Monday, July 20, 2009

I Killed A Chicken

The last few days have been pretty exciting and fun.

Thursday, July 2nd, 2009 – I killed my first chicken!

It was just another normal Thursday until my Mom announced that she was going to kill a chicken and wanted to know if I would do it, since my Dad wasn’t home and she won’t do it. She knew I was down for it because I viewed the killing and preparation of the last chicken, and let them know that I wanted to kill one sometime. Mike had already told me he wanted to see a killing, so the next time we killed a chicken to let him know. I ran down to Mike’s house to tell him that I was about to “matar.” He was actually next-door at Liz’s having a drink. I show up at Liz’s to let him know, and Liz, Carlos, and Mary were also there. They finished up their drinks; we played a few songs by System of a Down to get me pumped, and we headed out.

We arrived and by this time my Dad was back. I changed clothes, so I wouldn’t dirty up the pants that Mike was going to borrow the next day, and then headed out back to do the deed. Much to my surprise, my Mom reached into a bag and handed me a chicken and then reached in a pulled out another. Then she turned to Carlos and invited him to kill one too. He was said, “No Gracias,” but Mike said, “Podria Yo (Could I).” He was soo excited.

I’ll save you the gory details, but suffice it to say that Mike and I loss our chicken killing virginity together in Paraguay on July 2nd, 2009.

Friday, July 3rd, 2009 – Mercado Abasto, Incoop, and Embassy Visit

We woke up early on Friday morning to go to Asunción for the day. We arrived to Mercado Abasto, Paraguay’s largest produce market, by about 7:00. We spoke with someone there about the operations of the market, and then explored for a while.

After that we went to INCOOP. Think of INCOOP as the SEC of Cooperatives in Paraguay. We were supposed to speak with the President, but in true Paraguayan fashion, he didn’t show up, so we spoke with the Head Project Coordinator. We had a really interesting conversation, which was followed by a tour of every floor and almost every office in the building, including the President’s. I snapped some good photos and we were off to the Embassy for a 4th of July party.

I forgot my Peace Corps ID at home, and to make matters worse had no form of identification at all so I thought they wouldn’t let me in. Much to my surprise, they let me just walk right through. All I had to do was tell them I was a Peace Corps trainee, and write my name on a piece of paper.

The party was really fun. I definitely overindulged. I had 2 hamburgers, 1 hotdog, Ice cream, 4 brownies, 3 cookies, this other chocolate treat, and several drinks. After stuffing our faces with delicious American-like food, we pretty much just walked around meeting different people, mostly volunteers and some embassy workers. Some people played volleyball, others played a bit of soccer, but most people just sat at tables and talked.

Around 5, we walked back to the old blue van, piled in, and headed home.

Saturday, July 4th, 2009- Happy 4th of July!!!

I woke up on the morning of July 4th thinking about what I would likely being doing if I were at home and with whom. I thought about how I usually meet up with Clint Shelton to go to the same party every year on the lake. We eat amazing food (like these incredible spicy meatballs), and then shoot off a ton of fireworks that night. I remember one 4th of July, I was on the road back home from Arizona, and I could see fireworks in the sky as I drove down the interstate. I stopped off in Tennessee to spend the rest of the night of the 4th with Jeff. I was thinking of my friends back home and what they probably were doing, and I wondered if by chance my empty space was noticed. So if you’re reading this Clint Shelton, I miss you man, and I hope you ate enough for the both of us, and shot off my portion of the fireworks.

I had a pretty fun July 4th nevertheless. For most of the day, I played with the kids in the family. We created a basketball court beside the house, and I taught them how to play. We drew lines in the dirt to make the perimeter of the court, and then we set up a barrel at each end of the court. Paulo, Jessica, Jacquelin, Mary, Junior, and I played. We had a ton of fun. Later on, I started hanging out with all the guys near where my brothers work. We started drinking. Mike and Carlos came over, and all of us played volleyball in the pouring rain and then took refuge in the shed where we drank, joked, and made beats on the bottoms of barrels.

Technical Excursion to Villa Rica (Rich Town)

The RED group went to Villa Rica, Spanish for Rich Town, for Friday and part of Saturday. We all piled in the van early on Friday morning and set out on a 3-hour road trip. I brought along my portable IPod speakers so I dedicated songs to people and took requests. We even had a brief Michael Jackson tribute by playing a few of his most famous songs. It’s amazing how many people asked me about Michael Jackson’s death. If you think Paraguay is disconnected from the rest of the world...think again.

We went to a small savings and loan cooperative when we arrived. It was great to see a volunteer success story since we had been hearing pretty much failure stories from all the volunteers we had been talking with. Brennan has managed to reduce the cooperative’s default rate pretty significantly and has created some amazing spreadsheets to organize and achieve more efficiency within the operations of the cooperative. He has managed to make his work sustainable by training the one employee the cooperative has on how to create and maintain everything he created in Excel. After the visit we went to Brennan’s house for lunch. Brennan lives in Paradise. His house is one of 4 houses in a compound. There is beautiful landscaping, a giant pool, and just beauty all around him. We ate lunch and then headed for ice cream in the city center. On the way to get ice cream, we stopped by to see these Carpinchos, the world’s largest rodent. They were like giant guinea pigs or hamsters. I had to try to touch one of them. So I went in ever so slowly. I was actually really scared because I didn’t know if it might snap around and attack me when I got to close or touched it. But I managed to gather up enough courage and petted it. I thought it would be soft, but its hair was actually quite coarse. The ice cream was pretty amazing, since we don’t get treats like that too often.

After the ice cream excursion, we were driven to the houses we would stay at for the night. When we arrived, Brennan basically walked me into a house, introduced me and told the old man and woman in the living room I would be staying with them tonight, and then told me I would have a good time, and left. Haha. We exchanged a few words, and then the old man showed me to my room. He told me to sit down, and we began talking. It was kind of awkward at first, and I struggled to keep coming up with questions to ask. We talked for a bit, and then went to the kitchen to get some dinner. We ate and conversed, and then returned to the living room where we watched telenovelas. Then he took me to another room, which had a bigger TV, brought in some chairs, and we sat there watching TV. Something that struck me while we were watching TV was the hesitance to channel surf. We watched the first thing that came on for a while and then he finally changed the channel once. I have noticed this elsewhere as well. Paraguayans don’t channel surf like we do. We rapidly navigate through the channels to find something of interests, surf during commercials, and even watch a few different things at once. This contrasts quite sharply with the TV-watching behavior of Paraguayans.

After some time, one of his daughters showed up and rescued me by taking me to a volleyball game. We went to this giant gym, owned and operated by the municipality, where we watched a few games, including one the daughter played in. While watching the games, we drank Caña and coke and had general conversation. Volleyball is slightly different in Paraguay too. Each team has six players on the court. They play to 25 points, and then switch sides and play to 25 again. If the team that won the first round doesn’t win the second round, they play another round to 15 to decide the winner. I was watching them play, and was shocked when one of the players kicked the ball. This is one of the major differences between American style and Paraguayan style volleyball.

After the volleyball games, we walked back to the house, where we sat around drinking more Caña and coke and watching telenovelas and movies. Around 1:00 AM, I went to bed.

The next day we had to meet at Brennan’s coop at 8:00 AM. We waited on Adam and Mike for a while and then decided to go get them. As we starting pulling off, we saw them walking up the street through the back window. We told Jonathan, our trainer and driver, to keep going to make them think we left them. He did and we circled the block and came up behind them. It was really hilarious.

We went downtown and had about 20 minutes to wonder around the market. Carlos and I went searching for some breakfast. We go inside the market to this place where these ladies make fresh food for you. I tried explaining to them I wanted to just get two fried eggs to go, while Carlos explained he wanted something to go. After some horrible Spanish on the part of Carlos, a woman walked up with soup in a bag. We looked at each other and laughed. Then they tried to sell him some meat. Flies were landing on it, it looked like it had been sitting there a while and didn’t look nearly as appeasing as this other meat a few feet away. I told Carlos I wouldn’t by that meat, and once he had a chance to process it, he decided to just give up on the whole thing, but didn’t know how to disengage with the women. I was like, “Dude, just say Gracias, and walk away.” He ended up doing something of that sort, and we headed back to the van.

We went to an A poi cooperative and talked to the volunteer who is currently working there. Apo is the traditional style of making clothes in Paraguay. A poi is rooted in Paraguay’s history. One of the previous dictators closed Paraguay’s borders to imports, so the people had to make clothes from materials they had available. They sew very basic designs on the front of the shirts; usually they are two stripes running vertically down the shirt. Making A poi became part of the culture, so the tradition survived even after the borders opened back up. Then we piled back in the van to head back to Paso de Oro. On our way back, we stopped off at an American-style diner. I ate two delicious hamburgers. Paraguayans like to put a fried egg on top of their hamburger patty, and usually eat them with a knife and fork. I went with one of the two cultural traditions....the egg, and now I’m a big fan of fried egg hamburgers.

After we arrived back in Paso de Oro, I went with my family to my sister, Nilda’s, birthday party in Ipane. It had rained on her birthday, which was right after Dia de San Juan, so the party was postponed until this day. We sat around drinking beer and screaming to each other over really loud American classic rock. The kids played games in the front of the house, while the adults sat around and talked. We mostly talked, or rather argued, about soccer. There are two main fútbol clubs in Paraguay, Olympia and Cerro. At this point, Olympia has won 3 international championships and Cerro has none. Olympia also has 10 more National championships than Cerro. Olympia and Cerro recently played each other, and I let the outcome of the game determine which club I would be a fan of. Olympia won, so I’m now an Olympista, and therefore on the winning side of the statistics. Cerro is doing well this year and is positioned well to win the championship, so Augusto, my brother, and I were catching some crap from the Cerro fans, mostly Eladio, my brother-in-law. But since Olympia has won 9 more national championships, beat Cerro this year, and has 3 international championships, we were handing it to them. So we were using logical argument to make our case of how Olympia is a better club, and they resorted to just screaming out Cerro! Cerro! Cerro! Haha.

We all sat around a long table and ate the birthday dinner. After that, we talked some more over loud American music. Then we all piled in Hector’s truck and began the long bumpy ride back to Paso de Oro. On the way, we went through downtown Ipane, which was having a major festival. There were thousands of people everywhere, carnival rides, and a crazy long line for a dance outside the municipality.

Dia de San Juan

Dia de San Juan is a big holiday in Paraguay, and as far as I know, every other predominantly Catholic country.

I think the premise is something like San Juan can’t see anything you do on this day, and San Juan liked games and fire. So all over the country, people throw parties to honor this saint. Even though there is a specific day, the festivities start shortly before the actual day and continue for a week or so afterwards. They have a ton of traditional games and food to go along with the holiday. The kids celebrate at school during the day with games like draw the tail on the pig (a variant of pin the tail on the donkey), piñata but with ceramic pots instead of piñatas, and some of the pots contain water, others flour, and some candy. Another game is like a sac race.

At night the adults celebrate. In one game, they wrap a soccer ball in pantyhose, set it on fire, and then play a game of soccer with the ball of fire. This is crazy to see especially when three or four balls are going at once. Balls of Fire are flying all over the place. One ball came flying towards me but missed by about a foot or so. Another game is to grease up a long pole and put prizes at the top. People have to try to climb to the top to get the prizes, but they can’t get a grip so they keep falling down. I hear a common strategy used is to create a human staircase. They couldn’t manage to get to the top of the pole during the one I saw, so they just shook it until it fell down. While the activities are going on there is a designated person dressed as a bull, whose horns are set afire. The bull then runs through the crowd and tries to cause chaos. But his whole mission is to get Caña and cigarettes, which are guarded by someone with a stick. Anytime the bull gets close, the guard pelts him with the stick. The bull has to try to wait until the guard is distracted to have a chance to go grab his Caña and cigarettes, which are usually located in a hole. These are but a few of the fun and totally safe games played during San Juan. The Kambá are a designated group of people who participate in all the games. They come to the party dressed either as a woman or in costumes that are like a cross between Tacky Day and Halloween. Then they proceed to dance and grope all over each other and just generally run amok. They play fight, fall down, scare kids and girls, and harass adults for coins, cigarettes, and Caña. After dancing a while, they go out and play the games I was talking about before. There are also foods typical to the holiday. I don’t remember much about them except for the fact that they are, like most foods in Paraguay, fried and consist mostly of carb-based ingredients.

Parties are held at parks, houses, schools, and even Churches. The schools will organize a San Juan party in which the children will start the night off by dancing traditional Paraguayan dances while dressed in traditional Paraguayan outfits. Then the Kambá will come out and dance, play the games, and run amok. All this is followed by a normal dance. During all the activities, refreshments (popcorn, beer, sodas, empanadas, mbeju, sticks with meat on them, etc...) are sold.

Fiesta de Cumpleaños-Paraguayan/American Style Birthday Party

Paraguayans + Americans + A birthday= A really good time

We had a birthday party for Angelic at my house. It was a really good time. A few days before, I passed around a sheet asking people to sign up to bring something to the party. I provided the house, the decorations and the chicken. We started out the evening with singing Happy Birthday to Angelic in 3 languages. I think the Paraguayans especially liked the English version, because even a week after the party, I overheard my little niece singing it. Then everyone stood around drinking and conversing.

We moved on to dinner, cutting of the cake (which true to Paraguayan tradition, the Birthday girl cut), and then we drank and danced the night away. It was like a Paraguayan/American hybrid style birthday party, which makes for a great party. It was a great blend of Americans and Paraguayans of all ages.

Paraguayans drink in groups. Usually they fill one glass and pass it around. Americans, being the individualists and germophobes we are, give everyone their own glass. So it must have been weird for the Paraguayans to receive their own glass full of the beverage of their choice. I think some of them secretly liked it though.

My camera broke, and my brother, Agusto, had taken it into the city to be fixed. He didn’t arrive with it until late in the party, but I did manage to snag a few pics...

Check Out These Pictures

PCV Site Visit

I just returned from a visit to a Peace Corps Volunteer’s site. The purpose of this visit was to give us an idea of what life might be like once we are out of training and actually in our site. Each person was assigned to a different volunteer. I was assigned to a volunteer who lives way out in the campo in Caaguazú. I had to wake up and leave my house by 5:00 AM on Saturday morning and take a bus to the terminal in Asunción where I met up with Her. Then we took about a 5-hour bus ride to Oleary. From there we took a taxi to the lake. You have to cross a lake via balsa (barge) to get to her site. The people that run the balsa won’t take just a few people across so we had to wait for a while for a big truck to show up so the people that run the balsa would have a big enough incentive to entice them to cross. Sure enough a big truck showed up and we crossed. We actually hitched a ride in this truck from the other side of the lake to her site.

She lives in a very humble shack of a house. She has electricity...sometimes but does not have running water and certainly not a modern bathroom. I stayed there Saturday, Sunday, and Monday night and then left out early on Tuesday morning. We didn’t have much to do when we got there on Saturday and She was tired from the trip so she went to sleep at like 6:00. People in the campo go to bed super early. I stayed up and watched V for Vendetta and Thank You For Not Smoking on her laptop in the kitchen. On Sunday we walked a decent distance to one of her friend’s house to t-ray (that’s a verb for the act of sitting around in a circle drinking tererre). We t-rayed for a while and they spoke Guarani and I just listened and daydreamed. She said if we just kind of hung out for a bit they would probably invite us to eat, so this was our strategy for lunch. Sure enough after t-raying for about an hour, the Senora of the house invited us to come eat. We ate, and shortly after left because it was getting boring, and I was antsy. We needed a change in scenery so we walked down the road looking for someone else to t-ray with. We arrived at this super lindo (really nice) place, where we sat around talking with this woman, her son, and his friend. We spoke Spanish here so I was in my element again. We played soccer, listened to old-school American hip-hop, and just sat around drinking coke and talking. It was pretty fun. Later we went back to Her house where we prepared a dinner and watched some more movies. This time it was A Beautiful Mind and some weird movie that I slept through. Later, we prepared a charla (small lesson) we were going to give at the local school the next day. The next day we walked 7 km to a school, which I don’t know what that is in miles, but I can assure you it’s a lot. This site is Paraguay’s second largest producer of bananas. Accordingly we were basically walking on a dirt road, which runs through giant banana fields. We got to the school during recess and the kids were all playing. There was this giant soccer game going on in which about 40 kids were running all over this little makeshift soccer field scrambling after the ball. Once recess ended we went into a class and delivered our lesson.

Now is a great time to comment on Paraguay’s education system, which is, as you can imagine, less than ideal. Basically the teaching method is to have kids copy straight from the board and then have them memorize the information. They are never asked to think critically or apply concepts they learn. When they do a homework assignment or a test, they basically just copy straight from their notes and/or someone else’s paper. However, this is not considered cheating here. Apart from all this is the fact that they only attend for a few hours a day, and they don’t go if it even sprinkles rain, there is any type of holiday, which they have a lot of, or if they are sick in the slightest way.

Now, back to the story. The volunteer I was assigned to is a RED volunteer, but basically does nothing to do with business development. She teaches environmental and health education at this school one day a week. However, she is a super guapo (I can’t translate that) volunteer. She has a functioning garden, a compost pile, a hand dug trash pit, and she gets her water from a well, boils it, showers outside in a little shack with a yogurt cup, and uses the bathroom in an outhouse with a little hole in the floor. The day’s lesson was about the importance of water and it’s function in the body. I read descriptions from a paper, and She would explain in Guarani and give examples. Then we sang a few songs about this. The whole time we were talking the whole class was in disarray. There were little clicks all over the class. One click was talking, snickering, and passing notes...most assuredly they were making fun of us. Another click was working on a homework assignment, and moving desks around. There was this one girl, the classic overachiever, who paid attention and responded to questions. The kids cracked me up several times during the class because they would say or do funny things while She was teaching/singing. Anyway, we left the school and went to her friend’s place to wait around on a bus back. I played this sweet game I made up with this kid. We took turns throwing mandarins at this cart. The person who hit it the most times won. The bus came; we went back to Her and prepared a bean concoction and Mexican tortillas. Then we watched some more movies and ate popcorn. Later we went to bed and the next morning I left to go back.

While there, She and I had some interesting conversation about development work and different development philosophies and their effectiveness. We talked about the Grameen Bank and micro-finance in general, the effect of governmental corruption at all levels on Paraguay’s rural economies, and other similar topics. I learned that I want to have running water and electricity in my site for sure and I would rather not live in quite so small a town. I also hope I get a site that has a functional coop that wants to work with me and is motivated to try new things and is educated enough to at least work on some projects and discuss business in general.

Overall, it was a good visit.


Tapeapóvo is Guarani for hacer camino. Hacer camino is Spanish for something like to take a trip. This was the title for our technical session today. We had something like a professional scavenger hunt in Asunción. We were split into groups of two and then given a slip of paper with the name of two organizations, their respective addresses, what they do, and questions to asks and materials to gather. Then we had to make our way to the capital city, accomplish our mission, get some lunch and make it to the Peace Corps office by 1:00 PM. I was paired with Dina, a 50 or 60 something, married Municipal Services Development trainee. She’s awesome. She came to Paraguay with her husband, Arthur. They are seriously a cool couple. For example, they bought a sailboat and left the states for like 5 years to sail around Mexico, the Caribbean, and Panama. They got jobs in Panama to make some money and ended up living there for a little while. Anyway, being that Dina and I are somewhat seasoned travelers, we had no problem finding our destinations. First we went to Decidamos, which is an NGO (non-governmental organization) which provides various training materials and trainings to groups that are working to fight for human rights, increase citizen participation in local government, increase transparency, and fight against government corruption. They basically have all these little workbooks that someone can use to give seminars on various topics. They provide the workbooks for a small fee and will send out a volunteer to facilitate the seminar as long as there are at least 40 people in attendance. They won’t be a very valuable resource to me as an economic development Volunteer but would be very valuable to the Municipal Services group. Next we went to another NGO, but they were in the middle of planning a big forum, so we didn’t have the opportunity to question them. I did, however, manage to get a business card and a brochure out of them.

Next we made our way to the Peace Corps office. We wanted to just find the location and then go grab a bite to eat. We arrived with plenty of time to spare, so we started walking down the street to find something to eat. I was hoping to run across a Pizza Hut, Subway, KFC, even McDonald’s....wishful thinking. We ran into two other volunteers, who said they were going to this market to eat but that there was a mall a little less than a mile away. I wanted to change some money and get something resembling American food. I had the feeling that Dina probably wouldn’t want to walk that far so I suggested she go with the other two and we could meet back up at the Peace Corps office. I found a super nice bank, where I changed some dollars, which gets a great exchange rate here not to mention the low cost of living. Then I was off to find the mall, which hopefully would have some American fast food. I found that, and the closest I got to good American food, was a Pizza place. It was pretty dang delicious given the fact that I hadn’t had anything particularly tasty by this point. I had three pieces left over, so I brought them with me. I was running late so I hightailed it back to the Peace Corps Office. On the way this boy on the street approached me and wanted some Pizza...I’ll leave you to wonder what I did but keep in mind that I am in the Peace Corps!

I made it to the Peace Corps office with time to kill. The Peace Corps office is not at all like I imagined it to be, but it is cool nonetheless. It is a compound of buildings surrounded by a big, brick wall with barbed wire on top. To get in you have to go through this tiny guard office and pass through a metal detector. Of course you have to provide appropriate ID, which is a card issued to us by Peace Corps. That kind of felt pretty cool. I felt important. Haha. We debriefed the experience and shared information about the places we visited. We were registered with the State Department to give us access to the computers and Internet. We were given a tour of the library, which I have to be honest was less than impressive. The library was small, looked outdated, and had one employee, which has worked there for like 30 years. There is like 5 computers. There was one resource I was really interested in but it is kind of useless since you have to travel to Asuncion to access it, and it is housed in a few file cabinets, so it makes it incredibly difficult to quickly sift through a lot of information in order to find the exact thing you need. It would be great if they would scan it all and put it online in a searchable database. I think Peace Corps would do well to invest in host country libraries and even more so internet-based, internal knowledge sharing and collaboration tools. The problem is that we operate with a tiny budget. Peace Corps represents one percent of the foreign operations budget (about 343.5 million dollars in 2009). I was shocked to find out that our budget equals something like what is spent in a day in Iraq. If we were given even 5 percent of what is spent on the military, we could probably do some amazing things. Anyway, after the library tour we had had a session with our APCD (Associate Peace Corps Director) and her support staff concerning site selection methodology. It was really pretty inside the compound. It was kind of cool to see Obama’s picture front in center in the main Peace Corps office.

A Typical Day

A typical day in the life of a Peace Corps Trainee in Paraguay (with commentary for your entertainment):

6:30 AM- The first few days I would wake up to the sound of roosters crowing. I don’t wake up because of them anymore. I usually wake up to the sound of my Mom knocking on my door. I say, “Mba’éichapa neko’e” That’s Guarani for Good Morning, how did you sleep, or more literally, how did you wake up this morning. Then I usually snooze a different than the states. Some habits just don’t change no matter where in the world you are. Then I get up, go start the shower so it can be warming up. I take a slow, warm shower, then I quickly get dressed in order to make it to class on time. I chug down my breakfast (usually just a cup of really good coffee), and say Jajatopata (see you later) as I leave the house for school, which is just a short walk down a dirt road.

7:45 AM- I get to school by 7:45 and sit through several hours of Guarani class. Sometimes it’s fun, sometimes it frustrating, and sometimes it’s boring. There are 10 people in the Rural Economic Development group, of which 3 are learning Guarani. So my class consists of myself, Miguel, Adam and the Profesora. We get a few breaks before lunch so it’s not so bad.

11:45 AM- At around 11:45 we break for lunch. I walk down the road to my house and usually some of the guys at the recycling place yell out my name and I throw a hand up and say something like Hola! Of course Mary and Fabiola are usually waiting for me by the street so I walk up and enthusiastically greet them. Then I say “Mbaeichapa asaje” to my father, who is usually drinking terrere with a few people in front of our house. Then I walk inside, greet my Brother and Mom, and then play a bit with the kids or sit around drinking terrere with my Dad, or just hang out talking to my Mom and Sister while they prepare lunch. Then we eat as a family. Lunch is the biggest meal of the day. We usually have something like a soup or pasta and of course mandioca. Mandioca is their staple food to eat with everything. It’s like bread in America. They say it’s not comida if it doesn’t have Mandioca. It’s hard to describe what Mandioca is like. It’s a root vegetable, kind of like a potato, but longer. Its consistency is like a potato but more moist. I’m not a huge fan of it but I can eat it. Anyway, we sit around at the table chatting for a bit after lunch, and before long I have to leave to return to class.

1:00 PM- I get back to school by 1:00 and we have a few hours of technical learning. Some of our topics recently have included small business consulting, financial analysis, cooperatives, feasibility studies and entrepreneurship, micro economy of the farm family, and marketing and commercialization. We really don’t even scratch the surface of these topics. Sometimes we go on a field trip. We’ve been to 2 savings and loan coops and a coop that produces A poi, which is a traditional method of making clothes and other things out of hand-sewn cloth. We went to 2 farms, one small farm that grows strawberries and another larger one that grows a variety of crops. We visited a small business owner who makes candies at her home and then walks the streets of San Lorenzo to sell them. Soon we are going to the biggest market in Paraguay, Mercado Abasto, and to INCOOP (sort of the SEC of Cooperatives). We have trainee-facilitated charlas about the technical topic of the day and sometimes Volunteers come in to discuss their experiences working within that area.

5:00 PM- I get out of class, walk back down the street and repeat the same process as when I walked and arrived home at lunch. This time, I usually walk up to where Hector, my older brother is working, and hang out with them a bit, play with the kids for a while, and talk to the rest of my family.

8:00 PM- Around 8:00, Mama will announce “Oima la cena...Peju jacena” (Guarani for Dinner’s ready...lets eat). Dinner is usually something light, just a small plate of soup, pasta or some kind of meat and rice concoction.

8:30 PM- At this point the night could go in one of several directions and it depends on whether or not there is a soccer game on that night. When there is an important fútbol game, a bunch of people will come over to watch the game. This is really fun, because a bunch of men huddle outside in front of a small television and pass Caña, Paraguay’s interpretation of whiskey, mixed with Coca-Cola while critiquing every move the professionals make. Then they go crazy after a goal or missed opportunity. The kids are running around playing, so needless to say I’m never bored. If there isn’t a fútbol game on we might watch telenovelas (Spanish soap operas). Paraguayans love them some Telenovelas. The telenovelas are crazy too. I have noticed some common themes. It usually involves prostitutes and girls that are upset about their small boobs, or in true soap opera fashion, a tangled web of relationships, violence, and adultery. Other times we’ll make up some Mate Dulce (this delicious sweet drink), and sit around drinking it. I’ll play some games with the kids, play football or volleyball, or just stand around and hang out for a while over where my older brother, Hector works. Usually the men are finishing up work and are just standing around drinking Caña. Hector will tell me stories or they’ll have tons of fun teaching me bad words and sayings in Guarani. Before too much longer, I’m winding it down to go to bed.

9:30-11:00 PM- I usually go to bed sometime between 9:30 and 11:00.

(Deviations from the norm)- On Wednesdays we go to Guarambaré, where we have general training sessions on things like health, safety, culture, development philosophy and training and facilitation methods. We even learned how to build a huerta (a garden) surrounded by a fence made of bamboo. Along with this session they taught us how to compost. It was interesting but I doubt I’ll ever build my own garden…too much of a time commitment for me. Other topics have included how to work with youth, differences in romance and relationships in Paraguay, non-formal education methods, Paraguayan culture, STDs, Sexual Harassment and assaults, and Dental care and general preventive health techniques. To get to Guarambaré we take a bus from Paso de Oro to Kilometre 23. From there we catch another bus to Guarambaré. The whole thing only takes about 40 minutes so it’s not too bad.

The weekends are also different. On Saturdays we only have class until 12:00, and we don’t have class on Sundays. On these days I just spend a lot of time hanging out with the family and getting in some R & R. Sometimes we go to the cancha (soccer field) on Sundays to watch Paso de Oro play. Also my brother and my brother-in-law play on small-time teams, so sometimes I might go to the local cancha to watch them play as well. It must be noted that the national religion in Paraguay is....nope...not Catholicism as you may have suspected but, in fact fútbol. Accordingly, Sundays are almost entirely devoted to fútbol.

There you have it: ­­­a typical day in the life of a Peace Corps Rural Economic Development Trainee in Paraguay. Check back a few months from now to see how this differs with the typical day in the life of a Peace Corps Volunteer.

Meet My Family

My host father’s name is Ramon. He is such a good man. I would consider him to be a community leader. He has founded several commissions and clubs. One project he has been working on for 5 years is trying to get the road that runs in front of our house paved. He is also the Vice-President of a soccer club he helped found 3 years ago. He dreamed of founding this soccer club in Paso de Oro over 20 years ago. He loves soccer and wanted to provide a positive place for young people to go. Instead of getting drunk, doing drugs, and committing crimes, they could come to the soccer field. He is in the process of developing Paso de Oro’s first soccer field. He provides for so many in and around our house. He is a very soft-spoken, open minded, and caring man. He opened up his house and heart to me. I admire him a lot.

My host mother’s name is Basilia. She is crazy! She is very light-hearted and extroverted. She is constantly joking around. She loves to laugh. She also is a great cook. Every Saturday night she cooks empanadas, which people from around the community come to buy. Everyone says she cooks the best empanadas, and I agree. They are delicious. She is also very kind, and is such a hard worker. Here in Paraguay the women do almost everything. She cooks, cleans, washes clothes, looks after the animals, buys everything needed for the house and small store they own, and manages the store. We have similar personality types, so we get along great.

My host brother’s name is Augusto. He is 31 years old and is incredibly smart. He attended University but had to drop out in order to provide for his wife and child. Now he’s divorced, well more like separated because they aren’t officially divorced, but is still a great dad to Junior, his son, my nephew. I would say he is a general technician. He knows how to install and repair heating and air systems, plumbing, electrical, among other types of systems. He can also repair appliances, televisions, computers, and other electronics. He also is good on the software side of computers. He works for a HVAC company and also is co-owner of another general repair company. Apart from being incredibly handy and a great dad, he is very kind, always willing to lend a helping hand, open minded, and knows a little about everything. Already we’ve had several deep conversations relating to politics, history, economic development, and the nature of the education, health, and cooperative system in Paraguay. He goes to great lengths to help me out and make sure I’m comfortable. I couldn’t ask for a better brother.

My host sister lives in a house right next to our house. Her name is Mirian. Mirian is incredibly caring and works very hard around her house and mine. She washes my clothes and cleans my room. She is basically a magician. I fell in a mud hole one night and my shoes were basically one big pile of mud, and within a few days they looked as good as the day I bought them. Mirian is married to Eladio. Together they have 2 daughters, Mary and Fabiola. Mary is 7 years old and Fabiola about 5 years old. Mary is very smart and talks like an auctioneer. I can barely understand a word that comes out of her mouth so I have to remind her often to slow down when talking to me. I taught Mary how to play Go Fish and she loves it. She is constantly asking to play “pesca,” which is Spanish for Go Fish. Fabiola is the love of my life. She is very outgoing and constantly laughing and playing. We get along so great. She is already thinking of the day when I will leave and has told her Mom that she doesn’t want me to go. Every day she waits for me to come home from class outside her house or mine. When she sees me coming she lets out a loud and strung out “BRAAAAAAAD.” I recently left for a few days and she gave me a picture to remember her by while I was gone. She also gave me this little house made of Popsicle sticks. We dance and play a lot together and whenever I hear her cry or seem upset, I’m quick to respond and be by her side to comfort her and make her feel better.

Hector is my older brother. He lives in a house a little behind our house. Hector is a hard-worker and likes to joke around. He owns a small business recycling paper behind our house. He basically buys mixed paper and cardboard by the kilo from printers and other businesses who generate a lot of this type of product, bags it up and brings it home in a truck. Then he and about 5 other jokesters stand around a table separating out the paper into different piles. Then he bags those up and sells them to a big factory for more than he purchased it. He says work is like a game for him. Plus working is fun because it’s just a bunch of guys working together. While working they joke a lot, listen to music, and take a lot of breaks to eat or drink terrere (more on terrere later). Hector is the oldest son. He drinks his fair share, and used to fight a lot. Apparently he is quite the fighter. He told me some crazy stories and this one guy he taught a lesson to makes sure to say hello and asks how he is doing every time he sees him. But Hector, like most Paraguayans, has a good heart. He gave me an agenda to use for my homework assignments, and he carried me with him to Asuncion to buy paper. I felt like a little kid again. He took care of me the whole day. I felt like a little kid again riding along with my grandpa, Papa D. He would point out houses and work places of our family and explain how we are related. He also showed me the major markets in Asuncion, the Coca Cola factory, and even took me to the Yogurt factory to try yogurt. Hector is married and has 3 children. Paulo is 18, Jessica is going on 17 soon, and Jacqueline is 12. I really like to hang out with them. They are my nephews but feel more like cousins. Paulo is really helpful, curious, and playful. He likes to run around barefooted. He lacks just a little bit to graduate High School. He dropped out, but later decided he wanted to go back but his Dad won’t let him because of financial concerns along with the fact that he quit. Jessica is in High School, and wants to either be a doctor, a model, or a veterinarian. I told her this would probably change many more times but the important thing is to go to college period. Jacqueline is very shy. She doesn’t talk much, but she is very kind-hearted. She gives me candy and is always quick to help out when she sees an opportunity to do so. I think I’m breaking through her shy exterior though because she is talking to me more and more, and we hug every time we see each other.

I have two more sisters, Miguelina and Nilda. Miguelina has a daughter named Jennifer. Jennifer lived in my room for about a year while her Mom was working in Spain. Now, her Mom is back and is teaching Spanish and Guarani in a school not too far from my house. Miguelina is the most sophisticated of the bunch. She speaks more properly, seems more educated, and dresses nicely. She is very nice. She likes to correct my Spanish. I actually love it because I learn a lot when I’m around her. Nilda has a son named Darwen. I haven’t seen much of them. They live in a town over from ours. They come over ever so often to eat lunch. I can tell Nilda is very kind-hearted and somewhat shy. Nilda’s husband, Tony is a great guy. I recently went to their house for Nilda’s birthday party. Their house is very humble, yet Darwen has a ton of great quality books and even a computer. His Dad invests in his education and makes big sacrifices in order to do so. Paraguay could use a lot more fathers like Tony. He also loves American music, primarily classic rock from the 70’s.

That’s my family. I love them. We have tons of fun together, and they are all incredibly nice. I have 5 siblings. I guess I’m making up for being an only child now. I love having a close brother and sister. It’s a unique relationship I’ve never experienced before. I don’t know how I will leave these people because I have grown to love them so much in such a short amount of time.

Orientation and House

June 7th, 2009

We had some brief orientation sessions at the central training site in Guarambaré, and then we had interviews, which they used to determine family placements. I basically told them I just wanted a family that was really nice, talked a lot, liked to have fun, and cooked well.

During the orientation I asked the question of which way we go when going in for the customary two-sided cheek kiss. They said always go left.

Shortly after we drove out to our community, Paso de Oro (Golden Road) to meet our families. This was both an exciting and nerve-racking time. I wasn’t so sure of my family placement because my sheet of paper said I was with a man and woman both in their mid fifties, and a 31 year old son. Other people had small children, teenagers, or even young adults in their family, so I’ll admit I was a bit jealous and wasn’t sure I had received the right placement. I mean, what if the father and mother were old and boring and the son was some weirdo still living with his parents. When we arrived, there was this one particular woman who seemed like the leader of the group. She was very animated and lively. She was cracking jokes and talking in a boisterous manner. She greeted all of us as we walked up to the house. Once we were all together, they called out our names and the family to which we were assigned. They called out my name and then the family name. Sure enough, it was the very animated woman who would be my Paraguayan mother for 3 months. She went ballistic. She was so happy. I navigated my way through the luggage and people to where she was standing in went in for the two-sided cheek kiss. In the midst of all the excitement, I went in the wrong way and caught like half lips, half cheek. It was so awkward for me, but looking back on it, it’s hilarious. She went into this frenzy of excitement in which she strung together Spanish and Guarani so quickly that I couldn’t understand hardly anything, but nevertheless, we were very happy to be together. She told me she knew I was her son the moment I stepped off the van. Whether this is true or not is yet to be determined because other trainees said their mothers said the same thing. Haha.

My house is awesome. We have electricity, an indoor bathroom, running water, hot water for the shower, and even cable television. this the Peace Corps? They must be easing me into adjusting to this new lifestyle. Surely it won’t be like this when I get into my permanent site. We have like 50 chickens and ducks behind the house, 3 pigs, a pet bird named Pancho, and a dog name Pequeña.

Check out these pictures of my house.