Monthly Archives: October 2014

El Dia de la Bruja

“Live your passion and you will never fail.” – inallouryears

October 31, 2014

Halloween is known in Paraguay as The Day of the Witch or El Dia de la Bruja. Appropriately so, my women’s club – who prefer to be called the Witches Club (club de brujas)-  met today for a little mischief-making. Rumor got around that yours truly, Bruja Wendia, was wearing true witch’s gear – a green face, black dress, heels, and giant hat – which brought all the kids and the school principal out of class to spy on us through the windows. haha! FUN TIMES!

Earlier in the day I’d been invited to make breakfast with a senora across the street. She was determined to teach me to make mbeju, a classic Paraguayan recipe, before I left. Never had making breakfast been so much fun.

We started by putting the carbs together: mandioca starch (called almidon de mandioca) plus some frozen cornmeal I brought from home. The cornmeal had chunks that required a hammer to break, which was pretty hilarious pounding away at the bag at the crack of dawn. Add butter, sunflower oil, warm milk, and a bit o’ salt and mix with the HANDS. When I reached for a spoon to stir it the senora acted as if I’d committed a felony of some sort. Didn’t I know that the dough is mixed ONLY with the HANDS? We laughed and she retreated to the backyard to prepare the fire. When she returned I was playfully chastised for being slow. I called it being ‘thorough’. Her sister appeared from next door at this time and I said “My teacher is angry. I’m not fast enough.” Not only did we all laugh, they seemed to think it was the best joke ever.

Once the dough, or masa, was ready we made our way to the fogon in the backyard. A fogon is like a brick cookstove, usually with a cook top and an oven. She produced 2 frying pans and we loaded the dough in each.

Essentially, the dough inside congeals to the consistency of a gumdrop and when it becomes golden brown underneath you flip it like a pancake. Here is the senora demonstrating for me (and repeating multiple times to ensure I got a good photo – haha!) then I took my turn. Because we were cooking over an open fire, the timing is sensitive. Here I am flipping mid-bite because when it’s time to flip and you have an ‘angry teacher’, you flip. Just for the record, my teacher was everything BUT angry but she loved when I called her that.

It wasn’t long before word got around the neighborhood that the Norte was learning to make mbeju and no less than seven neighbors showed up to watch. No pressure. And the senora loved retelling the story to each person of how we burned our first mbeju of the day: she put cardboard into the fire which grew the flame too quickly and she wasn’t paying close enough attention to warn me. Thus, a burnt but edible sample. During my few moments alone I took in the sights: a goat wandering in and out of the kitchen, a cocky rooster looking to steal some crumbs, a parade of ducklings, beautiful and fragrant jasmine blossoms, outhouse, biodigester… you know, the usual. haha

 

It took 2 hours to make 6 mbeju ‘pancakes’, start to finish, two of which she gave me to take home. Early in my service, a senora once said to me “It is good to work for your food.” I’ve always believed that to be satisfyingly true.

Finished mbeju!

Finished mbeju!

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Eli’s Forecast

“A woman who follows the crowd will usually go no further than the crowd. A woman who walks alone is likely to find herself in places no one has ever been before.” – Albert Einstein

 

October 30, 2014

The best conversation today started early this morning:

Eli, my favorite senora in site, and her husband were returning from the chakra (crop field) in the horse-drawn cart full of sugar cane and mandioca as I was going TO work in the same field, where my demo plot is. The forecast called for 100% chance of rain and the clouds were ominous.

Eli (yelling from her cart): It’s going to rain. Go home.

Me: Yep. It’s going to rain. I’m just going to work for a little bit.

Eli: You’ll end up bathing in the chakra. There’s no time to work before the rain. Go home.

I continued walking and worked in the chakra about half an hour until the first sprinkles fell then beat feet for home. No joke, I pushed open the door, which was pushing back against me due to the strong wind coming in from the windows on the opposite side of the house, and got inside JUST as the skies opened and torrential downpour ensued. I was spared by seconds.

…and finished on the futbol field tonight: 

Eli: Did you get a shower in the chakra this morning?

Me (smiling): No! But it was close, mere seconds!

Eli: I told you it was going to rain but you didn’t listen to me.

Me: Your forecasts are always accurate but I knew I had a little time to spare.

She laughs at my appreciation of her cloud-reading skills and goes back to tending goal for the kids’ futbol game.

Wrapping up Kids' Club with a favorite pasttime: Futbol (soccer)

Late-day Futbol (soccer) practice

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Peace Corps Helps Fight Ebola

I couldn’t help but share this story of the creative, generous ways Peace Corps is helping fight Ebola in West Africa. Click here to read the full story.

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Brownies and a Hammock

“Do not disturb – Workin’ on My Own Dream.” – Ron Rubin and Stuart Avery Gold, authors of Tiger Heart, Tiger Mind

October 29, 2014

Gardening can’t possibly get more fun than pruning my favorite fruit, passion fruit or mburucuya in Guarani, and delighting in the gorgeous, delicate flowers and fruits hanging like heavy Christmas ornaments while stepping through masses of mint and having its aroma waft itself to my head. Oh boy. The seeds from last season’s crops were shared with the community because the fruit was SO much larger (large naval orange or softball size) than what is available locally (golf ball to mandarine size) and everyone wanted to plant this better fruit on their farms. More juice! I also donated the pith (white part between the skin and inner pulp) from my discarded fruits to a senora who dried it and made it into flour.

Passion fruit flowers and the actual fruit. One of my all-time favorite flowers. And they smell like lillies.

Passion fruit flowers and the actual fruit. One of my all-time favorite flowers. And they smell like lillies.

Lunch, which is sometimes dessert first just for fun because I have my priorities, was homemade brownies in a cup drowned in homemade yogurt (my best batch yet!) with fresh mint from the garden and organic cinnamon. I allowed myself some restful digestion in the hammock (a rare treat and first of the season) while finishing my latest read Tiger Heart, Tiger Mind by Ron Rubin and Stuart Avery Gold. (See my Library page for other latest additions of wonderful and recommended books.) We are so lucky here at Peace Corps Paraguay to have an amazing library at the office!

The afternoon continued with raking dead grass and leaves to cover the garden soil. It hasn’t rained in at least three weeks, the soil is as hard as cement, and the dust blowing off the road with every passing vehicle is unbearable. The leaves and grass will help preserve what moisture is in there and keep the weeds down. I don’t know how the plants eek out their survival but we are due for a week of rain starting tomorrow, which everyone in town is excited for.

Late edit:

At dusk I sauntered to the futbol field across the street to watch the kids and young adults play volley ball. The senoras had already chosen their seats in the grass among the collection of dried cow patties and thistles, except the lone senora who played goalie. I just sat and listened to the squeal and laughter of kids; the thump of the ball against bare feet, heads, and legs; the senoras whispering their gossip.

When we parted ways, the evening was so perfect that I couldn’t help but linger on my patio:  a bug-free, light breeze of the most perfect tropical temperature, a bursting look-at-me sunset, the occasional squawk of a bird retreating to its nest for the night. It wasn’t long before the community retreated to their own homes for dinner, the evening quieted and the hush and dark of night settled over us all.

Thank you, Paraguay, for another beautiful day.

Stay tuned for more Tales from the Tropics soon. I’ve got some GREAT stories on the way.


Did You Know…

The word in guarani that indicates surprise, the equivalent of ‘no kidding!’ or ‘what?!” is e’a! (pronounced eh-AH), which they sometimes abbreviate to just “e” (a short, quick “EH”)

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You See What You Pay Attention To

“Happiness is not given to us, nor is misery imposed. At every moment we are at a crossroads and must choose the direction we will take.” – Mathieu Ricard

October 27, 2014

I remember the first day I visited my community. We were still in training, our first delicate weeks incountry, and had a 5-day test visit, first glimpse, chance to meet people and get a feel for the place. I remember how in awe I was at everything around me and promised myself to never take these things for granted: giant termite mounds, cows/pigs/horses/sheep blocking the road, people’s friendliness, giant toads, beautiful sunsets, the smell of burning trash, the cool-looking Brahma cattle, loud Paraguayan music blasting from four different homes, free-ranging bulls, guinea hens that don’t let you sleep, millions of mango trees, wispy baby pink flowers along the footpath, how every car appeared to be older than 1980 and every delivery truck was a Mercedes model, and more.

Well, despite my promise, the other day I was walking home from the next town and saw a burrowing owl on top of a termite mound. I didn’t remember this termite mound or …the dozens next to it.

Burrowing owl perched atop a termite mound near the road on the way to my community. These guys are so cute and less than a foot tall.

Burrowing owl perched atop a termite mound near the road on the way to my community. These guys are so cute and less than a foot tall.

In that moment, I realized I’d stopped ‘seeing’ the hundreds, perhaps thousands, of termite mounds dotting the prairie; they’d become invisible to me, just another part of the landscape. I realized I’d forgotten to swoon over the rust colored soil all around me or the way the long spires of sugar cane waved in the breeze.  My senses had become lazy, taking the everyday sights for granted so I could spend needless energy chasing, silly unhelpful stories or fears in my head, or start making plans for the next activity when I got to the house. And look at everything I’d been missing in the meanwhile!

I challenged myself to reconnect with my surroundings and be present in every moment. I caught the smell of smoke from a new prairie fire and the ever-present essence of cow manure flattened into the road; I heard the calls of various birds, felt the pang of baby goats calling to their mamas and mama cows calling to their babies; I appreciated the rumble of motorcycles and thunder in the distance. Through a simple matter of shifting my attention, I reopened a whole new world of amazement. We see what we pay attention to.

What are you missing out on by not being present? Are you even aware when this happens? What are you going to do about it?

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Entertainment In Every Step

“There is no rational reason to remain a pessimist in a world full of so many miracles.” – Karen Salmonsohn

October 27, 2014

Where else but Paraguay would you see a pig galloping down the road and a baby goat napping in the remains of a deconstructed termite mound? My daily entertainment is exquisite.

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Check out my EYE CANDY page for lots of new photos dating back to August! I’m trying to get you caught up on all the adventures here in PY. 🙂

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Joy In Every Moment

Your life follows your attention.  Wherever you look, you end up going. – Martha Beck

October 18, 2014

Have you ever been so present in a single moment that the beauty of that moment and the realization of all you have to be grateful for becomes so suddenly overwhelming, the joy feels too big for your body and leaks out as happy tears?

Yeah, that happened today.

Actually, it happens a lot here in Paraguay. Blessings abound when you simply pay attention. Look and see what you find! It’s all about an attitude of GRATITUDE and being PRESENT.

Burrowing owl

Burrowing owl atop a termite mound- a highlight from today

PS- for more joy – try my recipe for Mandio Chyryry – my latest experiment adds a dash of curry, cayenne, and cinnamon while simmering… and I’m in love!

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30 Sunsets

“You’ll seldom experience regret for anything that you’ve done. It is what you haven’t done that will torment you. The message, therefore, is clear. DO it! Develop an appreciation for the present moment. Seize every second of your life and savor it. Value your present moments. Using them up in any self-defeating ways means you’ve lost them forever.” – Dr. Wayne Dyer

October 18, 2014

Yesterday marked the beginning of my last 30 days in Paraguay. Just a moment ago it seemed I had an entire 27 months ahead of me, like a canvas awaiting its paint or the clay ready for the sculptor. Now, in the blink of an eye, those months have come and gone. I have only 30 more unforgettable sunsets, 30 mornings to step out the front door into the sunrise and invent a new day. Only 30 more days to say “Yes” to as many experiences as possible, to visit, to hear the rhythm of conversation in Guarani. Just 30 days to take in the magic, soak up the culture, witness the generosity and light-heartedness of Paraguayan people, nurture friendships, be the recipient of my community’s jokes, take in the sights of vast sugar cane fields and cows in the road, watch giant frogs feasting on bugs at dusk, hear the daily routine of cowboys herding cattle or the occasional sacrificing of an animal for the Sunday BBQ. Only 30 short days to continue sharing what I can, learning what I can, and loving the friends I have made here. I have a whole 30 days to practice being present, soaking up and being grateful every moment of this ride we call Peace Corps.

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Appreciation Day

“We delight in the beauty of the butterfly, but rarely admit the changes it has gone through to achieve that beauty.”  – Author Unknown

October 2, 2014

My boss and her 2-man team made a visit to my site today to talk with the community and learn more about their request for another volunteer. With my time coming to a close the middle of next month, we are all making preparations for the transition.

The senoras from my Women’s Club (Club of Witches they like to be called) recounted stories of the fun we’ve had together and one in particular who proudly described how she began calling herself “Primera Bruja” or the “First/Best Witch” after a recent incident of peek-a-boo with me (see September blog post “AHAs in Cultural Exchange” for details). Since then, I only refer to her as my Primera Bruja and her sister as My Segunda Bruja (Second Witch), far better than given names! They. Love. It.

Another gent asked if I could stay two more years; the others nodded in agreement. Of course, he was one of the fellas who had hoped to marry me one day and he was running out of time. Haha. It was a great meeting of feeling acknowledged and appreciated as a person and for my work but, even more importantly, considered as one of the community.

While my team was here, my program specialist and I chatted in the garden, taking in the view of the hills in the distance, sharing various things I was trying, answering my questions about why my 3rd generation of carrots was growing deformed, and sharing the variety of plants that had volunteered (self-seeded) themselves throughout the garden – green manures, carrots, beans, and a new invasive weed. While there, we watched a beautiful orange and black butterfly tuck her abdomen under the edge of a passion fruit leaf  and lay an egg mere inches from us! It took only a second and when she flew away we examined the tiny egg with its texture and color. Had it not been for his watchful eye, I would have missed the whole thing. Amazing! It pays to practice awareness and live in the moment. I’m so grateful to my team for placing me in this community to live, love, laugh and cry with these beautiful people for the past two years.

Tiny butterfly egg, the size of a pen tip. (stock photo)

Tiny butterfly egg, the size of a pen tip. (stock photo)

At the end of the day, it’s the relationships and the little things that really matter and make life most beautiful.

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The First Goodbye

“It’s always the right time to be happy.” – WW

October 1, 2014

During my first 10 weeks in Paraguay I stayed with the wonderful Gomez Silguiera family. They coached me with my infantile language skills, fed me, taught me to milk their cow, included me in their weekly Sunday family lunch with all seven grown children and mounds of food, and my first weekend there, brought me along to my host mother’s sister’s wedding. The bride was 81 and her new husband was 82.

 

I’ve been back to visit only a handful of times since moving to my community because the 10 hour journey makes more frequent visits difficult. However, I am always welcomed like royalty and quickly settle into making myself comfortable, no longer a guest, just another member of the family.

 

Over the weekend, I returned to attend my host sister’s wedding, held on the two year anniversary that I landed in Paraguay (and the same weekend that her aunt married two years earlier!) It was a grand and lavish affair of 200 guests, created solely by the family: my event-organizer-brother did all the decorations; the bride owns a bakery and she and staff made the cake and the hundreds of cupcakes and other sweets; her sisters made her dress; the entire extended family pitched in making giant trays of various salads, beans, mandioca and more (I counted 20 pans of sopa paraguaya -corn bread- and I’m sure there were more that had already been loaded into the truck).  We danced until 3am and, after about 3 hours of sleep, the gang was starting a new day by sharing morning máte. I have no idea how many people actually stayed at the house but emergence of ever more people rounding the corner into the kitchen seemed endless but joyful.

 

Finally came the time to catch my bus home. For the road, Mama tucked some sopa paraguaya into my hand and I embraced her. That’s when the realization hit that this would likely be our last hug. Ever. The last time I will see this loving woman who opened her heart and her home to me and treated me like her own flesh-and-blood daughter. Who worried over me when I was sick. Who learned I love watermelon and made sure there were always two in the house at all times. Who made my favorite breakfast everyday as if it was the highlight of her day. Who attended my Swear-In ceremony and cried happy-sad tears when it was time to move away to my new community. Who poured through my photo albums as if it was the greatest honor to know my family. Her soft belly absorbed the shudders that my tears brought. I held her and tried to brand the moment into memory. I couldn’t speak. When we finally separated she knew too and spoke for me. “If this is the last time I see you before you return to your country, please know that my home is your home. You will always be welcomed here. Please stay in touch.” We hugged again and I really let loose with the tears. The others nearby took their turn afterward: my host dad, an elderly aunt from Buenos Aires that I’d known for about 15 hours and with whom I’d shared a mattress the night before but nonetheless told me how she adored me, a brother, cousins. This family knows how to make people feel loved.

 

With a mere seven weeks remaining before my service ends, time is flying and there will be many more goodbyes. As I start down this path of closure I can’t help but reflect and appreciate all that these last two years have brought me.  My heart is swelling with gratitude. It hasn’t always been easy but, damn, it sure has been worth it!

Photos by Luis Ramon and Pedro Gomez Silgueira

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