Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Home Sweet Home

Almost exactly as I remember it...

November 21st, 2009

I recently went home...

Where’s home you may ask. Well they say home is where the heart is, and I left my heart back in Paso de Oro. It was right where I left it 3 months ago, and I picked it up and dusted it off when Fabiola came running towards me as I stepped off the rattling bus and onto the dusty, dirt road in front of my home.

John Howard Payne beautifully captured the essence of what I have been feeling and coined the phrase when he wrote the song, “Home Sweet Home” in 1822 as part of the opera, "Clari, the Maid of Milan.”

“Mid pleasures and palaces though we may roam,
Be it ever so humble, there 's no place like home;
A charm from the skies seems to hallow us there,
Which sought through the world is ne'er met with elsewhere.
An exile from home splendour dazzles in vain,
Oh give me my lowly thatched cottage again;
The birds singing gayly, that came at my call,
Give me them, and that peace of mind dearer than all.”

Over three months ago I promised I would come back for a visit if Paso de Oro made it to the final. After a long, successful season, and several disputes, rematches, and postponings later they finally made it to the final series, the first game of which was played on Saturday, November 21st, 2009 in Ipane. The date actually perfectly corresponded with my 3 month In Service Training I had to come in for by Tuesday anyway. The second game would be played the following Saturday, November 28th, 2009. Unfortunately I won’t be able to see this game, as I’ll be in Encarnación celebrating Thanksgiving with a ton of volunteers.

It was hot...really hot. Mary and Fabiola have a little kiddie pool in front of the house, to which I relented and agreed to enter after much begging and pleading. We cooled off and played with each other. I was a vicious shark trying to capture and eat the unsuspecting prey (Mary, Fabiola, and Jacqueline). Fabiola really got a kick out that. Most of time though I just stood outside the pool squirting them with water by positioning my thumb just right in the end of a garden hose.

The time came for us all to get ready to go to the cancha. I was pretty much dried off and was very dirty. I was also really hot. A cold shower was calling my name. Cold showers here in the summer are amazing. You don’t even want to think about a hot shower. In the winter, a cold shower (sometimes necessary when the power goes out) is torture, but in the summer it’s lovely. I made it to the shower, turned on the water...


“Ok, maybe the water’s just turned off or something. A quick shout to my sister, whose now living in my old room because she has separated from her husband, supposedly because of rumors that she cheated on him, should cure the problem. She and my Dad worked on it but to no avail. The running water is out and the backup tank above the house has emptied.

These are the small inconveniences of life in the third world...Frequent, unexplainable power and water outages. If I turned on the sink ever so often I could get a few trickles so I got the bulk of the main dirt off and considered it bastante (enough) and headed to put my clothes on. Just as I had done that, the running water came back on. Haha. “And isn’t it ironic. Don’t you think? A little too ironic. And yeah I really do think...”

So I unclothed, jumped back in the cold shower, which was refreshing, and rushed to be ready before Hector.

I finished getting ready as Hector pulled his truck up to the front of the house. We all piled in the back of the truck and headed off to Ipane, a nearby town where the match was being held. It felt so comfortable being back in the back of that truck with my family and friends. I remember the day when it felt odd and awkward. Those days are long gone...I’m completely integrated and comfortable now, and I actually feel like part of the family.

The match was a long defensive battle until towards the end of the game when the opposing team snuck one past our goalkeeper. It was very upsetting to say the least. To make matters worst in the final minutes they scored again ensuring our defeat.

Despite the loss I had a good time just being back at the cancha with my family. I split my time evenly among all the different clicks within the family who were sitting close to each other but not all together.

Nothing has changed...well nothing at the cancha at least.

My sister Mirian still yelled at the players and referees in guaraní in between gossipping and commentating to her friends. “Did you hear that such and such walked down the street the other day with such and such? Oh David has the ball. He needs pass it. FUERZA DAVID! (David gets fouled but it doesn’t get called)…Son of a Blaaaaaaaank referee.” My sister-in-law still yelled out obscenities and rushed over behind the goalkeeper during pivotal moments and got all heated. “Hey you bald referee! Go jerk off on a cactus!” Fabiola still pestered my sister for every snack available at the cancha including donuts, ice cream, soda, and popcorn, and Mary still observed the game patiently and silently.

After the game we all rushed back to Hector’s truck and quickly got out of town, probably for fear of fights and other forms of game associated violence, which are pretty frequent.

Of course my mom and sister made empanadas that night and a crowd of people gathered at my house to watch soccer on TV and socialize. The empanadas weren’t as great this time because they were made with prepackaged flour tortillas instead of made from scratch mandioca tortillas. Apparently, there is a big shortage of mandioca, which is ridiculous considering it is the most important food in Paraguay. I mean my Dad even said once that without mandioca, it’s really not a meal.

That night was also the Quinceañera of Carlos’, one of my fellow volunteers, host sister. My family was invited. I took a nap because it had been a long day and I knew it would be a long night. I told Paulo to come get me at 11:30 PM so we could head out. I set my alarm on my phone and dozed off for a nap in preparation for the long night ahead. I woke up at 1:00 AM. The alarm never went off. Must have been set for 11:00 AM. By the time I showered, my Sister and Mom had already gone and returned from the party. The music was still going so I went regardless. At the very least I could hang out with Carlos for a bit. I got there around 2:00 AM and the party was still hopping.

It’s the funniest thing to watch Paraguayans dancing sometimes. They dance in no particular uniform way but they do form a uniform straight line rather than just one big blob of dancers like we do in the states. Maybe it’s logical. Maybe it prevents bump-ins and the like. Carlos, Arelio, my sister-in-law, and my two nieces danced like it was 1999 until about 4 AM, when we heard Paraguay’s infamous party’s over song. It’s a specific Paraguayan polka song that they always play last. I say it’s cool they have a song to signify the end of the party. Mary says the Paraguayans are too dumb to know when to go home so that’s why they have to have a recognized last song. Haha. She said it...not me.

The next night I received a call from Liz, a fellow volunteer who had also arrived early, saying I should come to the cancha. It was great fun catching up with Liz and dancing with everyone until David’s brother (David is Liz’s Paraguayan boyfriend who she’s absolutely smitten with), got into a fight in which a bottle was broken on his face. After a few pretty rough blows, David and his other brothers managed to rescue him from the fight, but just seconds later someone starting shooting. They fired off a few rounds. I looked at Paulo and said, “Vamos rapido” (Let’s go quickly). I just so happened to be with the group that the gunmen wanted to shoot out so I was trying to get out of dodge as quickly as possible. Paulo and I got out really quickly and were briskly walking down the sandy, dark path to the sound of more gunfire. That should be enough to end a party right? Well I guess Mary might have been right. Paraguayans might be too dumb to know when to go home after all, because Paulo and I didn’t get a quarter mile from the cancha when we heard the DJ try to hype up the crowd and started playing music again. Gunfire won’t clear the party but the Paraguayan polka song will. Que bárbaro!

I was home for a total of six days. Much was the same as I remembered it the last time, and I imagine it will be for some time. My Mom has said she wants to die in that house. “Si Dios quiere” (God willing). The family carried on with the same routines and rituals. Mom still made empanadas Saturday and Sunday night. Dad still drank terere under the shade tree in the mid-morning and late afternoon. Hector still drank caña late into the night on the benches near the work shed. But there were some fairly major changes that had happened in the 3 months since I left.

My Sister, who was living in Ipane with her boyfriend of 14 years with whom she has a child, had very recently separated and moved all her stuff back home and into my old room. Of course I didn’t mind. She is the real daughter after all. She brought some lindo stuff with her...a new refrigerator, which she keeps stocked better than my Mom does, automatic washing machine, Playstation 2, a broken down computer, a nice bed and an armoire. Darwen, my nephew, is sharing the room and bed with his mother, which I bet makes for a better, more intimate mother-son relationship.

They take naps together, watch movies together, play games together, etc... She’s getting to spend so much quality time with him.

Also we have, or should I say had, a new pet monkey. The monkey was found hanging out in some nearby trees. My sister-in-law snagged it with a t-shirt after luring it in with chipa, the very traditional bread-like Paraguayan food. While I was there the monkey escaped. My Dad tried for an hour or so to lure the monkey back in but to no avail this time. You see monkeys are smart and this one had learned its lesson. While I was there, they didn’t recapture it so it’s likely we no longer have the pet monkey.

Paulo had a brand new smile and a fresh summer haircut. Education and adoption of good dental hygiene is severely lacking in Paraguay. Paulo’s teeth were really jacked up when I left but since then his Dad had payed for him to get them fixed. His 12-year-old Sister, Jacqueline, also has really jacked up teeth but refuses to go to the dentist because she’s scared. Almost all her teeth have blacked out spots on them. It’s a pity. Her sister Jesika has great teeth and says Jacqueline’s teeth are the result of not brushing frequently and eating a lot of sweets. I told her family to drag her to the Dentists even if she were kicking, screaming and crying and force her to have them fixed. She would thank them later.

Hector now has fully functional air condition in his room, which he proudly showed off to Carlos and I. That’s a real luxury especially if you consider their living conditions. You may remember pictures of my house, and think that’s not so bad. Though in the same family and just a few hundred yards away, Hector and his family are living in true poverty. He wheeled and dealed a bit and managed to pick up a broken down, yet salvageable American brand old-school window air unit for cheap. My brother fixed and installed it for him. He says the incremental monthly costs aren’t much. He works really hard in the heat all day and deserves a good night’s sleep in the comfort of air conditioning. I’m super happy for him.

Mirian has separated yet again from her husband, Eladio. Their relationship is somewhat like some High School relationships. It’s on and off...breakup, makeup. Right now they’re off and broke up. Eladio has moved back to his Mother’s house at Kilometer 22, which isn’t too far away. Fabiola, 5 years old, doesn’t really care and asked Mary why she cries so much over her father that doesn’t cry over her but instead makes her cry. There’s a thought provoking question posed by a 5 year old. The pattern is something like this. Come back home. All is good for a little bit but inevitably he gets into a fight with Mirian, usually while drunk. Says hurtful things. Everyone minus Fabiola and Eladio cries. Eladio runs back home to his Mom. Stay there a bit. Come back home. Repeat process.

Mirian now has a job selling clothes in Asunción in a store owned by someone in Eladio’s family. She says she likes working but the days are long and her feet hurt from standing up all day without any breaks. I think deep inside though, the feeling of independence and pride from earning money for her family probably trumps the sore feet so she keeps standing, both literally and figuratively.

Mirian working in the city means laundry duty is left to my Mom. Nilda helps when she can but also works selling jewelry. Since she allows people to pay in small monthly installments she spends a lot of time making house visits to collect. You should see her little notepad with chicken scratch she uses to keep track of customer accounts. It’s pathetic but it’s a system that works well for her and which the customers somehow trust. Mom still prefers to wash most the clothes by hand, I guess stuck in her traditional ways, claiming that the automatic washer doesn’t get the clothes as clean.

Augusto is working harder and longer hours. It’s beginning to get hot, which means demand for air condition installations and repairs is way up. He leaves the house around 5:30 and often doesn’t get back until midnight or sometimes later. He finally has his moto back and he also has a work truck to drive.

Jacqueline was forced to quit her English lessons because her Dad didn’t have the money to keep sending her. But she’s been assured she can resume sometime next year.

Other highlights from the week include:
  • Playing soccer penalty kicks with Mary, Darwen, and Jacquelin
  • Watching a Michael Jackson movie with Darwen
  • Going on a long jog with Jesika (I recently found out she spells it that way)
  • Hanging out with the family in Hector’s work shed
  • Chasing the chickens and ducks around with a broom trying to get them back inside the fenced in area after Mary left the gate open when she was showing me piles of eggs

Although a lot has changed within the family, they are all still the loving, fun people I remember them to be. We picked up right where we left off, and it was a great week.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Breaking News-Pay to Play Corruption in San Juan

November 19th, 2009-San Juan Bautista, Misiones

Breaking News- Corrupt Secretary of Public Works and Governor allegedly involved in $25,860 Corruption Pay to Play Scandal

At approximately 5:00 PM yesterday, the Secretary of Public Works was caught red-handed receiving $25,860 US, allegedly on behalf of the Governor of the department of Misiones.

The money was delivered by the contractor who won a competitive bid to build 5 bridges in the department of Misiones on the condition that he give 10% of the $258,600 contract to the Governor.

All this went down yesterday, early evening not 10 blocks from my house. Word on the street is that the contractor agreed to the deal and then went to the public prosecutor with the information. They set up a drug bust style deal, caught the transaction on tape, and with that the Secretary of Public Works was caught red-handed and arrested. Of course, the Governor is denying everything and claiming innocence. Usually public figures or anyone with money aren’t held accountable for breaking the law so it will be interesting to see how this plays out.

Word travels super fast here. I was sitting outside my neighbor’s house around 8:00 PM talking with a few friends when we heard bombs going off around the city. One of the most popular soccer teams, Cerro Porteño, was playing in a semi-final game in the second most important South American tournament. I thought the bombs were going off because Olympia fans were happy that Cerro had just lost their opportunity to move on to the final, which if they won would be their first international championship. Olympia boasts 5 international championships, one of which is a world championship, so they always make fun of their national rival, calling them the pajama club, which is to say they never leave the house, the house being Paraguay because they have yet to win a championship outside the house that is Paraguay.

Anyway, my friend’s Mom came outside the house super excited from hearing the news. You see she is a longtime Colorada and was so happy because the Liberales always accused them of corruption, and rightfully so. The parties changed and the Colorados are ecstatic to see the Liberales fall to corruption too. So the bombs weren’t in fact Olympia fans announcing the fall of their rival, Cerro; they were in fact Colorado fans celebrating the fall of their rival, the Liberales.

A ton of Colorados gathered around the Gobernación, which is just a few blocks from my house since I live in the center of the capital of the department (state). Everyone was chatting, speculating, chanting, and generally celebrating the recent events.

My friend’s mom and I got into some really interesting political discussion and I took the opportunity to ask her what were the ideological differences between the two parties. She has a masters, is a retired professor, and heads up the local admissions office. By Paraguayan standards she is well educated, and she is a dedicated supporter of her political party, the Colorados. She couldn’t give me one single difference between the ideologies of the parties or even explain what her party stood for. I’m not 100% convinced that the parties have even developed platforms, ideologies, and the like. Maybe that’s why no one knows how their party is different from another...because the only difference is the color and the people.

You see in Paraguay, one chooses their political affiliation much like they choose their soccer club...based on where they’re born and who they’re family is affiliated with.

Then they support that party with an intensity similar to the loyalty and enthusiasm they afford to their soccer club, but without really knowing why.

It’s sad, embarrassing, and comical all at the same time.

Today, Pachiqui, one of the coop’s drivers, took me to the laundry mat to drop my clothes off to be washed. My host family is supposed to wash my clothes but never do, and now the washing machine has broken so they can’t, even if they wanted to because there is absolutely no way that my current host mom is going to hand wash my clothes. She has a domestic staff of three that come every morning to clean the house, iron clothes, buy groceries, etc... On top of that I’ve been told she hates cooking (a claim that is supported by how rushed and careless she is while cooking). I’ll often find parts of eggshells, dirt or grime, my food. She’s equally careless with the dishes. I’ll often reach for a fork, glass, or plate from the “clean” pile only to find it covered in dirty smudges and remnants of yesterday’s there is no way she’s gonna wash my clothes by hand. That’s just sucks a little that supposedly this is included in my rent and then I have to pay to get it done elsewhere on top of that. I guess some of you are probably thinking I should wash the clothes by hand myself, but the cold, hard truth is that I’m just too lazy and incompetent domestically speaking for that at this point in my service. We’ll see if my perspective and motivation change later when I’m in my own house and pinching pennies.

Stay with me...I’m gonna come around to a point and relate this back to political corruption in Paraguay. I’m just taking the scenic route.

Regarding the domestic staff, I always feel so awkward around the young girls and now a really really young boy. They hang their heads in shame and hardly ever speak. They seem defeated, lack confidence, and carry themselves as if they’ve accepted a position in a lower class, even though they are not. Many times the family ignores them or my host mom loudly and harshly barks orders at them and then offers empty words of gratitude. I think they secretly hate their job but their family desperately needs the money so they endure it. I’ve tried talking to them on many occasions. It’s always super awkward because they very tersely respond to my questions with a few words and have a hard time looking me in the eye. I managed to discover that one of the girls wants to be a singer so I encouraged her to follow her dream, and tried, obviously in vain, to get her to sing a bit for me. I hate that they act so subservient. If I ever have a domestic staff in my life, I want them to be like Geoffrey from the Fresh Prince...funny, not afraid to speak their mind, involved in the family, gregarious, not subservient, speaks with a British accent, etc...

I just hate that they are acting like the family is better than them and worthy of bowing to, when that’s not the case at all, and I hate even more when I get the vibe that they feel like they have to act all submissive around me too. It makes me feel horrible, and my attempts to talk to them and break their shell have failed miserably.

So Pachiqui, like me, apparently prefers the scenic route too. I had to call Cynthia, the Human Resources manager to get permission for him to take me to the laundry mat. He’s on the clock and using cooperative gas money. He picks me up, and we start heading the opposite direction of the laundry mat. After a little while, I ask him where we’re going. He says something to the effect of, “We’re gonna stop by my house for a bit.” We drive out to the very outskirts of San Juan where his house is. His two-year son meets us at the gate. I greet him with a “Ha’upei chera’a,” which literally translates to “and then partner.”

We go sit under a shade tree for a bit before taking a flora/fauna tour of his property, which is humble yet quaint. Picture a dirt red yard surrounded by a raggedy fence made from bamboo, which is half hazzardly held together with cheap wire. Picture a caving in shack outside the main house that serves as a little outside cooking area. He took me around showing me different plants and trees. Can you imagine how convenient and cheap it must be to be able to walk out in your yard and grab a fruit or vegetable? He has lemons, limes, guava, mamón, squash, peppers, bananas, lettuce, berries, peaches, parsley, and the list probably goes on. I saw several chickens and 3 malnourished cows, one, which was a baby. He made me pick off a lime to try and also offered me a mamón, which is a sweet and juicy fruit with a texture that I can’t explain.

We retreated back under the shade, where we talked a bit with his wife. They say they’re going to invite me over for lunch or dinner sometime soon. Paraguayans are really hospitable. They always ask what my favorite food is here, which regardless of what it is they will prepare for when I come over. I always say I want to eat their favorite food or just whatever they decide to cook.

Suddenly he decided it was time to leave. We took the really long way around to the laundry mat. I saw places in San Juan I’ve never seen before. It reminded me of “loafin’” with my grandpa when I was young. As we drove along, he pointed out places of importance and showed me spectacular views of the campo. “There’s a little school...they’re building a plaza there...that’s where such and such lives. You don’t know such and such? You know the one...” I can hear my Papa D saying, “Why Brad you know ‘em.” Papa D was my grandpa who I used to go loafin’ with when I was a boy. Come to think about it, I miss him and he was a great loafin’ partner and just generally cool to hang out with.

I told Pachiqui I’ve never seen those parts of San Juan, to which he replied something to the effect of, “yeah I told you, you gotta come out with me...all day inside...on the internet...what internet? What’s on the Internet? You’ll never learn anything or see what the real deal is.”

As those words left his mouth we pulled up to the laundry mat, which is a spacious house with a few washers and dryers, and a kind, hefty woman. Tomorrow I’ll pick up my large hamper load of laundry, washed, dried, and ironed for a grand total of $8. If I haven’t mentioned this before, Paraguay was recently ranked one of the

We left the laundry and took the long way back to the cooperative. I waved at people as we drove by and was enjoying our playing hooky adventure.

Suddenly we pulled up to a house where two elderly women sat outside drinking terere. He told me, “Their single, you want one of them for your girlfriend?” I told him I wanted both of them. We sat under some excellent shade joking around while drinking terere. Most of the jokes were crude centering around how the old ladies like young, fresh meat. They told me not to believe a word that comes out of his mouth and that he is missing some screws. As she said that she motioned with her hands as if to be struggling to tighten a screw with a screwdriver. Before too much longer he announced we better get back. He said he was going to blame the significant amount of wasted time on me, yet knowing where I am and how the culture is, I doubt a question will ever be raised as to why it took us so long to go to the laundry mat and back.

On the way back to the cooperative we passed this construction site, where a gigantic house was nearing completion. It was made of fine brick, had nice, modern windows, and was just generally bigger and better than any house I’ve seen in San Juan. “Wow that house is huge...that must be a Millionaire’s house,” I announced. “Fiscal,” he said. That means someone who works in the fiscalía, which is something like the state office of inspector general, which in most US states is in charge of inspecting fraud, waste, abuse, and corruption in the state government. They investigate and then pass on the information to a state prosecutor and collaborate with law enforcement agencies like the FBI.

Doesn’t this case of pay to play governor corruption remind you of a recent scandal a little closer to home?

As it happens it’s not just third world countries like Paraguay that have corrupt politicians. You’ll recall that when Governor Rod Blagojevich was involved in a similar corruption scheme, it was a United States Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois who was a member of the US Department of Justice that investigated the corruption scandal and it was the US Marshals service on behalf of the FBI that made the arrest. Corruption exists’s the proportions and the consequences, which are different.

I was told today that this particular fiscal with the mansion house comes from a very humble family, and that this government position doesn’t pay that well. The looks I got from everyone indicated that there was no way that house was paid for with clean money, and it’s pretty much common knowledge that it was built on a foundation of corruption. How arrogant and bold! It’s bad enough to coerce, rob, blackmail, accept bribes or use other methods to earn money corruptly. It’s on a whole different level to construct a gigantic house, which serves as a symbol of corruption and a smack in the face to the town.

Pachiqui later said, “You see how it is in Paraguay. While the town remains hungry and people struggle living in poverty, people like that construct mansions.”

Isn’t it ironic that the same people within the agency that is supposed to investigate infractions against the law, in this case corruption, are, what appears to be, corrupt themselves?

That’s how pervasive the corruption in Paraguay is. It will be interesting to see if the Secretary of Public Works, who is so obviously guilty, will in fact, be held accountable or if he will be able to pay his way out of corruption charges. The governor, on the other hand, is sitting pretty if there is no substantial evidence because he can deny involvement and claim that the Secretary of Public Works is lying about the destination of the pay to play bribe money.

For now, it’s a great start that the contractor blew the whistle, the fiscal investigated and acted on the matter, the press showed up and conducted interviews with somewhat pressing questions, and the police took the Secretary to jail. That’s a great start...let’s see how this ends.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

My Sister G's Swearing-In Speech

I recently stumbled upon the speech Paulette gave at their swearing-in exactly one year before our swearing-in. Paulette is from G27, our sister G in that they arrived one year before us and are of the same sector as my group.

I thought I’d share this speech with you.

Training Graduation Speech:

(References - *Jason is a mystery guy who was supposed to come but just never showed up. *Also, our director gave us this speech where he said we should think about the movies we had in our head about our service and be our own protagonist.)

To my fellow G-27ers,

Do you ever wonder where Jason is, our mystery 19th volunteer. I wonder if he's working some 9 to 5 somewhere, thinking about that time he almost joined the Peace Corps. We'll never know what actually happened to him, but I wonder if he just wussed out? I wonder if he packed his bags, said his goodbyes. I wonder if he went to the airport. I wonder -- At what point did he turn back?

I almost backed out a million times. I laid in bed, obsessing, needing to know exactly what my life would be like. I made lists of pros and cons, thinking I could quantify the decision. I sought advice from everyone. I even asked my four-year-old nephew if I should join the Peace Corps, and he said, "Sure."

But I still couldn't decide. Then one day I realized, I was afraid to fail. That's when I decided I at least had to try.

There were still plenty of moments of doubt. But, like you, and unlike so many other people, I got through every one of them. I think that's the biggest thing we should really be celebrating today.

Yay for us, that we'll never have to be the people who say, "Peace Corps, huh? I always wanted to do that."

Let's celebrate that we are not of the people who maybe sent out for the packet, but never filled it out. Maybe they filled it out but never found the guts to mail it.

Let's celebrate that we are not of the class of people who have been duped by advertisers into thinking that they should be spending their youths trying to look more youthful, spending their money to be thinner, using their time to get more things.

Yay for us that we didn't listen to those who said you're going to work your job and go home to your couch and watch your tv and eat your fast food. This is how things are done around here.

We heard another voice, just a whisper, that brought us here. And we did all that paperwork and dismantled our lives and got on the plane.

And we had that movie in our head, the one that Michael Eschleman told us about.

But then we got to our sites, and, for some of us, it felt like we walked into the wrong theater. The set was all wrong. The cast was not following our script. We brought all the wrong props. And we're back to being scared.

This is because we mistook ourselves for the screenwriters. We are just the characters. And the characters never get to choose their challenges, only how they will act in the face of those challenges.

Maybe you saw yourself being Campo Cowboy, with bragging rights that you walk 10 miles to your latrine, uphill both ways, but you ended up chuchi.

Or you were hoping for chuchi, and now will find yourself with a lot of time to think, while squatting, about just how long two years is going to be. And you're wondering again - Can I do this?

When that fear starts to creep in, try to find that voice, that whisper, that you listened to in the months before you stepped on the plane. It's a humble voice, that didn't bring you here for the sweet Facebook photos or the captivating blog material. It's something that tells us that there's more to life than what we've found in our own little fishbowl.

And if we stay to find out how our movie turns out, we'll leave with benefits too numerable to list, the least of which is being able to say, "Peace Corps, huh? I did that once."

-Paulette G27

Paulette is a great writer. I highly recommend checking out her blog, Real World Paraguay.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009


In today’s post I would like to share a little information about Peace Corps worldwide. In later posts I plan to elaborate on the specifics of development work within the Peace Corps in general and within the various sectors Peace Corps Paraguay Volunteers are working in particular, but the purpose of this post is simply to provide a little background and a framework from which to understand my future posts concerning my work as a Peace Corps Volunteer.


  1. Origins of Peace Corps
  2. Goals and Mission
  3. Peace Corps Today
Origin of Peace Corps:

At 2:00 a.m. on October 14, 1960, Senator John F. Kennedy addressed students on the steps of the University of Michigan Union. He was on the campaign trail and had stopped for rest, but was met by a crowd of college students eager to hear him speak. On those steps, Kennedy delivered a short but powerful speech that changed the course of history and the lives of so many. Kennedy challenged the students to give two years of their lives to help people in developing countries around the world.

Excerpt from that speech:

“How many of you who are going to be doctors, are willing to spend your days in Ghana? Technicians or engineers, how many of you are willing to work in the Foreign Service and spend your lives traveling around the world? On your willingness to do that, not merely to serve one year or two years in the service, but on your willingness to contribute part of your life to this country, I think will depend the answer whether a free society can compete. I think it can! And I think Americans are willing to contribute. But the effort must be far greater than we have ever made in the past.

Therefore, I am delighted to come to Michigan, to this university, because unless we have those resources in this school, unless you comprehend the nature of what is being asked of you, this country can't possibly move through the next 10 years in a period of relative strength. So I come here tonight to go to bed! But I also come here tonight to ask you to join in the effort...”

In his 1961 Inaugural Address, John F. Kennedy said, “To those peoples in the huts and villages across the globe struggling to break the bonds of mass misery, we pledge our best efforts to help them help themselves…”

Perhaps the most remembered words spoken by the president came later in this same speech when he said, “And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country. My fellow citizens of the world: ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man.”

On March 1, 1961, President John F. Kennedy made good on his promise to those who were impoverished and in need around the world by signing an executive order that established the Peace Corps. Later that year, Congress adopted the Peace Corps Act, the purpose of which was to “promote world peace and friendship through a Peace Corps, which shall make available to interested countries and areas men and women of the United States qualified for service abroad and willing to serve, under conditions of hardship if necessary, to help the peoples of such countries and areas in meeting their needs for trained manpower, particularly in meeting the basic needs of those living in the poorest areas of such countries, and to help promote a better understanding of the American people on the part of the peoples served and a better understanding of other peoples on the part of the American people.”

Thus was the birth of the Peace Corps, a governmental agency that shares “America’s most precious resource—its people” with developing countries around the world. Thousands of Americans responded to Kennedy’s call, and the program grew rapidly. There were 7,300 volunteers serving in 44 countries by the end of 1963. By June of 1966 that number had more than doubled to 15,000, the largest in Peace Corps history. To date more than 195,000 volunteers have served in 139 countries across the world.

Goals and Mission

The three goals implicit in the purpose given to Peace Corps by congress in 1961 are still relevant today and form the foundation for all Peace Corps activities. Those goals are as follows:
  1. To help the people of interested countries in meeting their need for trained men and women
  2. To help promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of the peoples served
  3. To help promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans
Peace Corps Today:

Where are we? (Countries)

We are in developing countries around the world in almost every region...Central America, The Caribbean, South America, Africa, the Middle East, Eastern Europe, Asia, and the Pacific Islands.

Current number of countries served: 70 posts serving 76 countries

Most of us are in Africa, but there are also a lot of us in Eastern Europe, Central Asia, and Central America.

Who are we? (Volunteer Demographics)

Statistically speaking we are single, 20 somethings recently out of undergrad; however, Volunteers come from many different walks of life.

What do we do? (Sectors)

We do development work.

Peace Corps’ idea of development is, “any process that promotes the dignity of people and their capacity to improve their own lives.”

Well that’s great but when a Volunteer in Africa walks out of their hut and into the village, how are they supposed to translate that into something tangible? To help Volunteers navigate the ambiguity of development work, Peace Corps places Volunteers in various sectors, which have sector specific goals and objectives. To accomplish these objectives, Volunteers engage in a range of activities and popular projects that you just kind of hear about during training, by talking to other Volunteers, and reading Peace Corps publications.

Most of us work in Education and Health & HIV/AIDS. Other sectors include Environment, Business Development, Agriculture, Youth Development, and Other.

Additionally, Volunteers in all sectors incorporate meaningful work in information and communication technology (ICT), women in development/gender and development (WID/GAD), HIV/AIDS, and youth development into their primary and secondary activities.

For more information visit this site.

Look for posts in the future, in which I will detail Peace Corps Paraguay, my sector, and give some specifics of the work Volunteers are doing in Paraguay.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

80's Halloween Bash!

October 30th, 2009

Jesus, the Muni Volunteer in neighboring Villa Florida, hosted a Halloween/Birthday Fundraising Party. It was 5,000 Gs ($1) to get in and drinks were 5,000 Gs (80 cents) each. (Yeah a beer here is $1, and that's with the 20 cent markup for fundraising profits!)

The Municipal Development group is having a leadership camp in Janurary so they are in the midst of raising funds. I'm excited to attend this camp because I may plan something similar for San Juan, and I would like to see one in action, so that I can learn from the successes and failures of the camp and generate ideas for how to plan and structure my own should I end up pursuing that idea in the future. This year's camp will focus on introducing youth to leadership principles in the context of volunteerism in order to start creating a culture and spirit of volunteerism in Paraguay.

It was an 80's themed Halloween party. I brought along several of my Paraguayan friends, and helped them create their costumes. I did some research online and came up with some examples of costumes we could create using free and locally available materials. I almost went as the dark side of Karate Kid (kind of like the dark spidey from Spider Man 3 concept). I had a friend who loaned me a black Karate robe and it would have been easy to make the sunburst bandanna. In the end, Juanjo really liked how cool the Blues Brothers outfit looked and had 2 black suits so I abandoned my inner Karate Kid and opted for Elwood, (the cooler, fatter, more funny me).

I borrowed the hat from a friend of Harry's, the tie and sunglasses from Peke, the white shirt from Pancho, and the suit and shoes from Juanjo.

Peke went as David Hodo, the constructor from the Village People, the group who sang the popular hit YMCA. The lady who owns the hardware store, whom I have befriended, loaned me a constructor hat, and a cooperative cable technician loaned me his tool belt, which rounded out Peke's costume.

Harry, named after his father who was a Peace Corps Volunteer who fell for a Paraguayan girl which he impregnated (hence Harry) and abandoned in Paraguay, went dressed in typical 80's fashion...note bubble vest and fingerless gloves. Sadly, Harry's father left his son in Paraguay and was later murdered in Mexico.

Juanjo and I won best costume. The prize was a CD of the best of the 80s and 2 packs of fruit flavored Mentos, the freshmaker.

The party was a bit disappointing, but we had a lot of fun regardless. I imagined a house party full of Volunteers in crazy costumes playing beer pong, flip cup, singing Karaoke, dancing, etc... I had really talked up the party to my Paraguayan friends, who anxiously waited about an hour and a half for a bus that was going towards Villa Florida to get there. Upon arrival we realized the party was in a giant rented out indoor soccer stadium, which made the small quantity of people in attendance appear even smaller.

I'm determined to deliver a first class, American style party to my Paraguayan friends. I guess I'll have to host a party once I have my own house. Despite the fact that the party was vastly different from what I had expected we had a lot of fun.

Peke stole a kiss from Julie, a volunteer who had recently returned from a 6 month medical leave to the States from a foot injury.

After the party ended at about 4 AM we headed to Jesus' two story pad to continue the Halloween festivities. There we just sat around talking and listening to music before passing out in the early morning. Harry fell in love with Julie. Julie...well, Julie was a good sport.

Paraguayans have amazing party stamina. They will often not arrive to the club until 1 or 2 in the morning and will party through the late afternoon.

This is what the Volunteers were doing at 5:00 AM.

This is a picture of what the Paraguayans were doing at the same time.


Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Marcia’s First Communion

October 24th, 2009

Marcia, Peke’s 12 year-old, sister invited me to go to her First Communion and party afterwards.

Every year all the boys and girls in the town who turn 12 during that year attend a ceremony in the Catholic Church known as Primera Comunión. This is the first time they partake of the flesh and blood of Christ. A few days before they confess all their sins in preparation of the ceremony.

During the ceremony they sing, say prayers, read passages, repeat certain phrases, partake of the wine and bread, light candles and wave them around, and receive their first rosemary (the little string of beads used to help keep track of their Hail Mary’s and such).

After this they undergo 3 years of Catholic training before being confirmed at 15.

It was a nice ceremony. Marcia’s Mom wanted me to capture every moment of the ceremony on film, so I stood along the wall towards the front filming every move Marcia made.

She was so cute. The girls dress in white dresses and adorn their hair with white beads and other accessories. Every so often she would look back towards me, smile and wave. I could tell she felt really special to have someone filming her.

The most beautiful part of the ceremony was when they helped each other to light their little candles and waved them around while singing. Unfortunately this is precisely the portion of the service I failed to capture because I accidentally pressed the button to stop recording without realizing it until that part of the ceremony was ending.

People were packed in there pretty tight; many people were left outside to peer in through the windows. I roughly estimated that there had to be at least 600 or so in attendance. I couldn’t help wonder why they don’t have 3 sessions (morning, afternoon, and evening) to more comfortably accommodate all the attendees. I’m sure there is a perfectly logical reason for not having multiple sessions, though I haven’t been able to think of it yet.

After the ceremony we went back to Marcia’s house, where we had dinner. Marcia had a great time taking pictures with my camera.

As it was her Primera Comunión and also birthday, I brought her a gift.

Earlier that day I had gone to a little boutique store owned by one of my friend’s Mom in search of a gift. Nothing jumped out at me, so I decided to let her pick out what she wanted. In America, the gift card is a cop out, an uncreative and lazy alternate to buying a gift, but in Paraguay it’s a new, exciting concept.

I explained the gift card concept to the shop owner. She caught on, and wrote the details on the back of a business card, and then enclosed it in a small, white envelope.

Marcia loved it! I had not only given her a gift, but I had given her something she had never received before. I gave her the opportunity to go shopping and pick out her own gift. She couldn’t wait to go pick out her presents, and she went around the party showing everyone what she had received.

This is one situation where growing up within America’s consumer culture came in handy!