Thursday, September 17, 2009

New host nieces- Sofi and Nori and What my lifes consists of from 1-3pm everyday (books, oranges and coffee)

Paraguay´s Day Off

Well... as you prepare yourselves for the fall and winter weather headed your way, I am preparing myself for the spring and sweltering summer that is headed my way. It's only the beginning of September and it's already getting hot and sticky, which means showering twice a day is acceptable so I'm excited about that because it caters to my slight case of OCD. I'm just glad to know that Paraguayans value cleanliness as much as I do because when we're all crammed on a bus with no air-conditioning in 105 degree weather in January for five hours, I know I'm going to be super grateful for that "two-shower-a-day" cultural trait. Unfortunately with this heat also comes the bugs....I have no less than 26 bug bites on my legs and the other day I was in the bathroom showering and there was a huge beetle, 3 crickets and a lizard all crawling around on the wall- it was pretty awesome. One of my friends recently mentioned that he has frogs in the bathroom he showers in and my other friend said she has rats that wander around in the rafters in her room so we're all learning how to live amongst the nature and quite frankly I prefer beetles and lizards to rats, so I'm not complaining. The other thing I get to look forward to now, when I shower, is my three year old ¨host niece´ who has found a crack just big enough to peek through in the wood-paneled door of the bathroom. She seems to always find time to come over when I'm showering to talk to me through the peephole. If she was any older than three I might do something about it but for the time being, I just think it's pretty hilarious. Speaking of showers, I took my first bucket bath last week that thank god my host family collected before the water went away for the day- this is a common occurrence here, along with the disappearing electricity. The other night we ate dinner by candle light, right after my bucket bath. As you might imagine, it was pretty romantic...just me and the fam hangin' out in the dark. I busted out the headlamp, which ended up being a hit with the kids and actually very useful for my host mom while she was cooking.

As far as business at the municipality is concerned, my strategy has been to attend to every single meeting I hear about to scope out the work happening in town, see who's doing what, what people are talking about, potential community contacts, etc. Out of the twenty-five or so employees in the municipality, there are a total of two women that work there, which does not bode well for me or for gender equality- something we're supposed to be promoting as volunteers. There's not really a job description per se when you get to your site, just a general idea of what you might be working on, so I met with the mayor last week and he asked me what things I was interested in doing in the community. After I threw out a few ideas, he promptly told me all of those would be second priority to the dept. of culture, which is what he wants me to work on. Please note: there isn't actually a dept. of culture in my municipality, but apparently there used be so I´m working on figuring out why it doesn't exist anymore. I have a feeling all I have to do is start asking around and I'll get all the answers I need, plus a few others that I could live without. All I can think about is how hilarious it is that he wants me (the foreigner, from the U.S....hello... did someone not tell him that I'm not Paraguayan) to get the community dept. of culture up and running. I think also for the time being, I'm having a hard time getting used to the idea that I'm supposed to working on cultural awareness here when there are so many other pressing issues. My guess is that I've been given this assignment because it's relatively non-political, non-threatening and will probably involve mostly women (of which I am one) so in the eyes of the male mayor this makes perfect sense. This is not to say that this will be my only role here as I have intentions of getting involved in a few other places in the community, but lets not get ahead of ourselves.

In an attempt to get to know some of the municipal employees better, I set up a schedule to spend a day in each of the departments to get a sense of how things work. Last week I spent two days with two different departments. The first day I spent three hours with the two guys who are responsible for collecting the money that citizens come into pay the municipality for taxes, transfer of property, the slaughtering of animals, etc. I arrived at 8am, introduced myself and we started chatting. We chatted for a about an hour and then they attended to the only two people who came in to pay for something that whole day. We sat around and chatted some more and then the electricity went out so we sat in the dark for an another hour and a half while they drank mate (the yerba tea that everyone drinks here, all day, every day). Then the electricity came back on, which normally would be a good thing, but in that particular case it was not because it meant that they were going to show me the high quality video clip of half naked American girls dancing at the beach that they had recently downloaded….. just another day in the life of a true professional. After this experience, I can't say I'm looking forward to the other 13 days of "job shadowing" I have planned.

On a more successful note, I recently helped out with a Special Olympics event here, helped in the planning process of a neighborhood commissions meeting and met with some women city council members who are working on putting together a commission that is supposed to be looking at gender issues- three things that reminded of the reason I wanted to come and do something like this. I don't think I'll ever have another job where I can wake up each morning and decide what kinds of things I want to participate in and what things I don't.

For you soccer fans out there, Paraguay's national soccer team beat Argentina last Wednesday night, which is really exciting because it means that they get to go to the World Cup next summer in South Africa. I happen to think it's awesome that they get to go, but not awesome enough that the president of the republic should call for a national holiday the day after the team won, which is exactly what happened. When I woke up on Thursday morning I woke up to news reports about closed schools, closed medical clinics, closed office buildings, even the senators took the day off....all because Paraguay's national soccer team won the game the night before. True story.

In between meetings and wandering around town, I've been getting to know people, spending time with my host family which includes two awesome little girls who are super fun to play with, and reading a lot (I have a lot of down time these days so I'm doing my best to try and enjoy it. I'm not really good at enjoying free time so it's taking some getting used to)- I feel really anxious about starting work on something, anything, but I'm learning that work around here is all about who you know, not what you know, and it takes time to build relationships and gain the trust of people in the community so I'm focusing on that.

I hope all is well up there in the north- un abrazo from Paraguay!