Archive | July, 2011

Caaguazu for the win

13 Jul

After my “meh” experience in Asuncion, I wasn’t really sure what to expect on my “long field” visit to the city of Caaguazu. Long field is basically a chance for all of the trainees to get more experience at an actual site with an actual volunteer. Three of my friends and I headed for Caaguazu, about midway between Asuncion and Ciudad del Este, to visit Casey, a volunteer who has been here for a year.

Turns out Caaguazu is known for its trees. The whole area used to be a giant forest, but most of the trees were cut down for lumber and carbon. Still, the town is surprisingly pretty, and very large.

plaza

Casey found us all families to stay with for the week, and I am madly in love with the one I ended up with. The dad is a reporter for Ultima Hora, a big paper out of Asuncion, and the mom is essentially in charge of the child services department at city hall. They are both super guapo (hard-working) and really cool people.

The Nunoz's and me

The dad actually was a high school exchange student in the states and he speaks fluent english. Plus, being a reporter and all around cool guy, he knows all sorts of random cool stuff. They have 3 super cute kids and a menagerie of animals, which they treat in a very american manner (yay). I looked forward to going back there each day.

cat in toy truck

However, I didn’t spend a ton of time at their house, as Casey kept us busy with meetings, presentations and other interesting activities.

Highlights:

-Gave my first real presentation in Spanish to a real group of people (6th graders at a local school) and it went a-okay.

-Went to dance practice for a dance group made up entirely of cute old(er) ladies.

old ladies dancing

-Attended an extremely long meeting at city hall about local concerns about drugs and understood 95% of what was being said.

-Met some incredibly hard-working people from all walks of life who are doing some really cool stuff.

-Heard about all the projects that Casey had going on and saw all the people in the community that he clearly had an effect on.

-Discovered the amazingness that is Chipa Asador. Oh my gosh, so good. Also had my first Chipa Guazu. Also awesomely good.

-Met my first Paraguayan vegetarian. Gasp!

-They really like the Simpsons (Los Simpsons) here.

It was a fantastic week! It’s hard to believe that I’m already in week 7 of training (only 3.5 weeks left).

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Underwhelmed in Asuncion

11 Jul

My long awaited weekend of visits to Asuncion came and went, and I find myself underwhelmed. The American Embassy hosted a 4th of July celebration on Saturday, July 2, then the Peace Corps gave us the day off on Monday, July 4. Yay America.

 

My fellow volunteer and went to town early on Saturday to hunt for nerdy books. At the bookstore, appropriately named Books, we found bird books and animal books specific to Paraguay. Score.

bird book acquired

We then proceeded to the mall to hunt for some other items. They have malls here. Some like anything you’d expect in the United States, others, not so much. If I ever feel the need for American commercialism, one of these places will be my first stop.

 

After scoping out the mall we walked to the embassy for the big picnic. They put on a pretty good show. The embassy is essentially a whole city block and has lots of nice open space with pretty trees, peacocks, parrots and deer. I also heard a rumor that there is an ostrich, but I couldn’t get a visual confirmation on that one. They had a whole spread of typical Fourth of July eats like hot dogs, hamburgers and chips. Plus, they had some not so traditional stuff, like turkey and Chinese food (I’m thinking these were leftovers from the party for actual important people held the night before). The highlight however was the dessert table(s).

Fourth of July treats

They made dessert into a contest, so various women who work at the embassy each made their own American dessert in the hopes of winning something magical (I actually have no idea what the prize was, as I left early). We got to try as many desserts as we wanted, so we could be informed voters. My vote went to whoever made the Buckeyes. Delicious.

 

My fellow volunteers competed in a bunch of silly (serious?) games like the three-legged race (which my friends actually won), tug-of-war, egg toss and a popcorn eating contest. I mostly just hung out and wandered around looking for animals.

deer

I also scouted the pool, which I’m sure will look more appealing when it’s 100+ degrees out in the summer. All in all a nice “Yay America!” experience, but I was so ready to be out of town by 3. It takes an hour plus by bus to get to Asuncion from where I’m living, which can be an adventure. The buses vary greatly in quality, popularity and driver insanity.

 

Luckily, we didn’t need to take the bus in on Monday, as Peace Corps gave us a lift as a Fourth of July present. I trudged off on my own to see the sights of Asuncion and was generally left with one conclusion: unless it’s my site, I won’t be spending a lot of time in Asuncion. I basically went to the central district to see all the historic buildings, museums and get a general feel of the town. I was underwhelmed. The highlights of my day were the abandoned train station/museum, and the cemetery.

La recoleta

That about sums up the town for me.

 

The train station was really neat, but super depressing. Paraguay actually had the first railroad in South America. They built this great station and had great plans for bringing rail to the country.

old train station

However, the dude who brought the railroads also was around for a war with Uruguay, Brazil and Argentina (the Triple Alliance). This war basically devastated the country financially and population-wise. The real trains stopped running in the 1900s and now they only run a weekend pleasure train between the Botanic Garden and the city of Aregua. The station is now a museum, complete with plenty of old cool stuff to check out, including two old chuchi (fancy) train cars.

 

Other cools things about Asuncion:

The Cabildo

  • The Cabildo, the old legislative house, is now a free museum with a view of the Bay of Asuncion. They actually had a really cool art exhibit on display.
  • La Recoleta cemetery near the Peace Corps office is one part creepy, one part cool. I wandered around there for a good half hour exploring all the above ground graves.
  • Mercado 4 is the mall for regular Paraguayans. It’s a giant maze/market that sells every item imaginable. I had a hard time not getting lost among the fresh meat, moth ball smelling clothes and questionable electronics.

 

Not so cool things about Asuncion:

  • The smog. I’m pretty sure the buses here would never be allowed to drive in the United States. They, along with a lot of the cars and motos on the road, are just pouring out icky smoke which makes walking on the sidewalk rather miserable.
  • Lack of awesome crafts. I went to a few “artisan” markets and didn’t find a single thing I’d want to buy for myself or as a gift for anyone I know. I know there are creative people in this country making beautiful things, I just haven’t found them yet.
  • General lack of cool old buildings. I’m a huge fan of cool old buildings and there just aren’t that many of them here that have a lot of character.
  • Lack of distinctiveness of neighborhoods. Everything basically felt the same to me the whole time I was walking around. Sure there are some areas with nicer, rich-people houses, but otherwise, it all looks and feels the same to me. More experience needed I guess to know the difference.
  • The fact that I had a hard time coming up with cool things about Asuncion.

 

I still have yet to explore a few more museums, the zoo/botanic garden, and this cool looking city park. Hopefully those will improve my opinions of the town, as it seems I’ll need to go there for various reasons over the next 2 years.