Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Tranquilo en Paraguay

I want to start this blog by answering the most important question one could ask someone serving in the Peace Corps...Why?

Why did I want to leave my comfortable life in America to join the Peace Corps and go live in a third world country?

Reasons Why:

  1. “ leave the world a bit better whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition; to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.” I hope to capture the essence of this quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson during my two years of Peace Corps service. If even one person has a better standard of living because of my efforts, I will consider my service a success.

  2. To develop international development skills and hone Spanish competency

  3. To gain experience within sustainable development, nonprofit or NGO operations, business consulting, and conducting business in Latin America

  4. To have an amazing adventure and many unique experiences

  5. To truly understand another culture

  6. To challenge myself like I’ve never been challenged

  7. To know what it is like to live in the third world and gain a first-hand perspective of the challenges they face

  8. To learn to enjoy life as other cultures do

  9. To develop meaningful relationships with some great people, both locals and other Americans

  10. To travel

Flight and Staging

It has only been a week since I left the States and yet I feel like so much has happened. I flew out from Greenville-Spartanburg on Tuesday morning, May 26th, 2009. My flight from GSP to ATL was at first delayed and then cancelled due to mechanical failure, but by this time I had achieved this zen-like state of mind to the point that nothing could bother me. I had been preparing my mind to withstand discomfort, to remain positive in dismal, gross, and frustrating circumstances, and to do the best with what I had so a cancelled flight only seemed an appropriate way to start my journey.

I was eventually rerouted through Charlotte and after flying in circles above the airport for a few hours finally landed in Miami. I met this really cool lady on the flight from GSP to Charlotte, who was also going to Miami. We hung out and talked the whole time. She was a dentist who could easily have been a history professor. She reads historical non-fiction. She chooses different topics she wants to learn about every year and then devotes a lot of time to learning about those particular topics by reading books related to those topics, generally in history, but not always. Needless to say I had some amazing, interesting, and deep conversation with this woman before we parted ways. As a side note, I love plane relationships. Plane relationships are like real life relationships but at turbo speed. I love how you can meet someone, quickly handle the surface level conversation like name, profession, origin, etc... and then progress onto more meaningful conversation. Before you know it, the plane lands and you say your goodbyes. Even though you only spend a few hours together, they make a small impact on your life, but I digress. Back to the story...

Soon after landing in Miami I got on a shuttle to the hotel I would stay at for a night before leaving for Paraguay. As soon as I got on the shuttle I noticed this girl that I was sure was a fellow Peace Corps Volunteer. Sure enough I heard her mention Paraguay to someone so I turned around and said, “Did you say you were going to Paraguay?” I wanted to say something to the effect of, “I’m so glad to finally meet you. I’ve been waiting for a long time to meet you, and you’re one of the few people in the world who can understand exactly what I’m feeling right now, and because of that I feel a close bond to you even though I don’t know you at all.” Of course I didn’t say that, but we did introduce ourselves and shortly thereafter checked into the hotel together. I went up to my hotel room, where I met my roommate and fellow future rural economic development volunteer. I basically spent the rest of the night taking care of some administrative tasks that had to be done before Peace Corps registration and things that needed to be done before leaving the States.

We had our staging the next morning. It felt so great to be among like-minded people. It was so surreal to meet the people I would share a major life experience with. During staging we all got along so nicely, and we instantly connected and had tons of fun. We did a few fun icebreaker type activities. One that sticks out in my head was called Anxieties and Aspirations. We split into 4 groups and had to depict different anxieties we were experiencing and aspirations we had using only pictures. This was a really fun activity. This is a picture of my group’s poster.

Notice the person running to the outhouse. That was hilarious. At the end of staging they asked us to give an adjective describing how we were feeling at that moment. Quote of the day comes from Angelik, the same girl I met on the bus. She enthusiastically said, “I’m f’n stoked.” Exactly in those words. It was awesome.

Before long we checked out of the hotel, loaded our luggage on a bus and went to the airport, where we waited for about 4.5 hours before departing. As former Peace Corps volunteers, waiting is one thing we are really good at by now, so we had tons of fun doing this as well. We went to a sports bar in the airport, talked, drank, ate, and generally had a good time. Being my last meal in America, I had to make it count, so I ordered twice. The first time I got this chipotle chicken quesadilla and then the next time I ordered a burger. It was great, and it was all paid for by your thank you!

Wheels in the sky. We’re headed to Paraguay! (If you say Paraguay the Spanish way, it rhymes).

First Week

The flight over was quick. I’ve been on a few overnight flights in my life, but this one definitely felt like it flew by. (Hahahaha. By now you should be slapping your knees and rolling on the floor laughing at my incredibly witty pun)

Shout out to Draper. I listened to the playlist you provided on the flights to Paraguay and it was awesome.

When we got to Sao Paulo Brazil I felt like I was in a James Bond video game or something. Here I was working for the US government arriving to Brazil in the early morning, and there was metal stairs and glass walls. Outside in the early morning light I could see transport trucks and men in uniforms standing in groups talking. Inside the people were wearing surgical masks and some wore white coats. It’s as if we were in a nuclear plant or some secret government operation where they were testing bio-weapons.

I was kind of worried because they said there were people at the airport checking for symptoms of the H1N1 virus, and I had a runny nose. Random people, especially Asians were wearing these surgical masks all over the place, and I thought to myself, “Is there an outbreak here or what?”

I met a really cool girl named Lyn, fellow PCT, while waiting for our flight to leave. She went to undergrad b-school at the McCombs School of Business at the University of Texas, Austin. I believe it’s a top 10 program. I think she is a fellow geek, which is why we had a lot to talk about. We got into some interesting discussion about MBAs MPAs Non Profit Management, here experiences, and development and non-profit work in general. The flight to Asuncion from Sao Paulo was short and sweet, and finally we had arrived. Again...the masks...everywhere. Even our Peace Corps staff was wearing them. At this point, Bambi and I were like, “Hold Up. Did we miss something? Where are our masks?”

We were herded outside and separated into two groups, one for the RED (Rural Economic Development) and one for the MSD (Municipal Services Development). The RED group, of which I’m part of, got into a crappy, blue van and headed into the unknown. Seconds after driving off from the airport we saw cows grazing on the side of a main road in Asuncion, which is the capital of Paraguay. I thought this was really cool. Seconds later, we slammed on brakes because two cars in front of us wrecked. We circumvented the wreck, I snapped a photo, and we were off again. Talk about adventure. I hadn’t been in the country 5 minutes, and had already seen swine flu masks, no sink or mirror in the bathroom at the airport, cows grazing on the side of and in the middle of the highway, and a wreck!

As we made our way to our central training site in Guarambare, I noticed the poverty around me. Try to picture this: Buildings are dilapidated and old. There’s junk all around the houses and buildings. Crappy soccer fields, kids with torn clothing, people hustling on the street, selling anything they can to make a living. Shells of cars and old rusty Junkers piled on top of each other. Half paved and uneven roads. It’s like a movie. For the first time in my life, I truly felt like I was in a third world country, and I was....but it was awesome and somehow in the midst of all that I felt tranquil even comfortable.

There is more to come later. I´m going to post about my job description, tell some funny stories, post some pictures, tell about my family and friends, share some cultural and language insights, etc...

Overall, right now I´m really really happy. I love my host family. My fellow volunteers are awesome. Tranquilopa. That´s guarani for everything´s good.

I love and miss you all!