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

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 :)