Saturday, April 10, 2010

Crushed Egos OR A World of Possibilities

So I had this idea...seemed like a good enough idea at the time. We were going to do a walk, an annual awareness walk for CCAB, my NGO, and we were going to get the whole city to participate in one way or another. It was going to raise awareness of the situation of poverty in our area (61% of the population is below the poverty line, 35% is in extreme poverty, and entire families are living on less than the minimum wage for one person, the equivalent of $300/mo) and awareness for what CCAB is doing to help that situation (starting and working in 9 community centers in poor barrios, helping 2800 kids with meals and snacks, cultural and value-teaching activities, sports and camps). It was our debut marketing effort into the community, who really had no idea who CCAB is or what they do. It was going to develop feelings of community and communal responsibility, since when there are people in our community suffering, we all suffer, and when someone doesn't have food, we all go hungry. It was going to empower people to show that help did not need to come from other countries, or the government, in order to improve a situation. The theme was The Power of One, showing that when individuals do small helpful things to better a situation, it adds up to something great.

It meant that Juan, my contact and the other half of the "Marketing and Communications Department", and I worked our butts off for months planning it. We conceptualized the entire thing, from beginning to end. The teachers in CCAB went around to stores and businesses to request sponsorship and raised more than our budget of $1200. We made (in Juan's living room) 210 screen-printed t-shirts, got support from the municipalidad and the gobernacion, cookie and milk donations to serve breakfast to the kids (and yes, cookies and milk is a normal breakfast here), had banners made for each community center and a 12ft x 15ft giant banner to hang in the International Crossroads on the south side of Oviedo, the walk's destination. We went to all the community centers to dip the kids' feet in paint and make footprints on the banner (The official name was Caminata Pypore - Footprints Walk). We arranged for police to block of the main Ruta for us. We recruited 20 volunteer youths to help with the little kids. We had a press breakfast to advertise with them and build our future relationship. I did some TV interviews. We talked about it on the radio show.

There were days where I forgot to breathe. There were countless moments of miscommunication and misunderstandings. I (TWICE!) accidentally tripped over the computer cord and deleted the pamphlets we'd spent hours designing (poor Juan). The t-shirts I'd hauled back from Asuncion were all the wrong sizes. The logos I'd ironed on the t-shirts fell off. I'd completely convinced myself that I was more of a hinderance than a help in the whole process. The day before the walk, as we were driving to CCAB with 5 kilos of cookies in the trunk, I was saying that we should do an evaluation of it, the strengths and weaknesses, to help plan for next year. "Will you be around next year?" I ask Juan, because he has dreams of his own graphic design business and had planned to only be here for a year. "I figure I'll stay around as long as you're here," he says, "And then leave when you leave. I couldn't do this without you."

There is nothing like Peace Corps for destroying your ego and building your self-esteem, simultaneously.

Over 500 people came, among them the Mayor, and the Country Director of Peace Corps, Don Clark. It could not have gone more perfectly. We walked 1 kilometer, from CCAB to the Cruce Internacional, where there were some speeches and the huge banner was unfurled. Don Clark nudged me as the banner dropped. "Nice touch" he said. Then I breathed.

Here are some pictures:

As far as other news and some cultural explanations, I will use excerpts from the penpal letters I sent to my cousin Delaney's Girl Scout troop (the writing style is slightly different since my audience was 7 yr olds, but you'll get the point):

...Yes, they celebrate Easter here. It's called Pascua, and the week before is called Semana Santa (Saint's week). It's a big deal here because Paraguayans eat a lot of meat and they can't eat meat on good Friday, so they eat Chipa (which is this hard and super yummy kind of bread made with corn meal) all day instead. They call it a Fast. So nobody works Thurs, Fri, Sat and Sun, and on Wednesday or Thursday they spend the whole day making chipa (which is quite a process because they grind the corn by hand and bake it in a brick, wood-burning oven.) When the dough is ready, it's like playdough and they form it into different shapes, but mostly O's. I made a bunch of O's, a star and an A. The boys makes Jakares (Jah-ka-rays) (it means crocodiles or is also a guy that sneaks into girl's rooms at nights, which is a whole other story and I'll wait until you're older to explain it). Then Easter Sunday is spent together with the family and they cook a lot of meat to celebrate having survived one day without it. The American traditions of chocolate and bunnies are slowly coming here, and the kids get some chocolate, but it's not really a big deal here like it is in the US.

I have some sad news. Unfortunately, my street dog Julio has gone to dog heaven. He got in a fight and the cut on his face got infected with these parasites, and it was all down hill from there. He's buried in my neighbor's garden (don't tell). My whole family was really sad, but I was especially sad (since I was his favorite, and all), but it's a very common thing for street dogs, and it's the circle of life.
I do have some good news, though. I just got 2 new kittens. There are some pictures here, attached. The striped one is a girl and her name is Ikatu (Ee-kah-too)- that's Guarani for "Could be" because everything could be, really. We live in a world of possibilities. The black one is a boy named Haikue (High-kway) which is said when someone is surprised, and it's kind of like "Holy Cow!" or "Oh my gosh!" They are super cute (clearly) and lots of fun because they play together all the time. They have developed this nasty little habit of climbing up my legs with their claws out, like I'm their own personal tree. I'm trying to break the habit, so I shake my leg really hard and they go flying. We have a great time together!

So that's what I've been doing lately.


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.