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

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

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Semana Santa and Renovations

It’s official: I’ve been in San Pedro for an entire week. So far, I’ve been having a pleasant, lazy time with my new host family and friends.

I arrived on Tuesday evening last week and spent the better part of Wednesday shopping and setting up my living space. I am now the proud owner of a bubblegum-pink mosquito net, among other things. Going shopping was an interesting experience here in San P. because most of the shop owners are part of an inter-related web. While I was in a home goods shop buying a hamper and trash can, I mentioned that I was looking for a standing fan. The owner promptly got on the phone, called around, and found a couple of different stores selling what I was looking for. She even sent one of her shop girls with me so I wouldn’t get lost. At first, I was a little weary of the situation, thinking that I was going to get cheated, but I later found out that I payed a fair price for everything. People were just being that nice. It was weird.

During my Wednesday shopping day, I also started asking around for the prices of paint, cement, etc. for the renovations that my room needs. Once my landlady saw that I was serious about fixing up my rooms, she made arrangements for a couple of contractors to look at the space and give me an estimate. We agreed on a price and they started working today. (No worries: all of the renovation money I’m spending will be deducted from my rent.) Once they finish, I’m going to post before and after photos.

I’ve also been spending a significant amount of my time cleaning because my rooms were not in good condition when I arrived. Think strings of dirt hanging from the rafters and cobwebs on the doors. My first night I couldn’t sleep because I was afraid a spider was going to fall from its web and onto my face (and I’m not talking about friendly little spiders like Charlotte. These guys were big and scary.) The workmen are making everything dirty again, but at least my mind was at ease for this past week.

As for Semana Santa, my family didn’t do much of anything. There are no egg-dying or candy-gorging traditions here; instead, the religious people go to church, the non-practicioners stay at home, and everyone eats chipa. Most of my friends had the chance to make chipa with their host families, but my family buys it instead of baking it, and I didn’t push the issue. I don’t really like chipa anyway.

On Good Friday I decided to go to the plaza to check out the festivities. It seemed like the whole community was out, but only a cluster were actually participating in the religious stuff. Everyone else was enjoying the scenery more than anything. At 3 o’clock (apparently the time that Jesus died...is that actually a thing? I wasn’t aware) there was a very serious ceremony in which the priests took a wooden statue of Jesus off the cross. First, they removed the INRI sign and all of the priests took turns bowing and kissing it. Nobody touched it with their bare hands; everyone used their vestments. They went through the same process with the crown of thorns and the rags that covered Jesus’s body, and finally lifted the statue off the cross and gingerly placed it into this decorative coffin-looking thing. Then whole crowd joined a procession to a nearby convent, where I assume there was a Mass. I only walked to the outer gates, so I’m not really sure what followed.

That was the extent of my Easter celebrations because I didn’t go to church on Sunday, heathen that I am. I’m pretty sure my family didn’t go either, and I didn’t want to go by myself. I spent most of Easter Sunday reading and watching movies, but truth be told, I was missing my mom’s baked ham and potato salad. Next year, when I’ve had some time to prep, I’m going to incorporate some American Easter traditions into the mix. Maybe an Easter egg hunt.

Other than that, my days are pretty uneventful. Now that my rooms are being worked on, I’m pretty much tied to the house because I don’t want to leave my stuff alone. Next week I’ll start observing classes in the local schools and making some real plans. But for now, I think I’ll take a page from the Paraguayan play book and drink some terere on the porch. It’s a beautiful life.

Monday, April 18, 2011

I'm a volunteer!

**Note: I'm on a US government computer, so I can't do accent marks**

I'm an aspirante no more!!! This past Friday, 47 education and health trainees swore in as Peace Corps Paraguay volunteers at the US embassy in Asuncion. In a ceremony that lasted about an hour, we all raised our right hands and promised to uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States againt all enemies, foreign and domestic. Then we ate cake.

Now I can officially say "Che voluntaria Cuerpo de Pazpegua" instead of "Che aspirante Cuerpo de Pazpegua." It's a good feeling. I'm relieved that training is finally over, although God only knows what I'm going to do once I get into San Pedro. I arrive during Semana Santa, which is going to be a mixed blessing. I'm in the interior of the country, and apparently there's a mass exodus during this time of year so people can spend time with their families over the Easter holiday. I don't have to jump directly into work because everyone will be off from work. Instead, I'll probably learn how to make chipa with some of my neighboring senoras. (Chipa is Paraguayan cheesy bread made from mandioca flour. It looks vaguely like a bagel and, in my opinion, is un-delicious.) It's a tradition that the people in Paraguay eat chipa as a fasting item between Maundy Thursday and Easter Sunday. After the holiday, I'll be spending about half my time in the schools and the other half trying to fix up my living situation. My rooms need a lot of work (floors, paint job), but I'm sure they'll be super lindo once I'm finished.

So far, I've had a great weekend filled with shopping, eating at restaurants, and hanging out with my amigokuera. Tomorrow a new adventure begins.

In honor of swear-in, I'm going to post the lyrics and a link to "Che Paraguay," a traditional Paraguayan song. We sang it at our good-bye ceremony with our host parents.

Che Paraguay

Oiménepa ko arapype ndéicha iporãva tetã
ojeguapava yvotype omimbí ha ojajaipa
tovena ku pyharerö tajahecha pe jasy
arapeguaramo guaicha omysãi ro iñasaindy

Che Paraguay rasa harã
ndaipori chene mamoveche
Paraguay ndeve ha'e rohayhuve cada ko'ë

Pejuna mombyry guava pehechami ko tetã
katuetei pejuhuta tory joayhu ha vy'a
ko'ape jeko ymami Ñandejára oiko oguata
ha ipyporépe oheja hetaite mba'e porã



Friday, April 1, 2011

With some time to kill

In a strange turn of events, my site contact (the person with whom I'll live and work for at least the next three months) has left me in the house of an acquaintance while she takes care of God-knows-what. We had our formal orientation today at a retreat center, and now we're supposed to travel together to San Pedro. This evening I believe we're going to take the red-eye bus to my site, assuming she comes to collect me sometime soon. Right now I think I'm in the same city as the retreat center, but I can't say for sure. It's a weird situation, but I'm just gonna go with it because these people are nice and have Internet. I think it says a lot about this culture that you can drop off a random North American at someone's house and they'll happily baby-sit you without asking too many questions.

Since I have some time on my hands, I'll take this time to reflect on the strange language that is Guaraní.

First of all, it's important to know that Guaraní is almost exclusively an oral language. Yes, there are technically set spellings and formations, but the vast, vast majority of people are unfamiliar with them. There is debate as to why Guaraní survived while other indigenous languages did not, but mostly we've been told that it's because the Guaraní Indians were not war-like and readily intermarried with their Spanish conquerers. After the initial conquest, Jesuit missionaries came to Paraguay and accepted the indigenous language so long as the people speaking it converted to Catholicism. They were the first to record Guaraní in writing and provide a comprehensive guide to the language for future generations. In fact, modern Guaraní-Spanish dictionaries still use the Jesuit recordings as a base for their translations and spellings.

Guaraní does not sit easily on an English speakers tongue. Words are formed by connecting prefixes and suffixes to a root, which often results in very long words. The Guaraní "y" exists in neither Spanish nor English. I, personally, cannot pronounce it. This makes speaking a real pain because "y" is a popular letter and some words, like mombyry (lejos/far away) contain them in close succession. Guaraní, however, pronounces both the "h" and the "j" in the English manner.

Guaraní makes up for its impossible pronunciation by not having a subjunctive mood or most of the other complicated grammar structures...

My people just walked in. Peace out, cyberspace.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

And my site is...

¡San Pedro Word-I-Can't-Pronounce!

San Pedro Word-I-Can't-Pronounce is located in central Paraguay, with a population of about 35,000 people. It's the capital of its departmento (state), but the region itself is sparsely populated. While San Pedro is technically an urban center, the surrounding area is almost exclusively agricultural, with its main crop source being cotton and soy. My site is in the middle of Paraguayan cattle country, so I can expect a good steak every once in a while. As of now, there are two other volunteers in my site, but not from my sector. Basically that means that I'll be the only PCV focusing specifically on education and literacy, but I'll also be able to work collaboratively with people specializing in health and environmental ed. My community had another education volunteer before me, but about six years have past since she left. I have the option to work with 5 or 6 schools and a teachers' college, depending on my interests and contacts. From San Pedro, it's about a 5-hour bus ride to Asunción.

When I first received my placement I didn't know what to think, but now I'm starting to get excited about what's in store for me.

In San Pedro, I believe that most people speak Guaraní as their first language, but the majority are also fluent in Spanish. Since I'll be working in schools, my professional life will revolve around castellano, but I'll have to brush up on my Guaraní for cultural integration/making the locals like me.

I'm glad that I finally know where I'm going and can start planning for my future in PY. Tomorrow I'm having my first meeting with someone in my community, and on Saturday I'm going to visit San Pedro for the first time. The rest of my training is absolutely going to fly by--I swear in as a Peace Corps volunteer in only 15 days. It's crazy how slow and how fast these past couple months have been.

P.S. I may or may not have adopted a puppy.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

The ABCs of Paraguayan Schooling

Now that I've been in Paraguay for a little over 6 weeks, I'd like to dedicate a blog entry to what I've observed so far about the country's educational system. As part of my training as an Education volunteer, the Peace Corps has matched me up with a school and teacher that I'm supposed to work with over an 8-week period. My language group and I (4 of us in total) have been assigned to the Municipal School, an elementary school that caters to children from Guarambaré's asentamientos, or shantytowns. I chose to work with the second grade because my dad used to teach that age group and I consider it lucky.

I'll start off by saying that school here is very, very different. Kids here only go to school here for 4 hours a day. The school day is divided into 2 turnos: the morning turno is from 7-11 and the afternoon turno is from 1-5. Usually, the second turno is more female-heavy because their parents keep them at home during the morning to help with household chores. Some colegios (high schools) have a third turno at night that lasts from 6-10 for the students that work full-time during the day. Since the classrooms have different grade levels and teachers depending on the time of day, no one is able to decorate or prepare a classroom for a specific age group. In terms of methodology, the teachers believe that a quiet classroom is an efficient one, so the best teachers are the ones who can keep their students in the seats and copying from the board. Although the government gives some elementary schools kits filled with basic school supplies, they often arrive late or not at all. That means that the parents are left to supply their children with notebooks, pencils, pens, art supplies, etc. At my school, parents can barely afford to give their kids a soft-cover notebook and one pencil. Parents are also expected to buy their children uniforms (white tops and navy bottoms for public schools), but if the children don't come in dress code, the school cannot legally send them home. Usually, only the neediest students don't come to class in something that resembles a uniform. Paraguayan teachers come to school in the same navy-and-white uniform as their students.

Teaching here usually boils down to a teacher writing something on the blackboard and having the students copy it into their notebooks. If they finish early, there is no alternate activity for them to do, so they usually occupy themselves by bothering their classmates. Part of my job is to introduce new teaching methodology, but it's hard coming. During one of my Días de Practica, I gave my second-graders a diagnostic reading test. About 70% could not recite or identify the alphabet in order. Only one child could indentify the letters both in and out of order. None could read. That day was really disheartening because the kids are capable of learning, but no one is giving them the help they need. Instead, the teacher simply writes lessons on the board, and the kids copy. How are kids supposed to answer a word problem like "If Claudia has 4 apples and Mariel has 17 apples, how many apples to they have together?" if they don't know that the letter A says "aaaa"? You gotta know the letter A before you can even think about apples.

A large part of the educational tradition in Paraguay (and its subsequent challenges) has roots in the Stroessner dictatorship. Back then, all teachers had to be registered members of the Colorado party in order to work in public schools. Creative or analytical thinking was openly discouraged; instead, the objective of education was to make a nation of followers. Although the dictatorship fell around 20 years ago, some of the same teaching strategies are still employed, and unfortunately, the educational sector remains highly politicized. That means, if your superintendent knows the right people, your school might recieve a surplus of supplies or snacks (each elementary school student is supposed to get milk and bread, but it doesn't always work out that way), but if you're out of favor, your school might not get anything.

In sum, the situation is disheartening. But in spite of the institutional challenges of the working in Paraguayan schools, the kids are still kids. And they're a blast to work with. They're willing, engaged, and happy to have your attention. They're what make it possible to keep going back.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Happy Anniversary!

Paraguay is such a weird and wonderful place. In honor of my one month anniversary in country, I'm going to compile a list of some of my favorite and not-so-favorite things thus far.


1. 5 brothers. They've got my back, get me out of awkward situations, and enhance my social life. Awesome.

2. Cremosita cookies. I'm totally, hopelessly addicted to this brand of cookie. They're made in Bolivia, cost a palry 1 mil (around 20 cents) and are readily available at every neighborhood dispensa. I eat them nearly everyday.

3. Mis amigos. I truly think I've lucked out with the group I'm in. At least thus far, everyone works and plays well together.

4. My mosquito net. My host mom helped me put it up yesterday. I heart my ghetto green canopy--it makes me feel like I'm in the Peace Corps. Plus, it keeps me dengue-free.

5. The cost of beer. It's cheap. Really, really cheap.

6. Tereré. I've quickly learned to like this beverage and the ritual that goes with it. It's especially useful because I get super antsy during our training sessions, and tereré gives me the perfect excuse to move around. No one says anything when I prepare the drink and act as the server. In fact, it's considered guapa (hard working) of me to do so. Win-win. Plus, yerba mate has energizing properties, so it keeps me awake. I'm in the market for my own tereré pitcher, but I'm holding off until I go to San Lorenzo, where they have shops that customize the termos.

7. The plaza. I really like Guarambaré's plaza, or city center. The church and city administation buildings are here, as well as a park and a line of businesses.

8. Visiting Misiones. I had a great short field visit with a volunteer named Natasha. She was super welcoming, friendly, and willing to let me sleep in. Plus Misiones is a lovely part of the country. I especially enjoyed seeing the Ahecha photo exhibit in San Juan (Ahecha, which means "I see" in Guaraní, is a PC-run photography workshop for kids and young adults. I intend to do this project in my perminent site.)

9. Playing games. Whether it be icebreakers in class or volleyball at Jonathan's house, I've been having a great time playing with my peers/Paraguayan kids. Plus, my youngest brother thinks Uno is the shit.

10. Adios! Instead of saying "hola" or "buen día," everybody here says "adios" when passing someone on the street. It's a really nice tradition, plus for me it helps curb the staring.


1. Red dirt. Most of the streets here are not paved, and red dirt has gotten into EVERYTHING, including my suitcases, my purse, my hair, my fingernails, my bed, you name it. Nearly all of my shoes are ruined. This one doesn't seem like that big of a deal, but every Paraguayan I know wages an unending battle with the stuff. Plus when it rains, all of that red dirt turns into red mud.

2. Dirty bathroom. This situation is the result of my five brothers plus the red dirt. Without getting into the gorry details, let's just say it's really, really disgusting. And filled with bugs.

3. Mosquitos. Speaking of bugs, let's talk about my mortal enemy, the mosquito. Apparently I have sweet-smelling skin/blood because they will not leave me alone.

4. Mi horario. Actually, my schedule here doesn't suck that bad, but I regularly find myself overwhelmed and underslept. Plus, it is not cool that the Peace Corps schedules training events on Saturday morning. Hear that, Peace Corps? Not. cool.

5. The food. Okay, okay, it's tolerable, but let's just say I dream of the day I'll have full control of my diet again. I am, of course, not including Cremosita cookies in my assessment of Paraguayan foodstuffs.

6. Piropos. The dreaded catcall. The men here think that hissing at me will get them a date. How wrong they are.

7. The humidity. It gets really hot and humid here. I knew that going into it, but it's not something I'll ever enjoy. Luckily, this past week has been cooler in the mornings and evenings.

8. Awkwardness. This is a general one, but sometimes life here gets super awkward. It has to do with cultural differences, language barriers, nothing to say, etc. A third-year volunteer told us that we'll become so expert at handling awkward situations that we'll be able to put it on our resumes.

9. Not being allowed into Asunción without permission. This is a new PC policy meant to enhance our safety as trainees. Once we swear in as volunteers, we can travel more or less freely throughout the country, but for now it's an annoyance. Especially because we can't go to the Shakira concert. Boo, hiss.

10. Language difficulties. Sometimes I get frustrated with Jopara (the Spanish-Guaraní hybrid) because I've worked so hard to aquire Spanish. Now I have to throw parts of another language into the mix. Honestly though, I go back and forth between this one. I like learning about languages, so it's really interesting to me on an intellectual level. I'm still in the adjustment process on this one.

Overall, I'd definitely say that the good has outweighed the bad. I'm happy to be here, and thrilled that volunteer swear-in is only a month and a half away :)

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Paraguay in 6 words

Fútbol reigns supreme;
Jesus close second.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

In Asuncion

Greetings from Paraguay’s capital city! I’m writing right now from the Peace Corps Headquarters in Asuncion after spending the morning on a scavenger hunt. Earlier this week, the PC trainers gave us a “mission statement” and assigned us a partner for the trip. I woke up at 5:30am, got ready quickly, and walked to the plaza just as the sun was rising. Most of my group members decided to leave at the same time, so we congregated at the bus stop and waited for the various bus lines to pass by. After about an hour and a half bus ride, we got our desired location, switched buses, and arrived at our first stop: Shopping del Sol. Shopping del Sol is basically a chuchi (fancy) mall in Asuncion; the stated reason they sent us there was to scout out the prices of children’s books, but really we just went shopping. In retrospect, Jaimee and I should have gone to the mall last, but I wasn’t sure about the directions to our other destination, so I played it safe. Unfortunately, Jaimee was having stomach issues from the moment she woke up this morning, so once we got to the mall, we made a mad dash for the bathroom. We got there just as the mall was opening, so we lingered until the most of the shops were open. I bought a cute nightie with a cat motif, and Jaimee bought a couple dresses. We ate something in the food court, and then asked for directions to SNPP, a government-run work development school. I awkwardly talked to the secretaries about the organization, and then we booked it to the Peace Corps office.

Right now I’m happy to be in air conditioning and off of those crazy buses. Next time I’m in the city I promise I’ll take pictures :)

Saturday, February 12, 2011

My Room

Weekend Update

My first week in Paraguay has been jam packed with new activities, learning experiences, adventures. Here are some of the highlights:

-My diet has definitely changed since arriving in Paraguay. The staple food here is mandi’o (known alternatively as mandioca, manioc, cassava or yucca, depending on where you’re from) and large chunks of red meat. Last Sunday, my family made asado de costillas and has been using the left over meat in every meal since then. Various types of stews are a big hit here—usually a thick broth with meat, veggies and rice, pasta, or cornmeal dumplings. For one particularly memorable meal, I had rice and cheese, fried mandioca fritters, and white bread. That’s right, starch, fried starch, and a side of starch. Luckily, that particular dinner exemplifies an extreme. There’s also an abundance of fresh fruit and veggies here, so with a little effort, I think I can achieve balance.

-Despite my aforementioned dietary constraints, I think I may have actually dropped a couple of pounds from the amount of walking I’ve been doing. I go to two different buildings for training: one is the official Peace Corps training facility and the other is a private-home-turned-school in my barrio. Every morning I go to the smaller school for language class (I’m in intermediate Spanish right now and will transition into Guaraní about half way through training) and then go to the main center after lunch. The little school is about a 15-minute walk from my house, while the other one is about a half an hour walk. All in all, I spend about an hour and a half in transit every day.

-Animals roam more or less freely in my neighborhood. I regularly pass cows, goats, dogs, cats, chickens, and horses on my way to school everyday.

-Yesterday I watched a young bull get castrated. One of my friends lives on a small working farm and his father invited us to watch the show. Needless to say, it looked painful.

-One cannot overstate the importance of tereré in this society. Tereré is Paraguay’s national beverage and there’s a whole ritual involved in its preparation and consumption. For those of you who don’t know, tereré is a tea-like infusion made with yerba mate (a sort of bitter, grassy tasting herb that’s very common in this region), a mixture of add-ins called yuyos, and ice water. Yuyos are different herbs and roots that make tereré taste better and often have medicinal properties. My favorite yuyos are mint and lemongrass, but there are a ton. First, you pound the crap out of your yuyos and then add them to ice water. At this point, your ice water should look like a swamp. Then you place a metal straw with a strainer attached to the bottom (called a bombilla) into a communal drinking cup (called a guampa) and fill it about half way up with yerba mate. Add your swamp water and take a swig. Don’t touch, move or make noise with the straw; that’s rude. Don’t talk too much; that’s also rude. Then refill the guampa with more water and pass to your right. Tereré is taken communally and is as much a social ritual as a way to cool off. Everyone shares the same straw and keeps drinking in a circle until people gradually bow out (usually, but not always, because they have to pee). I now know all about tereré drinking and culture because my program has devoted more than one session to it. Yeah, it’s that important.

-For the first time in a while, I skinned my knees playing a sport. Another friend, Jonathan, lives at the party house of the neighborhood where everyone congregates to play volleyball and socialize. It was fun to get dirty and play with kids.

-Yesterday, right before the start of our weekend, our program directors told us that we have to form a youth group during training. I’m actively not thinking about it until next week.

-Today begins the celebration of Carnival, or the days leading up to Lent. My brothers invited my to a club tonight, but I’m not sure if I’m going. There will be lots of dancing and música brasilera I’m told.

-I’m rocking some pretty sweet Peace Corps legs right now. Bug bites, bruises, cuts, scars, scabs, stubble, you name it. I wear them with pride.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

My Host Family

On Thursday I was placed with my Paraguayan family—the people who I’ll be living with during the next 3 months of training. I have been invited into a very friendly—and very full—house. I have two host parents, Teresa and Basilio, and their five (!!!) sons: Diego and Fernando (identical twins; 24), Braulio (goes by Cacho, lives with his girlfriend; 22), Pablo (typical adolescent; 16) and Augusto (goes by Manú and is very cute; 10). I’m their third trainee. I must say, everyone is the house has made an effort to make me feel welcome and put me at ease, especially Fernando and Manú. Teresa is one of those tireless, thankless mothers who puts up with a lot. She has been extremely kind to me, and I’d like to think she enjoys having another female around. I don’t interact much with the father (he’s a mechanic), but I’m okay with that.

My housing situation is very basic but safe. I have a room with a locking door, a single bed with a thin sheet on top (which I supplemented with my own sheet set), a desk, a little table that serves as a night stand, a broken-but-repaired-with-paperclips plastic lawn chair and a very, very old couch. I have curtains that cover a barred window (no glass) and a ceiling fan. That’s it. I’m not gonna lie, the first time I walked into the room I had a definite moment of culture shock. Without my stuff in it, I looked like a nun’s cell, with peeling green paint and wires falling out of the wall. However, now that I’ve unloaded my stuff and adjusted to my perception, I’m actually really happy with my housing. After all, I have running water, electricity, a place to put my stuff, and people to socialize with. That’s all I really need (or was promised, for that matter.)

My family’s house is about a 20-minute walk from the training facility and a ten-minute walk to the plaza. I’ll use this information as a segway into a rather embarrassing experience that happened to me today. This Saturday, we only have language class in the morning, so after I ate lunch with my host family, a group of trainees and I went into downtown Guarambaré for Internet and shopping. I left around two. My friend, Rose, and I went to a cyber cafe and then walked around the commercial district. I needed to buy a couple things for my bedroom—like a pillow—and a bag for my school supplies. All in all, this took about 3-4 hours. Then, Rose invited over to her house, where I met my host mother and four of her host siblings. Her host family runs a small cheese factory, so we ate cheese, drank tereré, and played Uno. I was feeling really good about myself for a while there: I had emailed my family and updated my blog, found and purchased everything I needed, and made new friends, all while speaking in Spanish. Around dusk, Rose and her oldest host brother walked me home. As I entered my house, feeling proud like a peacock, Manú stopped me and said that his mother has been looking for me. For hours. Shit.

I’d like to take this moment to explain that I told both my host parents separately that I was going to the plaza at two and that I returned before it was fully dark out. I walked accompanied the entire time. I typed, I shopped, I played cards with children. Unfortunately, host mama had no way of knowing this. After I didn’t come home for a couple hours, and with no way to contact me, she basically flipped a shit. She went to the houses of other trainees (of course, not Rose’s) and enquired about my whereabouts. After not finding me at their houses, she got a search group together of three other families, and they circled the neighborhood looking for me. I didn’t find all of this out until later, and when I did I was completely mortified. Mor-ti-fied. Like, wanted to dig a hole in the sandy, red Paraguayan dirt and die. To her credit, Teresa didn’t yell or get mad when she saw me, and of course I apologized profusely. And I will continue to beg forgiveness for many days to come.

This whole incident has got me thinking about what exactly I should have done differently. I realize now that I put Teresa in a terrible situation. Just this morning, she had to walk me to school because I don’t know the way yet, and then I go off for several hours without an exact itinerary or return time. But I also understand my own thought process: I told my parents I was going out, left, and then returned at a reasonable hour. There’s nothing wrong with that. Next time, though, I’ll be sure to mention names, places, and return times. Teresa will have my plans in writing. Promise, promise.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

I've arrived

(Written on Wednesday, February 2, 2011)

I’m here! What a crazy day. Yesterday night at 11:00 we flew from Miami to Montevideo, Uruguay, had a 3-hour layover, and then took a small plane into Asunción. So much has happened that it’s difficult to process. I slept relatively well on the airplane (about as well as one can expect), then freshened up in the airport bathroom with the rest of the girls in my group. There are about 50 of us in all (and literally only about 10 guys), so the logistics of getting us all from Miami to here was a practice in controlled chaos. Luckily, we didn’t lose anyone and as of now, no one is seriously ill.

Once we arrived in Paraguay, our future trainers met us at the airport and helped us through customs. Unfortunately, some of the bags didn’t fit on the Uruguay-to-Paraguay plane, so there are people still waiting for their checked suitcases. After we got our legal/baggage issues under control, we divided into subgroups according to our jobs, got onto these funky retro vans, and made our way to a Catholic retreat center for the night (just for the record, the Peace Corps has no religious affiliation—we’re staying here out of necessity.) It is HOT and humid here, but I think I prefer it to all that snow ;)

We had a little break and then ate a meal of salty squash soup, a lettuce and carrot salad, and overcooked pasta with meat sauce. It wasn’t the best, but at least it wasn’t airplane food. Plus, I was happy to be sitting down with my group members and socialize. After that, I took a shower, organized my stuff, and generally chilled out.

Tomorrow we’re off to our training center. It’s going to be a big day—taking a language evaluation, trying tereré for the first time, and meeting my host family. Wish me luck!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Waiting at the hotel

I forgot to post this yesterday--take a look at the awesome Peace Corps ad outside of Miami International:

It’s funny because I worked at Starbucks :)

Monday, January 31, 2011


What a day, what a day! As one would expect, it was an emotional whirlwind. I woke up this morning and ran around like a crazy person trying finish everything I’d forgotten (mostly making copies of paperwork and putting together my photo album). I was feeling so anxious Mariel, Mom, and Linda took me to the airport, and after paying 60 dollars (!#@$#) to check my bags, we hugged, kissed, cried, and said goodbye.

I was actually really early checking in, so I sat and stewed for an hour and a half before boarding the plane. The flight was pleasant and uneventful. Getting myself to the hotel was another matter entirely. Apparently my hotel only has one or two put-put minibuses to shuttle people to and from the airport. Unfortunately, when you’re dealing with PC trainees, you’re dealing with a lot of luggage. The little red bus passed me three times before I finally pitched a fit and basically forced the driver to let me on (just for the record, I gave him a good tip). It look about an hour and a half to go four blocks. In retrospect, I should’ve just taken a taxi.

Once I got to the hotel and checked in, I had a minor meltdown about what to wear to registration (I felt sooo underdressed), got everything straightened out, and then went out to dinner with another girl from my group. The ropa vieja was delicious. Now I’m back in the hotel room for some much needed shut eye.

Sweet dreams, cyberspace.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

I’m leavin’ on a jet plane...

A big thanks to everyone who made my going-away party a success. I had so much fun seeing everybody :) It was great to feel the love from my friends, neighbors and family, especially before I embark on such a huge, fun, exciting, and scary journey.

Monday, January 24, 2011

One Week

In 7 days I’ll be flying to Miami for orientation. I’m trying as best as I can to prepare myself for the journey ahead. This past Saturday I had a little get-together with friends that almost fizzled out completely. None of my Starbux acquaintances were able to come and a couple of my friends from the Cup bailed. I allowed myself about a half an hour to feel bad for myself and then moved on. The people who did come enjoyed themselves and we all had a great visit. Big props for Mariel for putting the party together and catering the whole affair.

This upcoming Saturday I’m having a decidedly larger party for neighbors/family friends/the most important people in my life. I’m excited to see everyone and say some proper good-byes. I think this part of the game is supposed to be bittersweet. I’m going to miss my mom and brother and best friend terribly (not to mention the lovely non-human members of the family), but I’m ready to get going.

Paraguay here I come!

Friday, January 21, 2011

The best thing I’ve done in a while

I’m proud to report that I’ve given away 14 bags/boxes of clothing, toys, books, shoes, and other assorted goods. Add to that 8 bags of trash and 2 bags of recyclable paper, and I’d say I’ve done a pretty damn good job de-cluttering, if I do say so myself.

After quitting my jobs, I spent about two weeks relishing the openness of my schedule. I woke up whenever I felt like it, read the NY Times and PC blogs, and generally allowed myself to recover from several months of 4:30am mornings. During my internet surfing, I stumbled across the blog Zen Habits, that promotes minimalism and de-cluttering. Something rung true. Since I’d already packed for Paraguay, I decided to do a clean sweep of the stuff I’m leaving behind.

There were moments when going through my stuff was bittersweet (remember that first trip to Disney?), but other moments were absolutely exhilarating (finally trashing my old RA binder). I feel lighter, happier, and calmer now that I’ve opened up some physical and mental space. Highly recommended :)

Monday, January 17, 2011

15 days!

Unbelievable! I’ve got so much to do and so little time.