Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Long Field

July 17th, 2009 – Long Field

The idea behind Long Field is to spend a week at a volunteer’s site to get yet another idea of what the volunteer life might be like. The RED group was spilt in half and sent to two different sites. The group I was in went to visit Matt’s site, Arroyos y Esteros (Streams and Swamps), which is very Campo (meaning out in the boondocks).

Yet again, I was dropped off at a random person’s house and told I would have a blast. I’m pretty used to this by now, but regardless, the first part is always so awkward. At first you go through some of the basics (such as what your name is, where you’re from, how long you’ve been in Paraguay, how you like it, etc...), then you move on to more advanced small talk such as the weather, fútbol, etc... It is a lot harder than it seems, especially in Spanish, and even more so when they mix in Guarani. After a while you get to talk about cool things like soap operas, the Simpsons, how sugar production works, politics, etc...

Top 10 Highlights from the week:

1. Performing a skit about offering samples and new products as a way to achieve differentiation from competition to a group of Women’s Committee Presidents and then again to one of the Women’s Committees.

*What tends to happen with respect to commercialization of products in Paraguay is a direct reflection of what happens in the schools. If you read earlier in the blog, I mentioned the education system in Paraguay, and the fact that copying straight from the board, from each other, and rote memorization is the form of teaching/learning. So when the kids grow up and become small business owners and employees, they basically do what they’ve always done...in fact, what they’ve been trained to do...copy what everyone else does, and they don’t do what they’ve not been trained to do...think creatively, critically, or for themselves. So everyone is selling the exact same things, in the exact same way, for the exact same prices. It may seem odd to you or maybe even unbelievable, but that’s because we’ve grown up in an economy where competition is fierce and if you’re not offering something different, in a different way or at a different price, you won’t survive long. Our businesses differentiate as a matter of survival. So we tried to teach a group of women who mostly sell produce in a street market how creating new products (like a juice, jam, or salad) and offering samples could differentiate them from all the other women selling the same produce at the same prices, and therefore equal more money at the end of the day, and overtime, a unique market attracting a larger group of potential customers. Hopefully we transmitted this message through our ridiculous skit performed in broken Spanish and Guarani.

2. Singing songs in the Park

* For about an hour before our appearance on the radio, we sat on benches in the park and sang songs that are usually sung around a college-aged campfire...Wonderwall by Oasis, Santeria by Sublime, I’m Yours by Jason Mraz, We will Rock you by Queen, etc...

3. Talking and Singing on the Radio

* Mike and I teamed up for a radio skit about the importance of washing your hands and when to do so. Mike would name an activity and then I would say, “Wash your hands!” For example, “Before cooking...Wash your hands!” “After using the restroom...Wash your hands!” It was really funny, especially since I said “Wash your hands” in my best Spanish radio commercial voice (think used car commercial). We all sang Wonderwall by Oasis, and Matt sang a few other songs he wrote in Guarani. I’d say our first radio appearance was pretty good, and definitely lots of fun.

4. Hoeing a field, chopping down sugar cane, and making a compost pile

* How many people can say they’ve chopped down organic, fair trade sugar cane, which is exported to countries around the world and used in products like Ben & Jerry’s Icecream or shoveled up a wheelbarrow full of cow crap in order to make a compost pile used to feed worms. I wouldn’t want to do it every day of my life, especially in humid, +100 degree weather, but for a few hours each in temperate weather, these activities were fun. My favorite was chopping down the sugar cane and least favorite was hoeing the field.

5. “Waking up too early, maybe we could sleep, making banana pancakes”
* We went to Matt’s house, where we were supposed to have Spanish/Guarani class. However, we abandoned that idea in favor of making and eating delicious banana pancakes.

6. Sitting around in a circle drinking boxed wine, eating pound cake and cookies, listening to good, American music, talking in English about how the realities of volunteer life and listening to Matt and Mike argue about the respective hockey teams of Chicago and St. Louis.

7. Visiting a highly functional cooperative

* We made a trip into the pueblo, and visited Matt’s original assignment...a production/ savings and loan cooperative. It was very nice. We sat around a long table and were served treats and juice during a PowerPoint presentation about the cooperative. They are a sugar production cooperative who also offers savings and loans to its members. They have a ton of certifications from different countries. They offer organic sugar cane, and sell a lot of it through Fair Trade. If you’re not familiar with Fair Trade, it’s an organization that basically connects producers with markets in which to sell their products at augmented, or “fair” prices. If you see the Fair Trade logo on a product, you know that the producer is receiving a decent price for his/her input into the product you’re buying, as opposed to being exploited and forced into selling at such low prices from which he can’t make a living wage. They work to raise awareness, increase demand for Fair Trade products, certify producers, locate buyers, and connect the producers with potential buyers. The cooperative says that receiving the Fair Trade price has really made a difference for their members.

On a different day, we also had a discussion with the former personal assistant to the Director and Deputy Director of Fair Trade, who is now serving as a consultant for the Cooperative we visited. It was very interesting to say the least.

8. Watching Matt run down the road screaming, “Piña! Yo quiero comprar! Piña! Yo quiero comprar Piña! (Pineapple! I want to buy! Pineapple! I want to buy pineapple!) He had been looking all day for pineapple we could include in our samples as part of the skit, and as luck would have it a truck full of it drove past us as we were walking to lunch.

9. Taking a bath in a tire cut in half

* What a lot of Paraguayans do in the absence of showers or hot water showers is the following: Warm up a big quantity of water over a fire. Then pour that water in something big enough for you to sit in. This could be a large bucket-like thing, a tire cut in half, etc... Then you splash yourself with your hands to wet/rinse yourself. You basically repeat the process of wash then splash until you feel clean, even though, by default you are sitting in dirty water by the end of the bath. I did a sort of hybrid between a Paraguayan bath and an American shower. At first I sort of squatted, and shampooed my hair, since naturally that’s first in the process. I didn’t want to sit down, naked in the same tire that the rest of the family sits naked in as they bathe. What’s more is that it was rusted in the bottom, and I saw them roll it in from outside. Call me a germophobe American if you want, but that’s the reality of the situation. I’m willing to compromise and adjust to a lot, but that’s past my comfort level. Anyway, that wasn’t working out that great, and after dunking my head to get the shampoo out, I quickly realized that I was about to wash my body with the dirty shampooed water, so I turned on the shower, which was freezing cold, and took the plunge. I just sucked it up, breathed hard and steady, and washed really fast.

10. Getting bit by a dog, and subsequently going to Asunción for Rabies shots, because apparently if you get bit by a rabid dog, a go untreated for 72 hours, it is 100% certain that you will die.

* It was one of the family dogs that bit me. I was just calmly walking from the room I was staying in to the kitchen when he bit me (you have to go outside to access the rest of the house). The dog, which was fairly large (think boxer), was also calmly walking, in the opposite direction from me. When we passed, he just reached up and latched on to my leg. I screamed at him, and he let go after a few seconds. It wasn’t terribly bad, but it did manage to break the skin and draw blood through a pair of jeans and shorts underneath. We had been briefed by our incredible medical staff on the seriousness of any dog bit here, so rather than leave it up to fate, I called it in and within 48 hours went to Asunción for a Rabies shot.

All in all, it was a very fun week. We learned a lot, had a lot of fun, and did a lot of unique activities.

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