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.


  1. Angelic! Hola! We're now on the same continent! I love reading this blog so much--I'll send you a link to mine as soon as it starts working.

  2. Hi Angelic! What a wonderful experience - and thanks for adding the pictures. Looks like you're having more fun than work!! Keep having fun - will keep you in my thoughts and prayers!



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.