Monthly Archives: July 2014

National Friendship Day

“The art of being happy lies in the power of extracting happiness from common things.” – Henry Ward Beecher

July 31, 2014

Yesterday in Paraguay was National Friendship Day.

I think this is one of my new favorite holidays.

Hearing and saying “thank you for your friendship” was a pretty sweet way to spend the day.

No wonder Paraguayans are some of the happiest people on the planet!

Gratitude

Gratitude

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A Magical Birthday

“We make plans, and sometimes Life laughs at our plans and blows them apart like leaves. When this happens, if we keep ourselves open to the possibilities that the changes bring instead of being attached to what didn’t happen, we discover that these unexpected Life mishaps can be full of amazing gifts.” – Lloyd Alton Hall

July 30, 2014

 

I celebrated a birthday over the weekend. I’d had plans for a fellow volunteer to visit my community for the occasion. At the last minute she got food poisoning and we postponed for another time. I decided to use the change in plans to treat myself to a couple days in the capitol. And, for something that started as a spontaneous change of plans, last weekend will go down as one of the best, most memorable birthdays of my life. Kindness, love and spontaneity in abundance.

 

The birthday greetings began in early morning from my community, family, friends, and volunteers. While enduring the early 6-hour bus ride to the city, all of my favorite señoras called me to wish me a wonderful day. Getting a call says a lot. Calls are expensive for the locals here and reserved for the most important of life’s details or emergencies.

 

A priority for the weekend was to visit one of my best loves in PY as he prepares to complete his service and return to the US. I was so grateful to hug him one last time and wish him well as he transitions into the next phase of his beautiful life. Peace Corps volunteers are amazing people. Our bond has moved me deeply and I will forever feel a timeless friendship with this extraordinary, talented angel. Paraguay, and the volunteers fortunate enough to know him, are forever richer because of his service and presence here.

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Saturday, an ever-thoughtful Paraguayan friend surprised me with tickets to a tango orchestra visiting from Buenos Aires (if you are a new reader, you’ll learn I’m addicted to Argentine tango, one of my utmost burning passions from the U.S., and I was ecstatic to find it in the capitol city recently, offering a little fun while I’m in town on business). I had given up hope of seeing this concert so this was a splendid, spontaneous turn of events! The orchestra was amazing and we got a chance to dance tango to the live music! The orchestra was followed by some fabulous Latin tunes that brought the hundreds of guests to the dance floor. Between Latin and tango, I danced and conversed the night away with many dear Paraguayan friends.

 

 

Sunday, I was whisked away to a surprise birthday lunch with 18 immediate members of my host family (from training in 2012) who decorated their home, sang “Happy Birthday” 3 times in 3 languages, and made all my favorite foods and desserts. My host sister is an amazing chef, having several of her recipes published in magazines throughout Paraguay, and she sent me home with two of my favorite recipes (Crema and Vori Vori which you can find on my blog page “In the Kitchen” here along with many other traditional Paraguayan and volunteer-created recipes to try in your own kitchen.) Plus, the internet stars aligned so I could skype with my kids from home! Life was getting more joyful by the hour; I never stopped smiling all weekend.

Upon returning to my community, when I thought the birthday hubbub was done, one of my favorite families invited me to a celebratory birthday lunch. Paraguayans usually reserve pigs for special occasions; I was honored to discover they killed and BBQd a precious pig and made traditional sopa bread for me!! And let me tell you, it was the most delectable pork I’ve ever eaten. After lunch the señora wrote down two of her favorite recipes to send home with me (significant since all of their recipes are in their heads, passed down from mother to daughter by hands-on-learning, not in a cookbook). Click here for the recipe page and look for chipa guazu and sopa!

 

Sopa Paraguaya

Sopa Paraguaya

Not to leave out my community, I am hosting a birthday fiesta’i (little party) at my house this Sunday for my neighbors to celebrate with me and try a buffet of North American food I am making for them – a great cultural exchange! In PY it is the responsibility of the birthday gal/guy to provide food, serve and clean up; guests just come and enjoy. Señoras offered to loan me larger pans so I can feed EVERYONE (everyone? what? the whole community? the fact that I have one tiny burner and small oven is no deterrent for them; I’ll need to start cooking tomorrow!) They are excited, and a little scared, about the food bit. Paraguayans are not super adventurous in trying new foods but so far the women have loved all the new foods we’ve made in the women’s club so I think I’ve got a little street cred now. And they made me promise to play music and dance all afternoon with them. One of the husbands requested a tango lesson. I told him he needed permission from his wife first. Haha. That should be a crowd pleaser! All around, it should be super fun!

 

If ever I needed reminders of the beautiful people in my life who are always there for me, here and stateside; the incredible generosity of Paraguayans who went out of their way to show their love and ensure my time in Paraguay is special and unforgettable; gratitude for the bounty of blessings in my life…this weekend was a shining example. I trust Life will blow apart my plans many more times and bring an alternative invitation. It’s my job to stay open to it. I tried it. It worked out beautifully. My heart is full and overflowing.

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Loro Wants a Boda?

“You get from this life what you have the courage to ask for.” – Oprah Winfrey

June 20, 2014

 

During a recent visit to my host family, I was finishing dinner and talking affectionately to the cat when the pet parrot, Loro, yells “BUENO!” to me with a quantity of undue authority. In Paraguay when said like this, it is the equivalent of “shut up” or “enough!”, though it’s usually spoken by humans to animals, not the other way around. Then he whistled, lowered his voice, and gave me a most seductively drawled “Hola…” (English translation: How YOU doin’?) I expected a marriage proposal by breakfast. Polly may just want a cracker, but I think Loro wants a wedding!

Loro's favorite words: Hola (Hello), Ocho (8), Si (yes or if), Mama, Cuatro (4)

Loro’s favorite words: Hola (Hello), Bueno (enough or ok), Ocho (8), Si (yes or if), Mama, Cuatro (4)

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Best of Today

Better to have a life filled with “oh wells” than one filled with “what ifs.”

June 21, 2014

 

Best of today: not this morning’s 5-gallon pail of newly harvested seeds, not the shower I spent 4 days longing for, not the passion-fruit-flour pancakes I created and smothered in honey from my own bees…

 

It was when the 7-year old next door came to visit, just because, and laughed out loud at my pronunciation of a particular Spanish word, forcing me to say it 5 times before nodding her approval, all the while helping me shell my new seed pods without being asked.

 

This was a humorous reminder of our last interaction over the weekend when I had to buy some TP at the despensa, which came with a line of questioning and a forced admission that, yes, I had a serious case of the chivivi. She tried SO HARD to stifle a smirk and offer a polite, serious, faux-sympathetic face, but I could see her eyes just glimmering with all those suppressed giggles. I’m quite sure as soon as I left she updated the whole family on my condition and by the next day the entire community would know of my ‘situation.’ “Oh well,” I thought. “What’s a little diarrhea between friends?” But 6:30 the next morning one of my favorite señoras called to say she was worried about me, made sure I had medicine, and told me that she loved me. That was better than any medicine. It was the hug I needed. Even with GI upset, my life in PY is pretty darn awesome.

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Meet My Community – Ña Celia, Mother of 12

June 19, 2014

 

I first met Ña Celia in November 2012 during training on what was called “Future Site visit”, my brief, initial visit to meet the community a few weeks before I was to actually move here. The current volunteer introduced me to neighbors and the projects he had worked on and one afternoon we went to Ña Celia’s house for a rezo. It was the one-year anniversary of her husband’s death. That day I also learned she’d lost her home and everything she owned to a prairie fire just months before losing her husband. Despite these tragedies and me being a complete stranger, she welcomed me with outspread arms and a radiant smile as if she’d waited her whole life to meet me. With the top of her head coming to just my chin, I leaned down to exchange the traditional double-cheek greeting kiss and was offered a seat on the rustic bench made of a single plank between two tree stumps alongside other neighbors. After the service as we began taking our leave, she urged me back to visit once I moved and got settled in.

 

One day while waiting together at the bus stop I asked about her husband. They’d been married 35 years and she spoke so fondly of him. I asked if she missed him and she nodded with a wistful, longing smile. But when I asked if she planned to remarry, her eyes flew open with a mischievous twinkle and firmly answered with a chuckle, “Oh No! I loved my husband and we had a good relationship but I’m enjoying my freedom! Husbands are a lot of work!” I roared with laughter.

 

Like most Paraguayans this gentle woman in her mid-50s is light-hearted and friendly, seemingly unphased by anything. I guess after bearing 12 children (ages 14-39) and being blessed with 18 grandchildren you’ve seen it all and no longer sweat the small stuff. When I heard that her entire family was coming to visit for semana santa in April I made a plan for a group photo of her with all of her children. Printed photos are so rare here that I thought it would be a lovely surprise at the end of my service to give to her. I went to visit the Friday of semana santa, which is like a day of rest here. On this day, Paraguayans eat nothing but chipa, which would have been made on Wednesday or Thursday. I arrived to another warm, heart-felt greeting, and was introduced to all those present and available, which unfortunately was not the whole clan. When we finally settled down for a cool drink she began naming and describing all of her family: children, their spouses, grandchildren, in order of age. I commented how she had enough family to make her very own pueblo right here. “Pueblito!” she shrieked with laughter and tears stinging her eyes, nearly falling out of her chair from the hilarity of the idea. It’s now July and I continue to hear her tell the story of her pueblito. Here are some photos we managed of the day, her little house on the edge of the prairie, full of love and family.

 

Ña Celia with several of her 12 children and 18 grandchildren!

Ña Celia with several of her 12 children and 18 grandchildren!

Daughter showing off their pet parrot, known as Loro, which traveled on a motorcycle to join the family for semana santa.

Daughter showing off their pet parrot, known as Loro, which traveled on a motorcycle to join the family for semana santa.

Semana santa - Na Celia 010

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The Places That Scare You

“Serve somebody.” – Andrea Balt

July 18, 2014

 

I recently came across my copy of The Places That Scare You by Pema Chodron. If you’ve never read it, I encourage you to make it part of your library. Rather than running away, denying or hiding, this Buddhist nun encourages us to go to those places that scare us, feel the feelings that terrify us, have the conversations that make us uncomfortable, find compassion for those who seem unworthy, touch those dark places in our lives, have patience with others who attempt the same. It takes courage, it can be daunting. We may flounder over and over in our attempts. She didn’t say it would be easy. She does say it will be worth it.

 

With these thoughts swirling in my head today, it seemed fortuitous that I came upon this post written in January but somehow never posted. It’s too precious not to share as it was perhaps one of THE best discussions of the year with a host country national.

 

My adult English student, one of the most intelligent, curious and progressive Paraguayans I’d met, was completing his law degree and learning English in preparation to live in the US someday (after being Paraguay’s next President…I love his gusto). Part of our English class involved an hour of cultural discussion and my topic this day was homosexuality, chosen specifically after witnessing his negative reaction to it in a prior session. What ensued was enlightening yet heartbreaking, curious yet disturbing.

 

He explained the machismo attitude in Paraguay that prevents people, especially men, especially in the campo, from discussing the topic, befriending a gay individual, supporting gay marriage or adoption of children to gay parents, or defending gays in any way. He says it’s custom, it’s in Paraguayans’ blood to feel this way. I called bullshit. He talked of how gays have no friends and are regularly harassed. I asked if he would feel the same if his brothers were gay. Would he desert them? Turn his back on them? He said it was more complicated than that; that children of gays would be harassed and completely unsupported in the school system and have terrible lives. He reiterated that gays have no friends. I asked if he felt gays were “bad people”; no, not at all, it’s just custom not to like them (my jaw dropped for a moment, and I had to recompose myself.) I asked if he felt all people in the world were equally human. Yes, yes he did. With feelings and the same needs to want family, friends, love, acceptance, and community? Yes, absolutely. Then… why? “It’s custom,” was the reply. “We don’t break custom.” I asked how he would feel about this type of treatment from others if HE were gay? Eyes lowered. No answer.

 

We argued over the Paraguayan viewpoint that being gay is a choice. I insisted otherwise and asked why anyone would CHOOSE a life of harassment, no friends, secret love, and limited options in life? He then understood. I suggested that, because of his education and career path as an attorney and community leader, he will ultimately be more influential than many here, and perhaps he could start changing the custom by changing his perspective, and then implementing those changes little by little, especially when he becomes President (it was time for a little humor by now).

 

While he didn’t feel capable of breaking custom or habits himself at this time, he understood my points and promised to teach more tolerance to his child when the time came. At least the seed is planted. If I make no other noticeable contributions during my service, planting this seed in an individual capable of running with it and instigating the conversation with others will be a worthwhile contribution in my eyes and hopefully someday in the progress of this country and those suffering from a nation that lacks understanding and compassion in this area. This topic is a Place that Scares people. Fortunately, it doesn’t scare me. In fact, I want to do everything I can to light that dark place with love and understanding, one seed, one conversation at a time, if necessary.

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The Rezo

“We can ride through the dark times with the understanding that it will help us to appreciate the light of life and love and spirit more fully.”

July 7, 2014

 

Here in Paraguay the vast majority of people are Catholic, and devoutly religious. One of their traditions to mourn or remember the dead is through the rezo, which is a funeral or memorial service lasting 9 days. Rezos are held annually for an obligatory 7 years on the anniversary of a loved one’s death, sometimes more than 7 years depending on the family’s preferences and ability to pay for the cost. In some communities rezos are held more often. For example in my site, many families hold a rezo every three months for the first year, then every 6 months for at least seven years. This happens for every deceased person. Recently, we have had weeks and weeks of rezos and the last 3 weeks have been non-stop, at least one rezo every day. It seems perhaps winter had been hard on my people in the past.

 

What fascinates me is that members of the community never need reminding of a family’s rezo. They remember the date of each person’s passing as if the birth of their own first born. I, on the other hand, usually know a rezo is happening only when I see neighbors flocking to a single house, a sure sign of a rezo. Usually held mid-late afternoon, neighbors arrive 5-20 minutes in advance and socialize in a jovial way, unless it is a funeral when they are more somber.

 

A person is asked in advance to oversee the service and recite the 20 minute prayer. This person has had training with their local minister or church to learn the ritual. An altar is arranged for the week in the bedroom of the deceased, usually consisting of what looks like a short flight of steps covered with a  white sheet. A candle and vase of white flowers are placed upon each step along with a framed photo of the deceased. The family announces when they are ready, and the guests gather into the room or stand just outside the door. They recite parts of the prayer at the appropriate times. Once complete, the guests return to their circle of chairs on the patio or yard and members of the family come around with trays of cookies, hard candies and soda for each guest. On the 9th and final day, in addition to the regular cookies and candy, a ‘goodie bag’ is given that contains chipa bread made that morning and even more sweets. Guests often talk among themselves, as it’s a great time to socialize and after a respectful amount of time, they head for home. Even though I don’t practice their religion, families are always grateful I attend to pay my respects. It means a lot to this culture which treats their dead almost as good as their living. Forever in memory.

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