Thursday, August 21, 2008

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!

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