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.

La Vida Paraguaya

Howdy, Everybody!

I´ll start by saying that this is a real long post, so, to cut to the chase, I just put up some photos of our Paraguayan life on the next post. You should check it out. This post might give it some context, but it´s optional. That being said, here´s a small novel:

Are you wondering what a day in the life of a Peace Corps trainee looks like? No? Well, we´ll tell you anyway. Matt's typical day has looked like this: getting up at 6:30, I usually get a banana milkshake and a couple of rolls for breakfast. I often steal a couple of pieces of fruit as a snack and walk six blocks to hitch a ride to a rural community for language class with my profesores Paraguayas. Starting at 8:00am I have class for three hours with 11 other trainees (we are split into three classes where my class is the biggest with five students). Afterwards, I catch a ride home with the profesoras and eat lunch around noon with Tegan and our family's maid (we realize we are very spoiled, or chuchi, here). At 1:30pm all 48 trainees report to the PC training center in “downtown” Guarambare. There we have around four hours of health, security, development, and general policy information (lots and lots of PowerPoint). We return home around 6:00pm, where I usually jump directly into a cold shower. We have a hot water heater, but it's not what you might think. There is a switch in the bathroom that makes the lights dim and the shower head begin to spark. Standing, wet, on a tile floor with electrical sparks is not something covered in our security training, but it does not seem safe. Most days I only want a cold shower anyway. Then we do homework until dinner, which is usually served to us between 8 and 9pm. As soon as I can pull Tegan away from our host family, we go to bed, write in our journals, and get ready to start the process all over again the next day.

However, beginning yesterday (Friday), my afternoon schedule is starting to change. After language class, I had lunch with another trainee and her familia Paraguaya in our rural community. It was very interesting to see the differences in lifestyles between my host family and hers even though we only live a few kilometers apart. Whereas our house is a calm sanctuary, hers is a blur of people, dogs, and motorcycles. Everyone (including the dogs) are very nice and it is a good place for me to practice my burgeoning Guarani skills (“hello,” “how old are you?,” and “my name is Matthew,”).

At 1:00pm, we piled into a van and headed down the road to another rural community (where 12 other trainees live and take language class). There we had our first day of technical training, which consisted of some very basic nutrition information, and how to plant certain seeds to start a garden. Since these technical classes are all in English, they have coordinated with our language instructors to be teaching us the Spanish/Guarani terms around the same time. I am looking forward to more technical training as it involves more physical activity and less sitting in a chair listening attentively.

My most exciting assignment for the coming week is a trip to the capital. Our trainers gave us the address of an NGO in Asuncion we have to meet with, then find some lunch, and meet at the Peace Corps Headquarters by 12:45. We were given a map of the city (which is not as helpful as you would think since there are no addresses in Paraguay) and a telephone number and the rest is up to us. If you hear from me after Tuesday, I have made it out of the capital alive.

A Word or Two From Tegan:
It is shocking to me that we have only been here a week and a half. It feels like it has been at least a month. When first we arrived, I was chomping at the bit, impatient with all the policy talks and with language classes where we just chat a bit and learn a few nouns. I wanted to dive in & suddenly be fluent and move on to Guarani and learn all about education methods and perspectives and, and, I'm beginning to learn patience. Beginning. It is very much a process. My Spanish is coming along somewhere just short of fluency, at least on a conversational level but certainly not to the depth of an academic. We are in the clear now that we've made it through a full week of these afternoon policy chats. We will now be spending our afternoons getting to the meat of our service in education. We are going to go to the capital next Thursday, which will be eye opening to get out of our cozy little community. In two weeks we will each go to visit a volunteer in our respective fields for three days on our own. Matthew is teaching me Guarani as I quiz him on his homework, and our host family is teaching me as well. Things are starting to progress.

Interestingly, as my Spanish progresses, my English is receding. When we take our pretests each afternoon in English I read the question then my mind goes silent. I think it can't decide whether to think in English or in Spanish. Matthew and I have been mostly speaking to each other in Spanish, my entire morning is in Spanish, and I speak with my host family all night in Spanish. I suppose that my love of the English language is going to be something that I will have to relinquish for a time in order to allow enough room in my brain for Spanish. It's like Tauni's analogy of your mind being a slippery iceberg and knowledge being little penguins waddling around up there. With the input of a whole bunch of new penguins, a bunch of other penguins go sliding off into the dark cold depths of consciousness. Well, maybe Tauni's analogy isn't quite so morbid as I paraphrased it there. Somehow hers is a lot cuter.

On the home front, our host family is just delightful. We laugh all the way through dinner and pass the time sitting in our backyard haven chatting away. I am very grateful for my host mother's presence, as she is very wise and empathetic. My initial perception of Paraguayans is that they are a mixed bunch just like anywhere else and that you can't make grand sweeping statements to summarize them. With that in mind, I'm going to make the grand sweeping statement that initially they are wary of weird foreigners and won't usually be the first to greet you or even make eye contact, but the second you wave, call out a spanish/guarani mixed greeting, and smile genuinely they brighten like the sun and engage warmly with you.

In summation, we are well, we are happy, we are learning, and we are carrying a little bit of each of you on our journey.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Mba’éichapa From Sweaty Paraguay!

Mba’éichapa (mmm-bah-ay-sha-pa) means `greetings´in Guaraní.

Whoa! What a week! We arrived in Paraguay after a long flight from Miami to the mall/airport in Montevideo, Uruguay and a connecting flight to Asuncion.

The first night, the Peace Corps put the 47 of us up in a seminary outside of our training community. We were all glad to not have to speak any Spanish after our flights. The highlight for Matthew was playing with a glow-in-the-dark frisbee with some other trainees and Paraguayan kids. Tegan got her first sip of tereré (the national drink of Paraguay. It´s like maté, but cold). You hear a lot about how tereré is ubiquitous here, but seriously, every single person in the airport had a thermos, cup, and straw.

Thursday, we had our first day of training. Lots of policies were beaten into us, we got some shots, and got to know our fellow trainees better. So far, we have met another Lewis & Clark graduate, someone who studied in Seville, Spain, and another Oregonian. Small world. We would say the one thing almost everyone has in common is a history of global travel and volunteer experience.

Thursday we also suffered our first bout of...gastrointestinal maladies. But that´s the subject for another post.

We also had some interviews en español. Matthew thought he bombed his but got his ticket punched to skip ahead and begin learning Guaraní. Tegan thought she kicked some butt in the interview only to discover she has some reviewing of Spanish yet to do. Because the language classes are taught by native Paraguayans, our teachers do not speak any English. This means we learn Guaraní in Spanish, which has been a real brain teaser at times. Having different language classes has been good for us because we share what we learn when we get home.

Speaking of home, we met, and began living with, our host family Thursday night. We have a very warm and accommodating couple as host parents. They have a 15 year old boy who is...a 15 year old boy. He is a bit moody, but puts up with us (also, I think we kicked him out of his roomfor the next 10 weeks, so I can understand some resentment). We are trying to wear down hisdefenses by playing chess and card games with him. Also, we suppose our familia paraguaya isfairly well off; they have a maid, washing machine, and multiple televisions with cable. The houseand yard are immaculately clean. For pets, they have at least nine birds, including one overlycurious one that we believe thinks he is a human being. Our feet are his best friends whom he snuggles during meals and whenever we sit, but we are terrified of squashing their beloved little birdie! Already Tegan gave him a solid punt across the dining room when she was walking to the table. Oops! He survived.

So far, Paraguay has been good to us. The town we live in is neither large nor small, so the people are friendly enough and not terribly surprised to see so many gringos walking around. We have one and a half days off each week (Saturday afternoons and all day Sunday) and are just trying to adjust to our new schedule. Also, there is the heat. You end up sweating from places you did not know had sweat glands. Today it rained, which makes it very humid, but much, much cooler. Speaking Spanish and Guaraní for most of the day is taking its toll. Some of this post we have had to translate from Spanish back to English!

We miss all of you! Don´t be shy about keeping us posted on adventures of your own!

Jajotopata! (Goodbye!)
P.S. Photos coming soon!