Friday, December 18, 2009

Thunder Mountain



Sorry I’ve been away for so long! Where to begin.......So okay, I got kicked out of Na Lorenza’s house. Remember her? She’s the one everybody was telling me was loca when I told them I was moving in with her. I can’t tell you how many “I told you so”’s I got for that one.  Any it doesn’t sound any better in another language either.  Also, I should have moved before things reached a head, but I ignored the warning signs and was being kaigue(lazy).  So what happened exactly:


Well, there had been things that occurred that changed the environment in the house. I started to feel like they were taking advantage of me and then little incidents happened that, although we would go back to laughing and talking, it was never the same. During Oct. I started looking for a place. On Thurs, Oct 29, another month approaching and another rent payment due, I asked her if I could pay each week in Nov and not for the whole month at the beginning of Nov because I was looking to move soon.  She said No, because she pays her light bill at the beginning of the month and uses my rent payment for that. Okaaaay. If she would’ve left it like that, okay. But she totally flipped out.  She started wailing about how much electricity I use, about how I use my blowdryer and flat iron (which I rarely use either, although they use very little electricity).  Then she starts telling me that she is short 40mil guaranis on her light bill this month.  So I told her I don’t use that much electricity and what I do use is included in my rent. And she could tell by the expression on my face that I thought she was trying to take advantage of me, so she said, “No estoy aprovechando de vos!” (I’m not taking advantage of you)  I was like, “Si, me parece” (Yeah, seems like it to me). But at the end, she told me that if I didn’t pay her all of the rent by Sat. Oct 31, then I’d have to move.  But she was polite enough to suggest that I pay her all the rent for Nov on Sat, and I can continue looking. And if I find something before Nov is up, then fine, I can move before Nov ends. 


So of course I panicked, because there was no way I could stay in the house now in THAT environment, but I didn’t really have anywhere else to go.  After a sleepless night, I went to the Muni the next day and told my friends the situation.  “Loca”, “Mala” they said to describe Na Lorenza.  But Paola, whose house I had looked at before Na Lorenza’s but didn’t have an inside bathroom, said to me without hesitation, “Shavonda, remember the room that I showed you before? You can stay there while you search for another place.” “You’re sure your parents will be okay with this?” I asked. “Shavonda, trust me. It’s fine.” And while I was staying there, they wanted me to stay but I was stuck on the bathroom situation (chuchi, i know). So I was relieved that I at least had a place to stay until I could find something permanent.  So Sat, Oct 31 comes. I still hadn’t told Na Lorenza that I’m moving. She’s thinking that she has me under her thumb because it was so short a notice. So I had planned to move in the afternoon, but when I went to the muni, they told me that the Mayor had to travel that afternoon and since he was gonna help me move, plans got pushed up to that morning. So I went back to the house to finish packing my stuff, trying to figure out how to tell her. I caught her outside doing laundry.  “Na Lorenza, voy a mudarme hoy. Yo encontre una casa” (I’m gonna move today, I found a house”.  She said, “Oh bueno” (Oh good).  I remembered thinking that this was going to be easier than I thought. 


About 10 minutes after I told her, I was in my room packing when she came in, 


“Turn off the ceiling fan, Shavonda.”  

“Uh, what, you mean now?”

“Yeah, now! You have the window open”

“But there is no breeze coming through and it’s hot”

“So, you’re moving and you can’t use anything! I’m short 40 mil on the light this month. Every day you use your flat iron and blowdryer!”

At this I got pissed, cuz I knew she was lying, “That’s not true, that’s not true!!!”

“Yes, it is true” she told me

“Listen, light and water is included in my rent. I already paid for Oct. It’s Oct 31st. Still Oct, so what I use today, I’ve already paid for.”

“You see that, Shavonda! You have bad characteristics! And because of this, you’re not gonna be able to work here. The people are not going to want to work with you! Turn off the ceiling fan, Shavonda!!”

“If you want the ceiling fan off, then turn it off yourself”


And she did just that....


So I’m standing in my room thinking, “What the hell just happened?!” and 5 minutes later, she comes back....


I had some empanadas that I had made on a plate in the refrigerator.  She came in and threw them along with the couple other things I had in the frig. on the table in the room. At that point, I called Elisa, the Associate Peace Corp Director for my sector, and told her what was happening.  While I was talking to her, I went outside to take my clothes in from the line.  Na Lorenza went on the opposite end of the line and started to snatch my clothes down saying she needed her clothespins. “You saw me taking in the clothes!” I yelled at her. “You’re talking!”, she yelled back. “But I’m taking in the clothes too!”  So Elisa is on the phone the entire time, and she’s like, “Shavonda, what is she doing now? Is she threatening you?” At this point, I’m close to tears and it’s in my voice as I try to explain everything that happened.


Luckily, soon afterwards the mayor and a couple friends came and load of my things, and I was out of there.  


I lived with Paola’s family  for about a week. I really bonded with them and I can tell that they wanted me to stay and they were worried that I wasn’t comfortable in their house. There’s a little house on their property with a very small room in front and a bigger room in back but they use the bigger room to store the stove, refrigerator, and other random things.  They also have an outdoor bathroom/shower. I’m not gonna lie, if it hadn’t been for that last point, I would’ve considered staying (I know, I’m chuchi). But they did their best to make sure that the little room in front that I was sleeping in was as comfortable (as a little room could possibly be), and when I mentioned that I had my window closed b/c of the bichos (bugs, flies), the dad put up a screen on the window.  


That week was hard. It wasn’t the family, b/c they’re awesome. A part of it was being unsettled. I hate living out of boxes and my suitcase. That throws me off.  Also, being extremely worried that Na Lorenza was going to spread awful things about me to the community. My friends could see the worry etched on my face.  “Shavonda, no preocupate”, “Shavonda, no estresate”, “Shavonda, no pensa en esto”. All of these things they were telling me, but how could they know how it feels to be a foreigner living in a community when a member of said community (no matter how crazy), is hurling insults at you?  Who are the people going to believe? Me, the foreigner, or one of their own (no matter how crazy)?  While talking to Paola, I would lapse into sudden silence (more than usual). “Shavonda, what are you thinking about?” I would shake my head, “Nothing.” “Shavonda, stop worrying, va a pasar (It will pass).”  And it did. Though, it hurts to have built a rapport with a family and to consider them family, then something like this happens. But, asi es la vida, verdad?


So, Mirta, who works in the Muni, told me that there’s a little house on her family’s property that her uncle would be willing to rent to me.  So I went to look at the house. I wasn’t exactly sold on it, but it had an indoor bathroom. I didn’t pay close enough attention to the other details. So I moved into the house after a week with Paola’s family.  I was still feeling down, but then I told myself to stop feeling sorry for myself. That was the day I ate lunch 3 times, because I had 3 invitations, and didn’t want to turn anyone down.  


So afterwards, things were okay.  Then the families started telling me about the rezo (prayer) that will be held in the house. To be fair to them, they mentioned the rezo before I moved in, but I got the impression that the family come a day/mth and say a quick prayer and that’s it. And in such a hurry to move as I was, I didn’t press for more details.  So now, they are telling me that tradition is that after someone dies, every year there is a rezo for 9 days. The rezo is usually from about 5pm -9pm and the family has to provide snacks (usually chipa) for the attendees. In a room in the house, normally where the dearly departed lived, there is something like a shrine (don’t really know the correct word for it, thought about taking a pic, but thought it would be disrepectful).  So the family was assuring me that it’s not going to bother me one bit, although I was thinking, “How can having a shrine to a dead person, and having strangers in the next room not going to bother me?”  But what could I say, “NO, you cannot honor the memory of your mother, and follow Paraguayan tradition!”?  So I just had to make sure that all my stuff was locked up and tried to find another place to be during the rezo.  Also, I mentioned that the rezo is usually held in the home of the dead person, but it’s not uncommon for paraguayans to die in their homes also. I didn’t ask......and I sincerely, don’t want to know......


Coastin - Reconnect


For a week in November, we had an IST (In Service Training), also known as Reconnect, and also the annual Thanksgiving celebration in Encarnacion. At first, I wasn’t really looking forward to training, because well.....it’s training. But after everything that had happened, and my coming to hate my living situation (it’s moldy and they are LOTS of flies, and various other things, it’s also FAR from the center of town, and the families have like 5 dogs), the prospect of getting out of site seemed better and better.  I even left site early :)  


But all and all, it was good to reconnect with the people from my group because I hadn’t seen anyone since swearing-in weekend.  


So that was a great week to just be around other Volunteers and not have to be so culturally-attuned 24/7. I also got a chance to stay with my host family from training and it was GREAT seeing them again.  I felt HORRIBLE because I hadn’t really been in contact (I had to change my cell phone chip, losing all of my numbers).  I told them about my housing situation and how I hated it, and how hard it is to find other housing in my site, and that I will probably have to have a bathroom constructed b/c none of the empty houses have bathrooms.  So my host dad actually told me that when I find a house that I like, call him and he will come to my site to build a bathroom for me, since there’s a bus for my site that passes through the community. I thought this was more kindness than I deserved since I hadn’t made an effort to contact them (I could’ve gotten their number from Peace Corps, or another Volunteer’s training family). But I made a promise to better keep in touch, and I’m actually planning on spending New Year’s with them.


But then the week had to come to an end, and I had to return to site. It wasn’t a sad experience because it gave the people a little time to miss me (does this sound arrogant? oh well).  But I was still coming back to the house that I hated.  


Sudden Drop - Didn’t See That One Coming


As soon as I got back, I continued my search for a new place to stay, with little to no luck.  Then, Friday morning of my first week back in site, I slept in a little. Around 8am(yes, this is my definition of sleeping in), I’m standing outside my little house marveling at the weather, thinking about how it’s not too hot nor cold, and the sky is perfect! Then Mirta’s brother steps outside of their house and motion’s to me with that little palm down motion that they use here.  


“Hola, que tal!” 

“Did you hear, the mayor died last night”

“Que?” What

“The mayor died last night. Mirta left around 1am this morning, came back and slept a little, then left again”

“Wait a minute” I said, still trying to mentally catch up. “OUR mayor?”

“Yeah, Don Ruben, our mayor.”

“But how did he die?”

“A heart attack. After dinner, he had a pain in his chest, and collapsed.”

And I’m speechless....


The funeral was the next day.They don’t wait as long as we do.  They are no preservatives for the body after death here.  Or if there is, then it’s only used in the bigger cities, not by the majority of the population.  Usually, when someone dies, the next day or maybe in 2 days depending on if family has to come in from other places, there is a velorio (wake), and burial.  Then after that for 9 days, there is a rezo at the house of the family. People were asking me about the process in the States and it was hard to answer.  It’s hard because here, the population is more or less homogenenous, meaning that it’s mostly one culture and with the same traditions (albeit there are variations on the traditions).  But I can’t really explain what WE do in the States for our dead, I can only explain what MY family and community do because there are many different religions and also customs that have nothing to do with religion. For example, when someone dies where I live, of course people offer condolences. But usually the funeral is on a Saturday, but if someone dies on a Thursday or Friday, then it’s the NEXT Saturday. But really, I think it depends on what the family wants, because the body can be preserved.  Then, normally the evening before the funeral people will gather at the family’s house and have a fish fry or other food (yeah I’m from the South).  But even though my family goes to a Baptist church, I think this tradition has less to do with religion than with regional culture. And to be honest with you, I can’t even say that everyone in the region does this.  


So I try to explain that there are many different customs and religions in the States so it’s not all the same.  But I did mention that the body is usually kept at a funeral home. “The body is not kept with the family?” they asked.

“Ah, no. In the house with the family? I asked

“Yeah, with the family.”

“No, because the funeral and burial is usually not within 24 hours after the death”

“Oh” they answer, but I can tell that they didn’t really understand at all


Then later on someone asked me, “You all don’t cry for your dead do you?”

Huh?! Where did that come from!

“Yes, of course we cry. Just like you all do” I answered.

Then I was thinking of how I had explained the storage of the body.  For a culture where it’s ALL about family and people don’t usually move out of the parents home before marriage, and sometimes after, and everything is shared; so the image of the body of their loved one in some funeral home and not with the family must seem very cold to them.  


Primary Colors


The death of the Intendente also put into play an interesting political scene, especially since I “work” in the Muni.  The mayor was a member of the Colorado political party.  With his death, the president of the Junta (City Commission) assumes the role of Interim Mayor for 15 days until a council votes for someone to finish the Mayor’s term. Well, the president of the Junta is a member of the Liberal political party.  The Colorado party is symbolically represented by the color, Red. While Liberales are represented by Blue. Depending on who you talk to, colors are all that matter here; or colors mean nothing, it’s all about money (although I’m thinking who has money maybe connected to who’s in office and their color).  So almost immediately, I started hearing talk of how key people who worked for Don Ruben are quitting, and my contact, Marvi, doesn’t know if she will continue either.  They said that Cinthia, the interim Mayor, is two-faced and only wants to help herself and members of her political party, but Don Ruben helped everybody, regardless of Party.  


The Muni opened again the following Wednesday. It was AWKWARD, for me at least.  When I arrived, I saw all the funcionarios (employees of the muni) gathered in one office, so I walked in and was like, “Hola, Que tal”.  They all looked up at me with teary eyes, wiping their faces.  Oops.  Then, the widow of the Don Ruben, along with their 3 sons, were there to collect his personal items from his office.  Also there were members of the Liberal political party.  Also, the teenage daughter of Cinthia was there milling around.  So after walking around with what I hoped was the appropriate expression on my face, I decided to leave so I could concentrate on planning this Summer camp that I started.


A Loop, Swoop, Dive, Climb, then a Drop....The Hunt Continues


So through all this, I’m still hunting for a place with little results. But one day, the librarian where I do my Colonia de Vacaciones (Summer Camp) told me that there is a house that is totally furnished and located in the central part of town.  She told me that the landlady’s sister told her that she wants to rent it the house out.  The librarian knew all about my housing troubles and she was talking the house up to me. I kept telling myself, “Don’t get your hopes up, don’t get your hopes up”.  So she told me to come back around 6:15 so that she can show me the house. So that evening I trudged through incredibly humid, muggy heat back to the library (remember I live far), then when i walked in the door, she said, “I’m sorry Shavonda! I was just about to call you. I just talked to the landlady and there was some confusion. She doesn’t want to rent her house afterall.”  To say that I felt like someone had slapped my heart around in my chest would be an understatement.  But I smiled, told her thanks for her help anyway, and left. I didn’t really know where I was going, but I kept telling myself, “Don’t cry, Vonda, don’t cry!” So I stopped at a Copetin (little sidewalk restaurant), to buy a couple slices of cold pizza, then I went to the plaza.  I had barely made it to the bench when the tears came.  I didn’t care who saw me...which is a testament to how bad it was. I NEVER cry in public, NEVER! My own twin sister does a double take if she even hear me crying over the phone.  

Suddenly I get a txt msg from an amigo, Mario.  “Where r u?” he asks....I paused as I thought of a response. After a couple minutes delay, “In the plaza. Crying.” I responded, because even emotionally closed-off people need to let someone in SOMETIMES.  Within a few minutes, I look up and see Mario walking through the plaza towards me, with a worried expression on his face.  It turns out that he had just passed the plaza, and didn’t look that way. On a whim, he sent me a txt, not expecting that I was in the plaza.  


“Hola, Shavo. What’s the matter?”

So I told him, with eyes all red, and voice all shaky.

“Shavo, I wish I could do something for you. But I don’t know of any empty houses for rent.”

“No hay, Mario. No hay.” There aren’t any, Mario. There aren’t any.


So then, this woman is passing through the plaza, and stops at our bench.  She asked if I worked at the Muni. So automatically I go into my spiel about how I’m a Peace Corp Volunteer and I don’t actually ‘work’ in the muni, but I work with the muni, blah, blah, blah.  But she told me that her friend said I was looking for a place to rent. She has a house that I can rent or a room in the house if I want. I almost doubled over at the timing!  But I was still cautious.  “Cuando puedo ver la casa?” I asked her (When can I see the house? “Where are you headed now?” No where, I can come with you to see the house now.  So I went to Mario, who had excused himself to give us some privacy. I was smiling and I say, “This lady say that she has a house that I can rent.” He smiled too and told me to let him know how things go, saying, “I brought you good luck!”


The house was NICE. It had everything I wanted. But then she tells me that the rent is 350 per month and this does not include utilities.  Ouch! It’s a nice place, but uhhhhh damn!  But nevertheless, I was still excited b/c at least I had SOMETHING to work with. I figure I could negotiate a little, but if all else fails, for the price of comfort, I’d pay the 350.  So I told her I’d let her know. Then I asked if she could lower the rent to 300. She hit me with the old, “Te voy a avisar” (I’ll let you know), which is slightly (but not much) better than “Puede ser”, which translates to ‘It can be’, but which means NOPE. So then after not hearing from the lady for a day, I dropped by her house. She said that she could take my offer of 300, but she was acting WIERD.  She would not stop moving, and it was hard to pin her down to talk about the details.  She kept saying she doesn’t know where she’ll keep the things/furniture that is already in the house. I thought we were in agreement that I could use the refrig, stove, sofa, and she could store the bed in a room in the house, since I have my own bed. But then she would keep saying, “I don’t know where I’m going to keep my things.” Then a guy came over, and he was helping clean up the back yard, but I could tell they were more than friends.  At one point, they went in the bedroom and closed the door, leaving me with the 5year old son.  Then on top of that, she couldn’t give me a guarantee that I would be able to stay there for the duration of my service.  She would only do 6mths at a time. So at that point, I told her, “Te voy a avisar.”


 

So I went back to the Paola’s family to tell them about what had happened.  I had been talking to them and they had been trying to help me, and the mom let me know bad and safe areas of the barrio.  So they had been lightly suggesting that I stay in the little house on their property and they could move the refrig and stove out. I didn’t want to tell them that the only reason was because there wasn’t a bathroom. But they guessed it anyway; and the dad said that if I get the materials he will put in the bathroom for me (he’s a carpenter). And the only thing I would have to pay is a portion of water and light, but not rent. 


So this is where I’m at now.  The dad started work on the house already with materials that he already had.  I’m happy to finally have a solution (I hope) to my housing woes, but after so much that’s happened, I can’t really get my hopes up yet. Pero vamos a ver (we’ll see).


Oh and I know I briefly mentioned the Summer camp that I’m doing. I will post more on that later....but not too much later!


Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Pics of my friends



Vista
Hiking up a cerro(small mountain)
At parade featuring all the schools
Cleaning for "Rock" concert to raise money



At the rock concert to raise money for Muni
Cleaning up for a "rock" concert. these 3 are in the pic below


On my site visit, doing  a cleanup project

Thursday, October 1, 2009

This post is out of order

September 22, 2009


Today we had a parade. If any of you are from small towns, you know just how big an annual parade can be. But it struck me that back home our parade was built around the Homecoming Football game. The parade here is for the founders’ or historical figures from the city. So, ever since I’ve been in site, I’ve been hearing about the big parade with all the schools marching. And for the past few weeks, you can hear the off and on drumbeats of kids practicing. So with all the hoopla, I was looking forward to seeing what Pirayu’s finest have to offer. I had signed up to be a volunteer with the Muni, although I had no (and still don’t) idea what that entails. All I know is that I showed up at the plaza early, and stood around until the parade started. So we’re standing around and I notice some funky, ugly looking clouds off in the distance. Uhoh, I thought, that could be trouble. I mention this to a friend of mine, “Va a llover?”(It’s going to rain?). She looked up at the clouds, “No, esta bien” (It’s okay). So with that, I turned up the tranquillo-ness and relaxed and waited for the fest
ivities to began. While walking around the various venders I noticed a guy selling that sweet popcorn that I love so, so I start walking after him when I admonished myself, “After the parade, Vonda; there should be plenty!” okay, so back to waiting on the parade. I’ve posted below a video clip that I made (first time using iMovie so bare with me), of some of the parts I think are representative of the parade as a whole. The outfits are more or less the same, with some variation of colors. The teachers wear uniforms and march also. And there’s a kid out front facing the VIP’s (Mayor, Governor) who does the baton thingie. The kid in the video was my favorite, and I started recording him in the middle of his performance. Look at the expression on his face....


videoSo first the escuelas (from PreK to 13y/o), then the colegios (like high school) were supposed to go. Notice I said supposed. All during what seemed like 50 escuelas, the storm clouds were moving in and it was looking bad. But looking around, no one else seemed to noticed, so I went back to watching the parade.

And then......the bottom fell out of the sky....Everybody ran for cover. People even were holding chairs on their heads (I thought about doing that, but couldn’t go out like dat). So I huddled with about 40 others behind the stage underneath the covering. And then, just like that the rain slacked off, but by then the parade was over and I was soaked. So I walked to the house and belatedly got my rain jacket, then decided to walk back to the plaza to s
ee what everyone was doing. The afterparty was happening in the plaza. People were milling around, talking, laughing with friends....then it started raining again. In the clip below, see how towards the end everyone starts running? HAHAHA
video


And then....the rain stops....and you can even see blue sky. Ah, asi es la vida in Paraguay. oh and i never did find that popcorn guy.....and trust me...I looked.


Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Some Pics from 1st month in site





The Muni





Guy that sits outside the Muni everyday




The Municipalidad (Muni)










When in Rome........



Equipo for terere-a thermo and a guampa





The street in front of my house






The plaza











General Diaz-this guy is a big deal, like George Washington is to us









I´ll have more pics soon.......




































































Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Gringo Television and more...

September 6, 2009

Since you last tuned in, I was newly sworn in and hiding out at my host family’s house afraid to go to my site. That’s been almost 3 wks ago, so here’s a little rundown on how things are going and my observations (oh and I will post pics as soon as I get my usb cable from the PC Office next week):

I made it to my site with no problems. I wasn’t sure exactly where I was supposed to be staying, so I went to my contact’s house, where I stayed for my Future Site Visit. My contact wasn’t home, but her parents welcomed me. I can tell they weren’t expecting me because honestly they didn’t have room. The family had taken in this girl who didn’t really have a place to go and she was sleeping in the room where I slept for Future Site Visit. So I had to share a room with a 10-year-old. Although I should not complain because they were kind enough to take me in. But I knew that I could not stay there for the entire 3mths that we have to live with a family before we can live alone. My contact had been talking about having me stay with different families to get to know the community better. In theory, I agree that this is a great idea, and I’ve heard of a volunteer who’ve done it. But I would’ve hated to live like that; not being able to really unpack and settle would’ve driven me nuts! I’m the type of person that needs a routine and needs to be able to unpack her crap. So I told my contact that I really didn’t want to do this because it would be very difficult. I also told her this before I left from my Site Visit. But it’s like it went in one ear and out the other. So I started asking around myself to see if anyone had a vacant room to rent. So the Sunday of my first week in site, a friend of my contact came up to me at a mtg and said that the next day she’s going to come get me and my bags because I’m staying with her family for week and then coming back to my contact’s house. Huh?!! So right then, I new that I needed to get on the ball and take matters into my own hands. So right after the mtg, instead of riding back to the house with my contact, I told them I would walk (and besides it’s a great way to meet folks). So I walked and along the way introduced myself to people I saw, gradually bringing up the subject of a vacant room. Well, eventually I met this woman who told me about a room in Doña Lorenza’s house, and she gave me directions. I went right over there, but Doña Lorenza wasn’t there, but she “was coming”. I ended up waiting about an hour before she showed up. When she showed me the room I was like, “When do I move in?” I mean it’s nothing fancy, but after sharing a room with a 10yearold, and after some of the other rooms I’ve seen, this was perfect. So I told my contact that I found a room that I can stay for the entire 3mths, and when I told her whose house it was, she started smiling and said that Doña Lorenza is a little crazy. I was like, crazy how, dangerous crazy? She’s all like “no, no, just muy nerviosa”(exciteable). She wasn’t the only one who started smiling when I told them. But from what I can tell of Doña Lorenza she’s just a lil hyper. Paraguayans think anyone out of the ordinary laidback style is a little crazy, so I’m happy to say that I’m very glad that I moved here. They treat me VERY well here.

The family consists of Dona Lorenza, who doesn’t seem crazy at all. Then there is her husband, Andreas, who most of the time I think he’s not home, but he’s actually tooling around out back, very stealth-like. There is the youngest of Lorenza and Andreas’ four kids, Patricia (Patty). Patty is 20years old with a cute babyface. She does half, if not most of the cooking. Then there’s Paola(15 years old), Lorenza’s granddaughter. Paola’s mother, Lorenza’s daughter, is somewhere (can’t remember), and her father has passed away. Paola has the enthusiasm of, well a 15 year old. She loves showing off her very small English vocabulary.

Like I said before, Dona Lorenza is hyper; although a better description would be a talker, which she readily admits she is. This is good because it forces me to talk. I feel like I’m bonding pretty well with the family.

An example of a conversation with me, Lorenza, and Patty:

They were telling me about the men here in Paraguay; saying they don’t clean or cook. The men are even too embarrassed to go to the store to shop (they were making generalizations b/c I’m pretty sure I’ve seen men in supermarkets here). So I was like, “Wow”. They asked me while laughing, “You don’t want a Paraguayo?”
Me: “Ummm, no, I don’t think so”
Patty: “You have a boyfriend in the States?”
Me: “No”
Dona Lorenza: “No hiciste chookie chookie?” (you didn’t do chookie chookie?)
Patty and Lorenza crazy laughing
Me: “What’s chookie chookie?”
Lorenza (laughing): When a woman and a man are together.” (then she takes her two pointer fingers and put them together.
Me playing dumb: “Chookie, chookie?”
Patty and Lorenza both laughing still: “ Yes, chookie chookie”
Me (trying to get them to say sexo): Is there another name for it?”
Lorenza, naming at last four other names but still no sexo
Eventually I started in laughing too, so as to avoid answering the VERY personal question.
Lorenza: “When people do chookie, chookie, a criatura(baby) results”
Me (I had to say this): “Yeah, but a baby don’t come every time you do chookie chookie” and i really wanted to tell that there are condoms, but 1. they’re catholic, so I don’t know if they believe in that, and 2. I don’t know how to say condoms in spanish.

Lorenza: “That’s true”

Oh Dona Lorenza, and now Chookie, chookie is our inside joke.



Gringo Television

Peace Corps Volunteers and Returned Volunteers all across the land know intuitively what Gringo Television is. Even if you’re not or have never been a Volunteer, but have traveled to a country that perhaps don’t see too many foreigners, then chances are you’ve experienced the Gringo Television phenomenon. I can’t take credit for Gringo Television. Our country director, Don, first brought it to our attention when we arrived in country. Although, by the time we met with him, we had already experienced it. He just put a name on it for us. Remember that journal entry where I was at the Bus Terminal in the bathroom washing my hands, then turned around only to find everyone silent and staring at yours truly? Well, I was on Gringo Television my friends! And it doesn’t have to be as extreme as that, but pretty much every time we walk down the street, we’re on Gringo Television. People will stare.....openly. This is a staring culture down here folks. Don’t get me wrong, I know that staring exists in the States. But at least people will do it on the sly and be embarrassed and look away if caught. Here? People will stare at you standing less than 3 feet in front of you. And when you make eye contact with them, do they look away? NOPE!!! They will hold eye contact a good 6 seconds(on average-I’ve checked). And it’s not just a wayward kid, but grown-ups too! I gotta give them their props because I’ve never seen such brazenness. And sometimes, just for the hell of it, I stare back and even look ‘em up and down-all while standing not 3 ft away;) And this is just on the buses (colectivos). It’s not as bad on the streets. Especially in my community. It’s pretty much a given that people are going to be watching Gringo Television exclusively when you first get to site because they don’t know you. But I’ve found that with a friendly “Hola” or “Adio”, which is said in passing to someone on the street, the people with generally smile and speak to you. And it’ll get better once more people get used to seeing me around town. I’m not gonna lie, when I came to Paraguay, Gringo Television used to annoy the hell outta me, still does sometimes. I think it’s a cultural thing. We’re taught from a young age that staring is rude and so when someone’s staring at me, my first reaction is, “How rude!!” I don’t know if I can ever get used to that, but hopefully, with time, I can learn to block it out a little bit more.


Comida

All during training, I was like, I can’t wait until I’m in my site so that I can cook for myself, and buy my own groceries, and blahblahblah. Well, it’s been 3 wks and I haven’t cooked a lunch for myself yet. Sometimes I feel bad because I told them when I moved in that I would cook for myself. Part of the reason is that I don’t get home from the Muni until noon-ish on most days and by that time Patty and Lorenza are in the kitchen cooking their lunch. Besides if I whipped out my peanut butter and jelly sandwich for lunch, they would swear I’m starving myself. And I used to try to be sneaky about it too:

When I got home from the Muni, they would ask me what I´m having for lunch. I would say, "Oh, just a Peanut butter and jelly sandwich". I would even go to my room and bring my pb and j out, then patty or dona lorenza would be like, "You want to eat with us. It doesn´t have carne (meat)?" I say, " Oh, well if there´s enough, then muchas gracias!" My PB&J sit there untouched. Another day, another meal. Hah!

I don’t know if I’ve mentioned it before, but the big meal of the day is lunch. Stores will close down for lunchtime. I was explaining to Lorenza that in the States, our big meal is dinner because most people work so we don’t have time to come back home during the day and prepare a homecooked lunch. I told her that people will generally take a sandwich or something easy for lunch. Her eyes almost popped out of her head! En serio? she asked. Yep! One thing I love about the way they cook here is that they prepare a lot of stuff fresh. There are no prepackaged veggies, or microwaveable dinners. But on the flipside, alot of the nutritional benefits are negated because they fry EVERYTHING and eat lots of starch. So MAYBE when I get my own place I will start cooking for myself....although I am looking at a place right beside Dona Lorenza ;)

Work

I don´t really have any projects going on yet. The first few months are supposed to be spent getting to know the community and viceversa, because after all how can we ¨help¨the community if we don´t even know the community. So pretty much from Monday - Saturday, I go to the Muni from 8 - noonish. I either sit in the office of turismo or ambiente, or sit in the council (junta) mtg room where the president of the junta works. I listen to them talk and make sure that I know about any mtgs or events taking place, and occasionally I help out if there´s a computer problem. At first it was hard trying to explain exactly what it is that I´m supposed to be doing in Pirayu because I´m not an employee of the Muni, and one of my contacts (the president of the Junta) was asking me what types of projects I wanted to do. I didn´t really have an answer for her, because I don´t really know what needs to be done yet. Then I thought she was p´eed at me because I chose to live with Dona Lorenza and I got the vibe from her that she didn´t really like that. But I think I just overreacted. Last week, I was helping her with a brochure on the history of Pirayu, and she asked me again what type of projects I wanted to do. So told her some things I was interested in, and she was like, ¨Well, if there´s anything that we can do to help you, then let us know.¨ Then a couple days after that, she said we´re going to do some work on the computer some, (which meant I was going to do some work while she told me what she wanted). I thought it was something related to the brochure. Let´s just say I can make some pretty decent Baby Shower cards;)

Monday, August 17, 2009

Oh and one more thing...I know how it feels to be scouring the internet looking for blogs before you depart for staging. So I would feel remiss (sp?) if I didn´t put this next nugget of advice out in the universe for whomever wants to devour it....on the subject of hair. I´m an African-American and I have relaxed hair. When I studied abroad in Panama, I could find beauty salons to relax my hair because there is a much more diverse population in Panama, there are black Panamanians, White Panamanians, and Mestizo Panamanians. I assumed that since Paraguay was so close to Brazil that that would be the case here too....Nahaniri (NO)!!!! Like I said in a previous post, they´re not used to seeing a lot of Black folks here adn will assume you are from Brazil. The word they use for peeps with dark skin is morocha/o. They don´t mean any malice, it´s just a descriptive term. Paraguayans are generally very friendly to everyone.

But back to the hair situation....if you are about to depart for Paraguay, have relaxed hair, and are not planing on going natural over the course of your service....arrange for your family or someone back home to ship you relaxer kits. Or right before you depart for staging, mail a package to yourself. Find someone back home that will mail you periodic shipments or you order some yourself off of Amazon. Be careful though because not everyone ships to Paraguay. You will not find any in Paraguay.

We may now return to previously scheduled programming.....

We´re Officially Volunteers..the hard part is over..errr.now what do I do?

08/17/2009

Okay, so on Friday, 08/14/09, all 18 members of G30 swore in at the US Embassy. We took an oath administered by the Ambassador....and most importantly, we had some kickass cake! Now, i know its strange for me to give a shoutout to a piece of cake in the midst of this important event, but all during training people have been alluding to the ¨best cake ever¨at swearing-in. We had finger-foods and drinks, but it was obvious that we were just biding our time for the supremo of the event, the cake. After partaking in a slice, I must admit that it was quite good, but I wouldn´t say that it was THE Michael Jordan of cakes, maybe b-c i´m not a big chocolate cake person....

So, just to fill you in what´s been happening in these last weeks of training...

We had our final Dia de Practica. Lyn and I were supposed to give a charla (speech) to a class at the local school. We knew our topic and had met with the teacher and everything was kosher...until on our Long Field Practice, we found out that schools were cancelled an extra week (the week that we were going to give our charla). so we were forced to gather kids from the neighborhood to make this thing happen. well, we ended up giving the charla to about 4 kids and other trainees and our language/tech teachers. It went okay....i was just glad it was over....if I would´ve had more time to decide, I would´ve chosen a different venue and theme, but alas, that´s the way the cookie crumbles.

The week after that, we got our sites-where we´ll be living (hopefully) for the next 2 years. The day of the site presentations, they(CHP-the company that Peace COrps contracts for training) put on these activities during the day to keep us occupied, but they know that the only thing that´s on our minds are where they will be sending us to live....and they don´t tell us our sites until late afternoon, which means we have to spend the entire day participating in little activities pretending to be interested, while the anxiety level is at a premium. So when the fateful hour arrived, we sit facing a huge map of Paraguay on the wall and our APCD (Asst. PC Director) for our sector, calls out our name and our site and hands us a folder with info about our site. And I gotta say, that after spending all these weeks in training and being soooo nervous the day of site presentation, the whole thing is very anticlimatic. Because when they call your name and tell you your site, you´re like, ¨oh, okay, and where is that again or/and how to pronounce that again?¨ It won´t be a place that you´ve visited before, so you don´t really know what to think.

The day after that is when we met our contacts from our sites. These are the people we´re supposed to work with or stay connected to when we get to site but from what I´ve heard, often you won´t really work with your contact at all. So of course, this wouldn´t be Peace Corps if this event was not AWKWARD...they gave the contacts badges with their names and our pictures and when they arrived at our school, all of our eyes were glued to their chests for our pics. But the event went off without a hitch. The next day we traveled with our contacts to our sites.

My site is Pirayu. In guarani, it means fish-something, still not too clear on that (gotta get on it). But it is perfect! Hats off to Elisa (ourAPCD), Betsy (Volunteer coordinator) and Carola(Program Asst.) for a job well done. Pirayu is a medium sized city, but has a small town feel to it...it is really close to Asunsion, which is great for my motion-sickness (the collectivos,or buses, here are no joke!) Even though it´s close to the Capital city, it feels farther away, which I like. The city is really tranquillo, which fits my personality. I am the first volunteer so everyone wanted to meet the norteamericana...they kept asking my contact to introduce them. On Fri of that week, I had lunch at the house of the intendente (mayor) and the funcionarios(Muni employees) for the Dia de Amistad-Friendship Day (which is a federal holiday here). They kept asking me if we had a Friendship Day back in the States, and I was like, ¨errr, I don´t think so¨ Do we? I gotta get on this.

But one of my contacts, who is all of 20 years old, took me walking around town with her friends. Pirayu has a lot of beautiful, antique buildings that need to be restored. There is also an old train station that doesn´t work but would make a great museum. So part of why they wanted a Volunteer is to help increase tourism. I think there´s a lot of potential, the city certainly has the natural resources. There are cerros (little mountains or big hills) in the background of the city that´s a gorgeous backdrop.

On my last day of my site visit...i got sick. The suspect? The Mani (peanuts). the family that I stayed with owns a Mani fabrica (factory), and so they have lots of peanuts around the house. well, since peanuts are a staple food of the South back home and I grew up eating them, I thought peanuts were a safe snack, so I was popping handfulls into my mouth. That evening, I noticed my stomach feeling weird, like I needed to make an appt. with the toilet to do some bizness. So I went to bed early hoping that when I woke up, all would be well. Around midnight, I woke up feeling worse, and I knew that something was coming, didn´t know which end it would come but it was coming...It ended up coming out of both ends and I had to wake my host mom up to tell her that I threw up over the bathroom floor. When she saw me, she was like, ¨It was the Mani?¨I´m like, ¨um yeah¨, so I during the night I woke up like 5 times, then threw up again the following morning with the sweet empleada (housekeeper) rubbing my back while I puked in the yard. She was even like, ¨The Mani?¨I called the PC doctor and she said not to travel that day, so then I called CHP to tell them what was up and that I´d have to stay in site an extra day. Then I called my training host family and of course my mom was very worried, b/c she was waiting for me and I didn´t call until later that day. So I stayed in bed pretty much all day, and by the next day I was feeling much better. We even joked about how my mani eating days are over...at least until i get back in the States.

But I really had a great time on my site visit....It´s exhilarating and scary being on your own as the only Norte in a city. I can´t chill in the background letting the better spanish speakers in the group do all the talking while I tune out. The peeps are really curious about my life in the States and never stop asking questions that forces me into the foreground and into speaking Spanish (or Castellano, as they call it here). I know that my Spanish will continue to improve because I will be speaking quadruple than I was during training.

So what am I doing now? Well, today is Monday and we have until tomorrow to be in our sites. I was supposed to travel to my site today, but I texted my contact (we now have phones!) to tell her I will be coming tomorrow b/c it´s cloudy and rainy today. But the truth is, I´m kinda scared. I´m not physically afraid, but I´m afraid of starting over..We´ve spent 3 mths integrating into our training families and getting used to our lives here, but now we have to start all over again, and when I think about that, I am scared shitless. I know that I´m not alone in feeling like this but it doesn´t make it any less scary. On one hand, I´m glad training is over and we don´t have all our days tightly scheduled and we will have more free time and more control over our lives. But on the other hand, we won´t have all our days tightly scheduled and we will have more free time and more control over our lives!!!!! Yikes, where to even began...I mean, don´t get me wrong, I´m excited and this is what we endured the endless application process, complete with endless medical paperwork, and 3 mths of training for. But I´m afraid that I won´t be able to deliver, that my expectations and those of my community have far exceeded my capabilities. So I´m bumming around my training host family´s house for the day, spending a portion of my living allowance at the cybercafe.....

It´ll be okay....I have to remind myself of where I was 3mths ago, when I stepped on that plane in Tallahassee. Talk about SCARED shitless!!! And, alas, I´m here now and it´s okay...

Friday, July 24, 2009

Just some pics...



Gangsta cowboys in Villa Florida.
¨What you lookin at, fool?!¨It´s totally normal to see a cow chillin on the side of the road
Me and the girls with their new stuffed bears.

My Folks. They are AWESOME!!! I t was my dad´s birthday.
Making soy empanadas...yum!!!
This is our cat, Pelusa. But I call her Pobre Pelusa (Poor Pelusa) because she has to endure crap like being stuffed in a babydoll dress.....
My nieces...don´t let the cute faces fool you...but I love them! They remind me of my biological nieces back home.
The place where I´ve been laying my head since I got here...Not bad, huh?

Monday, July 20, 2009

More training and the 4th of July

July 4, 2009

Over 200 years ago, inhabitants of the Colonies decided to step into the unknown in order to fight tyranny, oppression, and taxation without representation. Having been under Britain rule since its inception, this was a bold step for a collection of young colonies who knew no other way of life. As the authors of the Declaration of Independence wrote (and I’m paraphrasing - didn’t bring my copy with me): People will often choose to stay in miserable circumstances rather than risk the unknown. It takes ALOT for people to step away from what they know-no matter how miserable- and step into that unknown. It’s not something that is done on a whim or taken lightly, but with great consideration for the consequences.
This is my favorite part of the Declaration because it not only applies to the separation from Great Britain, but also everyday life in general. How often are we unhappy about something, but also so used to our circumstances that to change and risk the unknown is more terrifying than staying miserable?

I just thought I’d share my 4th of July with yall. We actually celebrated the 4th on the 3rd of July. Every year there is a huge cookout at the U.S. Embassy in Paraguay. It is NICE!!!!! I think it’s one of the biggest in this neck of the woods. It was weird because it was like stepping back into North America right in the midst of Paraguay. There were red, white, and blue banners strung up everywhere, and hamburgers, hotdogs, and other tasty treats. It was nice meeting current Volunteers; both who I have and haven’t met before. I met this other dude who is from Mississippi! Finally, someone else from the Old South! We talked about growing up Black in the Old South and the misperceptions that are played out in movies about it. We both agreed that we wouldn’t have wanted to be raised in any other place.

Eventually I ventured away from the party and strolled the grounds a bit until coming to this gazebo with historic pictures. I thought the pictures were really profound and provided a good representation of some key moments in our history-how far we’ve come, but how far we have left to go. With that said, please know that while I’m far from my country, it’s never far from me.

Below are some pics of a rotunda that I found while strolling the Embassy grounds. The pics show some key historic moments in our country`s history.
















July 13 - 17, 2009

Okay so we just got back from our Long Field Practice (LFP). LFP is where we split up into smaller groups and travel to a Volunteer’s site and stay for a week. The purpose of this little trip is to see firsthand what the life of a Volunteer is like, what their living situation is like, how they interact with their communities, and the type of projects they do. During the week, each Trainee stay with families in the community that have agreed to provide us with room and board for the week.

Our group traveled to Villa Florida. It is really, really nice. It’s a tourist town with a little beach and everything; and its right on the ruta so it’s super easy to get in and out. I stayed with a woman and her mom and they own a hotel (what we would think of as a motel), but they also lived in the motel too, so it was really interesting. I had my meals in the hotel restaurant;) The town is super tranquillo and very quiet. At certain times it was like a ghost town, and we were like, “Where is everyone!” And even though the schools were on vacation, we didn’t see a bunch of kids running around in the streets, which I loved! With such a small town, it was very easy to get to know everyone; but of course because it’s such a small town, they knew about us before we even got there! They also knew about a um..little accident I had. So I took a little tumble in a little puddle and had to hand wash my shoes and pants. I was okay, but EVERYONE in the community knew that I had fallen, and that night at one of the other girl’s house, her host mom kept asking me if I was okay and if I needed anything (like a hug). So yeah, that’s what happened.




So we did a variety of activities during the week. For example, the volunteer had already arranged a Career Fair, so we attended that and helped set up the tables. We went to a dedication. The governor had approved funds for a pipeline so he came out with the mayor and they gave a little speech with the mayor giving a shout out to us, and they took pics with the pipes. We also saw how plans can fall through, especially when it rains. Everything comes to a halt when it rains! But all in all, I enjoyed the week and it really made me look forward to becoming a Volunteer.


So here are a few of my observations:

-Paraguayans are really friendly and welcoming for the most part. And they are quick to tell you about their country and city. They are also curious about what you’re doing there.

-There’s not a lot of diversity in Paraguay. And most people have never left the country, and some have not left the area where they live. So when they see someone who looks different, they will stare and have no shame about staring. That’s one of the things that I’ve really had to adjust to because in the States, staring is considered rude. But here, people do it openly and even when you catch them staring they’ll keep staring. IRRITATING!! But I can live with it. Also, since Paraguay is so close to Brazil, the only reference Paraguayans have to Black folks is through Brazil. So when they see a Black person, they automatically assumes that you are Brazilian. It’s not uncommon to hear, “Brasilena” (Brazilian). And if I’m being introduced with other Trainees who are White, and they introduce us as being from the United States, the Paraguayans will be like, “ALL of you?” while looking at me. Because to them, a North American is White. And I know that that’s apart of Peace Corps’ mission, the interchange of cultures, but sometimes it really gets to me to have where I’m from (and in essence who I am) questioned over and over and over again. On the plus side, someone did call me Obama’s sister...lmaolmao....so I can live with THAT.

-Paraguayans have this strange mixture of bluntness and indirectness. For instance, if you’re inviting to something and you don’t want to go, then it’s acceptable to say “Puede ser” (maybe) and both of you will know that really means “No”. However, Paraguayans will not hesitate to call you fat and not even think that it’s rude. During the LFP, I calculate I was called fat approximately 3 times (that I’m aware of). And they will say it in a joking manner, and not think anything of it. I read the blogs before I arrived in country, so I was expecting it somewhat, but when it happens, it’s like “WHAM-did s/he just say what I think they said, did I translate that right?!” And it’s even worse when you’re standing in a group of other trainees b/c then it’s awkward because we’ve been socialized that it’s rude to call someone fat, so everyone will just kinda go on like they didn’t hear the comment, but we all know everyone heard it. lol.

-Paraguayans don’t understand the concept of vegetarianism. Although I’m not a vegetarian (yet), I don’t eat red meat. My host family knows that and usually they’re good about remembering that. However, while I was on the LFP, I told the women that I didn’t eat red meat, they said, “Oh okay”. but then the next day (and the day after), they fix meals with meat in them. In our LFP group, there were two who were vegetarians, then I don’t eat red meat, and the fourth girl is “normal” meaning she eats all types of meat. So one day, one of the vegs and I were talking and decided that when you tell Paraguayans that you don’t eat meat, that concept is so foreign to them that they think you mean you don’t eat meat the way it’s prepared today, but tomorrow with it prepared a different way, you’ll probably eat it. But normally when I get a dish with meat, I just eat around it because they’ll been so nice and welcoming that I really don’t want them to go through the extra trouble to switch their whole menu around. And I really don’t have to have meat of any type with my meals.

Which brings me to a new revelation; I’ve decided that I will be a vegetarian while in the Peace Corps. I’ve never been a big meat person anyway so it’s not going to be hard. Also, if they handled meat in the States the way they handle it here, serious heads would be rolling at the FDA. I mean I’ve seen slabs of meat hanging out in open air (not cold air), with flies buzzing around it and the blood just dripping. Uh no thanks! That’s not so say that you’ll get sick from eating the meat, I just hate that every time I eat a piece of chicken, I’m thinking if this will have me on the toilet for a week. Plus, since Soy is Paraguay’s number 1 export but most paraguayans don’t touch the stuff, it is dirt cheap here (way cheaper than meat). However, I will have to wait until I get to my site to reinvent myself into a veg because it’ll just confuse my host family. And I’ve come up with what I’m going to say when people ask me why don’t I eat meat, “My doctor told me to stay away from it because it irritates my stomach.” If nothing else, Paraguayans respect doctor’s orders.
So what’s next? Well, next week we have our final Dia De Practica; so that means whatever our project is, whether it’s a charla(presentation) or whatever, we need to complete it this week. My partner and I was going to give a charla to some kids at the school about civic participation. But we learned yesterday that their vacation will be a week longer because of the Swine Flu (our doctors are keeping a close eye on that by the way). So we are probably going to have to round up a few kids in the neighborhood and make the presentation to them.

Also, the following week (week 9), we find out where our future sites will be (where we’ll be for the next two years!)

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Training!!!

Okay, so I’ve got some catching up to do. I’m sorry that it’s been FOrEVEr since I’ve updated this blog. i promise I have not forgotten about it!! But I’ve been busy - and I’m not saying that in an “I’m too cool for school” way, but in a I can’t believe how busy Peace Corps training is!. Every week there is an activity, or should I say many activities. We have tech training and language training on top of “integrating” into the community (ie. spending time with our host families). I can’t believe we’ve been here for about a month now....In some ways it seems as though we’ve been here way longer; in others, it seems like it was just the other day that we stepped off that plane all wild-eyed and sleep-deprived, not knowing what to expect. And I gotta admit, it took some of us longer to adjust than others. I think for a full 2 weeks, i was just numb. I mean, I used to say (and still do sometimes) that I don’t live day-by-day, instead I live activity-by-activity. With each new day, I didn’t know what they may throw at us. And although w have a syllabus, when you’re new and experiencing everything for the first (or even second time), then you can still feel like you’re caught unawares. So I think that maybe that numb feeling was by defense mechanism to help myself handle the stress and anxiety of everything. It also took a while for me to open up more to the other trainees

Now, I feel like that numb feeling dissipating and I have a little routine now. I’m finally at that point where I’m almost able to wrap my head around the fact that this country is going to be my home for 2 years. I wonder if any of the other trainees are trying to hold to their American products they brought from home for as long as possible. As if by holding to those products will keep us from looking down that tunnel and seeing those 2 years ahead; as if as long as we have our American products we can keep thinking of ourselves as visitors and not residents. I’m on my last bar of soap, and I know that pretty soon I’ll have to buy the brands that the locals use. I wonder how will that feel. Will that be the moment it FULLY hits me that this will be my home for the next 2 years?

Well, I know ya’ll are dying to know what I’ve been up to for the past few weeks. I give you the edited version and fill you in on the big stuff:

June 13-16, 2009

Everyone went to visit a Volunteer at their sites. Now, these are the real Volunteers; they’re already living in their sites and doing Volunteer-y things. Each trainee was assigned a volunteer to visit with instructions on how to get to the sites and which buses to take. We found out which Volunteer we were to visit 2 days before we were to leave which was kinda irritating at first, but in hindsight, maybe it was for the best; so that we were only anxious for 2 days and not 5 or 6. I had to travel for 5 hours to reach my Volunteer, which wasn’t too bad since I had gotten some motion-sickness pills from our Doc. So, I had to go to take a bus to the main bus terminal in Asunsion, the capital city of Paraguay. The terminal is where long distance buses arrive/depart from and local buses also. Picture a Greyhound bus station mixed with a city bus terminal; and now picture it in a developing country. But it wasn’t bad and this nice man showed me where to purchase my bus ticket. The whole get-up wasn’t that surprising to me. But what WAS surprising (and it shouldn’t have been) was the fact that you have to pay to use the bathrooms, no such thing as a public bathroom here. so you stand in line, give the woman sitting the door one mil (it’s like their dollar but not worth as much), then she gives you a roll of toilet paper. No, not a whole roll of paper but portioned off to what they think you should need-and yes, even if you bring your own toilet paper, you still gotta pay. (note to self: always travel with toilet paper) So I had to use it (thankfully only #1!) and I paid up. So while I was at the sink washing my hands, the strangest thing happened. So I’m just washing up, then suddenly I noticed that it was dead quiet in the bathroom. So I looked up, and everyone (I mean EVERYONE) in the bathroom had stopped what they were doing and were just watching me. WEIRD!!! So I just kinda raised my eyebrows a little (don’t know why I did this move) and walked out. Talk about strange!!

So my Volunteer visit went really well. We got along great and she introduced me to all of her friends in the community. One night we had dinner with this older married couple and they started teaching me some bad phrases in Guarani, then laughed when I tried to say them; so I kept trying and started laughing with them. I feel like I passed some unspoken test because when we were walking home, the Volunteer was like Paraguayans like to crack jokes and they like when you can laugh at yourself.

So I got back home on the following Tuesday. I came within a mile of my community, then got lost. Yep! Leave it to me to get lost when I’m ALMOST home. But the bus that I took turned right before I got to my community and I thought that it was just a little detour; so being the calm, collected person I am, I did not panic. Although after 20 min. of riding on dirt roads I FINALLY began to wonder when we were going to get back on the main route (ruta) so I can go home. Well, we never got back out on the main ruta; we came out like 2 towns over! But still, Did I panic? NOPE!!! Not even when I was the last person on the bus!! So I asked the driver if this bus goes through my community, he was like, “Nope, you gotta get off this bus and wait for another bus.” Okay, still not panicky (it was daytime). So I did was he said and when another bus pulled up I was asked the driver if this bus goes through my community. He said, “Nope, stand on the OTHER side of the road.” Okaaaaaaaaay...still not panicky. So then I got on another bus assuming incorrectly that it was the one I needed because it had a familiar name on it. WRONG!!!! This bus did not go all the way to my community so I got off to wait for another bus. But I was in a familiar community so I knew which bus to take then. THe buses can be tricky sometimes because different buses may have the same name or destination on them but they all don’t all take the same routes. And so you have to know what to look for when you get on the buses. But it was all good...through it all, I did not panic and was soooo tranquilo it was sick!! Tranquilo is the mantra here in Paraguay. Tranquilo is being laid back and just like “Whatever”. Everyone I meet describe me as tranquilo and I think this maybe due to my small-town, southern, super country upbringing. I knew it would come in handy one day!!!

June 17-present

We’ve been getting medical, security, and cultural training every week. In medical, we’ve been getting shots like rabies (yikes!), flu, and yellow fever. We also get trained in such fun and fascinating topics like intestinal parasites, tapeworms, and diarrhea. In security, we learned some strategies to avoid being pickpocketed and other safety techniques. In cultural, we learned that there things called mistress days and main-squeeze days. So if you ask someone to meet on certain days, then they may think that you want them to be the OTHER woman/man. And on other days are for the main squeeze. WOW!!

We’ve also started our Dias de Practica. For a Dia de Practica we have to go out into our community and find a project that can be completed in a relatively short amount of time (we only have 5 Dias de Practica). But the goal is to simulate what we’ll really have to do once we’re Volunteers. Most times, we’ll have to go out and find projects to work on because usually they’re not going to just fall in our laps. So this can be and is very awkward. I mean, you have to basically cold-call in person and come up with a doable project.

This past weekend, we went as a group on an overnight trip to a Volunteer’s site. It was gorgeous! It had some of the most beautiful vistas that I’ve seen since I’ve been here. She is also near a huge lake. We ran into some North Americans from California who own a hotel near her site. They were really friendly and it was nice to meet someone else who speaks English.

Speaking of language, my Spanish is improving. Sometimes, it doesn’t feel like it and I get so impatient with myself, but it’s coming. I think that once I get to my site away from the others English-speakers, and surrounded by people who speak nothing but Spanish, then it’ll really improve. We had our LPI’s (Language Proficiency Interviews) on Monday, 06/29/09 and I did pretty good. I can now officially began studying Guarani, though I seriously don’t feel like I’m ready for that yet. But, we’ll see. I really want to learn Guarani because it’s so important to the people of Paraguay. Spanish is something that a lot of other countries speak, but Guarani is something that only Paraguayans speak, so for a foreigner to take the time to learn their language goes a long way with Paraguayans.

Well, that’s all I have for now. Thanks for tuning in. Until next time.......