Tacuati 6.16.08 - So I am sitting here typing this entry on the laptop of my host volunteer, Mary, in the small town of Tacuati, which is about 8 hours from Asuncion.
By the way, I am kicking myself for not bringing my laptop with me because it is such a great thing to have (yes Kara, I now understand what your brother meant), not to mention the fact that several people in my group brought theirs with them and have used them to store photos, music, and pre-write blog entries so you don't use up all of your internet cafe time. One person's laptop burnt out, not sure what the details were about that though. So Mom, whoever comes down here first will definitely need to bring my laptop, external hard drive, and backup software cd's. But I digress, back to my story.
I arrived here Saturday afternoon around 2pm via teeny local bus. A large van with a center aisle, it left from Horqueta, the closest urban center (about 1.5 hours away via Peace Corps jeep). Nevertheless, the roads were bad from the previous night's rain so it took about 2.5 hours, which apparently isn't the longest trip seeing as how the bus only broke down briefly. Before I go into that, however, let me recount the hours leading up to my arrival here.
This past Thursday was a national holiday so we all had the day off, which I spent laying around, eating, napping, and studying. It was the perfect opportunity for me to make some Guarani verb conjugation cards that were SO NECESSARY - I feel like my language capabilities improved just from the execrcise. I was starting to get frustrated with the fact that all the Guarani was getting jumbled in my head and I couldn't quite get it organized. After making the cards, I can say that the fog is definitely starting to lift. Two weeks and some change - I swear it's been two months that I've been down here...lol. So Friday during technical training class we went on a field trip to Pooja's host family's huge farm and her host dad gave us a tour of the expansive chacra (farm). It was rumored that there was a 3-legged cow in residence, but we were not able to confirm this as we only saw cows with four legs.
After class, since Eric and I were among the trainees (PCT's) that had to go into Asuncion to catch night buses to head out to our volunteers' sites, we were able to hitch a ride with some PC staff that had come into town. Chris, the Volunteer Coordinator, invited us to his apartment for dinner so we didn't have to hang out at the bus terminal. He also informed us that it was Italian Night at the crib he shared with several other PC affiliates and that we would also be expected to dress in costume along with everyone else. Eagerly anticipating dinner, we all set out for dinner along with another group member and PCV that was also going to crash at Chris' place. Oh, what the night had in store.
On the way in we stopped at this HUGE supermercado just outside of Asuncion to pick up some dinner items, as well as some little food gifts for our host volunteers. It was amazing - I hadn't been in a supermarket since I left the States!!! I couldn't believe it; how we celebrate the little things here. So the apartment was really nice, lots of space, and the roommates were really cool. They were all former PCV's that decided to stay in the country and were currently working in the capital with various groups. As they prepared dinner we all hung out and talked, enjoying the time away from our training sites. Just before dinner was ready everyone changed into our Italian/Godfather- themed attire - three ladies were dressed in knee-length skirts or dresses (Nayeli was kinda enough to lend me a dress that I ended up stretching a little, she was a good sport though...lol), one person was Sonny (James Caan's character), there were two dudes in wifebeaters with slicked-back hair (and in one person's case, drawn-on chesthair), the PCV was Al Pacino from Scarface (I will make it my Facebook pic as soon as I can - an heroically priceless photo) and last but not least, two suited-up mobsters. For those of you who have seen me throwdown at a table, this night was no exception - beef lasagna, risotto with squash and swiss chard, vegetarian stuffed peppers, eggplant and garlic bread. Y'all know that I massacred that food - both helpings. Laara and I changed our clothes and relaxed for a bit before catching a cab back to the Terminal in time for our 11:45pm bus. Luckily it was comfortable (or maybe I was just that tired) enough to sleep for all but 20 minutes of the 7-hour (yes, S-E-V-E-N) bus ride.
Laara and I arrived in Horqueta around 6:30am where we were met by her host volunteer, Rachel, who lived and worked in the town. My volunteer would have also met us there had the road not been washed out to Tacuati as a result of the previous night's rain. I spent a few hours in Horqueta eating pancakes and hanging out until Mary called to say that the 11:15am bus to Tacuati would in fact be leaving. We headed back to the center of town, I picked up some veggies for Mary, and we sat and chopped it up with another PCV that came to visit Rachel. The bus (aka EconoVan with center aisle) showed up around 11:40 and I was off.
The bus was my first trip alone along the back roads of Paraguay. Yes folks, this was truly a Peace Corps experience. After making several stops in Horqueta we stopped to have someone fill the tank from two 20-liter jugs in the back, which were put in some guy's car parked on the side of the road where we stopped. I understood why we stopped when we did, as the next 1.5-2 hours were spent driving at various lower-range speeds along a seemingly unending dirt road. Many houses had no electricity let alone running water, so the people were among the poorest of the poor. A number of super-skinny, dirt stained kids were also on the bus; by the way two of the girls were staring at me, I might have been the first black person they'd ever seen. After navigating myriad giant mud puddles and one brief breakdown, we arrived in Tacuati around 2pm.
My hostess Mary, who is from Tennessee, has been here for about a year and works with a savings and loan cooperative in the town. The coop isn't doing too well; in addition to the former secretary embezzling a significant amount of the coop's funds, historically the coop has not been good about debt and interest collection. Mary has made amazing progress in helping the coop recoup outstanding debts, as well as getting their books in order (how many coop members are there, who owes/is owed what, etc.). On Saturday night the three members of the coop's board of directors came by for dinner (eggplant lasagna), and one of them even brought fresh parsle and lettuce from his garden. They are nice people who are all eager to get things in order with the coop, so they have helped Mary out a lot.
Mary's house is a three-room shack with a huge backyard, big front porch, and most importantly, indoor plumbing. In addition she has a four-range stove and oven and a refrigerator, so definitely enough to make life easier. Sunday morning we ate scrambled eggs with polenta (closest thing to grits) and care package pepperoni sticks. It was great :-). We hung around for the morning and then took a walk to the river about a mile or so away, the Ypane (uhl-pah-NAY). There are some rocks near the river that are rumored to have Viking carvings from the they came up the river, but the more plausible explanation is that they were carved by indigenous folks umpteen years ago. I took pictures. We also saw the old moorings that used to control the barge that allowed traffic to cross the river until the current bridge was built. Gotta love history! We headed back, picked up some empanadas and fried chicken (or at least the closest thing to it) and ate on a park bench by the park in the center of town. We then came back to the house and I was able to talk to Daddy and wish him a happy Father's Day. For dinner we had barbecued chicken and rice (y'all know how I love my chicken and rice!).
So the "Bored Paraguayan Kid" theme also holds true here, as Mary receives numerous visits throughout the day from neighborhood kids with nothing else to do. When I first got here I played a boardgame with some of them, and then one them, Valeria, yesterday came up with the idea to have a wedding for her male cat and one of Mary's cats, Mimosa. Apparently they were proclaimed married before, but this will be the actual "religious"ceremony. Yes, I'm serious. She has spent the past day or so making decorations for the occasion: her aunt is making the groom's tie, she made a centerpiece with mud and grass, and even brought by two little rings. If nothing else the girl is definitely creative; at least she's not doing something mischevious and illegal (lol).
For breakfast yesterday we had pancakes, and I continued uploading some music CD's to iTunes and transferring them to my iPod. Mary was also happy to get some new music. In the afternoon we went by one of the boardmember's house so Mary could give her daughters computer lessons. We were greeted by the family's employee, Ada, who is also in training to be the coop's secrtary. She informed us that they were not there so we walked around their property, which has a main house where the family lives, a smaller house where Mary initially lived when she got to site, a flock of chickens, three turkeys (yeah, who knew), and the community radio station. We were warmly received by the DJ, Fortin, who was immediately like, "que bueno, una morena!" (translation: how nice, a brown-skinned female!). So that was funny. I also became a surprise guest on his radio show and introduced myself to the residents of the town. I taped it on my camera, so hopefully at some point I'll be able to upload it. So that's one other thing I have accomplished in my short time here - guest on a radio show! After that we headed over to the coop office from 4-6, which are the daily hours, and Mary showed me a lot of the work she had done, namely and impressive Excel spreadsheet with all of the vital information about the outstanding debts. Truly a masterpiece if I've ever seen one. We headed back to the homestead, chilled out, and Mary prepared an excellent barbecued chicken pizza from the leftover chicken.
So here I am on my last day here in Tacuati before I head back toward Guarambare. The visit has been excellent - in addition to keeping me well fed Mary has been an invaluable source of information about everything from housekeeping tips to care package do's and don'ts to places of interest in Asuncion. I just hope that I remember most of the suggestions she provided! Instead of having to catch the bus I came in on I will be hitching a ride with the PC staff that's coming out to meet with the town mayor to another town where I'll get a bus back into Asuncion and then back to Guarambare.
This has been one of many great trips that I will have during my time here and Mary is one of many great people I'll meet along my journey. Until next time folks!