Paraguayan Landscpae

29 Sep

I did that nifty camera trick where you take a few pictures in a row, and then sewed them together in photoshop. Red dirt and green hills. Paraguay.

panoramic in la colonía piraretá, paraguay


Where does the time go?!

29 Sep

It’s been about two weeks now that I’ve had the phrase “Write blog post” on my to-do list. And today, I shall cross that off!

I have been in my site now for 13 months. Which means I’m getting into year two. A trend for the services of many Peace Corps Volunteers is slow first year, much more active second year. I’d say that’s the same for me. Things are picking up around here.

Glycerin Soap in AMUR

The socias of AMUR have begun making glycerin soap. We had three sessions learning how to do it. The first two were flops: due to the quality of the cow fat (it has to be grasa fea — the ugly fat) and due to the quality of the soda cáustica (not sure of the translation, perhaps lye – it’s the burning part like from Fight Club…).

grasa fea - ugly cow fat for the soap

pouring the soap mixture into the mold

cutting the soap with Ramona and Suni

We got it right on the third try. We cut the large block of soap into 55 pieces to sell. We did a cost analysis to determine the price. We considered the cost of the ingredients, labor, gas (from the stove). In my opinion they set the price low at 2,000 Guaranís each block of soap (about the size of a Dove soap in the States). Our first set of soap was sold to the socias. We did not do any fancy packaging, just simple plastic, clear bags to keep the soap from drying out. On future productions we plan on packaging the soap in better quality plastic with a label to be sold to customers outside of AMUR, perhaps in the larger city on the highway. We’ll have to up the price then for additional costs.

This project goes hand-in-hand with some of the other homemade cleaners the ladies make. Like dishwashing soap. Ña Ede is the professional in that department. We make a lot of money off that product – it’s a big markup, but it’s a great quality, and you get more for your buck that the smaller bottle store-bought brand name detergent.

making detergent

Nikki’s Birthday, Again

nikki's bday, year 2

Another September, another birthday for my neighbor Volunteer, G-mate and friend Nikki. We celebrated at her house, among a small group of Volunteers to shamelessly and freely speak English, eat “weird” food and drink “weird” drinks and listen to our kind of music (no polka at this party).

our chefs david and brett - usa! usa! usa!

David and Brett (I helped with the chopping) prepared samosas. These are the Indian version of empanadas. We had beef turmeric samosas and traditional potato/carrott/onion/pea with curry samosas. Both were delicious and paired “nicely” with the box wine we found.

veggie samosa - yummers!

I’m teaching in 3 schools!

The firm base of a country resides in the education of its youth. - Diogenes Laercio

I’ve waiting a year for this day to come. Patiently, as I needed to get my language skills up to go tête à tête with kids. Plus I needed to liberate myself from some of the duties my initial contact in site had dropped on me.

Mondays – morning and afternoon – I have two classes at Escuela Parque. My neighbor teaches there and helped me get the gig. I initially pitched teaching to the oldest kids. Ages 10-12. But on my first day, they gave me all the kids. About 50 of them. That was tough. I’m doing activities in Leadership, Citizenship, Volunteerism and Self-Esteem. I have a manual written by an awesome former Volunteer, so it makes my lesson planning very easy. The first activity we did was called Manos, Cabeza, Corazón, Hogar – Hands, Head, Heart, Home. Picture a paper divided into quadrants with one of those words in each one. The students were supposed to think about their unique skills and abilities that applied to each area: manual skills, subjects they know a lot about, things they love, important parts of the home and community.

Wednesday mornings I’m teaching basic computer skills to the teachers at Escuela Parque. 

I’ve also started on Thursday afternoons at my host mom’s school in a small country town on the outskirts of Valenzuela, called Piraretá. We’re playing games so far, and working up toward geography mini-lessons, and lessons about cultural diversity in our great big world. The big part of this project is to paint a World Map on a wall at the school. I went out there the other day to present the projects to the kids (ages 10-12). The professors and my principal host mom are all on-board, so enthusiastic and excited to have me there. It’s nice to feel so appreciated.

playing papa caliente (hot potato) with my globe ball; soundtrack: black eyed peas

We’ll use a grid system to blow up a small map, to wall size. We’ll draw the countries, paint them and label them. And learn as we go. We’ll have to implement two fundraisers to accomplish this. First the kids will play BINGO one day at school. Each child will pay 3,000. Then we’ll use that money to purchase a nice gift, and we’ll hold a raffle among all the school’s parents. We should be able to get 200,000 Guaranís that way!

world map classes - oh my gosh they're so awesome...look at them sharing the globe!

future world map location

There’s a new baby cow on the block

my neighbor with the new baby cow on the block

This is good news for me because I love animals, especially baby animals. I didn’t waste any time telling my neighbor this. They think it’s so funny that I ask to pet the baby cow. But they always humor me. Even if it requires chasing the cow around her fenced-in area until they can reach her “leash.” I named her Bessie. Bessie’s mom did not survive Bessie’s birth, so Bessie is bottle-fed.

Sofia Isabel

baby sofi doing what she does second best: sleep

My Paraguayan niece Sofi just turned one-month old. I’ve never been around baby babies. This is weird y’all. She’s cute and everything, but she just cries, eats and sleeps. And gets baths, which are very complicated. She’s fun to have around though. She’s been staying with my host family (her mother – my host sister, and her grandmother – my host mom).

happy birthday!

For my host dad’s birthday, we put a ribbon on Sofi’s head (originally from the bottle of wine I gift to him). And Sonia presented baby Sofi to him. He was tinkled baby pink.

Went to a health post inauguration 

the inauguration event - look at the bumpin' sound system

There’s a new health post in a small town outside of Valenzuela, called Ñu Guazu. From funds from the Health Ministry the new local was built. It will serve a number of small towns in the area, and have two nurses and one doctur available daily, and on-call. They will offer care for chronic illnesses (diabetes, high blood pressure), some OBGYN, vaccinations, first aid and ambulance for extreme cases.

I got some awesome packages

check out my loot! tshirt, paper flowers, card, DVD, candy, salted cashews, makeup, sunscreen, soap, hair barrettes,

From Mom and Meg! Thank you! I love it all. This was a great pick-me-up.

Fun activities in AMUR // Cooking with Maureen

I try to share something fun in AMUR every other week or so. I made piñatas with a couple of my English students.

gabi with her piñata

And Maureen came to visit and we make candy bar cookies — like a Chocolate Chip batter, but we don’t have chocolate chips, so we break up a chocolate bar.

cookie class

That’s a pretty lengthy account of what I’ve been up to since my last update. I hope you enjoy! I’m quite happy with the diversity I now have in my Volunteer life schedule and my entertainment. Thanks for reading. Love and Peace,


Cognate Conundrum

2 Sep

the strawberry jam

A couple of weekends ago on that 7-Stop Trip of Paraguay I visited Areguá, home of the annual strawberry festival.

Producers sell fresh strawberries (of varying degrees of sweetness) and hawk their goods out along the ruta. There are strawberry cakes, parfaits with whipped cream, juice, liquor, jams, popsicles, etc. Everything frutilla.

I taste tested some strawberries, found the sweetest ones and bought a kilo. Moving on to another vender, I compliment her on the presentation of her product. It has a nice label, glass jar and that precious checked red and white fabric that denotes homemade.

I think of my parents, real jam lovers. I’ll be seeing them in January. I wonder if the jam will survive a few months unopened?

“Permiso señora. Tiene preservativos la mermalada?”

She looks back aghast. I have made a boo boo. Oh no. I remember. That is a false cognate. Perservativos in fact means condoms.

“Discuplame señora. Queria decir…” – Excuse me ma’am. I meant to say…

She helps me out, chuckling. “Conservante.”

“No, no tiene conservante,” she says. It doesn’t have preservatives.

“Jaja! Nunca me vas a olvidar, verdad?!” Haha! You’ll never forget me, right?!

She laughs. And I buy her jam, that contains neither preservatives nor condoms.

Must Read Blogs

30 Aug

I am cheating a little bit today and referring you guys to two posts from my friend Maureen’s blog. But they are highly recommended reads. I’m not kaigue (lazy).

guest bloggers

Maureen’s one of my best friends here in Paraguay. You’ve already heard a lot about her here, especially when it comes to cooking, traveling about, drinking tereré.  She was very lucky to have some visitors come down in the past few months during the North American summer. Her best friend Lee visited as well as her dad. These posts were written by them. I wanted to share them because it’s nice to have an outsider’s perspective of the Peace Corps and Paraguay. Though by the ends of their stays, each was a bit more insider. Plus both of their blogs were special to me because I got to meet them both and very much enjoyed their company and sharing my experience with them as well. I know that both of them now have a better understanding of Peace Corps, of Paraguay and the ins and outs of Volunteer life.

Guest Blog: Dave Stickel : Words from a proud papa impressed by his daughter’s work, plus his reaction to the Peace Corps concept and why it’s a good one. His a short excerpt:

For me, the equivalent experience would be for me to get off a bus in the poorest poor part of Cincinnati (which actually looks a lot like middle class Paraguay) start walking up to random people and introducing myself, rent myself a small apartment in their midst, try to get them to invite me over for meals and chats, start making suggestions on how they might want to go about improving their neighborhhod or livelihoods, convince them to work with me on a project or two, and work with them to make it successful.  No, there isn’t a local church or charity or organization to sponsor me – I would be doing this totally on my own.  Quite daunting, huh?  Well 230 mainly young people are doing this in Paraguay right at this moment.

Guest Blog by Lee: My Month Long Trip to Paraguay – Greatest Hits Version : Words from another 20-something who lived day-to-day with Maureen for a month. It’s like she got a Peace Corps summer internship. Here is a shorter excerpt:

It was indeed the best month of my life.

Happy reading, readers! I’d love to hear your feedback from Maureen’s blog here. Also, if you visit me, you will write a guest blog, too.

7-Stop Tour of Paraguay

28 Aug

Here’s a quick video from last weekend’s recorrido – or trip – through Paraguay. I visited Paraguarí, Yaguarón, Mbatovi, Caacupé, Tobatí, San Bernardino (Lake Ypacaraí) and Aregua with Santiago, Sebastian and Ellen. The film is by Santiago Iñaki. Enjoy and take note! Paraguay is beautiful.

Agosto Tajy Festival, Santa Elena, Paraguay

19 Aug

I went with my host family this past week to a neighboring town called Santa Elena. My host sister’s dance group had been invited to perform at the night-time festival for their patron saint. I went along in support.

el tajy - from ultima hora

The MC called it the Festival Agosto Tajy – The August Cherry Blossom Festival, essentially. The tajy (Guaraní tah-juh) is Paraguay’s national tree, or in Spanish lapacho. The blossom is similar to the Cherry Blossom, and comes in colors yellow and pink. And it’s their time now. Think of them as prevalent as the southern Crape Myrtle perhaps.

The mass went on forever in the church plaza. And wow. Quite a bit of political and ideological rhetoric coming from the robed man. I like my politics and faith separate, though I believe that much of my politics is influenced by how I was raised in my faith. Needless to say, I didn’t agree with a lot of what the priest was saying. And I couldn’t help to think, if those are the ideas that I’m truly up against, what hope do I has as a Volunteer? But I’m only one person. And I hope that the way that I lead my life and treat others equally is a stronger example than a priests mere words.

So I found a chair and drank mate with my host mom. Once that was over, we had to turn in our white plastic chairs from the church service, only to buy them back for the secular event that followed. Ok. Worth it. I’m a sitter. We also found the cantina  and ordered empanadas and sopa.

The show began with several musical acts. Harps. Guitars. Vocalists. And then dancers. Dancers from this and that town, representing this municipality or this cooperative. Karin’s group performed, and they were fantastic. I only wish they’d had room on the stage with better lighting, but así es.
Here’s the video:

Isn’t the music great, too?!

One of the best parts about going to the festival was the actual travel. You see, my host family just traded out a pickup truck for a two-door VW. Which means we went via auto. In style. Balogs: think of the VW like the silver Honda Shark of Grandaddy’s. That’s what we’re working with.

Santa Elena sits about 10K off the ruta. The entire road is paved with smooth asphalt, painted with double yellow and single white fog lines. There are also reflectors. The road is tree-lined (beautiful!) It’s somewhat curvy, but illuminated better than most.

This is in stark contrast to my road to Valenzuela. And I was glad my host family got to see this. Granted, Valenzuela only recently has asphalt, as opposed to empedrado or rugged stone pavement. But it left them wanting more for their community and drivers’ safety. There have been some fatalities in recent years on that road, motos at night time is my understanding.

When we arrive to Santa Elena, the town is packed. There are motos and cars everywhere. There’s no where to park. We cruise for a bit until host mom asks my host dad to just let us out and meet up with us later. Sounds familiar. He goes to park the car. Time passes and we don’t see him. So we go looking for him and the mate termo in the car. “Amado! Why did you park so far away?! The event is over there! This is too far.” I’m laughing out loud thinking of my Dad parking a mile away to keep the car from getting dinged. I miss you, Dad!

Second part of the funny comes later in the evening. Close to 11 at night we leave Santa Elena. It’s very dark and beginning to drizzle.

We’re cruising home and host mom says something like, “My, how the rain just invites you to sleep.” Host dad driver says, “Huh?! Rain what rain?” The car falls silent until I laugh and point out the giant drops of water on the windshield. “Oh!!!! It is raining!” We almost got host mom to drive, but luckily we were creeping at a very slow horse-and-buggy speed.

My Paraguayan Birthday

19 Aug

August 9 I celebrated my birthday in Paraguay (for the second time). That means, I’ve been in Paraguay for more than a year. Wow. Take a second to let that sink in. As I’ve heard other Volunteers say, the days go by so slowly, but the weeks and months fly.

It was a truly unforgettable birthday. I’ll give you the play by play.

Here I am at my host family's house beneath the Last Supper. This is where all the important meals happen.

Text messages begin as the morning sunlight is barely entering my room. I hear from community members, Volunteers. My host family calls. Santiago’s family calls and sings to me. I had been quiet in my community about my birthday, not wanting too much attention. But at the day’s leather goods class, I got big hugs and kisses. They made me feel very special indeed.

My parents called and we chatted for a good while. I told them about how my birthday party came about.

Originally for my birthday I was going to cook dinner with some friends at my house. But my host family was very concerned that I spend the day with them on my special day. I wasn’t going to argue! So we joined forces and had a double party.

So for the evening time…a couple of my Volunteer friends arrived and we prepared the goodies for our half of the dinner: tequila lime chicken tacos including lettuce, cheese, sour cream, pico de gallo and olives. Plus a bottle of wine. And my host family served pizza, soda and a delicious cake. We shared the grub and had a very international (and filling) dinner. I lost track of just what all I ate it was so good.

It was a thrill to have my friends visit and get to know my host family. And I could tell just how proud my host family was of me and to show that care to my friends. I felt truly blessed.

me and karin, with icing on my face

Karin made my birthday cake. We sang Happy Birthday in three languages (Spanish, English, Guaraní). Though I have been at a birthday party recently where we sang it in five languages (throw in Korean and Japanese). Wowsers!

H.B. Emi!

The birthday dinner was a hoot. There was lots of fun conversation and storytelling about how I was when I first arrived in Valenzuela. The evening had a very reminiscent feel. Nikki reminded my host mom that I was somewhat scared of her after our first meeting. That’s so funny to think of now. But then again, they probably thought I was mute.

Also, our get-together was unique on account of Nikki’s little sister from the States coming along. She was able to talk my little host sister! They used Google Translator (and a very slow internet connection to talk to one another) and Karin was able to speak the English that I had taught her! They also watched Nickelodeon and bonded over thinking that the same boys are cute. Let’s hear it for cultural exchange!

my tereré equipo / extension of my arm

Here’s one of my super lindo birthday presents! A leather termo and matching guampa. Everyone say, “OOoooooh. Que lindo!” The day after the party, you can bet that a big tereré circle was necessary for rehydrating.