Posts Tagged With: yoga

A Pair of Clubs

March 3, 2014

“I want you to protect and covet the gifts of love you have to share and to trust your soul enough to let it lead you.” – Meggan Watterson, REVEAL – A Sacred Manual for Getting Spiritually Naked

I was super psyched and especially proud of the ladies this week. Up until this point, I normally drive the Women’s Club meeting, asking for activity ideas for next time, reminding them to set the next date, preparing a snack, etc. But now they are starting to do more of these things themselves, which is exactly what we want to ultimately make this activity sustainable and ensure they continue learning and having fun after my service finishes in December. It feels good to know they’re enjoying it enough to make sure it doesn’t end!

Our ice breakers tend to be loads of laughs. Perhaps you’ve done some of these yourself? One consisted of taping the name of a famous person to each lady’s back and having her guess the name by asking questions of the other ladies in the room  (Is my person male? Female? In Paraguay? Europe? Religious figure? Celebrity? Singer? Futbolista? Etc). Another was called “Sorts” where I call out 2 words, one for each side of the room, and the ladies sort themselves based on their preferences. For example, stand on the right side of the room if you like Team Cerro, or the left if you like Team Olimpia. Other contrasts included radio vs TV, salt vs sugar, asado (BBQ) vs mandio chyryry but the one that was sure to bring down the house I saved for last. With dramatic pause I announced dessert vs sex. The room erupted into giggles and slaps on each others’ backsides. Game over. Mission accomplished. Let the meeting begin.

Club de ninos 004

Ladies of the Club de Mujeres trying to guess the name of the famous person taped to their backs.

I’m also excited that the local nurse is really interested in joining us and doing a health-related talk each time. This is much needed in my community and of great interest to me personally. She talks about nutrition, diabetes, exercise and preparing great snacks, and I back her up on the importance for exercise by doing a short dance or yoga class. Because the ladies have been specifically asking how to whittle their midriffs I taught them how to do planks this week and, as encouragement to practice at home, I announced The Great 60-day Plank Challenge. On May 2 the ladies will compete to see who can hold a plank the longest (the original proposal was that they had to hold it longer than me but they shot me down and wanted to compete against themselves. Ok, that’s probably more fair.) Winner gets a liter of my highly-coveted jasmine honey. If you think that’s not much of a prize you don’t know how much Paraguayans love their honey. There might be bloodshed (just kidding on that last part.) They practiced getting horizontal right then and there. Here’s a plank highlighting the muscles it works, perfect for core strengthening:

Proper plank pose highlighting the muscles it strengthens throughout the core. This will whittle your middle.

Proper plank pose highlighting the muscles it strengthens throughout the core. This will whittle your middle.

The Club de Niños (Kids’ Club) and the English class are essentially the same group of kids so every Saturday for about three hours we study English then have fun with Kids’ Club activities. We wrapped up this week’s English class learning to pronounce the alphabet. Then we went outside and, with me calling out letters, they raced each other to make letter shapes in the grass using their bodies. It was a scream. Literally. Every Club meeting (and sometimes if we need a break during English) we practice yoga. This week to boost concentration and attention I told them each child would need to teach one posture to the group next week. I had them create fun, positive SuperHero names like Inteligente Hilda, Genial Gerardo, Linda Luz Maria (linda is Spanish for ‘pretty’), Super Sophia, etc, we drew names and they chose their posture. They seemed pretty excited about this and I’m looking forward to next week.

And since The Great 60-Day Plank Challenge was so well-received with the ladies I offered it to the kids as well. In early May the kids will compete against each other to see who can hold plank position the longest. However, this group decided they wanted to start competing TODAY and a tiny, scrawny scrappy gal won with a time of nearly 1 1/2 minutes! I was super impressed but the defeated boys were not! This, of course, motivated them into action for home practice, not to be outdone next week. This was followed by a game of Duck, Duck, Goose (aka in Spanish as Pato, Pato, Ganso), coloring, and futbol. Send in your suggestions for other fun, kid-friendly exercise games. We’re open to ideas!

Kids' Club made teams to race each other in forming letters of the alphabet using their bodies. Squeals of laughter. This is letter H. H is for hilarity.

Kids’ Club made teams to race each other in forming letters of the alphabet using their bodies. Squeals of laughter. This is letter H. H is for hilarity.

At the beginning of my service I did not foresee myself working with kids; my interest was more in agricultural work with adults in their fields and gardens. But I’ve got to admit that my recent involvement with the new Kids’ and Women’s Clubs has been some of the most fulfilling experiences of my service. I love how life can surprise us with a course correction that turns our expectations upside down and uncovers a whole new facet of ourselves, revealing interests or gifts we never knew we had. The lesson: be open. Always be open.

**Check out the Eye Candy page for new photos!!**

Categories: Peace Corps Paraguay | Tags: , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

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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Meet My Community – The Espínola-Romero family, Angels by My Side

November 11, 2013

“What we have done for ourselves alone dies with us; what we have done for others and the world remains and is immortal.” – Albert Pike

Recently, I was invited to make chorizo with the Espínola-Romero family (in PY and perhaps much of Latin America the husband’s name is written first followed by the wife’s maiden name; many women keep their own family name but the kids will have both; it is important to acknowledge your family). Chorizo is a type of very popular sausage here in PY and can be bought commercially or made at home. Sadly, the family needed to slaughter one of their two breeding sows because they ran out of crops due to two consecutive years of summer drought and could no longer afford to feed them both. This adult pig was thin from lack of food and didn’t provide much meat so the family got only a few cuts to BBQ and a large kettle’s worth for sausage. Day 1 consisted of chopping the meat into very small pieces and adding garlic, lime juice and salt then cleaning the intestines. Day 2 had us filling the intestines with the mix from Day 1, tying off the ends and hanging to cure for a couple days outside. I will never look at an intestine or a sausage the same way again but it was fun and tasty.

The family's only son dressing a freshly killed pig.

The family’s only son dressing a freshly killed pig.

This family hosted me in their home during my first three months living in this community. Already bursting with four kids still at home it seemed to me such an imposition. But Tranquilo! They gave me my own room and the four sisters moved into a room partially shared by their parents, Victor (46) and Isabel (43). In the campo, it is extremely common for an entire family to share a bedroom. I have seen five or six beds in a room. Privacy and space is not needed or valued. The girls Irma (17), Irene (goes by Rocio, 14), Hilda (11), and Ingrid (6) shared two beds among them. The family was enormously generous and patient during my stay (and beyond), helping me with language, inviting me to meetings, helping me find my way with bus schedules, meeting the community, keeping me safe, teaching me to cook local foods, etc. Victor is the most educated person in the community with degrees in Education Administration and Ministry (most people in my community have no more than a 6th grade education). He is the town pastor, Director of our elementary school, well-respected community leader and my contact, my Go-To for most questions, developing work plans, or general help (Ex: **Where will I live? Where can I have a garden? The shower is dripping and I can’t fix it…Who do I call? I had a big misunderstanding with a teacher and I think I hurt her feelings…Can you help me explain to her? What time does the bus come on Sundays? Is this person safe to visit? Will you teach me to plant yerba? When is the next committee meeting and who do I talk with to see if I can give a workshop for them that day? Can you teach me to kill a chicken? Where do I buy paint/wire/glass/popcorn/laundry soap/get my mail/? Is there a carpenter nearby? Who sells cheese and milk in the community? I’m catching a wild hive of bees tomorrow…where do I put them???**…. You can see this is no easy job for him!!!). Quiet, tranquilo, wise and forever forgiving of my language and faux pas he is the number one reason I function at the level I do here. PS – He let me put my bees on his property, even though it sometimes meant they followed me back to the house after harvesting their honey and we had to close all the windows and doors to keep them out! Haha.

Isabel with five of her six daughters.

Isabel with five of her six daughters.

The couple has seven children (only one son) and the three oldest work in Asuncion and study auto repair, administration and physical therapy. I owe the kids of the family A LOT for, at times, they were able to understand my VERY BASIC language skills (6 weeks of guarani when I arrived– eeek) when no one else could and would then translate for me. This is also one of the reasons they frequently accompanied me on my early introductory visits to local families when I first arrived. At home, the oldest, Irma, is graduating high school in December and plans to study allergy medicine. She is sad to finish school and head into summer vacation, partly because her chores at home are far more laborious than her schoolwork. While all the family has a fantastic sense of humor, she really keeps it going and doesn’t take too much to heart. She is also her mother’s right hand, doing much of the household chores of cooking and laundry for six people, which take hours every day. She and her sister, Rocio, help with the care and butchering of animals and Rocio’s role is to clean the house and yard every day. When I asked Rocio where she wanted to live after high school, in the campo or move to the city, she just stared at me blankly as if this question had never occurred to her, nor did it seem to even warrant discussion. She noncommittally gave me an answer of “I dunno. I’ll probably live right here.” Paraguayans are known for living in the moment and there’s a lot to be said for that. But I also wanted to get her thinking about her future, perhaps doing something more with her intelligence and expanding her world view than settling for a (mediocre) high school education. Art and writing are her favorite subjects and with school coming to a close later this month, she’s facing 10 final exams. Her younger sister, Hilda, is a sweet, smart mousy little thing, efficient, helpful, and an occasional tutor for me. She also was a natural yogi when I taught on their front lawn.

Hilda practicing her best "Tree" pose on the soccer field beneath a stellar rainbow.

Hilda practicing her best “Tree” pose on the soccer field beneath a stellar rainbow.

She and her youngest sister, Ingrid, don’t have many responsibilities around the house yet, other than to be generally helpful. If their Dad or guests need terere on the patio, it’s the girls’ job to prepare it. Sometimes they help herd the animals to the house in late afternoon. Ingrid is perhaps the most competitive of all her siblings, never wanting to be left out or out done and as such she is incredibly gifted in her intelligence, cunning, and athletic ability. She knows how to wrap people around her little finger with the right expression and those huge, adorable brown eyes.

Future Site visit 11-20-12 045

See what I Mean?

Isabel is one of nine siblings, two of whom live next door. She visits her deceased parents at the cemetery early every Monday morning with her sisters and is the president of the agriculture committee. She oversees the household, spends every morning on domestic duties with her children as well as manages an enormous garden and several acres of crops for the family and animals. Mid-day she milks two cows and makes cheese on days when she has accumulated enough. An excellent mother, her children are among the best mannered in the entire town. She exacts a loving discipline that demands respect, immediate action to her requests (the proper response when your name is called is “Yes, Ma’am?”), NO WHINING, NO BACKTALK, NO dilly-dallying with chores, NO half-assed work. Her children emanate excellent manners, intelligence, humor, a willingness to be helpful at all times, and to lead. Yes, they are all leaders.

Isabel cutting up a pig for an asado (BBQ) to celebrate my arrival in the community.

Isabel cutting up a pig for an asado (BBQ) to celebrate my arrival in the community.

This humble, loving family has seen me through my best and worst. They’ve sacrificed space, time, patience and so much more to see me through. (It’s not easy inviting a stranger to your town and working with all their shortcomings!) They cultivated within me a vague sense of humor and tranquilo attitude toward the daily happenings in campo life. I owe them so much but most of all, my sanity and undying gratitude.

The family (back row, L to R):  Victor, Isabel, Rocio, Hilda, Irma. (front row L to R): an uncle, Ingrid, favorite aunt

The family (back row, L to R): Victor, Isabel, Rocio, Hilda, Irma. (front row L to R): an uncle, Ingrid, favorite aunt

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

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.

Categories: Peace Corps Paraguay | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Celebrating Success, Awkward Moments, and Creative Energy

September 8, 2013

Your life. Your version of success.  – Danielle LaPorte

Despite everyone being down with the “Gripe” (pronounced GREE-pay), or common cold, it’s been a pretty stellar week. Success on many levels.

I’ve felt the benefits of much fantastically powerful energy from the universe these last few weeks and it, coupled with the arrival of purely blissful tropical weather, has provided one of the most creative weeks of my adult life.

New crescent moon - September 2013

New crescent moon – September 2013

The cherry on top was just yesterday when I gave a major presentation to my community that was well-received and the results of which got community members very excited. I don’t think they ever realized how many resources they have available to them right in their community or the multitude of new opportunities available using those existing resources…all right here, all this time, at their fingertips. A few of them looked at each other in disbelief as if to say, “Really? It’s been here all along?” The result was an empowered community who learned how to identify and prioritize their needs, find new uses for existing resources and thus giving me some good direction and a whole new set of projects! A true success by all accounts.

But most of the time, the joys and successes of my job don’t come neatly packaged as well-attended meetings with positive outcomes. Sometimes it’s comparing recipes for mandio chyryry with a local señora or being invited to the San Juan Fiesta of Fire in June where, in the darkness after sunset, people are literally kicking flaming soccer balls and throwing blazing chunks of straw at each other, delighting in being chased by a man in a bull’s costume whose horns are on fire, or climbing a greased pole to get the prize at the top (this took collaboration of 4 men standing on each others’ shoulders).

San Juan Festival of Fire  June 2013

San Juan Festival of Fire June 2013

San Juan Festival of Fire - Flaming Soccer Balls! June 2013

San Juan Festival of Fire – Flaming Soccer Balls! June 2013

Sometimes it’s visiting a neighbor to discover she has six brand new baby goats and falling in love with the little guys and being invited to visit every day.

Goat babies steal my heart...

Goat babies steal my heart…

Or working in an environment that exults my senses and insists I pause with appreciation like the friendly wave of a neighbor heading to the field, a perfect tropical breeze, the glowing crescent of a new moon, the arrival of new birds and butterflies for the season, outdoor yoga on my brick patio in a warm splash of sun, siesta in a hammock under a guava tree humming with happy foraging bees, the sweet call of goat babies wanting their mamas, fireants that leave a rash of itchy bites…

Sunrise yoga on the patio. Nothing finer.

Sunrise yoga on the patio. Nothing finer.

New arrival.

New arrival.

Speaking of unfortunate situations (like stepping on fireants), sometimes you’re so far from success you want to evaporate, dissolve into the soil, teleport yourself back to your house and never come out again. Here are a few things that haven’t been so successful:

Awkward Moment #951: Asking the local Professora if she had worms when I meant to ask if she had onions.

And it’s twin, Awkward Moment #952: On a sweaty, sweltering day, telling my host family I was horny when I really meant to say I was hot. Oops.

Awkward is the name of the game…The morning after making arrangements with a neighboring señora to work together in her field, I arrived at her house (fashionably late, as dictated by “Paraguayan time” standards), to learn from her confused look that not only had she forgotten our plan but she had made other arrangements in the last 14 hours (Paraguayans really do live only in the present moment.) Now I know I miss a lot due to my limited language skills but I KNOW I wasn’t wrong about the agreement. I offered to come back later or another day but she insisted that no, we’d go out now. We quickly hoed two rows and she cut me loose. What does one say? The following day she finally admitted she’d forgotten. Ultimately we laughed that she had killed 2 corn plants and I killed none then I showed off my fire ant rash that memorialized the event. Tranquilo. Success.

And just to ensure that I’ll be a pro at “Awkward Moments” when I finish my service….there’s my old favorite: To my 10 community members who spent all afternoon bringing my garden to life building a fence, turning sod and dodging tarantulas I MEANT to say ¨Thanks so much for your help.¨ (“tanto” in Spanish) After seeing confusion and concern on their faces I raced to my dictionary and to my horror realized I´d INADVERTENTLY said ¨Thanks for your STUPID help.¨ (“tonto”) Yup. What a difference a stinking vowel makes. This is my life in PY.

Did you know?

I’ve had readers from over 30 countries visit my blog.

Eating raw, organic carrots can temporarily soothe a sore throat and cough (refer back to the Gripe at the top).

A local rooster visits me daily (because he thinks I’m the chuck wagon) and coos like a cat in heat. No joke.

We’ve recently had an invasion of flying ants – you can see tens of thousands of them in the setting sun- and when they land they instantly shed their wings and start crawling. Freaky!

Paraguay’s national flower is the passionfruit flower.

Passionfruit flower

Passionfruit flower

Let your lives speak. – George Fox

Until next time…jajotopata!

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

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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… 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!

Categories: Peace Corps Paraguay | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“There´s a frog in my toilet” and other tales from the tropics

Date: 1-9-13

“…we can’t leave ourselves out when we undertake to make the whole world happy. Because we are part of the whole world too!” – “How Yoga Works”, Geshe Michael Roach & Christie McNally

A chicken walks into a bedroom… No this is not an impending joke. Those of you who know me are relieved, I know. I can’t tell jokes. This is my actual life. As I’m editing the last bits of this post a chicken walks into my bedroom. (It is far too common in this country to have chickens or guinea hens wandering freely throughout the house when no one’s paying attention.) We try to shoo her out but instead of turning around and heading back out the door like a good little chicken, she freaks out and starts flying around my room like she’s lost a propeller. She lands on the back of my neck, my pillow, the sheets, the floor. We shoo her again and she does a repeat, crashing into the wall and seemingly blind to the big open doorway. You don’t know how dirty chicken feet are until they’ve been on your neck. Eeeew. Three of the girls were in my room reading with me and we were shrieking and laughing until Isabel came running in the house to see what the bluster was all about. When we explained she burst out laughing, devoid of all sympathy. I changed the sheets and showered… I mean bucket bathed. Promptly.

I was blessed to Skype with my daughter and parents for hours last week. It was wonderful to catch up on the news and just hear their voices. I look forward to skyping, their letters and catching up each week when I get ‘in town’ (though I don’t think the owners of the internet café love me so much on days I stay through siesta hour and they don’t get their nap.) While I love the campo, I find I really need a bit of ‘in town’ once a week. It’s also a good time to do errands, grab some great chipa and groceries, have a meeting with the other volunteers in our area, etc. Last week I got the latest letters from my Mom that included the family Christmas cards and newsletter. My Mom is great that way…always thinking of others. Every year my extended family writes a newsletter with stories recapping the year’s events for each family. There are about 70 people on this side of the family and it was an amazing year of great achievements as well as much suffering and angst. In the end, we all agreed our greatest gift was each other, having an incredible family on which to lean, celebrate and love. It never ceases to amaze me how little I know what goes on in my family until I read the newsletter at year’s end. What makes it worse is that most of us live next door to one another!

Speaking of family, my very sweet and thoughtful 18-year old nephew has been having dinner with my parents every Tuesday and on one of his recent visits he told my Mom he wanted to get me something for Christmas. Mom asked him what he had in mind. He pondered intently throughout the evening and finally decided on the perfect gift. “Deodorant!” he said proudly. “I think with all that heat she probably needs deodorant. I think she would be very happy with that, Gram.” I would be happy with anything from this gem of a kid…even deodorant.

I’ve begun drying mangoes to savor for the coming winter and to begin showing the señoras here how they can improve and extend nutrition through more parts of the year by drying food in-season. I discovered that the previous volunteer in this site had already built a solar dryer so I got to work peeling and slicing, chatting excitedly with my señora in the house about the possibilities and benefits of having real, dried fruit off-season. The one thing I forgot to account for was the weather. I got a ½ day of sun followed by 2 days of rain and clouds. Half my precious mangoes that didn’t dry the first day got moldy. It has been cool and rainy since Christmas. I haven’t seen weather like this since I first arrived in PY and while it’s a nice break from the heat, it isn’t helpful for drying fruit. “Util”, meaning ‘helpful’, is one of the vocabulary words the kids gave me recently and we use it jokingly ALL the time, usually in the negative such as “Oky (rain)- no util”, “Pelea (fight)- no util”. I’ve got that word down for sure. Speaking of rainy weather, I seriously thought we were in for a tornado the other night. The sky was an eery, mysterious caldron of black swirling clouds wreaking havoc with the light of the sunset in a way I’ve never seen. The family was outside watching curiously. I was watching for a funnel. There was no tornado- at least not in my village- but the sky opened up to dump its water on us all at once, while thunder crashed and lightning flashed non-stop for two hours.

With intermittent help from the Professor and a couple of his kids, we’ve started cleaning up the school garden. We want it ready for when the kids resume school at the end of February. Plus he has agreed to let me add onto it for my own garden. This is convenient now that I’ve decided to live at the school when I leave my host family in March. This new plan is for security reasons, though I really love that cute little thatched roof hut but it’s far off the road on the edge of the forest. The school has two buildings: the new school which is the one currently being used and the old school, in which only one room is used as a library. It is in the center of the village, near my host family and very visible, which is great for security, maybe not so great for privacy as time goes on, but it’s a trade off that seems to make sense. My village is pretty safe by Paraguayan standards but after arriving here I decided I felt more comfortable with this option.

In the afternoon, the free-ranging cattle converge on the futbol field/pasture out front waiting for their owners to herd them into the paddocks for the night. Sometimes they’re still there when the daily futbol game begins. Like the other day. The guys shooed the cattle off to the sidelines where the animals simply turned around and watched the game, all lined up like parents watching their kids. There is one boy who herds his cattle with a bicycle, some people use dogs, others walk or send the kids, still others use horses.

The other thing about rezos is that they are typically carried out for six to nine days in a row, always in late afternoon. Isabel’s family is holding the rezo series for the aunt that died last week. The first day the two of us walked to and from the rezo in the next pueblo, about 3 miles each way. On subsequent days she took the moto. I am not allowed to ride motos so I continued to walk. I’m hoping to buy a bike this week which will make events like this much easier. Anyway, each day after the ceremony, it is customary for the family to serve bits of food and drink (now you know why they often raise a large hog to help fund these events. The food alone can get expensive!) Often this is candy and chipa, a bagel-shaped bread of cornmeal and anise seed. On Day 1, I politely refused the drink, candy and a stick of what looked like either rolled meat jerky or chocolate profiteroles. On the walk home Isabel offered me one of the sticks; that’s when I discovered they were hand-rolled cigars! Glad I decided not to bite into one at the service!

Many families in the campo use fagones as their heat source for cooking. These are outdoor, wood-fired brick stoves for boiling or frying food. Some have built-in brick ovens. My family has a fagone as well as a methane gas burner, fueled by a biodigester. Basically, the Professor adds cow manure to a giant bag that lies in a trench in the ground. The manure decomposes, releasing methane which is then captured by hoses and fed to a small burner for cooking. No manure, no gas. But, if carefully managed, these can produce up to two hours’ of gas a day. It’s a great option for things that cook quickly and when you don’t want to start a fire in the fagone only to fry a single egg. Also, firewood is at a premium here because much of eastern PY has been deforested for agricultural use. While we have some trees, much of our ‘forest’ is brush and vines. Every scrap of burnable wood (or other material including plastic and cardboard) is carefully collected and stored like gold.

History of PY:
From 1864-1870 Paraguay waged the Triple Alliance war between Brazil, Uruguay, and Argentina, during which all but 5% of its population was decimated. It’s population has since recuperated to 6 million people, with a number of immigrants from Germany and Japan. From 1932-1935 Paraguay fought the Chaco War against Bolivia. They won but gave up part of their land. From 1954-1989 dictator Alfredo Stroessner ruled until democracy overturned the dictator with the election of General Andres Rodrigues in 1989. Paraguay continues to be a democracy though there are residents here who prefer the old ways of dictatorship because the country was more orderly and crime lower. Most Paraguayans (90%) are Catholic while only .6% practice indigenous religions. Many men work in Asuncion or Argentina to provide for their families. Divorce is only .3% but infidelity is rampant. Spanish and Guarani are the two official languages of Paraguay, despite dictator Stroessner trying to abolish Guarani throughout the country during his rule. Less than 50% of youth speak only guarani in their homes while about 28% of youth speak only guarani in urban areas. In rural areas, youth attend school an average of 6 years while in urban areas the average is 9 years. The cost to send a student to school is the equivalent of about $100 US dollars/year in urban areas and about $50 US dollars in rural areas. Uniforms are common but can be a deal-breaker for some families. It can be difficult for families to afford this education for their children so often children will alternate who will go to school (every other year or every other child). Other reasons for not attending school: kids feel they are ‘done’, there is no school nearby, and the biggest reason…they don’t want to go. Illiteracy rates among youth are relatively low: 3.6% with most of these being in rural areas. Dating days for youth are Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays with permission from the female’s parents. Unfortunately, 83% of youth have no medical insurance and even those with insurance may still struggle to afford bus fair, the doctor’s consultation fee, medications, and costs of check up visits. Many Paraguayans self-medicate using locally grown herbs or other remedies. Naturopathic healers are plentiful here, though not regulated. Youths spend as much as 4 months looking for work. (All data sourced from “La Juventud de Paraguay”, Elizabeth Covarrubias.)

Agriculture has been an important part of PY’s history for centuries, In the ‘old days’ it was customary for farmers to incorporate crops with trees, maintaining good diversity of plants and wildlife. In addition to having very acidic soils, adoption of modern monoculture practices (growing a single large crop) and deforestation are the major contributing factors to the current decline in soil fertility. The most common monoculture crops here are sesame, cotton, sugarcane, and soybeans. Sesame is sold almost exclusively to Japan. Deforestation continues but has slowed in recent years. Burning one’s fields to clear old debris, however, is still a popular practice and is one among many of my missions to help educate farmers otherwise.

Yet another tradition here is the Three Reyos Magos (Mejor, Gaspar, Valtasar) on January 6 where children place their shoes on the windowsill and Jesus leaves a gift in the shoes during the night. It’s similar to hanging stockings for Santa. Two of my family’s kids got a small plastic train that makes noise when you pull the string. The girls have been thrilled with this single, simple gift and ran excitedly throughout the house showing all of us the following morning.

This week´s headliner was a small tree frog peeking out from under the rim of the toilet as I entered the bathroom. If it hadn’t been for someone leaving the seat up as well as the newly implemented “clean shoe policy” I might not have noticed. I did pause long enough to get my camera and wonder what else might be living under there! Eeek. Tranquilo? Ummm, maybe not. The clean shoe policy, where you change into an awaiting pair of clean flip flops before entering the bathroom, came about because the shower drain clogged from all the soil collecting from from sandy shoes. Many bathrooms in PY consist of a toilet, sink, shower head and floor drain in a 4’x6’ (mas o menos) space. Unlike the U.S., showers here have no walls separating them from the rest of the bathroom so typically the entire room gets wet when a shower is taken. Understand that my house does not currently have a working shower but it is plumbed and awaiting completion of the running water project. In the meantime it is where bucket baths happen and people walk in with their flip flops from outdoors and the soil washes off down the shower drain. Fixing the plumbing and digging a 50’ trench in 100 degree heat was enough for the Professor to declare the ‘clean shoe policy’ henceforth. But I’m still checking the rim of the toilet every visit. Especially now that it´s snake season…

Yup. The day before publishing this post we found a snake in the front yard called Kyryry’o, coiled and ready to strike. Right under the clothesline. Some visiting family friends killed it but it definitely heightened my awareness, being the second one in a week. Like most snakes in this country, it was a venomous kind. (Gulp.) And especially that, coiled, it looks very much like a plop of cow manure, of which there is much here. This morning´s walk through the cattle prairie to the bus stop was not my usual stroll. It´s exhausting enough having always to be on alert for people with mal-intent, traffic, horned grumpy cattle and big spiders. Now snakes too. What worries me most is that I only know two varieties. Hard to find something when you don´t know what you´re looking for!

Random facts:
This week I was smitten with some beautiful white flowers on the roadside called Ysypo. Smelling different flowers in different stages brought some surprises: The freshest ones smelled like coconut, the older, spent ones smelled like coffee.

Did you know the leaves of a lime tree smell like lime if you tear them? Limes are everywhere here and used in a variety of dishes. Citrus trees here are thorny on the trunk and branches.

The budding beekeeper in me got my hands on my current read, “The Honey Trail”, by Grace Pundyk. Grace travels the world in search of the best honeys, learning more about bees and the history of beekeeping, and the inner workings and ties within the industry of which I was never aware; a bee education, history lesson and summary of the world’s political climate all in one.

Did you know Paraguayans serve red wine with ice? And sometimes soda like Sprite?

Did you know sorghum looks a lot like corn?

It is not common (at least in the campo but I’ve heard it’s true throughout PY) for Paraguayans to read books. Could be because many older residents in the campo are illiterate, books are not a ‘necessity’ when choices must be made between needs and wants of feeding nine kids, there isn’t enough down time to read books (though many adults find time to watch ‘soaps’ during siesta and in the evening, the most common being “Maid in Manhattan”, a daily soap filmed in Portuguese but dubbed over in Spanish), and it isn’t part of the culture. I’ve already read four books in the month I’ve been insite and Isabel commented on how much I read compared to the average Paraguayan, including herself. Downtime is social time, not reading time.

After our Swear-In Ceremony last month I was chatting with the Ambassador, a man in his 60s? and our guest of honor. He was asking about my ‘story’ and how I came to Peace Corps at this point in my life, the oldest member of my training group. After listening- really listening -he offered some great advice, inspiration and encouragement. He mentioned some close friends of his who rose to the peak of their careers in their 60s and 70s and left me with a squeeze of the shoulders saying he had a feeling I would do great things in my lifetime and that perhaps my best was yet to come. I think he’s right.

Gentle words are daisies.

Categories: Peace Corps Paraguay | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Timing is everything if you don’t want the cows drinking your laundry water

Date 1-4-13

“Everything is a reflection of the condition of your own heart.” – How Yoga Works, Geshe Michael Roach & Christie McNally

On a very personal level, some of the lessons I’m meant to learn while here have become clear to me. This awakening has already stirred some deep and profound awareness. Some things are part of an ‘old, lost’ me from years ago being reignited, others are matching a ‘knowing’ from an unknown me that I always wanted to experience but haven’t, and others are simply pushing me outside my comfort zone. My resourcefulness is tested on a daily basis. I feel like a new part of my brain is waking up and it’s all so exciting.

Some of this awareness rose the day I realized I’d reached what I’ll call “Phase I” of Tranquilo. I don’t know exactly when this transition occurred but I noticed the other day while eating a mango. Mango season is in full swing, fruit is literally falling to the ground all day, and I am a happy camper with mangoes (or passionfruit) for a snack every day. Mangoes in PY are extremely fibrous and therefore can’t really be sliced so I peeled it and realized it was the gooiest, juiciest mango I’ve ever had. Thick juicy goo covered my hands and dripped down my wrists, it was on my face, my clothes, everywhere, but somehow I was enchanted and delighted and spent a full half hour in complete bliss working every last drop of mango pulp off that fruit. It was then I realized that I don’t usually have the time or patience to experience my food like that. Yes, it was an experience. I highly recommend it. Similar experiences are becoming more numerous. Even walking down the road, I’ve begun thoroughly enjoying the feel of the uneven surface massaging the soles of my feet, noticing the various prints in the sand (mostly cattle but also pigs, horses, goats, futbol cleats, and once…. a snake trail!) One of my favorite new tasks is shelling dry beans and flipping dry corn off the cob to make sopa. I spent two hours with the girls shelling beans one day. It’s mindless but meditative, we can sit there in comfortable silence or we can chat. It feels good to work for my meal. Many of the tasks that are not quick or efficient – and there are many to be had here in PY- provide similar tranquility.

I’ve always been amazed how books come to me when I’m ready for the messages they contain. This has happened innumerable times to be mere coincidence. I’ve bought books that sat on my shelf for years and out of the blue one calls me to read it. It’s uncanny how its lesson is so obvious when I begin reading. My most recent ‘Aha’ came while reading “How Yoga Works” by Geshe Michael Roach & Christie McNally. I believe this book was required reading for a teacher training class at one of my favorite yoga studios in Maine, Greener Postures Yoga in South Portland, so I bought it because someday I want to be a yoga teacher. Once again, just in time, and part of the insights from Paragraph 1 of this blog post.

Let’s talk about local attire. Women of all sizes and ages: tight clothes, skinny jeans, leggings, occasionally long shorts (short-shorts on teens and single twenty-somethings), scooped necklines with breasts ready to burst forth, very high heeled sandals or dressy or plain flip flops depending on the setting, LONG hair. Men: sporty shirts as if everyone is always ready for an impromptu futbol game, jeans or long basketball shorts, flip flops or plain sneakers. People don’t have fancy sneakers here. The vast majority of men are clean-shaven. In fact, male trainees were not allowed to have facial hair for the first month out of respect for the host national locals. Also, I’ve seen very little smoking and few tattoos or earrings on men.

As we neared New Year’s Eve, I’m realizing this Fin de Año is a much bigger deal than Navidad. On Christmas Eve, the countdown to midnight rivaled a US New Year’s excitement culminating in at-home pop-rockets, sparklers or fireworks and later I learned….firing guns into the air. The sounds all seemed the same in my village. In Asuncion on Christmas night a horrific outcome was a falling bullet that drilled through a 5-year old’s shoulder and heart, killing her. It was in the news for days and absolutely heartbreaking to watch the video of her Mom. So unnecessary but I also learned it’s quite common. A friend of a friend was shot in the back years ago after a bullet ricocheted off the sidewalk. NYE this year also brought bullets into the sky but without incident. There were two full days of preparations for the big night in addition to two weeks of spring cleaning around the house and yard. Mattresses aired, sheets in the doorways washed, furniture rearranged, yard cleaned. Isabel had told me there would be a major fiesta and many people here for NYE. There are three homes in our corner of town; one is ours, the others are two of Isabel’s sisters, one of whom has nine grown kids, more than half of whom still live at home. I thought all the food being prepared would be for visitors across the three homes. No, it was just for our house: Sopa, chipa guazu, beef and pork asado (BBQ), rice salad, champagne and cake, which we consumed just after 11pm. All seven of Isabel and Professor’s kids came for the holiday. People were sharing beds, sleeping on the floor, or on a sofa on the patio. It was crazy funny. All three homes had similar guest situations. The prior day, a sister killed a large pig and a cow for the holiday and shared with all of us, hence the asado. She presented my family a cow hoof and foreleg to cook with my beans (from the look on her face you’d think she was giving me the tenderloin!). “Que rico!” (delicious), they tell me. Oh joy…another first, along with the blood sausage. At least I can say I tried it. My experience with this delicacy will end there. While awaiting dinner, I walked to the futbol field out front to stargaze. The sky here looks so much bigger than back home, day or night. Perhaps the prairie makes it seem vast. This night it was black and clear with fantastic heat lightning in the distance and the stars were brilliant and closer than I ever remembered seeing them, like they were only a cloud’s distance away. After the stroke of midnight the families across town set off firecrackers and guns and visited each others’ homes to bid a “feliz año nuevo”. At 1am our family migrated two doors down where music and dancing ensued. Frankly, it was the last thing I felt like doing at that hour. I was anxious about my language and carrying a conversation and hoped the cultural experience would keep me awake. It certainly did.

Henceforth came yet another reminder of a popular recurring lesson for me: the best experiences often arrive when you least expect them and seldom in the form you might have anticipated.

We arrived to loud music in the front yard and about 40 people sitting in a large circle, socializing. Based on what I’ve seen so far, Paraguayans nearly always socialize while sitting. One of the first things said to you upon your arrival anywhere is an offer to sit (“Sentate”). I struck up a conversation in Guarani/Spanish with a friendly woman visiting from Ciudad del Este, on the Brazilian border, and bobbed in my seat to the beat of the music. She called over a friend to dance with me. I never sat down again. The crowd whooped and cheered that I was among the first to dance, throwing down some freestyle with lots of tango steps in the mix. This was very different from typical Paraguayan dance but they loved it. I don’t remember the last time I laughed so hard. Traditional Paraguayan music is cheery, bouncy and upbeat and eventually most of the teens and twenty-somethings joined in. Among bystanders, it was interesting to watch the divide between genders: men stood on the sidelines and the women sat collectively in chairs, too bashful to kick up their heels. More fun for me! The next day, the entire town determined that the Norte can DANCE.

I’m not a fan of New Year’s Resolutions but instead I took some advice from Portland’s Chris Brogan and began in recent years to list three or four words that will guide me for the upcoming year. I post them on my bedroom wall, where they’re the first thing I see in the morning. This year’s words will be: Stretch, learn, serve. It has worked well for providing ongoing reminders that keep me on track with current goals. What words might you choose for your year?

People in PY spend a lot of time, money and effort to remember their dead. As is common in PY, Isabel visits her families’ graves at the local cemetery every Monday. Recently, I attended a rezo for the father of a villager who died a year ago. It’s common to have such a service at significant anniversaries- 6 months, 1 year, 18 months, etc. Take 1/3 of the village, many of whom I have yet to meet, add a language barrier, and it was surely intimidating and a bit awkward. But I was so glad I went. I got to introduce myself one-on-one to each of those unknown residents and chat with those I’ve already met, learn some new names and have a few laughs. The villagers are always so impressed when you make the effort to know them and especially if you remember their names. Rezos can be costly, in part because of the food and drink provided after the ceremony. To offset these costs, families will often raise a hog and sell the meat when the times comes. Raising hogs is akin to a rainy-day fund. It’s great income for emergencies. Isabel’s aunt died last night so I’ll be going to other services in the near future. It’s an interesting experience to be a foreigner in the home of a grieving family. What to do? How to help? How to stay out of the way and let the family do their thing together without giving the appearance of disinterest or distance? How fast can I look up in my dictionary the words I need to express my condolences? I read their reactions with a U.S. culture filter but am I correct?

Speaking of getting to know the community, it’s very sweet to walk by a house and have people wave to me and say “Mba’echapa, Wendia!” Sometimes the kids will run to the road to say hi, as opposed to a couple weeks ago when I’d wave first and they’d wave back politely but wonder who the heck I was. This is happening more as I’ve taken to walking and running with more frequency.

Timing is everything if you don’t want the cows drinking your laundry water. Note to self: have the laundry done and water dumped by 5pm. When the cows come in from the prairie they are thirsty and will drink your laundry water if you leave it unattended, whether or not your laundry is finished. Did I tell you cow noses are slimy? Cute but slimy. That makes your clothes slimy too. Yeah.

It is summer here and too hot to easily grow veggies in the garden unless they have shade (just the opposite from back home where we fight to get enough sun and daylight). Local veggies currently available in the market: green peppers and carrots (on a lucky day), onions and tomatoes (anyday), corn (though not for eating straight up), hard squash, and mandioca (though this might fall in the ‘starch’ category). There are also lots of peanuts grown here, pretty much the only nut available unless you go to Asuncion. Most peanuts here are fresh, not roasted, and taste like raw peas. I’ve discovered that I can eat these peanuts and now almonds again too, after not being able to eat nuts for two years — I am slowly healing — sooo happy!! Fruits available in our backyard right now include pineapple, bananas, peaches, pears, manzanitas (flavor cross between cherry, apple and?), mangoes, passionfruit, limes, and oranges. Apples are always imported (usually from Argentina) and there are also papayas and guavas though I’m not sure if guava season has already ended. “Jugo” (juice) is either a powdered artificial drink or made fresh frequently from one of the above fruits, especially manzanitas.

Random facts:
In my village, pink pineapples grow wild along the road! How cool! Unfortunately, the cattle get to them before they can be harvested for people.

If it rains during the day when the cattle are free-ranging, they RUN for the trees. If it rains hard or long enough, my road is impassible by vehicle.

It is common for students to attend school for only 5 or 6 years. Others sometimes up to 9 years. Less than 15% of students attend university as most don’t feel it necessary or sometimes family obligations take priority. Both Spanish and Guarani are taught in the primary school here as well as dance, nutrition, gardening sessions, health and more. It’s pretty progressive for PY. The high school is in the next pueblo and is grades 9-12. Girls who finish high school and leave the campo looking for work frequently work as maids for families in Asuncion.

There are lots of palm trees in PY but virtually all produce tiny coconuts the size of a gumball. Locals shell them and eat as snacks.

What do I eat in PY? Oatmeal, yogurt and fruit, or eggs for breakfast. Lunch is always a stew with meat, rice, and tiny diced veggies, if available, served with a side of sliced cucumber drizzled with lime juice. Sometimes I get beans. Mandioca is always served with every meal. Dinner varies. My family eats very late so sometimes I prefer to eat early and alone and just have yogurt again. Several evenings a week I get popcorn. Once a week we make sopa or chipa guazu (cornbread).

“Peligroso” is Spanish for ‘dangerous.’ My first week here, one of the girls passed gas as we played dice and, jokingly, I pointed to the front door and said “Peligroso! Afuera!” (Dangerous! Outside!) The girls nearly fell off their chairs laughing and now the term is used daily by the jokesters in the house. Someone trips, another burns my popcorn, another tosses the fireworks onto the patio instead of the lawn (blowing a small hole in the cement wall). The list goes on. Today, I was labeled Peligroso when they invited me to play futbol and saw how terrible I am. My skill-less efforts (supplemented by lots of sound effects and crazy hand waving to distract my opponent as well as non-traditional moves that probably should have been fouls) had us laughing so hard we could barely breathe.

I mentioned earlier that mango season is in full swing. They are literally dripping from the trees. Lesson 342: don’t sit under a ripe mango tree on a windy day. (wink) The pigs and chickens fight over the drops. I discovered that instead of slicing a fibrous mango one can scrape the pulp with a knife, making a thick, ready-made juice to drink or add to homemade yogurt. Deeelish! Speaking of fruit: a popular holiday punch-like drink is clerico, which is essentially a tropical fruit salad (tiny pieces) with orange or Sprite soda and red wine added. Quite yummy. Soda is called ‘gaseosa’ here.

You know those white plastic patio chairs you have back home? Well, they are popular here too. At my house, most of the backs were split down the center. In true, frugal Paraguayan style, my contact actually sewed the split back together and they are good as new! A little tip to consider before throwing yours away next time… (wink)

Our little post office in Caazapa is tiny and totally informal. It has a lobby and one room with a single desk and 12 ‘boxes’ for sorted mail. Usually, my letters simply sit on the desk until I pick them up. She will call or text me when a package arrives for me. I was recently awaiting some mail and stopped by in the morning before they’d had a chance to sort the 2 bags of mail. The post mistress brought me to the single room in the back and let me pour through the mail looking for mine. On the one hand, it was nice to just be free to do that and not have so many rules getting in the way of my pursuit (I really like that about PY on so many fronts), yet I also appreciate a little more discretion as to who is handling my mail!

I saw my first Paraguayan snake this week- in the trees in the family huerta (garden). Called Mbo’i Huvy’u, it has a green back and white belly. Nearly all snakes here are poisonous so the family was eager to see it leave. But to where? Perhaps looking for the pile of guinea hen eggs in the cute little hidden nest they built under the squash vines? We found 14 eggs there this week.

Another first: Have you ever seen fire ants come pouring out of their nest when disturbed? It’s quite a sight to behold, especially when it’s in your garden. One tiny disturbance of the nest and literally thousands of the critters flood out of the opening and toward anything that lives or moves. Fortunately, my contact was with me and had warned me before he made them angry. Note to self: check status of hole in ground near sorghum before commencing hoeing.

One of my strategies for continued language improvement is visiting the school library and practicing with the kids’ books. “Curious George” (or “Jorge El Curioso”) is a little advanced for me but I brought it home anyway. I also snagged some sweet simple reads with text in both English and Spanish. This has been a great way to learn new words….and the kids like helping too!

Jajatopata! (until next time)

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

Don’t be sad that it’s over. Smile because it happened.

Wow. I have so much to share since my last post.

First and most importantly was my grandmother’s passing. Today’s title reminds me to be grateful for what we’ve had instead of focusing on what we’re now missing. Can we rearrange our grief into delight for being blessed with her life and presence? We were blessed with time to say our goodbyes and her forever cheerful and courageous spirit through it all. We were blessed in knowing she was ready. We are blessed to be part of a large, wonderful, loving, close-knit family she created for, and within, us. When she left, neither side had any doubt they were loved and cherished. Little did she know that she taught me through her own actions to be thrilled by the tiniest things: watching the birds out the window and marveling at their colors or the way they were bickering on a particular day, admiring the swirly composition of a small stone, really savoring the flavors of a dish at her Thursday family potluck, seeing the wonder and possibilities within everything appearing before her. In the busyness of our modern lives she reminded me to slow down, be present in the moment, and never forget that awe is at your fingertips in everything you do if you choose to see it. Staying true to her positive nature, she asked not for a funeral but a for Celebration of Life party….and (I love this) requested that attendees wear bright colors. She always loved wearing bright, cheerful colors. So the day we celebrated, I did just that here in Paraguay. And when my time comes, I want that too. We already miss her terribly but the lessons and love she left behind will forever remain within us.

The morning of the Celebration party provided yet another chance to witness the ‘fruit’ and sweetness of life that I learned from my Gram over the years. My 60-year old host mama, machete in hand, gave me a tour of the ‘back 40’ (as we say in Maine), slashing a walking path through the undergrowth as easily as she cooks a chicken or hangs the laundry. (I’m told you never go anywhere in a field, woods, etc without your machete [except maybe the bus]…just in case. It is pretty common to see people walking down the street here with a machete in hand and not really think much of it. Afterall, EVERYONE has one and because most people are farmers, it’s a necessity for work. But if you are caught with a pocketknife on the bus, they will confiscate. Umm…. But I digress.) I’ve been here for 6 weeks and had no idea that ‘back there’ amongst all those trees was a veritable orchard of tropical fruit trees and herbs. Wow! Our house is nestled into its own mini rainforest, an oasis of beauty and bounty. I had asked her for a yuyo tour, yuyos (pronounced ‘JOO- johz) being the fresh herbs used in terere. Today we focused more on identifying fruit trees but next time will be more herbs (though many fruit trees have incredible medicinal properties.) We found starfruit, mandarin, oranges, bananas, a cinnamon tree (wow!), pomelo, lemons, limes, sweet lime, durasno (like a mini-peach), laurel (bay leaf), manzanitas (cherry-like fruit), café, guava, and my two favorites: passionfruit (mborukuja) and mango-mango-mango! I was in heaven. This didn’t include the papaya and Heart of India fruits growing over the extensive arbor by the backdoor. Host Mom picked some fresh eucalyptus leaves for flavoring my water bottle. Refreshing!

For training earlier this week I experienced what we call “Long Field Practice” where we visit a current volunteer’s site in the campo (countryside) to help us get a glimpse of campo life first hand. I traveled with my 4-person language group and our profesora. We each stayed with a separate host family that spoke only guarani and did activities with the community’s volunteer during the day. I was initially quite intimidated, ok semi-terrified, at the idea of spending 4 days with a new family who spoke neither English nor Spanish. I mean seriously, I’ve only been studying guarani for 2 weeks! How was I going to communicate other than rudimentary sign language? AND my group was expected to give a charla (ie presentation) on soils to a group of local ladies…in guarani. Huh? Are you kidding? I can barely say ‘Hello, my name is Wendy. It’s hot today. Yes, I like what you cooked for dinner. How many chickens do you have? Do you grow mint? I like to read. I will sleep now.’ Though I’m really good at saying, “I don’t understand. Can you repeat that?” and “Do you have tarantulas here?” Haha. But it was all good.

The trip was full of fun things: we learned to cook sopa paraguaya (cornbread from dry cornmeal), queso paraguaya (cheese), and chipa guazu (cheepa wahSOO) (cornbread from fresh corn and sometimes onions), toured a successful garden, got a mini yuyo lesson, did hoeing in a farmer’s field, and all had a reading from a deaf fortunate teller which was translated from sign language into guarani then English. Haha. Campo life tends to be more extreme than where I live now and offers a wonderful perspective on the many layers, definitions, and faces of poverty. Natives in the campo are much poorer but it is beautiful to see how happy (and resourceful!) they are overall (another reminder that stuff doesn’t make us happy and I am more and more grateful for the opportunity to live simply and happily without all the frills from home… WHILE still always grateful for my daily internet access for now. Wink.) Paraguayans are known for their abundant laughter (usually at my expense, tranquilo).They are present, mindful, and prideful in every step of their work and daily lives. One of my favorite people I met this week was the 63-year old woman who taught us how to make chipa guazu: vibrant, spirited, strong, happy, and bold, with missing teeth, the best laugh and most beautiful wrinkles I’ve ever seen. Her advice: “It is important to work for your food.” So we did. How do you make chips guazu? You begin by plucking every kernel from the cob…by hand, then grind the kernels in a hand-cranked molina (like one of those old fashioned meat grinders that bolts to a table; we took turns because it’s tiring but the guapa ladies to it all themselves) which makes a liquid corn mush, add veggie oil, lots of eggs, salt and sometimes onions. Cook in the tatakua (outdoor cave-like brick oven) for 15 minutes. Yum! Yes, we worked for our food that day and it tasted all the better. In the end, I experienced so much growth from working through the difficulties of the week and was really glad for the experience. My language vaulted to new levels and, by day 4, my host family and I were learning to communicate with each other. I came ‘home’ feeling much more confident and prepared for when I arrive at my own site in a mere 4 WEEKS!!! Yes, this Wednesday I receive my site assignment where I will live for the next 2 years and will go there on Friday for 5 days to begin meeting people and getting a sense of my new community. My entire training group is so excited for Wednesday! In September this time seemed very far away but it’s almost here! The next four weeks will be a blur of activities starting with next week’s site visit, then Thanksgiving at the Ambassador’s house (how cool is THAT?!), final exams, swearing-in on December 7 and then I’m off to my community! In the meantime I am frantically spending every possible moment on my language skills to be as prepared as possible for the transition (which will still leave me superbly underprepared but every bit will help.)

Tonight my host sister and I walked about 3 miles, returning home just as a gorgeous sunset slid below the treeline. We chatted easily and filled the spaces with comfortable silence. There’s a lot to be ‘said’ for comfortable silence. I’ve always been a fan myself but it’s amazing how UNeasy people in the States are with pauses, silence, quiet within a conversation. Silence is common in Paraguay though when the talk is juicy there is no shortage of chatter! Along the way I admired a full moon rising over a crest of waving sugar cane and a sky streaked with pinks and oranges that turned the red soil into a vibrant salmon glow. We walked through a swarm of fireflies dancing along the roadside and listened to frogs singing their chorus in the background. The frogs sing very different tunes here and locals describe them by the sound they make: cien, cien (which is 100 in Spanish), or cuatro cuatro cuatro (which is 4 in Spanish.)

Tonight we had 2 kururus in the kitchen, which are giant frogs the size of grapefruit. They are a bit freaky looking when you first see them though not poisonous and local tales say that, if you pick one up, it will pee in your eye. Haha! Ikatu – it’s possible! Tonight, one was stalking a lembu (big beetle) and actually attacked it but the beetle was too big! Yeah, I never walk through the house at night without a flashlight and shoes!!

In addition to walking, I’m running more frequently now and find my energy level has skyrocketed and my body much happier (though a full night’s sleep continues to elude me). Running on anything other than paved roads is more akin to trail running, requiring intense focus to avoid slipping or turning an ankle on the smooth bedrock, sharp cobblestones, eroded channels, or soft, beach-like sand, all of which can be found in a single 30 foot stretch. I’m looking forward to doing more training once in my site and perhaps entering the Asuncion or Buenos Aires half-marathons next October. I was surprised to hear how many races can be found in Paraguay…something to aim for.

Random stuff and more firsts:

Recently I: had my first juggling lesson from a classmate, ate my first passionfruit (now one of my new favorite fruits which I plan to grow once in my site!), ate my first honeycomb with pollen (if I were a bear, yeah I’d raid a hive to get at it too. Wow – deeeelishhh. More incentive to become a beekeeper while here!) and found a Paraguayan woman who makes fine cheese (like Brie, mozzarella, swiss, etc…her French husband taught her and we discovered her place on lunch break this week – what a find!!! It’s nearly impossible anywhere but Asuncion to find any cheese other than the single standard Paraguayan style, queso paraguaya, which is fresh and fairly bland)

For Halloween, some of the ex-pats on staff carved watermelons for jack-o-lanterns because we either don’t have pumpkins here or they are out of season.

November 2 was Paraguay’s Day of the Dead where locals honor their deceased loved ones. My class went to a cemetery to observe – I have never seen so many people in a cemetery at once…hundreds praying, playing, chatting, honoring; flowers on graves, candles on altars, scarves on crosses. Most burials are above ground with tombs ranging from petite to the size of a cottage. Those whose families can’t afford the more expensive and preferred above ground accommodations are buried in the ground.

My yoga mat is laid out next to my bed, a constant invitation to practice or stretch. Because of this, my host family’s 6-year old niece, Maria Clara, has discovered it and runs into my room every Sunday to practice and learn new postures with me. I love her enthusiasm and I have to admit that listening to kids speak Spanish is so cute! It’s not something I encounter in Maine and was quite a novelty for me when I first arrived.

Guinea hens are rampant here, easily identified with their loud squawk and great for insect control. The noise seems not to be a problem. No one minds barking dogs, 2am roosters, or smelly pigs either. It’s quite refreshing to have neighbors not bickering over these things. Everyone is simply tranquilo. Speaking of birds, one of the female geese was hit by the bus today and both the human and goose families are grieving over her. Her mate and their baby spent the afternoon calling pitifully for her and looking everywhere. It was really sad and my heart went out to them. I’ve never been a fan of geese but I really love the geese here on the farm, parading around like they own the place, and very protective of their babies.

There is a major ‘lindo factor’ here (lindo meaning beautiful or good). Of course, most people anywhere are drawn to pretty things but here you can make significant headway on something the more attractive it is. For example, we were building lombriculture bins (composting bins where red worms do most of the work) and were advised that people were more likely to use it if it was ‘super lindo.’ Ditch the scrap wood, pull out the tiles and bamboo. Paraguayans take tremendous pride in their appearance, even if it’s simply wearing their cleanest flip flops when company arrives. Small things like sparkly barrettes, glitter on shirts, bows on bags….all carry far more importance here than back home.

Did you know that Paraguayans clap at someone’s front door instead of knocking?

Did you know that instead of greasing a pan for baking you can simply line it with banana leaves to prevent sticking? Way cool!

My favorite guarani-isms of the week:

Nandu=spider

Guasu=large

Kavaju=horse

Nandu+guasu=ostrich (huh? Large spider is an ostrich? Apparently!)

Nandu+kavaju= tarantula (horse spider? Yup.)

Like I said, random but too interesting not to share. What are you interested in reading or learning about Paraguay in the future?

Categories: Peace Corps Paraguay | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

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