Posts Tagged With: Women’s Club

Appreciation Day

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

October 2, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Categories: Peace Corps Paraguay | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“AHAs” In Cultural Exchange

“The more things you try, the more likely it is that you will try the one thing that will make all of the difference.” – Brian Tracy

September 1, 2014

I walked into the meeting room laden with my microwave-sized portable oven we’d be using to make passion fruit marmalade. As I stepped across the threshold a mischievous señora and her granddaughter let out a loud “BOO!” from behind the door. I screamed, looked her in the eyes, and kept screaming while I put down the oven until I could start laughing. She was grinning with satisfaction. Payback’s a bitch.

Two weeks earlier I’d spied this same señora walking into my backyard with intentions of coming across the front of my house on her way to our women’s club meeting. I slipped around the corner out of sight and when she stepped up onto my patio I jumped out of my doorway with the same “BOO!”, scaring the bejesus out of her. Once she pulled herself together, she laughed and playfully slapped me on the rear-end then proceeded to retell the story- play by play – to every woman at the meeting.

This meeting in particular was especially sweet for two major reasons: 1) they learned that some of them are now quasi-famous and 2) we had some major “Ahas!” in cultural exchange. Let’s start at the beginning…

I was eager to share a biodigester video produced by fellow volunteer, Lydia Caudill, and featuring four people from my community. Last year, Lydia and two other volunteers visited my site to interview families who use biodigesters as a source of cooking fuel and fertilizer. The result is beautiful. While it is in Guarani with Spanish subtitles, I encourage you to take a look here to see how these biodigesters work, hear the guarani language, and get a glimpse of the proud people of Paraguay. There are some things which have no language barrier. My señoras and my Contact (the man doing much of the talking in the video) were on the edges of their seats (until I pulled out my camera then they all tried to sit back and look ‘chill’!), completely absorbed in the video of themselves and their neighbors (we watched it twice). Their sense of pride filled the room unquestionably, especially when I shared that the hope from the producers and staff is to share the video as an educational tool with Peace Corps posts worldwide! My neighbors loved the idea of being worldly famous. And then they joked about royalties. haha

Later, one señora taught the group to make bread then I taught them to make an almost-sugar-free passion fruit marmalade while the dough was rising (recipe here or click on my In the Kitchen page). With the smell of bread baking in my portable oven, I gave a talk on U.S. culture. The idea was the brainchild of my best friend and fellow volunteer, Tiffany (read her blog here), who’d had much success with this in her own community. I wish I hadn’t waited so long to do this. Despite me offering bits of this talk over the past two years, something about sitting them down and feeding it to them in one gulp broke some barriers and opened some eyes.

My rustic handmade U.S. map offered perspective on the size of the US (we don’t often use the term ‘American’ unless it’s “North American” because Paraguayans consider themselves Americans too….from SOUTH America) compared to Paraguay (which is the size of California) and subsequent population differences. They were shocked to learn that US families have an average of 1-2 children (compared to 6-8/family here!), the wide variety of religions, ethnicities, skin colors, languages and social classes. I gave an example of a ‘typical’ day in the life of a US family. They were horrified to hear that a typical working person gets a half hour for lunch (literally, their jaws dropped open at the thought; who could eat lunch that fast and at the office without your FAMILY???? CRAZY!) And when I talked about our health care system that sometimes leaves people needing to sell their homes when tragedy strikes, they looked at each other and one woman spoke up: “I guess we are pretty rich here after all. We have land, animals, gardens, wells for water, fruit trees, crop fields, close families to help during good times and bad, the ability to stay home with our children.” For a people that consistently reinforce to those with ‘more’ the notion “I am poor. We have no money or things.” this was a huge win – to hear these material-poor people suddenly realize – and claim – how rich they truly are …my heart swelled with joy.

We concluded by sharing our assumptions of each others’ cultures before I came to Paraguay and before we began to know one another. Mine went something like this. “Before coming to Paraguay, I expected:

“everyone to have brown skin, black eyes, black hair and be short.” Reality: PY is a melting pot with influences from Germany, Japan, Russia, Argentina, Spain, and more. You can find brown skin and white. Black hair and blond, sometimes red. Short people and very tall.

“the food to be spicy and based on rice and beans like Central America.” Reality: food here is bland and perhaps why people use so much salt (in addition to the heat and sweating factors). Much of the food is based on mandioca, corn, and white flour (tortillas, milanesa, empanadas, pasta). Most Paraguayans don’t like spicy food, not even your standard ground black pepper. Food is more likely flavored with onions, garlic and oregano.

“a diet rich in vegetables and fruits and little meat.” In the US meat is expensive and I assumed it would be here too but most people in the country raise their own meat and they eat A LOT OF IT. Vegetables are difficult to grow because of the poor soil and intense heat that literally fries plants if not grown in the shade. Fruits are feast or famine. During citrus season, as I’ve mentioned in prior posts here  and here , there is more than can be consumed and citrus is difficult to preserve. Pear, mango and grape seasons tend to come together too but in between, there’s not much. And because the roads are not well maintained transporting fruits and veggies to or from the market can be difficult to impossible.

“everyone to ‘roll’ their ‘r’s.” You’ve probably heard Spanish speakers use that beautiful roll in words. Not here in Paraguay. They laughed and said “No, we’re too lazy to do that!”

“I thought your coconuts would be big.” Paraguayan coconuts are small, the size of golf balls. It’s a lot of work for a small amount of pulp.

When it came time for their turn to voice assumptions, their only concern was “What will she EAT?” and after my arrival they were surprised to learn I could ride a horse.

It was another super fun afternoon with the ladies and a victory in cross-cultural understanding!

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

Rainy Days

“Being guided isn’t like making a cake, where you mix it up and sit back until it’s baked. It’s more like dancing with a partner. If you’re not following continual subtle motions, you aren’t being led…” – Julie Shaul

 

April 11, 2014

 

A real humdinger of a rain/thunderstorm that lasted all night and through the morning resulted in dozens of caterpillary-worms (gusanos) crawling under my door searching for dry land. Outside this morning I watched as they crept over the edge of the tiled patio then swam through puddles on the floor toward the house. After smooshing a few dozen, I went back inside to make coffee and upon hearing footsteps, I turned around to find my neighbor’s bull already head and shoulders through the door looking for shelter too. I got a dirty, disgruntled look after telling him there was no vacancy and shooing him out with a broom (expletives might have been involved). The door will stay closed until further notice. (I couldn’t make this stuff up if I tried.) The upside was that the frogs are exquisitely happy with all the rain and have been singing a beautiful chorus of song since midnight. Plus it makes for good storytelling. And while I do love the occasional ‘indoors day’ which provides downtime for planning, reading, studying or alone time, I am disappointed that the rain will cancel today’s Women’s club and likely tomorrow’s Kids’ Club (rain here in the campo is like a big snow day in Maine where everything closes). The kids have asked me every day for the past five days if we are having Kids’ Club and English class this weekend because they really look forward to it. How can I say no to kids who are so open and eager to learn? That kind of excitement and engagement is what makes my service so fulfilling! When you listen and let life guide you, you can’t go wrong.

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