Thursday, August 21, 2008

Finna Git Ta´ Workin´ and the Showdown 8.20.08

Valenzuela, Cordillera, 8.20.08 (6 days til birthday!) - On Monday, the AMUR Board of Directors (4 of the women) finally met to discuss my workplan and other orders of business. This was the third time the meeting had been set, since everything gets cancelled when it rains.

It took place in the house of Na Inma, the head of the Board, who is also one of the more well-off members of the community. Her husband, Don Carlos, was the one who gave me a ride out to the Ovando's when I initially arrived. They have hectares of farmland on which they primarily cultivate sugar cane. He is the first farmer I've met with a fully mechanized farming operation, as opposed to oxen and manual labor. They also have a number of animals on the farm aside from the coker spaniels, Chucho and Lola, that I met initially. Upon approaching the house, visitors are greeted by two gargantuan, killer attack rotweilers, one of whom is named Negro. I am serious when I tell you that there is no shortage of dogs in this country named Negro and Lobo. But I digress. Even though the dogs are chained, the chain is like 20 or so meters long, so the dogs can reach past the center of the driveway and tear you up if you're not careful. Therefore, before people come visit they are strongly advised to walk along the far left side of the driveway along the fence so as to avoid any maiming. There have apparently been several instances in which people either forgot or didn't know the dogs were there and suffered the unfortunate consequences of their sudden appearance. In one case, a couple arrived on a motorcycle and the dogs snatched them from the bike. Although the wife suffered a minor bite wound, the husband was not as fortunate and had to be taken to the hospital. He survived. Anyway, aside from the rotties they have an ostrich, rabbits, a monkey named Monica, as well as cows and probably chickens.

In the meeting we mainly talked about things they wanted to get done and my role with the organization. One of the first things I'll be doing is a series of charlas ("talks") on topics of interest to the socias. The first one, which will be next Monday at 2pm, will be on gardening. Don't However, since my knowledge is quite basic, I am basically going to introduce the topic and have another socia who is a gardening pro do the presentation. Instead of talking at the people, I figured we could have people work in AMUR's garden, maybe visit some nearby gardens, and at the end have people sign up to help tend the garden. As it is, there are one or two people that do most of the work; hopefully my plan solves this problem. Na Nelly was also saying that, when it's been done in the past, the women enjoyed making different dishes from recipes found on the internet. Me too. The problem is that there is no money to pay for the cooking gas, which is expensive. I will need to figure out a way around this obstacle if I decide to restart the activity. A problem is also lack of member participation (shocker! lol), which would certainly be improved by the institution of regular activities.

The biggest thing the Board would like to do, which will be my long-term pet project, is start a profitable business in which most or all of the socias can participate. As I told them, it would require a lot of time, planning, research and potentially trial and error, but I was excited and up for the challenge. There are many towns in Paraguay that are known for a particular good that its inhabitants produce. For the especially popular ones, people come from all around the country to purchase. My goal will be to have AMUR profit from and also be recognize for a particular product. Even if they don't achieve national fame, sustainability is most important. I first need to figure out what the socias would like to do, whether there's a demand for it, and what it would take to produce it. This means the cost of capacitating the socias, the cost of raw materials and so forth. And naturally we will have to figure out where the funds will come from. Paraguayan small-business development here we come :-)!

So this afternoon I was walking to the bus stop on the main road and I came across a suspicious dog. He kind of looked like a hyena; he was brown and skinny. He still looked a little crazy though. Normally the dogs here just kind of do their own thing, but this dog seemed to be a bit too concerned with my movements. You can't be completely sure if a dog is going to kirk out on you or not until you're almost up on them, so I didn't want to take any chances. At first I turned around and walked in the other direction, glancing back to see what the dog was doing. Walking in my same direction. I then came across a decent-sized log, with which I could effecttively defend myself in the event things got hairy. Weapon in hand, I turned around and walked back toward the bus stop. Since it was siesta time, the roads were basically deserted. I couldn't take any chances. As the dog continued to observe me from a distance, I shooed it away by raising my club. He seemed to still be curious. Instead of going about his business, he went and sat under the little shelter where I had planned to wait. He sat. He watched me. I cursed him under my breath and gave him the evil eye. Not too much og an evil eye though, because I didn't want him to think I was challenging him. Not wanting to complicate thing, I walked a little down the road and waited in some shade. And of course the flies attacked me and my freshly-washed, perfumed hair. I set my stick down since ol' boy appeared stationary. He then started to walk back toward me. I picked up my stick; he reconsidered. And then the bus came.
So of course I get to the town and the person that's supposed to meet me at AMUR to work in the garden doesn't show up. I sat and chatted with Na Rosa, ate some oranges, met the English teacher, bought a few little things for the house and a Guarani dictionary for myself. I made sure to catch the 3pm bus that passed my house so as to avoid a run-in such as that which I experienced a few hours earlier.

Tomorrow I'm going to check out some internet to see if it's working, have lunch with Na Nico and then sit in on the advanced computer class in the afternoon. This weekend I'm going to hang out with Paulita and some other PCV's and come back before lunch on Sunday. And so the birthday celebrations begin...

Peaks and Valleys: Adaptation Rears its Ugly Head 8.17.08

"Just me and my shadow..."

Valenzuela, Cordillera, 8.17.08 - So it's been a week since I arrived. I started to make another entry a few days ago but it didn't quite work out; this one, however, is truly necessary.
I've basically been hanging out the past week; I got over my cold a day or so ago, so I'm back to normal in that respect. Last week I went to the bank in Caacupe, a nearby larger town, to get a replacement card and inquired about unlocking my phone; it appears that the latter is only possible in Asuncion. I stopped by the grocery store to pick up a few items and headed home. Yesterday was El Dia del Nino (Children's Day) around the country, which is a big celebration in the Ovando household. The family began arriving Friday night - the two daughters, the grandson, as well as a host of other relatives and friends. We hung out Friday night, eating, drinking, and sitting around the house. Saturday morning we had breakfast and then went to a neighboring town, Minas Cue, where Na Nelly's family still owns a house. At the nearby soccer field a boys'soccer tournament was underway; some watched the games while others hung out in the yard. In the afternoon we came back and prepared for the annual kids' party at the Ovando household. When the party was in full swing, there was a legion of kids and their families on the property. There were treats, games, toy distribution, and the ubiquitous hot chocolate - a must at any childrens' gathering. After the bulk of the folks left late in the afternoon, we cleaned up and then finally relaxed. One of the daughters slept in the twin bed in my room and everyone else slept in the guest house. I was relieved to finally go to sleep around 9:30 pm. One daughter and her boyfriend left last night and everyone else left today. For the entire weekend the kids ran around playing, the adults drinking, talking and laughing. All the ingredients of a perfect weekend; for me, however, it was one of my lowest points since arriving in Paraguay.
While at times I did have fun, the majority of the time I felt like an outsider who was just along for the ride. Invisible, even; truly a visitor in a foreign land. In an attempt to sort things out and reflect on how to improve future situations, I have been trying to figure out the source(s) of the issue.

Making adjustments and adapting is an everyday reality of the PCV. While at times it is welcomed, other times it is bleak. I have really missed my family in Aveiro and have tried to replicate that environment as closely as possible here in Valenzuela. The fact remains, however, that just as people are different, the Ovandos are not the Gonzalez-Aquinos. I have also noticed that I am especially aware of and affected by changes in my daily routine. Finally, while my Guarani continues to improve, at this point it is still a daily struggle, even more so in groups. These factors particularly magnified themselves this weekend.

Most of the relatives that came were engaging and very friendly. But while the Ovando kids were nice in general, the vibes I received from them were lukewarm and not very engaging. Normally when I meet Paraguayans, they ask a string of questions in attempt to get to know me as a person. In this case, however, after the initial introductions we had minimal, mostly passing conversation. They laughed and joked amongst each other and the other family friends; at times it was like I wasn't even there. I would then leave and find a more engaging relative. This, of course, was never the case with the Aveiro fam; they always made me feel included in everything - my host sisters especially, which is why I refer to them as sisters. Now, I recognize that the Ovando kids may not have been doing it on purpose, nor might they have even been conscious of it. While the thought initially makes me feel slightly better, when I think it about it more it actually makes me feel worse because it means that I wasn't even a concern. For example, at one point when we were in Minas Cue, we were all sitting in the yard and then the daughters got up and walked away toward the soccer game. I was left sitting with Na Nelly and some other relatives. I ended up walking over shortly after when urged by the little grandson. One might ask why I didn't just go along with the daughters when they left, despite the absence of an invitation. I have never been one to trail behind any person nor group around which I do not feel comfortable or welcomed. This never would have happened in Aveiro. In an effort to see it from the kids' point of view, maybe they miss the old volunteer and wish that she was still here; maybe they had learned everything they wanted to know about me beforehand from their parents; maybe they were preoccupied with getting things together for the day's events and intend to get to know me more in time. Only time will tell; for now I will give them benefit of the doubt. If things remain the same, oh well; they are a miniscule part of my experience.
Another contributing factor to my despair was that I had minimal personal time all weekend, which I am not used to. Kids were everywhere; I couldn't even turn on my computer to hear my treasured 80's music. I was constantly "on"; the number of people was overwhelming. Any ill feelings from the day pretty much piled on top of each other with minimal time for personal reflection. And then who can forget the omnipresent Guarani I absolutely know how Mom felt when she was in the Dominican Republic by herself with people who spoke no English and her passable Spanish. When they spoke really quickly, I know that her passable Spanish felt like almost none. After awhile you get tired of fake-smiling, barely understanding or acting like you understand something that was just said. Enough already, damn this, you say to yourself.

Nonetheless, the fog began to lift when everyone left, I got my space back and we resumed our normal activities. Even better when I talked to one of my group members who had also been feeling lonely and we caught up on each others' happenings, as well as exchanged words of encouragement. Na Nelly then made an amazing lunch of pork chops, tomato and rice salad, and sopa paraguaya, after which we sat around on the front porch. Don Ramon told me that his brother remarked that I had a great capacity for learning Guarani and that I had already learned a lot. Words of encouragement are always great. I then retired to my quarters for siesta.
Now, two hours after I started writing, my hand is about to fall off and my therapeutic, reflective session is coming to an end. In the end, I just try to remind myself that, just like back home, I will have good days and bad days. As I have also learned in life, not everyone gets along while playing in the sandbox. As I told my treasured buddy Cynthia when I talked to her earlier today, things always get better. That, my friend, is certain.

Pics from Swear-In Weekend August 2008

Me and Joan

The RED crew with our trainer Brian

Peeking up over the bushes. The pic didn´t come out quite as I had envisioned it.

The ladies of G-27

Me, Mark (l) and Jesus (r) looking official.

Shola being a dictator

Me and Paulette

The amazing cake

Some of the fellas. Notice Mark with the requisite "Certified Black Man" picture grill.

No everyone, Matt and I are just friends. This was when a bunch of us decided to take prom pics, so he and I took one. HILARIOUS! We are out of control down here, I tell you.

Some Pics of Valenzuela

the cows that graze next to √Ďa Nico´s house
the center of town

beautiful flower

pics of the house. and yes, that is me milking the cow...lmao

Funny How Time Flies as Hours Turn into Whole Days 8.11.08

La Colonia Pirareta, Valenzuela, Cordillera, 8.11.08 - Right, so it's been a good two weeks since I've written; what a whirlwind it's been. I am currently back in a section Valenzuela called La Colonia Pirareta at the Ovando household. I will be living here for the next 3 months.
Needless to say, my future site visit was very productive; I met numerous people, most importantly the Ovandos. I chose to stay with them because the environment reminded me of my home in Aveiro. Na Nelly and Don Ramon are empty-nesters with 4 kids who are all grown and live in various parts of the country. Their house is on a 6-hectare plot, with two adjoining lots where other family members live. Next door are Don Ramon's parents, and next to them are Don Ramon's brother, his wife and three kids. Great people - everyone runs back and forth to each other's houses and they even have a soccer field on the land where all the neighborhood kids come and play. Today for instance, I played a brief game and was reminded of how out of shape I When I was here last I spent the night and even milked a cow with the kids at 6:30 am the next morning. How 'bout it?! Y'all know that I never leave home without the skillz ;-)...After deciding to stay with the Ovandos, I made Na Nico feel better by assuring her that I would come by for lunch from time to time and possibly even stay the night if I was going to be in town late. She felt better. She is also going to ask around to see about houses I can rent. Good ol' Na Nico.

So after I left Valenzuela I met up with the homies in Asuncion to see The Dark Knight, which we all loved, and have lunch, which I annihilated as usual. We then headed back to Aveiro, finally arriving after having to take 3 buses - talk about exhausting.
I barely remember the time between then and Swear-In last week, we did so much. Lots of loose ends tied up in training, I did my presentation on business ethics and sustainibility in tech class and that was basically it. I spent a lot of time with the fam; at one point Mama said that she was going to hide the day I left because it was going to be too sad to see me leave. I felt the same sense of desperation in my stomach that I felt when I left my family back home and prayed that I would be able to hold it together. I said "see you later" to my people around the town and then we were out.

The day we left for our Swear-In as official PCV's, there were no tears with my family because we hurriedly threw my bags in the van and I jumped in, blowing mama a kiss from my seat. I wasn't super sad because I knew I'd be back in a few weeks to celebrate my birthday. But then of course when we went to pick up the others their families were outside crying so naturally I started crying too. Have mercy. Everyone was all dressed upfor the ceremony; I wore my light-colored plaid, short-sleeve suit and gold sandals. Yes, I was unstoppable as usual :-). We got to the Embassy and they gave us a play-by-play of how things were going to go down. One of the instructions was, when taking the oath, we were supposed to say "I" and then state our names and continue repeating after the USAID official administering the oath. In the past, other groups had actually repeated "state your name" instead of saying their names. In our case apparently, we seemed to have been waiting for him to prompt us to say our names or pause longer so when he didn't, we said nothing, then laughed, and he continued. I lost my official chance to say "I, Samantha Alexandra Cooper-Morrison..." Oh well. Paulette made a great speech and when it was all over I made sure to head straight to the cake table so as to reserve my place at the front of the line and ensure my receipt of the coveted corner piece. The cake may have been the best chocolate cake I've ever had in my life. Unfortunately there are no words to describe it. If I were to make an attempt, however, heaven, ecstasy, utopia and abyss of chocolate bliss might appropriately fall in the ballpark.

The next several days were spent out partying until early hours of the morning, taking care of particulars at the Peace Corps office, running around Asuncion withdrawing money from our new bank accounts and, in some cases, making impluse buys. Just like home! There was even an alleged run-in with Johnny Law, which was resolved in the end by some good ol' fashioned bribery. Just another day in the fourth most corrupt country (at one point recently) in the world.
I finally made it to my site yesterday; however, me being who I am, it couldn't have just been a simple trip from Asuncion to Valenzuela. When I initially got to the Terminal I had to do some asking around about which bus was mine. I was finally directed to the driver who happened to be Na Nico's tenant that I had met during the FSV. "Jahata," (let's go) he said.
As we drove out of the city, one of my favorite radio segments was on, the one in which they play all salsa for a few hours. I heard a number of songs I always listened to at HCS when I would play Latin music from 2:30 pm until. I danced, I sang, all was good. Aside from me spilling the yerba mate all over the front of my shirt while preparing the terere for the bus driver, the ride was pretty uneventful. That is, of course, until we were about an hour or less from the turn off to Valenzuela.

On this particular stretch of the road, the driver had accelerated to high a speed. While preparing the terere I noticed the engine straining until suddenly something snapped under the bus. "Oh Lord Jesus christ have mercy," I thought to myself. I waited for the bus to careen to one side, planning to grab the pole in front of me so as to avoid tumbling. Thank God that didn't happen and we pulled over to the side. I learned from someone later on, however, that had the part broke in the front the bus would have gone tumbling. Too scary - my little rosary sure does come in As the bus sat on the side of the road, it was evident that that leg of the trip was over, and people began filing off the bus with their bags. The bus was basically in the ditch and leaning to the side; this coupled with a slippery bottom step resulted in one woman slipping and falling in the grass on her behind. Luckily she was not hurt. I got off the bus with my daypack and big pack, leaving my stupidly-huge and heavy duffel bag stowed in the front.
By this point I definitely had to go to the bathroom. As I was contemplating this next order of business, a woman came up to me and asked if I was the next volunteer in Valenzuela. I confirmed that I was. She introduced herself, Angela, saying that she remembered me from weeks ago when we visited the former PCV. She said there was a bathroom across the road at the entrance to the Mennonite Hospital, so we headed over. Now when I say "bathroom", I mean a semi-enclosed latrine with a toilet seat on it, a tin roof and a cement wall so people can't see you from the road in front of you. As you use the "facility", however, I swear that people can see your little head peeking out. Luckily, I never leave the house without without some baby wipes so I squatted and then wiped my hands with my trusty wipes so as to keep things sanitary. My companeras and I then returned to the other side of the road and waited for the next bus to come. At this point it was about 1:15 pm, sunny, and not too hot so waiting wasn't bad at all. I sent a mass text to the homies and then called the fam in Aveiro. "Naturally this would have happened to me," I told Mama. We had a good laugh as my host sister dyed her hair. I also informed my people in Valenzuela so they wouldn't be worried.

After about an hour or so another bus arrived and we were on our way. I would soon find out, however, that the other half of the day's adventure was just beginning. While the bus I was on initially passed directly in front of the Ovando's, the second bus did not. For a little while on the bus I even wondered whether I had made the right decision because it went a back route I didn't recognize. Nevertheless, my travel buddies who were on their way to Valenzuela had also boarded so it had to be the right bus. It left us in the center of town, from which I would have to figure out a way to get to La Colonia. At this point my cell was no longer getting any service so I had to use a woman's phone who had been on the bus to call my people. Don Ramon suggested I take a taxi, which would have cost 50,000 guaranies (a little more than $10), or wait for the next bus that would arrive around 6:30 pm. While I didn't want to spend the money for the taxi, it was a more attractive option than waiting until it was dark to get on the bus. The phone then cut off because I had used up all the woman's minutes, so I gave her Gs. 3,000 to recharge them.
Since I was right by Na Antoli's house, I went over and told her what had happened. Angela, who was still with me at the time, had the idea of going by the comisaria (police station) to see about getting a ride from one of the patrolmen. As we left Na Antoli and headed over, I made sure that the police weren't going to try and extort money from me. You never know in a developing nation right? Angela said that she didn't think they would, since I was with Peace Corps. Free was certainly better than what it would cost for a taxi. She also said that it was highly unlikely that I would get a cab on a Sunday. Great, I thought. So we get to the station and the one officer there says there are no officers to take me because they are all at that soccer game. So much for that idea. I decided it was time to try Na Nico's and Angela was going to see her aunt. If her aunt had available transport, she'd meet back up with me; if not, peace out. Na Nico was nowhere to be found, nor were the neighbors I had previously kicked it with. Next on the list was Na Nico's family about 2 blocks away that I'd met before. Fortunately they were home so we sat, drank mate and chopped it up. They said that Na Nico was likely at her sister's house up the road; they weren't sure what time she'd return, but most likely before dark. At this point it was looking like I might stay the night with her and then take a bus in the morning out to the Ovando's. The family agreed. I ran back to Na Antoli's and told her the proposed plan. I drank some more mate and then we tried to call Na Nico. A boy answered the phone, saying she'd gone out to the field and had left her phone but she'd be back soon. The phone cut off before we could get more details.

Since I had yet to reach Na Nico, Na Antoli suggested I go to Na Rosa's for the night; I agreed and we set out the few blocks up to her house. I left the huge duffel at Na Antoli's with plans to pick it up in the morning on my way out. Poor Na Antoli's back damn near broke carrying my daypack; the laptop was in there so it was pretty heavy. On the way we saw Na Pitu (naturally), but we couldn't stop long since we were on a mission. We finally made it and I was able to take a load off and rest a bit. Na Rosa called Na Nelly to let her know my status. It also happened that Don Carlos, who's family lived near the Ovandos, may have been in town visiting his mother. Na Nelly would call his wife, Na Inma, to see if he might be an option for getting me out there. In the meantime, Na Rosa asked me if I wanted some mate; I told her I was starving, since it was about 6:30 pm and I hadn't had a meal since breakfast. It turned out that Don Carlos was in town, so I finished my food and we hoofed it down the street to see if he was still there. Success! We went back to Na Rosa's to gather my things and he came and picked me up after his visit.

And so it was that I finally arrived at the Ovando's around 7:30 pm. They were relieved that I finally arrived, saying that they had been worried when I didn't arrive as scheduled that afternoon. I had sent Don Ramon a text earlier that day around 11 when I left Asuncion, saying I'd see them in a few hours. We laughed about how a few hours turned into a whole day. Pure hilarity, I tell you!

FSV Day Three - 7.28.08

Valenzuela, Cordillera, 7.28.08 - So here I am in my little room. I would say that the morning was very productive. I think I slept too much yesterday during the day because it took longer to fall asleep and then I woke up at 12 and didn't really fall back asleep until 2 or 3 am. So I woke up around 7:30 am or so and finally started out around 9.

After stopping by the Tigo place to refill Na Nico's cellphone and confirming my appointment with Na Antoli to bake a cake tomorrow, I stopped by Na Pitu. We chopped it up for a little and then her cousin Frisi came back from wherever she had been so she hung out too. She pretty much speaks to me exclusively in Guarani; I would say that I understand 65% of what she says and the remaining part I either act like I understand or ask for clarification in Spanish. I clarified the directions to Na Rosa's house which, as she said, we very close.

Na Rosa was very happy to see me; her house is really nice too. She and her family live in a type of compound; there are several grandchildren in addition to her and her husband, her daughter, son, another son and his wife. I like the way it's laid out because it reminds me of the Aveiro fam. The grandchildren, Renzo (6) and Thania (5), are two of the cutest kids I've ever seen. They are so active and just run all over the place playing, yelling, arguing and being kids. Na Rosa and I sat eating oranges and talking about about my day, possible living arrangements around town and then she showed me the fruits and vegetables growing in her huerta. The huertas are extremely popular down here; I can't wait to start my own when I get my little house. She then introduced me to Rosi, her daughter-in-law, who is also on my list of potential families to stay with. Afterwards we sat in the yard chopping it up and drinking terere. I would say that so far Rosi and Fernando/the Riquelme compound is at the top of my homestay list. It's very lively and full of people, which can also be a bit tedious at times. I will continue to look at my other options and make a decision by Wednesday afternoon. I am going back there tomorrow for lunch so I can talk more with Rosi about the possibility. As lunchtime drew near, I excused myself since Na Nico was waiting for me, though not before eating a small square of pizza and yuca. I love the Paraguayans.

I set out on my walk back to the spot and on the way stopped briefly by Na Pitu's again to see another family member that wasn't there before and David Copperfield (remember him, Na Pitu's son) was there! I drank some more terere and talked about how great it was that I was going to be living in the community. We recounted my overnight visit some weeks ago and how we sat and drank mate the morning I left, saying how great it'd be if I ended up back here. And here I am.

I finally made it back to the spot where a tasty lunch of meatballs and rice with a tomato sauce and salad awaited. One thing I can say about Na Nico is that she's a good cook. However, I am not sure whether I want to live with her or not; since being here I have definitely missed being surrounded by more family members. I would also like a bigger living space. After siesta I plan to stop by another house or two to have more options from which to compare. Jahechata oiva (we'll see wassup)...

FSV Part 2 - 7.27.08

Valenzuela, Cordillera, 7.27.08 - So I was just out not too long ago kickin' it with Maura and her fam, over at her sister/brother-in-law's house. This afternoon we ate lunch, took a siesta and then went to Na Antoli's house. I finally got to drink some terere and we walked around her amazing huerta. She had basically every vegetable one could want down here, and she also has tons of beautiful flowers. She gave us lettuce, cilantro, basil, some medicinal plant, and another long, plam-looking plant that smelled like garlic.

After that we headed back to the house and then went back out to see where Maura was. She had run to the hospital but, upon returning, knocked on our door and I came back out while Na Nico made dinner. Initially it was me, Maura, her brother-in-law and her brother sitting in the yard drinking beer. Then her dad, aunt, and younger cousin came over. It was quite a little gathering. I also met her sister Gloria and the baby, Fatima. We talked about the States, the Valenzuela schools, the youth, English, and they were amazed at my Guarani skills. We get along quite well. In the morning I plan to walk around town and make it to Na Rosa's and/or some of the other socia's houses that are on my list for possible places to live. We'll see how it goes.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

The Future Site Visit 7.27.08

Valenzuela, Cordillera, 7.27.08 - It is with great pride, elation and anticipation that I now present myself as the future Peace Corps Volunteer of the town of Valenzuela in the department of Cordillera. This, of course, was also where we came for our Tech Overnight a number of weeks ago to visit the Jen, the former PCV, while she was still here. We learned our sites two days ago and then came out to them yesterday. I was beside myself when I learned; I was damn near curled up in Paulita's lap like a baby when they called the names. I could not have asked for a better site - easily accessible to Aveiro and Asuncion, running water and modern toilets, and amazing people.

I will be working with with AMUR, which means Asociacion de la Mujer Rural (really hard translation: Association of the Rural Woman), on on advancing current projects as well as developing new ones. As if that wasn't good news, to top it off Paulette (I'm sure you all have noticed that I refer to her interchangeably as Paulita also) is in a site close to me, no more than an hour away I think. So needless to say we were crazy excited. A surprising assignment, however, was that Pooja is going to Tembiapora, which we had all speculated that Mateo would get. He will actually be working with a cooperative that produces and exports organic sugar, which is also amazing. The PCV before him apparently lived in a laid-out crib on a golf course.

The lady I'm currently staying with is Na Nico, a 75-year old widow of 10 years who, just as many other Paraguayans, spends time between Paraguay and Buenos Aires. I believe her husband was Argentine. She's a cute little lady though - she enjoys conversing, she's a good cook (though limited in what she can eat because of her gastritis), and is pretty funny too. The Peace Corps folks dropped me off in the Prado (like a Land Cruiser) yesterday morning with Na Rosa, and then Na Nico met me there. On our walk back to her house we stopped by Na Pitu's house (where I spent the night when our group visited weeks before) and chopped it up with them for a second, went by Na Nico's neice's hair salon, and then back to the house. We ate some lunch and then I went to sleep for a bit - I had been up since 4:15 am - exhausted! I woke up and hung around the house, read some more info in my folder about the site, and then Na Nico showed me her vegetable garden in the backyard. She has quite a few things growing - lettuce, oregano, green onions, radishes, squash and parsley in addition to some other veggies. Later in the afternoon we went by the hardware store where I scoped out an adapter I'll need for my laptop/surge protector.

After the hardware store, on of the neighbors, Na Maria who is a retired school director, came by to kick it with us. She talked about the work she used to do in the school district, in which she worked from the early 70's until '97; almost 30 years. She also talked about how things were during the Stroessner dictatorship. A member of the Colorado Party, which was the ruling party for 60 years until this year's April elections, she said that she had never had any problems with the government and only concentrated on improving the situation of the schools. She did, however, have an uncle who was not so fortunate.

He was a member of the opposing Liberal party and a priest in a small, poor town whose people lived in deplorable conditions. A passionate advocate for the people, he spoke out against the government and its inability to improve the lot of the townspeople. After leading a protest in the town he was taken away by the authorities and, although he was not imprisoned and tortured as many dissidents were during the dictadura, he was sent to a far away town and held under a type of house arrest. After a short period he was released and returned to his home town where he had led the initial protest. Instead of remaining quiet after his run-in with the law, he continued to speak out against the regime until he was thrown out of the church and exiled to Buenos Aires. While in Argentina he was extremely unhappy and longed for his homeland to which he was forbidden to return. Luckily someone in the family had the means to send him to Paris in the hopes that he would be happier. While there he met and married a woman but, nevertheless, continued to miss Paraguay. His family there offered to send him back to Buenos Aires but he refused, saying he couldn't see his homeland from the city. They finally settled on Foz do Iguazu, Brazil, a border town between the two countries at Iguazu Falls. He went to Brazil and tried to cross the border into Paraguay but was surrounded by the authorities as if he were a drug trafficker. Years after his initial exile, he was still forbidden to enter. Left with no other choice he settled in Foz do Iguazu, where he was content to at least see his beloved country on the other side of the river. He remains there to this day.

Na Maria went on to talk about how, after the regime fell in 1989, she almost lost her job because of the stigma attached to her from having worked during the regime when the new administration, despite its Colorado leadership, attempted to clean house. She refused, stating that she had always worked in the best interest of the schools and, lest the school district administrator forget, her uncle had spoken out against Stroessner and suffered the consequences. She was allowed to continue working in the schools until her retirement in '97.

This is one of many stories and englightening conversations I will have during my time as a PCV. Through these conversations I will form lasting friendships with my new neighbors as we work toward the improvement of the community. My experience so far has been so much more than I could have imagined; truly amazing.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Return to Aveiro/El Salon de Belleza - 7.22.08

Aveiro, 7.22.08 - So I wanted to get an earlier start on the writing this evening, since I yet to report on the rest of Friday and the weekend.

To pick up where I left off, after the homies came across the water, we all piled in cars and headed back to Aveiro. It was so great to see Eric, Paulita and Mateo; Eric gave me a big hug, picked me up and swung me around, and big hugs from P and Mateo. We've never been separated for so long; it will be hard when we all head out to our sites. Anyway, my stomach was improving so the ride back was cool. I was so happy to get home and the fam was super happy to see me. Always great to come back home :-). I asked Mama how the week was and she said that it was awfully quiet without me and they frequently wondered what I was doing. I recounted my intestinal ordeal and we had a good laugh - Tim's family wasn't home so he came over too. They all remarked at how much better his Spanish had gotten. Yay Timmy! Afterwards I took a shower, ate, then retired. I was EXHAUSTED.

So the next day I woke up around 7:30 am so I could perm my hair for the first time since I've been down here. I had my host sister Rita get the perm in and then I combed it through. There a couple of areas I had to cover with more perm, but she did a good job for it being her first time. I washed it out in the sink outside using a plastic wash basin and the pitcher to pour water over my head. While I noticed later that there were some areas that could've straightened more, I'm very pleased with how it came out.

After lunch, we all headed to Asuncion to celebrate Paulette's birthday. We stopped first at the Peace Corps office to check email and use the phone; I was able to make my customary call to Daddy. Afterwards we went by the mall so Paulette could buy a shirt. In a serendipitous turn of events, we ran into a PCV we knew and the municipal services development (also known as Muni) part of our group as we were walking to the hotel, another family reunion! It was the first time we'd seen each other since we'd left for LFP the previous week. Even some other munis - Shola, Erik and Liam - passed by on the bus.

The hotel was great - Hotel Los Alpes - it looked like a little oasis in the middle of the block. We all stayed between the two attics, which were big rooms with six beds and a table and chairs in the center. It also had a wall-mounted tv and a really nice bathroom that even had hot water faucets! I've gotten so used to the cold water-only sink and the shower with the switch to turn on the electric shower head that heats the water. We were all starving so we headed to the popular Lebanese spot, Monte Libano, for some lomito arabe (AH-rah-beh), which is shawarma. I was also really happy that they had Heineken, so I bought a 32 oz. bottle and drank it like it was water. Truly an excellent dinner. We hung out there for awhile and then went back to the hotel to change to go out.

Our first stop was this bar with an outside patio called Cafe Bohemia. The neighborhood was like a street in Berkeley with art galleries and little boutique shops - stark contrast to the Paraguayan countryside and other parts of Asuncion - at times we almost forgot we were still in Paraguay. We stayed for a bit and then went around the corner to another lounge that had better dancing music. And by better dancing music I mean choice hits from the 80's and early-90's WITH VIDEOS (just like my host brother)! The Paraguayans are truly fans of 80's music and have allowed me to rediscover my love for the decade. The drinks at both places were expensive by our standards - by that point I was drinking less and taking sips of other peoples' drinks, so at least I wasn't spending any money. A fun time was certainly had by all.

The next morning we took advantage of the free buffet, which was an absolute treat. It even had a toaster oven, great coffee and real butter!!! Oh, the little things. We finally got everyone together to leave around 10, and it took forever for the bus to come but at least we were able to get seats. Once back in Aveiro we went to Paulita's for lunch. Her family had the bomb asado! Needless to say, I punished the food. We sat around for a bit after lunch and then Tim and I rolled. Talk about being exhausted. I hung around the house for the rest of the day - it was definitely a packed but fun-filled weekend.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Last Days in the Dos 7.19.08

Tembiapora, Caaguazu, 7.19.08 - I am sitting on the banks of the Yguazu River listening to Reasonable Doubt on Tim's iPod. Thankg God for it. It's just me, Aurelio (language teacher) and Pimpo (Peace Corps driver/employee) - the others crossed the river on the barge to Tembiapora to meet up with Kyle (PC volunteer) and the others that went to visit him. My stomach has been unbelievable to' up all day I didn't want to chance adding sea sickness onto it so I elected to stay on this side. We left Tavapy 2 around 10 this morning.

The last two days in "The Dos" were great. Wednesday we hung out in the morning and then went over to Na Blanca's to make sopa paraguaya and have lunch. I helped grind up some of the corn and did all of the mixing :-). For lunch we had tallarines and chicken, which was tough as all hell to chew, and they gave me the breast too which was even tougher. If I am not mistaken, this means that we were eating an older male chicken. Nevertheless, the food was good. After we went back to Dres' and chilled out for a little then started preparing the seeds to plant the abonos verdes. This are types of trees that farmers can plant whose leaves replenish the soil's nutrients when they fall and decompose. Once the trees are full grown, it virtually eliminates the need for fertilizer, thereby preventing the farmers to have to spend money on chemical fertilizer. Initially intended as a demonstration for the farmers, it ended up being them planting them and talking to us about them, which was great. Nothing like unintended experiential learning, I tell you.

After we planted them we walked around what was left of the Atlantic rainforest with the two coop members (also known as "socios" in Spanish) and then headed back to the crib. While removing the skin from a coconut that Dres gave her, Pooja cut herself and kirked out ("flipped out", for those of you unfamiliar with DC slang). Apparently she doesn't do well when she sees blood. While the cut did bleed quite a bit, her reaction was way more dramatic than necessary. I proceeded to dress the wound and then she went and cooled out in the hammock. Crisis averted! lol. When I got back to Feliciano's later in the evening, the grandkids were watching Titanic on the computer in my room. They had just started and I didn't have the heart to kick them out, so we were up until about 11.

We spent the next morning putting the finishing touches on the planning session we were leading with the socios on the future community center, which was something very important to the socios. Around 10:30 we headed to Tim's host family's house for lunch. Before lunch, however, we walked around the family farm. A stream runs through parts of the farm, so the family had built two noteworthy, home-made bridges ("puentes caseros") to cross from one side to the other. One was a big tree trunk thrown across two banks with a thin metal cable with which to steady oneself. The other, which was more out of an Indiana Jones movie (Temple of the Lost Ark, maybe?), had planks of bamboo strewn across two wire cables connecting one bank to the other. The bridge was definitely not new, as evidenced by a number of semi-wide spaces between some of the planks. I prayed and then crossed.

More tallarines for lunch, relaxing in chairs eating tangerines and then back to the spot. The brainstorming session began around 2:30 pm and it turned out quite well. I was in charge of the introductory icebreaker, which I did primarily in Guarani. Yay Sasha. The socios threw out some great ideas for the community center, all of which we got on paper. For the rest of the day we laid around Dres' crib and later in the evening, just as I was getting ready to head back to the homestead, Na Blanca and the crew came over to make dinner. With some direction from Pooja, they even made an Indian-style dish with peas and potatoes and other signature Indian ingredients. Dres even threw in some curry he bought in the Western part of the country near the border with Brazil. Needless to say I punished it and then headed home. Since it was the last night, I sat up and chopped it up with the host fam while they of course gave me more food. You can probably guess what it was - TALLARINES (shocker)! We talked about things back in the States, my family (at which time I whipped out the pics), and how badly the town needed a community center. And also the inadequacy of the nearby medical center - many poor people, they said. I also reminded them that I was leaving the following morning - they couldn't believe it and asked when I was coming back. Too bad I couldn't stay on with them, they said. I agreed and said that hopefully I would come back soon. With that I retired to my quarters. If only the next day could've begun as peacefully as that day ended.

I was jolted awake around 4:45 am by crazily unbelievable stomach pains. I laid awake in bed waiting to see if they improved so I could go back to sleep. Womp, womp, as my friends and I say. Much to my horror, they got worse until it was evident that I was not going to get away with not doing some major biznis in the latrine. Christ have mercy, I thought to myself. I grabbed my flashlight and toilet paper and made a mad dash for the rancid inferno before I ended up messing on the floor in my room. Once inside, I hurriedly took of my sweatpants and slung them over the door so as to avoid any mishaps on the clothes. I hung my toilet paper on the hook and, with my flashlight, made sure I was aiming correctly so I didn't have any casualties on my feet. I then squatted over the hole, steadying myself on either side on the small wooden shelter. While normally the stomach pains would've subsided after relieving myself, this time was not one of those cases. I repeated this same grueling exercise three more times. The last two times I was squatting I tried to get up and caught the ill cramp in my left hip - it was not a good look AT ALL! I ended up having to put both hands on the ground in front of me while crouched down, then lean forward and push up as if I were stretching. Talk about an ordeal. After the fourth time I was finally able to go back to sleep around 5:15. If I ever have to go through something like that again, I pray that I have access to a modern toilet or, if not, a latrine with a seat so I don't have to crunch up my stomach and damn near dislocate my hip in the process. Jesus Christ have mercy!