Posts Tagged With: tango

20 Pair of Shoes

November 8, 2014

Say Yes to life and transform all your “I’d like to’s” into “I will.”

This is a different type of blog post and I’m really pulling back the curtain for you here. Hang on. 😉

Ok. So that quote? Yeah, I tried that with my best friend (also a PCV) when she asked about my plans after service. I spun it from something like “I’d like to buy new tango shoes” to “I will buy new tango shoes”. (If you’re new to my blog, you must understand I have an addiction to dancing Argentine tango. But that’s another story.) This is the conversation that ensued…

 

Me: “I need to go to Buenos Aires (BA) one more time. I need shoes.”

PCV Friend: “You do NOT need shoes. How many pair do you have?”

Me: (Counting on fingers) “Um …. 20.”

Friend: “Wendy!!!…20???!!!!! WHAT?? HERE?! You’re a PCV not a fasionista!”

Me: “Well that counts a bunch of flip flops and shoes I no longer use, AND my tango shoes. But I’m only buying tango shoes in BA. I can’t go to BA and not buy tango shoes.”

Friend: “How many pair of tango shoes do you have here in Paraguay?”

Me: “Only four.”

Friend: “FOUR????!!!! How many tango shoes do you own in total?” (Clearly this woman doesn’t dance nor understand the tango life.)

Me: “Eight. Between here and the U.S. but that’s nothing. You should see….”

Friend: (Interrupts as she counts on fingers…) “Wendy, I have FOUR pair of shoes here.”

Me: “But when our service is done I need to dance one more time before going home and might as well get new shoes while I’m in BA where they are more affordable than the U.S. and the selection…is to die for! I’ll use them all.”

Friend: “You are still having your yard sale, right?”

Me: “Yes, this weekend.”

Friend: “How many shoes are going in the yard sale?”

Me: (Counting visible pairs on the floor, kept out of yard sale pile) “Well, it looks like I have 5 pair on the floor here now which means they aren’t being sold + my 4 pair of tango shoes so that’s 9 pair I’m keeping. That means more than half are going to the yard sale! You should be proud of me!”

Friend: “Well, I guess that’s something. And you ARE going to get rid of those orange flip flops, right??? You are NOT bringing them home.”

Me: (says jokingly) “But remember last Thanksgiving when I wore them with the turkey hat? Ah the memories.”

Thanksgiving 2013 and the infamous orange flip flops

Thanksgiving 2013 and the infamous orange flip flops

Friend: (rolls eyes) “Wendy, they are too big for you and they are NOT your color.”

Me: “I know. Don’t worry, they’ll go in the yard sale. My cousin gave them to me during her visit and I love them for traveling because they are light and don’t absorb water like my other flip flops. They’ve been good to me.”

Friend: “Wendy, this is why you have a shoe problem…”

My shoes in PY, minus a pair of boots and 3 pair of tango shoes. Several will stay in PY and a few will make it home with me.

My shoes in PY, minus a pair of boots and 3 pair of tango shoes. Several will stay in PY and a few will make it home with me.

Late edit: The orange flip flops were not a hot item at the yard sale either BUT the new volunteer following up in my community came to visit last week and SHE loved them and took them off my hands! I love happy endings.

PS- all yard sale proceeds were donated to the local elementary school. Local staff and parents were excited and grateful.

Categories: Peace Corps Paraguay | Tags: | 2 Comments

25 Ways Tango Mirrors Life

I’ve done a lot of dancing lately and can’t help but reflect on the myriad ways the lessons learned from tango apply off the dance floor too. Here are “25 Things Tango Taught Me About Life”:

  1. To get the most out of it, you must throw your heart into it.
  2. One can never have too many shoes.
  3. A tango danced with passion is always better than one where you’re just going through the motions.
  4. There are some folks we love to dance with and others we wish to avoid. There are usually good reasons for this. Don’t apologize for your choices.
  5. Be patient and kind with beginners. You were one once too.
  6. Your dance is more interesting when decorated and adorned.
  7. Work to be the best partner you can be. Seek to understand both perspectives.
  8. Maintain balance and make every step count.
  9. Be bold, humble, generous, kind, creative. Don’t hide your voice.
  10. When you to screw up, pretend you MEANT to do that, have a laugh, and don’t let it slow you down.
  11. With your partner, create a dance that works for both of you.
  12. Listen to the music. Let it guide your steps. Trust your heart and soul to lead you vibrantly in the right direction at the right time.
  13. It’s ok to say no. Don’t let anyone push you around.
  14. As you feel moved, go with it.
  15. When everyone on the dance floor is kind, respectful, and plays by the rules, we all have a better time.
  16. At times the music urges us to be slow or playful, other times it demands all our energy or passion. Life sprinkles our days with the same spectrum. We ebb and flow accordingly.
  17. Sometimes you’re the kicker, sometimes you’re the kickee. Put a band-aid on it and get back out there.
  18. To dance out of sync with the music is uncomfortable and awkward. To live out of sync with your soul is like swimming against the tide. Sync up and enjoy the ride, baby.
  19. Learning tango requires patience and practice. The best things in Life are those for which we work hardest. Both are worth the wait and effort.
  20. Don’t stop in the middle of the dance floor. You’ll get run over. If you need a breather, step aside, find a friend, and let others pass.
  21. Everyone’s dance style is unique to them. Be the best version of YOU and do it with gusto!
  22. Sometimes it makes a lot of sense to pause before taking the next step.
  23. Hold your partner like you mean it.
  24. Dance like no one is watching.
  25. Don’t hold back. Give your dance and your Life everything you’ve got!

Dancers – what would YOU add to this list?

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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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Abundance

February 10, 2014

“What the mind expects, it finds.” – Madisyn Taylor

It has been a while since my last post and I was a bit overwhelmed at the thought of how best to bring you up to speed…so much has happened since November! However, I’ve decided to start with this little ditty I wrote this morning that pretty much sums up how I’m doing these days:

“Greeting the day with gratitude and a celebration of my many blessings: connecting with family from home; these Paraguayan summer days that are so hot I can create a sweaty Bikram yoga workout by simply tossing my mat onto my patio; formation of a women’s club with lots of laughter, ladies brave enough to try zucchini cake and who want to dance, and a new bellydance student as a result (gulp!); formation of a kids’ club where every child is begging to practice yoga and learn English at each meeting; deep conversations in Spanish with my English student on the history of the Roman Empire, his law school thesis research on sexual abuse of children (and the nasty cycle of its manifestation into adulthood) in a nearby pueblo, and a reminder that there are no coincidences; gratitude that I’m up to 10 mile training runs these days and feel ready for next month’s race; the joy of picking guavas and limes from my own yard; neighbors who miss me when it’s been too long between visits; practicing patience and forgiveness with myself; foreign languages that become a little less foreign each week; the meditative quality of doing laundry by hand; recognizing a “tribe mate” when you meet them; and friends you can call at midnight just because. My cup is overflowing.”

Life is good.

The school year ended in late November with a flurry of activity, including the 6th graders’ graduation or “despedida”. I was so honored to be invited and participate in one of the traditional Paraguayan dance performances that accompanies this important day and the community got a kick out of it too.

6th graders dancing at their despedida , or graduation

6th graders dancing at their despedida , or graduation. Yes, there are 4 kids in the graduating class. haha!

Shortly thereafter, I went on a much-needed vacation in December. A fabulous week dancing some delicious tango in Buenos Aires, Argentina, meeting dancers from the world over, and connecting with friends from BA and home. Then I met up with two fellow Peace Corps Volunteers for a week in Punta del Diablo, Uruguay. We celebrated Christmas Eve with dinner at our hostel on the beach, stargazing, and listening to the surf in the darkness, practiced yoga on the beach and swam with jellyfish, took our first surf lessons (I’ve found a new hobby!) and went horseback riding with a nice long gallop down a secluded section of beach at sunset. This tiny town was a little sleepy in those last few days before the busy season began and provided a beach-bum, tranquilo atmosphere with amazing ocean views perfect for relaxing and having fun.

A farewell asado (BBQ) on the hostel roof with my new tango friends in Buenos Aires

A farewell asado (BBQ) on the hostel roof with my new tango friends in Buenos Aires

Uruguay

Horseback riding at sunset on the beaches of Uruguay, Christmas Day 2013

Christmas Eve dinner oceanside, Uruguay, 2013

Christmas Eve dinner oceanside, Uruguay, 2013

surfing

First ever surf lesson with my bestie and our Belgian surf instructor

Upon arriving back in Paraguay I welcomed a friend and his daughter, Emily, for their visit from the states to work on her senior project in photography and Latin American studies. They arrived in my community on New Year’s Eve, normally a festive holiday, but this year the neighbor’s 33 year old daughter died Christmas week from dengue fever, leaving behind a husband and one-year old son, much to the devastation of everyone. I don’t know if it could be any more awkward for my friends than arriving and going directly to a final rezo (which is like a funeral) in which half the town attended and was grieving. But it was certainly a unique cultural experience. On a more positive note, they learned to throw a lasso, did some beekeeping, made cheese with a local señora, had some serious hammock time perfect for reading and siestas on these hot (I mean HOT) summer days, harvested a crop of sunflower seeds, visited families and learned to make chipa guazu, attended a “quince año” (girl’s 15th birthday), helped me kick off a new women’s group, make a solar food dryer, got lots of great photos and wrapped it up with a trip to a gorgeous local waterfall, Salto Cristal.

Emily photographing a local senora. Check out her work at  http://www.emilyrosenblattphotos.com/.

Emily photographing a local senora. Check out her work at http://www.emilyrosenblattphotos.com/.

Salto Cristal on a rare day of R&R

Salto Cristal on a rare day of R&R. This waterfall was about 100 meters tall and so gorgeous!

At this time I also learned that my grant proposal was approved to build solar food dryers for my community! The next step was to build a ‘practice’ model with everyone that would receive one in the coming weeks. Once finished, I will work individually with each family to build their own. This is a project they are very excited about! The ability to dry fruits, vegetables, meats, herbs, etc in the sun and preserve them without need for refrigeration will improve the nutrition of the families year-round. Yay! Stay tuned.

Solar food dryer. Dries fruit, veggies, meat, and herbs in 1-3 days. This sample is 1 meter x 1 meter.

Solar food dryer. Dries fruit, veggies, meat, and herbs in 1-3 days. This sample is 1 meter x 1 meter.

So I mentioned that we started a women’s group which we call “Club de Mujeres” (actually they prefer my nickname for them, “Club de Brujas”, because they are naughty and mischievous!) I led the first meeting with an ice breaker called “Pass the Mandioca” in which a phallic-shaped root of mandioca is placed between one’s thighs and passed from woman to woman around a circle without aid of the hands. I had used this successfully in other communities and these ladies were no exception. The photo shows just how hard they were laughing. They insisted on doing it again before we adjourned and again at our second and third meetings, using the excuse that since we had doubled our attendance the new women surely needed to try it. Women have hard lives here in PY, responsible for all things domestic including child rearing (in the campo most moms stay at home with the kids), cooking, cleaning, laundry, growing the family’s vegetables and fruits, caring for animals and slaughtering small animals like chickens, ducks or young pigs, and more. This Club is intended to bring some fun into their lives, give them a space to come together, chat amongst themselves, learn new information and skills, etc. So far we’ve talked about raising composting worms, building a solar food dryer, had a class on nutrition given by a local nurse, made a zucchini cake which is a healthier version than the cake they typically make, made dish detergent and fabric softener, done an intro class for yoga and bellydancing, and talked culture (they were shocked to think there are homeless people in the U.S. since most Paraguayans, especially in the countryside, think every US citizen – including a PCV – is rich, lives in a giant home and drives a fancy car, etc because that’s what they see in movies and tv). The Club is a hit and provides my señoras something to look forward to that isn’t work related. So far, so good!

"Club de Mujeres" or "Club de Brujas" as they prefer to call it. Women's Club. All fun.

“Club de Mujeres” or “Club de Brujas” as they prefer to call it. Women’s Club. All fun.

Club de mujeres pass the mandio 001

My señoras playing “Pass the Mandioca” with a large, phallic-shaped root of mandioca. The laughter was riotous and contagious. And they want to play this game. Every. Meeting. haha

Last month my mom sent a box of coloring books, crayons, and colored pencils and when neighborhood kids found out, they started showing up on my doorstep every day wanting to color. Even the high schoolers were completely absorbed, which surprised me. This apparently is a privileged activity and ultimately led to the formation of a Kids’ Club or “Club de Los Niños”, which has been great fun while the kids are enjoying their summer vacation. We meet once a week and after our first meeting where I introduced them to yoga, they always insist on starting the ‘meeting’ with it. I’m really shocked how much they LOVE yoga, even the high school boys, and they have fun but also take it seriously. This group of kids makes me really look forward to planning activities for them, teaching them new skills, and always learning at least as much as I teach (especially language!) Speaking of language, one of their goals from our brainstorming session at the first meeting (called “rain of ideas” in Spanish) was to incorporate English class into the Kids Club. Ultimately, we formed a separate class just to study English, which has been met with much enthusiasm (and where our breaks also include a quick yoga interlude just to mix things up and let them move their bodies). In fact, I’ve recently been giving private English lessons to a very motivated and intelligent law student with whom I have the rare opportunity for deep conversations about topics like the history of the Roman Empire, quantum physics, studies of childhood sexual abuse in PY, and Einstein’s Theory of Relativity (I’m not kidding). He recently asked to help teach the kids’ English class in an effort to get more English practice. Perfect!

Two sisters learning Warrior Pose.

Two sisters learning Warrior Pose.

First meeting of Club de Los Ninos. It was fascinating to watch how these kids, young and teens alike, were captivated by the simple, old-timey act of coloring with crayons!

First meeting of Club de Los Ninos. It was fascinating to watch how these kids, young and teens alike, were captivated by the simple, old-timey act of coloring with crayons!

In my spare time, I’m trying my hand at guitar (not going so great) and training for a half-marathon next month with three dear friends and fellow PCVs (going quite well). I actually I hate running but it allows me to eat what I want and gives me the strong, capable body that I desire. However, summers in PY are brutally hot, making training a challenge, so I definitely need a goal/race to motivate me out of bed early knowing it’ll be 90 degrees at 8am and 100 in the shade at 4pm. It’s so satisfying to see progress as I become stronger and more prepared for the race. That I’m doing it with three terrific lady friends and making a vacation of it in Argentina’s wine country is a bonus. So, yeah I’ve been busy and the work has been very satisfying. Now in my second year with a mere 10 months to go (wow, really??!!) time is flying and what used to feel like I had a very long time to get things done suddenly feels like not nearly enough. So much to do, so little time! At this point in my service, projects are underway, relationships with my community members have deepened, and things are moving and grooving in more natural ways like back home. What the mind expects, it finds. When I seek abundance it always finds me, in ways large and small. I’m more grateful with each passing day to be here living, learning, playing, teaching, and laughing with my little community.

Sunset on the prairie in my community

Sunset on the prairie in my community; my favorite place at the end of each day. Tranquilo, beautiful, magical, simple: perfect for reminding me of the abundance in my life. (This photo is courtesy of Emily Rosenblatt Photography and used with permission. Check out her work at http://www.emilyrosenblattphotos.com/)

http://www.emilyrosenblattphotos.com/

 

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Life is a Cascade of Moments

October 10, 2013

The Wing

I will not die an unlived life.
I will not live in fear of falling
Or catching fire.
I choose to inhabit my days,
To allow my living
To open me,
To make me less afraid,
More accessible,
To loosen my heart
Until it becomes a wing…
choose to risk
My significance,
To live
So that which
Comes to me as seed
Goes on to the next
As blossom,
And that which
Comes to me as blossom,
Goes on a fruit.

— Dawna Markova (resharing from my friend Anne Davis Klaus)

This is a collection of random reflections on life as a PCV in Paraguay after one year and with one more to go. I know in the years to come I will forget many of the details that make my experience truly incredible so here is a drop in the bucket of the things that make up this adventure-filled journey of a lifetime and fill me with gratitude for this opportunity every single day:

What it takes to welcome a stranger. How good it feels to be welcomed by strangers. The perfumed air of blooming flowers on jasmine and fruit trees. The hum of bees in those trees. The sound of baby goats bleating for Mum (and subsequently eating my rose bushes). The aroma of cow manure and burning trash. The sight and sound of kids playing happily -very happily- skipping, laughing, commanding each other’s actions. Large families where infants, many siblings, parents, aunts, grandfathers all share a roof and who wouldn’t dream of sending grandma to a home (even if they existed) and where a son or daughter will live forever at home to take care of their mother. Prairie fires. The huge, sapphire blue, cloudless sky. The screech of tero-tero birds. The knocking of woodpeckers (campo flickers) on the window in the next classroom or sparrows pecking at my own window. The way the sun splashes down my patio in the morning. The way the cows all migrate to the village soccer field in the afternoon. The way a señora invites me to lunch of cow stomach like it’s the most gourmet meal I could have. Drying my hair in the afternoon sun on my porch during language study. The rustle of my prayer flags in the breeze. The frustration of cows or chickens raiding my porch and eating harvest of mandioca, new seedlings, or drying seed pods.  The rooster that crows outside my door at 6am every morning. Hot chipa or sopa right out of the tatakua. Hospitality. Ducks bathing in puddles and ditches. The sight of vast prairie. The wind before a rain storm. Tiny frogs that hang out under the toilet rim. Those diamond-shaped snail things that crawl up the walls. Mean dogs. Mean cows. The sweetness of baby animals nursing. Public breastfeeding.

Flip flops – the footwear of choice. My 30-day exercise challenges. Time to think. Time to read. Time to indulge The Planner within. Time to foster my creative side. Skyping with family. Gifts from family and friends. Red soil. Red dust. Droughts followed by new running water system and hot showers. Trying new local recipes. Amazing tropical fruit: grapefruits, mandarins, mangoes, passionfruits, guava, papaya, kumquats, pears. Fire ants. La cigarra insects that sound like fax machines. The buzz of hummingbird wings in the lime tree just outside my window. Hot summers. Ceiling fans. How everyone invites you to ‘sit down’ as soon as you arrive. Coordinating non-winter trips to town with quick-dry clothing knowing each 3 mile journey between my house and the bus in blazing temps and no shade will generate clothes soaked in sweat. Generosity of my community. People’s (im)patience with my language. Steady doses of humiliating myself. Regular opportunities to question myself and my abilities. Joy in seeing my small accomplishments. Washing laundry by hand and planning laundry around the weather. Being unphased at seeing pigs or chickens mating on the soccer field. Rainy days that give me a guilt-free, stay-inside day. Tarantulas. Beekeeping. The one bee that came to visit every day and would sip honey from my finger. The satisfaction of having bottles of honey from my own bees.

Winters – with cold that insisted on hot water  bottles to pre-warm the bed and prevented me from bathing for days on end. The hilarity of watching cute piglets or baby goats run. Identifying fears I never knew existed in me and seeing them fade or fall through this PC experience and the personal growth and strength that has come from it. Learning two languages and, as a rite of passage, making an ass of myself. Being the Queen of faux pas. Occasional gunshots in the distance (especially New Year’s Eve!). Never forget dancing in the circle New Year’s Eve. The night sky, Milky Way, southern hemisphere constellations. Bamboo fences. Barbed wire fences. Creative gate solutions. Homes of cement, wood or coco trees. Cooking over open fires. No trash management. Paraguayans’ creativity when they need it as well as inhibiting customs (you can’t have terere and watermelon together unless you want to blow up; you can’t have both cheese and beef in your mandio chyryry-must be one or the other). Frogs crying in ditches. Dengue fever. Mosquito nets. Stingless bees. Glassless windows with shutters or security bars (rejas). Life on the patio. Terere and mate. Strange insect invasions. Black ants in the house by the thousands. Ox carts and oxen (gueis). Asado bbq. The sound of animals being butchered. Killing and dressing my first chicken. Learning to make chorizo. Chickens in the kitchen. Pigs in the kitchen.

The amazing ability of a bus driver’s assistant to remember who has paid, who owes fare, and who gets off in which town. Signs of Catholicism everywhere. Seasonal shifts in birds and insects, weeds and daylight, weather and food supply. The level of poverty. The level of happiness among locals (sometimes in inverse proportion to poverty). The level of corruption. How I dislike the clothing styles and television programs, especially game shows that objectify women. Three showers a day in summer. How spiffy men look in traditional po’i shirts. Upbeat Paraguayan music. Radio shows that won’t play an entire song start to finish without commentary, sound effects or simply starting a new song in the middle, just when I was getting into the groove. Soccer and volleyball. Kids’ fun with simple makeshift ‘toys’ of stumps, rope, scrapwood, rocks, marbles. Playing volleyball with kids at recess. Motos and motocarros. Incredible sunsets. Simple lives. Simple thinking. Community’s dedication to each other. Sharing. There is no concept of germs, hence the sharing. The ‘lindo’ factor. Missing my family. Amandau ice cream. Super friendly national police, unless they are guarding the Presidential Palace. Getting money at the bank. Shopping for fruits and veggies at the Mercado and getting Norte, rather than local, prices. Dancing tango alone in my house at night. The squawk of guinea hens.

Sand trucks going to and from the river. Paraguayans’ non-confrontational style. Chisme (rumor mill, known as radio so’o).  How much meat I don’t eat here. Poor soil. Running to the sunrise. Morning yoga. September is “cut and sell your firewood” month. Showers at night. Five to six hour bus rides to Asuncion with no bathroom onboard. Hazardous sidewalks in Asuncion. Treating myself to a nice hotel when staying in the city. The abundance of hostels. Mercado 4. Watching the movie “Siete Cajas”. Shopping Mariscal Lopez (can you say McDonald’s French fries and sundaes?) and Shopping Del Sol. At the supermarket, having to bag, weigh and sticker your produce in the department before getting to the checkout (and how many times I forgot to do this). Making soup on cold, rainy days. Mandio chyryry every morning. Popcorn almost every day. Cheddar powder for said popcorn.  How everyone uses oregano for flavoring their food but wouldn’t dream of putting basil or rosemary in a dish…they are only for tea! Paraguayans who mumble and will never be understood by me. How much I promised myself I would never pretend to understand when I didn’t but yet I still do it (how many times can one reasonably expect a person to repeat?). Spending weeks planning the perfect workshop to teach a new skill only to have no one show up, but often something good comes of it (we get to try again!)

All the things you can carry on a bike or moto (moto: 5 people, birthday cakes, live pigs, sheets of plywood or glass, filled propane tanks, hoes, chainsaws, bags on the handlebars up to the driver’s eyeballs of freshly butchered beef, etc). Weekends are for drinking but especially Sundays, all day. Sunday soccer tournaments where the winning team earns a pig carcass to BBQ. ‘Modern’ outdoor bathrooms with toilet and shower in a 3’x4’ space just big enough to stand in but not actually move. Termite mounds dotting the prairie. Diesel fumes. When the church was repainted from pink to red-orange. Friendship, support and regular talks with special PCVs. Rezos. Monday morning custom of visiting deceased family at the cemetery. Cool looking cemetaries. Crime. If you see it and want it you take it but it’s not stealing. Purple blooming Tajy trees. Lapacho trees are bright yellow and have matching butterflies that visit it. The neighbor’s Illuvia de oro (rain of gold) tree of dripping yellow blossoms. Grape arbors. Snakes. Giant beetles. The giant chalkboard in my ‘school’house. The view of hills from my front door. Watching the sun set from my hammock. School kids conjuring up any reason to peek or come into my house. Compost piles. Using worms to compost organics in the garden or in the kitchen. Experimenting with green manures (cover crops) to nourish the soil. Agricultural experiments, some go well, some are disasters, all are lessons.

Wide-brimmed hats. Long sleeved shirts. Carrying groceries in my backpack. The most plentiful thing in the freezer is ice, in tube-like bags that fit one’s thermos. Buying cheese from a local señora. Drop-in visits. Drop-in visits that yield goodies to take home. Outdoor lights affixed to trees. Roofs of tile, chappa, metal, thatch. Animals free-range and never need their hooves trimmed. Animals that sleep in the road. Buses that come to a stop, horn blaring, until the cows move out of the road. Things that are used for many purposes (one knife is used to kill a pig, weed the garden, cut carrots and rope). All parts of the animal are used and cherished. Wealth is measured in cattle. Sunflower oil is the most common oil for cooking but soy is very popular with cottonseed more expensive. Every store has at least ½ an aisle dedicated to yerba mate. Paraguayan diet is based on fat, meat, salt, and sugar, there are few fresh veggies much of the year. Veggies rarely eaten raw except as shredded cabbage salad or lettuce with tomatoes. Sweets, soda and artificial juice are popular (cheap too) despite all the fruit trees here. Palm trees. Pine trees. Wild pineapples. Chickens pecking bugs off cows’ legs. No mail delivery and no mailboxes. Buses are used to deliver packages long distance. Electrical and running water systems not dependable.

Inequity between womens’ and mens’ roles and work load. Horses that willingly stand up to their knees in water to eat grass. Eucalyptus trees. Bean ‘trees’. How people don’t eat many eggs as a stand-alone food source but rather as an ingredient. Making candles. Drinking wine in the privacy of my house. Rain blowing through the windows on a stormy day. People working barefoot even in the cold. Kids wearing jackets and snowsuits to class because there is no heat or insulation. Cultural practice of asking personal questions like your age, income, weight, cost of an item, marital/significant-other status, and not understanding how your life could be happy without a man in it. Pigs scratching their rumps on a light pole. Everyone has a cell phone. Men think it’s sport to share your phone number with other men. Dueling is legal if you are a blood donor and there are medical staff on hand. School days are either 7-11am or 1-5pm depending what grade you are in; in winter the afternoons are shorter because it gets dark early. Only 50% of kids finish high school. Ladies- long hair and ponytails, men- no facial hair. Plunging necklines. Tight pants and clothes. Skinny jeans on men. Sparkly accessories. Very high heels. Teacher strikes. School uniforms. School cancellations for rain, if it looks like rain, if it’s too cold, or there is a community function held at the school. Harvesting green manure seeds that then sit in my house for months waiting to be shelled. Herding cattle with moto, bicycle, horse or on foot. Leaky roof. Indoor gutters. Siestas. Paraguayan soap operas.

Teaching something new. Seeing others grow. Learning something new. Seeing myself grow. Making a difference in someone’s life. Making a difference in my life.

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Where Has The Time Gone?

8-11-13

“Life loves to be taken by the lapel and told: ‘I’m with you kid. Let’s go.'” – Maya Angelou

It was supposed to be a simple two-week respite from blogging back in February while I prepared to *finally* move from my host family (who I adored, but…) into my own house. Obviously, that turned into a six month hiatus as life got busy and Facebook posts became the ‘easier and quicker’ method to share the latest news of my Peace Corps adventures (oh, did I tell you? I now have internet at my house. Daily. And running water. And a hot shower. Daily. OMG). A lot has happened during this time, which I’ll try to summarize now and make a better effort to regain my regularly scheduled posts here.

In mid-March I moved into my own ‘house’, my ‘schoolhouse’ as I call it, because it is literally a classroom in an old school, residing on the same grounds as the new school. This has worked out beautifully; it is the nicest casa in the community and of course all my neighbors, especially the kids, were dying for a look inside. I am exquisitely happy in my classroom, the kids have been respectful (even inviting me to their daily voleiball games during recess), and I make fantastic use of the giant chalkboard that covers one of walls for my infamous list-making fetish, drawings, reminders, and even tallies while I do my 30-day ab and squat challenges – the only form of exercise I can get during what is currently winter of cool-to-freezing temps and sometimes rainy conditions. (Wow- that was quite the sentence!) As soon as I’d settled into my new space, I began work on my garden. The school Director, Profesor Victor, who is also my contact, gave me a space adjacent to the school garden. It was cow pasture when I started and five weeks later began to resemble a garden, complete with bamboo fence that I helped cut and build with assistance from about a dozen locals. The bamboo was delivered via oxcart from the far end of town. Unfortunately two weeks later, one of the oxen (called ‘guei’ …sounds like whey) swallowed a whole grapefruit and died. I never knew cattle love grapefruit.

Also this autumn (springtime in North America), some fellow volunteers came to visit my site to produce a documentary on biodigesters because, at the time, I had half of all biodigesters in the country right in my community. That same week I participated in a biodigester Train the Trainer workshop to learn to teach Paraguayans how to install biodigesters. Cool! I think I might want one when I come home. These biodigesters are 20 foot plastic tubes that lie in a trench and to which you add manure daily. In three weeks, this starts producing a daily delivery of amazing liquid compost for the garden and methane which the locals use for cooking… all using FREE materials!

In May, my cousin and a friend came to visit. Unfortunately, it rained…no, poured… the first three days. And it was cold. Instead of visiting locals and seeing sites around my community, this offered a great indoor bonding experience and many experiments in cooking that, after they inventoried my ‘pantry’ shelves, defied all bets we would go hungry before we ever got out of Dodge. It’s amazing what you can do with cornflour, mandioca, sweet potato leaves, beans and eggs. Ultimately, the rain broke and my cousin and I were able to play in my beehive; her first, but not last, foray into beekeeping.

Throughout this time I’ve made a couple of attempts to host beekeeping workshops but, for various reasons, including three days of rain, they keep getting postponed. As does the yogurt-making sessions I promise to my neighbors who seem very interested but are impossible to pin to a date and time. Such is Paraguay.

Most recently, I returned to Maine for a quick one-week vacation. I did not plan to visit the states until my service was over, however, Maine summer weather beckoned me after freezing my tail off in PY for a week, and all the other beautiful things of Maine including my daughter’s 25th birthday celebration, reuniting with family, swimming in the lake, tango dancing in an oceanside gazebo with friends, toes in the sand at the ocean and shared meals or walks with old friends. It was also the easiest vacation of my life in terms of packing since I was going home to my ‘stuff’. I had only the necessities: toothbrush, passport, tango shoes, a book, camera, tiny travel pillow, sunflower seeds for snacking, calendar of plans for the week, and a gift for my daughter. This was a liberating travel experience! Oh, and if you’ve never heard an American belle speak Portuguese with a deep southern twang over the airplane intercom, you just haven’t lived. I came back with a better perspective and appreciation for both cultures. What do I miss about the states? Besides the obvious answer of family and tango dancing (if you don’t know this about me, well then, you just don’t know me! I’m a tango addict), natural BBQ chips, feta cheese, fresh Maine air, seeing people exercise and trying to stay healthy, generosity and kindness of Mainers, being able to show my money at the cash register (or technology of any kind in public) with little risk of being robbed afterward, walking alone at night, full bodied complex conversations – in English-, dressing up all fancy for special occasions. What don’t I miss? The never-ending busyness, schedules going full tilt, attitudes of entitlement and rudeness, impatience, excess, and incessant marketing for stuff we don’t actually need.

After living in a culture which has the 144th worst GDP in the world but ties for first as the happiest people across the globe, I think there’s a lot to learn from the people of Paraguay. While Paraguay has its shortcomings in serving its people, a short visit with locals will undoubtedly convince you that wealth and stuff does not necessarily bring happiness. I live among very poor people who, despite the barriers they face and the limitations of their country’s systems, laugh and joke, skip and play, sing and show content in their everyday work more than any group of people I’ve ever met. They are resourceful, creative, and make the best of what they have. Want to play volleyball but don’t have a net? No problem, just balance a stick over the top of two chairs. Got a big rock and a plank? These kids will readily make their own teeter totter with such awesome materials. Or just play for hours in a pile of sand. And their generosity is second to none. A neighbor hears that I’m out of cheese and brings me the last of what she has. Another neighbor offers me unlimited access to her grapefruit tree. Others bring me popcorn grown in their field or eggs from their chickens even though they may have barely enough for their own needs.

So I’m sure I’ve forgotten some significant details but I’ll close here and save a little storytelling for next time. Feel free to leave comments, ask questions, or list things you’d like to know more about!

Until next time….jajotopata amigos!

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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 only control we have is choosing how we are going to respond to the ride (we call life). – Madisyn Taylor

At the heart of every transformation, no matter how chaotic, there is substance. When we no longer resist change and instead regard it as an opportunity to grow, we find that we are far from helpless in the face of it. – Thedailyom.com

2-17-13

This quote seemed to fit the mood of my week quite perfectly. It’s been a difficult collection of misunderstandings, feelings of incompetency and disappointment with myself wondering if I’ll ever master communication in Guaraní. The Professor, at my pleading, agreed to let me join the kids’ Guaraní class when school starts next week (they’ve been on summer break since mid-November). I asked “You’re putting me with the Pre-School class, right?” He said, “No, no, no. You go straight to Second Grade!” We had a good laugh.

This week I killed my first chicken. Back in December I ‘chickened’ out in doing this task, but I finally did it. My boss visited on Tuesday for my site presentation where she formally introduced me to my community, talked about Peace Corps, and expectations for all involved. I was determined to serve chicken that I had prepared myself and indeed I did, start to finish. Can’t say I loved the task but given that I will need to feed myself somehow while I’m here, it’s a good skill to have. Inside was a fully developed egg and two egg yolks on their way to being the next eggs. I never knew the yolk was the first thing to develop. During my presentation I served some of the dried fruit I’ve been making in the solar dryer to ‘plant the seed’ among attendees of new ways they can feed their families healthy ‘real’ food during the off-season. They loved the bananas and pears. Plus my housing was approved after security bars are installed on the windows and a bathroom is added. I will be living in an old, unused classroom in the ‘old school’. A new school was built last year near the old school and the only activity in the old school is the library at the far end. While it might sound odd, it seems like a nice set up. The space is larger than most volunteers’ homes at about 20’x20’ with a long patio perfect for tango dancing (hint hint if any dancer friends want to visit), a shed in the back for my chickens, and the ability to expand the school garden for my own use. Rent free. Yay! Plus it’s in the ‘center’ of the community and very visible from a number of homes, which adds to my safety. There are currently some masons living there who are working on the running water project until March so I’ll move in after they leave or after the upgrades are complete, whichever comes last.

I came home from a run yesterday morning to find the neighbors had just killed a cow to honor the 2nd anniversary of their mother’s passing. I grabbed my camera and snapped photos of various stages of the processing. Still in my shorts and revealing skin that doesn’t normally see the sun (can you say ‘blindingly white legs’?) folks thought my white skin was beautiful. I laughed and replied that in my country people pay a LOT of money to have brown skin like them. They looked at me like I was crazy. “Why would anyone want BROWN skin?” they asked incredulously. In other skin news, admittedly my skin has remained fairly nice for this time of year. Back home in January, it would be dry with the cold winter weather. Here, it is normal and mostly healthy, save for the dirt, bug bites and bee stings. So the other parts of the honoring-mom’s-passing include nine days of rezo next door, which is a 20 minute prayer service held by the family and open to the community. On Day 8 we feasted on stews, courtesy the cow from the morning’s slaughter, where the men did the butchering and the women prepared the meat, made blood sausage, and stew. Day 9, we feasted on mounds of barbecued ribs, sopa and chipa.

I was reflecting on what a difference a year makes. A year ago last December I was told I wouldn’t be serving in Peace Corps Asia afterall but somewhere in Latin America IF I could pass a Spanish test. So I bought a Rosetta Stone and studied. I reunited with my best friend from high school. My daughter and I vacationed in Costa Rica, one of the best vacations ever. All of my neighbors were family, spoke English and had hot, running water. I had a paying job. I shoveled snow. And I was doing yoga, tango, running and swimming several times a week. I felt guilty for taking siesta in my car at lunch. Today, the only similarity is that I still study Spanish. Haha. I celebrate that I can flow with the changes, adapt and grow.

I’m in Asuncion this weekend for a little R&R after a rough week. The bus ride is interesting if one chooses to make it so. We stop at two terminals along the way to pick up new passengers and there are always a bounty of vendors selling their wares to passengers in the bus. Some sell from the ground through the window, others come aboard. Often they will literally run to the bus to be the first sale, as many products are duplicative like soda, chipa, cold water, milanesa, and bags of fruit. There is little variety other than the occasional gent selling cheap jewelry or porn DVDs. Sellers range from kids to elderly folks. It’s got to be a tough way to make a living.
My next series of projects will be a beekeeping workshop series to teaching hive building from scratch, making value-added products from harvested beeswax like candles, salves, and skin creams, as well as teaching about honey harvest and trasiegos. Looking forward to it!

Random facts:
Other firsts: ox cart ride

Lesson 445: When traveling, always BYOTP (bring your own toilet paper), just in case

I’ve seen no sign that people here use hand sanitizer. That’s also BYO.

Hand cream is super expensive.

Because there is no real mail system here, one cannot buy stamps and simply drop your envelope into a box on the sidewalk. You must visit the post office, or correos. Office hours can vary from day to day. I’ve mailed a few things back home and never seen the actual stamp.

Paraguayans love tablecloths. It is a standard cultural practice to always put a tablecloth, even a towel, over the table before setting down your plate or serving a guest. No self-respecting Paraguayan would serve a guest on a bare table.

Did you know calf stomachs contain the rennet needed to make cheese and are widely used here in Paraguay for this purpose? Simply take a stomach and stir it in some milk for two minutes. Remove, rinse, and hang the stomach to dry for use again later. They can be reused many times. Amazingly, the flies won’t go near it.

There is an ice cream chain here called Amandau that has the best ice cream I’ve tried thus far, pretty similar to home. And they have passionfruit ice cream that tastes like the real thing. OMG.

I recently went to a large town about 90 minutes north to buy a bike and discovered the ‘caballo’ or horse taxi. They congregate at the bus terminal, lined up along the sidewalk in the shade. This horse and buggy set up looks like something from 100 years ago and is quite a novelty for the Nortes here. While I didn’t ride in it, I put it on my list for my next visit. And, yes, I got the bike, also called a ‘bici’ here (short for bicicleta). During this visit I also found “Village Candle” brand candles, made in Maine! I was floored.

The equivalent of my regular type of toothpaste costs 75% of a day’s pay for me. Sending three letters is a full day’s pay. Yes, both are expensive and yes, I don’t make much as a ‘volunteer’.

One of the girls in my family taught me how to crack the small coconuts found here. Paraguay doesn’t have large coconuts, only massive clusters of golf-ball size ones. To get the pea-sized fruit inside, one must smash with a hammer to crack the hull, then peel the hull and pop out the center coco fruit. My family has a perfect rock with a slight depression for holding the fruit while smashing. Good therapy if you’re in a bad mood. Haha

Paraguay is the place to be if you’re a dental provider. Every town has a multitude of clinics specializing in dental and orthodontia care. False teeth, gold or silver teeth or no teeth are common here due to a diet high in sugar, lack of dental hygiene education, and the occasional rock that finds its way into food due to hand processing. In fact, it’s so common that when meeting someone new I rarely even notice now if they smile and display a mouth full of gold teeth.

The news channels have some significant differences here. First, instead of many very brief stories, the station will air fewer longer stories. By longer, this includes repeating footage of film and photos many times for 10-20 minutes depending on how provocative the story is. They don’t hesitate to show photos of sick, injured or dead people, photos directly from a hospital bed or bleeding bodies in the street after a shooting or moto accident. The other major difference is the dress code for female news anchors. They show far more skin than we are used to back home: halter tops, sleeveless shirts, off-the-shoulder shirts and short dresses are typical. And, unlike back home, all women on TV have long hair, anchors and reporters alike. Of course, long hair is typical for women across PY. The final difference is that while our anchors in the states might drink water or coffee on air, here they drink terere (yerba mate) in a guampa with a bombilla, which is a tea-like drink usually served ice cold during the day. In early morning it’s served as a hot mate.

Many newsclips and commercials on tv and radio use American music. I get excited when I hear the music but, unfortunately, I never get to hear the whole song. Another chance to practice letting go!

My family built a tatakua this week, which is a cave-like outdoor oven. It is used for cooking sopa and chipa, typical Paraguayan breads. First the tatakua is heated by building a hot fire, then the coals are removed and replaced with many pans of breads. Admittedly these breads are far superior when cooked in a tatakua rather than an electrical oven. It was built using brick and held together with local clay-like mud.

I’ve seen many things with English words on them from potholders to tshirts and even products on tv I recognize from home (Sprite, Coke, Nivea hand lotion, to name a few).

Practice the art of letting go and embrace change. Clinging is natural but letting go is liberating!

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Make your own happiness

,Date 1-16-13

“It is fullness of life which makes one happy. Not fullness of purse.” – Rabindranath Tagore

Sure I’ve had some fun stories to tell but some of you may be wondering about my work here, like my friend who asked after reading my last post “…but what are you doing for Peace Corps?” Peace Corps‘ expectations for me at this point in my service are building relationships in my community and sharing what I’m learning about this culture with people back in the States. Development work is a slow process and change is difficult even for those who welcome change, never mind those who might be skeptical or hesitant why they should listen to a Norte who’s only been in the country a few months. It is essential to build trust with my villagers before attempting deeper work and also to lead by example. For example, if my garden grows beautifully a family is more likely to listen to my suggestions than if it looks pitiful. My villagers rely on their crops and gardens to feed their families for the whole year. Their gardens and crops are not hobbies, they are necessities. Many do not have income to buy staples they would otherwise grow. If a crop fails, they go without, perhaps their animals go hungry or fend for themselves. Many live on the edge every year. When crops do well, sometimes they can find outlets to buy their surplus for a little extra income. Part of my job is to help stabilize their incomes by educating them on ways to improve their soil, which makes it more nutritious for plants and more able to resist drought, as well as other ways to diversify and access other sources of income (like honey). I have one villager with a slew of plants that produce a bean similar to castor that can be sold for its oil but he has few markets nearby to purchase his beans. Most of the market is in Brazil. The other, closer market requires a minimum load, which he can’t always reach. I hope to explore a market for value-added products like salves and balms using his oils. Anyway, back to my task at hand. My priority for the first several months is getting to know my community and them to know me. Hence my house-to-house visits. I’m also working on a community census to learn more in depth about each family: how many people in the house?, what ages?, what kind of work do they do?, are the kids in school?, what do they grow?, which are for consumption or sale?, do they know about green manures and if so do they use them?, do they have experience keeping bees or want to?, are they interested in growing different vegetables or raising different animals/why or why not?, what barriers do they face?, what ideas do they have?, what kinds of things do they want to learn more about?, etc. Sure, in addition to building relationships and sharing culture there are the hands-on projects like revamping the school garden, building worm bins for composting, creating compost piles, beekeeping, talking to people about preserving fruits for winter, listening to their wants and needs (“Are you going to teach English in the school?”), and much more.

This past week has been bountiful and rich in experiences….one of the best weeks I’ve had in my site thus far.

After taking a bit of a respite from visiting families over the holidays I’m back on schedule and have had many productive outings, most culminating in discussions on bees and families eager for help. Every family with whom I’ve spoken has expressed interest in having honey (miele) but most either 1) don’t know where to start, 2) have either the beehive box and no bees or a wild hive of bees and no box in which to put them, or 3) are terrified of getting stung and don’t want to work with the bees. This is where I come in. In two days, I met 5 families that want bee help and the scenarios are as different as the families themselves. Because the community has so much interest, we’ll be using my site as a training ground for other volunteers to practice working with bees. This benefits everyone. My families and I get extra help and training in working the bees while securing a sustainable honey supply for the families’ futures and we all get extra practice and education. If all goes well, I think this will be a significant part of my contribution to this community. Honey sells at a very good price here in PY (about 30 guaranies per liter, ~US $7) and well managed hives can provide 20 liters or more per year), providing diversity and much needed income for families. Currently it is common practice for Paraguayans to simply raid a wild hive and take the honey, which often means cutting down or burning a tree. Not very sustainable. Even those residents with bees in a manmade hive often only visit the hive once a year to collect the honey…no more than necessary. Part of my job is to educate them that they can harvest far more honey when managing their hives on a regular basis.

These visits have also been wonderful for practicing language. Again, there are people who quickly dismiss me when I don’t understand immediately and others who are patient, give me time to process the words and gladly rephrase when I don’t understand. I’ve had lots of the latter this week. The other thing I’ve had lots of is walking. The rezo of Isabel’s family was in the next town for five days and because I’m not allowed to ride a moto, I walked to it every day. It’s only three miles each way but my villagers thought I’d seriously lost my mind. The first two days they’d stop on the ruta (a lonely main road) and offer me a ride on their moto. Reassured when they saw me carrying on happily, they gave up and thereafter just beeped and waved. (Seriously, after several villagers asked if I could ride a horse and me answering with a prompt and confident ‘yes’, I‘d hoped they’d loan me a horse because there are no rules against riding horses and it would be totally fun and ‘mas rapido’ but alas, it remained a dream.) My walking became the daily joke. “How did you come here today, Wendia?” they’d ask. “I walked. Again.” I said cheerfully. “Aren’t you tired?” they’d insist. “No. I love walking,” I assured them. And indeed I do. It was a gift to have two hours a day of meditative walking in silence, just me, cows, birds, and the occasional moto or car. I totaled 36 miles in 5 days and feel so fantastic because of it. It’s the most exercise I’ve had since September. Aaaaah.

Early in the week during these walks I noticed small owls sitting atop the cattle fence lining the road. At about a foot tall, these cuties had me completely smitten as they stared back with their huge eyes. I always take a shortcut through the campo (cow pasture) to save time and on one of this week’s daily walks I spotted an owl sitting on a nearby termite mound. It took flight as I came closer but, to my surprise, instead of flying away it went up and directly over me, circled several times, looking down and watching me. On the last circle, it looked directly into my eyes in a magical moment where we both acknowledged each other and then it flew away. So cool.

I mentioned in an earlier post how excited I was to get my first package from my family. And at Christmas to boot. You can’t imagine how exciting it is to get mail! Recently I received my second package sent by my tango friends back home and full of lovely notes and tango music! (The post master cut short her siesta to ensure I got the package before having to catch the bus home. Gotta love her!) As I sat on the bus waiting to depart, I read each of the notes with tears in my eyes and realized how grateful I am for the ability to read. Don’t laugh. I’m serious. We take it for granted in the States but I’m sitting on a bus where approximately half the riders are illiterate and without the gift to read such sweet words and thoughts from family or friends. Think about it. How would your life be different if you couldn’t read? Road signs, cookbooks, the newspaper, the internet, your IPhone (aghast!), a map, packaging or its instructions (I’m thinking pesticides or household chemicals but same goes for a Betty Crocker box o’ brownies), prices at the store. What kinds of jobs would you be limited to? The list goes on. I imagine you might also feel a bit vulnerable having to trust others’ interpretations for you. Now that I think about it, this is a bit how I feel with Spanish and Guarani. There are times I have no idea what the words mean and need to trust others to steer me in the right direction (at bus depots, on food packaging or signs at the store, etc). And consider how easily misunderstandings can happen. In fact, think how many misunderstandings you have when you speak the SAME language! Based on experience here, language barriers can certainly make an individual appear less intelligent than they are, as they struggle to interpret, conjugate a verb in their head, or search for the correct word to respond to you. You have these people in your community. Maine is a very ‘white’ state but we have populations of immigrants and others who can’t read. They work through these and many other situations every day (prejudice based on language, dress, skin color, gender, race, perceived income or lack thereof…the list goes on) in addition to racism and other forms of discrimination and prejudice. Perhaps your next encounter with someone who can’t read or for whom English is a second language (or third or any of the aspects above and more…) consider some of these factors if you haven’t in the past and see how it changes your experience with them.

I mentioned before that there are a limited number of local fruits and veggies currently available so during a recent trip ‘intown’ I brought home a big watermelon for my host family. The kids’ eyes were as big as saucers when I pulled it out of my backpack and they ran to the kitchen for their spoons. If you missed the post about how to eat a watermelon in PY, Paraguayans cut it in half lengthwise and scoop out the fruit with a spoon. Better if the spoon is shared by several people. By the time I got the melon to a table the kids were hovering expectantly, barely able to contain their excitement. Even the adults were excited. I don’t know the last time they had watermelon but clearly this was a treat, as I’d hoped. This family has been so generous and hospitable that this is a mere drop in the bucket of what I can do for them. The family of six devoured all but a small portion of the fruit in a single sitting, very rewarding for me to see the happiness on their faces. While my family has more ‘means’ than many in the village, in the greater scheme of things, they still don’t have much. But they share what little they have as if giving you the only, the best, the biggest, or the last of anything is the greatest honor of all. One of the things I will never forget about Paraguayans is their hospitality. The kids learn at a tender age to mind their guests, anticipate their needs and ensure they are as comfortable and happy as can be.

And Paraguayans know happiness. They make happiness out of nothing. The kids make a volleyball net from a rope strung between two trees or a stick across two chairs. They play soccer with a plastic dented ball. They marvel at the little things. They tease and joke with each other. They run to be the first to help each other, a neighbor, or a visitor. They shriek with joy throughout the day over the silly things, simply happy with each other. Though a hard life indeed, even the adults seem content in their work and each other, they don’t need external ‘stuff’ or distractions to be a pretty happy group of people. Is it because much of the work is laborious yet meditative? Is it that they aren’t tempted by ‘what ifs’ and worldly marketing? Many in my village have lived here for their entire lives, others many dozens of years. Some people in this village have never travelled further than the next town, 3 miles away. They claim they have everything they need right here: family, animals, crops. It’s fascinating they can have so little but can be so content, says the Norte from the land of plenty, surplus and all things disposable. I believe we can make our own happiness wherever we are simply by choosing happiness. It IS a daily choice. We can find joy in anything if we look carefully. And some days we must try a little harder than others, some days we must change our perspective to get there. But the result is so worthwhile. The ripples reach far beyond your own little pond.

Random facts:

It no longer seems odd to see a 6-year old using a machete.

Did you know honey is the only food that doesn’t spoil? It can crystallize over time but never spoils. It also has antimicrobial properties and can be applied externally for skin problems (just don’t get it in your eyes, as it burns.)

Did you know that fresh eggs can remain unrefrigerated for up to six months? However, once they are refrigerated they must remain refrigerated until eaten. I have never seen a refrigerated egg in the four months I’ve been in Paraguay.

Spices are not commonly used in food here other than salt. Others can be found but are typically used as a ‘remedio’ and/or in terere like oregano, rosemary, basil, and saffron. The previous volunteer left some curry and garlic powder which I’ve shared with my host family and to which they are completely addicted. Fortunately, curry can be found readily but garlic powder is not. We’re going to experiment drying our garlic bulbs in my solar dryer and making our own garlic powder as soon as we finish with the mangoes and pears.

There are very few mirrors in PY. People don’t need them? They are expensive? Not sure.

It is peanut harvest season right now. This week I was invited to help harvest with one of the new families I met. They had already pulled the plants out of the ground to dry in the sun (the actual peanut/shell that you see in the store grows on the root underground). The next step is pulling the peanuts from the plant and then they dry in the sun for three more days. I was excited to have an invitation to work and spent three hours with 12 family members pulling peanuts from the plants! Yay! They gave me a half dozen eggs as a thank you.This same family made andui for me which is diced callabala squash cooked with sugar and water. Served like a stew it is a sweet dessert, which they proudly offered during my visit and sent me home with a container of it plus a bag of passionfruit! Once home we made passionfruit juice. OMG yum.

Have an excellent week!

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

Ode to the aftershave and If you feel like you have a bug on you, you probably do

“When you do something noble and beautiful and nobody noticed, do not be sad. For the sun every morning is a beautiful spectacle and yet most of the audience still sleeps.” ― John Lennon

Today’s quote is a good reminder that generosity need not be acknowledged in order to be worthy. And, with the holidays upon us, there is a bounty of opportunity for such giving that will warm you all over. For me personally, some of my most satisfying moments are those deeds I’ve done or gifts I’ve given anonymously and for which I can never be thanked. It helps ground me in knowing I am giving from my heart, not for the recognition.

In thinking about content for this post, I had decided to write a piece on appreciation for my adventures on the micro (public bus, aka ‘collectivo’), which have been many and positive or at least humorous. However, after yesterday’s ride home, my experience took on a whole new level. The micro has an amazing capacity to expand itself. Invisible to the eye, a bus already bursting at the seams and seemingly impossible to accept a single additional passenger somehow continues to stop for passengers and manages to squeeze them in (not one, but 15-20 more). At one point I counted 9 of us on 2 stairs at the rear exit, hanging out the door. Riding the stairs is a major safety no-no but it was a better option than taking a bus after dark. After 10 minutes I worked my way 2 feet inside the door, into a pressing mass of hot, sweaty bodies and lingering diesel exhaust. Freshness was not a term that could be used today. Despite all windows being open, ventilation scored a zero in the aisle, an aisle made for 2 abreast but currently accommodating 3. We were grateful for oncoming traffic to refresh our air supply (perhaps more accurately stated as reorganizing diesel exhaust, BO, and carbon dioxide) and I was secretly praising whichever hombre it was who remembered his aftershave this morning.

Last Friday I practiced my juggling again and almost got it. Getting closer. But I did learn to build a solar dryer to make dried fruits, veggies and meat jerky. I’ll need it to preserve all the mangoes (dry mango slices anyone?) from the trees at my new house! Coolest thing of the week. Well, until I helped capture a wild bee colony a few days later. That was TOP SHELF. These bees, called Africanized bees, are typically much more aggressive than those we have in the states when you work them in a hive but I learned that when you are capturing them from inside a coconut tree and giving them a new home, they are much more tranquilo. There were hardly any stings in the group despite me cupping them into my hands from the tree and moving them into the new box hive. This is only my 3rd time working with bees in my life and I can’t believe how much more relaxed I am with them now.  I was able to take off my gloves and touch them with my bare hands. So cool to be just me and the bees, checking each other out. The feeling of bees covering your skin and the vibration of their wings is nothing short of incredulous. It has become somewhat of a meditative experience and I’m very much looking forward to helping my host family harvest some honey when I’m at my new site. The bonus is snagging and eating honeycomb/honey/pollen that was warmed to hotness by the sun. OMG. I think it’s my new favorite thing. If I were a bear, I would try and steal it too.

Speaking of new site: we Swear-In on Friday and I move to my new site on Sunday. I’ll spend the weekend with friends in Asuncion, shopping for skirts and a guitar in a sector of the city called Mercado 4 ( super cheap stuff and the site of the famous movie “Siete Cajas”), swimming at the Embassy, buying some beekeeping equipo, and hopefully finding a Shambala or Hindu meditation temple to practice. I’m very much looking forward to getting to know my community and beginning my work. Much of extension work takes month to get underway, as it must be based on solid relationships and trust with locals. So that is my first task and the people in my village seem great. ****Also, I have a new mailing address for friends who wish to send letters or packages and they’ll arrive much faster than the old address. However, for security reasons, I can’t post it here so, if you’d like the address, send me an email. ****

Thought for the day: If you feel like you have a bug on you, you probably do. Back home the sensation of a spider crawling along my arm or stomach was always just a long strand of hair falling loose down my arm or into my shirt. In PY, my hair is now longer than it’s been since my daughter was little and the sensation of a bug crawling on me is greater than ever…. Oh wait, that’s because it usually IS a bug crawling on me…. Yeah, like the other night. I was lying in bed, updating my journal by flashlight, having gotten fairly used to the feel of my hair blowing on my arms from the fan. Suddenly something was definitely crawling on my skin. The flashlight revealed  a small spider on my arm. I quickly squished it and went back to writing. Before long, same thing on the other arm, then another and another. By now, I’ve got my glasses on, flashlight in hand, out of bed, and striding for the overhead light to see WTF is going on. I had dozens, yes dozens, of small spiders in the bed – even though I had done my thorough nightly ‘tween the sheets check and found nothing. And they were crawling all over my headboard, sheets and blanket. Eeeeeewwwww. Fortunately, they were small and easily squishable but, at 11pm, I just wanted to sleep. Once I’d calmed down about the spiders, I finished re-tucking the sheets and blankets tightly around the bed and turned around in time to spot a baby lizard (gecko?) flash across the floor toward my shoes. Sigh. They don’t bite do they? And the baby spiders are too small to bite. Right? Yeah, that’s what I’ll tell myself.  And of course, I left my mosquito net in my new community (one less thing to carry on moving day) but it would have offered some semblance of protection. At least in my mind. At this point, I was too tired to care. The thought of spiders or geckos crawling over my face at night, like a lot of things…. I just can’t think about it. Oh yeah, and this happened twice in 3 days. I’d be lying if I inserted a ‘Tranquilo’ here. Lol.

Last Friday was a celebration in training: all exams are done and our fellow trainees and professors teamed up to offer fun classes, one of which was salsa dancing. While you know tango is where my heart is, we had a blast. The music is fun and people were really enjoying themselves. The other cool thing we learned (perfect for the holidays or to spice up your milonga) was how to make a candle from a juicy orange (yes, the fruit). Simply cut the orange in half lengthwise so you’re cutting through the stem end, scoop out the fruit but not the pithy white part. Take a piece cotton and stretch and twist into a tight, thin wick (the tighter it is, the longer it lasts). Coil into bottom of one orange half (you might need to prop up with another piece of cotton for height), then add cooking oil to the orange (vegetable, olive, whatever you have) so cotton is saturated and there is plenty to burn for a while. Light cotton with a match and – voila- you have a candle. To make more interesting, use the other orange half for the ‘top’ and cut a hole or interesting design in the center of it (for ventilation and adornment). Do not let candle run out of oil and center your wick with the hole in the cover so the flame doesn’t burn the orange. Beautiful and smells good too.

Last week I learned to build a thatched roof….one of my favorite new skills lately (lots going on lately – hard to choose!) I’ve always been curious how straw can keep out the rain but it’s pretty simple and durable. My new house has this type of roof. They are the best at keeping a house cool and I love the hay-like smell when it rains. Three drawbacks to thatch are 1) sometimes they leak in a hard rain, 2) those in the shade can mold (I think mine’s in the sun), and 3) they can provide habitat for the kissing beetle that causes Chagas disease, a heart and/or GI condition that appears in 10-20 years but preventable with use of my mosquito net (don’t worry, Mom! Wink wink.)

 I don’t know what it is about Paraguay but I, health nut extraordinaire, have craved Coca Cola since arriving in this country. Previously, I’ve had exactly 1 soda in the past 5 years.  Since September, I’ve had 1 every other week. Is it the heat? Is my diet lacking? Is it the effectiveness of their marketing everywhere I turn? Is it because I’ve had to relax so many old standards (diet, health, clean air, co-existing with bugs) that it’s become a coping mechanism? (of course, I jest). LoL. Those of you who don’t know me well may wonder why this is newsworthy but, to my family and closest friends, this is simply shocking. I’ve fallen off the wagon. But it could be worse. I could start burning my trash as is customary here. Wait, I’ve already had to do that too. Where is Wendía and what have they done with her???

My host family owns a despensa in the front of their house where they sell many basic necessities like laundry soap, toilet paper, cornmeal, wine (wax cartons of wine and shelf stable juice and milk are very popular here) cheese, and more. Locals simply walk up to the house, clap (instead of knock), and await someone to answer the door. In ‘Paraguayan time’, these things cannot be rushed. Customers do not approach any despensa expecting prompt service. In fact, there is a chair outside the despensa door for customers to sit while they await the Señora. At other despensas I have witnessed 30 minute waits while the Señora finished her breakfast and completed other ‘pressing’ household functions. My family never leaves a customer waiting that long but shortly after my last post where I talked about the infamous term “enseguida” , host Dad used it on a customer who came a-clapping. I answered the door with my “Uno momento, por favor” and went in search of host Dad because often the family is out back tending animals, etc and can’t hear the claps. He was at the kitchen table texting on his cell pone when I mentioned there was a client at the door. “En seguida” was his answer, meaning ‘Ok, I’ll get to it.’ For some people (not my family) this might mean anything from a couple minutes to never. Imagine the reaction this type of service would stir in the States? Wait, actually, sometimes we DO get this kind of service. Hee hee. But people here are totally tranqui about it. Sometimes they don’t want to wait and just leave after a few minutes, no hard feelings, but usually they hang out in the chair until someone is free to tend the store. I wish we had this back home! And the despensas are open at the convenience of the Señora or her family. No one here has regular business hours except bigger stores.  Last Saturday, one insistent clapper woke me up at 6am while others come up the walk at 8pm.

This past Sunday I, and 4 of my closest fellow trainees (aspirantes), enjoyed a final Sunday luncheon with my host family. I’ve mentioned before that Sunday is family day at my host family’s house. All 7 of the adult kids and their families congregate to make food, converse, laugh, drink terere and enjoy each other. My friends are amazed how well the family gets along and we noted how amazing it is that a family of 20+ people make a priority to be together every week. Nothing else matters. Nothing else takes priority. Sunday with family is sacred. It’s been an honor to witness this and remind myself how lucky I am to also have a wonderful, loving family back home. I very much miss them and will be glad to reconnect when my service is done. However, I am fortunate to feel the spirit of our connection even when we are so far apart. My host family asked me a couple weeks ago if I’d be willing to make my favorite dish from los Estados Unidos (United States or E.E.U.U. for short) for this final meal. Of course, I agreed and they’ve been hyping it up amongst themselves ever since. No pressure! I decided on shepherd’s pie, one of my favorite dishes from childhood…I loved the way my Mom made it. It came out well, they all liked it, and asked for the recipe. However, in the process I discovered why Paraguayans never eat kernelled corn. It is eaten only freshly ground and cooked in sopa or dried and ground for cornmeal. The corn here is not sweet and crunchy like back home. It is very starchy and chewy – more like feed corn for cows. I couldn’t fix the chewiness factor but a little sugar in the cooking process helped bring my recipe one step closer to home. Oh, also, my host brother just returned from vacationing in Buenos Aires and brought me an apron for when I cook in my new community. So thoughtful!

Because I am headed to my site in a few days and unsure of my internet access for the foreseeable future, I will leave you with a few more random facts of Paraguay.  Enjoy your holiday season, family, and friends. Tranquilo!

Paraguay boasts the 3rd largest Peace Corps post in the world, second only to the Ukraine and Phillipines. It also has the lowest crime in the region.

99% of all yogurt is PY is liquid. It is sold in cups like the states but most people drink it instead. I hope to make my own once in my new home.

I discovered what we affectionately call the loofa plant: a squash plant that produces a sponge as a fruit. It dries on the vine in a thin shell and looks exactly like a sea sponge though I hear it’s much more durable. Volunteers use these for bathing, dishes, cleaning, etc. I scored a couple seeds from a volunteer and will give it a try. Pictures next year. Or google it.

Sugar cane harvest  (caña de azúcar or takuare’e) is done and fields are planted with the next crop which takes 2 years to mature.  Mandioca (yucca root) is also a 2 year crop but most people begin harvesting slowly at 18 months and finish at 2 years. Mandioca is a staple of the diet here, served boiled and plain with every meal as a starch. If you don’t take a piece of mandioca to eat with your meal they look at you like you must be a french fry short of a Happy Meal. Afterall, who would refuse mandioca with their meal? Duh. This year’s crop is severely short due to last year’s drought  (sequia). The passionfruit and mango harvests are just about to begin. Heading for the bus I scored a fresh mango today as one dropped right behind me. YAY! The mango trees are laden and drooping, ready to yield their fruit, like a heavy wet snow bends the pines back home.

Volleyball (volei) is very popular here, second only to futbol (soccer).

A favorite paraguayan snack is the empanada. You cannot take a bus to Asuncion without consuming at least two.

Corn is currently waist to shoulder height in most places.

Sweet potatoes are much sweeter and more moist than in the states. Deep purplish brown on the outside, white on the inside. I love them.

The most popular vehicle brands here are largely due to their low purchase price for already-tight budgets (in no particular order): Nissan, Datsun (remember those?), Mitsubishi, Kia, Hyundai, and somehow also Mercedes (mostly for trucks).  More popular than any car or truck is the infamous moto, of course.

It seems everything is opposite South of the equator: the seasons, the way the wáter circles down the drain and the way people keep their animals. Paraguayans fence animals OUT and houses, gardens, and trees IN. In my new site, all the livestock are free-ranged, grazing randomly throughout the community by day, returning to the futbol field at dusk. Neighbors graze their animals together as well. I graze my horses, cows, goats, and pigs with yours. They are free to cross the road, lay down and block traffic, and often raid your garden if your fence is insufficient to keep out the strong, curious and hungry. If they get into your garden, it’s your fault, not theirs. You shoulda made a better fence.

I have found the national pólice to be very friendly. They are everywhere and helpful when you need directions to the baño. Perhaps because they drink terere on the job. It’s a pretty funny sight watching pólice drink terere under the shadeof a mango while on duty. Tranquilo.

Don’t wait for tomorrow to follow your heart. Even if the journey cannot be completed today, small steps are possible every day. Before you know it, you’ll be there. Poco un poco.

Chau for now. xoxo

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

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