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.