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.