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,