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.