Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Swearing In Weekend

August 17th, 2009

So everyone left the Peace Corps office at different times and in different groups. I left with my homies Mike (also known as Miguel) and Carlos, who I consider my best friends within the group, and Jenna. We took a bus and after Carlos told a complete stranger on the bus exactly where we were staying and who we were, we were pointed in the right direction and arrived at the hotel. The hotel was neither overly fancy nor really crappy.

This is the view from my balcony. As Mike said, "that's the essence of a South American city." (or something like that)

I’ll give you a fairly detailed look at the weekend in order to show you how Peace Corps volunteers get down. This was a special weekend I think because there was a swearing in, a swearing out, and an Ahendu concert. Unfortunately, I forgot to take my camera out the first night so I don’t have any pics from that to share, but I did manage to snap a few the next day.

Friday Night: Dinner at a Mexican restaurant, Art Bar, Discoteca (Club)

We (Carlos, Mike, Mary, Liz, Carrie, and I) started off the night by going way across town to a Mexican restaurant for dinner. We had heard from a fellow volunteer of Mexican nationality that it was really good. We have all been craving Mexican for some time so we decided to check it out. I was really impressed. Living in the periphery of small cities and visiting a lot of campo places in Paraguay really lowers your expectations, so I was thinking of a crappy, little Mexican joint with ok food.

This place was on par with nice restaurants in the states...think a nicer version of On the Border. The waiters were decked out and actually provided some dang good service. The food had the appearance of being delicious and the menu was certainly fancy and full of good options. When it came out, it was good, but I wasn’t exactly floored with it. Nevertheless we ate a good meal, and had a good time joking around at dinner.

Next we went to a bar nicknamed “Art Bar” by volunteers. The place really, really impressed me. It’s like volunteers have gone to and fro in the city, and found all the hidden gems because all weekend we went to really cool, unique places.

You walk upstairs and suddenly you’re in an art exhibit. It looks like a large, rustic city apartment and art is half-hazardly placed in rooms throughout the place, which adds to its modern, artsy vibe. I took a little while to explore some of the rooms, and did some deep introspection on some of the pieces and think I came up with some good insights into the artists’ intentions. For example, one piece was three photos of a working class man and his wife. At first glance it looks like 3 photos, which are exactly the same, but when you really study it, you start to notice slight variances, which distinguish the three different men from each other, and even slight differences in the scene itself. I think the artists was making a statement about the importance of truly paying attention to people as individuals instead of making assumptions about them based on shallow first impressions or groups they may be part of.

In the next room over from the last exhibit room is a bar, which leads to a sitting area. I talked to some people, ordered a drink and then headed up to the roof, where I heard people were beginning to gather. I always love rooftops in cities so my curiosity wouldn’t let me stay below any longer.

It was gorgeous up there and very breezy, which made for a really chill environment to hang out in. I stayed there talking to different people for a while. I had a really interesting conversation with Angelic about life choices, career paths, and how realistic it is to have a really high level career and still maintain a good relationship with your family (spouse and kids), and how to achieve work-life balance.

I had another conversation with Dina about meat in Paraguay and how if one knew how to prepare and cook the meat right, you could still make some delicious steaks here. It’s just the fact that they don’t marinate it, poorly choose cuts of meats, and overcook it.
I also met the former APCD for the RED sector who was with his gorgeous, young girlfriend. He’s Paraguayan, and now is a high up at Itaipú, which is the world’s largest hydroelectric plant. I’ll take this opportunity to talk a bit about Itaipú.

It was a joint effort between Paraguay and Brazil, but Brazil seems to be reaping most of the rewards. The revenues from Itaipú are a huge deal here in Paraguay. Issues surrounding it are among the most important political issues in the Presidential race, and the money it generates is a huge factor in the economic development of Paraguay. There are scholarships, financing for infrastructure projects, and money flows from Itaipú to poor communities around Paraguay through a chain on governments (National, Regional, State, City, and Towns). In the eyes of a development worker this would be the ideal situation since the money is coming from a nationally owned resource and is sustainable for the foreseeable future. However, Paraguay was ranked the 2nd most corrupt country in the world not too long ago, so that throws a curb ball at the system. I mentioned that the money flows through a chain of governments, so what do think happens in reality in the 2nd most corrupt country in the world? That’s right, most of the money ends up filling the pockets of corrupt politicians. In addition to that, Brazil somehow benefits from cheap energy, sells the energy to Paraguay at high prices, and gets a larger portion of the profits. Paraguay wants to renegotiate, and was successful in getting some concessions, but there is a contract in place until 2023. At that point, if Paraguay is smart, they will get a favorable renegotiation. It is a similar situation as the Panama Canal, but more complicated.

So back to the story...I met this guy, and he started showing me pictures of him and the President hanging out. I thought that was pretty cool. After kicking it with him a bit, I noticed that most of my friends were gone. I called Carlos, who told me the name of the place they were at. I passed the Itaipú guy on the way out, and asked him if he knew where it was. He was like, “Yeah, I know where it’s at. Come on I’ll give you a ride.” So I hopped in the car with him, and was dropped off at the front door.

The club was pretty nice, and filled almost exclusively with Peace Corps Volunteers. We ended up leaving around 4:30 in the morning. I had a great time dancing and getting to know some of the other volunteers. There’s no better way to form new relationships than to party with people.
So around 4:30 we begin making our way home. We get close to the hotel, and Carlos wants some Asado...typical Carlos. He loves asado, especially late night. So we walked over, ordered some asado, and chowed down before calling it a night.

Saturday: Dinner and Ahendu Concert

Saturday I ended up sleeping late, and hanging out in the hotel for a bit. I took a nap and a shower, and everyone was gone. So I went downstairs to see if anyone was down there. I saw Elmer and Sasha, who were going to eat in Mercado 4, which is pretty far away. They invited me, so I headed out with them. I didn’t get two blocks away before calling Mary, who told me of their plans to eat at Lido Bar for lunch, which is closer and I’ve heard really good, so I went with that. I met up with Mary, Liz, and Carrie, and we just walked around for a while, and then went looking for lunch options because Lido Bar was going to be a long wait.

We ended up asking the concierge in Hotel Guarani, the nicest and most expensive (at $100 per night) hotel in Asunción. They pointed us towards a mall that had a little place to eat in it, but it was all like empanadas and other normal, bland Paraguayan food, which we were not into at the moment, so we continued our quest for lunch.

On the way I saw some really cool city art.

We ended up going way across town to another mall, which had a big food court. Liz had a gyro, Mary and Carrie were craving vegetarian food, and I went with Burger King. Haha. Can you believe it? I never eat Burger King! I just didn’t want to wait on a pizza, and there weren’t many other options I was really interested in.

After lunch we strolled back to the hotel. On the way we stopped in stores looking for presents for the kids in some of the girls families. We found this one awesome store that had foosball tables, water guns, puzzles, etc... It was like a really really small Toys R Us. I felt like a Toys R Us kid again. I had flash backs to water gun fights and foosball at Cross Training, and suggested the water guns for the 2 little brothers since they are really fun and Paraguay is really hot in the summer. She almost bought them but decided not to for fear they would break them on the first day, not too mention how expensive they were. We ended up finding this other little boutique that had these cute little ugly stuffed monster looking things, which Carrie absolutely fell in love with. It was perfect...unique, cute, and was similar to something she loved as a child. Carrie bought that and Mary bought two girly duck pencils for her two little bros.

On the way back, we just walked around making comments on things we saw in windows, and Liz fell in love with this chicken decoration thing. It was hilarious.

When we got back we chilled in Mary’s room for a while before getting ready for night #2.

That night we had dinner at another really good restaurant. I went splitzies with Liz, which turned out to be a great option. It made for a good chicken-pasta combo, which I thought was much better than the previous night’s dinner.

After dinner we went to the Ahendu concert. The idea of Ahendu is to share culture through music, but really it was just a bunch of volunteers at the bar listening to various volunteers who could play the guitar and/or sing. The location was really cool. It was one of those inside/outside kind of bars, which always makes for a nice atmosphere when the weather is nice. I swear Peace Corps volunteers seriously have found every cool place in Asunción.

We didn’t stay long. For some reason we just weren’t feeling it. I did meet a JAICA, Japan’s richer version of the Peace Corps, who was really cool to talk to. He lives in the Chaco, and said in the summer it easily gets to 50 degrees Celcius, which is 122 degrees Fahrenheit!!! Though I won’t live in the Chaco, and won’t experience such extreme heat, I probably still am in for a very hot summer.

After the concert, we strolled home, and on the way saw a pizza joint. Carlos, Carrie, Mary and I were feeling some late night pizza, and Liz and Mike were feeling an early night. So they went back to the hotel to hit the sack, and we ordered a quite delicious pizza and some drinks. We chilled there for a while, and then headed back to the hotel, where we all passed out for the night.

Sunday: Back to Paso de Oro

The next morning we all woke up early because everyone in our little group except Carlos was headed back to Paso de Oro. I was headed back for good until I left for my site on Tuesday, and the others were only having lunch with their families and then headed back to Asunción. I’ve really grown close to my family and wanted to get some more time in with them for I left.

Luckily we ended up meeting a volunteer who had just sworn out and was ending her 2 year adventure. She was headed where we were because she was going back to her training host family for a final visit. She was able to get us back to San Lorenzo, where we went to the grocery store to get a few things for the lunches my fellow volunteers were having with their families. Mary ordered some meat from the meat department, and ended up getting like 30 lbs of meat for around $15, and that was really expensive to us, so you can imagine what our pay is like. It was comical the amount of meat she bought for her small family lunch. Mike and I ended up buying some of the meat off her so she wouldn’t look foolish in front of her family. I figured we could use it at my going away party on Monday night.

We headed back to the community and the goodbyes began. I said goodbye to Mary, to Liz, and to Mike.

I went to my house, received a warm welcome from Fabiola, and hung out with the fam for a bit before going to the cancha one more time. We went out to the cancha, and I made it a point to hang out with all the members of my family while there. It was pretty tranquilo all in all. That night, as usual, my Mom and Sister cooked empanadas and the men sat outside in groups drinking cervesa and caña. I hung out with them for a while, played with the kids some, and then called it a night.

Overall Swearing In weekend was really fun, and a good preview of what is to come in the future with respect to volunteers meeting up in Asunción.

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