Friday, July 24, 2009

My ¨other¨ host family, ¨walking¨ to the beach, an attempt at artistic photography, and Jenna and I teaching microsoft word to paraguayans

Beach in Paraguay?

So today I was walking home from class and as I'm walking down the street to my host family's house I hear this woman, who is sitting outside her house just watching the world go by, sing "Macho, Macho man (please sing this to the tune of ¨Macho, Macho man¨ in your head, otherwise this just isn´t that funny)...." If that doesn't make you miss home, I don't know what does? You would be surprised at how many weird things from the U.S. show up down here in this little country they call Paraguay.

For example, the death of Michael Jackson.... a really big deal here. I not only watched his funeral on cable tv with my sisters (yes, there's cable tv in my host family's house- not something I'm proud of) but I was also recently involved in an impromptu interview about Mr. Jackson during my second volunteer visit last week. Four of the eight of us in my group went to visit a volunteer in a town about 2 1/2 hours from where I'm currently living. We were there all last week and we each had our own host families- I was excited to be in another site and meet some more Paraguayans. Unfortunately my host family experience was hindered a bit by the fact that as I was walking to the house where I was going to be staying, and about two minutes before I actually met the family, the volunteer casually mentions to me that their 20 year old son was killed in a motorcycle accident five months ago. I don't even know what to say to people in the U.S. when they lose a family member, let alone what I'm supposed to say in spanish. In thinking more about that experience now, I realize that Americans are really good at mourning in private. In any case, the death story didn´t come up all week and they never said anything to me about it, which saved me from having to figure out the right thing to say at the right time.

And in staying true to my American roots, I'm just going to continue on in my story here like nothing happened, and go back to talking about myself and Michael Jackson (funny that that´s also related to death, but somehow much easier to talk about). So after the introductions took place with my host family, my host mom and her sister sat me down in the back of the house and began the question and answer period of my visit, which included everything from how much money Michael Jackson had, to how he died and then wandered into why anyone would want to join the Peace Corps, why young people in the U.S. move out of their parents house after high school, and finally, a list of all the people they know that have been to the U.S- (a personal favorite of mine with Paraguayans because they can never remember the state, nor the city where that person went and even if they could, I'm pretty sure I didn't meet them. About half way through the week there, I was talking with the other volunteers and mentioned that it's probably only in the Peace Corps that a group of five people would roll into a town in the middle of a country where some other crazy American is living and stay at some random person's house where they take you in as one of their own. They feed you, worry about you when you don't come home on time, and tell you you're either too fat, too skinny, or some other inappropriate comment about your personal appearance or preferences that they just don't feel bad about saying to your face. The two I get the most are about my short hair and that they think I´m going to die because I don´t eat meat. They tell me that they don´t like when girls have short hair and that they don´t know how I´m still living since I only eat vegetables and beans. Amazing that I´m still alive, I know. Honesty in personal relationships is highly valued here, which I find refreshing....some other volunteers, not so much.

All in all it was a pretty good trip- it was nice to get out of our training community and see some of the country on the drive there, spend some time talking and working with a real live volunteer and getting a better sense of what our lives will be like in another month. We participated in a career fair where there were 12 people who came to talk with young people in the community about their professions, we went out to a neighborhood where the governor was presenting pipes for potable water to the community, we walked in a "Race for Friendship" which was really just a few people walking from where the pipes were presented to the soccer field about three blocks away, but a "race" nonetheless- and the first of its kind in that town. By far, the highlight of the trip for me was when we went to the local radio station to encourage people to come to participate in the career fair and as soon as we were done talking on the radio, the volunteer received a call from a member of the community who asked if we would come over to meet her 12 year old son. Apparently he had heard us talking on the radio and asked his mom to call because he wanted to meet us- this was a big deal because this particular 12 year old boy has a very rare skin disease (one of only two people in Paraguay) which doesn´t allow his skin to grow properly. Because the family doesn't have a lot of money they are unable to take him elsewhere for medical treatment, so all he has to alleviate the itching and pain this disease causes him is a cream which is also very expensive. He can't go to school, leave the house, or play outside because he is so susceptible to infection and the volunteer told us that he typically doesn't like meeting people because he's afraid of what they'll think or say about the way he looks....needless to say, it was a pretty awesome invitation for us and he was such a sweet kid who unfortunately is in a lot of pain and discomfort all day everyday. I think the best part was when his mom said to us, (in front of him), " my son has a little problem that we have to deal with and it's very expensive, but he's absolutely worth it." It brought tears to his eyes and to all of ours....and I think really put things into perspective for all of us...

On a happier note- on our last day at the volunteer's site, we got to go to the only beach in Paraguay. I know that's confusing because you're thinking, "wait, how did they go to the beach, Paraguay is a land-locked country?" (For those of you who still haven't looked at a map of South America to see where I am, this might be news to you). We got lucky, in that, the town we visited happens to have sandbanks beside one of the bigger rivers that runs through the country and they use it as a tourist destination in the summer. Of course it had rained the three weeks before we got there, so the sandy walkway that you normally take to get there was under 1 1/2 feet of water- but don't think that stopped us from enjoying the only beach in Paraguay! We took off our shoes, rolled up our pants and ventured forward. It was well worth the walk and even sunny once we got there- an added bonus.

I was happy to get back to my host family's house in my training community on Friday afternoon and they were happy to see me, which makes a girl feel good. This week is going by particularly slow, I think, due to the fact that we find out our where are sites are going to be this coming Monday and the anticipation is killing me. Just a few more days and I'll finally know where I'll actually be living for my two years of service in Paraguay. I feel like I'm getting my Peace Corps invitation all over again....ugh!

chau for now!

Monday, July 6, 2009

Food, a Spider and the Rain

Well it's been another two weeks here in Paraguay- time seems to pass very quickly since I'm in class all day, everyday- thank god for the sabbath, our only free day during the week! This is the day I come up for air, wander around the neighborhood, go for a run, try and use skype at the very loud internet cafe/school supplies storefront (a whole other story) and I've been trying to keep up with my e-mail even though I only check it once, sometimes twice a week, which makes me feel normal and somewhat connected to my previous life. Speaking of e-mail, I recently received a "request" for a blog post, of which I am accepting, so if any of you are interested in hearing about something specific, I would be happy to address your request in a future post. My first, and only, request so far has been about what the food is like here.....and to sum up this part of my life in Paraguay, I have two words: meat and fried (and in no particular order). Basically if something can be fried, it is, and if something can have meat IN it, ON it, next to it, or by itself, the better. The Paraguayans are not ashamed to talk about how much they love meat and how weird they think you are if you don't....story of my life. Everyday my 6 year old sister asks me if I want meat ( as a joke, of course)- I'm pretty sure she thinks she's the funniest person she knows- I, however, thought it was funny the first time, maybe the second time- after that, the charm wore off. I thought when I got here I might be so overwhelmed by how delicious the meat was, that I would get over my total dislike for eating it and indulge, but no such luck. Since that hasn't happened yet, I instead just live with the harassment, which I’m fine with. I do, however, eat a lot of things here with pig fat in them because that seems to be another key ingredient in the cooking here. I'm starting to understand why people like bacon so much- pig fat really does makes things taste a lot better. Who the hell knows what else I've been eating, I have a feeling that just because I'm not eating big pieces of meat doesn't mean that I'm not getting my daily intake of meat products on a daily basis.

As for other food items, I'm pretty sure we get our milk from the neighbor´s cow, as do the families that other volunteers live with. Someone just comes by the house every couple of days with an old Coke bottle filled with milk and none of it's pasteurized, of course, but I drink it every morning in my tea. So far nothing terrible has happened and I'm not exactly sure how that that's worked out for me, but I feel like it's better not to ask questions when you're scared about how something gets from "the outside" into your mouth. The same goes for Paraguayan cheese- the smell could not be worse and I continue to eat it...again, better not to question. As for fruits and vegetables, I thought that maybe they were scarce since I wasn't getting very many of them in my first couple of weeks at my house, but as I wandered around I saw lots of families with gardens and found a little store that carries some vegetables. I also inquired about some of the other volunteers "vegetable situations" and realized that my host family just didn't like to eat them. I'm sure it's not very "culturally competent" of me, but I couldn't take not eating vegetables any longer so I started buying vegetables on my way home and making myself salads and various other vegetable-laden things. Long story short- my host mom got the point and now buys lettuce, tomatoes, carrots, green pepper, radishes, etc. which I'm extremely grateful for, and I ask the neighbor for avocados. He has a really big avocado tree in his yard and doesn't ever pick them because nobody eats avocados here- which I can hardly believe because I love them so much! Me eating avocado happens to be another really fascinating thing for my host family. I tried to explain how expensive avocados are in the states and how much people love them but it didn't seem to convince them that they should also eat them. I even tried making guacamole…no luck there either. Needless to say, I'm pretty happy about the avocado tree next door. There's also a mandarin tree, a lime tree and a pomelo tree in the backyard- all fruits that they DO eat on a regular basis. The last and, most important, food item to mention is mandioca, which is a root vegetable that looks like a sweet potato when it's pulled out of the ground. They skin it, boil it, and serve it in a dish like we would serve bread and it´s at every meal. It's mostly just starch, but I happen to think it's delicious so lucky for me because there´s lots of it and the Paraguayans are happy that I like it. My last comment about food, while I'm on the topic- the two things I miss most from home in case you are wondering are peanut butter and Peet's coffee.

In other news- my group went to visit a volunteer in her site last weekend. She's mainly working in the schools in the more rural part(s) of her town so we got to go and hang out with some really awesome Paraguayan kids for the afternoon, we saw their school garden, attempted to sing some songs in Guarani, and then the highlight of my trip, which was getting a photo of, and then promptly killing a gigantic spider above the bed I was sleeping in that night. I hate killing things, but I just couldn't let it hang out there all night while I dream with my mouth open....sorry spider- R.I.P.

In sticking with the nature theme- I have found that trying to avoid dealing with "the elements" here is much more difficult than it is at home. For example, today after lunch I went for a run close to my house and noticed while I was running that it was getting warmer and warmer, more humid, and a bit more overcast than it had been. I haven't been here a long time, but long enough to know that when this happens, it means the rain is coming, and fast. I started for home because I had seen earlier, on my way out, that my host mom had washed a lot of my clothes and put them out on the line to dry...I'm sure you all can guess what I was thinking as the rain started to come down hard? I picked up my pace to get home in time to save my clothes from being washed again by Mother Nature. (She's helpful and all, but my host mom had done a fine job the first time). When I got back to the house I started grabbing everything I could, as quickly as I could, just as two of my three sisters flew out the front door to help me, the whole time laughing and screaming because it was raining so hard. I thought it was pretty funny too, but only because we got there just in time to save the clothes from round two of the wash, everyone go into your laundry room and say thank you to your washer and dryer.