Monthly Archives: April 2014

Being Loved

“What the caterpillar calls the end, the rest of the world calls a butterfly.” ~ Lao Tzu

April 25, 2014

Sometimes I hesitate to visit people in my community because I worry I’m bothering them when they have so much work to do. Recently, I had to swing by to see a senora and didn’t think it had been THAT long since my last visit but she quickly reminded me how wrong my philosophy was when she reveled in my presence at her front gate and told me I hadn’t visited since January 28 (she knew the exact date!) I was not a bother…she’d missed me. She held up that ‘mirror’ for me to show I still have some work to do on appreciating my value and allowing myself a more honest, and loving, take on the community’s image of me and my work. It’s nice to be loved.

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Matchmaker in the ‘Hood

“The lives we lead have everything to do with the questions we ask ourselves.” – Lori Deschene

April 21, 2014

 

I invited myself to have mate with a favorite family early one morning, which then turned into an invitation to breakfast. The husband is a real jokester and has always teased me about not having a boyfriend (novio) but with time running out, he has made it his sole mission -with increasing urgency- to see that I obtain a novio or husband sometime between now and December, preferably sooner than later so he can enjoy the fruits of his efforts. To help in my ‘decision-making’ he listed every available man within a 5k radius. When he heard I’m going to the Fiesta Hape next month, he was practically giddy over the opportunities I’d have at my disposal and dismayed at my lack of interest. His wife, who has become an accomplice in the matter, tried to sweeten the deal by offering use of their home for the wedding fiesta. They even want my family to move here so I don’t have to go home. We always have a good laugh over this game and it was a great start to the day. I’ve learned the days are always better when shared with friends and laughter.

 

Laughing ourselves silly with 'fish faces' while making chipa during semana santa.

Laughing ourselves silly with ‘fish faces’ while making chipa during semana santa.

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Meet My Community – Celso Benitez, A Story of Humble Intelligence and Kindness

April 20, 2014

 

Celso

Celso picking oranges from backyard trees for his nieces’ afternoon snack. While still green, they are sweet! And thorny!

Celso is one of my favorite people in the community. An honest, super hard-working man he exudes respect and kindness. Despite having no more than a sixth grade education he is immensely intelligent and one of the more open-minded, progressive farmers with whom I work. I don’t visit Celso as often as I’d like since it’s socially taboo for single men and women to visit each other and guaranteed to generate gossip but I’d like to think at this point I’ve generated enough professionalism and credibility to override these taboos. However, when I do visit we always have a great time. While he speaks almost entirely guarani and I understand only a fraction of the words he uses, somehow I usually know what he means. It’s sorta magical that way, like “I can’t translate your words but I understand your point.” We can talk the whole afternoon like this and I’m completely transported to another world. He’s incredibly patient with my language and never shows impatience with my requests to repeat his sentences until I understand, as he is eager to help with my learning and knows it doesn’t happen in a day.

 

I was invited to his 52nd birthday party in early April, a party consisting of his dad and one male neighbor friend. It was an honor to be included. As opposed to how we generally do it in the U.S., in Paraguay, the birthday person puts on the party, does all the cooking, preparations, and clean up. Attendees simply come, eat and enjoy. So Celso made spaghetti with chicken, which he killed that morning and boy it was the best ‘tallarin con pollo’ I’ve ever had here. In my community, it is not common to share gifts but I brought supplies for him to make his own kombucha, since he had tried mine in the past and loved it.

 

Celso has seven siblings and a 15-year old daughter named Lucía who recently moved from the next town to Buenos Aires (BA) with her mother. I originally thought it was a vacation trip and on this day learned it’s a permanent move, breaking his heart as he doesn’t know when he’ll see her again. He is devastated with the idea of having his daughter so far away even though he knows it’s in her best interest. As is so common here in the campo, many of the young people move away to Asuncion or BA because there are no opportunities for work other than subsistence farming. He knows she is intelligent and will do well but he cannot join her. He will remain in this house where he has lived since birth. Though she did totally make his day by texting him a birthday message. He lives across from his cousin, Felicita, her grandson, and her sister Flora. Together, they share the work of living. The men work the fields, the women prepare and preserve food, and they all share the profits when crops are sold. This type of working together is common, and often essential, to survival in rural PY.

 

Celso driving the guei (ox and cart) laden with belongings from the latest visit of extended family - Easter week. This is the way they move quantities of materials here!

From far left: Celso, daughter, his dad, young cousin, older cousin (senora), her grandson, other cousin (sister of first senora)

 

Celso has a huge garden of his own, the extras from which he sells to small despensas (stores) in the next town. He has tried every new technique we volunteers have introduced to the community including a biodigester (which produces methane cooking fuel), regular and worm composting, using green manures to improve his soil and thus increase yields from his garden and crops, and will soon be the recipient of a solar food dryer to preserve fruit and vegetables in season. In the past he grew castor beans and sold them nearby until the buyer closed the market. Castor beans produce castor oil, which has a long list of uses worldwide including health and beauty care, industrial products, and is where the name for Castor Oil motor oil originated. Before my community received electricity in 1986, people used to burn the castor beans like lamp oil. Simply spear beans with a piece of wire and light with a match. I’ve been looking into how to make a small oil press to make use of this local resource and generate new income in the community but some of the by-products are highly toxic (as in this is where ricin originates!) So that doesn’t seem to be going anywhere anytime soon but we’ll keep looking. The process needs to be sustainable to receive any type of consideration. If any of you readers have experience with this crop, its markets, or the oil pressing product I’d love to hear from you!

 

I was invited back for lunch on Holy Thursday this Easter week (called semana santa in PY) to join his family visiting from Asuncion and other parts of PY. It was so nice to be included as an extension of the family and practice my guarani all day! His sister-in-law prepared chipa, a Paraguayan tradition for semana santa and Celso fired up the tatakua, an outdoor cave-like oven used for cooking chipa and breads. However, the project was abandoned when a sudden thunderstorm arrived pouring buckets of water. I’d gotten a funny feeling that I should go about 10 minutes before the storm arrived but was assured I was better off to wait it out. After waiting 90 minutes with no end in sight, I headed home through torrential downpour, thunder and lightning, crossing a quarter-mile of pasture with water to my ankles, and wading through a road-turned-river for over a mile. At times I was up to my knees in water, other times I was a-slip-slidin’ through slippery mud. It was one of those times you can’t think about the situation, you just have to get through it. My mental commentary was something like this: where do all the tarantulas and snakes go when the rain floods their underground tunnels? Are they hiding in the same high ground clumps of grass I’m stepping on? Will I step on one only to have it catch a ride on my sandal or bite me? Wendy, don’t think about that til it happens. How much poop is in this mud anyway? And what else? Don’t go there…whatever it is will wash off. Will I get struck by lightning before I get home? Def not – the light poles are taller than you. This is going to make a great blog post…We need a title. I can’t believe I forgot to put out the rain buckets in my house…it’ll be raining inside too! Those 3 guys staring from the doorway must think I’m crazy but I’m scheduled to visit that family tomorrow and we’ll have a good laugh about it! Actually now that I’ve committed to being wet, this is kinda fun!) And of course, I laughed…a couple days later. The craziest adventures are always as worth it in the end as the warm fuzzy memories I make with the families.

Celso driving the guei (ox and cart) laden with belongings from the latest visit of extended family - Easter week. This is the way they move quantities of materials here!

Celso driving the guei (ox and cart) laden with belongings from the latest visit of extended family – Easter week. This is the way they move quantities of materials here!

 

 

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Why Curious George is My Hero and Other Short Stories

“The simple life is one in which there is always time to remember the divine purpose behind each of our tasks, time to listen for a possible divine amendment to the day’s schedule, and time to be thankful for the divine presence at each moment of the day.” – Lloyd Lee Wilson

 April 12, 2014

Because this blog is as much a diary for me as it is entertainment and cultural exchange for you, I’m including some short, random, unrelated stories here that I don’t want to forget.

 

Curious George book from my local Paraguayan elementary school  ("Jorge el Curioso" in Spanish)

Curious George book from my local Paraguayan elementary school (“Jorge el Curioso” in Spanish)

Curious George is my hero. Especially today. Known in Spanish as Jorge el Curioso, I have fond memories of my brother devouring every Curious George book available. He even had a stuffed monkey with a plastic mouth to whom I used to try to feed bananas and Cheerios. Last year while living with my host family I was delighted to find Jorge el Curioso in the local school library and brought it home to practice my Spanish. While preparing for today’s Kids’ Club I thought it would be fun to read this book to them. Reading is not popular in PY and I have never seen or heard children being read to by their parents in the 19 months I’ve been here. When I suggested the idea to the kids, they eagerly agreed as if I’d just offered them an entire cookie jar. As we sat on the floor together I was aware of them inching closer, even the teenagers, completely enveloped in the story like a group of kindergarteners. Some of them quietly read along with me and helped when I stumbled over a complicated Spanish word. Occasionally, I would pause and ask if they were enjoying it. “Siiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii!!” they replied, brimming with enthusiasm and smiles. We kept going. As a mother who read to her child every night for years, it made me sad to think this might be the very first time an adult has ever read a book to these children (ages 7-15), but I hope it sparked a desire to do it on their own in their homes as well, just for fun. Either way, it was a huge hit and we’ll definitely be doing it again!!!! Plus, check out the animal crafts we made from toilet paper rolls. Tigers, owls, cats and a pirhana, oh my!

Crafts -toilet roll animals 003

 

What’s with Ws? Because the Spanish language generally doesn’t use the letter ‘w’ except in names (like Wendy) and rarely do words end with the letter ‘d’ (like ‘ward’), Paraguayans have a difficult time saying and spelling my name. Here are some actual examples I’ve seen or heard during my service: Buendi, Guendi, Wendía, Wendy Wart. The kids love to call me Wendía and it’s always accompanied by giggles because it sounds like ‘Buen dia’ which is an abbreviated version of ‘Buenos Dias’ or ‘good morning.’

 

Still laughing as I write this. Back in March during our vacation in Argentina my friends and I returned to the hostel from grocery shopping (where we almost got robbed) and they asked me for a lesson in cooking meat because some had been vegetarians or never had much experience cooking meat before now. In the hostel’s spacious kitchen, I donned my best Julia Child’s accent and proceeded to flail and instruct with an overdose of enthusiasm. They responded in kind, including some occasional, accidental words in a Spanish or Guarani, until we laughed so hard it felt like we’d just finished a Jillian Michael’s workout, and our accents somehow morphed from French to Irish to Southern to unidentifiable. Later we took our wine poolside (we did our own fun ‘wine tastings’ at the hostel with two new wines every night) and shared our answers to my infamous “100 questions”, designed to get to know others at a deeper level. The 100 questions accompany us on every vacation or extended outing. Since it takes time for four people to answer each question thoughtfully, sometimes with curious or loving inquiry from supportive girlfriends, there’s a question of whether or not we’ll actually finish them all before our service ends in December! Super fun night bonding and making good memories with friends.

 

My morning runs usually take me east directly into the sunrise, a great incentive to start the day early. This morning the sky was 360 degrees beautiful so I ran west for a different perspective. Down the sole road onto the prairie I witnessed a breathtaking sky kissed with pastels of pink, blue and mint green, a thin fog floating over the vast grassland and hugging the base of the forested hills, and the golden spray of the day’s new sun yawning its warming light up and over the treeline. The goal was a morning run for my health. The outcome was sheer bliss for the soul.

 

misc 019

Enjoy your day!

 

 

 

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Rainy Days

“Being guided isn’t like making a cake, where you mix it up and sit back until it’s baked. It’s more like dancing with a partner. If you’re not following continual subtle motions, you aren’t being led…” – Julie Shaul

 

April 11, 2014

 

A real humdinger of a rain/thunderstorm that lasted all night and through the morning resulted in dozens of caterpillary-worms (gusanos) crawling under my door searching for dry land. Outside this morning I watched as they crept over the edge of the tiled patio then swam through puddles on the floor toward the house. After smooshing a few dozen, I went back inside to make coffee and upon hearing footsteps, I turned around to find my neighbor’s bull already head and shoulders through the door looking for shelter too. I got a dirty, disgruntled look after telling him there was no vacancy and shooing him out with a broom (expletives might have been involved). The door will stay closed until further notice. (I couldn’t make this stuff up if I tried.) The upside was that the frogs are exquisitely happy with all the rain and have been singing a beautiful chorus of song since midnight. Plus it makes for good storytelling. And while I do love the occasional ‘indoors day’ which provides downtime for planning, reading, studying or alone time, I am disappointed that the rain will cancel today’s Women’s club and likely tomorrow’s Kids’ Club (rain here in the campo is like a big snow day in Maine where everything closes). The kids have asked me every day for the past five days if we are having Kids’ Club and English class this weekend because they really look forward to it. How can I say no to kids who are so open and eager to learn? That kind of excitement and engagement is what makes my service so fulfilling! When you listen and let life guide you, you can’t go wrong.

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Finding the Joy in a Gloomy Day of Travel

April 10, 2014
“I don’t want you to hide any aspect of your being, not just for your life but for mine also. If you allow your strangeness to strut around in broad daylight, you invite mine to come out to play, too. We are only as limited as our own imagination …I want you to feel the magic that’s rubbing elbows with you in this moment.” – Meggan Watterson, REVEAL – A Sacred Manual for Getting Spiritually Naked

I wrote this one a while ago, capturing my thoughts in the moment to save for a rainy day. Am posting today because I have a rare hour of internet connection…

The idea of 4 miles of mud on my freshly-washed sneakers could have kept me indoors, searching for a ride in the drizzle with no cars in sight might have made me turn back, the prospect of 6 hours on a bus did not appeal.

But I would have missed out on the spontaneous meeting and generosity of a friendly, familiar family in the next town (whose father’s rezo I attended my first week in site) and who remembered me, fed me, kept me out of the rain, invited me to Sunday dinner, and whose husband ran into the muddy road to negotiate a ride for me with a passing car. I would have missed out on text message notifications from the seat next to me on the bus that sounded like Alvin the Chipmonk sneezing for 4 hours but whom I forgave because his cologne was to die for. I would have missed out on the driver with the hyena laugh whose idea of entertainment was calling me “Americana” every 10 minutes. I would have missed out on my bus trip to the hotel with a driver playing tunes from the Beach Boys and Beatles and one catchy number that caused me to sing along out loud (which I NEVER do as this is usually detrimental to the sanity of those nearby lol) and I had to restrain myself from dancing in the aisle. After I approached the bus driver and told him how much I appreciated his choice in music I noticed he too was snapping his fingers in rhythm to the music, grinning, and watching me singing to myself. The kids across the aisle had no idea WHAT to think of me beebopping in my seat, playing rhythm on my knees, smiling hugely and feeling totally alive despite the dark and rain and having left my house nine hours ago. What makes a happy day? You do! I do! Any moment, any day, we have the choice to be present, enjoy what is, to feel alive, to be grateful that we can FEEL and LOVE and have CHOICES and wake up each morning with another chance to do it again! Woohoo!

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A Half Marathon and a Marriage Proposal

April 10, 2014

“Think about one of your best days ever…How can you organize your life to repeat that day as often as possible?” – adapted from Strengths Finder 2.0, Tom Rath

In March, myself and three fellow volunteer girlfriends took a much-needed vacation to Mendoza, Argentina and its world-famous wine country. There, after months of early morning trainings through summer heat, three of us ran a half-marathon and the fourth did the 10k on the most beautiful course I’ve ever run, overlooking olive groves and vineyards with the majestic, snow-covered Andes Mountains in the backdrop. While the first six miles were all uphill starting at 3000’ above sea level, I hardly noticed as I was busy taking in the view (well, I might have noticed that I could barely breathe for the first 4 miles but that worked itself out and the all-downhill return was FAST). The start and finish line was in the center of a vineyard and we enjoyed wine at the finish line. Ever had Trapiche wine? Yup, we ran by that vineyard on the way too. Too fun! While I’ve done a few half-marathons in the past, for the others this was their first race ever. We finished proud and happy for each other.

Finish line fun with friends. Andes Mountains in the background. Mendoza, Argentina

Finish line fun with friends. Andes Mountains in the background. Mendoza, Argentina

Early in the week we organized ourselves and divvied up tasks based on our strengths which resulted in one of us being Logistics Coordinator (map-reader extraordinaire and get-us-where-we-need-to-go expert), Financial Planner (who handled the group money), Communication Specialist (she with the best language skills asked questions of the locals when necessary and translated for the rest of us), and me as Health and Wellness guru (daily yoga sessions at the hostel, psychotherapist, nutrition adviser, etc). Not only was it fun but it really did make the week easier having to focus on one thing and being able to rely on the others for the parts they did best too. The rest of vacation had us visiting wineries and doing wine tastings, doing olive oil factory tours, and bussing through the jaw-droppingly gorgeous Andes to the border of Chile. It was there we visited Mt. Aconcagua, the tallest mountain outside the Himalayas at nearly 21,000’. We cooked all of our own meals, including a baked chicken (lovingly named Patrick since it was St. Patty’s Day) with roasted veggies, local wine, and homemade apple pie shared with new friends met at the hostel. If you’ve never been to Mendoza I highly recommend it!

Mt. Aconcagua in Mendoza, Argentina. At nearly 21,000 feet high it is the tallest mountain outside the Himalayas. This photo was taken at 7,000 feet from 41km away.

Mt. Aconcagua in Mendoza, Argentina. At nearly 21,000 feet high it is the tallest mountain outside the Himalayas. This photo was taken at 7,000 feet from 41km away.

Unlike the quote at the beginning of today’s post, what follows was not my best day nor do I want to repeat it. But of course we know we can’t possibly appreciate the good stuff unless we have some weird stuff to contrast with it. Soooooo, on a recent return from Asuncion shortly after my lovely vacation my bus hit a cow in the road. Now, I’ve been here 19 months and cannot believe this has not happened before now with the roads besieged mile after mile with wandering cattle but it was just a matter of time. Nonetheless, terrible. The driver tried his best what with all the brakes and swerving sharply but after the thud and what sounded like crumpling plastic bottles I raced to the window to see the downed cow leap from her side to her feet in a single movement. However, it’s doubtful she lasted more than a few minutes and the whole incident left me shaking for miles. This only added to the strange day I’d been having since the overly-friendly male passenger beside me started with small talk early in the ride. At Hour 1 ½ he was negotiating for a kiss and by Hour 3 he was promising his undying love, marriage, and the privilege of a life bearing his children here in Paraguay. The only thing I was interested in was finishing Book 3 of The Hunger Games. Priorities, people! I wasn’t laughing then but I am now. Only in Paraguay.

This week I feel like life is returning to normal, which hasn’t really felt normal in several weeks. It’s good to get back to work, and visit and reconnect with my neighbors. Recent lunches with neighbors produced invitations for more visits next week, which is Semana Santa (Easter week) and for which celebrations and family time are sacred, equaled only by the week between Christmas and New Year’s. Extended families will return from the big city for 4 days; houses will burst at the seams with guests; traditional chipa will be made, eaten, and given like gifts; food will be consumed in excess; love and laughter will be shared freely. Stay tuned for lots of fun stories from what is sure to be a great week.

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