September 1, 2013
“It takes the power of an inner force to live life on your terms and not someone else’s.”
If you aren’t intrigued by today’s title, I don’t know how else to help you. This post was originally written back in March as I was moving into my new home and on blogging sabbatical so there’s a LOT you’ve missed but now I’m getting you up to speed. But first, I feel compelled to share a couple of highlights from this week.
In my last post I wrote of how cold it has been and this past week was equally frigid….so cold 4,000 cows died this week across the country (and you thought I was just being dramatic about the cold temps, right?)…. So cold (and wet from 4 days of rain) I hadn’t left my house or opened my front door in days, causing my neighbor to finally call and see if I was still alive, injured or moved back to the USA…so cold I finally had time to figure out this blogsite and actually put some cool stuff on it besides stories (so browse around when you have a few minutes)…so cold I’d taken up the habit of keeping my perishables on the counter instead of the fridge because, why not, it was the same temp either way.
As temps started to warm (we’re now back in the land of heat and sweat and I’m loving it) a friend asks if I can get a photo of the dueling male hummingbirds I see in the lime tree outside my window every day. I agreed to try but was doubtful I’d get a decent shot since they’re fast and always zipping in and out of the foliage. BUT, because the universe is always right on time, the VERY NEXT DAY those 2 dueling males delivered a stellar performance in the grass right outside my door that allowed me to get some pretty sweet photos:
Ok…now back to our program where you catch up on much of the exciting things that happened during my writing sabbatical. Envision us in March as I ask you: What do Bullfights, Granny Pants and Moving Day have in common?
They were all firsts. This pile of new firsts along my journey provided an exciting week and included other firsts like branding cows, making empanadas, teaching yoga in guarani and accepting a position as the school’s new physical education Professora.
First, let’s clarify the granny pants issue, lest you don’t read the entire post and start developing opinions of me. I was working in the school garden with my host family’s six year old, Ingrid. When I’m working in the field, garden or anywhere that I’m sure to get dirty, I dress appropriately in pants brought for the purpose. Function overrules fashion. (You’ve seen my photos…’nuf said.) While it’s not my best look, it’s not bad, or so I thought. On this particular day, we were hoeing weeds when Ingrid asked if I was wearing my grandmother’s pants! Caught between comic relief and horror at being called out as a granny dresser (back home I’m a true clothes horse) I asked “Why… do they make me look old?” Without pause she assertively replied, “Yes. And on your next birthday you’re going to have 91 candles, right?” Huh? Is it possible for a six year old to have mastered sardonic humor? I reminded her that I’m the same age as her mother. Maybe the lack of mirrors here in PY, which I came to find quite liberating, has taken a bigger toll than I realized. The long shadows in the dirt road have been lying all these weeks…
A couple gents from the community were harvesting honey from a wild hive when their smoker caught the nearby plants on fire, a fire which consumed a great deal of my family’s kokue down the road, including their corn and mandioca. Months of food was destroyed without apology. My family was devastated. Fortunately, they have another sizable plot near the house but this covers only a portion of their annual needs. (Fast forward to September 1 and see malnourished cows and the thinnest pigs ever, for lack of this resource that went up in flames. The cows can barely feed their newborns, much less provide extra for the family’s needs of milk and cheese. Their hunger makes them more irritable and aggressive, resulting in injuries and infections among the herd. I am working with families currently to plant a more diverse and well-rounded feed supply for their animals that includes protein, which they are not getting in appreciable amounts.) It’s not uncommon for locals to raids others’ gardens or fields or steal animals. Over the summer families resorted to using the river for all their water needs when everyone’s wells went dry (and before the running water project was completed). This included driving cattle down there for water, as all the reservoirs had disappeared. After farmers left their cattle to roam free for the day, several cows were shot and butchered on the shores or led across the river by thieves from a neighboring community. People were desperate on both sides of the equation.
I have discovered how precious supplies are here. In an effort to 1) be gentle to the environment in a country with no trash management system, 2) live within my means and 3) use my creative abilities I find myself hoarding packaging like soda and yogurt bottles to keep seeds, yogurt cups and cut-off wine bottles that make great drinking glasses, plastic pouches from dry beans and rice that make great containers for starting seeds, etc. I recently started a page on this blog called Create It which is designed to share instructions for cool projects, including those made from upcycled materials. If you have a great idea to share, please send me a note and I’ll look it over!
After being delayed two weeks due a Dengue fever epidemic, the first day of school (school calendar usually goes from late February to November) was met with much excitement by the kids in the community. However, the two oldest girls in my family were made to stay home to prepare food for an all-day meeting held to celebrate completion of the running water project. They were disappointed to say the least but this is very typical in PY. Education is too frequently sacrificed when kids are needed to care for family members, help with household chores, etc. I asked the Professor if all the kids in our community attend school and he replied “All but three.” Two are mentally challenged, including a 16 year old young man with Down’s Syndrome who incidentally has a big crush on me, blushing like a June bride and shyly hanging his head anytime I so much as look in his direction. It’s adorable. The third is a girl with crossed eyes who is likely capable of being successful in school, despite her vision, but her mother doesn’t want her to attend school. (Winter break is usually a 2-week vacation in July when it’s super cold but this year that turned into a 6 week vacation due to an accompanying teacher strike. The kids will have to attend classes longer into November to make up the time.)
In March, I attended my first bullfight. This much-anticipated event was the talk of the town and all surrounding pueblos for the weekend. Here’s how awesome my host family is: because the bullfight was after dark and it’s not safe to be outside alone at night, and the only way for me to get there is to walk or ride my bike because riding a moto is against Peace Corps policy (the #1 killer in PY), my family walked the 6-mile-2-hour round trip with me in the dark, arriving home at 2:30am. Had they used the moto like they normally would, they could have made the roundtrip journey in 10 minutes. Wow. And the walk provided a breathtaking view of the Milky Way that I couldn’t takes my eyes off plus a raging prairie fire that lit a line of scarlet, beautiful across the black-of-night prairie and inky sky. It reminded me of a burning oil slick on the ocean. The contrast of red on black was striking. Anyway, three matadors were dressed in tight pants and sequined jackets, looking sharp and playing the crowd, including acrobatics over the bulls’ heads and backs. Despite the fanfare and at-times-wild action with the bulls, my favorite part of the night was when the DJ-clown invited some 10 year old-ish boys from the standing-room-only crowd into the ring. After some intros and joking, he got down on all fours and proceeded to give each kid a ‘horsey-ride’, complete with bucking and rearing, his intent to dislodge his rider. His antics and 100% success rate were wildly hilarious. The shadow side of the bullfight which spoiled the night for me was watching how tired and petrified the animals became after a few minutes of bullfighting. Once the animals became exhausted and less aggressive they were chased, prodded and jumped on to encourage them to get feisty again. I would have been terrified too. Other highlights of the night: the make-shift bleachers were cause for close inspection before I dared get on them and even then I considered standing. Simple 2”x5” vertical supports with planks laid across the top like staging, and the ends lashed with nylon rope. And in fact, the front row DID collapse toward the end of the night and two weeks later an entire section collapsed, injuring many.
I’ve continued teaching yoga to my host family’s kids and after a particularly fun session where I’d been furiously practicing some new yoga-appropriate guarani vocabulary, the Professor asked if I’d like to be the Professora for Physical Education at the school. With a mix of excitement and intrepidation, I accepted, knowing it would force a whole new set of vocabulary. This was supposed to entail me teaching two classes on Thursdays starting in April. However, as of August, I’ve only taught class once, due either to weather (we were approaching winter), canceled classes for community celebrations, or necessary travel on my part. Hopefully, we’ll get back at it when the weather warms. However, the older kids did start inviting me to afternoon recess to join their volei ball game.
The families in my community have relied on hand-dug wells for their water supply since the community was first settled somewhere between 1840-1860. In early March, they finished installation of the running water project which provides unlimited running water to every home. Each family received a tiny outbuilding containing a toilet and shower with a multi-purpose sink on the exterior. The bathroom alone was a major upgrade for most families. Running water was a dream come true!
I was excited too because exactly a week later I moved into my own home, a classroom in an old school building. I affectionately call it my ‘schoolhouse’. I feel a bit spoiled that my community installed an Indoor bathroom for me and I paid extra to have a HOT shower, you bet. I’m honored that they really care about my safety, so I wouldn’t have to go outside at night. It is unheard of for a single woman to live alone here. People are always asking me “Aren’t you afraid living alone?” Nope. No way. I might sleep with my machete next to my bed just in case but I’m beyond content in my own space.
I think that’s enough for now. I’m sure this coming week will be no less exciting! Have a fantastic week!