Posts Tagged With: anaerobic biodigester

“AHAs” In Cultural Exchange

“The more things you try, the more likely it is that you will try the one thing that will make all of the difference.” – Brian Tracy

September 1, 2014

I walked into the meeting room laden with my microwave-sized portable oven we’d be using to make passion fruit marmalade. As I stepped across the threshold a mischievous señora and her granddaughter let out a loud “BOO!” from behind the door. I screamed, looked her in the eyes, and kept screaming while I put down the oven until I could start laughing. She was grinning with satisfaction. Payback’s a bitch.

Two weeks earlier I’d spied this same señora walking into my backyard with intentions of coming across the front of my house on her way to our women’s club meeting. I slipped around the corner out of sight and when she stepped up onto my patio I jumped out of my doorway with the same “BOO!”, scaring the bejesus out of her. Once she pulled herself together, she laughed and playfully slapped me on the rear-end then proceeded to retell the story- play by play – to every woman at the meeting.

This meeting in particular was especially sweet for two major reasons: 1) they learned that some of them are now quasi-famous and 2) we had some major “Ahas!” in cultural exchange. Let’s start at the beginning…

I was eager to share a biodigester video produced by fellow volunteer, Lydia Caudill, and featuring four people from my community. Last year, Lydia and two other volunteers visited my site to interview families who use biodigesters as a source of cooking fuel and fertilizer. The result is beautiful. While it is in Guarani with Spanish subtitles, I encourage you to take a look here to see how these biodigesters work, hear the guarani language, and get a glimpse of the proud people of Paraguay. There are some things which have no language barrier. My señoras and my Contact (the man doing much of the talking in the video) were on the edges of their seats (until I pulled out my camera then they all tried to sit back and look ‘chill’!), completely absorbed in the video of themselves and their neighbors (we watched it twice). Their sense of pride filled the room unquestionably, especially when I shared that the hope from the producers and staff is to share the video as an educational tool with Peace Corps posts worldwide! My neighbors loved the idea of being worldly famous. And then they joked about royalties. haha

Later, one señora taught the group to make bread then I taught them to make an almost-sugar-free passion fruit marmalade while the dough was rising (recipe here or click on my In the Kitchen page). With the smell of bread baking in my portable oven, I gave a talk on U.S. culture. The idea was the brainchild of my best friend and fellow volunteer, Tiffany (read her blog here), who’d had much success with this in her own community. I wish I hadn’t waited so long to do this. Despite me offering bits of this talk over the past two years, something about sitting them down and feeding it to them in one gulp broke some barriers and opened some eyes.

My rustic handmade U.S. map offered perspective on the size of the US (we don’t often use the term ‘American’ unless it’s “North American” because Paraguayans consider themselves Americans too….from SOUTH America) compared to Paraguay (which is the size of California) and subsequent population differences. They were shocked to learn that US families have an average of 1-2 children (compared to 6-8/family here!), the wide variety of religions, ethnicities, skin colors, languages and social classes. I gave an example of a ‘typical’ day in the life of a US family. They were horrified to hear that a typical working person gets a half hour for lunch (literally, their jaws dropped open at the thought; who could eat lunch that fast and at the office without your FAMILY???? CRAZY!) And when I talked about our health care system that sometimes leaves people needing to sell their homes when tragedy strikes, they looked at each other and one woman spoke up: “I guess we are pretty rich here after all. We have land, animals, gardens, wells for water, fruit trees, crop fields, close families to help during good times and bad, the ability to stay home with our children.” For a people that consistently reinforce to those with ‘more’ the notion “I am poor. We have no money or things.” this was a huge win – to hear these material-poor people suddenly realize – and claim – how rich they truly are …my heart swelled with joy.

We concluded by sharing our assumptions of each others’ cultures before I came to Paraguay and before we began to know one another. Mine went something like this. “Before coming to Paraguay, I expected:

“everyone to have brown skin, black eyes, black hair and be short.” Reality: PY is a melting pot with influences from Germany, Japan, Russia, Argentina, Spain, and more. You can find brown skin and white. Black hair and blond, sometimes red. Short people and very tall.

“the food to be spicy and based on rice and beans like Central America.” Reality: food here is bland and perhaps why people use so much salt (in addition to the heat and sweating factors). Much of the food is based on mandioca, corn, and white flour (tortillas, milanesa, empanadas, pasta). Most Paraguayans don’t like spicy food, not even your standard ground black pepper. Food is more likely flavored with onions, garlic and oregano.

“a diet rich in vegetables and fruits and little meat.” In the US meat is expensive and I assumed it would be here too but most people in the country raise their own meat and they eat A LOT OF IT. Vegetables are difficult to grow because of the poor soil and intense heat that literally fries plants if not grown in the shade. Fruits are feast or famine. During citrus season, as I’ve mentioned in prior posts here  and here , there is more than can be consumed and citrus is difficult to preserve. Pear, mango and grape seasons tend to come together too but in between, there’s not much. And because the roads are not well maintained transporting fruits and veggies to or from the market can be difficult to impossible.

“everyone to ‘roll’ their ‘r’s.” You’ve probably heard Spanish speakers use that beautiful roll in words. Not here in Paraguay. They laughed and said “No, we’re too lazy to do that!”

“I thought your coconuts would be big.” Paraguayan coconuts are small, the size of golf balls. It’s a lot of work for a small amount of pulp.

When it came time for their turn to voice assumptions, their only concern was “What will she EAT?” and after my arrival they were surprised to learn I could ride a horse.

It was another super fun afternoon with the ladies and a victory in cross-cultural understanding!

Categories: Peace Corps Paraguay | Tags: , , | 3 Comments

This Is Peace Corps

“Showing up is worth it 100% of the time.” – Wendy Ward

June 25, 2014

 

One afternoon recently I sat on my patio shelling seeds with one of the local girls and reflecting on the events of the prior week, which I would have to classify as one of the best weeks of my two-year service thus far, the memories of which are due in large part to a particular favorite family with whom I’ve spent many days. It wasn’t part of my plan to spend part of nearly every day together; it just worked out that way. Slowly building from a self-invitation for morning maté which would then lead to staying for breakfast and sometimes lunch, I’ve somehow managed to spend the better part of the week there. Among the first days the señora mentioned that her biodigester was no longer working. We spent two days on it until it was functioning once more. These anaerobic biodigesters produce methane gas which is used to cook food, instead of the customary open fires on the ground that fill the room with smoke and cause a number of health and environmental problems.

On the last day of my visits for the week, I went over to buy cheese and also learned she sells milk so I brought home a liter of that too. A half kilo (1.1 lbs) of her cheese is the equivalent of US$2.25 and a liter (a bit more than 1 qt) of milk is $.60 (that’s not a typo, folks). In exchange, I brought her a baked stuffed pepper made the other day at the Women’s Club to reheat and try, as it’s a healthy, easy recipe using all locally available ingredients.

Women's Club - this day we made stuffed peppers and cut bottles into glasses and wine glasses using wire. These will be used in the women's homes instead of buying new glasses. See the bottles to the right with tape wrapped around, which acts as a guide for the wire. The wire is moved vigorously back and forth until it scores and heats the glass, then the bottle is plunged into ice water to break the score. Take sandpaper to the edge and Voila! you have a new drinking glass.

Women’s Club – this day we made stuffed peppers and cut bottles into glasses and wine glasses using wire. These will be used in the women’s homes instead of buying new glasses. See the bottles to the right with tape wrapped around, which acts as a guide for the wire. The wire is moved vigorously back and forth until it scores and heats the glass, then the bottle is plunged into ice water to break the score. Take sandpaper to the edge and Voila! you have a new drinking glass.

Her husband, daughter and I shelled dry corn while the senora made corn bread for lunch. We raced to see who could clean more corn cobs of their hard, dry kernels the fastest. The husband won despite me stealing his cleaned cobs, pretending they were mine for the count. hee hee. While there I also taught her and her two daughters to make roasted squash seeds. Unfortunately, we were so engrossed in our delicious lunch of spaghetti and beans with chipa quazu that we forgot about the seeds in the oven and burned them! Every day I have visited she has sent me home with bags of oranges and mandarins and pleas to take more. Giving away fruit during citrus season is the equivalent of giving away chipa during semana santa. Every household has more citrus than they can eat and will beg you to take as much as you can carry. Mandarines are the size of baseballs, grapefruits (called pommelos here) are so sweet you can make juice and drink it straight with no added sugar (I’ve never been able to eat a grapefruit in the US – too bitter!) Oranges are best made into juice because they are super JUICY! Actually, Paraguayans drink the juice straight from the orange by peeling the orange zest and a thin layer of pith, slicing off an end, gently squeezing the fruit with your hand and drinking from the sliced end. Today I declined another motherload of fruit but received a hunk of squash for soup I’d be making for dinner. Just because she felt like sharing.

While visiting this señora this week, we’ve had the most engaging conversations covering everything from kidney stones, ovarian cysts, menstruation (“Do women in North America menstruate?”), how our cemetaries and funeral proceedings are similar and different, why she leads the prayer for most of the local funerals (rezos) and if she gets paid for it (answer: no), and her asking me how flatulent I will be after eating the lunch of beans she prepared (this followed two days of working on the biodigester and many jokes about gas). This family has a great sense of humor.

I boiled my milk purchase (I’m all for raw, fresh and unpasteurized but due to lack of cattle vaccinations and common diseases here it has the potential to carry harmful pathogens so boiling is a necessity in PY) and made THE most delectable, homemade-from-scratch chocolate pudding I’ve ever eaten. Not bad for my first attempt.

It’s these kinds of days that make this the Peace Corps experience I dreamed of.

****Check out lots of new photos on my “Eye Candy” page!!!****

Fun  Facts: Did You Know?….

Most people are completely unaware of the existence of the Paraguayan Venomous Duck.  Belonging to the genus Dendrocygna, its full scientific name is Dendrocygna peligrosa.  Very few people have seen the Paraguayan Venomous Duck  in the wild, though it is well known to the indigenous peoples of the Paraguayan rainforest who use its venom to coat their arrowheads for hunting and warfare.

The venom of the Paraguayan Venomous Duck (PVD) is a neurotoxin which quickly causes its victim to lose control of its muscles, rendering it powerless to defend itself.  The PVD then swiftly devours its prey, which includes ducklings of other species, frogs, and, ironically, venomous snakes.

There is no known antivenin for the PVD.  It rarely attacks humans, only doing so when startled or threatened.  There have been accounts of humans surviving a bite by a PVD, but most victims die within hours.

Categories: Peace Corps Paraguay | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

Biodigesters – Got Gas?

“Each day when I awake I know I have one more day to make a difference in someone’s life.” ~ James Mann

June 16, 2014

 

I love my work with biodigesters. It’s fascinating stuff and for those of you non-sciency types who don’t like to read technical talk about poo I tried to keep it interesting so you’d enjoy too. Keep reading. It’ll be worth it, I promise.

I mentioned long ago that part of my work here is with anaerobic biodigesters, which decompose locally-available organic material (usually manure) and produce methane gas for cooking as well as a rich, very liquid compost that’s excellent for gardens, crops or use as a foliar spray to repel pests. I have a lot of interest in promoting these systems on farms here in PY and also because I wanted knowledge to maintain the seven biodigesters in my community, installed by the previous volunteer, I decided to be part of the Biodigester training group last year. We are a group of Peace Corps Volunteers (PCVs) with specialized training who travel throughout the country helping other volunteers teach about and install these systems in their communities. This alternative generally replaces a señora’s need to cook (and breathe) over an open fire on the ground and haul firewood. It better manages manure, smell and flies on the farm. It makes for healthier living conditions while helping abate nutrient loss into surface water and the massive deforestation that occurs in PY. Here’s the story of one such event I attended recently…

 

The trip to the volunteer’s community was about 11 hours by bus, including waiting in the bus terminals and alongside the road for my next rides (and missing a stop – oops). By the first bus station I was STARVING so during my ‘layover’ I went to the nearby supermarket for lunch and discovered to my delight that they had a hot buffet of prepared food. Whoa – I could hardly contain my excitement! Almost like a restaurant! After much deliberation, I’d just decided what I wanted and was about to get the señora’s attention and then I noticed it: a cockroach exploring the case and the edges of the food. My hopes sank and my excitement evaporated. I was bummed but not completely grossed out. This is PY and hygiene, sanitation and other expectations are, well, different than the US. It’s not drama, it’s just a fact. I walked away and started cruising the aisles the way teens troll the strip at Old Orchard Beach. I digress. After another tour of the store and my need for protein and carbs outweighing the underwhelming fruit and veggie options, I went back to the case. Yes, I did. Afterall, I reasoned, the insect was barely longer than my thumbnail and it was just one (that I saw) and I’ve probably eaten elsewhere with similar or worse conditions without knowing it and that roast loin with ham and melted cheese looked so deliciously inviting and I was SO hungry for something other than bus-station-empanadas. I bought my original choices and tried to push that scurrying visual out of my brain forever. My innerds remained cooperative and unaffected and I continued my journey to my friend’s community. By the time I arrived it was nearly 9pm. Two other volunteers had traveled to help as well and we sat down to prep for our morning workshop. When our travel-weary bodies called it a day, our host gave us a tour of her humble abode complete with instructions on how to use her cool, new homemade composting squat toilet (her version of an aerobic biodigester and she did a great job building it too!). This was a first for me. The composting and the squat. How I made it a year and a half in this country without an encounter with the squat toilet is beyond comprehension. I’ve been terribly sheltered it seems. The fact that the toilet was on a raised platform to allow easy management of the compost underneath combined with the outdoor spotlight that happened to shine down directly and brightly onto the squatting hole made me feel like a Rock Star Appearing On Stage every time I had business to do and stepped up onto that platform. The Leo in me saw the proximity of the neighbors’ homes and desperately wanted to do a princess wave during my inaugural visit to the throne, despite it being 10:30pm. Perhaps only Leos would understand and appreciate such an opportunity, I don’t know. Despite my Leonine leanings, I’m not especially proud of the fact that I LIKE being the center of attention and “being in the spotlight”, and this was one time I would prefer to do without either. When stepping onto the platform and standing upright, the tarp surrounding the structure came to my hips. Barely. Pun intended. I’m sure I half-mooned the neighbors on multiple occasions before getting down to business. Grateful to be no taller, I found myself hoping for a power outage when nature called after dark throughout this visit.

 

Sample squat toilet - basically a hole in the ground or cement platform (this is a stock image from the internet; the one described above is MUCH nicer)

Sample squat toilet – basically a hole in the ground or cement platform (this is a stock image from the internet; the one described above is MUCH nicer)

At daybreak we headed to a local agriculture-themed high school of which there are many in PY. The day started with four of us teaching a workshop to 50 high school seniors about all aspects of the biodigester followed by hands-on application with the kids doing what they’d just learned. The kids were motivated and eager to see it come together, though we always have to convince new users that the gas does not make the cooked food smell like manure and the biodigesters themselves do not smell despite the hundreds of gallons of soupy manure inside because it is an enclosed, oxygen-free system. By 5pm we had started filling the plastic tube with water and were mostly done. All that was left was for the volunteer and kids to begin ‘charging’ it by adding manure the following day. They will add manure for the next three weeks before enough methane gas is produced for burning. This system was installed next to the pig barn for ease of collecting manure and putting into the system (as opposed to hauling buckets of manure across campus) and the fuel will be used to cook pig food. Pigs will provide fertilizer which produces gas and liquid compost. Compost will grow crops to feed the pigs and people. Gas will help cook the pig food (and in most cases, people food), which will result in more fertilizer for the biodidgester and meat for people. And a nice, closed-loop cycle continues!

 

Biodigester installation at a Paraguayan high school

Biodigester installation at a Paraguayan high school

The amazing volunteers who helped with this project (and the woman on the right is a volunteer's community contact)

The amazing volunteers who helped with this project (and the woman on the right is a volunteer’s community contact)

 

A completed biodigester after 2 years in use. The spout on top of the bag is where the gas exits into a hose that runs to the cooking area.

A completed biodigester after 2 years in use. The spout on top of the bag is where the gas exits into a hose that runs to the cooking area.

It was wonderful to participate in this installation, spend time with other volunteers, sharpen my technical and language skills, and see youth learning valuable new information and skills for their futures. And I can check “visit to a composting squat toilet” off my bucket list.

Categories: Peace Corps Paraguay | Tags: , , , , , | 6 Comments

Blog at WordPress.com.

Svalbard Eclipse Adventure

Eclipse in the Arctic

In All Our Years

Practicing love and kindness for all.

Passage to Paraguay

.. helping the world one sunflower at a time ..

Emmalina’s Kitchen

Everything about healing from home

Bucket List Publications

Indulge- Travel, Adventure, & New Experiences

The Manifest-Station

On Being Human

Cathy Kidman Consulting

Organizational and Leadership Consulting

Pompatus of Pete

.. helping the world one sunflower at a time ..

Simply Intentional

love. serve. live.

Tiffany

... following my heart and soul through this world...