Please join me in congratulating the winners of the 2014 Peace Corps’ Blog It Home Contest. While I was not among them, I continue to be humbled with the honor of being one of the top 20 finalists chosen from 350 submissions worldwide and am overwhelmed with the amazing ongoing support shown by my readers, family, and friends. Bloggers – Congratulations and thank you for sharing your journeys with us! Readers – Thank you for your wonderful support and encouragement and for sharing my journey with me!
Monthly Archives: August 2014
“What did I do today to feed my spirit or move me ahead on my…journey?” – Penny Yunuba
August 24, 2014
I often feed my spirit with an evening walk toward the far end of town to watch the sun go down behind the prairie, for Paraguayan sunsets are consistently spectacular night after night. Last night as I started for my walk something told me to turn back and bring my camera. Glad I did:
These evening walks are a beautiful and calming way to end the day and never fail to impress me. Come share tonight’s walk with me…
As we edge from late winter into nearly spring, nature provides a veritable orgasm of scents, sights, and sounds spilling forth in preparation for a future bounty. Every step, every inbreath is a new cocktail that tantalizes my nostrils, rests on my skin, and makes me feel alive, brimming with gratitude.
Imagine walking into a room heavy with nature’s fragrance and visual artistry. Bombarding and awakening my senses: splashes of red and yellow roadside flowers that catch the eye before it’s drawn further to the lilac-colored petals of the lapacho (tajy) trees on the forest’s edge; wafting on the breeze is a constantly changing flourish of perfumes from flowers of limes, oranges, mangos, guavas, jasmine and more. My curiosity is bursting to know every plant making its invisible way to my brain, seducing my senses, halting me in my tracks so I can fill my lungs to overflowing with the sweetness, so I yearn impossibly that this wrinkle in time should never end. I want to bottle this perfect moment, these scents, the paradisiacal temperature, the buttery soft breeze and carry them with me forever. However, after this instant I cannot possibly remember this intoxicating, exotic bouquet that is floral, balmy, sweet, spicy, and tangy all in one. This present moment is all I have and it is demanding, and receiving, every ounce of my attention.
My walk is meditative, each step mindful and purposeful. I imagine my feet kissing the earth, feeling the give beneath my sandals of soft, beach-like sand in places followed in others by the hardness of parched soil packed by hooves and tires. Around the corner I’m surprised as I step into a pocket of warmer air, which feels like crossing into a different dimension for two meters complete with its own dose of more swirling, heady loveliness.
The night is almost warm enough to sweat simply standing still. Humid, balmy, close, exquisite.
On my return, where light lingers just enough to play tricks on my vision, I witness two kyryrys (toads) singing to each other in the road. One hops away as I approach and stroll past. It seems with each passing moment the symphony of sounds grows– screeches from long-tailed parrots that raid the farmer’s corn, a kingdom of frogs and toads serenading one another, a cacophony of insects’ shrill hissing and whirring, buzzing bees finishing their work in the guava blossoms and returning home to the hive for the night.
Thank you, Mother Nature, for feeding my spirit tonight. I am full of delight and contentment.
“All you need is love. ” – The Beatles
August 9, 2014
I’m excited to share with you the story of Ña Ester and her family. This 47-year old woman has been a loving supporter of my service from the moment we met. She’s been patient and forgiving with my language shortcomings, always has a smile for me, invites me to new meetings she thinks I might find interesting, is encouraging and open-minded when I want to introduce new concepts, calls or sends messages every birthday and all holidays, and is always sending me home from my visits with plenty to eat. She’s a strong, take-no-shit woman, rare in my community, and such a great model for the others. Most women here are submissive to the men except in matters of child rearing, cooking, and activities related to cooking like how much of each crop to plant. In other families, the man rules the house. In hers, she wears the pants and they are loud.
Ña Ester had a birthday this week and invited me to the house to partake in the feast of BBQd pork, sopa bread and cold rice salad. All of her four children were present, ages 14 to 29. Three of them live in Asuncion and generally only make the trip to the campo (countryside, where we are) 2-3 times per year for the holidays so this was a big deal. I referenced this family’s invitation and hanging pig carcass in an earlier blog this week called Friendship on Every Doorstep where the daughters and I had some great conversations. This is a beautiful, loving family whose care, love, and ease with each other is palpable as they move through the house doing the work of the day, braiding nieces’ hair, taking turns watching the toddlers, preparing food, setting the table, catching up on stories.
Recently, after she finished building her family’s solar food dryer with me (which allows them to use the sun to make dried fruits, veggies, and meats), super guapa (means ‘hardworking’) Ña Ester shared her bread recipe with me, which I encourage you to try. Find it In The Kitchen.
Her oldest daughter, Rumi, works from home sewing uniforms for Paraguay’s military personnel; the other, Maria, is a stay-at-home Mom. The oldest son, Jorge, is an electrician (who was installing wiring in the new addition before lunch on this day), and the youngest son, Gerardo, is a go-getter-blossoming-leader like his mom who participates in my Kids’ Club, excels in English, is skilled in practical matters of living beyond his 14 years and who I see “taking names” every afternoon on the soccer field. The husband, Elvio, is a character who LOVES the camera and can be seen returning their cattle from grazing near the river late each morning. Whether walking barefoot or riding his bike, he always looks for me at my house and gives a big smile and friendly wave hello. At any event where he and my camera are both present, he’s happy to sit for a photo.
I’m grateful to have this warm family in my community and to call them my friends. They have worked hard to make me feel welcome in this tiny town and are part of what has made my service so satisfying here. Gracias a todos!
PS- If you haven’t yet voted in the Peace Corps’ Blog It Home contest – YOU HAVE ONLY UNTIL TOMORROW!! Click here and “LIKE” my photo to place your vote. Thank you for reading and voting!!!!
The truth is, your perception is your reality… that means you literally create your own reality.
August 8, 2014
I had begrudgingly gone to the pueblo earlier this week to buy a handful of fence staples (grampitas) so my community could finish their solar food dryer project. I say begrudgingly because going to the pueblo (largest nearby town that has everything we need) is usually a 6 hour ordeal if I take the bus (2 hours of which are walking) so it’s no small part of my day, especially for such a tiny errand. But I wanted this project DONE — and DONE this week.
When going home from the pueblo, I’ve learned to wait at the gas station instead of the bus terminal because often I can find friends, family and neighbors from my neighboring town heading home in their cars or trucks and they are always happy to give me a ride. On this day, while watching a man herd an errant, very pregnant cow home through the town park on his motorcycle, Ña Patrocinia, who lives across the street from me, joined me at my waiting station. She owns a despensa (convenience store often run from a room in the home) and knows everyone, especially the distributors. So when her friend Jorge came along in the Bimbo truck, she flagged him down and he gave us a ride.
She is the curious and gregarious type and soon they were off in buoyant, rapid-fire conversation as we jostled our way down the bumpy dirt road. As I tried to follow along, eventually oh-so-handsome Jorge turned his attention to me and said,
“What country are you from?”
Me (jokingly): “The United States. Do I not look Paraguayan?”
Him (snickering): “Noooooo. You are much too white. Are you a Peace Corps Volunteer?”
Me: “Yes. Good guess.”
Him: “How long have you been here?”
Me: “Almost 2 years.”
Him: “When do you leave?”
Him (with a grin): “Have you considered staying in Paraguay after December?”
Me (mischievous eyes a-twinkling): “No and, I’m sorry, but I can’t marry you.”
At this my señora friend practically aspirated with laughter and delight. “SIN VERGUENZA, WENDY!!!!!” (you have no shame!) but she was LOVING every minute of it.
Him (amused by my boldness and satisfied that I understood his intentions, he’s ready to play the game): “But why? I’m famous here in Paraguay you know and could give you a good life. And we’d have beautiful children together. I think you should stay.”
The truck filled with voluminous laughter and the conversation continued until we got to our stop.
Ña Patrocinia and I got out, gave a thanks and started the hour-long walk home where she replayed every part of the Bimbo interaction for her own entertainment and asking me if I realized I’d just turned down an opportunity for a husband. With her despensa being the hot spot for “local news exchange” (known in PY as ‘chisme’), I’m sure it won’t take long for that story to travel around my community. I’ll give it about 2 hours.
Early in my service I was a bit indignant over these exchanges with Paraguayan men but have since learned that life is much more fun and fulfilling when you choose the lighter perspective. Laugh, play, be merry and don’t take it personally. As an individual whose personality has historically defaulted to ‘serious’, this is one of my biggest growth edges garnered from my service and I’m so grateful. Paraguayans’ sense of levity has rubbed off on me (they ARE the happiest people in the world, you know). Life is SO MUCH BETTER in the light and NEVER dull in PY!
PS- If you haven’t yet voted in the Peace Corps’ Blog It Home contest – there’s still time! Click here and “LIKE” my photo to place your vote. Thank you for reading and voting!!!!
“Rain or blessings may pour down from the heavens, but if you only hold up a thimble, a thimbleful is all you receive.” – Ramakrishna
August 5, 2014
The day started with 2 goals: to pay my water bill and to deliver a handful of passion fruits. It never ceases to amaze me how such simple things can blossom your whole day into brilliant joy.
I made my way the half-mile or so to the señora’s house to pay my water bill (the equivalent of about U.S. $4/month). It seems every plant is flowering right now and the air was perfumed with a bouquet I wish I could attach to share with you like those old scratch-and-sniff stickers from the 80s! It makes walking around town a blissful, sensory delight! I passed the señora on her way to the school where she cooks lunch for kids who don’t get food at home. After exchanging greetings, she nodded me toward her house saying that her daughters were home and could take my payment. In their twenties, I LOVE these two women: friendly, cheerful, gracious, easy to talk with…we talked for a good while about everything while their toddlers ate mandarins and shooed away chickens. As I prepared to leave, I inquired about the pig carcass hanging from the patio roof. They said it would be BBQd the next day in honor of their mother’s birthday. I was officially invited to lunch and gladly accepted! (pork BBQ – one of my favorites!)
My next stop was across town to visit a señora whose son had helped me fix my passion fruit arbor in the garden a while ago. As a thank you, I’d promised to share some fruit when the time came. Laden with a bag of uncommonly large deliciousness I arrived, unannounced, at her gate (one of the things I LOVE about Paraguay – you can visit unannounced, there’s almost always someone at home and they are happy to have your company!) She was doing laundry, squatting in front of her washbasin made from a tire turned inside-out, hand-scrubbing her husband’s tighty whities and jeans. She hugged me hello like I was a long-lost daughter, pulled up a chair for me next to the tighty-whitey wash station and proceeded to catch me up on all her news. I shrieked in disbelief upon learning she still had running water! A bad lightning storm killed the motor on our town’s water tank and we’ve been without clean drinking water for a week. While every family has a dug well on the property, few families have maintained them after the town installed running water over a year ago. My own well, from lack of use, is full of rusty-brown, debris-laden water and leftovers from a giant, bloated dead frog. To bathe, I’ve been filtering, boiling and chlorinating water over the past week.
Seven days ago, I borrowed four liters of drinking water from a neighbor who had a bit extra to spare in the beginning and this had lasted me five days, supplemented with homemade orange juice and kombucha. To conserve, I’d avoided cooking any food that required water (pancakes anyone?), salting foods or doing anything that induced sweating in an effort to stay hydrated. I was on the brink of desperation for a new source of drinking water as my supply dwindled and rumors said the motor wouldn’t be fixed for 2-3 more days, so when this señora offered to send me home with two liters of fresh water – she was an instant hero! I was ecstatic! Not only water, but I had a full load of lettuce, carrots, Persian lemons AND four liters of water! Add to that, the husband’s hilarious sense of humor, constantly jibing about my non-existent husband, the señora repeating every funny thing I’d said each time a new family member returned home, watching the youngest son skin a pigeon, being invited to lunch for the best meal I’d had in a week, and a time of incredible bonding and laughing over several hours, I thought the day couldn’t get any better. I was wrong.
I hurried home in time to meet up with two señoras with whom I’d arranged to help build their solar food dryers in the afternoon. They are sisters in their 50s, both with a sense of humor and general light-heartedness about life (are you seeing a theme yet? Paraguayans. Laughter. Love.) We spent the afternoon laughing, joking, working, and ultimately celebrating their achievements. What a great feeling to see the pride and sense of accomplishment on their faces!
I returned home (2 classrooms down the hall in my ‘schoolhouse’– haha) to find the Peace Corps “Blog It Home” contest had begun. In case you missed this announcement: I’m honored that my blog was selected as 1 of 20 finalists from over 350 entries around the world. If you’ve enjoyed reading my work and learning about Paraguay, I’d be grateful for your support and your vote as the public helps decide the ultimate winners now through August 10. Click here to learn how or go straight to the voting site here!
Stay tuned for more amazing adventures from Paraguay. Thanks for reading.
Jajotopata! (until next time)
UPDATE – running water came back this morning a day ahead of schedule!!! I had a celebratory discussion with the teachers on my front porch who laughed how I’d be able to bathe again. Ummm, yeah. Having water again IS exciting and a hot shower…even better!…but was it THAT obvious I needed a bath? – Always laughing in Paraguay…
August 4, 2014
I have some great news AND I need your help!
I’m thrilled and honored to be a finalist in the Peace Corps’ “Blog It Home” contest, of more than 350 submissions from around the world!
A public vote will help determine the final winners- here’s where you can help! It’s 2 clicks and 10 seconds of your time.
1. Starting today August 4 through Sunday, August 10, go to my blog on the Peace Corps’ Facebook page and “LIKE” the photo to vote for me.
2. Share my blog and the Peace Corps’ Facebook page (and a thank you from me!) with all your friends and encourage them to vote too.
*If I’m among the winners, I’ll spend a week in Washington D.C. in September to participate in blog-related events at PC Headquarters and deliver a presentation about Paraguay and my service to youth in the D.C. area
Whether you’ve been following my journey for two years (thank you for reading!!), are a new reader, or visiting the first time because of the contest, I encourage you to look around my blog site and share with your friends. The goal of my blog is to share Paraguayan culture with folks stateside and around the world through stories, recipes, photos, history, etc (and part diary to help me record the amazing memories I’m gathering through this experience.) Humor, embarrassment, enlightenment, and entertainment are just some of the things you’ll find sprinkled throughout my essays and pages!
Also check out “Passage to Paraguay”, a blog by my dear friend, Rachel Wallace. Rachel is a superbly talented writer and photographer who is also a finalist from Paraguay and worthy of your vote as well! I guess this country is not short on great storytelling material or people to tell it.
Thank you for reading, sharing, and voting! I hope you’ve learned something new about Paraguay today because of it. Jajatopata! (until next time!)
“Some people pursue happiness. Others create it.”
August 2, 2014
Some of my favorite memories from Paraguay have been with the youth. Today was a kid day. I was in the mood for a fun, tranquillo day, looking forward to my Kids’ Club meeting this afternoon. As it turns out, only one girl came, 7-year old Luz Maria from one of my favorite families. I told her she would be the only one today but invited her to stay and I’d teach her to make chocolate pudding and she could help me paint art on my windows. Her eyes lit up and we got to work.
She’d never had chocolate pudding, nor even heard of it. But she loves it now. We sat on the floor with two spoons and a pan of warm pudding and ate until it was gone. When I pulled out the tempera paint and Qtips we were using in lieu of brushes, she looked questioningly at the Qtips. She’d never seen those either and asked what they were for. After a quick explanation that seemed to make no sense to her, we started painting windows with abandon. While she finished, I taught her to make French fries, which she claimed she’d never tried either but quickly became a fan. Before you judge me for offering all this junk food (!), I assure you I usually encourage great eating habits. I knew these were novelties for her and since it was just the two of us, I wanted to spoil her a bit.
This was followed by some quiet time with a coloring book and crayons then we finished with some funny yoga that somehow turned into London Bridge (or Downward Dog) is Falling Down and had us collapsing in laughter. We adjourned and I watched her tuck an extra coloring page into her pocket for more fun at home as she wove her way through the 150 cattle claiming the soccer field between her home and mine.
At dusk I took a walk toward the sunset with my camera in hand, something I hadn’t done much recently. While taking photos of roadside flowers, a little 5-year old, Marie, came running out of a nearby house, asking her Mom if she could walk with me. We sauntered down the road to the prairie. I taught Marie to take a sunset photo with my camera then we took a selfie, playfully arguing whether tomorrow will be Sunday or Monday. I walked home with a contented smile on my face after a just-right day.
I’ve done a lot of dancing lately and can’t help but reflect on the myriad ways the lessons learned from tango apply off the dance floor too. Here are “25 Things Tango Taught Me About Life”:
- To get the most out of it, you must throw your heart into it.
- One can never have too many shoes.
- A tango danced with passion is always better than one where you’re just going through the motions.
- There are some folks we love to dance with and others we wish to avoid. There are usually good reasons for this. Don’t apologize for your choices.
- Be patient and kind with beginners. You were one once too.
- Your dance is more interesting when decorated and adorned.
- Work to be the best partner you can be. Seek to understand both perspectives.
- Maintain balance and make every step count.
- Be bold, humble, generous, kind, creative. Don’t hide your voice.
- When you to screw up, pretend you MEANT to do that, have a laugh, and don’t let it slow you down.
- With your partner, create a dance that works for both of you.
- Listen to the music. Let it guide your steps. Trust your heart and soul to lead you vibrantly in the right direction at the right time.
- It’s ok to say no. Don’t let anyone push you around.
- As you feel moved, go with it.
- When everyone on the dance floor is kind, respectful, and plays by the rules, we all have a better time.
- At times the music urges us to be slow or playful, other times it demands all our energy or passion. Life sprinkles our days with the same spectrum. We ebb and flow accordingly.
- Sometimes you’re the kicker, sometimes you’re the kickee. Put a band-aid on it and get back out there.
- To dance out of sync with the music is uncomfortable and awkward. To live out of sync with your soul is like swimming against the tide. Sync up and enjoy the ride, baby.
- Learning tango requires patience and practice. The best things in Life are those for which we work hardest. Both are worth the wait and effort.
- Don’t stop in the middle of the dance floor. You’ll get run over. If you need a breather, step aside, find a friend, and let others pass.
- Everyone’s dance style is unique to them. Be the best version of YOU and do it with gusto!
- Sometimes it makes a lot of sense to pause before taking the next step.
- Hold your partner like you mean it.
- Dance like no one is watching.
- Don’t hold back. Give your dance and your Life everything you’ve got!
Dancers – what would YOU add to this list?