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 bit...no 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.