Posts Tagged With: chocolate

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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A New Level of Tranquilo and Reminders in Gratitude

August 26, 2013

“Don’t worry about what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive and do that, because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” -Howard Thurman

Since returning from my stateside vacation earlier this month, I’ve noticed a big change in me. Somehow, in the span of a week, I mellowed. After being gone for nearly a fortnight  I didn’t check my bed for spiders before crawling inside, a ritual I’ve cultivated for 11 months now. Despite knowing that anything that doesn’t get moved every 24 hours in my house becomes potential housing for a creepy crawly, I didn’t bother to check all their regular hangouts before diving a hand into bags or clothes on the shelf (I know by  now you’re asking “where is Wendy and what have you done with her?!”) In fact, I found a thick black hairy arachnid on my hand yesterday and simply shook it onto the floor, not bothering to see if there were others on me. And it’s not just the spiders. Mini beetles in the popcorn stash are harmless once fried in hot oil, right (probably a delicacy somewhere too)? You know you’ve reached a whole new level of tranquilo when your answer is “yes” as I had to admit this week. I consulted my best PCV friend with this question. She agreed wholeheartedly and added that it’s simply a source of more protein (at least I don’t have to carry this protein 17k from the grocery store!) and said “Wait til you start eating off the floor!” My reply: “Ummm, that started last week.” For the germ-a-phobe I used to be, never did I see myself submitting to the 3 second rule in PY. Ever. Even though I have a fancy, fairly clean, tile floor, unlike many PCVs whose floors are hard-to-clean-cement or straight soil, I did not think I’d ever be so nonchalant. This, in the same week I was picking dead bugs out of my stash of beans given to me by a generous neighbor. Not exactly the self-development progress I’d hoped to make during my time in PY but I’m sure it’ll serve me somehow. We work with what we’ve got.

Last week all the volunteers in my group traveled with our community contacts to the Chaco (the Northwestern chunk of PY) for a few days of training. I was so excited to realize that my language skills had improved significantly since our last gathering two months ago. I pretty much was able to follow most of the conversations – ooooh what a feeling, halelujah! At the end of those few days of intensive Spanish conversation, however, my brain started to feel like a 20-car pile up with all those new words and phrases overflowing my mental parking lot, backed up waiting for a parking space in the memory banks. I’ve learned this is a good sign…it means things are getting in there! Hopefully the valet driver can also retrieve these when the time calls for it. haha

Despite being assured winter is almost over, today’s high in my site was a raw, rainy 45F. I try to ignore this fact and focus instead on the week’s forecast which promises temps in the 80s and 90s. It’s been raining for days and it’s been equally as many days since I’ve had a shower, washed dishes, taken my hat off, or opened my front door except to shoo away cows trying to eat the oregano on my porch. It was so raw even the cows were shivering! I will welcome the sun and sweat with open arms. Bring it. And hurry. These warm clothes I’ve worn 24/7 really need a break. In an effort to walk my own talk and focus on the positives in life, I sought gratitude in phone calls with friends, hot chocolate with honey harvested from my own bees, lingering over a fresh cup of Starbucks coffee (ok, it might have been 4 cups today), the luxury of reading, skyping with my mom, eating my fill of hot, freshly made soup from the bounty of my garden that has gone totally gangbusters since a week ago (did you realize carrot greens smell like carnations?), then rounding out the day with popcorn sprinkled with fried beetles (if you add some dry basil it helps camouflage the bodies). I’m a lucky gal.

I haven’t made too many faux pas in a while (that I’m aware of), perhaps because I’ve been cooped up in the house (there’s an upside to everything) but I did make a good one related to my birthday (go big or go home, I always say). While visiting a family the week prior to my birthday, the husband and wife were commenting on my special day coming the following week and kept saying something about “invitado” this and “asado” that and was I going to have that cake made from beans that I love so well? (It tastes like chocolate but has not a speck of chocolate in it. Deelish!) What I didn’t realize is that in PY, it’s the person celebrating the birthday who puts on her own party, cooks the food (asado means BBQ), bakes her own cake and invites the town to the fiesta at her house. Oops. I had been expecting my host family to put on a lunch for me and bake the famous bean cake since they’ve been talking about it all year (or so I thought!) It wasn’t until the day AFTER my birthday and the birthday-celebration-that-never-happened that another volunteer explained the custom. Oops again. I had let them down. NOW I understood that they were actually telling me to be sure to invite THEM to my party at my house and the family had given me a kilo of beans so I could make the cake for this fiesta that never happened. Oops…again. Fortunately, as an outsider I’m forgiven for most of my missteps. But I think they all felt a little embarrassed that I didn’t get a party at all. No worries though! We’ll make up for it next year!

Here’s something I threw out to my friends this week:

What stories do you tell yourself about you, your abilities, your worth? Have you checked their validity lately? How many are so negative you wouldn’t dream of saying them to your best friend or beloved? Maybe it’s time to tell some better stories.

I love this. I think all of us can relate to how easy it is to beat ourselves up over our perceived shortcomings and point out areas where we lack. Interestingly, we may not even realize this habit but we do know we would never want to treat our friends and loved ones the way we often treat ourselves. My Peace Corps service has brought my own self-defeating habits to my stark attention and it’s been an incredibly humbling experience. Your pride gets taken down a notch or two or four. You realize you have far more to learn from your host country nationals than they have to learn from you. Sometimes, it is far better to listen and learn than speak and never be wiser. Language barriers can infantilize a person. When you’ve led a life feeling fairly competent in your everyday work, tasks, and understanding of your culture and surroundings then suddenly find yourself feeling completely inadequate on sometimes even the most basic levels, it is disconcerting. It makes you question yourself, your worth, your ability, your stamina to see this through. It holds up a mirror that reveals facets of yourself you never knew existed. You must look at it everyday. Sometimes we are proud of what we see. Sometimes not. Even though you might have been going through life working really hard on your problem areas, being kind, being aware of your wake, striving to grow and learn, extending compassion and loving kindness, sometimes those blind spots just hit you upside the head and you never saw them coming. Peace Corps is hard this way but it is one of the best damn eye openers I’ve ever had the good fortune to be gifted. So I invite you to consider the questions above. While there’s always work to be done on ourselves, is there room for you to be more loving and gentle as you go about it?

This week’s takeaways: pride in standing up for myself and and my principles with courage to speak my peace without flinching coupled with the strength to extend compassion during a difficult situation; joy in having someone tell me my words made a difference for them; assurance that the universe delivers who and what we need exactly when we need them (including a cheap taxi that appeared out of nowhere and really was an angel of mercy on a rainy day); grateful for opportunities to practice in areas where I struggle knowing it will make me stronger and wiser; appreciating people in my life who really have my back when I need them; knowledge that I’ve made great progress in loving myself and the gifts I have to offer, blessed with a great mom who’s always there; appreciative of a super boss; never again in my life will I take for granted good coffee, indoor plumbing, an indoor stove, central heat, or electricity. Even on the hardest days, I consider myself blessed with the privilege of being here, sculpting my life, writing my own script, and making my dreams come alive.

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Happy Birthday, Dad

2-27-13

When your heart speaks, take good notes. – Judith Campbell

One of the toughest things of this journey is being away from family on important days, like my Dad’s recent birthday. I was unable to reach him on his special day due to limited technology here (phone doesn’t make international calls and I have internet access only when venturing intown once every week or two) and felt a bit sad for being unable to participate. However, I did send a birthday card which I’m hoping arrives less than a month late. Lol

Shortly after posting my last update I learned that schools across PY delayed the date by two weeks that they would re-open for the academic year due to the dengue fever epidemic here. After trying to swim at the Embassy during my last trip to Asuncion I understand why this disease is such a problem. We walked onto the campus and were surrounded by throngs of mosquitoes so thick we literally had to run to the pool and jump in to escape them. In all my years in Maine, never have I seen anything like it.

Speaking of the city, I splurged and wore lipstick during my last trip to the capital. Yup. Haven’t done that since December. And earrings too. Just needed to feel a little girly for a change. Campo life isn’t exactly for the fashion-conscious. Well, you’ve seen the beekeeping photos. ‘Nuf said.

I’ve mentioned before how happy the kids are in my community but it bears another mention. Daily, I am amazed how these kids, with perhaps two toys to their names, can play happily for hours with each other or alone and be thoroughly entertained. They use whatever is handy: an empty 55 gallon barrel, a stick, a sand pile, dried corn cobs, bug skeletons, deflated soccer ball, a grain bag and rope made into a hammock, a handful of marbles, but mostly, their imaginations! Sometimes play is simply marveling at their surroundings. A trail of ants in the dirt. The shape of a pear after having fallen upside down in a pile of cow manure. The way the smoke rises from the burning pile of trash. The feel of sand between their toes. It reminds me of my childhood when we reveled in making our own entertainment – outdoors whenever possible – instead of relying on computers, machines, vehicles, TV, or other gadgets to keep us preoccupied. Because of this, these kids are excellent problem solvers and when confronted with something that needs fixing, they can nearly always figure a solution to it themselves or in conjunction with a sibling. They study it tirelessly, try different approaches, and never frustrate that the pace of the solution seems too slow. There isn’t much they can’t do. Tranquilo.

I’ve been very inspired by my latest read: “What Makes the Great Great” by Dennis Kimbro. Though written for a black audience, heavy with religious references, and often belaboring individual points, I have found it full of inspiration and thought-provoking questions everyone interested in improving themselves, maximizing achievement, and/or seeking true happiness should consider if you haven’t already. It has provided guidance and helped me clarify and prioritize future goals and dreams.

After a couple slow weeks in my community bee work has sprung up again. This week I visited a family to follow up on a wild hive capture I did a month ago. While chatting, I was entertained by a tiny piglet in a rope harness racing around the yard, vaulting himself in and out of the kitchen whenever the señora
would open the door to check on lunch. Only in PY. After checking her new hive, we also did a small honey harvest on a wild hive on the prairie. It was relatively straight forward but several dozen bees followed us back to the house. We finished squeezing honey out of the comb and into a bucket just as the bees became somewhat unbearable. And because this señora doesn’t use the wax for anything I was gifted with it to add to my stash for the skin lotion clinic I’m holding in May. Another señora also asked for help with a honey harvest which yielded several liters of honey for her and about 15 pounds of wax for me. I see many candles and salves in the near future!

There is an unlikely war happening in my host family home: the old “over vs under” argument with the TP. What’s funny is that I, the guest, am apparently the perpetrator in the ‘over’ category and will return only to find the ‘under’ proponent has trumped me. No one says a word about it but this goes on with every roll. I can’t help but laugh in wonder what they’re thinking and laugh again that I’m actually writing about it. I guess it’s been a slow week.

I received my first shipment of chocolate (thanks Mom and Dad!), fantastic family photos of my bro’s wedding, and some yummy smelling soaps from cousins. I hear there are other packages on the way from friends. Thank you everyone who has gone to such lengths to support me here from emails, blog comments, old-fashioned letters and Christmas cards, to tango music and potato chips! It really has been incredibly appreciated and helpful in buoying me on the hard days.

We’ve been promised running water this week! I’m not holding my breath just yet but when it happens I’ll be a happy lady.

Random facts:
Did you know dried corn cobs make excellent corks? Paraguayans frequently use them to close wine bottles filled with honey.

Freezers here are not self-defrosting.

The vast majority of homes in the campo are single story. In larger towns and the city you’ll find two story homes and buildings.

Smile…it makes everyone wonder what you’re up to. And it makes you happier too. I promise.
Jajotopata!

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The day the well went dry and the cow gave powdered milk

Jan 22, 2013

“…explore the beauty of silence, and get your friends to appreciate it too…It’s amazing how refreshing it can be to share silent moments with people you really enjoy.” – How Yoga Works, Geshe Michael Roach & Christie McNally

We officially have a sequia (drought) on our hands across PY. The ground is cracking, trees are limp, the cattle are irritable for eating crunchy, brown grass and all of their usual watering holes are dry. We cringe when the trucks pass the house on their way to or from the river to buy sand as dust billows in massive red clouds in their wake, rolling across the pasture, into windows, onto clean laundry drying on the line. On Saturday our well went dry. One might think a family of 6 plus guests might be nervous about such a situation but they are quite tranquilo indeed. They’ve done this before and spoke matter-of-factly that the Professor would take the tractor to the next pueblo and bring back drinking, cooking and bath water as long as they would let him. It seems he is friends with the owners of the sugar cane factory who have this extra water. Every drop is precious. I guess it’s a good thing I’m no longer fazed with moss, fern bits or the occasional beetle floating in the bucket of drinking water in the kitchen. I’ll take what I can get. Though the 40 liter barrel is the same one used to catch rainwater from the roof and I question its cleanliness. It’s a tough spot to be in- needing water but having no control over the hygiene of the containers. In the meantime, kids were asked to consolidate bathroom trips to minimize water use, waste water from dishes is tossed on the pasture to preserve what little green is struggling to survive and we’ll be doing our laundry in the rio (river) along with several other families. Since I can’t ride the moto, which is how the rest of the family will get there, I’m negotiating with the neighbor, Isabel’s sister, to let me take her ox cart instead of walking that six mile roundtrip in the sun with a bag of clothes. The ox look like they’re going slow but they’re actually faster than my fastest walk. We’ll see. Over breakfast Isabel joked that it is now so dry her cow is giving powdered milk. Personally, I’m waiting for the chocolate! Haha

In the meantime, the beautiful pear tree near the house is having no difficulty raining fruit into the backyard. After wondering what a family might do with dozens of pears, I was delightfully surprised to be served “Peras Dulce” or Sweet Pears. OMG. Who needs apple pie when you can have THIS? (Perhaps I can convince my uncles to favor this instead of my apple pie over which they salivate at Christmas.) Isabel peeled and sliced or sometimes chunked the pears, cooked until soft with some water and sugar. Serve hot (my favorite) or cold. I like it with plain yogurt and a sprinkling of oatmeal to make it an instant pear crisp-like tasting dessert. Because of their abundance I am currently experimenting with drying pears in the solar dryer (as well as garlic). So far the pears have turned out beautifully and are super sweet, a hit with the family.

Despite the lack of water the rainstorm last week provided just enough water for mosquito breeding and there is an outbreak of dengue fever here. The entire capitol city is under alert and my neighbor and her husband are both recovering from it. The country’s 911 system has received 2 million calls from panicked residents and hospitals are overflowing with patients. Until this week I’ve not seen many mosquitos in weeks but I still use my ‘mosquitero’ nightly as it also keeps spiders and other insects at bay and allows me a peaceful night’s sleep in not worrying about critters.

Bees. I talked about them a bit last time and how I suddenly have a lot of bee work on my hands. This is very exciting and I’ve outfitted myself with new equipo (equipment) and a hive. Now I just need bees. I’ll catch a wild hive for the box later. Until then, I’ll work with other families’ bees. What I’ve discovered in my discussions with these families is that while most Paraguayans love and want honey, the majority are afraid of bees. Especially the men. So “bee-having” in my community is often relegated to the women. Paraguayan women are fearless. I love this about them. And I understand the whole fear of bees thing. I, too, was fearful for many years until I came here. And I will never forget the first time I actually worked in a hive…I was terrified. Certainly I was scared of getting stung though I’d resolved myself to the fact that, if you work with bees, you WILL get stung. Get over it. I was more scared of dropping the comb after pulling it out of the hive. Bees are highly sanitary and putting any part of their hive on the ground subjects them to insects and diseases. But with every visit to the hives, I get more comfortable and, now, downright tranquilo. Not to say I don’t get a few butterflies when I look down and see them crawling all over my clothes and my veil but the secret is remaining calm and moving slowly. Usually they just want to check you out. If they find nothing to worry about they’ll often leave you alone. When you start swatting is when you piss them off and invite trouble. Other days, they’re just grumpy for no apparent reason and you’re better off leaving them alone. The bees in PY are Africanized bees (also known as Killer Bees), hence named for their aggressive nature, and the commentary above is especially important to remember to keep them as calm as possible. This weekend we are doing two wild hive captures and a honey harvest and I’ve invited 4 other volunteers to help. Should be great fun and lots of learning. One of the hives is in an old termite mound underground, the other is in a fallen coconut tree. Bees love the coconut trees because they’re very fibrous inside and provide lots of space.

I visited three new families one day last week. My last stop was with a woman who owns a large cattle operation with her husband. We connected easily and my visit lasted longer than I expected. Just when I was planning to take leave her three daughters came home. About that time, the señora disappeared into the house for what I thought was to tend the three year old. I stayed and chatted with the girls (15 and 20) and their amiga (26) for quite a while. They talked of how they struggled to learn English in school, delighted in my family photos and asked about my work here in this tiny town in the middle of nowhere. I realized the señora had been gone a while and thought perhaps she hadn’t enjoyed our visit as much as I had. A moment later she waltzes into the kitchen with a bag brimming of dry beans, a pound of cheese, two dozen eggs, a container of freshly made Peras Dulce, and a wine bottle full of her own honey! Wow. What to say?! I’d say she wants me to come back. The honey alone is an expensive gift and potential income generator. When I got home my family asked if I was going to visit again tomorrow. Haha. We opened the bottle and sampled the honey. Two tablespoons later I was transported to heaven. To my delight, it had not been filtered but contained bits of wax, pollen and tiny, bee parts (did you know you can eat literally everything inside a hive including bees and bee larva?)

As I was walking home from the bus this week, I took a shortcut across the cattle pasture and, on the same rise where the owl and I had our mysterious connection last week, I suddenly realized how quiet everything was. The prairie, usually dotted with bellowing cattle, squawking birds protecting their nests and the occasional cowboy, was empty. At 2:30 in the afternoon everyone and everything was seeking respite from the sun’s baking heat. No cows, insects, birds, motos, people, airplanes… only a hushed wind in my ear and the massive expanse of cloudless, brilliant blue sky over a browning prairie sprinkled with palm trees and termite mounds. For a few moments, it seemed the whole world was silent.

And I counted my blessings for being here.

As many people have done a friend of mine from Hawaii asked if he could send me anything. I asked for a hacky sack. Toward the end of training I had started playing this simple game with some guys from the group and really loved it, though I also really stink at it. But no matter. So last week what arrived in the mail? THREE hacky sacks! Thanks, Joe! (and thanks to everyone who has asked…I will let you know suggestions as they come up; perhaps in March when I move into my own place?) No sooner were they sitting out of the package than the kids’ toy radar went off and they appeared at my bedroom door, wide-eyed and full of questions. In minutes we were on the patio kicking futilely and laughing hysterically. It was a scream and the fun continues. The youngest, at six years old, is fearless, bold, impressively independent, sometimes amusingly bossy in her friendly and helpful way, and full of unstolen confidence and self-esteem often already lost by other girls her age. She doesn’t stop to think whether or not she can do a certain task. In her determination not to be outdone by her five older sisters she is well skilled on many fronts from pumping up a tire to well-honed hospitality with guests. There is nothing she won’t attempt and with a maturity that leaves me in awe for her age. There are days I feel she could run the household and other days I am well-reminded that she is only six.

Rules for Dating in Paraguay. I thought you might be curious for a peek behind the dating scene curtain in PY. The complexity of the spoken and unspoken dating ‘rules’ here warranted its own class during training. Because I am here to work, I have no intention of dating during my service, thought you’d find it interesting if not humorous. For example: 1) if you look a guy in the eyes ‘too long’ then you are dating (he becomes your ‘novio’), 2) if you drink terere on a patio alone with a man then you are dating, 3) if you dance ‘too many’ dances with the same guy then you are dating, 4) if you kiss a guy then you are dating and of course 5) if you go to the kokue alone with a man, even if you are talking ‘shop’ and nothing happens, then you are dating. The list goes on. In many ways, it’s easy for the Norte men because men call the shots on relationships here. They decide when a relationship is over, however, if you are dating a Paraguayan man, he is assuming you will marry him, even if you’ve only dated once. And if you break up, which is hard to do for a woman, he may very likely still consider you ‘his’ girlfriend for years to come. In my opinion, the dating scene here is not for the faint of heart. And volunteers are strongly discouraged from dating in their communities. You can see how it could get complicated quickly. Maybe I’m just showing my age. Isabel has been laughing for a week after I shared my new Paraguayan motto that sums up my thoughts quite simply: no motos, no novios, no problems!

Random thoughts:

Things I’ve seen on a moto: family of five (including infants), two-layer birthday cake held in one hand, rolled up mattress, live pig, propane tank and spare tires on the driver’s lap, garden hose dragging behind, luggage, mounds of groceries, weed whackers, hoes, large stack of plastic patio chairs, terere termos, 55 gallon barrel, construction materials like lumber, strapping, bags of cement, and sheets of glass.

My host family is really fantastic. Every day I am reminded how fortunate I am. Lately, they’ve been making cakes for dessert and the house is filled with luscious aromas, much to my dismay because I can’t eat wheat. In the past I had to settle for cake-eating fantasies. This week however, they made a cake with ground beans and corn flour. OMG. It tasted like chocolate cake and didn’t have a hint of chocolate in it! No kidding! And served with a drizzle of my new honey, I was a happy camper. And maybe some peras dulce on the side. Yum!

Because there is no mail delivery system here bills such as an electricity bill are delivered by moto and tacked to the light pole near the house. The vast majority of cell phones use a pre-pay plan where you buy more ‘saldo’ (minutes) when you run out.

PY is primarily a cash economy. It is not common for shops outside Asuncion to accept debit or credit cards of any kind unless they are hotels or sell big ticket items like appliances. Quotas are also common. A quota is essentially a payment plan. Vendors using quotas often sell their wares via moto. They visit your home and offer you an item, say a thermos for your terere. A thermos might normally cost 100 guaranies but the vendor offers three monthly payments of 50 gs each. The Paraguayan educational system not does teach much long-term, forward-thinking and analytical skills so many people don’t realize they are paying more for the thermos using the quota than they would if they bought it outright in the beginning. They are attracted by the idea of having the item today and paying less money today than considering the overall cost.

Did you know Daffy Duck, Tweety and Scooby-Doo now speak Spanish? Yup, they are on cartoons here in PY. Funny to watch the dub-overs on a duck.

Breastfeeding is very popular here and there is no modesty in nursing publicly. Very publicly. I think this is why low cut shirts are the fashion here. When you need to nurse your baby you simply pull a breast out over the top of your shirt. No concealing it like back home. Nothing left to the imagination. There must be a certain freedom in this lack of modesty…to sit on a park bench, at the table with the whole family, at a rezo to honor the dead, or on the bus, all the while chatting away with family or friends or strangers. I think there is nothing more beautiful than watching a baby nurse (babies of all kinds, people or animals, in fact the baby goats next door are so big they get on their knees to nurse these days and when finished, simply continue grazing the grass on their knees…hilarious) though admittedly I felt a little awkward the first time a member of my previous host family suddenly decided to nurse in front of me. I’d only met her once and there we were chatting away and before I knew what was happening the breast was there in all its glory and I didn’t know where to look. Away? In her eyes? At the person next to her? Take a sudden interest in the clouds? Admire the sweet baby without gawking? But now I’ve seen enough breasts that I no longer stress. People look or don’t. The mother never cares and if she does she turns away.

Did you know a large grain bag full of dry bean pods yields only about 10 lbs of beans? It’s a lot of work to shell and clean those beans free of debris and insects. And as I was helping to shell the beans from Isabel’s harvest one evening, the insects begin their nighttime serenade. I sat there trying to think how I would describe the sound to you. It’s not chirping, buzzing, clicking or other common insects sounds. What WAS it? Then I realized. It’s a chorus of fax machines. Yes, they sound exactly like a fax. And it is deafening. If I’m on a phone call, I have to go inside and shut my door and window. The insect is called la sigarra in Spanish or ñakyra in guarani. They are about three inches long and ‘sing’ day or night, but most loudly just as the sun is setting, just when the evening glow fades and darkness nestles into the village.

Most dogs here are male and never neutered. Most other animals (cows, horses, goats, pigs) are female. Well, there are a number of male cattle including oxen and young bulls. I haven’t quite figured out the system yet but it appears young bulls are left uncastrated to see how they mature and, if they grow into a desired bull, they are used for breeding. Otherwise, they are either sold for meat or castrated for oxen (much messier and more painful when they are older!)

In my last weekly visit to Caazapa’s internet café I wrapped up my business and clapped into the backroom to get the owner’s attention so I could pay and leave. Out comes a teenager who heard two syllables of my Spanish and muttered something to the effect of “Great, your Spanish is terrible” and proceeded to tally my fee. Unfortunately, she was impossible to understand thereafter and I couldn’t figure out what she’d calculated for a total. I asked her to repeat. She rolled her eyes and muttered something incoherent. I asked her to repeat again. She looked at me incredulously as if I was trying to cheat her out of an hour. While frustrating and slightly embarrassing, it was totally hilarious watching her responses. Inside I’m laughing, wondering what she’s really thinking vs what I think she’s thinking and really just wanting this ordeal to be over for both of us. She kept looking toward the back room as if to say, “Don’t make me bring my brother out here.” My internal thought train: Sweetie, I’ve met your brother, he’s totally tranquilo…and he understands me just fine. Finally, I just handed over what I thought she wanted plus a little more and put us both out of our misery. I’m learning to find the humor in these situations!

This must be prime fishing season. I see people fishing in rivers, in culverts, in ponds in the cow pasture. There is an eel-like fish here that’s common with these fishermen and I came home recently to find my host family cleaning some in a bucket outside. The conversation started from a distance as I approached from the futbol field with them telling me it was a snake and we’d be eating it for dinner. From a distance it looked exactly like a snake. I paused to decide how I felt about that. The girls, jokesters that they are, burst out laughing, finally telling me these were fish.

There is a type of ant here (tahyi ara ra’a) that, instead of biting, actually slices your skin open and does so in a flash. I discovered this first hand as I was preparing to move the worm bin to the school garden. The drought had dried it out more than I expected, perfect conditions for ants who don’t like moisture. When we lifted the cover the ants immediately spread like wildfire…they are fast! Avoid these if you ever come to PY. They hurt! Worm bins, or lombriculture, are an important part of our work here, helping to recycle nutrients and enrich the soil by making beautiful, rich compost. The worms are simple red worms. Back in the day I used to keep some in my house under the sink, sofa or in the closet in old dishpans. People thought I was loony but it was the perfect solution for food that would otherwise go in the trash and if you do it right, it never smells. The worms don’t bite, make any noise, need a babysitter or need to be walked and require only something to eat once a week and regular watering. Perfect.

Jajotopata!

Categories: Peace Corps Paraguay | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“There´s a frog in my toilet” and other tales from the tropics

Date: 1-9-13

“…we can’t leave ourselves out when we undertake to make the whole world happy. Because we are part of the whole world too!” – “How Yoga Works”, Geshe Michael Roach & Christie McNally

A chicken walks into a bedroom… No this is not an impending joke. Those of you who know me are relieved, I know. I can’t tell jokes. This is my actual life. As I’m editing the last bits of this post a chicken walks into my bedroom. (It is far too common in this country to have chickens or guinea hens wandering freely throughout the house when no one’s paying attention.) We try to shoo her out but instead of turning around and heading back out the door like a good little chicken, she freaks out and starts flying around my room like she’s lost a propeller. She lands on the back of my neck, my pillow, the sheets, the floor. We shoo her again and she does a repeat, crashing into the wall and seemingly blind to the big open doorway. You don’t know how dirty chicken feet are until they’ve been on your neck. Eeeew. Three of the girls were in my room reading with me and we were shrieking and laughing until Isabel came running in the house to see what the bluster was all about. When we explained she burst out laughing, devoid of all sympathy. I changed the sheets and showered… I mean bucket bathed. Promptly.

I was blessed to Skype with my daughter and parents for hours last week. It was wonderful to catch up on the news and just hear their voices. I look forward to skyping, their letters and catching up each week when I get ‘in town’ (though I don’t think the owners of the internet café love me so much on days I stay through siesta hour and they don’t get their nap.) While I love the campo, I find I really need a bit of ‘in town’ once a week. It’s also a good time to do errands, grab some great chipa and groceries, have a meeting with the other volunteers in our area, etc. Last week I got the latest letters from my Mom that included the family Christmas cards and newsletter. My Mom is great that way…always thinking of others. Every year my extended family writes a newsletter with stories recapping the year’s events for each family. There are about 70 people on this side of the family and it was an amazing year of great achievements as well as much suffering and angst. In the end, we all agreed our greatest gift was each other, having an incredible family on which to lean, celebrate and love. It never ceases to amaze me how little I know what goes on in my family until I read the newsletter at year’s end. What makes it worse is that most of us live next door to one another!

Speaking of family, my very sweet and thoughtful 18-year old nephew has been having dinner with my parents every Tuesday and on one of his recent visits he told my Mom he wanted to get me something for Christmas. Mom asked him what he had in mind. He pondered intently throughout the evening and finally decided on the perfect gift. “Deodorant!” he said proudly. “I think with all that heat she probably needs deodorant. I think she would be very happy with that, Gram.” I would be happy with anything from this gem of a kid…even deodorant.

I’ve begun drying mangoes to savor for the coming winter and to begin showing the señoras here how they can improve and extend nutrition through more parts of the year by drying food in-season. I discovered that the previous volunteer in this site had already built a solar dryer so I got to work peeling and slicing, chatting excitedly with my señora in the house about the possibilities and benefits of having real, dried fruit off-season. The one thing I forgot to account for was the weather. I got a ½ day of sun followed by 2 days of rain and clouds. Half my precious mangoes that didn’t dry the first day got moldy. It has been cool and rainy since Christmas. I haven’t seen weather like this since I first arrived in PY and while it’s a nice break from the heat, it isn’t helpful for drying fruit. “Util”, meaning ‘helpful’, is one of the vocabulary words the kids gave me recently and we use it jokingly ALL the time, usually in the negative such as “Oky (rain)- no util”, “Pelea (fight)- no util”. I’ve got that word down for sure. Speaking of rainy weather, I seriously thought we were in for a tornado the other night. The sky was an eery, mysterious caldron of black swirling clouds wreaking havoc with the light of the sunset in a way I’ve never seen. The family was outside watching curiously. I was watching for a funnel. There was no tornado- at least not in my village- but the sky opened up to dump its water on us all at once, while thunder crashed and lightning flashed non-stop for two hours.

With intermittent help from the Professor and a couple of his kids, we’ve started cleaning up the school garden. We want it ready for when the kids resume school at the end of February. Plus he has agreed to let me add onto it for my own garden. This is convenient now that I’ve decided to live at the school when I leave my host family in March. This new plan is for security reasons, though I really love that cute little thatched roof hut but it’s far off the road on the edge of the forest. The school has two buildings: the new school which is the one currently being used and the old school, in which only one room is used as a library. It is in the center of the village, near my host family and very visible, which is great for security, maybe not so great for privacy as time goes on, but it’s a trade off that seems to make sense. My village is pretty safe by Paraguayan standards but after arriving here I decided I felt more comfortable with this option.

In the afternoon, the free-ranging cattle converge on the futbol field/pasture out front waiting for their owners to herd them into the paddocks for the night. Sometimes they’re still there when the daily futbol game begins. Like the other day. The guys shooed the cattle off to the sidelines where the animals simply turned around and watched the game, all lined up like parents watching their kids. There is one boy who herds his cattle with a bicycle, some people use dogs, others walk or send the kids, still others use horses.

The other thing about rezos is that they are typically carried out for six to nine days in a row, always in late afternoon. Isabel’s family is holding the rezo series for the aunt that died last week. The first day the two of us walked to and from the rezo in the next pueblo, about 3 miles each way. On subsequent days she took the moto. I am not allowed to ride motos so I continued to walk. I’m hoping to buy a bike this week which will make events like this much easier. Anyway, each day after the ceremony, it is customary for the family to serve bits of food and drink (now you know why they often raise a large hog to help fund these events. The food alone can get expensive!) Often this is candy and chipa, a bagel-shaped bread of cornmeal and anise seed. On Day 1, I politely refused the drink, candy and a stick of what looked like either rolled meat jerky or chocolate profiteroles. On the walk home Isabel offered me one of the sticks; that’s when I discovered they were hand-rolled cigars! Glad I decided not to bite into one at the service!

Many families in the campo use fagones as their heat source for cooking. These are outdoor, wood-fired brick stoves for boiling or frying food. Some have built-in brick ovens. My family has a fagone as well as a methane gas burner, fueled by a biodigester. Basically, the Professor adds cow manure to a giant bag that lies in a trench in the ground. The manure decomposes, releasing methane which is then captured by hoses and fed to a small burner for cooking. No manure, no gas. But, if carefully managed, these can produce up to two hours’ of gas a day. It’s a great option for things that cook quickly and when you don’t want to start a fire in the fagone only to fry a single egg. Also, firewood is at a premium here because much of eastern PY has been deforested for agricultural use. While we have some trees, much of our ‘forest’ is brush and vines. Every scrap of burnable wood (or other material including plastic and cardboard) is carefully collected and stored like gold.

History of PY:
From 1864-1870 Paraguay waged the Triple Alliance war between Brazil, Uruguay, and Argentina, during which all but 5% of its population was decimated. It’s population has since recuperated to 6 million people, with a number of immigrants from Germany and Japan. From 1932-1935 Paraguay fought the Chaco War against Bolivia. They won but gave up part of their land. From 1954-1989 dictator Alfredo Stroessner ruled until democracy overturned the dictator with the election of General Andres Rodrigues in 1989. Paraguay continues to be a democracy though there are residents here who prefer the old ways of dictatorship because the country was more orderly and crime lower. Most Paraguayans (90%) are Catholic while only .6% practice indigenous religions. Many men work in Asuncion or Argentina to provide for their families. Divorce is only .3% but infidelity is rampant. Spanish and Guarani are the two official languages of Paraguay, despite dictator Stroessner trying to abolish Guarani throughout the country during his rule. Less than 50% of youth speak only guarani in their homes while about 28% of youth speak only guarani in urban areas. In rural areas, youth attend school an average of 6 years while in urban areas the average is 9 years. The cost to send a student to school is the equivalent of about $100 US dollars/year in urban areas and about $50 US dollars in rural areas. Uniforms are common but can be a deal-breaker for some families. It can be difficult for families to afford this education for their children so often children will alternate who will go to school (every other year or every other child). Other reasons for not attending school: kids feel they are ‘done’, there is no school nearby, and the biggest reason…they don’t want to go. Illiteracy rates among youth are relatively low: 3.6% with most of these being in rural areas. Dating days for youth are Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays with permission from the female’s parents. Unfortunately, 83% of youth have no medical insurance and even those with insurance may still struggle to afford bus fair, the doctor’s consultation fee, medications, and costs of check up visits. Many Paraguayans self-medicate using locally grown herbs or other remedies. Naturopathic healers are plentiful here, though not regulated. Youths spend as much as 4 months looking for work. (All data sourced from “La Juventud de Paraguay”, Elizabeth Covarrubias.)

Agriculture has been an important part of PY’s history for centuries, In the ‘old days’ it was customary for farmers to incorporate crops with trees, maintaining good diversity of plants and wildlife. In addition to having very acidic soils, adoption of modern monoculture practices (growing a single large crop) and deforestation are the major contributing factors to the current decline in soil fertility. The most common monoculture crops here are sesame, cotton, sugarcane, and soybeans. Sesame is sold almost exclusively to Japan. Deforestation continues but has slowed in recent years. Burning one’s fields to clear old debris, however, is still a popular practice and is one among many of my missions to help educate farmers otherwise.

Yet another tradition here is the Three Reyos Magos (Mejor, Gaspar, Valtasar) on January 6 where children place their shoes on the windowsill and Jesus leaves a gift in the shoes during the night. It’s similar to hanging stockings for Santa. Two of my family’s kids got a small plastic train that makes noise when you pull the string. The girls have been thrilled with this single, simple gift and ran excitedly throughout the house showing all of us the following morning.

This week´s headliner was a small tree frog peeking out from under the rim of the toilet as I entered the bathroom. If it hadn’t been for someone leaving the seat up as well as the newly implemented “clean shoe policy” I might not have noticed. I did pause long enough to get my camera and wonder what else might be living under there! Eeek. Tranquilo? Ummm, maybe not. The clean shoe policy, where you change into an awaiting pair of clean flip flops before entering the bathroom, came about because the shower drain clogged from all the soil collecting from from sandy shoes. Many bathrooms in PY consist of a toilet, sink, shower head and floor drain in a 4’x6’ (mas o menos) space. Unlike the U.S., showers here have no walls separating them from the rest of the bathroom so typically the entire room gets wet when a shower is taken. Understand that my house does not currently have a working shower but it is plumbed and awaiting completion of the running water project. In the meantime it is where bucket baths happen and people walk in with their flip flops from outdoors and the soil washes off down the shower drain. Fixing the plumbing and digging a 50’ trench in 100 degree heat was enough for the Professor to declare the ‘clean shoe policy’ henceforth. But I’m still checking the rim of the toilet every visit. Especially now that it´s snake season…

Yup. The day before publishing this post we found a snake in the front yard called Kyryry’o, coiled and ready to strike. Right under the clothesline. Some visiting family friends killed it but it definitely heightened my awareness, being the second one in a week. Like most snakes in this country, it was a venomous kind. (Gulp.) And especially that, coiled, it looks very much like a plop of cow manure, of which there is much here. This morning´s walk through the cattle prairie to the bus stop was not my usual stroll. It´s exhausting enough having always to be on alert for people with mal-intent, traffic, horned grumpy cattle and big spiders. Now snakes too. What worries me most is that I only know two varieties. Hard to find something when you don´t know what you´re looking for!

Random facts:
This week I was smitten with some beautiful white flowers on the roadside called Ysypo. Smelling different flowers in different stages brought some surprises: The freshest ones smelled like coconut, the older, spent ones smelled like coffee.

Did you know the leaves of a lime tree smell like lime if you tear them? Limes are everywhere here and used in a variety of dishes. Citrus trees here are thorny on the trunk and branches.

The budding beekeeper in me got my hands on my current read, “The Honey Trail”, by Grace Pundyk. Grace travels the world in search of the best honeys, learning more about bees and the history of beekeeping, and the inner workings and ties within the industry of which I was never aware; a bee education, history lesson and summary of the world’s political climate all in one.

Did you know Paraguayans serve red wine with ice? And sometimes soda like Sprite?

Did you know sorghum looks a lot like corn?

It is not common (at least in the campo but I’ve heard it’s true throughout PY) for Paraguayans to read books. Could be because many older residents in the campo are illiterate, books are not a ‘necessity’ when choices must be made between needs and wants of feeding nine kids, there isn’t enough down time to read books (though many adults find time to watch ‘soaps’ during siesta and in the evening, the most common being “Maid in Manhattan”, a daily soap filmed in Portuguese but dubbed over in Spanish), and it isn’t part of the culture. I’ve already read four books in the month I’ve been insite and Isabel commented on how much I read compared to the average Paraguayan, including herself. Downtime is social time, not reading time.

After our Swear-In Ceremony last month I was chatting with the Ambassador, a man in his 60s? and our guest of honor. He was asking about my ‘story’ and how I came to Peace Corps at this point in my life, the oldest member of my training group. After listening- really listening -he offered some great advice, inspiration and encouragement. He mentioned some close friends of his who rose to the peak of their careers in their 60s and 70s and left me with a squeeze of the shoulders saying he had a feeling I would do great things in my lifetime and that perhaps my best was yet to come. I think he’s right.

Gentle words are daisies.

Categories: Peace Corps Paraguay | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

How to eat a watermelon in Paraguay? Ask Wendía.

Be bold or Italic. Never regular.

Life is busy and every week it seems harder to find the time to write (sound familiar?) I thought I’d start today’s post by sharing logistics of what’s about to happen in the coming weeks. Not as entertaining perhaps but I know many of you have had these questions….

The first 10 weeks in-country are strictly training (language, culture, safety, technical skills, etc) and during this time trainees live with host families (more on my awesome host family to follow). Week Ten, in a mere 2 weeks and after passing all exams, is when we officially Swear-In as Peace Corps Volunteers: Friday, December 7. That following Monday we travel to our new communities where we’ll live the next two years and do the work we came to do. (Over the weekend, I plan to explore Asuncion with friends.) For the next 3 months I’ll again live with a host family but thereafter, I can live on my own or continue living with a family. I plan to live alone.

A community must request a Peace Corps Volunteer (the PC doesn’t just randomly send us to villages in the middle of nowhere) and identify a Contact as part of that process who will help me integrate, meet people, answer my questions, and find my way. This past week, I received my assignment and spent a few days in the community where I will live for the next 2 years. I’m soooooo excited!

It is a wonderful, tiny village of 35 homes (~150 people) in central southern Paraguay, a 5 hour bus ride to Asuncion, far enough into the campo that it’s quiet but close enough to a large town called Caazapa (17km or ~11 miles) that has everything I need. The ‘village’ has one school, a despensa, and a church. All other means of survival are agriculture. It is an hour’s walk to the bus on a quiet, dirt road. Road signs do not exist in the campo and every fork in the road looks the same to me. Roads range from all dirt to a grassy-dirt path that looks more like a cow trail. I don’t know how the locals find their way around! The road into our village ends at a river about 4km down the way so the village is superbly peaceful, enjoys minimal traffic, and is fairly safe by Paraguayan standards. My Contact and host family is Profesora Victor and his wife, Isabel. Victor is a well-respected community leader, the school principal and town pastor. They are a friendly and welcoming family, with 7 amazing and respectful children, 5 of whom live at home, ages 6-15 or so. They live in a 4-room house and several of the kids had to share beds during my stay so I had a bed of my own. Paraguayan families are incredibly generous, even when it appears they don’t have much to give. As the guest, I am given my own bed, seated at the head of the table, given the first and largest plate of food, the best cut of meat, not allowed to help clean up, given a chair when others must stand or sit on the ground if chairs are lacking, etc. It’s hard not to feel guilty. But I loved the family and they invited me to stay with them through March, which I agreed. And Victor was incredibly helpful and proactive in introducing me to members of the community, inviting me to committee meetings, classes at school (grades pre-school to 6), his church service, a rezo, etc. While there, I picked out my future house for March: an adorable little one-room, thatched-roof place about ¼ mile away from Victor and Isabel. It has 2 huge mango trees in the back (a major selling point for me), a guava tree, beautiful veggie garden, good fence to keep out the animals and needs a few repairs but should be up and running in short order. I just need PC approval to deem it safe (in terms of isolation, personal safety at night, etc) and agree on the terms with the landlord. Safety is a priority for Peace Corps (and me!)

My goal during the week was to meet as many people in my community as possible and begin to get a feel for the area. Since my community speaks primarily guarani, I also got to practice a lot (or at least practice the look of non-understanding, which they quickly learned to recognize). They do speak some Spanish but nearly all of the real sharing happens in guarani. I already have a nickname: Wendía… because Wendy is hard for them to say but Wendía sounds like Buen Día (good day) and is much easier. Plus we all think it’s hilarious. So now I’m Wendía. Overall, the week went well. The site has had a volunteer for the past 2 years so I am his follow up. We were able to spend quality time reviewing his projects, discussing the community, and having him introduce me to various community members. I am fortunate to follow such a strong and productive volunteer who made a positive reputation for himself and Peace Corps. A great tee-up to begin my service!

Back at ‘home’ my current host family is truly fantastic and has treated me so well these past few weeks. Recently host mom bought me a mortero (like a mortar and pestle) for crushing my own herbs for terere. She also knows I love the watermelon here (always perfectly ripe and sweet) and ensures I have a constant supply. I think I have eaten my weight in watermelon since arriving in PY and am the envy of my groupies, many of whom never see a veggie or fruit, as much of the food here is meat and bread. When they learned that one of the things I miss most from home is good, dark chocolate (without wheat) – I have not been able to find decent chocolate here at all – they bought some for me in Asuncion! ‘Sweet’ – haha! My host sister makes gluten-free cookies for me using mandioca flour and, a new favorite, Arroz con Leche (rice pudding). Oh yeah, and there is a plentiful supply of ice cream at the bakery onsite (I had kiwi ice cream last week). If I don’t gain 15 pounds before I move in December it’ll be a miracle.

In my time here, I’ve only met two Paraguayans who have heard of a wheat-free diet. Most others 1) don’t think or realize they eat wheat at all or 2) once they understand how pervasive wheat is in the diet, they cannot comprehend how I survive without it…”what does she eat if she can’t eat ‘trigo’?” they ask. Few people in my new community wanted to host me because they didn’t know how to feed me. Fortunately, Isabel was courageous and quickly realized I’m not really extra work and has been quick to share her positive experience with others, which I appreciated. Admittedly, I’m already tired of my diet being the primary topic of conversation everywhere I go (because clearly I must be a freak of nature if I can’t eat wheat) but the community IS very interested in learning more about nutrition and the ladies want to lose weight (but don’t know how) so perhaps this is a sign and a springboard for the work I’m meant to do with them.

The vast majority of health problems in this country are diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease, caused by the Paraguayan diet heavy in sweets, salt, and red meat. This week my host Mom told me that she was inspired by me, making the connection that perhaps my wheat-free and otherwise healthy diet is related to my small size, and once she realized I still eat a wide and interesting variety of foods, she was inspired to talk to her doctor about changing her own diet to help combat a series of health problems. Fortunately her doctor was very supportive and she is now eating wheat-free, sugar-free, less salt, minimal meat and feeling better already without feeling deprived! I feel honored to be her inspiration and, if I make no other impact while here, this one will be worth it. Also, my host sister and I have been walking in the evenings and she recently asked me to teach her some yoga. Yay! Many Paraguayans are overweight and make poor food choices, partly due to 1) unhealthy food often being less expensive for already-tight budgets, 2) availability of vegetables and fruits is very seasonal, 3) families, especially in the campo, don’t leave their communities much and therefore seldom travel to larger towns where fresh veggies and fruits are more available, and 4) roads are unpredictable and not always suitable for delivering delicate produce, often closing after a good rain. It is not uncommon to see families feeding soda to infants, as it is cheaper than formula. But I’m super psyched to begin this conversation with them, grow a better understanding of nutrition, and discuss options to help!

Two of my host nephews had their First Communion recently and to celebrate with them and their fellow students were over 250 people, standing-room-only, in the small church. While not Catholic, I went out of respect for my family and as a cultural experience, wondering what would transpire. I expected a solemn service but one look toward the altar assured me this would be an entertaining event. While the priest spoke, I noticed dogs wandering in and out of the church and a particular vertically-challenged Dachsund occupying the center aisle. As he trotted away from me toward the altar I almost burst out laughing watching his knock-knees and turned out feet paddling along as his belly bulged in one direction and his fanny swayed the other. He even got in line with his master for communion! The entertainment value of this dog was priceless for me. To the locals, it was just another day in church. Best Communion ever.

Thanksgiving is my all-time favorite holiday though this one was bittersweet. My group of trainees was invited to the Ambassador’s house in Asuncion for a traditional Thanksgiving meal (how cool is THAT?!), fun in the pool (oh wow- I got to SWIM! First time since September and it was heavenly. Heavenly! Luxurious, delicious, magical. I love the water but we’ll talk about that another time.) And while I very much loved spending the day at the Embassy I really missed my family more than anytime since arriving in PY. Fortunately, we got to call home and it was such a treat to talk with everyone. Overall great day of 102 degrees, good fun, good food, good company.

Now, time for my typical random facts and observations:

How does one eat a watermelon (sandia in Spanish) in Paraguay? Grab the whole family or as many friends as you have nearby, distribute spoons to everyone, cut melon in half lengthwise, politely fight for your piece as you scoop fruit with spoon. Eat with spoon or fingers and spit seeds to the chickens if desired. Repeat until satisfied or watermelon is devoured. It’s great fun. You are a freak if you cube it, otherwise cut it neatly, or eat with a fork (I speak from experience here).

As we head into summer, the television alerts begin for dengue fever, a sickness caused by a particular mosquito. Fortunately, it’s most prevalent in the city so it’s unlikely I will need to worry too much but I still have my mosquito net handy nevertheless. The first time one gets dengue it’s more akin to the flu but can be extremely serious and often deadly if contracted more than once. This has never happened to a PC volunteer in Paraguay. I mention it because hearing things like this is so different from what we have to consider in Maine (Nor’Easters, hurricanes, Lyme disease, but a dengue alert? Never)

I saw my first pink pineapple this week. Yup. Pink on the outside anyway. It was still growing so I don’t know about the inside but am totally curious. There are several people in my new village who grow pineapples and it might be fun to experiment with pink ones. Pink. Who knew?

While visiting my site this week, I also attended an agriculture extension day where workshops were given on sustainable farming methods with examples for dry beans/abono verdes/green manures and sugar cane plus an interesting discussion on soils and nutrition. It was another “scorchah” of 102 degrees and the nutrition talk was thankfully given under the shade of an ancient mango tree. Not only does this tree provide fantastic fruit, but it’s shade is so dense it lowers the ambient temperature 15-20 degrees. Tolerable on this day. It has already become my favorite place to be (except when an early mango falls rudely on your plate and nearly feeds your lunch to the scavenging chickens but it’s all good!)

One of the beauties of having a brick floor throughout your house is that they are easy to clean. Forget mops and brooms; you can simply hose it down. That’s right. I saw it firsthand with our housekeeper this week! Drag the hose from the barn into the house and spray away. It’s all about simplicity. I’m beginning to see the benefits of some of these practices though I also forget that these folks have cement walls, no basements and no mold issues.

The currency in Paraguay is called guaranies (gwa-rah-NEE-ace) and the coins come in 50, 100, and 500 gs or 1 mil (= 1000), plus bills of 2, 5 10, 20 50, and 100 mil. With the exchange rate at approximately 4.500, the bus ride from my house to the training center is 2.3 mil which is about 50 cents.

A Paraguayan teacher earns the equivalent of $500/month, which is considered pretty good income here.

Other than the national police, my fellow aspirantes and our medical staff, everyone here wears flip flops…..on motorcycles, plowing with oxen…no matter. Tranquilo.

During a recent trip to the closest ‘despensa’ (mini mart) I purchased some soap. On the tiny checkout counter, our cashier had just dished out his lunch of a soup-like meal with chunks of beef and some sopa paraguaya (cornbread). He left his meal on the counter while he waited on us. There are no cash registers here except the larger supermercados. Everyone uses calculators to determine your purchase total and even then you want to double check. There is no tax. This culture continues to impress me and impress UPON me how much we have to learn from them. Mi amigo and I were fortunate to have a despensa open, as most businesses on the street were closed for siesta (annoying when you want to shop but otherwise perhaps my favorite part of Latin America! haha) We passed a construction worker taking his siesta on a brick wall next to the sidewalk while his teammates forged ahead on his behalf. I totally love this.

When meeting a Paraguayan for the first time, it is customary for them to ask: how old you are, if you are married or have a ‘novio’ and if not, why?, how old your kids are, comment on your age when your children were born (young in my case which can sometimes be a personal sore spot and I have to filter my reactions carefully), how much money you make, how much a certain item of yours cost to purchase, comment on your weight (you are fat [gorda], you are skinny [flaco]), etc. … all the things considered politically incorrect/rude back home. This takes some getting used to!

One of the most popular sayings in PY is “en seguida” (ayn-se-GEE-da) which means: in a couple minutes, in a couple hours, in a week or two, next year, or never. If someone gives you an ‘en seguida’ don’t hold your breath! When will you get my next post? En seguida!

Until then, live out loud and make every moment count.

Categories: Peace Corps Paraguay | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Live and go ‘live’

Today I officially make my blog public and am excited to share my journey with you!  I arrived in Paraguay, South America on September 27, 2012 to begin my Peace Corps training, a dream 25 years in the making.

If you are just joining the adventure let me give you some context on how the Peace Corps process goes now that I’m incountry: My cohort is a group of 54 individuals, some destined for the agriculture sector (like me) and the rest will work in the environmental sector. Our first 10 weeks in Paraguay are strictly training, learning language (Spanish and guarani), culture, technical skills, health, safety, and more. Training 1) prepares us for life in the campo (countryside) where each of us will be assigned a community do the work we came to do, 2) gives us a chance to examine our reasons for joining Peace Corps and question and explore if this continues to be the right choice for each of us and 3) is also essentially a 10-week job interview. Throughout this time we are continually assessed and tested to ensure we meet minimum competencies that will support our success in the community. If we do not measure up or decide this isn’t really what we wanted afterall, we go home in December. Few people do this. Otherwise, in December we will be sworn in as Peace Corps Volunteers (PCVs) and be in our sites by mid-December where we’ll live and work for the next 2 years.

Recently, my host sister gave me a pile of magazines in which her Paraguayan recipes had been published; her gift to me for when I’m on my own in the campo. I knew she was a baker (the family owns a bakery here on the property) but apparently, she ‘s a regular contributor to Gastronomia.com, an ‘ABC Color’ magazine known throughout this country for its quality and reputation. This gift was really personal and meant a lot to me. Now I can make my own chipa (looks like a bagel but made of mandioca flour, cornmeal and anise) and other culinary delights!

Yesterday finally brought relief from the heat with cooler temps, periods of drizzle and a lovely breeze. It also brought my second round of rabies vaccinations, standard practice for all Peace Corps Volunteers in this country, and about 50 new Spanish words. My host family continues to comment that my comprehension is rapidly improving (well, it could only go up!) They are wonderfully supportive of my journey, my language training, and ensuring I have a great experience in Paraguay.

Last night I was treated to Skyping with several family members including my daughter. Hearing her voice was the most precious thing in the world and she was able to hear mine for the second time since my arrival. (My internet connection here is a bit too slow for my audio to work most of the time.) The hardest part of all this is being away from my wonderful family but we are all adjusting.

This morning, following a super yummy omelet with fresh tomatoes, beans, and Mom’s homemade cheese, my training group traveled scavenger-hunt-style to Ascuncion, the capitol, where we eventually met dozens of volunteers currently serving in various parts of the country. On a bend for good chocolate, my secondary mission was to stock up on premium dark chocolate as well as find a good sombrero, some dice, and maybe some extra clothes. While did find some chocolate in the supermercado, the choco-snob in me was underwhelmed and unsatisfied…it’s not the same as home but, alas, it must suffice. I also learned that the US Embassy has a  fabulous swimming pool and, once sworn in as Volunteers, we can use it while in Ascuncion. December can’t come fast enough!!!

Today’s National Geographic (NatGeo) moment:  this morning I watched a young boy (maybe 5 years old?) ‘riding’ a stick as if it were a horse, galloping across the red dirt and cobblestone road in his little bare feet, hair tousled, clothes askew, unconcerned of our oncoming vehicle and seemingly happy as could be. My heart skipped, my eyes smiled, and I was again reassured that I’m exactly where I’m meant to be.

Categories: Peace Corps Paraguay | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Paraguayan Texting, Daylight Savings, and Nescafe

Never did I think I’d have a class on how to send a text message (much less in Spanish!) but all that changed today. Peace Corps actually trains volunteers on Paraguayan texting norms! For example, ‘Adios’ is a2, ‘Todos’ is to2, ‘Que tal’ is Q tl?, ‘Fuerte’ is simply ‘furt’ (my favorite of all!). Pretty fun, actually. Except the part where class was taught 100% in Spanish. I didn’t realize Paraguay participated in a form of Daylight Savings but tonight we move our clocks ahead 1 hour. Instead of being in the same time zone, in a few weeks we’ll be 2 hours apart from the US when you move your clocks back. I’m looking forward to more daylight at day’s end! Many people associate Latin America with delicious coffee, complete with organic and fair trade options. In Paraguay, Nescafe is THE coffee of choice and readily available at every grocery despensa (I have fond memories of those coffee commercials from childhood!) You will be hard pressed to find a whole-bean gourmet coffee anywhere in this country except perhaps Ascuncion. Paraguayans like to keep things simple and prefer their terere or matte over coffee.I miss music. I knew I would. Once at my project site I hope to learn to play a Paraguayan musical instrument but last night I really needed a music fix and was especially longing for some tango tunes (while my house has many amenities, television is my family’s entertainment of choice and they do not listen to music). I brought no MP3 player as I planned to rely on Pandora. To my dismay, Pandora is not licensed in Paraguay. Major bummer. However, just in time for the weekend, the neighbor across the road is playing a danceable, throbbing Latin number that will fill the void. My curtains are drawn and I’m relying on the TV in the next room to drown out the sound of my flip flops sashaying across the brick floor.

Today’s temps were in the high and humid 90s but it felt more like 100+. A perfect day for siesta but it was not in the cards for me. Each day at training, lunchtime becomes this wonderful adventure of my fellow G-mates comparing our mystery meals (EVERYone’s host Mom prepares their lunch for them, including mine). Most of us are still learning the various typical Paraguayan dishes and we’ve made it customary to try a bite from everyone’s lunch around the table. The majority of dishes are primarily meat and starch so when a classmate brings something resembling a vegetable or fruit, the negotiations begin! My family bought watermelon for me this week (wow-so grateful!!) and I was the envy of every trainee onsite. Those who helped translate this morning’s texting class for me got extra slices! 🙂 I’m spoiled because a typical lunch for me includes a large portion of meat (or something resembling meatloaf soup), plus beans, boiled potatoes and carrots, a couple leaves of lettuce, and sopa (cornbread) or chipa (a bread made of tapioca or mandioca flour and anise). This is popular with me since I need a gluten-free diet and can’t have regular wheat-based foods. Now THAT is something Paraguayans really don’t understand (the gringa from norteamerica who doesn’t eat ‘harina’/’trigo’ quickly became the topic of conversation in the neighborhood)- it’s virtually unheard of here – but my family has been wonderfully accomodating. Breakfast is always a slice of quesa paraguaya (cheese) with peach jam, yogurt, fruit, and sometimes meat and chipa. Today I got ham and eggs upon request! This week my sister made delicious galletitas (cookies) with tapioca flour and chocolate chips just for me! Chocolate… aaah.

Usually we are chauffered to and from class by our Peace Corps bus. Tonight’s commute was my first venture on the public bus, affectionately referred to as the ‘micro’ or ‘colectivo’. It was packed with people, spooned in like sardines, bellies to backs, making the ’97 degrees’ soar to ‘soaking wet’. But the sunset along the way was spectacular; the kind when you can see the actual sphere of the sun, glowing on the horizon, shining it’s last furtive rays across harvested sugar cane fields, peeking between palm fronds and glimmering off the last copper strands of my youth amongst my graying hair. I love those sunsets and today’s brought the broadest, most natural, straight-from-the-heart smile to my face. I’m here. I’m doing this. I was pure happiness in that moment.

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