“To be on a quest is nothing more or less than to become an asker of questions.” -Sam Keen

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Happy Anniversary!

Today marks my one-year anniversary in Paraguay. It’s a happy day, and also a reflective one.

Has the time flown by? Yes and no. There were times in San Pedro where I’d literally watch the minutes on wristwatch tick away. There were also entire months that passed so quickly that I could barely catch my breath. Now I’m here in Caacupé, learning how to navigate my new community, my new role, my new contacts. I have so much more in my toolbox this time around and for that I’m grateful.

Now is the time that Peace Corps volunteers do some serious self-inventory. What have you accomplished in your service so far? What types of relationships have you built? Where do you see yourself at this time next year? Are you still happy you joined up?

In terms of accomplishment, I feel that I’ve grown a lot during my time in Paraguay. That response is stereotypical, and with good reason. I’ve learned how to manage awkward encounters and handle gossip and walk with my head held high while men hiss at me. I’ve learned to wash my own clothes without a machine and cut weeds with a machete and kill tarantulas with a squeegee. I’ve learned how to cook well with limited ingredients. I’ve learned how to drink tereré in the shade and talk about nothing for hours. I’ve learned that I can live well and happily without a lot of material things. I’ve learned that popcorn and whiskey are sometimes an appropriate dinner option. But I think the most important thing I’ve learned so far is how to advocate for myself. I never realized how important it was to develop that skill, especially as a woman. I’d still be in San Pedro, unhappy and unfulfilled, if I hadn’t stood up for myself. I only wish I would have done it sooner.

Workwise, I honestly don’t have much to show for myself. The reason for this is partly situational and partly personal. I hope 2012 proves to be much more fruitful in that respect, because I really do believe that education, with an emphasis on literacy and creativity, is this country’s ticket out of extreme poverty. It’s an uphill battle, especially when many involved in this country’s educational system have been so beaten down that they use apathy as a shield against years of disappointment and broken promises. Development work, by its nature, is slow and oftentimes frustrating. However, I feel that Caacupé will be much more receptive to some of the ideas I’ve been sent to promote.

I feel very lucky with the number of friends and contacts I’ve developed over the last year. I’m starting the process over again in Caacupé, but as I mentioned earlier, this time around I have much more cultural literacy. Plus, I’m not nearly as scared. Bad stuff happened and I’m still standing. I’ve already weathered a storm and I’m more confident in my ability to do so again, if necessary. But I really hope I don’t have to.

Next year, I hope to look back at my time in Caacupé with pride. I hope I’ll leave this place a little better off than when I came. I hope I’ll have some semblance of a plan for what my life will look like when I go back home. I hope I’ll continue to be happy.

And as for the last question, yes, I’m still glad I joined. Definitely yes.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Blog Resurrected

It has risen!
It has truly risen!

Today is Easter Sunday for my blog. Hallelujah! After a half year of up and downs and no documentation, I’ve decided to start updating A Peaceful Traveler again. A big thanks to all my family and friends who were reading before and who have encouraged me to start again. A lot has happened since the Bicentennial celebrations I posted about in May, but for the sake of brevity, I’m going to try to summarize my experiences in 140 characters or less, à la Twitter.

Here goes:

Unfortunate Host Family, Family of Mice in the Ceiling, Emergency Housing, State of Emergency, Sprawling Backyard, Sprawl of Children, Community Center-to-be, Changing Communities, Best Friend Visits, Visiting the Virgencita, Leaving San Pedro, Home Leave.

And now I’m back in Paraguay, anxiously awaiting my move to Caacupé. I have a complex mix of feelings about leaving San Pedro de Ycumandyyú, but ultimately I think it’s for the best. I won’t get into the specifics of why I’m changing communities, (that’s one of the reasons I stopped writing in the first place) but let’s just say it wasn’t working about. Yesterday we went to retrieve my belongings from my old house, and to be honest, the experience was numbing. Now I’m just hoping to leave all that bad juju behind me, back in 2011.

In about two hours, I’ll be on my way to my new site, Caacupé. It’s much larger than San Pedro and much, much closer to the capital. I’m planning to devote an entire entry to “the Caac” (rhymes with rock), so I won’t go into a ton of details here. I’ll just say that it’s the religious capital of the country, they have their own Virgin, and my new host mom’s name is Lourdes. I’m really excited about change, but perhaps a bit more weathered--a little less naive--about what this experience has in store for me. I’ve been in country for a little under a year; I’m no longer a newbie dying to get out of training and into the role of super-volunteer. I’m just hoping for the best.

Today begins a new chapter in my life as a Peace Corps volunteer. So maybe it’s my Easter, too.

Wish me luck.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

A little over a month in site

Greetings cyberspace.

It’s hard to believe that I’ve been in San Pedro for over a month. May has definitely been a month of high and low points, but I think I’m finally getting into the swing of things. Besides my renovations, I’ve been keeping myself busy by visiting a couple of local elementary schools and hanging out with the teachers. It’s disheartening just how broken the system is; there have been days I haven’t wanted to leave my bedroom and enter the schools. I’ll dedicate another post to some of the specific problems my community faces education-wise, but for now I’ll try and focus on the positive. The teachers are happy I’m here. They want me to work with them. And for the most part, they genuinely want to help their students. That’s what I keep telling myself when I get up in the morning. I’m actually really lucky that people are interested in my project--the trick is not to let myself get too overwhelmed.

Here are some of this month’s highlights:

Completion of my Renovations

I know I’ve discussed this in earlier posts, but it’s really improved my quality of life.

Translucent Lizards

Apparently they’re really poisonous and I shouldn’t touch them. I saw one of them in my room on my very first night in site and had no idea they were dangerous. Good thing I’m not very curious when it comes to reptiles. (Note: they really are see-through, like that weird kind of tropical fish my brother used to have.)

Thinking I was Going to Starve

Peace Corps gives volunteers a smallish moving in allowance when we first get to site. I received mine on swearing-in weekend (April 19-21) and used almost all of it to fix up my rooms. By the middle of this month, money was running VERY tight, to the point that I thought I would run out completely. I tried to take money out of my personal account, but to no avail. Luckily, when I went to the bank, I was happily surprised to find that I had gotten payed at the beginning of May and had more than enough money to eat.

Paraguay’s Bicentennial

On Saturday, May 14, Paraguay celebrated its bicentennial. In reality, the country has been celebrating for the entire year, but May 14 is the official day. Back in 1811, Paraguay decided it didn’t want to be a colony anymore and Spain didn’t fight them. Not a shot was fired. I celebrated by waking up early and marching in a parade with one of my elementary schools. It took three hours to walk three blocks. There was lots of red, white, and blue.

Site Presentation

On May 19 (my one-month anniversary in site), my two bosses came to San Pedro and presented me to a roomful of teachers, kids, and parents. All of the adults had seats, but the children’s chorus had to stand in the back and try not to talk. I was in awe of how well they behaved, considering the boringness of the proceedings. Paraguayans have a special place in their hearts for pomp and cicumstance, and my site presentation was no different. One always begins with the himno nacional, then a series of too-long speeches (I tried to keep mine short), and ends with an artistic number (in my case, the children sang a patriotic song.) All in all, it went very well, and as an added bonus, I was able to hitch a ride back to Asuncion in a Peace Corps van instead of taking a bus.

Trip to Asuncion

A much needed break. My favorite part of this past weekend was going to the chuchi supermarkets that carry American products. Best finds: Jif peanut butter and ICB root beer.

Still to Come

My birthday :)

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Mel and Me

I think if I were to have a half Paraguayan baby, he or she would look something like my little host sister, Mel. What do you think?

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Host family and living situation

Greetings cyberspace!

The renovations on my rooms are officially finished, which means that I now have time to start working in the schools. But before I start talking about my project, I’d like to introduce you all to my new host family, the Ibañezes. In direct contrast to my Guarambaré family, I now live in a family of women (but, notably, the bathroom is equally disgusting.) There’s Ña Hilda, the profoundly corpulent and lovable matriarch; Carmen, a 35-year-old teacher, single mother of four, and my community contact; Angie, a sweet, long-legged 14-year-old; Gianella, a very intelligent and hard-working 3rd grader; and Mel Irene, an almost two-year-old who is very naughty and cute and reminds me of me (Carmen also has a teenaged son named Jorge, but he lives with his aunt in the campaña.) The abuela generates a bit of income by running a pension familiar, or family boardinghouse. That basically means that I’m not the only tenant. A nineteen-year-old law student named Juanita lives in a room connected to mine through an inside window, and three or four people live in a different building behind the house. I see Juana regularly and we exchange awkward pleasantries, but I almost never interact with the guys who live behind the house proper. I think they work during the day and study at night, so their rooms are only for sleeping. The other tenants have a strictly business relationship with the señora, but I’m more or less treated like a long-term guest. I eat with the family, play with the baby, watch TV, and use their internet. They know that I don’t have gente in San Pedro, so they do their best to keep me company and make sure I’m doing okay.

Right now, I’m renting two rooms from them, but only living in the one because I don’t have stuff to put in my kitchen yet. Everyone in the family has been extremely kind and accommodating, which has been a blessing these past couple weeks. I’ve heard stories from other volunteers about how their host families don’t give them enough personal breathing room--entering without knocking, not taking the hint, etc.--but I haven’t had any sort of issue in that respect. And, not surprisingly, Ña Hilda is super proud of my rooms because of the new flooring and paint. I see this as a true win-win: a get to live with a great host family without paying rent for five months, and they get a much cleaner, prettier, and safer section of the house once I move out.

...I’m getting really tired, so I’m going to postpone writing about my job until next time.

Jajotopata, nos vemos, or until we meet again,


P.S. Ña is a term of respect used in PY that comes from the word Doña. It’s not my landlady’s first name.

Saturday, April 30, 2011