Posts Tagged With: gratitude

Follow Your Heart

Four years ago today I landed in Paraguay to start the adventure of a lifetime. It had been a long and arduous application process and a multi-decade wait for just the right time.

I had almost given up on the idea but when I am moved by a dream as passionately as this, I knew I would – and must- move mountains to make it happen. My heart knew I belonged on this journey; my soul knew that I needed the lessons it would – and did- deliver; my spirit craved the way this journey would smash my known existence into a million pieces that would never be put back together the same way again; my humanity was hungry to offer knowledge and skills in service to others; my being wanted culture, challenge, adventure, new ways of seeing people and the world.

When I returned home two years ago, people asked, “How was it?” Ummmm. How do you describe two of the most moving, challenging, rewarding, developmentally important years of your life? “Transformative” most accurately captures it. The frustrations, the joys, learning about others, but most of all learning about myself. This journey held up the mirror in ways I could never have anticipated and I’m so grateful for the experience, the friendships, the learnings that expanded my world, constructed a whole new view of life, and carved a new me – my life and I will never be the same. ❤️

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You See What You Pay Attention To

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

October 27, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Entertainment In Every Step

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

October 27, 2014

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

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

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Joy In Every Moment

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

October 18, 2014

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

Yeah, that happened today.

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

Burrowing owl

Burrowing owl atop a termite mound- a highlight from today

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

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Appreciation Day

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

October 2, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The First Goodbye

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

October 1, 2014

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Photos by Luis Ramon and Pedro Gomez Silgueira

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Nature’s Orgasm

“What did I do today to feed my spirit or move me ahead on my…journey?” – Penny Yunuba

August 24, 2014

I often feed my spirit with an evening walk toward the far end of town to watch the sun go down behind the prairie, for Paraguayan sunsets are consistently spectacular night after night. Last night as I started for my walk something told me to turn back and bring my camera. Glad I did:

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These evening walks are a beautiful and calming way to end the day and never fail to impress me. Come share tonight’s walk with me…

As we edge from late winter into nearly spring, nature provides a veritable orgasm of scents, sights, and sounds spilling forth in preparation for a future bounty. Every step, every inbreath is a new cocktail that tantalizes my nostrils, rests on my skin, and makes me feel alive, brimming with gratitude.

Imagine walking into a room heavy with nature’s fragrance and visual artistry. Bombarding and awakening my senses: splashes of red and yellow roadside flowers that catch the eye before it’s drawn further to the lilac-colored petals of the lapacho (tajy) trees on the forest’s edge; wafting on the breeze is a constantly changing flourish of perfumes from flowers of limes, oranges, mangos, guavas, jasmine and more. My curiosity is bursting to know every plant making its invisible way to my brain, seducing my senses, halting me in my tracks so I can fill my lungs to overflowing with the sweetness, so I yearn impossibly that this wrinkle in time should never end. I want to bottle this perfect moment, these scents, the paradisiacal temperature, the buttery soft breeze and carry them with me forever. However, after this instant I cannot possibly remember this intoxicating, exotic bouquet that is floral, balmy, sweet, spicy, and tangy all in one. This present moment is all I have and it is demanding, and receiving, every ounce of my attention.

 

My walk is meditative, each step mindful and purposeful. I imagine my feet kissing the earth, feeling the give beneath my sandals of soft, beach-like sand in places followed in others by the hardness of parched soil packed by hooves and tires. Around the corner I’m surprised as I step into a pocket of warmer air, which feels like crossing into a different dimension for two meters complete with its own dose of more swirling, heady loveliness.

The night is almost warm enough to sweat simply standing still. Humid, balmy, close, exquisite.

On my return, where light lingers just enough to play tricks on my vision, I witness two kyryrys (toads) singing to each other in the road. One hops away as I approach and stroll past. It seems with each passing moment the symphony of sounds grows– screeches from long-tailed parrots that raid the farmer’s corn, a kingdom of frogs and toads serenading one another, a cacophony of insects’ shrill hissing and whirring, buzzing bees finishing their work in the guava blossoms and returning home to the hive for the night.

Thank you, Mother Nature, for feeding my spirit tonight. I am full of delight and contentment.

Categories: Peace Corps Paraguay | Tags: , , , | 5 Comments

National Friendship Day

“The art of being happy lies in the power of extracting happiness from common things.” – Henry Ward Beecher

July 31, 2014

Yesterday in Paraguay was National Friendship Day.

I think this is one of my new favorite holidays.

Hearing and saying “thank you for your friendship” was a pretty sweet way to spend the day.

No wonder Paraguayans are some of the happiest people on the planet!

Gratitude

Gratitude

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A Magical Birthday

“We make plans, and sometimes Life laughs at our plans and blows them apart like leaves. When this happens, if we keep ourselves open to the possibilities that the changes bring instead of being attached to what didn’t happen, we discover that these unexpected Life mishaps can be full of amazing gifts.” – Lloyd Alton Hall

July 30, 2014

 

I celebrated a birthday over the weekend. I’d had plans for a fellow volunteer to visit my community for the occasion. At the last minute she got food poisoning and we postponed for another time. I decided to use the change in plans to treat myself to a couple days in the capitol. And, for something that started as a spontaneous change of plans, last weekend will go down as one of the best, most memorable birthdays of my life. Kindness, love and spontaneity in abundance.

 

The birthday greetings began in early morning from my community, family, friends, and volunteers. While enduring the early 6-hour bus ride to the city, all of my favorite señoras called me to wish me a wonderful day. Getting a call says a lot. Calls are expensive for the locals here and reserved for the most important of life’s details or emergencies.

 

A priority for the weekend was to visit one of my best loves in PY as he prepares to complete his service and return to the US. I was so grateful to hug him one last time and wish him well as he transitions into the next phase of his beautiful life. Peace Corps volunteers are amazing people. Our bond has moved me deeply and I will forever feel a timeless friendship with this extraordinary, talented angel. Paraguay, and the volunteers fortunate enough to know him, are forever richer because of his service and presence here.

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Saturday, an ever-thoughtful Paraguayan friend surprised me with tickets to a tango orchestra visiting from Buenos Aires (if you are a new reader, you’ll learn I’m addicted to Argentine tango, one of my utmost burning passions from the U.S., and I was ecstatic to find it in the capitol city recently, offering a little fun while I’m in town on business). I had given up hope of seeing this concert so this was a splendid, spontaneous turn of events! The orchestra was amazing and we got a chance to dance tango to the live music! The orchestra was followed by some fabulous Latin tunes that brought the hundreds of guests to the dance floor. Between Latin and tango, I danced and conversed the night away with many dear Paraguayan friends.

 

 

Sunday, I was whisked away to a surprise birthday lunch with 18 immediate members of my host family (from training in 2012) who decorated their home, sang “Happy Birthday” 3 times in 3 languages, and made all my favorite foods and desserts. My host sister is an amazing chef, having several of her recipes published in magazines throughout Paraguay, and she sent me home with two of my favorite recipes (Crema and Vori Vori which you can find on my blog page “In the Kitchen” here along with many other traditional Paraguayan and volunteer-created recipes to try in your own kitchen.) Plus, the internet stars aligned so I could skype with my kids from home! Life was getting more joyful by the hour; I never stopped smiling all weekend.

Upon returning to my community, when I thought the birthday hubbub was done, one of my favorite families invited me to a celebratory birthday lunch. Paraguayans usually reserve pigs for special occasions; I was honored to discover they killed and BBQd a precious pig and made traditional sopa bread for me!! And let me tell you, it was the most delectable pork I’ve ever eaten. After lunch the señora wrote down two of her favorite recipes to send home with me (significant since all of their recipes are in their heads, passed down from mother to daughter by hands-on-learning, not in a cookbook). Click here for the recipe page and look for chipa guazu and sopa!

 

Sopa Paraguaya

Sopa Paraguaya

Not to leave out my community, I am hosting a birthday fiesta’i (little party) at my house this Sunday for my neighbors to celebrate with me and try a buffet of North American food I am making for them – a great cultural exchange! In PY it is the responsibility of the birthday gal/guy to provide food, serve and clean up; guests just come and enjoy. Señoras offered to loan me larger pans so I can feed EVERYONE (everyone? what? the whole community? the fact that I have one tiny burner and small oven is no deterrent for them; I’ll need to start cooking tomorrow!) They are excited, and a little scared, about the food bit. Paraguayans are not super adventurous in trying new foods but so far the women have loved all the new foods we’ve made in the women’s club so I think I’ve got a little street cred now. And they made me promise to play music and dance all afternoon with them. One of the husbands requested a tango lesson. I told him he needed permission from his wife first. Haha. That should be a crowd pleaser! All around, it should be super fun!

 

If ever I needed reminders of the beautiful people in my life who are always there for me, here and stateside; the incredible generosity of Paraguayans who went out of their way to show their love and ensure my time in Paraguay is special and unforgettable; gratitude for the bounty of blessings in my life…this weekend was a shining example. I trust Life will blow apart my plans many more times and bring an alternative invitation. It’s my job to stay open to it. I tried it. It worked out beautifully. My heart is full and overflowing.

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Best of Today

Better to have a life filled with “oh wells” than one filled with “what ifs.”

June 21, 2014

 

Best of today: not this morning’s 5-gallon pail of newly harvested seeds, not the shower I spent 4 days longing for, not the passion-fruit-flour pancakes I created and smothered in honey from my own bees…

 

It was when the 7-year old next door came to visit, just because, and laughed out loud at my pronunciation of a particular Spanish word, forcing me to say it 5 times before nodding her approval, all the while helping me shell my new seed pods without being asked.

 

This was a humorous reminder of our last interaction over the weekend when I had to buy some TP at the despensa, which came with a line of questioning and a forced admission that, yes, I had a serious case of the chivivi. She tried SO HARD to stifle a smirk and offer a polite, serious, faux-sympathetic face, but I could see her eyes just glimmering with all those suppressed giggles. I’m quite sure as soon as I left she updated the whole family on my condition and by the next day the entire community would know of my ‘situation.’ “Oh well,” I thought. “What’s a little diarrhea between friends?” But 6:30 the next morning one of my favorite señoras called to say she was worried about me, made sure I had medicine, and told me that she loved me. That was better than any medicine. It was the hug I needed. Even with GI upset, my life in PY is pretty darn awesome.

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