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 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


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.......