Sunday, June 28, 2009

Kids and Fires

Me with Fabiola
San Juan Festival
Paulette showing us Ao Poí
Me with Roxy and Rafi

Well, I felt it coming on and it finally happened. No, not the crash - everything is still awesome. I´m talking about fiending for some kid interaction, since I went from nannying every day to hardly a kid in sight. Of course, I still chase my 7 yr old niece around the yard, but she always wears out after like 2 minutes, and I need more running time than that. The day after my birthday, when we had the class/party for Dia de San Juan, my trainers´ kids, 5 and 7 and adorably trilingual, were my buddies for the day. Then, at my birthday party, I was of course, playing with all the kids. This included a game where a group holds hands and walks in a circle taunting a kid that is curled in a ball in the middle of the circle, presumably crying or self-preserving, until they lash out and attack someone to be next in the circle. Ah, Paraguay. A few days later, we had a workshop on cooking with soy at another aspirante´s house and I played with her 6 yr old twin nieces and their overloved to the point of tortured kitten.

But it STILL wasn´t enough until I finally got my fix last Thursday, during our second Dia de Practica. The Dias de Practica are when we have to go out into the community to talk with people about their work or projects in the hope of giving a talk or lesson on the 4th or 5th Dia. My 1st day was started with me talking to my mamá and sister about the sewing co-op they want to start, and my sister trying to explain deep Paraguayan societal concepts about cooperatives, all in Spanish. About halfway through my brain shut down, I couldn´t understand a single word, got frustrated nad went to the ciber (internet cafe) to escape. But for the 2nd Dia, Ronnell invited me to work with him on a project at the children´s home that I didn´t even know was right across the street from my house. They have 200 kids from all different situations - orphans, disabled, parents working out of the country, homeless, etc, and every age from baby to adult. The older ones take care of the younger ones and everyone old enough has chores. They are nondenominational Christian and get money from the government. I loved it from the moment I got there and a little girl ran up to hold my hand up the steps. After a brief talk with the manager, we went out to play in the yard. Ronnell parked himself on a wall and let the kids come to him, but I went right out into what turned out to be a very complicated game of house, with Papá working in Argentina and calling home on the broken piece of pottery cell phone, dinner of sand and rocks served on giant flower petal plates, and trips to Brazil on a bench airplane with la policia after us. We played for 2 1/2 hours, I had a dozen kids crawling all over me, and I loved every muinute of it. They were so grateful for the attention and fought over who got to climb on my back and kiss my cheek with dirty faces. I´ve decided to definitely work with kids in the development work I want to do after the PC. It was really funny when a 2yr old with thick yellow snot from his nose to his chin ran up to hug Ronnell´s knees. Ronnell is super chuchi and doesn´t like to be dirty, ever. He really nicely asked his name and age, then looked at me and, in English so they couldn´t understand, and through a gritted smile so his lips didn´t move, said "Is this your kid? You want to get him off of me right now, please?" "Veni, Arturo" (come, Arturo) I said, and picked him up so we could rejoin the game, but I thought it was hilarious.

So I´d gotten my fix, but it wasn´t over yet because the next day we had an overnight field trip to Villarica to visit a volunteer there. Villarica is in this section of the country that was not as beaten down by Stroessner´s rule (Paraguay had the longest running violent dictatorship in the history of the America´s (2nd longest in the world), which just ended in the 80´s and which made people afraid to do anything lest they end up pushed out of an airplane over the Chaco. Another reason for the seeming lack of motivation and poor economy). But Villarica is thriving with lots of jobs and a strong economy. It has paved streets, parks, pools, and businesses in fancy buildings with landscaping all around. Super chuchi, and the volunteer, Brennan´s, house is legendarily chuchi by PC standards. We learned about his financial co-op in the morning, which is successful and an obvious contrast to Mary´s co-op that I visited a few weeks ago.

I was really scared for the afternoon, though, because we were split into pairs to give charlas to elementary school classes. Charlas are literally "chats" but are facilitated group discussions with lots of activities to illustrate the points. Ronnell and I had first read little books to preschool kids for a half hour (a long time to think of conversation in Spanish when a book is only 10 pages long), then charlas to a second grade class and then a 5th grade class. We had to talk about deforestation and the importance of planting trees. I was scared to facilitate a discussion in Spanish, but actually we did really well and I totally seemed like I knew what was going on. Then we all went out back to plant baby trees and build little bamboo fences around them to protect them. It went really well and Ronnell ended the afternoon by starting a dance circle with his Robot (always a hit with the kids).

Afterwards, we went to see a herd of carpinchos (the giant guinea pigs) and then out for icecream (I just had chocolate). We all had host families for the evening and Carlos, another aspirante, and I stayed with Diego for the night. Diego is 24, works at the co-op, and is super nice. His friends came over and we drank wine with coke and watched Biker Boyz (which is a terrible movie in any language, but they loved it). We spoke in Spanish the whole time, and that night I dreamed in Spanish (which means it´s getting into my subconscious and is extra exciting because I have felt progressively dumber in Spanish since I´ve been here).

The next morning we all met back up to head to a co-op that makes ao po´i, which is traditional Paraguayan clothing, started in the 1800´s when another crappy dictator closed the borders and Paraguayans had to make everything from only the materials the had. It´s a slightly rough, but very light and thin material, perfect for this climate, with embroidered designs on it. I ordered 2 custom made shirts that I´m really excited about.

Then it was piling back into the van for the 3 hrs home. I slept hard for the afternoon (I sleep and eat more here than I ever thought I would need. It´s such hard work thinking in Spanish). Then Diana, Carlos (my sister and brother-in-law) and I went to a real San Juan Party, with all the traditional games I thought I´d missed out on. This is a holiday designed for muchachos, and there was a good group of them running around with cloth masked stretched over their faces. There are many things lit on fire for San Juan, including: a soccer ball, dummies hung from trees, and the horns on a giant bull costume that then tries to gorge people. But the project that really took over the evening was the Palo Alto, which is the greased pole with prizes on top. They spent hours stacking themselves on each others´ shoulders and then falling, over and over again. before finally bringing out the extendible ladder at the end of the night.

So clearly it´s been a busy week, but everything´s great and I love Paraguay more every day.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Feliz Cumpleaños!!!!

Partying with the pooch (slightly drunk at the time and we thought this was hilarious)


Carrie, Mary, and Liz

Me and Belén

Belén, doing her bottle dance in front of everyone as a gift for me, super embarrassed

Sobrinas, Alé, Belén and Mirna (Mirna never smiles)

Ronnell with Augustito

Super fun Paraguayan kids

Bambi, Isatta, Vonda, and Mary

Me, Liz, and Mary

Paraguayans seriously know how to party! My birthday weekend was super fun. The day of my birthday, Friday, was our first Dia de Practica, where we have to practice what we´re going to do once we have our sites and talk to people about their businesses or co-ops. Then a little bit of class and we finished the huerta we built as a group (it´s awesome).

Then there was a little miscommunication with my family and I was thinking Belén had a dance program that night, and wanted to go watch it. So I´m walking with all these little giggling, whispering 12 yr olds, not understanding a single word and sad that that´s what I´m doing on my birthday, when I look up and see Elmer from my group walking by, so I beg him to please come with me and speak English. He does, of course, and then it turns out that it´s not a program, it´s a practice, and nobody is allowed to watch, so we have an hour to kill. We see a few other people from our group and go to this San Juan festival they´re having at the school.

The Dia de San Juan, which is another one of those holidays that´s a mix of Catholicism and Paganism, is June 23, so this weekend there were parties for it. The festivities normally include playing soccer with a flaming soccerball (pantyhose on it lit on fire so that if it touches someone´s leg they have melted nylon permanently engrained in their skin), and a greased flagpole with money at the top. Kids try to climb it and fall all over each other, and I guess it´s pretty much a guarantee that someone gets a knee in the eye or something. Unfortunately, we didn´t get to see any of those particular festivities, and this festival was just about a hundred little kids in traditional dance costumes (frilly dresses on girls, fake mustachiod boys) coming out in turn and dancing for the audience. Pretty boring, but fun to just hang out with my friends.

On the way home, I´m walking with Alé and Belén and they are huddled together behind me whispering to each other (this is pretty common, so I just ignore it). Then Alé comes flying up beside me (Belén pushed her) and she asks me again what Elmer and I did while we were gone. I told her again about the San Juan festival and she just laughs. "por que?" I ask. "Because she´s jealous!" Belén pipes up. We´d just had a whole lesson about this in training a few days before and it hadn´t even occurred to me to be an issue until right then. But in Paraguay, guys and girls aren´t supposed to be alone without supervision, so a girl is always supposed to have a kid or another girl with her when she´s with a guy. So they thought we were off making out. The whole dating situation here is muy complicado. There´s that whole supervision thing, or the fact that if a woman happens to be in the same room alone with a man, it´s because she wants to have sex with him. The story we heard was when a volunteer was trying to have electricity put into her house, and was telling the town electrician where she wanted the lights hung, when he grabbed her and kissed her. He thought she was inviting him to. She was a little upset.

Then there´s the whole phenomenon of the Jakare. A jakare is a crocodile in Guaraní, and it´s a guy who goes outside of a woman´s window at night and claps to get her attention so she can let him in to have sex. Sleeping with your window open is an invitation for someone to come in and have sex with you. Bars will be on my windows. This is all wanted by the woman (except in the example that my trainer gave when some guy came up and tried to come in her window because she´d smiled at him earlier in the day at the well (she´s a very smiley person and meant nothing by it) but normally that would be all it would take to arrange a rendezvous). I´m now terrified to look at anyone because a prolonged look can be an invitation; also a smile, if you dance more than a couple songs together, or about a hundred other really subtle things. This is all just for sexual invitations because dating is done very formally and a guy visits a girl on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and the weekend when he wants to really date her. MWF, then, is left for the sombrero. A sombrero is the other guy that´s having sex with a girl but not dating her. This means that any meeting scheduled on certain days might be telling someone you either want to date them or just want to fuck them. No wonder everything takes so much longer to get done around here. To be fair, the cities are not this archaic and these situations would only be in the campo these days.

But I digress. So the next day, we were learning about the festivities for the Dia de San Juan and were split into partners and had to go talk to our families about a traditional game or food. Elmer happened to be assigned as my partner. We went to my house and talked to my mamá about this game (Like a piñata but with clay pots),and she fed us and we sat down to talk, and he was all charming and fluent in Spanish. Then they took a picture of us at the end. I´m pretty sure they think Elmer is courting me now. Great. So we had a fun morning of a psuedo-party for school, and then the real partying began.

It´s Paraguayan tradition that the person having the birthday pays for whatever festivities occur, but we all agreed that that was a terrible idea and we were going to do this up American style. Brad, from my training group, talked to his mom, who has a reputation for being especially fun (my mamá warned me about her, even though they´re cousins, because I guess there is chisme of parties with lots of people making out in their respective dark corners of the of course I had to have it there) and she agreed to throw the party. We sent around a sign-up list to all of our training group so everyone brought something. The Paraguayans went all out and it was huge- like 50 people, all partying outside. I got lots of great presents, including a white thong with a topless mermaid on it and a t-shirt that says Piraña across it (Mary and Liz have dry senses of humor like me), a silver heart necklace, a keychain that says Angelica (I´m changing my name here because no one seems to be able to pronounce Angelíc), a hand-drawn and painted card with pictures of all the aspirantes on it, and a packet of combs and too-small slippers from my family. There was a cake but I had chocolate bars, and lots of beer and wine with coke. Everyone brought food I could eat and they sang happy birthday in 3 languages. There were lots of people standing around talking and laughing, kids running all over the place, just lots of fun. First this little 6 year old taught me all her dance moves, and then her 17 yr old cousin taught me way sluttier dance moves, so that was fun. We partied for like 6 hours and then I spent the night at my friend Mary´s house so I wouldn´t have to walk home in the dark. It was great. I´ll post pictures as soon as I get a chance.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Fishing With A Grain of Salt

Ronnell, Ryan, Mary and Liam

Liam and Me

3yr olds with guns - ah Paraguay

Just hanging out in Tacuati

Ronnell, Liam and Mary

Things have still been awesome, and the last couple weeks have been very informative. I have learned, however, to take everything the PC says with a grain of salt. My 1st clue was when my Mamá told me that everyone on Paraguay wears shorts all summer long. This is exactly the opposite of what the PC had said (that no Paraguayan would be caught dead outside the house in shorts), and I have been really worried about the 100 degree temps in pants. I also bought a ton of skirts and brought no shorts with me. My next clue was when we did our Tapeapovo, which is a day when we´re assigned a partner and places to go in Asunción, the capital, and then have to figure out how to get where we´re going, how to ask professional questions about how businesses work, in Spanish, and then how to make it to PC headquarters by 12:45. I foolishly believed them when they said to dress nicely and ended up with blisters the size of quarters since we walked about 10kms. We were late getting back but got there just in time fo the powerpoint presentation about common PC myths. These included jewels such as: my Paraguayan counterpart will want to help and will know what he or she is doing, I will have a job description or at least an idea of what is expected, and, my personal favorite, the people in my site will want me there. Not scared yet.

After learning cool things like how to make a huerta (vegetable garden) complete with split bamboo fence, how to use a machete (know where your other limbs are at all times), and how to make a compost pile (it helps to pee in it but don´t use the poop of carnivores or omnivores. This means that if I keep vegetarian I could use my OWN poo and THAT, my friends, would truly be the circle of life), it was off to visit a volunteer.

I got really lucky because my buddy Ronnell and I had volunteers that lived 3 blocks from each other, really far from just about anything else, so we got to go together. Saturday morning we woke up at 2am and the cab picked us up at 2:45 to drive to the bus terminal in Asunción, because the only bus to our town left at 4:15 in the morning. My volunteer, Mary, met us at the terminal and we all rode the 9 hours together. Mary is a self-professed nerd (her justification being that she reads terrible sci-fi like ¨Cat Women from Outer Space¨), but is extremely nice, generous, and smart. On the way up, we passed through a Mennonite community where all the dirt roads were smooth and even, all the yards well-groomed, all the houses and buildings well-made and sturdy, and all the businesses looked well-managed. There was a clear contrast to every other place in Paraguay. There´s no reason in the world all Paraguayans couldn´t live like that, she explained, other than cultural morés and lack of education.

Then we arrived in her town, which is supposedly a small city, but is all wooden shacks and dirt roads. Some of the roads were supposed to be cobblestoned 3 different times, and 3 different times the money was stolen by someone in charge, before they could do it. All Municipalities get a good bit of money every year as commissions from the dams on their borders that bring electricity to a huge chunk of South America, and yet nothing ever seems to get done. Paraguay was declared #2 in the world for the worst government corruption, but it´s said they were only #2 because they paid off the #1 country to take their place. So there wasn´t much going on in that town. The biggest news being that last October, two guys who were out fishing in the river killed a 20 foot anaconda by bashing its head in, then strapped it to a boat trailer and paraded it through town so everyone could see. There was a huge bulge in the middle and rumors it was a little boy that had disappeared, so they skinned it (the skin is now on a living room wall) and cut it open. It turned out to be a carpincho, which is the world´s largest rodent (think the ROUS´s from the Princess Bride) and looks like a giant guinea pig but gets up to 400lbs. We saw pictures of the whole gruesome process and heard the story from everyone we met. Paraguayans never get sick of the same stories and jokes over and over again (We learned in training that a joke here is, if you walked somewhere, to say you took Linea Once, which is Line 11 in English because the two 1´s are like legs. It´s not even funny, but I tried it on my family and the crack up EVERY time. It never gets old.)

So Mary showed her house to us, which is super chuchi (fancy or snobby) for the PC since she has realiable water and electricity (although she does have to take the bus 2 hours for a bank or internet), and then we went with Ronnell´s volunteer, Liam, to see his place. It wasn´t nearly as big, but he had an awesome huerta in back with, as of yet, nothing planted. When we chased out the group of piglets that had come into his yard, they ran straight into the chicken wire, smashing their little faces over and over, so that was pretty funny. Liam is muy muy tranquilo (in fact he says tranqui all the time because I guess he´s too tranquilo to say the lo) and kids LOVE him, and follow him around like he´s the Pied Piper, calling ¨Gigante, Gigante¨(he´s 6´8"). He showed us what he did ¨like 10 hours a day¨ when he picked up this 4 yr old, swung him around by the arms, threw him in the air then caught him upside-down by one leg, then flipped him and set him down. The kid, of course, is all bright-eyed and breathless a totally loves him. Another time he had bottle rockets and a dozen or more kids were all around him. Boys here are prety much left to their own devices starting at age 7 because their dads are off working and everything in the house is woman´s work. Liam, carefully explaining why they can´t shoot off bottle rockets from their hands, was a positive male influence and they just crave it.

Also, it just so happened that a former volunteer from three years ago, Ryan (Rihanna) was back with her mom to visit, so we also got to hang out with them and her former host family. We went to visit and they fed us this awesome meal and made fun of Ryan because she spent the first two weeks in her site just crying, but it was all in fun and they love her. She was an education volunteer and the kids loved her, too. It was VERY important, they told us over and over, to get along with kids if you want to integrate into the community. I´m pretty sure I can handle that. Ryan´s muy tranquilo, too, and gave us all sorts of good advice.

As far as the work, Liam has had pretty good success with his municipalidad. He definitely has the rapport, and he told us this story how the other day a bunch of guys were sitting around in the office with him and thought it´d be funny to give themselves boners inside their jeans, then sat around with hard-ons laughing like it was the funniest thing in the world. He chose not to join, but it is the general concensus that campo guys have the maturity of 12 yr olds. Another illustration of this is when 3 policemen getting food at Ryan´s family´s dispensa, gave the two 3yr olds their guns so they could take pictures, much to the absolute horror of Ryan´s mom. Ah, those crazy Paraguayans. So funny. So Liam is working on a few projects, the biggest one being teaching people why they shouldn´t burn their trash (it was ok back in the day but now they´re burning plastic and aerosol cans and God knows what other chemicals they´re putting into the air. They do have to burn toilet paper though, because otherwise the pigs and dogs roaming the streets get into it).
Mary, on the other hand, has not had such luck with her project. About 2 weeks after she got to her site, her co-op, which is a financial co-op and gives loans, was almost completely out of money. After some investigation, she found out that the secretary had embezzled all of it. Even though the members paid dues and it was their money stolen and they knew who did it, they didn´t want to do anything about it and the secretary is still in the community with no problems. After so many years of government corruption, it seems Paraguayans have just come to expect that they will get fucked over in one way or another and are ok with it. ¨There goes our life savings. Tranquilo. What´s for dinner?¨ So Mary managed to bring the co-op back from the brink of death, but in these 2 years has not managed to find anyone motivated enough to take care of the co-op when she leaves in 2 months (actually the co-op building hasn´t had electricity for 3 months after someone´s truck ran into the pole, despite many promises to fix it, so she can´t find anyone motivated while she´s here, either), and she knows it will fail as soon as she leaves.

We saw a meeting with the president of the co-op, a jolly fat man who laughed constantly at his own jokes and who told me, in Spanish, "If you want to marry a Paraguayan, you don´t need to ask for permission. I can´t give you permission, but that´s ok, because you don´t need it." He cracked up, and we laughed too, since that´s just what you do, but none of us got it. Then he postponed again the thing he was supposed to arrange the last 3 times and drove off on his moto. Pobrecita Mary. She´s spending her last few months writing a manual on how to run the co-op, but she´s pretty sure no one will read it. She definitely made some mistakes. She´s not strongly integrated and is supposed to be more of a consultant while other people do the work, so they´re committed, but Liam gave a good metaphor for it. In training, they use the example of "If you give a man a fish he eats for a day and if you teach a man to fish he eats for a lifetime." But that doesn´t take into account if the man is even motivated to learn how to fish, if he has a fishing pole or line, if there´s a river nearby, if the river isn´t polluted, or if he knows how to cook it once he catches it, and ALL that is what happens in the service part of PC.
I can sum up the rest of the weekend pretty easily. We went for lots of walks all over town, ate lots of great food (Mary is an awesome cook), got lots of advice about how to be a successful volunteer, heard lots of PC chisme (gossip), por ejemplo our doctor, Dr. Luis, was Mr. Paraguay 2 years running, drank lots of wine with coke (it sounds gross but it´s HUGE in Paraguay and actually really good, better than both wine and coke individually), played cards (I lost) and Scrabble (I won and inherited the board), sat around camp fires and talked every night, learned that chickens sleep in trees at night (I had no idea), talked to some super cool Paraguayans, and learned that the terrible caveman Spanish we speak now will improve (Liam couldn´t understand a thing when he got to sight a year ago (gave a lot of cow looks- that blank stare), and now he can roll like a pro).

We caught the bus out at 5:30 Tuesday morning, both Ronnell and I exhausted but very happy and optomistic about being volunteers. The only other incident was on the bus ride home. I got motion sick and told Ronnell I thought I was going to throw up. He whips this big ziplock bag out of nowhere, just in time, and I threw up in the bag and then threw it out the window. Normally I´m not a litterbug, but there´s a time and a place for everything and a bag full of vomit justifies a lot of things. Tranquilo.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Gumdrops and Rainbows

In front of the school

The shortest doorway ever and the bane of my existence

Me and Camila

My street

At the Futbol Game

So the honeymoon phase is still going strong and I am absolutely enchanted. The PC training, being as tight and well-managed as it is knows exactly how we will be feeling at what times (they´ve been doing this a while) and they were kind enough to give a chart on a timeline mapping our ups and downs. I should be crashing hard around this wed. or thur. so I wanted to write before that happened.

Mi familia: My family is so great and I love them more and more each day. Everyone else in my training group is jealous because I get fruits and vegetables because of my dietary restrictions, while they get more traditional Paraguayan food: no vegetables, even though they´re all over the place, and lots and lots of bread and carbs and meats. My brother-in-law Carlos´s favorite food is a popular favorite: Milanesa, which as far as I can tell is beef covered in batter and deep fried in oil, so there you go. They don´t really eat breakfast or dinner, but have cafè con leche or matè con leche with these hard little bread things they call cookies (galletas), but that aren´t sweet, broken up into it. I, on the other hand, have an awesome fruit salad for breakfast and my mid-morning snack, loving packed by my mamà, a salad with some sort of delicious warm meal when I walk home from school for lunch, and an equally delicious dinner as we sit around in the evenings and speak Spanish. I´m understanding more all the time and so I can tell you that the reason that my mamá takes bloodpressure medication (besides the milanesa) is because a few years ago, her granddaughter Kamila had an accident where she hurt her eye really badly, and in the process of rushing to her, her papá Hugo (mamá`s son, my brother) was in a horrible accident where 3 people died and he was hurt really badly but pulled through ok. Shortly after that, Hugo´s other daughter Evelyn (3) who up to that point had been a normal, happy baby, got "something in her brain" (it´s called Astro-something, the disease she has). They took her back and forth to Argentina, which has socialized healthcare, but were never able to figure out or fix the problem. Now, at 4, Evelyn can´t walk or talk, her limbs are slightly curled, and she is happy as long as someone is holding and rocking her constantly. Her parents look exhausted. She has a tube going through her nose and own her throat and she coughs and cries each time they give her milk through that tube, which is the only thing she can eat. She always has a handtowel for sucking on and catching the drool. Also around that time, Mamá`s daughter, my sister Diana, found out that she has hormonal issues and can`t have kids. So between all this, with Papá working construction in Argentina for the last 20 years because the economy is too poor here for him to have work, and only coming home very rarely, my poor Mamá`s bloodpressure went through the roof and has never fully recovered. So it´s definitely not all gumdrops and rainbows here in Paraguay. Life is hard but everyone is friendly (although we just learned all about how when we´re on the bus someone might cut our bags with razorblades to steal our wallets, and that if we have a nice necklace they´ll push us down while ripping it off our necks) and I really love it here.

I´ll walk through a typical day: I get up at 7 and get ready, eat my fruit salad, and walk the ten minutes up the road to school. There´s still quite a lot of mud in parts, and the trucks and buses that pass cut new water-routes each time, so it´s never the same road twice. I walk very carefully, keeping my feet flat so I don´t get dirty because everyone in Paraguay is always clean and pressed, right down to their shoes, no matter how poor they are. I pass a lot of cows, say hola to everyone, and wave to the old guy who´s always sitting outside the delapidated gas station on my way to pick up my friend Ronnell, who lives on the way to the school. We arrive and tlak for a few minutes before carefully ducking through the 5`7" doorway (I had to learn this the hard way and my teacher hung up a caution sign with red and green scribbles after the 2nd time I nearly knocked myself out) into the school at 7:45. We break into groups of 3-4 with different teachers and I learn spanish all morning (with 2 breaks for more socializing). At 11:30 I walk back home and have lunch with my family, let it settle for a bit, maybe a little maté, and then it´s back to school at 1. We spend the afternoons learning more technical stuff (in English) about what we need to know for our jobs. Wednesdays are different because I walk 2 kms, then take the bus to town where both the MUNi (municipal development) and RED (rural economic development) groups join up for practical training, usually followed by hanging out for beers afterwards (we do a lot of hanging out and socializing, but don´t let that fool you- the training is intense and we need all the breaks we can get). In the evenings I go home and hang out with my family. Kamila (after watching me from around corners for a week finally warmed up to me after I chased her around the yard tickling her (kids love that shit) and I are best friends now, and Belén and I are thick as thieves. Alé is still being a bit timido, but I found out that her parents are divorced, her dad is in Argentina working and she never sees him, and her mom is in Spain working (but she´s also a flake and chooses her boyfriends over her daughters, and so will not visit them while she has one) and she´s 14 and having a bit of a hard time of it, so that´s ok, and we´ll be friends after a while.

Also, I found out that my sister Diana´s dream is to start a sewing co-op in the campo (countryside) which happens to be exactly the type of thing PC would do, so maybe I´ll be able to facilitate something to help her with that. I´m slightly upset with her right now, though, and I´ll tell you why. I mentioned earlier that there´s a whole cuture around maté: people carry around their own termos (thermos) of hot water, which they pour by the cup into a guampa (wooden or cow-horn cup) filled with yuyos (medicinal herbs). One person, usually the youngest starting with teenagers, serves it out in turn and everyone drinks from the same metal straw/spoon (bombilla). There is also the most fantastic drink ever called maté dulce (sweet maté) and i don´t even mind digging in cow shit to make it. Maté dulce is made with, instead of yuyos, ground up tiny little coconuts that grow here (and usually milk but it´s awesome with just water). The issue is that straight from the tree they´re too hard to crack open, but cows eat them, digest the outside, and poop out the inner-shelled part. Then you did them out, crack them open, and mmmmmm....maté dulce. So the other night we were passing around the maté dulce (turns out you can also get it in little packets at the tienda around the corner) and after passing it back and forth for a good half hour, my sister mantions offhandedly that she won´t have any more because she has a little cold! Our trainers told us that people feel a personal responsibility and will refuse maté if they`re sick, but clearly that`s only theoretical, and i do understand that it would be hard to turn down maté dulce. So 2 days later, I was sick (to be fair, I´m sure there´s a stress factor and i´ve been stabbed with several vaccinations recently, but still.)

I really like the people in my training group, too. One of the, Michel, is 64 and was in the PC in 1970-71 in Brazil. It´s a good story: she´d been there almost a year and it was Christmas time. One of the men that worked on the plantation with her was a really good artist, but was colorblind so he only did ink sketches. He gave her a picture as a thank you for helping him learn to read. She thought is was a lovely picture of an Arab gorilla and hung it in her dining room. Her reading classes continued and a group of men would meet around the dining room table twice a week to learn. The she got picked up by the secret police and charged with "instigating the peasants to riot" because it turned out the picture was of Che Guevara and the classes looked like socialist meetings. The police eventually let her go but said she had to leave her site. So the PC moved her to another one, but 3 months later came after her again because they´d meant for her to leave that whole section of the country. She ended up going home then, but is now giving PC another shot, hopefully to finish her service this time.

Last night, we went to see the big Paraguay vs. Chile fútbol game. Paraguay is number 1 in South America right now. It was huge. One of the other volunteers, Elmer, is in a family with connections and got us tickets, so his 2 brothers and 5 volunteers went. We were right behond one of the goals so had a perfect view of when the missed goal after goal and lost 2-0, but the crowd we still singing and yelling and being good fans. There were lots of different songs, one in the tune of Karma Chameleon and one that said "By the balls, by the balls, by the balls we have to win!" (that´s not soccer balls, either, that´s huevos), so it was lots of fun. We also saw a big group of other Peace Corps people there and introduced ourselves. One girl pinched our cheeks and said, "oh, look how clean they are!", but they all seemed happy and like their spirits were still in tact, so that bodes well for us. Also, last week a former volunteer showed us a slide show with a picture of the bathroom she had built in her house on site, and she said that if we save our money now, we can have a bathroom built, too, if we need it. That´s great news because a good bathroom could totally make or break a situation.

So that´s been my life this week. Oh, and if anyone wants to send something, the chocolate here is very rare and not all that good. The address is on the right side of the blog website. Just a thought. Tranquilo.


Chuchi - this is probably my new most popular word. It means snobby or fancy, but is used in the Peace Corps as anything nicer than dirt roads and shacks, or for a person, anyone who showers with hot water. Living in the city, I am super chuchi for here.

Fuerte - literally means strong, but because the culture is based on talking around everything, it´s when a person says anything they want in a direct way - it means asshole

Puede ser and otro dia - literally means "could be" or "another day", but because noone will directly blow someone off, both of them mean "never" and are the answer to a question of when something will happen

Deseas, en tus sueños, Que Arriba Perra/o and Es lo qué es - these are the terrible translations of American sayings that are not used here and don´t really translate, but we say them anyway. Literally they mean "you wish", "in your dreams", "What´s up bitch/dog?" and "it is what it is"

Qué guapa - this means "what a hard worker" and is used by Paraguayans every time I do ANYTHING manual, including carrying a dish to the sink or sweeping out my room. I don´t think they have high expectations for Americans and work.

Saludos - sending saludos by way of a mutual friend is how people tell each other they have a crush on them. The most serious kinds are given with a pinch on the arm and they mean business.

Thumbs up - this is done everywhere here and is a simple answer to pretty much any question. I will probably have carpal tunel in my thumbs when I leave here because I do this so much.

No se como comer esta - this is how one refuses food in Paraguay. Literally, it´s "I don´t know how to eat this" which creates an internal struggle for me each time it´s said because I want to be a smartass and explain that, just like any other food, you put in in your mouth and chew, but I don´t think that´s acceptable here.

No Más and Un poco - this is said after almost every phrase for no real reason other than to make everything sound like it´s not a big deal, even when it really is. Literally, it´s "No More" and "A Little", so the translations are something like "Sit down no more", "Come here a little", and "Do you want dinner no more?"

Cocido - this is a hot drink mixed by carmellizing sugar with a little yerba, adding just enough water to wet it, and then adding more sugar. It´s served by the thermos-full just before bed.

Mosto - this is to sugar what crack is to cocaine. It´s a "tradional" drink capable of putting even the sweetest tooth into a diabetic coma, and is served continuously at fun gatherings like funerals.

Ch-ch-ch-ch - this is the sound Paraguayans make to get each others´attention - like "Psst" . It´s especially used for catcalling, and they have nothing to follow it with - they just want you to look.