”, because they are naughty and mischievous!) I led the first meeting with an ice breaker called “Pass the Mandioca” in which a phallic-shaped root of mandioca is placed between one’s thighs and passed from woman to woman around a circle without aid of the hands. I had used this successfully in other communities and these ladies were no exception. The photo shows just how hard they were laughing. They insisted on doing it again before we adjourned and again at our second and third meetings, using the excuse that since we had doubled our attendance the new women surely needed to try it. Women have hard lives here in PY, responsible for all things domestic including child rearing (in the campo most moms stay at home with the kids), cooking, cleaning, laundry, growing the family’s vegetables and fruits, caring for animals and slaughtering small animals like chickens, ducks or young pigs, and more. This Club is intended to bring some fun into their lives, give them a space to come together, chat amongst themselves, learn new information and skills, etc. So far we’ve talked about raising composting worms, building a solar food dryer, had a class on nutrition given by a local nurse, made a zucchini cake which is a healthier version than the cake they typically make, made dish detergent and fabric softener, done an intro class for yoga and bellydancing, and talked culture (they were shocked to think there are homeless people in the U.S. since most Paraguayans, especially in the countryside, think every US citizen – including a PCV – is rich, lives in a giant home and drives a fancy car, etc because that’s what they see in movies and tv). The Club is a hit and provides my señoras something to look forward to that isn’t work related. So far, so good!
Last month my mom sent a box of coloring books, crayons, and colored pencils and when neighborhood kids found out, they started showing up on my doorstep every day wanting to color. Even the high schoolers were completely absorbed, which surprised me. This apparently is a privileged activity and ultimately led to the formation of a Kids’ Club or “Club de Los Niños”, which has been great fun while the kids are enjoying their summer vacation. We meet once a week and after our first meeting where I introduced them to yoga, they always insist on starting the ‘meeting’ with it. I’m really shocked how much they LOVE yoga, even the high school boys, and they have fun but also take it seriously. This group of kids makes me really look forward to planning activities for them, teaching them new skills, and always learning at least as much as I teach (especially language!) Speaking of language, one of their goals from our brainstorming session at the first meeting (called “rain of ideas” in Spanish) was to incorporate English class into the Kids Club. Ultimately, we formed a separate class just to study English, which has been met with much enthusiasm (and where our breaks also include a quick yoga interlude just to mix things up and let them move their bodies). In fact, I’ve recently been giving private English lessons to a very motivated and intelligent law student with whom I have the rare opportunity for deep conversations about topics like the history of the Roman Empire, quantum physics, studies of childhood sexual abuse in PY, and Einstein’s Theory of Relativity (I’m not kidding). He recently asked to help teach the kids’ English class in an effort to get more English practice. Perfect!
In my spare time, I’m trying my hand at guitar (not going so great) and training for a half-marathon next month with three dear friends and fellow PCVs (going quite well). I actually I hate running but it allows me to eat what I want and gives me the strong, capable body that I desire. However, summers in PY are brutally hot, making training a challenge, so I definitely need a goal/race to motivate me out of bed early knowing it’ll be 90 degrees at 8am and 100 in the shade at 4pm. It’s so satisfying to see progress as I become stronger and more prepared for the race. That I’m doing it with three terrific lady friends and making a vacation of it in Argentina’s wine country is a bonus. So, yeah I’ve been busy and the work has been very satisfying. Now in my second year with a mere 10 months to go (wow, really??!!) time is flying and what used to feel like I had a very long time to get things done suddenly feels like not nearly enough. So much to do, so little time! At this point in my service, projects are underway, relationships with my community members have deepened, and things are moving and grooving in more natural ways like back home. What the mind expects, it finds. When I seek abundance it always finds me, in ways large and small. I’m more grateful with each passing day to be here living, learning, playing, teaching, and laughing with my little community.