Tuesday, June 23, 2009

A few more pictures for your enjoyment...my new sisters, angelic, me, liz and mary, and the view of posadas, argentina

California Neighbor

I've decided that the second best thing about Paragauy is how much soccer is played here. This is based on the fact that the past two weekends I have spent no less than 3 hours watching games Saturday and Sunday. No matter where you are, what day of the week it is, or what the weather is like, you can find a game to watch. There are neighborhood leagues, local leagues, regional leagues and, of course, the national league. I really appreciate, not only the enthusiasm, but the dedication to the sport. For example, there are entire neighborhoods here that are known for which soccer team they support....I have yet to think of a similar situation at home, except maybe Oakland's very own "Raider Nation" although I hate to compare these amazing soccer fans to something so ridiculous. This is futbol, after all....not football. This past weekend, I went to visit a volunteer and we went to one of the local soccer games on Sunday, where there were fireworks, a marching band, painted faces and a guy screaming at the players on the field while holding a portable radio up to his ear listening to the play by play commentary of the regional soccer game. Now that's commitment.

Based on a few of my other observations so far, I've decided that the first best thing about Paraguay is, hands down, the people. While there continues to be a lot of blatant staring, I have observed in the (almost month) that I've been here, that there is a very effective method of putting an end to the stare down that takes place while walking down the street. I picked up a new method of handling these very awkward situations from my host sisters and the volunteer I went to visit last weekend. It goes like this: just as I pass someone, I make eye contact for just a brief second and then say "adios." I realize it sounds totally weird and I actually have this really strong desire to say "hola," but I have to hold back and stick with the "adios" because the result is amazing! The other person knows to say "adios" back (this is where cultural norms come in handy) and then we both go our separate ways. It lets them know that I'm acknowledging their presence so they can't be offended and talk about me behind my back at a later date, AND it seems to be particularly effective in warding off the cat calls that seem to be ever present for women in this country. I think I'll stick with this the two years I'm here, as it seems to be working well.

As promised, a little info. about the volunteer visit...I took the bus six hours last Saturday to the southeastern part of the country to visit a volunteer who has been here for just under a year now in the same kind of position that I'll be doing. She lives in a relatively small town, right off one of the three main highways near the city of Encarnacion. This is where we spent the better half of Saturday afternoon. We walked down to the water where you can see Posadas, Argentina right across the river- it's really quite amazing as on the Paraguayan side there is not much to see except a few run down houses and boats, young people parked along the river playing their music as loud as possible and, and garbage, and on the Argentinean side, while you can't see details of, you can see that Posadas is much more developed and has an amazing skyline complete with skyscrapers, restaurants, and dance clubs along the water. Needless to say, it is quite a contrast....

I think I got really lucky on my volunteer visit because the girl I stayed with was also from California (southern California, but California nonetheless), she's a vegetarian and she was super sarcastic, which, as you all know, I always appreciate. Clearly the training facilitators put some thought into matching trainees with volunteers......Sunday we went to the local soccer game, as I mentioned above, and then Monday began the rain. It rained all day, which I've come to find out means that nothing actually happens in real life because everyone is suddenly paralyzed. Students don't go to school and people don't come to work- this is a result of the fact that most of the roads aren't paved, and therefore busses aren't able to make their normal routes. Life just kind of gets put on hold until the rain stops. I can only imagine what the boss might say in the U.S. when I come in Wednesday because it's been raining Monday and Tuesday and my excuse is that it was raining...I have a feeling that's not going to fly so I'll take advantage of it here. Long story short, we spent Monday trapped in the house and found ourselves just hanging around and cooking a delicious vegetarian soup, which was great until the electricity went out. This is when we resorted to reading in bed with our headlamps- thank god for REI! Tuesday I went with her to the local high school where I was taken around and introduced to all the classrooms and the introduction consisted of my name, that I was a new Peace Corps volunteer, that I was also from California but that i was not the neighbor of the other volunteer (surprising, i know considering the size of California), and also a vegetarian- i can understand the first two pieces of information being relevant, but really, the last two? Only in paraguay....We then headed over to the municipality building, where i was introduced and then promptly ignored by all seven of the men who work there.....and then I got back on the bus to come back to my training community for some more ice breakers and language learning. Good times!

Hope all is well in your neck of the woods! Besos!

Monday, June 15, 2009

My training group making chipa on a stick, a picture of somewhere in my neighborhood and the first thing I saw when I got off the plane in Paraguay

Unexpected bonds of sisterhood

Don’t worry- I’m still here! Sorry to keep you all waiting for the next update from Paraguay….it wasn’t until last night that I finally got a minute to sit down and write something substantial for this thing. My new strategy is to write my blog posts on my laptop in my room at night and then bring them to the internet cafe on my flashdrive so I don't have to sit there for hours thinking of interesting things to write while everyone stares at me.

Speaking of being stared at.....I’m currently living with a host family and will be for the next three months and there are three girls in my house who are 6, 10, and 14. Needless to say, it’s been difficult to find time to myself, let alone to write, as I’ve recently become very popular- thanks to my new Paraguayan sisters. For the last two weeks, my every move has been tracked- they look at me while I eat, while I brush my teeth, while I’m reading in my room, watching tv, etc. Luckily, since we’ve gotten to know each other a bit better in the last week or so, I find there is less staring happening and more human interaction, which I’m grateful for- all three of them are very sweet and very interested in having me around at all times. I must admit, for an only child, it’s been a bit overwhelming to have three new sisters, but to their credit they make it very difficult not to want to be around them AND we recently discovered that we all love Britney Spears….so who can discount that sisterly bond?

Outside of home, I spend four hours in the morning in language training and four more hours in the afternoon in technical training. This Peace Corps training business is no joke! We had language interviews the first Friday we got here and somehow the person I interviewed with seemed to think that my level of Spanish was good enough, so I was put directly into the language class that starts day one learning the language of the indigenous people of Paraguay, it's called Guarani, not that it matters to any of you because NOBODY else in the world speaks this language. Technically both Spanish and Guarani are official languages of the country and we are all required to learn at least some Guarani before they send us out to work, as many people in the more rural areas of the country speak only this. It's definitely not as easy to learn as they tell us it is- I kind of think they just say that to make us feel better about not being able to pronounce anything and my expert opinion is that there are just far too many vowels and apostrophes and not nearly enough words that sound either exactly like Spanish or English. I was hoping for a bit more similarity between the three but it’s just not happening. I must admit it is a pretty language, but me listening to other people speak it doesn't help with the fact that I don't understand anything they're saying…it’s going to be a long road ahead on the Guarani front.

So far I haven’t ventured too far out of the community I’m staying in, although I did go with some other folks in the Peace Corps group to the Paraguay vs. Chile soccer game last Saturday in Asuncion, which was fantastic. Paraguay was the number one team in South America until they lost to Chile last weekend and then lost again last week, to Brazil. The Paraguayans do love their soccer- so much so that they were willing to brave even the threat of H1N1 transmission from the Chileans- I guess there was a lot of people with the flu in their country at that time so there were tons of people wearing facemasks at the game. Being the bold Americans that we are, we opted for not wearing facemasks and seem to all be doing ok.

To our surprise we ended up in the section with the most dedicated fans, as evidenced by their gigantic banner waving, a full 90 minutes of chanting, gratuitous use of obscenities directed at the other team, etc. And to top off the night, on the bus on the way home, two beer bottles came through the back window and shattered glass all over the back seats. Fortunately we had made our way to the front of the bus and I’m still not exactly sure why that happened but the bus driver didn’t seemed too concerned about it, as he didn’t even turn around so I figured I shouldn’t be either. I have a feeling this is just one of the many stories I’ll have from riding the buses here….

This weekend all of us in training have been sent out to various sites around the country where other volunteers are living and working so we can get a sense of what it’s like to be a "real live volunteer." I took a bus six hours on Saturday to a small town in the southeastern part of the country, really close to Argentina, to spend some time with a girl who has been in her site for a year now. She’s also working in municipal services development (the job I'll be doing come August)- I'm hoping to get the inside scoop on what it's really like once you get to work. More to come on this trip!

Lastly, I wanted to say thanks to all of you who have either sent e-mails or posted comments on the blog- it makes my day to read your messages and I miss you all! Hope all is well in your lives and I’ll be in touch- hopefully sooner rather than later, although my track record isn't so good thus far! Besos!