Posts Tagged With: trash management

What do Bullfights, Granny Pants and Moving Day have in common?

September 1, 2013

“It takes the power of an inner force to live life on your terms and not someone else’s.”

If you aren’t intrigued by today’s title, I don’t know how else to help you. This post was originally written back in March as I was moving into my new home and on blogging sabbatical so there’s a LOT you’ve missed but now I’m getting you up to speed. But first, I feel compelled to share a couple of highlights from this week.

In my last post I wrote of how cold it has been and this past week was equally frigid….so cold 4,000 cows died this week across the country (and you thought I was just being dramatic about the cold temps, right?)…. So cold (and wet from 4 days of rain) I hadn’t left my house or opened my front door in days, causing my neighbor to finally call and see if I was still alive, injured or moved back to the USA…so cold I finally had time to figure out this blogsite and actually put some cool stuff on it besides stories (so browse around when you have a few minutes)…so cold I’d taken up the habit of keeping my perishables on the counter instead of the fridge because, why not, it was the same temp either way.

As temps started to warm (we’re now back in the land of heat and sweat and I’m loving it) a friend asks if I can get a photo of the dueling male hummingbirds I see in the lime tree outside my window every day. I agreed to try but was doubtful I’d get a decent shot since they’re fast and always zipping in and out of the foliage. BUT, because the universe is always right on time, the VERY NEXT DAY those 2 dueling males delivered a stellar performance in the grass right outside my door that allowed me to get some pretty sweet photos:

Resting male Glitter-bellied Emerald Hummingbirds in Paraguay - outside my front door!

Resting male Glitter-bellied Emerald Hummingbirds in Paraguay – outside my front door!

Ok…now back to our program where you catch up on much of the exciting things that happened during my writing sabbatical. Envision us in March as I ask you: What do Bullfights, Granny Pants and Moving Day have in common?

They were all firsts. This pile of new firsts along my journey provided an exciting week and included other firsts like branding cows, making empanadas, teaching yoga in guarani and accepting a position as the school’s new physical education Professora.

First, let’s clarify the granny pants issue, lest you don’t read the entire post and start developing opinions of me. I was working in the school garden with my host family’s six year old, Ingrid. When I’m working in the field, garden or anywhere that I’m sure to get dirty, I dress appropriately in pants brought for the purpose. Function overrules fashion. (You’ve seen my photos…’nuf said.) While it’s not my best look, it’s not bad, or so I thought. On this particular day, we were hoeing weeds when Ingrid asked if I was wearing my grandmother’s pants! Caught between comic relief and horror at being called out as a granny dresser (back home I’m a true clothes horse) I asked “Why… do they make me look old?” Without pause she assertively replied, “Yes. And on your next birthday you’re going to have 91 candles, right?” Huh? Is it possible for a six year old to have mastered sardonic humor? I reminded her that I’m the same age as her mother. Maybe the lack of mirrors here in PY, which I came to find quite liberating, has taken a bigger toll than I realized. The long shadows in the dirt road have been lying all these weeks…

A couple gents from the community were harvesting honey from a wild hive when their smoker caught the nearby plants on fire, a fire which consumed a great deal of my family’s kokue down the road, including their corn and mandioca. Months of food was destroyed without apology. My family was devastated. Fortunately, they have another sizable plot near the house but this covers only a portion of their annual needs. (Fast forward to September 1 and see malnourished cows and the thinnest pigs ever, for lack of this resource that went up in flames. The cows can barely feed their newborns, much less provide extra for the family’s needs of milk and cheese. Their hunger makes them more irritable and aggressive, resulting in injuries and infections among the herd. I am working with families currently to plant a more diverse and well-rounded feed supply for their animals that includes protein, which they are not getting in appreciable amounts.) It’s not uncommon for locals to raids others’ gardens or fields or steal animals. Over the summer families resorted to using the river for all their water needs when everyone’s wells went dry (and before the running water project was completed). This included driving cattle down there for water, as all the reservoirs had disappeared. After farmers left their cattle to roam free for the day, several cows were shot and butchered on the shores or led across the river by thieves from a neighboring community. People were desperate on both sides of the equation.

I have discovered how precious supplies are here. In an effort to 1) be gentle to the environment in a country with no trash management system, 2) live within my means and 3) use my creative abilities I find myself hoarding packaging like soda and yogurt bottles to keep seeds, yogurt cups and cut-off wine bottles that make great drinking glasses, plastic pouches from dry beans and rice that make great containers for starting seeds, etc. I recently started a page on this blog called Create It which is designed to share instructions for cool projects, including those made from upcycled materials. If you have a great idea to share, please send me a note and I’ll look it over!

After being delayed two weeks due a Dengue fever epidemic, the first day of school (school calendar usually goes from late February to November) was met with much excitement by the kids in the community. However, the two oldest girls in my family were made to stay home to prepare food for an all-day meeting held to celebrate completion of the running water project. They were disappointed to say the least but this is very typical in PY. Education is too frequently sacrificed when kids are needed to care for family members, help with household chores, etc. I asked the Professor if all the kids in our community attend school and he replied “All but three.” Two are mentally challenged, including a 16 year old young man with Down’s Syndrome who incidentally has a big crush on me, blushing like a June bride and shyly hanging his head anytime I so much as look in his direction. It’s adorable. The third is a girl with crossed eyes who is likely capable of being successful in school, despite her vision, but her mother doesn’t want her to attend school. (Winter break is usually a 2-week vacation in July when it’s super cold but this year that turned into a 6 week vacation due to an accompanying teacher strike. The kids will have to attend classes longer into November to make up the time.)

In March, I attended my first bullfight. This much-anticipated event was the talk of the town and all surrounding pueblos for the weekend. Here’s how awesome my host family is: because the bullfight was after dark and it’s not safe to be outside alone at night, and the only way for me to get there is to walk or ride my bike because riding a moto is against Peace Corps policy (the #1 killer in PY), my family walked the 6-mile-2-hour round trip with me in the dark, arriving home at 2:30am. Had they used the moto like they normally would, they could have made the roundtrip journey in 10 minutes. Wow. And the walk provided a breathtaking view of the Milky Way that I couldn’t takes my eyes off plus a raging prairie fire that lit a line of scarlet, beautiful across the black-of-night prairie and inky sky. It reminded me of a burning oil slick on the ocean. The contrast of red on black was striking. Anyway, three matadors were dressed in tight pants and sequined jackets, looking sharp and playing the crowd, including acrobatics over the bulls’ heads and backs. Despite the fanfare and at-times-wild action with the bulls, my favorite part of the night was when the DJ-clown invited some 10 year old-ish boys from the standing-room-only crowd into the ring. After some intros and joking, he got down on all fours and proceeded to give each kid a ‘horsey-ride’, complete with bucking and rearing, his intent to dislodge his rider. His antics and 100% success rate were wildly hilarious. The shadow side of the bullfight which spoiled the night for me was watching how tired and petrified the animals became after a few minutes of bullfighting. Once the animals became exhausted and less aggressive they were chased, prodded and jumped on to encourage them to get feisty again. I would have been terrified too. Other highlights of the night: the make-shift bleachers were cause for close inspection before I dared get on them and even then I considered standing. Simple 2”x5” vertical supports with planks laid across the top like staging, and the ends lashed with nylon rope. And in fact, the front row DID collapse toward the end of the night and two weeks later an entire section collapsed, injuring many.

Bullfight with matadores and acrobatics

Bullfight with matadores and acrobatics

I’ve continued teaching yoga to my host family’s kids and after a particularly fun session where I’d been furiously practicing some new yoga-appropriate guarani vocabulary, the Professor asked if I’d like to be the Professora for Physical Education at the school. With a mix of excitement and intrepidation, I accepted, knowing it would force a whole new set of vocabulary. This was supposed to entail me teaching two classes on Thursdays starting in April. However, as of August, I’ve only taught class once, due either to weather (we were approaching winter), canceled classes for community celebrations, or necessary travel on my part. Hopefully, we’ll get back at it when the weather warms. However, the older kids did start inviting me to afternoon recess to join their volei ball game.

One of my yoga students posing with the rainbow on the soccer (futbol) field.

One of my yoga students posing with the rainbow on the soccer (futbol) field.

The families in my community have relied on hand-dug wells for their water supply since the community was first settled somewhere between 1840-1860. In early March, they finished installation of the running water project which provides unlimited running water to every home. Each family received a tiny outbuilding containing a toilet and shower with a multi-purpose sink on the exterior. The bathroom alone was a major upgrade for most families. Running water was a dream come true!

I was excited too because exactly a week later I moved into my own home, a classroom in an old school building. I affectionately call it my ‘schoolhouse’. I feel a bit spoiled that my community installed an Indoor bathroom for me and I paid extra to have a HOT shower, you bet. I’m honored that they really care about my safety, so I wouldn’t have to go outside at night. It is unheard of for a single woman to live alone here. People are always asking me “Aren’t you afraid living alone?” Nope. No way. I might sleep with my machete next to my bed just in case but I’m beyond content in my own space.

Sunrise from my front door. Good morning!

Sunrise from my front door. Good morning!

I think that’s enough for now. I’m sure this coming week will be no less exciting! Have a fantastic week!

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What’s the fastest way to jump start your morning? Awaken a hive of 40,000 killer bees!

Date: 2-6-13

“The first time you share tea… you are a stranger. The second time you take tea, you are an honored guest. The third time you share a cup of tea, you become family… You must make time to share three cups of tea.” – “Three Cups of Tea” by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin

The Dustbowl of 2013: I’m writing on a Thursday with the promise from neighbors that it will rain tomorrow. The village is very excited. Storm clouds gathered tonight at sunset and the wind picked up. It was suffocatingly hot today, 103 degrees, and like breathing through a warm wet blanket. Even at 10pm the fans (ventiladores in Spanish) are earning their keep and relief is finally coming with the wind whipping ahead of the storm, cooling temps a bit and keeping mosquitos at bay. The power falters repeatedly. The Professor, with his connections, arranged for a tank of water to be delivered today and filled the well higher than I’ve ever seen it. I wanted to do a happy dance. No laundry in the rio afterall and the continued assurance of daily bucket baths and clean drinking water.

A couple weeks ago I made my way to Asuncion, PY’s capitol. I had business and errands at the Peace Corps office and needed a little time away from the campo. I called a nearby volunteer who also lives in the Department of , and is my favorite traveling companion. Lucky Sagittarius that he is, this Kentucky mountain man with the preacher’s hat is a people magnet who casually turns any mishap into the best adventure. He agreed some time in the big city would do him good after a rough week. My one hour walk to the bus stop entailed watching ominous clouds gather, sure that it wouldn’t possibly rain TODAY, since it hadn’t rained in two weeks. Rain it did but, with impeccable timing, held off until the exact second I reached the awning of the bus stop. Then it poured. And the wind picked up and made it impossible to stay if I wanted to maintain any dryness. I ran across the street to a beautiful overgrown bush resembling a giant Easter lily with yellow trumpet-shaped flowers which provided fantastic shelter as I hovered under it, crouching over my backpack and the laptop hidden within to keep them dry. The rain lasted only 10 minutes but it gave me time to pause and be present. With my head bowed I watched the water collecting on my curls, slowly sliding, gathering, building into droplets as they slipped toward the ends, like kids on a waterslide, then gracefully fall onto my ankles. My ankles were quickly speckled with dust and raindrops. I lifted my foot outward into the rain hoping to wash off the dust. When the rain subsided I tried rinsing my feet in a shallow sidewalk puddle. Stupid. Before the rain, the sidewalk was dirtier than my feet from the road dust. It was essentially a warm, watery puddle of mud.

Shortly thereafter the bus arrived and took me through new parts of prairie, past plantation after plantation of pines and eucalyptus trees and others I didn’t recognize, all standing in perfect formation like obedient soldiers. The tallest had foliage only at the very top and reminded me of giant rows of harp strings with cattle grazing beneath and between. We continued for two hours down this never-ending bouncy dirt road where the prairie stretched to an endless horizon, reminding me of the ocean back home, then closed in and became familiar smaller pastures like you’d find in any quaint New England country town. The smells of rain, rotting fruit, manure, and the bus’ ancient vinyl and polyester seats filled my head. The road became ugly as the rainstorm made friends with the clay soil and played games with the wheels on the bus. One moment we’re slip-sliding down a small hill and the next spinning our wheels at the slightest incline. It was a bit harrowing so I did what any logical person would do: went to sleep.

In Yuty (pronounced joo-tu), officially the most southern place in the world I have visited thus far in my life, I saw an employee at the bus terminal using crutches because his feet had grown backwards but bless him for working and the terminal for hiring him. The other volunteer and I arrived in Asuncion at 4:30am and found rooms at a beautiful new hostel downtown. I was so excited for a hot shower. We filled the day with errands at the Peace Corps office, lunch of great Chinese food, a friendly and random chance meeting on the sidewalk with an alchemist who gave us mounds of fresh fruit from his home, and catching up with a Paraguay friend, Ernesto, who lives and owns a leather goods shop in Mercado 4 and who took time away from the business to show us around. He’s super sweet. We treated ourselves to massages and headed back to the hostel where we met a Russian-German man who speaks 8 languages, has lived in Brazil a number of years and moved to PY only two weeks ago. This is what I love about hostels. You meet interesting people. We were joined by another volunteer friend and sat around sharing stories into the night.

The next morning I was refreshed and ready to rejoin my community. In a cab ride back to the bus terminal we were surprised to find ourselves in a new car in mint condition complete with new-car smell and lace seat covers….a rarity in PY, or anywhere for that matter!

My host Mom, Isabel, and I were chatting recently about food. She confessed that PY doesn’t have much in the way of food preparation education. Recipes and cookbooks in the campo are rare. Most recipes are passed on by family, hence why one family’s sopa may be very different from another’s. She added that many women in our community are eager to learn how to prepare healthier food and lose weight but don’t know how. I see some nutrition workshops and cooking classes in our future!

This last week of January has been packed with bee projects from which I finally obtained my own hive of bees. Having this work has greatly improved my overall satisfaction and minimized the normal ups and downs, at least for now. It feels good to have solid work and make a tangible contribution through beekeeping for those families. Most bees here are Africanized or the infamous “killer bees.” I did three wild-hive captures (trasiegos) with various members of my community and a honey harvest with my host family. Now that my community knows I can help them with bees, invitations keep pouring in from families wanting help and folks are eager to tell me where to find the next takuru (termite mound). Let me clarify: invitations come from families with whom I’ve built relationships. Like most places in the world, nothing is accomplished here without first building relationships (and building toward your “Three Cups of Tea” as it were). And even the most pressing matter may still take a backseat to first sharing terere with a circle of family or friends. A simple walk down the street always involves saying hello to everyone and asking about their family.

A trasiego involves moving the bees from their wild hive and putting them into a wooden hive that is managed by the family on their property. Wild hives are often found here under termite mounds, in coco trees or in holes in the soil. Often you can also harvest some honey during a trasiego, depending on the time of year. We are nearing the end of honey harvest season but were able to collect some honey in all three cases. Bees tend to be much more tranquilo during a trasiego than during a honey harvest because in a trasiego you are destroying their home, they are confused and go into survival mode rather than their typical defensive mode when you simply steal their honey. This is not to say they won’t sting because they will but overall they’re much more tranquilo. In fact, we often handle them with bare hands while scooping them from the wild hive into their new box! It’s incredible how much heat they produce in the depths of the hive and the vibration of their wings on your hands is amazing and, at first, quite unsettling.

The first trasiego was a subterranean colony living under a termite mound on the prairie. I had three volunteers who visited for the weekend to help and get additional practice for themselves. The family didn’t originally want to participate at all, the husband citing an ‘allergy’ to bee stings (I think every man in my village conveniently has an ‘allergy’ to bee stings). But ultimately the entire family was an integral part of the process, from rebuilding an old wooden hive to sewing honeycomb onto the frames of the new hive and scooping bees into their new home. Even the teenage boys came up close and helped with the smokers to keep the bees calm. The family was very proud of themselves and their new hive in the end. The second trasiego was the first on my own and I felt pretty confident. I worked with two ladies in their 50s, their first trasiego each. Again, neither wanted to be hands-on originally but, with a littIe convincing, they were cracking open the fallen coco tree with a machete, sewing comb onto the frames, keeping the smokers going and the bees calm, and learning the difference between cells containing honey, pollen and baby bees. In fact, we witnessed three ‘newborn’ bees hatching from their cells that day. Incredible because they come out fully grown, walking perfectly and ready to work. When we pulled a pristine, three foot chunk of honeycomb from the tree we all smiled and posed for a photo taken by one of my host family’s daughters, standing a ‘safe’ distance away in the brush. They realized handling bees was actually quite fun and finished with a new sense of confidence and accomplishment. Personally, I find working with bees very meditative because you can’t think of anything else when you are with them. The final trasiego was another, huge, termite mound on the prairie. A neighbor had planned to harvest the honey and invited me to keep the bees for myself afterward. Score. The final piece of a trasiego after putting them in the box is to leave the box there for a day or two so the bees who aren’t yet inside will find their way there and you take as many from the old hive as possible. Then the following night after dark you move the hive to its permanent location on your own property. Since I don’t have a property my host family offered a spot in the forest on their property for my new bees to live. The problem with this hive is that the days were so hot the bees wouldn’t stay in the box so we could move them off the prairie to their new home. Instead they were clustering outside and underneath to stay cool. So we got up at 5am the third morning and took what we could. Wrapping the hive in a sheet to prevent escapees and stings, we trekked the bumpy mile across the prairie and crop fields to their new location. As we put the box in place, we could hear the angry buzzing of 40,000 pissed off bees now loaded for bear from being so rudely jostled and awakened so we quickly removed the sheet and ran like hell. It was a fantastic week and the unanticipated benefit of this work is that my villagers insist I take home some honey for helping them.

I’ve been trying to move my bin of California red worms from the old volunteer’s house to the school garden for lessons in using worms for composting when the school year begins later this month. It took two attempts as the first try was thwarted by fire ants. I heard them before I saw them. I looked up at the sound of rustling thinking a horse or cow was moving through the bushes nearby. Initially I saw nothing but then the leaves on the ground started moving and I realized an army of fire ants was headed straight for us. Because ants don’t like wet conditions, we made a temporary barrier by emptying two buckets of water around the area but it wasn’t enough to stop them. We fled and finished the following week. During that attempt, the 10-year old from my host family told me to stop and listen to the birds. They were really squawking and she told me it was because a snake (serpiente) was near. With this newsflash I just wanted to finish the damn project and get outta there. I cursed myself for forgetting my machete this day. We worked faster, walked carefully and were glad to finish after a few trips with the wheelbarrow. Pay mind to the birds’ song for they speak when the serpent is near.

Speaking of insects and dryness, we’ve been hit with a sudden onslaught of new insects who either prefer the dry conditions or are looking for water as desperately as everything else. Many of these insects are stinger types like wasps, clinging to wet laundry on the line and sucking the moisture from it.

It’s “carnaval” season in PY. There are two types of carnaval. One is the infamous fiesta scene such as that in Encarnacion and Asuncion with fireworks, festivities, and scantily-clad dancers donning heels and plumage like a Victoria’s Secret runway model. The other meaning for carnaval is ‘water fight!’ haha Isabel encourages me to carnaval her daughters, normally Irma, when they joke with me. The other day the family was on the patio chatting away and I snuck up behind Irma after she’d given me a ration of joking and gave her a good squirt with my water bottle. Water fight and peals of laughter ensued!

February 12 is my site presentation which means my supervisor and our technical guru will visit my site to meet with my villagers, explain Peace Corps, my background, expectations the village should have of me and Peace Corps has of my village to support me. During this time, they also inspect my future living space: a classroom in an old, unused school building. I love my host family but can’t wait to move, have my own space, and make my own food again! I’m busy finishing my family visits and ensuring everyone has an invitation to the gathering.

Recently my family made chipa, a very popular bread made of corn and mandioca flour and usually shaped like a bagel or baguette. We enjoyed a breakfast of chipa and hot chocolate in the coolness and sunrise of one early morning. This reminded me of the croissants and delicious hot chocolate I had years ago in a tiny French café while chaperoning my daughter’s eighth grade class in Quebec City.

Random additions:

I recently finished reading “Water for Elephants” by Sara Gruen (couldn’t put it down and read it in one day) and “Three Cups of Tea” by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin. “Three Cups” portrays Greg’s life as a mountain climber who went on to build schools for children in the Himalayan mountains of Pakistan and Afghanistan. If you’re a climber, interested in other cultures and/or the politics pre-and-post- 9/11 of Pakistan and Afghanistan this one might peak your interest. Next is the sequel to “Three Cups” called “Stones into School” which I am liking even better.

“Air tissue” is a popular practice here. Plus it helps with trash management. I’ve never seen a Paraguayan use a paper tissue.

It is common for Paraguayans to cook meals in a single pot. This is why stews or “caldo” is so popular. It is also very common for vegetables and meat to be cut into tiny pieces. Fewer pans, less clean up, faster cooking and thus less fuel used.

One day at the bus stop I met a woman with 14 siblings, 11 of whom were living. But she doesn’t take the record. Last week I met someone whose cousin had 17 kids and none were twins!

On my walk home from the bus one day, courtesy of a fantastic view of the prairie, I counted the smoke from 11 prairie fires. Our normally cloudless, bright blue sky was hazy for the next couple days. Everything is dangerously dry from the drought.

When you visit a Paraguayan family, their hospitality second to none, they always end the visit asking when you will visit again. At first, I just thought they enjoyed the visit and wanted me to come back. Later I realized it’s what they all say to conclude a visit. Haha!

Condiments here like mayo and ketchup are sold in small, single serve squeezable pouches, convenient for those who have no refrigeration. Spices are sold in small plastic sleeves but I’m not sure why this convention is popular. Perhaps to be used more rapidly to prevent insect infestation? I remember while working for Hannaford that our Latino populations in the US prefer the same type of spice packaging over the flip-top or screw-top canister style with which I grew up.

Don’t forget to tell your favorites that you love them.

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

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