Archive | June, 2011

On the road

18 Jun

This week all of the trainees were given a volunteer to go visit out in the field. We got directions and money and had to figure out the rest ourselves on Monday. I got sent to a site about 5 hours from Asuncion to spend 3 days with a super rad volunteer named Devon. I took the Ybyturusu (pronouncing things here is insane) bus from Asuncion to this small town surrounded by farms (or what they’d call campo here). The last 45 minutes were on unpaved roads over some rather scary bridges. It made the drive rather exciting.

It was nice to get away from Asuncion and finally see the countryside. The town I visited is in this interesting part of the country where there are some sizable hills and some pretty trees.

I spent 3 nights in this town with Devon and I got a good sense of the wide variety of projects I could potentially work on. In the two-ish days I spend there, we put the finishing touches on a mural at the school, helped work on a class garden, taught someone how to install printer drivers and get images off her phone, made marketing materials for a business and made a twister board for an upcoming English lesson. It was really an eyeopener. I have no doubt people here could use our expertise. At the same time, some of the obstacles we all will face here were apparent. Talking to Devon really helped me get my brain around what I’ll be doing and how I can deal with potential roadblocks along the way.

I came back on my own yesterday, energized to continue training. I’m looking forward to our next site visit in a few weeks. I hope it gives me a chance to see another part of Paraguay.

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Similar, yet different

4 Jun

I’ve officially been in Paraguay for a week, but it feels like I’ve been here a very long time. Time passes in a strange manner when you are in training. The sun sets early (a bit after 5) so the evenings feel like they go on forever. They eat late here, too, contributing to the weird time warp.

I’m getting accustomed to daily life here and find that it suits me just fine. However, I’m tired ALL the time. I think a lot of the exhaustion is mental (learning insane amounts of info and trying to understand two new languages at the same time is hard). The rest is likely the result of playing with rambunctious 6 year olds during my free time.

My family is great. Things are pretty “tranquilo” around the house. I’m pretty sure tranquilo is the word to characterize all Paraguayans-free of worry, tranquil, laid back. They are wonderfully welcoming and helpful.

Random info about Paraguay:

About 6.3 million people live here. The country is about the size of California. It’s one of the least dense countries in the world. A river divides the country in two, east and west. The dry, less hospitable western part of the country contains 2% of the population, while the east contains the rest. In case you hadn’t figured this out already, Paraguay is in South America. It’s one of two landlocked countries on the continent (though, it’s really surrounded by rivers, so landlocked might not be the most literally accurate word).

The capital is Asuncion. A large portion of the population of Paraguay lives in Asuncion (at least 400,000) or the surrounding metropolitan area (at least 2 million). Our training center and communities are in the metro area. We visited town briefly this week to visit the Peace Corps country headquarters. It’s in a totally chuchi (fancy) part of town. We stopped at a gelato place on the way back

Where I live, we have a “Super” (Supermarket) fairly similar to a SuperTarget or SuperWalmart in the United States, but on a smaller scale. Unlike the US, smaller local stores tend to have better prices then the fancy Super. These local stores (Dispensas) are everywhere, and often connected to people’s houses.

Paraguay is blessed with an abundance of fresh fruit and vegetables (4th largest exporter of soy in the world). There are fruit trees everywhere. My yard has mandarin oranges, apples, lemons (which are not yellow here), mangos, papaya and bananas. Yum. Evidently strawberry season starts soon. I can’t wait.

Also of note: though Paraguayans LOVE meat (their food groups are probably meat, fried and carbs) it is completely possible to be a vegetarian here. My current family has been really accommodating and everything I’ve eaten has been delicious.

My house has a tv with satellite. Plenty of channels for the kids and we get all the important futbol games. They even have Bloomberg. I haven’t really had much time to watch anything, but the kids love it.

A few other volunteers have internet at their houses, but I don’t. So, until I am officially a volunteer in 9 weeks, I have to go to the “Cyber” cafe (sounds like “see brrrrrr”) and pay to use their computers to check up on things back in the states. It costs a bit more than $1 for an hour (5000 guarani).

The unit of money here is the guarani and it has bizarro value (4700ish guarani=$1). A bus ride to the capital from here is 2300 g. I bought some M&Ms today for 3200 g. I also caved and bought a watch for 20,000 g. We get an allowance to cover our bus fare and other incidentals (our families provide room and board). So far, I haven’t had any problems living within the allowance.

The indigenous language is also called Guarani. I started learning it in class this week and it’s definitely intimidating to look at. Often there are 2 or 3 vowels next to each other, which just causes my brain to become confused. They also use their nose and throat to make some noises that I have yet to master. We’ll see how this goes. Most people here use a mix of Guarani and Spanish in everyday conversation, and straight Guarani is more common out in the campo (less populated area).

The drivers here are insane. Some families (not mine) have cars. More (one in every 3) have “motos” (motorcycles). They are everywhere, so you need to be really careful when crossing streets or walking alongside them. A few volunteers have already witnessed some pretty wicked accidents. Evidently moto safety is a big problem here since they are a relatively new phenomenon and their use has grown exponentially in the last few years.

There are animals everywhere: cows, chickens, dogs, etc. There seems to be a different attitude towards animals. The primarily reason for having one appears to be more utility than friendship. Dogs are common, but they stay outside in the yard and serve as a sort of alarm system. Cats also live outside and eat mice and other undesirable pests. We have a whole giant coop of chickens which provide awesome fresh eggs. They get to run around the whole yard on occasion, which is fun. I also learned, but have not visually verified yet, that there are bats living in our one tree. I’m excited to investigate this further.

There are capybaras in the country (world’s largest rodent). I have not seen one yet, but I will (high on priority list). I did see little crocodiles the other day in the lagoon in Ita. Super cool.

The country is predominantly Catholic, though oddly, despite my family saying they were Catholic, when we went to “mass” it was definitely not mass. I have yet to find the real church. It´s on my to do list.

Sundays are fundays. Pretty much everyone has a big midday feast on Sundays and then relaxes. My family grilled out, feasted then went to the park for a paseo. It was a lovely day.

A lot of Paraguayans actually work and live in other countries like Argentina and Spain. They send $732 million back to family in Paraguay each year. Both of my host families daughters are actually living and working in Spain.

Futbol is big here. We have a small field here (cancha) where local teams play. There are also less formal fields all over town. There are evidently two big teams in Asuncion and every family has a side. One team is Olympia the other is Cero. My family cheers for Cero. Paraguay also has teams competing in the America Cup, and the country frequently does well in international competitions, including the previous World Cup (semis!).

More as I learn it!