Thursday, October 22, 2009

Top 5 Best Videos from Training (except for the censored one)

I didn't have a chance to post some of the videos from training since I didn't have frequent, or stable, Internet access.

1. Hector (my host brother) and Arelio (Carlos' host brother) drunk dancing in literally freezing weather.

When asked to join in, I told them, "guys don't dance together like that where I'm from." Arelio said, "¡Diversión, Diversión!" which translates to something like "Fun, Fun!" How true... They were having a good time dancing and I had a great time watching and laughing at them.

2. Drunk Jumping Contest:

When a bunch of male Paraguayans get together and get drunk, they sometimes show their male dominance by taking their shirts off and having a jumping contest. Notice the fat one who keeps procrastinating the jump. This movie is really anti-climatic. The best part comes at the beginning, so don't expect a big finish.

3. Liz and Carlos introducing my first chicken kill:

I actually have a video of the kill, but unfortunately Peace Corps specifically prohibited us from sharing videos of killing animals because a Volunteer uploaded the video of him killing a chicken. I don't think anything came of it. I guess they think some Americans could view that in a negative light or something. Oh well.

4. Introducing Fabiola!

5. Fabiola dancing to A Whole New World:

Tai Night

October 17th, 2009

The next day Analia, Yaz, Anne, and I all went out to Claire’s site, which is about 5 miles away from San Juan. Analia and Yaz’s parents took us out in their truck.

But before I get to that, I’d like to describe the events just before we left to go to Claire’s house. It was apparently Liberal day because the Liberales (the other major democratic party) were going crazy all over the city. Bombs were exploding and liberal music boomed from cars parading around town. A giant line of beeping cars adorned in blue and white (the liberal colors) paraded through San Juan, and there was also a big Liberal party that everyone was headed to.

People really support their political parties here in a very public way. It’s not town hall meetings or candidates out pressing the flesh or even a caucus or sponsored event. It’s half the town or more parading around, making noise, and partying in support of their party. I think it’s great that they get involved so much and at least care enough to do something to show their support.

I’ve asked several times what the differences are between the Colorados and the Liberales, and no one has been able to tell me. As far as I can tell, it’s just an affiliation you are born into and there may not be a ton of political ideological differences. I think it’s more like an alliance. I’ll explain. The Colorados have been in power for the last 40 years. You couldn’t get a government job if you were not Colorado. You couldn’t even lie and tell them you were Colorado because either your last name gave you away or you had registered as a Liberal. So all the teachers, all the people that work in public offices, all the low-level government officials...they’re all Colorado. In this way, your political party wasn’t a choice based on your personal ideologies or candidates you sided with more, it was more something you were born into and if you were lucky enough to be born a Colorado, you had a better chance at most jobs. If you weren’t and had the ability to change, it was a job strategy.

This is now reaping effects on the new Liberal administration. All the leaders changed over to Liberal but all their subordinates, who have years of experience and by this time are fiercely loyal to their party, are Colorado. You can imagine how difficult it must be to get things done.

Paraguay was and is very corrupt. You might initially think this would change with a new administration and new leadership, but what I’ve been told is that the Colorados have had years to stuff their pockets with dirty money, and now it’s the Liberals’ chance to get rich. What a mess...

Anyway that’s all I have to say about that for now.

Back to the story at hand...

This time we made Tai food. It was like a spicy vegetable stir-fry with white rice in a lettuce wrap. Most Paraguayans aren’t used to spicy food so Analia and Yaz were going crazy and between the two of them drank a liter of milk. By our standards it wasn’t really spicy but by theirs it was like nuclear at Zaxby’s.

The meal was really delicious. I talk about food so much because delicious meals are so hard to come by here and it’s the thing I miss most about the States. For the most part I don’t eat very much (my host family doesn’t eat dinner and breakfast is a glass of juice or a cup of coffee), and when I do eat it usually isn’t anything to write home about, or at least write home in a positive light about.

Anyway on the way back Analia, Yaz and Anne got dropped off at the Liberal party. I didn’t go because Volunteers aren’t supposed to be associated with any political party, which was a perfect excuse for not going, being that I didn’t really feel like going out.

But in all seriousness I’m not supposed to get involved in politics or associate myself with either party. I can’t attend demonstrations or political events. My host family situation complicates this because they are die-hard Colorados. On several occasions I have walked out to our patio to see what was going on only to see huge Red (the party’s color) flags flying, Colorado music playing, bombs being set off to announce the event, and tons of people talking politics. Just the other night my host mother hosted a political fundraiser in which they sold hamburgers to raise money for a particular candidate they want to get elected.

One time I walked outside and saw a few people sitting around a table with a man in the center speaking most eloquently and persuasively in front of a press-like camera...picture the scenes from the Osama Bin Laden videos but without the long beards and Muslim attire.

Sometimes I hear my host Dad speaking softly in Guaraní over the phone and other times there are groups of adults huddled around a table talking politics. I like to imagine I’m in a house of people planning a secret, government overthrow or imagine this is what it must have been like for communists planning a revolution. It’s not the reality, but it just feels that way sometimes, and I like to allow my imagination to run wild because it’s more interesting that way.

The fact that my host parents are probably the most die-hard Colorado supporters in San Juan combined with the fact that there is a big, red sticker that says, “We are Colorados here” above my door, which accesses the street, probably makes me a Colorado in the minds of most people in town.

We've had a Mexican Night and a Thai Night. Next up...Italian Night!!!

Paraguay vs. Colombia Game

October 15th, 2009

I decided the day of at about 1:00 PM (bus set to leave at 2:00 PM) to go to the Paraguay vs. Colombia game in Asunción. A lack of plata (money) and a looming presentation were complicating my decision to go, but in the end the thought of seeing Paraguay play in a World Cup qualifier in Asunción with a bunch of friends won out over work and money. What put me over the top was talking to Chris who said I should come and that I could crash at his place, which is really close to Asunción.

Yet another great decision. I had a great time.

I came home from the cooperative, hurriedly packed my bag and headed off to meet up with Analia to catch the bus to Asunción.

When we arrived, we had to drop Analia’s bag by Rosa’s house. On the way there, it started pouring rain. It took us walking under my raincoat for about 5 minutes before I realized I had my umbrella in the side pocket of my backpack. We dropped the bag off at Rosa’s, and then the three of us headed to the Palace, where I was going to leave my bag during the game.

Shortly after dropping my bag off and me changing into my Paraguayan jersey, we headed to a sports bar not 2 blocks from the Palace. When I walked up, the bar was filled with Volunteers in Paraguayan jerseys and everyone had big towers of beer at their tables. We hung out there for just a bit and then headed out for the game.

I bought 60-mil ticket off a guy on the street for 50 mil, and with that the fun began. As we were approaching the stadium, I had to take off my belt and conceal it underneath the band of my boxers since belts are not allowed in the stadium. What does that tell you?

I was worried they were going to find it and confiscate my only belt but we walked through without even being checked. No pat downs, no metal detector, nothing. We just cruised right through.

Upon entering the stadium, I was amazed by the atmosphere....a bouncing sea of red and white, flags flying, plastic bats being shaken in the air, huge Coca-Cola banners covering entire sections, and chants being belted in one, unified Paraguayan voice to the tune of loud drums. I can’t imagine what World Cup is going to be like!

Paraguay and Colombia went head to head for the last qualifying match for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.

Even though the Colombians handed it to us, we still had a great time jumping around and chanting, “Albi albi albi roja albi roja.” Not only did we lose but Argentina won, which meant they had qualified for an appearance in the World Cup. As the rivalry is so heated, everyone wanted to see the big, bad Argentina sit this one out. Either way, it was great to see a game in person. It will be a while before another game is played in that stadium so I’m glad I seized the opportunity. At the end of the day Paraguay is headed to South Africa and so am I!!!

After the game, we went back to Chopería to hang out. There was a live band, which provided for a really cool atmosphere. A Volunteer who has been here for 2 years, Analia, Rosa, Claire, and I all went down the street for some Lomito Arabe (beef gyro). It was great late-night food.

Later when we returned to the bar, I had some interesting conversations with a few Volunteers. One volunteer did her undergrad at Cornell and her MPA at Columbia. She then worked in a variety of organizations in microfinance and nonprofit before coming to the Peace Corps. She was really knowledgeable and interesting to talk to. She imparted some wisdom that will cause me to make some tough decisions. The good news is she says Peace Corps is great on a resume and will open a lot of doors, especially in the non-profit world. She said she used to love to hire Peace Corps Volunteers. She said if I were interested in pursing a MPA (Masters of Public Administration), Peace Corps would be enough from a work experience perspective to get me in. As I am looking to do a MBA with possibly a dual MPA degree, I’ll ultimately have to get a few more years of experience before matriculating. Nevertheless she dropped some good ideas on me and gave me a few fresh perspectives that I needed to hear but which has me in deep introspection about how to spend my time while here and what to do when I leave Peace Corps.

Around 2:00 AM, Chris, his Paraguayan friend, and myself headed out to find a bus back to his place. We walked to several corners where we waited briefly for a bus before heading to the next place there was “sure to be a bus.” After several attempts like this, we passed a bar and the bar-owner told us that a bus would pass by there at 3:00 AM. Since we had a while to wait, we went inside and played a few games of pool. Remember Hora Paraguaya? 3:00 AM...No Bus. 3:15 AM...No Bus. 3:30 AM...No Bus. 3:45 AM...No Bus. Around 4:00 AM I was ready to go and had in good faith that the bus was not coming, so I hailed a taxi and spent 60 mil getting us to Chris’ place. The whole reason I stayed with him was to avoid spending 66 mil on a hotel room for the night...HAHA.

It turned out well because the next day I had a great time hanging out with Chris.

He took me by his counterpart, which is a big community center where they train and develop youth and give technical skills courses to the community. Chris told me all about a leadership camp he is developing and how he got it funded. I’m going to go to the leadership camp, not only because it will be fun and I’ll likely facilitate a few sessions, but also because it will be a great learning opportunity in case I decide to do a leadership camp in San Juan.

We went for lunch at a humongous grocery store, and had interesting conversation about Che Guevara’s life and his part in the communist revolution in Cuba. Chris had read up a lot on Che, so he was well versed and he has a knack for story telling. It’s pretty incredible how the whole thing went down. If you’re interested in that kind of stuff, I would recommend checking out some books about Che and Fidel Castro. It’s actually a really interesting story.

After lunch we played a few games of pool at an indoor/outdoor style bar near Chris’ places and then went back to his place. We had a lot of great conversation about Peace Corps, development projects, our personal lives, etc...

Soon after, I bussed it back to the Peace Corps office where I dropped off my payment for the Thanksgiving bash, and then went to the terminal where I caught the long bus back home.

All in all, it was a great trip. I made a few new friends, saw Paraguay play, had a lot of fun, and had some really interesting and educational conversations.

Motocross Race

October 11th, 2009

This was another very unexpected event. When I was told there was going to be a moto race, I envisioned people standing on the side of a highway watching a few motorcycles racing down a straightaway.

It also took me by surprise because I just didn’t envision going to motocross races as a Peace Corps Volunteer.

Panfilo, a coworker, told me the previous day he was going to come pick me up to take me to the race. His cousin was in the race, which was why he was particularly excited about it. He was supposed to pick me up at 2:00 PM. I had several other friends invite me to go with them, but since I had already committed to going with Panfilo, I denied, and waited on him.

He never came.

In this way I confirmed a suspicion I had about many Paraguayans. It’s really normal for them to not keep their word. I know it also happens a lot in the US, but it happens here at a whole different level. For example, my host mother said she was going to wash my clothes one day. Two weeks later I had to take a small load to the laundry-mat in order to have something to wear to my presentation, and sit my laundry basket in the middle of the kitchen before it got done. Another host father said several times he was going to move my light switch to beside the door and put a lock on my door. That has still yet to happen, and just today I bought the lock myself, and am going to have someone come over to install it. I hear tons of Volunteer stories of them scheduling a meeting with someone or a group of people who never show.

You also have to understand the “Hora Paraguaya.” They are not very prompt, which actually is fine with me most of the time. If you schedule something, even something really formal, expect it to actually get started a solid 45 minutes to an hour late. It’s just all part of the really relaxed culture I think. Really, it’s fine by me, because I’m not in any hurry here, and I don’t have to stress about being somewhere by a certain time.

Example...The other night, Anne took a bus from her site to San Juan to meet up with us for some dinner. The bus was supposed to leave at 7:00 PM on the dot. It left around 7:40 PM.

They recognize it as part of their culture, referring to it as the “Hora Paraguaya,” (Paraguayan Hour). The Administrative Manager in the Cooperative even said, when referring to my presentation, that if it were scheduled for 9:00 AM, it would get started around 10:00 AM, which is exactly how it happened. After saying that, she said, “Hora Paraguaya.” It was comical when 9:10 AM rolled around and only my APCD, Volunteer Coordinator, and myself were in the room. Not a single person showed up on time, and the general manager, who should be setting the example, was the last to arrive at around 9:50 AM. I just couldn’t help but think that I was a very low priority on his list especially when he was answering phone calls in the middle of my boss’s presentation. It’s a great example of cross cultural business interactions. It could very well be that another Paraguayan wouldn’t think twice about it, let along consider it rude or a representation of priorities.

Anyway, back to the story at hand, the motocross event. So when I realized he wasn’t going to show up, I decided to ride my bicycle to the race. When I arrived, I was surprised to see that instead of being a straightaway track, it was actually the motocross style track (without the jumps).

It was a really cool atmosphere. Imagine a radio style stage booming music and occasionally announcing over the speakers. There were people all around the edges of the track and in the middle. The sound of motos revving and the smell of their exhaust permeated the atmosphere. I wandered around for a bit until Peke and his friends spotted me and called me over. I hung with them for a while and then headed over to where some of my coworkers were hanging out.

While I was hanging out with Peke and his friends, they started horsing around. The biggest, Gonzalo slammed the smallest, Ernesto down to the ground. He smacked the ground headfirst pretty hard and was slow to get up. He had to be transported to the local hospital by ambulance, and was then taken to Asunción for some test, because a few months earlier he had a really serious motorcycle accident, which fractured something in his spinal column. I didn’t actually find this out until mid way through the race when I called Peke to see where he was at, to which he responded the hospital with Ernesto. I’m happy to say that as of writing this Ernesto is up and about. It wasn’t too serious and he was just given a few days bed rest.

Back to the race...before too long, it started pouring down rain. Igual no más. It was actually nice because it settled the dust and dropped the temperature. Plus I had my handy Marmot Rain Jacket on because I noticed it was likely to rain.

Soon after the rain quit, the races started, and we had fun drinking and talking while watching them go around the track.

The most exciting thing of the day was when everyone started running to the other side of the track to watch a fight. Apparently they had bet a lot of money on the race, and someone from San Juan threw something at the racer from San Ignacio. That caused a big fight. I actually saw a few fists land. Three cops walked up. But here, that doesn’t mean much. The fighting calmed down, but no one went to jail. They continued pushing and arguing, and it kind of fizzled out slowly.

Like I said earlier, when it comes to competition, sports are like politics in Paraguay...corrupt. It’s my experience that they will attempt to cheat in a heartbeat and are quick to argue and fight.

Guess who was the main guy in the middle of the fight? Yep...Panfilo. I guess that’s Karma.

Paraguay vs. Venezuela

October 10th, 2009

I watched the game with some coworkers in their house out in Barrio Primero de Enero (1st of January). Lot’s of neighborhoods, towns, football teams, soccer stadiums, etc...are named for their founding date...again the creativity issue.

Anyway, when I walked into the house I saw an alligator skin handing from the wall. My friend from work, Oveshai (lamb) said he hunted and killed that. They say gator meat is great. I looked over to the table and there was a taxidermy armadillo. He said it killed that too. We walked over to the big ice-chest style fridge to store the beer, and he had to reposition the beer around a cow’s head and pieces of carpincho meat. I tried not to think about drinking from the lips of bottles that had been lying against raw cow and carpincho meat and told them I wanted to go hunting with them the next time they went.

For reference, this is a carpincho.

The game was pretty boring as we were already qualified and easily handled Venezuela 2-1. Nevertheless, it was still fun hanging out with some of my coworkers and seeing them in their natural environment. After the game we just sat around for a while talking about a future fishing trip they want to take me on. They told me it would cost us around 100,000 Gs ($25) for a day of fishing including gas, lots of food and drinks, and all supplies needed. We both know that isn’t much, but I tried convincing them that was really high and I didn’t know if I could afford it. I’m trying to combat the common perception that we must earn a lot of money since we chose to leave the States to come here.

Other topics included, let’s see what is pretty much the only topic Paraguayan males discuss with me?...oh yeah girls.

We threw my bike in the back of a truck and headed back towards town. When we arrived we were surprised to see a ton of people at the town plaza watching the motocross racers doing wheelies in the middle of the plaza. As we first drove up, I saw one of them suffer a nasty crash, and with that our attention was caught so we parked and joined the excitement. Music mixed with the loud revving dirtbike/moto engines to make for a pretty loud atmosphere. Smoke filled the air and people were everywhere. The next day’s racers were popping wheelies all over the place.

Mexican Night

September 8th, 2009

Having just received a means of transport, I rode my bicycle, along with Claire, about 5 miles out into the campo to Anne’s house in order to cook Mexican food. Anne lived in Mexico for some time, so she knew how to make amazing homemade tortillas. They were perfect. I literally have never had better tortillas, and they were made from scratch using ingredients available in rural Paraguay and cooked over a rusty, old gas oven/stove unit.

Anne and Claire are pretty much geniuses because these tacos were easily the best I’ve ever eaten in my life.

I am trying so many new things, and can now eat pretty much anything. I won’t be a picky eater at all when I get back to the States.

You saute onions, peppers and garlic to which you add the meat.

As the meat is browning, add in red paper flakes, chili powder (if you have it), cumin, pepper, and salt. Shortly before it’s finished, add in some precooked corn.

Then we made a guacamole sauce using avocados, tons of diced tomatoes, chili power, salt and pepper, chopped onions, chopped garlic, chopped cilantro, lemon, and cumin (optional).

We topped the meat mixture with fresh lettuce, a white cheese, and the guacamole sauce and then drizzled it with sour cream. It was simply amazing, and the best meal I’ve had in Paraguay up to this point by a long shot.

I can’t tell you how sore my bottom was after that bike ride. I think it was a combination of the thin, hard seat, the long distance, and the fact that I haven’t ridden a bicycle in a while. Apparently, I’m not the only one that experiences this. All the Volunteers said the same thing happened to them when they first received their bikes but that you get used to it.

Either way, it hurt to sit down let alone get back on my bike, and I was sore for days, but the spectacular Mexican meal made it all worth it.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Official Site Presentation

October 7th, 2009

Site Presentation is when the APCD of your sector comes to officially present you as a Volunteer to your counterpart and community.

My site presentation went off without a hitch.

First, the general manager presented a general presentation about the cooperative.

Next came a presentation by Elisa, my APCD, which was about:
  • Peace Corps and it’s goals
  • RED sector’s goals
  • What is and is not a Volunteer,
  • Roles and responsibilities of all parties involved
  • Rules and regulations
  • Our training
  • Pay
  • Job assessment

I really like my APCD and Volunteer Coordinator. They are on top of things, and extremely helpful. So if you get a RED assignment in Paraguay in the next little while, you're in good hands. Not to mention, Elisa knows EVERYONE and has tons of experience in this field.

And finally, last but not least, I presented a rather fantastic presentation, if I do say so myself about:
  • Me (Where I’m from, childhood, interests, etc...)
  • Educational experiences (including courses and projects)
  • Professional Experiences
  • Reasons for joining the Peace Corps and coming to Paraguay
  • My vision for the next 2 years
  • Some ideas for possible projects I could work on
  • Q & A

In order to gain credibility and confidence as well as educate my counterparts of my education, skills, and experience, I gave them specific examples of projects I’ve worked on, with photos of the final deliverables, and specifics of my education and work experiences such as course work and accomplishments/duties for various professional roles.

I also performed a rather compelling speech about my vision of my role within the cooperative and community, and what I expect to gain and give during the experience. I ended by throwing out a lot of good ideas for projects, based on fact-based observations and research, which could make the cooperative and/or community better.

An excerpt from that part of the presentation:

“First, I believe the Cooperative and the town of San Juan have much more to teach me than I have to teach them. I've learned a lot in my short time here, such as the importance of relaxing and taking time to enjoy life, and have learned a lot about the day to day operations of a well-run business just by being here and observing the cooperative.

However, I do bring a fresh perspective, energy, the willingness to work long and hard, and some educational and professional experiences that may allow me to work effectively within the community.

Throughout the two years, I would learn from the cooperative and the community, and also provide some good ideas and a new perspective, lead important community and cooperative initiatives, serve as a connecting agent to external funding and technical assistance as well as facilitate the transfer of information.

At the end of the day, I want to serve as a resource for the community and cooperative while working together to increase economic development and the standard of living in San Juan Bautista, it’s surrounding areas, and Paraguay in general.

I would like to engage the community in conversations that will challenge forward thinkers to adopt different ways of thinking, which will benefit the community. I would also like to work with the community and members of the cooperative in identifying and solving existing problems and challenges facing the Cooperative, San Juan and Paraguay.

I am excited to develop my leadership skills, so I'm more than willing to help organize groups and events or to increase the impact of existing groups and causes that are working for the social good.

I am eager to gain a deep understanding and appreciation of the Paraguayan culture.

But above all, I hope to develop in some sense, lifelong friendships, while having the opportunity to make a positive impact on the lives of others.”

After the presentation, most of us went to another meeting area, where my Coop did it up big by serving baked chicken, chorizo (sausage), and potato salad. Then Elisa and Betsy, my Volunteer Coordinator, drove me back to my place where they gave me my bike, my mail, and some other important documents.

I think I accomplished several things during this presentation and I also think I learned a few things about the business culture in Paraguay from the experience.
  1. I successfully built credibility and confidence in my ability to effectively work within the cooperative and community.
  2. I gained rapport with several senior members of the Cooperative (I mixed in a healthy amount of jokes, Paraguayan slang, professionalism, and evoked pathos and ethos from emotional descriptions of the necessity for certain types of projects. I also allowed some of them to speak during my presentation and specifically addressed some of their earlier questions and points from the previous presentation, recognizing the legitimacy of their point and taking it to the next level).
  3. I gave the managers some ideas for my work.
  4. I learned that hierarchy is important to Paraguayans.
  5. I learned that Paraguayans love to eat snacks and sip on drinks during presentations. The day before, as I was making rounds, confirming attendance, I kept getting the question of what we were going to eat and drink, and I haven’t been to a meeting yet where snacks and drinks weren’t served.
  6. I learned that it is normal to take phone calls in the middle of a meeting, get up and walk out, as well as for someone to walk in and begin serving drinks during a presentation.
  7. I learned that Paraguayans, when possible, like to try to impress people and take control of a meeting.
All of these are great insights about the business culture of Paraguay and will be invaluable as I plan other meetings and presentations as well as if I ever enter into a negotiation type scenario.

Of course these are generalizations and stereotypes based on a very limited amount of experiences so keep that in mind. It would be like attending a few meetings in the US and then claiming you knew what US business culture is like. Kind of ridiculous when you think about it that way, but hey, I have to start somewhere right?

Overall, the site presentation could not have gone any better. The cooperative was great in that most of the important people attended and they provided lunch. It was a great start to the professional aspect of my 2-year Peace Corps experience.

Hanging out with Peke’s Family

October 4th, 2009

The last few days I have been hanging out with Peke’s family. Peke has 2 sisters and also a cousin who lives with them. One sister is about 5 years old, the other is 12, and the cousin is 16. They are really fun, smart, sweet and very well mannered. I brought my computer over Saturday night, and they got a kick out of looking at my pictures, typing stuff in Word, and trying Rosetta Stone Spanish.

Computers fascinate kids, and they pick them up almost instinctively after having experience with them, which is why access to computers is more of a problem than knowledge of how to use them. That’s why I love the program, 1 laptop per child. I hope their organization continues with the success it has had in bringing laptops to third world children. With computers and Internet, I believe kids could narrow the gap much more quickly because of the wealth of information available online. We are in a knowledge economy, and in that economy, he has the most information and knows how to use it, wins. The Internet, and its vast sources of information levels the playing field a bit. If we could get a laptop in the hands of every child and then extend affordable Internet to those areas, I really believe countries would close the gap between the 1st and 3rd worlds significantly more quickly than the current pace, which is abysmal in some areas.

I brought my marbles over Sunday and taught these city kids how the campo kids get down. It was a disaster...nothing like playing marbles in the campo with lots of space, good dirt, and dedicated kids who are enthralled by and skilled in the game. However, it occupied our time for a little bit, and then we sat under some shade trees and drank T-ray for a while, an activity they are really good at, as are most Paraguayans.

For lunch, Gabbi, the cousin, displayed her chef-like abilities by cooking the best salad and asado up to this point. The bar just gets getting raised...but you have to realize that it started REALLY, REALLY LOW. Haha.

As you can probably tell, there isn’t a lot of diversity in the food around here, but there are variances in quality of preparation.

Overall, I had a great time hanging out with the girls next door and plan on spending more time over there because, frankly, it’s more fun than my house, the children are cooler, it’s more neat and clean, and the food is better.

It’s not all fun and games, or is it?

October 1st, 2009

VAC Meeting at Shawn’s

So we had another VAC meeting. This time it was at Shawn’s house in Santa Rosa. Shawn is now in his 3rd year here in Paraguay. He rents an amazing house for, get this, $34 per month! It’s a nice, big house with a patio and everything. He has a big living room, two bedrooms, an indoor/outdoor kind of room with a hammock, a big kitchen, a big storage area, and a decent sized yard. He also has a Paraguayan girlfriend he’s been with for quite a while now. I guess he figures he has it way too good to go back to the States now so he extended for a year.

VAC meetings, in theory, are supposed to be about receiving information from Asunción, discussing issues, brainstorming improvements or things we would like executive management to know, planning events, collaborating on projects, etc…

What did we end up doing? We grilled out and drank all day.

I haven’t eaten so much since I arrived here. First we had chorizo.

Then we had grilled fish and two kinds of salads (lettuce based and bean based). A little later we had grilled cow meat, and still later more chorizo. Finally at the end of the night we ordered, and were delivered, a homemade cake. It had a somewhat hard bottom crust, pound cake kind of inside, which was topped with whip cream and then slivers of peaches.


Have I said lately how much I love my life right now? Cuz it’s true.

Let’s Get together and feel alright at Reggae Fest!

September 26th, 2009

The Wailers, Bob Marley’s band, came to Paraguay and put on a great show!

When I got a text saying there was going to be a Reggae Fest in Asunción and was asked if I wanted to come, I was like, “Yeah, why not? That sounds awesome!”

Add that to my list of great decisions. I’m sure this outdoor concert will go down as one of the coolest experiences I have as a Peace Corps Volunteer.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. First came the bus 3-hour bus ride on Friday afternoon to Asunción, which was really fun because....well I could be doing worse things than traveling through the Paraguayan countryside with two cool friends, while listening to my IPod. I just remember being so content in that moment. I remember thinking, “I have no worries, I’m a Peace Corps Volunteer, and I’m in the middle of Paraguay on a bus listening to Motion City Soundtrack headed for a weekend of fun and a Reggae concert.”

When we arrived in Asunción, we went to at this place called Quattro D. We treated ourselves to amazing chicken lasagna and some ice cream, and then Claire headed for the Peace Corps office, and Yaz tagged along with me to the mall. I wanted to buy bedding and possibly curtains, but ended up not buying them because they were really expensive and I couldn’t figure out how to pay in cash because the ATM has a small limit and was going to charge me 25,000 Gs for every transaction. If I paid in cash I was going to receive a 10% discount for being foreign. I was also trying to figure out how to meet the requirements in order to sign up for the store card, which would give me an additional 20% off. It added up to an $88 savings, which is a crap load for me at this point.

Regardless, we had a lot of fun just browsing around the mall gazing at the things we couldn’t afford.

That night I went out for dinner and drinks with several Volunteers who were in town for the concert. We went to the Brit Pub. For the first part of the night I was having a good time, but then I become tired, and that was all she wrote.

The night of the concert started outside the Alps Attic, a popular hotel for Peace Corps Volunteers in Asunción.

A fun and interesting American girl who decided to move here to write a guidebook to Paraguay picked us all up in her van. We packed in tight and headed out for the concert. Picture a minivan with about 13 people packed in. People are on each other’s laps and Will and I are crammed in the hatch. But we didn’t care. Igual no más.

I couldn’t help but think of foreshadowing as the song by The Black Eyed Peas that goes, “I’ve got a feelin’ that tonight’s gonna be a good night, that tonight’s gonna be a good night that tonight’s gonna be a good good night. I got a feelin’,” played over the radio in a van full of really cool, interesting Peace Corps Volunteers headed to a Reggae concert in Paraguay!

Many of the people in the car hate that song for it’s idiotic lyrics, but I secretly liked it, and thought it was a great kickoff for the night and foreshadowing of what was to come.

Shortly after arriving, we all scarfed down some hamburgers at a little stand outside the concert, and then jumped into the sea of people heading towards the entrance.

“Leche, Leche, Leche,” which means “milk, milk, milk,” screamed the hustlers selling beer outside the concert. Gypsies were sitting on the ground selling their hand crafted necklaces, wallets, bracelets, and other accessories. Nappy braids, Bob Marley tee shirts, psychedelic colors, and hippie chicks were everywhere. We don’t see a lot of diversity here, so it was a familiar and welcomed site.

Immediately upon entering the concert, I knew this was going to be a chill night. We stood in a circle towards the back of the crowd and talked, danced, and drank. Then we moved in closer.

As the night progressed sometimes we danced and other times we just sat in a big circle and had really interesting conversation. There was an atmosphere of friendliness and brotherhood in the air already, and the Wailers hadn’t even taken the stage yet.

People were freely sharing and interacting across their respective clicks.

Once the Wailers hit the stage, the night turned from chill to magical.

There is no way I can capture the feeling of goofily dancing around with friends to the sound of,

Singin': "don't worry 'bout a thing,
'Cause every little thing gonna be all right."
Singin': "don't worry (don't worry) 'bout a thing,
'Cause every little thing gonna be all right!"

Or to

We're jammin':
I wanna jam it wid you.
We're jammin', jammin',
And I hope you like jammin', too.

Cell phones were hoisted and waving in the air (reminiscent of Woodstock) and a Jamaican and Paraguayan flag swaying, crossing in the wind, forming a symbol of international peace as the Wailers sang:

Emancipate yourself from the mental slavery;
None but ourselves can free our minds.
Have no fear for atomic energy,
cuz none of them can stop the time.
How long shall they kill our profits?
While we stand aside and look? Ooh!
Some say it’s just a part of it:
We’ve got to fulfill de Book.

Won’t you help to sing?
These songs of freedom? -
Cause all I ever have:
Redemption songs,
Redemption songs,
Redemption songs.


I thought the following were especially relevant lyrics for Paraguay:

Get up, stand up, stand up for your rights
Get up, stand up, stand up for your rights
Get up, stand up, stand up for your rights
Get up, stand up, don't give up the fight “

And of course, the highlight of the night:

“One love, one heart,
Let’s get together and feel alright.
Hear the children cryin’, (one love)
Hear the children cryin’ (one heart)
Sayin,’ “give thanks and praise to the Lord and I will feel alright,”
Sayin,’ “let’s get together and feel alright.”

And that’s exactly what we did. We all got together and we felt all right.

Highlights from the following day include an amazing breakfast at the hotel and relaxing by the pool. Again...Livin' the Dream!

Yet Another Awesome Paraguayan Holiday

September 21st, 2009

Dia de Juventud Festival (Parade, Beauty Pageant, and Concert)

So I was totally caught off guard by what took place on this holiday.

It was Dia de Juventud (Youth Day) and all day people had been wishing me “Felicidades.” The closest translation I can come up with for what they were saying is, “Happy Youth Day.” On this day, Paraguay celebrates its Youth and parents buy their kids gifts. Depending on where you live, there could also be a whole host of festivities associated with the holiday.

I was plugging away at my laptop in my office at the cooperative at about 3:00 PM in the afternoon when I started hearing bombs and tons of people gathering outside. Then some of my coworkers told me to come to the window to watch the parade. “Oh, another parade,” I thought to myself. Having seen many “parades” before, I thought this would be your typical line of cars and motos (mopeds) driving down the street honking horns and playing music. Much to my surprise when I went to the window I saw decorated floats full of smiling youth. The floats represented different schools and organizations and each featured a Queen, who had apparently been elected to represent their organization for the day’s festivities.

At around 4:00 PM, I left the Cooperative, and rushed home to get my camera. I quickly returned and managed to snap a few shots before the parade was over.

By this point, everyone was gathering in the plaza, and I noticed a big stage in the middle of the plaza. I walked around talking to people I knew and snapping photos. Then I went home to change out of my work clothes and returned for the rest of the festivities, which included a beauty pageant and a concert by the hottest band in Paraguay at the moment.

The beauty pageant featured around 16 or so girls who each answered 2 questions and walked down the runway. Hearing their answers to the questions raises both an educational and cultural point. Each girl was asked to give a brief speech to the youth. Every girl said almost the exact same thing in almost the exact same way. Culturally, this is totally acceptable. In one of my earlier blogs I mentioned the lack of individuality, creativity, and critical thinking within the educational system. I also mentioned how Paraguayans always copy each other. Every dispensa is almost exactly like every other dispensa. They all serve the same things, prepared in the same way. There is a real lack of creativity and individuality. I’m not judging whether that is good or bad but rather stating an observation, though if I were to judge it from my US perspective, it is less than desirable.

So the first girl started with warning about doing drugs, respecting parents, and the importance of enjoying your youth, and each girl in turn gave the exact same response. In the US, even if the next girl had prepared the exact same response, that is the last thing she would say because we have such a strong culture of individuality and would judge her poorly for saying the same thing the other girl said. Not here. All 16 said the same thing, and the crowd clapped all the same for each one of them in turn.

They were judged by a panel of 3 judges, which included Miss Paraguay, who is actually from San Juan. Her speech was much more honed, and she had a polished stage presence. I heard it was her dream to become Miss Paraguay and she worked her whole life up to that point to achieve that goal. I’m glad she set a lofty goal and worked hard to achieve it, but in my mind some of the means did not justify the end. She had a tone of plastic surgery, altering her entire body and face, and I also heard she never played or had friends growing up, and was always well dressed and very superficial in interactions. Hopefully she’s able to leverage her position to accomplish something good for Paraguay.

Eventually, the tallest and most popular (judging from the chanting teenage girls up front) won and 2 others were given lesser titles.

I don’t know how the girls were judged really because all 16 had roughly the same responses, and the 3 chosen were definitely not the prettiest, but winners were selected and that was that.

Later, they announced scholarship winners. Each year, the Gobernación, like our State Government, gives out scholarships, and they announce the winners during the Día de Juventud festivities. I was really impressed with both the fact that they were giving out scholarships and the number of scholarships that were granted.

Access to education is, in my opinion, one of the most serious detriments to economic development in Paraguay, so it’s good to see that at least some scholarships are available. Paraguay still has a long way to go in this regard in that there aren’t student loans and there are a very small number of scholarships available, but it’s at least a start. I’m thinking of pitching a project to my cooperative to give out scholarships and offer student loans, which with any luck will start a trend among cooperatives of offering scholarships and student loans. This could go a long way in giving more students the opportunity to get an education and could have a big impact if it caught on in the right way. That’s pie in the sky thinking, but hey, shoot for the stars right? I’ll let you know if it works out.

Next came the concert, which featured several bands including one of the most popular bands in Paraguay at the moment. Everyone crowded around the stage and celebrated youth in true young fashion...listening to music, drinking, and dancing the night away.

Again, I couldn’t help but think of how unexpected this all was. I expected to be living in a little shack in the country, and for sure never, ever envisioned being at a really great concert among thousands of people in my own site as a Peace Corps Volunteer. At one point I looked at Anne, and said, “Can you imagine what the Campo Volunteers would think of this? We have such a good life. Haha”

All in all, I really love Youth Day. Everyone celebrates and embraces youth, both in age and spirit. The day is very friendly and festive. Paraguayans may not be one of the more wealthy countries, but boy do they know how to enjoy life!

Coop Football Championship & Disco

September 19th, 2009

The next day was yet another eventful day in San Juan Bautista.

Around 6:00 PM, I went to Analia’s house to meet up with Anne, Claire, and John (fellow Volunteers) and Analia and Yaz (Paraguayan friends).

We played “Bullshit” (couldn’t be avoided...that’s just the name of the game) while listening to Analia’s iPod for a few hours.

Around 9:00 PM, I met up with Peke and went to the 24 (the name of a local soccer team) indoor soccer stadium where employees from my cooperative played in the inter-organizational tournament final against the jail staff. The team from the Jail were, probably logically so, huge, aggressive, and fiercely competitive but the Cooperative was fast, smart, and patient. You wouldn’t think so, but this game was a big deal. The Jail fan following was humongous. They set off really loud fireworks, had their own Mariachi band, and took pictures in front of the goal as if they had made it to the World Cup final.

The Jail went up 2 nothing quick-like in the first half, which really depressed and flustered the Cooperative team and fans. There was almost a fight, in which this huge dude would have surely pummeled the old, skinny, professional Loan Department manager from the cooperative. I have no idea what they were fighting about, but judging by the intensity, you would have thought it was a high-stakes, big money on the line, National Championship instead of a local town inter-organizational tournament final.

I’ve come to realize that, while Paraguayans are generally very nice and tranquil, when it comes to competition, they are very prone to cheating, fighting, and fiercely arguing.

Side Note: I had to move halfway across the stadium because this drunk wouldn’t stop pestering me in Guaraní. He was being very aggressive, was very drunk, and really annoying...not to mention the fact that I couldn’t understand a word coming out of his mouth because he was speaking in slurred Guaraní.

Anyway, the Cooperative came back strong in the second half, quickly tying the game up. We went crazy with each goal scored. Near the end of the game, the Cooperative scored again, making the score 3-2 in the Cooperative’s favor, and before too much longer the whistle blew making the Cooperative the official Champions of the local inter-organizational tournament! My colleagues from the Coop and I went Ballistic! We jumped up, screamed, jumped around, slapped high fives and rushed the field. Everyone met in the middle, jumping up and down, chanting, “hey, hey, hey, hey, hey, hey, hey.” Then we took a lap around the stadium, and finally met in the middle again to receive the trophy. It was a glorious moment, and I was very proud to be part of the winning team.

Funny Story: We’re all crowded around the trophy after the excitement had died down and this drunk guy came up with a beer and poured it inside the trophy (it’s the big cup style trophy instead of the figure style). Some of the coop team members tried to stop him right before he did it but were unsuccessful. Party Foul! The bear immediately spilled all over the gym floor (because it wasn’t sealed at the bottom) and ruined the lettering on the base. What an idiot! Haha.

Afterwards, I went back to Analia’s house where we wasted time before going to the club. We passed the time by playing MASH. Remember contemplating your future by playing MASH as a kid? So according to MASH, I’m going to marry Analia, live in North Dakota in a shack, earn a million dollars a year working in the local circus, and drive an Aston Martin...not too shabby.

After all that stimulating conversation (sense the sarcasm), we needed to rest our minds by dancing our hearts out so we headed to the local club. We danced the night away, and then I called it night, walking the 100 yards or so to my house. Yeah I live super close to the club so every Saturday night I hear the constant beat well into the early morning.

Oscar B-day Party

September 18th, 2009

Oscar is the son of the Kurupí millionaires, and it was time to celebrate his birthday. His birthday party paled in comparison to the overly extravagant Quinceañera thrown for their daughter just a few months ago, but still was a really good time. I know how extravagant it was because they showed me the pictures from the party. It was literally something like the Sweet 16s on MTVs My Sweet 16 TV show.

If I get a chance, I’ll go by and try to take a few pictures of the pictures they have to show you how amazing this party was. I’m really beginning to see why Latin America has the highest gap between the rich and the poor of anywhere in the world.

Anyway, it’s Oscar’s day, so on to his party. We started things off the Paraguayan way. All the guys stood outside in a circle drinking and cracking jokes on each other while the girls sat inside, most probably gossiping about the guys outside.

The adults sat around a large table, and were served appetizers and expensive whiskey and wine.

Once the food was ready, all the boys sat around on table on the outside and the girls sat around a table on the inside. I swear...I don’t know what it is exactly that creates this cultural phenomenon, but it’s like half grown males and females act like children at a dance in the States. They even treat relationships like we did in Elementary. If a girl is interested in a guy for example, they will send a friend to tell him she likes him and ask if he likes her back. It’s going to take me some time to adjust to this part of the culture.

We ate some rather good, yet tough grilled meat, various salads, and of course mandioca.

After dinner, we went back outside for more standing around and drinking before heading inside for the disco party that ensued. They had hired an incredible DJ who brought a powerful sound system and lights. We danced and partied into the night, and when I was all partied out, I headed home.

For future travelers coming to Paraguay....BEWARE! Most Paraguayans can easily drink you under the table and they are accustomed to partying until at least 5 in the morning before even considering calling it a night.

I was told they stayed for a while after I left, and a big group ended up jumping into the pool despite how cold it was that night.

Arrested Development

September 12th, 2009

Pretty uneventful weekend. I stayed in bed most of it watching three seasons of Arrested Development.

If you know the show or the meaning of the title, you’ll understand why the title of this blog is a double entendra.

Best Hamburgers in Town Taste Test

September 10th, 2009

The following night, Peke and I got hungry and went to my favorite hamburger spot near the town plaza called Sabrosos. If you’ve been following my blog, you may recall this place from way back when I was on my future site visit.

I like these burgers so much because of the special sauce (which I later found out is only ketchup and mayo mixed together) along with how delicious and greasy it is.

So we scarfed down a burger each and then headed to a local store to buy a gaseosa (soda). The store is conveniently located next to Peke’s favorite burger stand, and we were both still hungry and arguing over who had the best burgers in town, so we decided to go for another burger each.

Although that burger was bigger and also pretty good, I still maintain that Sabrosos is the most sabroso in San Juan, though my neighbor’s stand gives them a run for their money.

After eating this burger, we headed to Crisol’s for a few games of pool. Oh the life of a Peace Corps Volunteer...My biggest worries these days include deciding which burger place to choose and whether or not to play an extra game of pool. Haha.

Paraguay vs. Argentina

September 9th, 2009

I know most of my readers probably don’t fully appreciate how huge of a deal fútbol, or soccer, is in Paraguay, and specifically how HUGE the Paraguay vs. Argentina game is and was, so allow me to educate you...

First of all, I would be comfortable in saying there are more people in Paraguay who go to soccer fields around the country than Church on Sunday. Fútbol is a major deal in Paraguay, as in most other Latin American countries, and indeed other countries around the world.

Up to this point, Paraguay had only ever beaten Argentina once. Argentina has historically had very successful soccer teams and is the single most hated rival for Paraguay. The fact that Argentina usually has a great team and has beaten Paraguay in all but one contest combined with the fact that Argentina is the dramatically more economically successful next-door neighbor explains the roots for such a heated rivalry.

So now that I’ve set the stage, allow me to explain the happenings of September 9th, 2009, yet another day that will live in infamy in the minds of the fanatical Paraguayan soccer following.

Peke, my best friend in site, my host sister, Tati, and I were all huddled around a small television in Tati’s apartment upstairs. It was a great game. Paraguay scored a goal in the 29th minute, and nearly scored twice more in the 1st half, hitting the posts each time, which had Paraguayan soccer fans around the country jumping out of their seats. After that, it was a long defensive struggle. Even though there was only one goal scored, it was a classic game. We were on the edge of our seats as Argentina nearly scored several times in the second half, but in the end, Paraguay held the hungry Argentineans off and edged out the victory, securing their place in South Africa for the World Cup!

As soon as the whistle blew, Paraguay, including my town went CRAZY. David had beaten Goliath. Paraguay had beaten Argentina for only the second time ever. Peke and I jumped up and started high fiving, screaming, chanting, “Paraguay, Paraguay, Paraguay.” We ran to the window and started shouting as bombs exploded all over the city. Within minutes, there were hundreds of cars and motos parading through town flying Paraguayan flags, playing loud music, and honking. People were out in the streets dancing, jumping up and down, giving high fives and thumbs up, cheering, setting off fireworks, and chanting in celebration of Paraguay’s big victory. After the big parade, we headed down to the town plaza where we hung around watching as people revved their motos, drank, and generally socialized and celebrated. It was an amazing atmosphere. Oh the simple joys in life...


Botched Attempt at Brownies

September 8th, 2009

I’ve been craving sweets something serious lately. Although there are some sweets such as ice cream, candy, and simple cakes available in my town, I still haven’t been able to find the types of sweets to satisfy the sweet tooth I’ve developed recently. Anyone that knows me from the states can attest to the fact that I usually don’t eat a ton of sweets, but for some reason here, I’ve been craving them lately.

I acquired a few recipes from Nurse Mary who is infamous for good sweets and set about making some brownies. My host sister, Tati, and I followed the instructions and made the brownies. The recipe called for a 9 X 13 inch pan. I measured a few of the pans available and picked the closest one. It seemed a bit small but since I had measured it, I didn’t think anything about it. Somehow I read the 9 X 13 part wrong and instead measured for a 7 X 9 or so pan. Don’t ask me how that happened. It just did. As the pan was deep and not long or wide enough, the top burned and the middle didn’t cook. So Tati and I improvised. We removed the top part and poured the remainder in a bigger, shallower pan, and re-cooked the brownies. They didn’t come out thick, soft and fluffy as I had hoped for, but regardless were pretty good in the end.

Carlos came over and inquired what they were. I told him they were called “brownies,” or “marroncitos,” and told him to try them. I ensured him he would like them. Paraguayans in general are pretty resistant to change and to trying new things. He resisted at first, saying, “No! No! I don’t know what that is.” “No, I don’t want to try it.” He kept resisting and I kept insisting. I told him they were sweet and just to try one, and pretty much forced him into it.

It was like watching a crack addict take his first hit. He had one taste and subsequently nearly ate the whole pan.

Here is a picture of Carlos for reference of why I knew he was prone to liking the brownies and how he was capable of nearly finishing off the pan singlehandedly.

Family Grill Out for Cristina

August 23rd, 2009

The next day, we had a family Welcome Back asado for Cristina. This gave me a chance to meet some members of the family who I hadn’t met yet including a few girls that live next door, and Claudia, who is Cynthia’s sister. Cynthia is my office mate at work who found me a place to stay. My host brother Carlos served as cocinero. I served as taste tester of the chorizo.

I had a good time playing a few games of Paraguayan kid style Volleyball. We placed a broomstick and a long tree limb on the ground, and that served as the net.

Asado at Millionaire’s House

August 22nd, 2009

My host sister, who had been living in Washington D.C. as part of a live-in Nanny and English study program, was rather enthusiastically welcomed back home the moment she stepped off the bus. The family wasn’t expecting her for a few more days so they were surprised to see her. She came early in an attempt to avoid them picking her up at the airport and a big, extravagant welcome (which she didn’t avoid anyway). A few people found out she was back and within a matter of minutes, family and friends starting pouring into the house, where they all sat in a circle yelling over each other.

It was pretty hectic so I couldn’t make out much of the conversations. Before too much longer, my host mom decided an asado (barbeque) was in order, and a rather benevolent lady offered to have it at her house, which is just a few houses down from mine.

Within minutes, I found myself in an environment that had me questioning whether or not I was really in the Peace Corps. The benevolent woman who offered to have the asado at her house is the owner of Kurupí and Te Guarani, probably the two biggest national brands in Paraguay. Kurupí is my favorite brand of yerba for t-ray and mate, the traditional drinks in Paraguay, and Te Guarani is a family of tea brands. Needless to say, I was amazed to find myself in a mansion (by Paraguayan standards at least). They have a glass building in the middle of their patio, which is complete with luxurious couches, a big flat screen TV, a nice dining table, a bar, a massive grill, bathroom, and kitchen. It’s like a mini house apart from the larger house. They have a full time staff consisting of a cocinero (grill man), maid/chef, and security guard.

Within an hour of so of arrival, I was chowing down on the best asado I had eaten up to this point as well as salads and sausages. Oh and did I forget to mention, they had an open bar where you could have your choice of beer, liquor, or wine. I took a stroll around the place and found a really nice truck, a 7 series BMW, a four-wheeler, 2 jet-skis, and a belowground pool.

I felt really good and REALLY GUILTY at the same time. Here I am a Peace Corps Volunteer, and while some of my colleagues are out in the campo squatting in outhouses and bringing in water from their well, I’m chatting it up with Paraguayan Millionaires, eating great food that was prepared and served to me by a professional staff, and generally just living lavishly.

After everyone had finished eating, we sat around drinking, joking, and having a good time. I received a text from a fellow Volunteer, Claire, asking what I was up to. I replied that I was chillin’ at a Millionaire’s house to which she replied that she was doing the same thing, also at a Millionaire’s house, to which I replied, “We are awful Peace Corps Volunteers.”

After a string of texts and a few more calls, she and her Paraguayan friends picked me up in front of the house, and I went back to another very nice house, where we proceeded to sing songs in Spanish Karaoke style. After a few hours of this I was tired and ready to call it a night, but Claire dragged me to the club despite my efforts to convince her otherwise. I danced a bit but then escaped unnoticed and headed home to pass out.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

White Men Can’t Jump (and neither can Paraguayans)

August 21st, 2009

The next day, one the guys (I still don’t know his name) that I met while visiting my site as a trainee invited me out to play some b-ball. The b-ball court is just a few blocks from my house. For the most part, Paraguayans are horrible at basketball. Haha. Regardless, it was a lot of fun, and I met some cool kids on the court. I also taught them to play horse but instead of spelling horse we spelled Chancho (pig).

I wanna be a cowboy baby

I arrived to my site, San Juan Bautista, around 9:00 PM on August 18th, 2009.

As of today, October 18, 2009, I have been here for exactly 2 months now. Although I made a few general posts during that time, I have been really slack on describing what’s been going on in my life since Swearing-In.

I’ve had a lot of fun in the last two months and can honestly say that being a Volunteer is a lot better than being a Trainee, although I do miss my host family and friends from training from time to time.

In this series of posts, I’m going to hit the highlights of the last two months and describe what my typical day is like now that I’m in site.

August 20th, 2009-

VAC Meeting at Ranch

VAC, which stands for Volunteer Advisory Council, is the mechanism for formal communication between Volunteers and the Peace Corps Paraguay executive management. All volunteers belong to a VAC group, which is organized regionally, and then representatives from each regional VAC get together once a month in Asunción for an NVAC, National Volunteer Advisory Council, meeting.

My VAC group did it up big and welcomed the new G30 VAC members (Arthur, Dina, and myself) in style by having a get-together at a nice ranch in San Miguel called San Francisco. It was sort of cold and early morning when we arrived, so we just sat around a fire and chatted it up a bit. Claire, John and his friend visiting from Ecuador, a married couple whose names are Matt and Angie, Arthur and Dina, Michael, Jesus, and myself were in attendance.

John’s friend from Ecuador was really cool. He moved to Ecuador about a year ago to teach English. He didn’t go as part of a program and he didn’t speak a lick of Spanish. He just packed up, flew to Ecuador, and looked for a job. If that isn’t cool enough, consider the fact that he bused from Ecuador to Bueños Aires and then on to Paraguay to meet up with John, crossing the Atacama Desert and racking up a whole host of interesting, adventurous experiences and stories in the process.

After a bit of chatting, we went outside, mounted some horses, and went on a very tranquil ride around the ranch, which is a beautiful, vast track of land.

I forgot how much I love riding horses. On the way back, I rode faster than I ever have before, including racing horseback on a beach in Greece. There is something freeing and adventurous about being mounted atop a horse in full gallop. I think there’s a good chance I’ll own a horse one day.

After riding horses, we satisfied the appetite we had built up by eating a delicious meal, and shortly after headed back to our respective sites.