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

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.