Friday, November 18, 2011

Striving to Thrive

Hello great big world! How we´ve missed you all! You wouldn´t believe how easy it is to forget there´s such a thing as the interwebs when one is surrounded by statuesque trees, rowdy birds, gaseous cows, friendly folk, and nearly machine-free living. Piece o' cake. Well, I finally remembered and have plenty of thoughts rumbling around in the ol' thinker to share with you, my beloved plugged in friends and fam.

Lately I find that Maslow´s heirarchy of needs has nearly continually been bashing me over the head with its applicability to understanding people and life. Little by little, I am striving to push forward in making the transition from just surviving (eating, sleeping, pooping), to adapting (feeling safe in body and resources, building relationships), to thriving (respect by others, confidence, spontaneity, creativity) . I have to say that I am finding the third stage to be by far the most challenging. Perhaps that's because I did not even conceive of thriving as being something I had to work on here. I worked so hard over the past seven years to learn how I personally could thrive in Portland that I think I figured I would just carry that over and continue on in my growth, picking up where I left off. Not so.

I am learning that every new incarnation of me must undergo the same struggle, the same process of surviving, adapting, and hopefully, eventually thriving. Now that I think about it, each of my overarching phases in life have involved that very process. Growing up in a home and town whose rules, manners of behavior, and culture were very different from my nature required surviving and at the most adapting, but I can´t say I ever reached the stage of thriving. That requires a level of self-knowledge and conscious intent that only relatively recently have I come to possess. I have gradually transitioned from subconsciously bumbling my way through my development as a person to a conscious, intentional search for books, friends, documentaries, outlets of expression, and lifestyle habits that assist me in my growth.

Some challenges here include very limited access to the greater world and its ideas, language and cultural misunderstandings which chip away at one´s confidence to express oneself, and reluctance to change (weird for me to admit, considering one of my great fears in life is stagnating in growing and changing, but I have found I am still quite enamored with the Tegan that Portland birthed). Fortunately, I still have some pretty inspiring relationships and memories from the other universe I used to inhabit and the search is well under way for sources of inspiration and catalysts for growth in Paraguay. I have a handful of close fellow volunteers who are undergoing similar struggles and epiphanies. I am surrounded by trees (although there are fewer and fewer every single day). And I have found friendships in strange places in example being the spunkiest, most bizarre nine-year-old girl, whom we´ve lovingly dubbed¨Toad¨in Guarani.

I hope this post finds you all happy, healthy in heart and body and mind, and growing as people.

So very much love,

Saturday, September 24, 2011

The Longlost Carter Langes

Well, well, well. The wayward bloggers return, por fin. It has been a busy past few months here in our corner of Paraguay! We finished building our composting bathroom in time for a visit from the other Langes. We eased them into Paraguay by spending a few days in a cush hotel in a fancy part of Asuncion... then brought them down to reality for a week in out community. Sadly, they didn´t get to try any mondongo (cow innards that taste just like cow poop smells) nor any pig head for breakfast. But they did get to meet all of our friends and neighbors a well as attend two of our language classes. David´s big whoopsie was to tell the kids "aguamente" instead of igualmente after meeting them. That elicited a few minutes of laughter. Viki, on the other hand, took to Spanish like a fish to water! A week longer and she´d have been fluent. We made it up to Iguazu Falls on the Argentinian side and were blown away! It is spectacular! We went on a little boat that zips right under the spray of the falls and it was exhilarating! And cold and wet... Then, rather than put-put around Argentina, the Langes decided they´d rather hang another few days in our community, which we took to be a great sign. If you´d like to see the various furniture and tools and garden fence (half built) that we slaved away on with Dave at the whip, I recommend you peek at our facebook. A few other highlights: Viki and one of the town drunks lifting their pantlegs to compare calves; the Langes doing laundry by hand for literally 5 hours; successful communication with only wild gesticulating; and our two worlds colliding.

So, now you all know a visit is not only possible, but quite enjoyable (as evidenced by the Langes coming back for more time in our community)... so come! We´d love to show you around and introduce you all to tranquilo Paraguay.

Advertisement aside, we had a rather difficult goodbye with the Langes in Asuncion then started a week of training with our whole group and a community member brought by each. It was good to work side-by-side with a community member in planning all the phases of a project. I worked with Mirtha, the second-grade teacher in our school, meanwhile Matthew worked with Esmilcen, a nursing student who also co-leads our soccer team. We played American Football every afternoon, Settlers of Cattan in the evening, and a few rounds of hide and seek and sardines in the dark. All in all, it was a much needed transition from vacay with the Langes to rolling up our sleeves and diving into work in our community. We feel like a new page is being turned and it´s going to be a hell of a story!

Love and hugs to you all! Let us know what you´ve all been up to too!
The Carter Langes

Friday, June 17, 2011

4 Days Until Winter and it`s 80

Hello, World!

Matthew here. I apologize if my last post was a bit of a downer. We have been told that this two-year ride known as Peace Corps would be like a roller coaster: lots of ups and downs, and sometimes one right after the other.

My life here in Misiones started in a strange way, but now I have gotten my feet under me a little and am starting to feel out my role in our community. Every Tuesday and Friday Tegan and I have been visiting the primary school to give health-related talks to the 80 or so kiddos there. It usually takes two hours in the morning (grades 2, 3, and 4) and another two hours in the afternoon (grades K-1, 5, and 6). It's technically only a half day of work, but after so much Spanish, Guarani, laughing, and teaching, we are usually exhausted. We are preparing for a big event where we showcase how to reuse trash. We are planning to make hand-washing stations with every kid in the school, teach how to make jewelry out of recycled materials, and dig a compost pile, as well as make some refreshing orange juice to reinforce free, healthy, natural juice over (the much more popular) dubiously-fabricated soda.

Also, we have a girl's soccer team that practices two afternoons each week. While no formal positions, plays, or drills have been implemented yet, it is easy to see which girls are most interested and what are their natural inclinations on the field. We have at least two other Volunteers in the department who are also looking to start girls' teams in other parts of Misiones and maybe we can set up some formal games in the Spring. (P.S. June 21 is the first day of Winter. Hard to get used to that concept.)

Another development is a language class we have started in the secondary school (grades 7-12). We are hoping to foster an exchange of languages as we desperately want to improve our Guarani to better integrate into the community. Lots of families think that a rudimentary knowledge of English might help their kids in the increasingly-global job market. Our first class had five students, the second, 31. We have since split them up into two groups (middle school and high school). Most of the kids in the middle school group are reluctant to try and speak in English. We are going to spend more time going over the alphabet (only the letter “o” is the same sound in all three languages) and work on phonetics. Their latest homework assignment was to bring to class any English words they come across. We heard things you might expect like “yellow” and “sister” but someone came across the word “howdy”, which made us laugh out loud.

Tegan went to Asuncion for a long weekend with some friends to celebrate her birthday while I stayed in our community. I made drinking glasses out of old wine bottles (you only need wire, sandpaper, and ice for this; awesome!) and spent a lot of time with my host brother. He is all of 5 years old but I am convinced he is a Mensa candidate. He has essentially taught himself Spanish (in contrast, most kids here aren't really comfortable speaking it until age 10, if at all) and is always building stuff out of twigs and trash to keep himself entertained. We played a game where I would hide an old matchbox somewhere where he could not see it (since I've got about 4 feet on him, this is easy) and he would not give up until he had fashioned some way to get it back. If you go to Facebook and see a picture of a kindergartener with a bowl cut, that's him.

We celebrated Paraguay's bicentennial May 14th (pictures on Matthew's Facebook page) and with July 4th fast approaching, it seems appropriate to talk of independence. We remain living with our Paraguayan family of three where we are not afraid of the bathroom and our host mother cooks with some different and exciting spices (cumin, garlic, how we missed thee!). We have, however, found a house to rent for the next two years! The catch is that it has no bathroom. We are waiting on a local contractor to return and help us build it. After that and some furniture, we will hopefully be on our own sometime in July.

Tegan's two cents:

Mba'echapa friends and fam! Matthew about summed it up, but here´s a littleof what I´ve been up to. I recently celebrated my first Paraguayan birthday and it was a blast! The weekend before I met up with some other volunteers in Asuncion [sans the hubband, GASP!] for a few days of relaxing and catching up...and maybe a little all night boogying and karaoke! On the big day, here in our little hamlet, we had a lovely lunch with our favorite ol' lady and the teachers. Then for the weekend after we had a triple-header birthday party shared with a 7 year old and a 2 year old. Another PC Volunteer friend of ours came and stayed with us for the triple-header party and taught all our little friends the art of Frisbee. We barbecued an entire pig and sheep... needless to say we are not lacking in protein in Paraguay.

Opá (that´s it) for now! As always, please keep us up to date with all of your adventures in your lives as well!

Friday, May 6, 2011

The Training Wheels Are Off

Tegan here: Hello beloveds! We are nestled at the foot of the mighty white rock for which the village is named. Sadly, or maybe fortunately, we have found our internet modem to be cowed by the remoteness in which we live. So be it. Once a week we shall trek to the nearest town to keep y'all up to date and to hear of the goings ons about Oregon and the world at large. Please accept this as our excuse for such a long silence.

In reality, the reason is that it is quite difficult to adjust to all of the changes with which moving here has presented us. Communication: wrestling with two new languages only to be told laughingly that we won't learn anything. Food: eating meat we saw hanging raw in the open for days and three meals a day of the same stale bread product, revamped by soaking in some pig lard. Also, our first morning in site, we were served pig head. For breakfast. Dwelling: a wooden shack with an unlatchable door which is regularly disturbed by the passing dog, chicken, pig, and town drunk. Hygiene: none. Well, some, but washing ones' hands in a bucket of opaque water inspires little confidence. Bathing: a nearby stream and some spousal bidet-action is involved. Laundering: similar to bathing, minus the bidet. Toilet: oh, the toilet. I will spare you all the details, but let's just say only liquids go down...ever. Labor: chopping, hacking, and dragging branches for cooking fuel, shucking corn, um, having all our meals prepared for us... which brings us to Dependence: this is perhaps the hardest, as it is not possible to shift to interdependence just yet, and we are relying heavily on the kindness of strangers for even our most basic of needs. For people who love hosting others and cooking, baking, and creating for them, it is strange to perpetually be on the receiving end.

Virtually everything here requires adjusting, shifting of perspective, and letting go of expectations and my sense of “normal,” as well as my sense of self. Imagine each of us as an intricate watercolor painstakingly painted over years and years. An experience like this is a splash of cold water that bleeds the colors and blurs the details. I am now squinting at the result, looking for what remains of the old and finding unexpected beauty in the the new.

Understand that none of this is to be read as complaining. This is precisely what we signed up for: the discomfort and challenge of down-shifting to a more simple, sustainable, communal, natural, and peaceful way of living. We have a vision of where we are going in this adventure, as well as our senses of humor and love of each other and life to carry us through the most difficult stretches. Quite the contrary to complaining, I hope to truthfully inform and elucidate you all of our life here. I do not want to simply gloss over the difficult stretches in our dispatches to you, our friends and family in the developed world. As much as I am in this to learn all I can from it, the educator in me demands that I share it so others can learn from it as well. I take this jumble of experiences like a handful of glitter and toss it in the air, leaving the wind to its task of blowing them to someone who will see their own reflection in each little mirror.

So, to tell you a little of the unexpected beauty I am finding here, please look upon our pictures and know that I am happy. Uncomfortable, stretching, blurring, changing, and happy.

Matt's turn: I have run the full gamut of emotions over the past two weeks. Sometimes within the course of a few hours. It has taken its toll on my body in the form of sinus headaches, pink eye, nagging cough, and lethargy. But things are looking up. Most of our difficulties were resolved by moving to a new location.

We started our journey in a house of seven (we were family members eight and nine) where there were lots of small children, farm animals, and unhealthy interpersonal (and interspecies) communication. We have since taken up lodging in a much larger, cleaner, and quieter space. We live with a single mom and her two kids, a 14-year old girl and 5 year old boy. They are certainly not rich, but they seem very happy. Although there is no running water, they go to great lengths to provide us with clean water with which to bathe, insist on doing our laundry, and keep the house meticulously clean. Also, the toilet is in much better shape and I no longer feel sick. The only downside is they are about half a mile from the nearest neighbor. While our time here is peaceful, we are certainly not as easily able to integrate into our community.

It is a constant struggle to balance my desire for independence and the unbelievable generosity of our community. How long do I try to convince our host mother that I can wash my own clothes before I give in and let her do them? When we visit the neighbor and she sets out a three-course lunch after we just finished a three-course lunch an hour ago, how much do we eat? How late do we stay up watching terrible Brazilian soap operas with the family?

We are searching for a home of our own for the next two years of our life and it has not been easy. Vacant homes in a community this small are few and far between. There is a big vacant home available, but it has been used as a cattle stall for the last few years and needs so much work it might be cheaper and easier to build a home from scratch. But where to put it? We know we want neighbors, but we don't want to live in someone's backyard (another option available to us).

A friend of mine compared the confinement of Peace Corps Training to being stuffed into a cannon; you will live here, eat this, sleep here, be at this place at this time and for this long, etc. After swearing in, the cannon has been fired and we are flying through the air, completely unrestricted, but looking for a safe place to land.

P.S. For the record; we have only been told once that we won't learn anything. And we didn't believe it for a second.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Retro Post

Tragety strikes today, as the Health volunteers of G-35 were struck down by food poisoning at the very restaurant we reserved for our celebration dinner last night. Damn you, Bolsi Bar! Matthew is under voluntary house arrest at the hotel while Tegan explores the capital city of Asuncion.

In happier news, here is a post we wrote before we swore in, but were unable to publish due to hundreds of simultaneous activities:

Greetings, everyone, and we hope you enjoy our last post as trainees! That's right, this Friday we swear in as official Peace Corps Volunteers. It is an exciting time, filled with lots of activities and emotions.

The first bit of news is that we have officially become members of our Paraguayan host family! The night before we left to visit the site of our new home for the next two years (pictures on Matthew's Facebook page), our host brother asked us to be his godparents! In Paraguay, it is tradition that the parents pick the child's godparents at birth, but the child gets to choose a second set for their confirmation in the Catholic church around their 16th birthday. So it appears we will be returning to Guarambare in November for a big celebration. Our family has hosted a number of volunteers over the years and with the language barrier and cultural differences it was sometimes difficult to tell if they viewed us simply as friendly foreigners passing through their lives or something more. So it goes without saying that we were unbelievably flattered to be honored in this way. Matthew will start working on his Marlon Brando accent posthaste.

Another exciting milestone happened when we spent five days and nights in our new home in the Santa Rosa district of the Misiones department. Each of us has a contact within our community that we will be working closely with over the next two years. Matthew's contact is a strong and strong-willed woman of 63 who works the fields, rides horses, plays soccer, and lives on her own (all of these things are rare for a Paraguayan woman of any age). She also runs the village's “social pharmacy” which means she provides the citizens with a mix of natural and “modern” medicines. She is the de facto medical expert in the community as the official government health post is only open two hours a week. Between wanting to build fogones, latrines, learn about parasites, HIV/AIDS/STIs, and improve the hours of the health post, Matthew will be kept very busy by the new community.

By contrast, Tegan's community contact is a soft-spoken 29 year old mother of three. We stayed with her during our visit and she was our main guide tot he community. We assumed she would be one of the few Spanish speakers in the community, but a vast majority of the community members between the ages of 10 to 50 can speak it fluently. She teaches second grade (half-time) at the community's school and on that salary she keeps her household of eight (her, her three kids, her two sisters, and her parents) running. Somehow, she has been able to save and borrow enough to start construction on a new home that she wants to rent to us. The new house is technically on her family's property and in between their house and the house of Matthew's contact. We hope everything works out and we are able to rent this house and support a single mom trying to improve life for herself and her family.

During our stay we met a few other families and walked over a good portion of our village. The 450 inhabitants that were estimated on our initial information form seems like a bit of an overestimation. The main industry seems to be raising cattle and therefore the houses are dispersed quite a distance apart. For amenities, there is a store an elderly woman runs out of her house and, during our visit, had noodles, onions, margarine, and alcohol in stock. There is meat on Wednesdays we are told. It looks like we will be doing a majority of our shopping in Santa Rosa, which is an hour bus ride away.

Our best friend in our site so far is a 7 year old girl who speaks little-to-no Spanish. The first day we were in site, she was entertaining herself by jumping around and rolling in the dirt. We gave her the nickname Kururu (“toad” in Guarani), which she seemed to love, shouting it over and over. We climbed trees, danced, and otherwise entertained each other during our visit.

As with any community, not all is paradise. No one washes their hands after using the bathroom, nor do they wear shoes (with so much livestock around, this is a great way to get worms burrowing into your feet and making their way into your bloodstream). There are a number of alcoholics in the area, one of whom lives nearby. Matthew's contact was under the impression that he would be more of a medical expert than a health educator, so some assumptions need to be adjusted. The teachers at the local high school don't live in the community, only visit one or two days a week, and have a very low opinion of the students (many Paraguayans become teachers not because of an innate desire to teach, but because it is one of the few jobs with regular pay in the nation). Learning more Guarani will be essential as no one ever speaks Spanish unless they are speaking to us. Also, there are innumerable number of invisible social and cultural norms that will be (and may already have) bumped into, and occasionally, broken.

For example, one afternoon during our stay, we were fed tripe. Yes, the intestines of the family's own cow is considered a treat here in Paraguay. If you've never had tripe straight up boiled, sans spices, we'll just say it tastes a lot like cows smell. We were having visible trouble with the dish and the mother and chef of the house felt so bad she invited us back the next day for lunch, where she prepared enough milanesa (essentially chicken-fried steak) for us each to eat three or four full steaks to make up for the previous day's shame.

All the hurdles we have before us we are hopeful and optimistic that we can clear. We are in love with the generosity and friendliness we were met with and are looking forward to working with such efficient and resourceful people. We have already seen people using empty plastic or metal containers as planters, which reminds us of the reclaimed-materials movement we thought we were leaving behind in Portland. Also, our second day in site, we built a wand-washing station (take an empty two-liter bottle with cap on, cut off the bottom, fill with water, turn bottom upside down and put it back in the larger opening and place soap inside, cut two slits near the top, thread wire or string through the slits; open the cap slightly to get water out and you can wash your hands wherever you like!) outside of the family's latrine. So taken with our creation, our 7 year old friend built one of her own before the day was through! Now we just need to get her to use it...

This Friday we swear in with our friends in Asunción Traditionally, everyone sticks around for the weekend and spends a little more time together before we all scatter in the wind. It will be lots of fun, but also bittersweet, as a lot of these friends have been neighbors over the past 10 weeks, but now will be a 6, 8, or 10 hour bus ride away from us in their sites. We look forward to staying in touch with them through the cell phones we are soon to receive. Also, lots of volunteers get together around the 4th of July, Thanksgiving, and additional trainings and in-services throughout our service. We are excited to and share our experiences with them and learn from the experiences they have had.

The next post will be our first as volunteers, and hopefully posted from our little casita in the campo! Until then, please keep in mind we can start receiving visitors July 15th (mid-winter here)!

Thinking of you all,

The Godparents

Wednesday, April 6, 2011


Hey everyone!

We just returned from visiting our future home in Misiones! Check out Matt's Facebook for photos. We will write about our experiences soon (I hope). We become official volunteers April 15th with a big fiesta and swearing-in ceremony Asuncion. Our lives are a whirlwind of activity until then.

Thinking of you all,
Those People You Know Who Live In Paraguay

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Home, Sweet Home

Ladies and Gentlemen,

We are proud to announce our new home for the next two years: Santa Rosa, Misiones!

Located in the south of Paraguay, along the Argentine border, Misiones is famous for cows and catholic settlement ruins. Oh, and sheep. Our particular site has a population around 450 (452 now, as a friend of ours puts it). Also, we will be speaking primarily Guaraní, so get used to some more stories regarding the strange and inappropriate uses of the language in future posts. It is rumored that we will have both running water and electricity. We have a friend from training who will live about 10km away (6ish miles) and will be our brain-break when we need an English escape... if we even remember English by the end of this!

After being presented a folder of info about our site, we were approached by several directors and tech. trainers to be regaled with stories of how lovely our site is both, in ambiance and community. We have only seen a few photos and both passed through this department (state) for our Long-Field Practice, but already have a sense of lush, verdant rolling hills with a smattering of trees and rocky baby mountains jutting up. For the Oregonians out there, picture the northern approach to Eugene south of Salem.

To share a little of the antsy-butterflies (or burbujas, as Paraguayans call it bubbles in your stomach) we are currently feeling, the next Carter Lange post will be to tell you all about our week-long visit to our future community!!!!! Friday morning we will each meet our community contacts and all ride the bus back to our little town to spend a week meeting the family we will live with for a month or two, drinking a few gallons of tereré (cold maté & medicinal herbs) with each of the 100 families, see the house they´re building for us, visit the town school, and who knows what else.

Keep us in your thoughts! You are all in ours!
Much love,
the Carter Langes

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Keeping In Touch

M'bae la porte!

Hey folks, just a quick note that if you have Skype, you may occasionally find us online at the following username:


(please note there are not one, or two, but three periods in the name)

This and our email addresses ( and are great ways to contact us. In this space, we blather on and on about what we are doing, but please keep us posted on what you are up to as well.


Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Healthy Living

Just uploading some photos today depicting our life in Paraguay. We recently returned from Long Field Practice, a four day trip to another volunteer´s site in which Matthew went to the nearby campo, built another fogón (brick & mud oven), gave a talk to adults regarding nutrition, and a talk to kids regarding dental health. Tegan went to Encarnacion (a big city) and taught a lot of classes on a lot of different topics, including democracy, literacy, values, which she will go into more detail in another post. For now, enjoy the photos of Matthew´s trip! (and, as always, start at the bottom if you want it to make sense)

If Peace Corps doesn´t work out, there´s always Wrangler.

We also spoke about dental health at a nearby school.

The spider was found under my shoe one morning. The coin next to it is a little bigger than a quarter.

We gave a talk on nutrition at the local church.

My host sister, Gavi, followed me like a shadow.

This is what your kitchen looks like when you cook over an open flame for decades. Part of the reason you build a fogón is to keep people´s lungs from looking like this.

Views of and from the house.

View from my window at my temporary host family´s house. Piglets!

Saturday, March 19, 2011

La Vida

They say a picture is worth a thousand words, so here are fifteen thousand words regarding our life in Paraguay. You should start at the bottom for chronology's sake.

Lots of photos depicting the challenges and rewards of building a fogón. We made chipa (a savory corn bread) with the community to celebrate.

Tegan has an ever-rotating group of kids who come over on weekends and make friendship braclets and other stuff (like cartwheels).

Dinner at our house (Matthew made chili!) with our host family and our friends Jeff & Carly
Digging a trash pit.

Planting trees.

Facepainting at our community party (the tembo'i incident)

Friday, March 11, 2011

"Schools" in Paraguay

A note from Tegan:

Well, it has come to pass that I am now observing and teaching in a sixth grade class in my neighborhood. In Spanish. To Guarani speakers. While my confidence in my Spanish is soaring in language class and in my home, it is another thing entirely to stand up in front of 23 pubescent native-speakers and try to command some semblance of a presence of authority. Fortunately, a friendly smile and earnest attempt at understanding a rapid-fire mash-up of two languages (none of which I speak fluently, mind you) goes a long, long way.

So far, I have observed a lot of yelling and vehement scolding on the part of the teacher, a lot of writing on the board for the kids to copy, and a lot of the teacher strolling in and out of the classroom as she pleases. We are told all of these things are quite common in Paraguayan schools. Bueno...these are all things I hope to find alternatives to in talking and working with the teachers.

For my first teaching experience last week, I led a round of the game where you write a sentence then pass to someone else to draw a picture, then fold the paper to conceal the original sentence and get someone new to write a sentence based on the drawing. I now know that this might have turned out better had we first discussed how to come up with a sentence to write, and had we discussed communal ownership of art, as opposed to art for private consumption. We have been told that centuries of dictatorship has effectively squelched creativity in Paraguay. Fortunately, I brought with me the belief that creativity can never really be killed, just buried very very deep. I will be thinking and reading on how to draw out creativity, in writing and in visual arts. Any informative websites or input would be most welcome.

Yesterday was a bit more successful from my perspective. My goal was less focused on content and instead centered on encouraging student participation. I tried to think of a subject in which the students are experts and settled on Paraguayan culture. Then I had us ditch the desks and rows to shake things up and had us all sit in a circle. They then taught me about Paraguayan maxims and the values behind them, traditional music, traditional clothing, food, and language. I´m not sure that they necessarily learned concrete, tangible content, but I do know that they participated and laughed a lot and were comfortable.

I won´t be able to build on this experience until two weeks from now because we are on the cusp of Long-Field Practice (fancy talk for a week working in the community of a current volunteer). Starting bright and early Monday morning, we will be heading out with our respective language groups and a teacher or two. Yes, you read correctly. Matthew and I will be *GASP* separate! We are both pretty excited to delve into hands-on learning, despite the pang of sadness at the thought of a week apart. My group will start leading high-school classes on the Values of a Democracy as soon as we arrive Monday evening. The rest of the week will be a blur of last-minute lesson planning and high-energy classes on various subjects to kids of varying ages. Wow. Needless to say I will be enjoying my free time this weekend.

Speaking of which, tomorrow at 8am a friend and I will be riding horsies around the countryside for a few hours. Due to some unfortunate miscommunicating, my horse-riding will be cut short in order to catch an irregular bus to the community that now lovingly refers to Matthew as the little-penis guy (please read the previous post before making any assumptions about that nickname). He has been toiling away in the still, blazing mid-day sun to build a fogón (brick oven) for a school in that community, and tomorrow we will taste the fruit of his toils, so to speak. A group of trainees and families will come together to inaugurate the oven with some good old-fashioned chipa-baking. Chipa is a cheesy, bread-like product that is not too unlike the bricks with which the oven was built. Maybe a little harder, though.

Come Sunday, I will host the 3rd meeting of my Youth Empowerment group. This was formerly just a bracelet-making group started by myself and a friend, but to my utter shock, it has morphed in only two meetings into a computer-skills club, a geography club, a physical-activity club, and a photography club. The girls are literally every kid I saw on the street the first day, plus a few who were then invited by the initial girls. They range in age from 5 to 13 and are just delightful. They interact with each other in a very respectful, genuine manner and are infinitely curious. I am currently figuring ways to get boys to join. When asked initially, they were quite closed to the idea, but I have since befriended an 11-year-old boy who might be interested in hanging. I think now that it has branched out from just bracelets, they might be more inclined.

In brief is good. We are busy. We are content. We are stretching and growing. And we miss you all very much.
The next message will be after long-field and hopefully will contain all kinds of language and cultural mishaps, as well as a few successful learning moments.
Much love to you all,

Monday, March 7, 2011

A True Story From Paraguay

This anecdote comes from Matthew's experience last week:

Our training group is divided into four 12-member groups. Each group meets in small school/church/community center (centro) for classes, guest speakers, et al. This last week was the 50th anniversary of the Peace Corps' inception. To celebrate, each group had a small fiesta at their centro for the host families of trainees. Each party consisted of a short summary of the Peace Corps' efforts worldwide, some activities for children, and lots of food. In my group I was voted (some would say thrown under the bus) to be the Master of Ceremonies for our party. I worked with our language professors to prepare a bit of a program, but I got to ad lib most of it (all in Spanish). Approximately 30 people were in attendance (a sizable portion of the community). I introduced a couple of guest speakers, described the activities available for kids and then went about describing where they could find food. This is where things went awry.
The mother tongue of 90% of Paraguayans is Guarani. The trainees that have intermediate or advanced Spanish ability begin learning Guarani right away. Our trainers emphasize that speaking just a few words in Guarani can endure you to the people even more than your actions can. It is in this spirit of cultural integration that I chose to attempt to say “outside, there is food” in Guarani. Afuera, oĩ tembi'u. Easy enough. Except that my stage fright decided to kick in at this moment and I kind of stumbled through the phrase. The room erupted in laughter.
At this moment, I turned to another trainee and said (in English) “I don't know what I just said, but it must have been dirty.” You could just tell from people's reaction.
People filed outside and began eating and it is at this point that one of my language professors decided to clue me in. She said that when I tried to say tembi'u the people heard tembo'i. My blank expression must have told her that I did not know the meaning of that word. She translated my whole sentence for me: Afuera, oĩ tembo'i.
“Outside, there is a small penis.”
I spent the remainder of the party trying to find a corner to hide in. My fellow trainees have told me that their families still discuss this hilarious slip of the tongue around the dinner table. I have five more weeks of work left in this small community and shall forever be known as the-guy-who-offered-us-a-small-penis. This is the first time I have publically humiliated myself in Paraguay, but I have a feeling it will not be the last.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Visitaje a San Pedro

We recently visited a current volunteer who lives in the campo (countryside) in the department of San Pedro. Here are a few photos to peruse. We will write a description of our journey later, but for now, enjoy the images!

The finished product.
Enjoying the hours of rain.

Working in the huerta.

Her dog, Bauer.

Campo bedroom.

Campo bathroom.

campo kitchen.

A typical campo house.

View from the porch.

Una Cultura Nueva

As with any new culture, we have had lots to learn upon our immersion into Paraguay. Here are some brief examples:

Food & Drink
The food here reminds Matthew a bit of the Spanish food he had while on his study abroad during college. Lots of meat and processed gluten products. However, Paraguayans seem to have a larger spice rack than the Spanish. We have had oregano, cumin, pepper, and other spices that were non-existent in Southern Spain.

Breakfast consists of a hard roll. That's usually it. With the roll, Tegan usually has cocido, which is a drink made with hot milk and mate. Lots of Paraguayans dip their bread product into the cocido, which softens up the bread considerably. Matthew, having mentioned his general distaste for all things coffee & tea, is treated to a banana milkshake every morning, which consists of bananas, fresh milk, and sugar. (Sidenote: I cannot stress to you enough how delicious this is. Try it sometime.)

Lunch is typically the largest meal of the day. It features some combination of meat and grain, usually beef or chicken and one of the following: noodles, rice, or corn-flour pasta (not unlike gnocci). While we have not seen much of it, apparently many Paraguayan families enjoy parts of the cow/chicken/pig that are generally avoided in the US. This is both a terrific display of not allowing things to go to waste and also gastronomically unpleasant. Mandioc (a largely flavorless tuber) is served at nearly every single meal and in large quantities.

Dinner is generally smaller than lunch, but has many of the same ingredients. Our family goes all out for lunches on Saturday and Sunday and usually eats very little for dinner on those days (they still feed us well). During both Sundays we have been here, we have had ribs for lunch (beef one week, pork the next). This is a good time to discuss the trimming of meat in Paraguay. There is none. This goes along with the whole not-wasting thing, which is great. However, you may not know when you bite into a piece of beef whether or not it will have the texture of meat bubble gum.

Snacking for some trainees involves lots of cheap empty-calorie snacks, but we try and utilize the fruit provided by our host family. Most days are not complete unless we have a banana, orange, and mango (fresh from our family's tree!). Guava trees are abundant here, but we are generally non-plussed by them.

For water, we generally drink directly from the tap. Depending on who you talk within the Peace Corps, this is either A) safe B) a little sketchy C) safer than water in the US or D) a diarrhea guarantee. So far, there have been no problems (knocking on wood).

It continually surprises us just how many people walk around with large thermos' filled with ice water for terere. Terere consists of a cup you fill about half full of yerba mate, and then add in ice water that contains smashed up herbs and plants. Everyone here is a semi-professional herbalist and can pluck some weed out of the sidewalk that will cure what ails you (this is a bit of an exaggeration, but almost every Paraguayan can identify and successfully cultivate plants with healing attributes). The drink is strong, especially at the beginning, but it keeps you awake during excessive PowerPoint presentations and cools you off at the same time. The terere mug and straw are shared between all the people who are partaking.

There are different attitudes toward alcohol even amongst the different host families our group has in the same area. Some folks have families that don't drink at all (uncommon). Some trainees have families that get rip-roaring drunk, but only on Sundays (this is common). Some have families where only the men drink (also common). Our family drinks the occasional bottle of beer, which they share with us (well, Matthew) in the traditional way. Our host dad pours some out into a glass, drinks his share, then passes it to his wife. She drinks her share then passes it to Matthew, who has his share, and the cycle repeats. They seem to drink more on the weekends, but so far, never to excess.

The radio here seems to play the same 5-10 songs all day long. We are beginning to memorize some of the lyrics even though I usually don't know what they mean. The Black Eyed Peas are huge here. Also, so is anything auto-tuned. Our 15 year-old host brother really likes Guns n' Roses, which he plays for us on his cell phone. This is a refreshing change of pace from the pop-centric radio we are usually subjected to. We are planning on expanding his interest in rock music to other bands, which may or may not include more recent musical acts.

Granted, like all the other categories, we have limited knowledge here. Mainly we are going off our exchanges with our host family and stories we here of other trainees' families. Paraguayans tend to be friendly and polite, but a bit introverted. They usually will not greet a gringo on the street, but if you great them first, especially in Guarani, their face will brighten and they respond enthusiastically. They are not afraid of the awkward pause. We are told a great deal of our time in site will be spent inside awkward pauses. While Matthew was walking home on a sweltering hot Thursday, he greeted a collection of old men in Guarani, which led them to invite him over for some terere.

While in Paraguay's capital, Asuncion, we learned some more things about Paraguayans. We had a number of places to visit while there and were mainly left to our own devices to find said places. Because the concept of an address is foreign to Asuncion, this meant a lot of asking around. Paraguayans do not wish to be rude, so when you ask them where something is, they will tell you it is “(some number of) blocks that way.” By my way of thinking, this is not the most polite way to answer the question, because we then have to walk 20 blocks in 100 degree heat in the wrong direction, but it is the custom here. We quickly learned to look for non-verbal signs of recognition in people's faces or other clues that they did actually have the information we needed. Also, it is not at all uncommon to see a ox-drawn cart be passed by a Mercedes Benz in Asuncion.

Saturday, February 12, 2011


Sorry about the format, folks. The connection speed in Paraguay a´int what it used to be. Hope you enjoy a peek into our lives.

Rural Health´s first technical training.
Dogs that follow Matt´s classmates to school.

Tegan´s escuelita.

Tegan´s spanish classroom

The training center´s outdoor areas.

Our host family´s living room. Our host brother´s childhood toys decorate the wall.

Pitu likes shoes.

Matt´s half of the health trainees.

The outside of Matt´s escuelita.

Some Guaraní

Matt´s Guaraní classroom.

Pitu finds a new roost.

Tegan with both birds.

Tegan and Pitu.

Our bathroom with the possibly fatal showerhead.

Our al fresco kitchen/dining room.

Pitofina´s personality is eerily human.

Pancho looking dapper.

Our backyard sanctuary. Home of many glasses of tereré, beer, and conversation.

Me looking puzzled in our bedroom.

Tegan started making new friends in Montevideo´s mall/airport.