I would have liked to start this with a really good excuse as to why I haven't written anything in over a month, or that I've been so busy that I just haven't had time to sit down and write but in all honesty there is no really good excuse and I haven't really been that busy (unless you count holing up my your room and reading countless numbers of books as being really busy, in which case, I've been really busy. In any case, I have finally found the right moment and the energy to sit down and write...
In the past I would say I was the type of person who highly valued a busy schedule and I have a feeling I will return to being that person when I get back but for now I am the type of person who values the "I hope I have at least one thing to do today" schedule. I have wireless internet access on my laptop now so the problem of killing time is not an issue- I know I could spend a number of hours looking things up on Google, but I didn't come down here to use the internet. And this is where the challenge lies: in forcing yourself to leave your room every day, or at least mostly everyday, to go out and talk to people, identify possible resources in the community, show people that you're not a spy (a common misperception of Americans in Peace Corps countries...gee, I wonder why?) and that you're actually here to work and not just to hang out, etc. I would say as a general rule this is exhausting work, not only, because I'm not used to wandering around town chatting with people at random hours of the day, but also because all of this is done in another language. There are definitely days when I wake up thinking that having another awkward conversation with a Paraguayan is just not worth getting up for and then there are days, like today, where I find myself in a really beautiful place with some really great people.
This morning I had the opportunity to visit a small farmer's market that is run by 10 women in a neighborhood just outside of my town. About two weeks ago, Soledad and I had helped them put together a brief proposal to request funding from the municipality to buy tents for shade, more tables, and chairs so that they would be more comfortable selling their products. It was at this meeting that they invited us to come out and visit. They were super surprised when we actually showed up, thrilled that we bought half of the vegetables they were selling and then were kind enough to show us three of the gardens where they grow what they sell every Friday morning at the market. They all speak Guarani which made things a bit more complicated for me, as I haven't said one word in guarani since I left training, but I find that a smile and just the acknowledgment that they're talking to you goes a long way. The thing is, Paraguayans tend to want to talk at you and tell you stories, so if you just nod and smile, you can usually get away with not understanding much. They're not really interested in asking too many follow up questions to make sure you understood, they're just happy you listened the whole time. Lucky for me. Spanish is fine, Guarani is another story.
In other news, I have been to the capital twice since I got to my site- surprisingly enough, both times have been in private vehicles. The first time I was offered a ride by what I thought was going to be two older men who are respected members of the community and who I asked Sole and her mom about before going with (it was still probably against my better judgement but if you knew what riding the busses was like here you would have accepted the ride too). In typical Paraguayan fashion, this group of two men actually turned out to be four. After the original two picked me up, we then swung by two other houses to pick up two more, one got in and put his harp in the back- no joke- and then we proceeded to drop them off along the way, one at his house about an hour into the trip, the other at the hospital in a town an hour later. So random....and welcome to my life. This five hour trip, which began at four in the morning, was spent listening to four old men speak Guarani really loudly, watching them drink mate, helping them figure out how to change the CD in the CD player so we could listen to endless hours of Paraguayan polka music, and making sure my seatbelt was securely fastened. The driver didn't drive fast, nor do you really have to worry about running into anything except cows, but I'll just suffice it to say there were a lot of other "distractions" that made me more nervous than usual in a car.
My second trip to Asuncion was this past Tuesday and provided me with the opportunity to see just how small Paraguay can be (I knew it was small geographically speaking) but now I know how small it can be when it comes to family trees. This was also an eye-opener as to how "connections" still mandate the way Paraguay runs. As the story goes.....since the mayor here wants me to work on "all things cultural," I have been attending meetings for the Comite de Arte y Cultura (it means Committee for Art and Culture but I prefer to call it Culture Club because it reminds of Boy George and this group couldn't be further from that). As a side note: against my will, this group also elected me to act as secretary, which is not to say that they really value me as part of the group or even care if I'm there, but rather means that none of them wanted to be the one to have to take notes at the meetings or bring really un-important documents to the president's house when he asks for them. Both of which what I have been doing for the last couple of weeks. This was not my intention in joining this committee so my plan is to tell them next week that I can't act as secretary due to some made up Peace Corps rule so that I can get out of it. I used to blame my mom when I didn't want to do something (thanks mom :), and now I can blame Peace Corps- it works out well for me.
Anyway, back to the story, so I recently traveled to Asuncion with three members of this culture committee to visit various organizations and ask for funding for the projects they're interested in doing. In this group was a man named Sergio Rojas who is part of a music group here in town. Our third stop in the lineup of orgs. to visit was an organization that offers technical assistance training for youth in the country where Sergio's nephew, Olimpio Rojas, is the director. We went to his office because he had a connection at a national organization that runs the Itaipu Binacional hydro-electric dam here in Paraguay, which is currently the biggest source of funding for projects in Paraguay. Because the folks who work at this org. are regarded as "oh so important" we ended up having to wait three hours to meet with the "connection" that Mr. Rojas had at Itaipu Binacional during which myself and the one other woman in the group had to listen to five men sit around the table and stroke each others egos while they talked about all the other dude friends they have in common back in San Juan Nepomuceno. Let's just say it was not my ideal afternoon. We finally entered into the conference room to have the meeting where we waited another 15 minutes and then finally in walked the second-in-charge of Itaipu who I quickly recognized as someone I had met two months ago at a Peace Corps event- he happened to be the former director of the Municipal Services Development program for Peace Corps, the program I'm currently working under. He, of course, immediately recognized that I, first of all, wasn't Paraguayan, and secondly that I too looked familiar. In the middle of this "very serious" meeting, we chatted a bit about Peace Corps while the Paraguayans stared in surprise that the random American girl living in their small town and who just happened to travel with them to Itaipu had already met and worked for the same organization as this person that they were so excited to get a meeting with. In all honesty, I wasn't expecting it either, but I thought it was pretty hilarious. To finish off the story of "small Paraguay," the farmer's market I traveled to on Friday was with a representative of an organization in my town that works with agricultural producers. When I got in the car and we started talking, he introduced himself as Ramon Rojas who happens to be the brother of Olimpio Rojas and the other nephew of Sergio Rojas. I don't know why I'm still surprised when these things happen because they seem to happen all too often, but it's just so different from life back home that it still throws me off a little bit. It does, however, help to put things in perspective as to why some families in this country seem to do pretty well for themselves and others continue to struggle just to make ends meet. Paraguay was ranked number two in the list of most politically corrupt countries last year....I can't help but wonder if all these "family connections" have something to with why the country remains on that list.
Lastly, and on a completely different topic, I would just like to give a shout out to Paraguayan women, especially my host mom (Sole's mom) here in San Juan. In spite of dealing with the endless effects of a country who prides itself on machismo, they work super hard everyday to keep their houses and families in order and things running smoothly. I think they give new meaning to the term "housewife." My host mom for example, is raising her four kids, helping raise her kids kids, she makes sure everyone (including me now) is fed three times a day, she washes all the dishes (except when I make her let me do it on occasion), that there are always clean clothes to wear, that the animals are fed, the plants are watered, the house is clean, the bills are paid on time, that people are always comfortable in her house. She is the first one to wake up in the morning and the last one to go to bed at night and she does all of this without one word of complaint and usually without thanks or even an acknowledgment. I'm sure a lot of stay at home moms do these same kinds of activities in the states and I don't want to make their work appear to be any less difficult, but as I've come to notice in my time here, there just aren't as many conveniences to ease the burden of this work here like there are at home. A few that come to mind are dishwashers, washing machines, dryers, the luxury of always having running water and electricity, and a stove that doesn't require them to go out and fill the, already very heavy, gas tank every couple of weeks to make sure they can cook. I was made aware of this last one recently as it just happened to my host mom today. She was only able to go to school until the 6th grade and her husband until the 2nd grade and she is now making sure that ALL of her kids receive a college education. I'm super impressed by her hard work and dedication on a daily basis and just want to make sure she gets credit for it!
That's all I've got for now- I hope you are doing well back at home- I miss you all and think of you often!