Wednesday, July 30, 2008

AFter a few days in site...

It´s been a great few days in site and I don´t want to leave. Although I am excited because we are going to see the Batman movie in Asuncion tomorrow.

I´m in the cyber cafe, and outside a guy just trotted by on horseback with sugarcane loaded sideways.

My host took me to the local big city in their car yesterday. On either side of the country road there was the typical open spaces, with cows and horses, whose legs disappeared into the dry grass. In the distance, the hills looked like a piece of blue construction paper ripped in half and glued to the horizon. There lives a colony of Germans who have a beer festival every November. There´s also hiking trails.

Once in the city we nearly hit a herd of about two dozen dogs outside a school. The school´s long brick wall had been painted with public service messages, I assumed by the students. One had Bart Simpson saying that smoking was bad. Another had a huge condom with a face and a knowing finger pointed up. The speech bubble said ´´Don´t forget me!´´

We stopped at the supermarket, which they have in the cities. Ah, it´s all the same. Neutrogena with a spanish label, frozen chicken nuggets, plastic bowls with bright flower pints. Blenders, food processors, sandwich-makers (yesss!) My life will be as simple as I choose here. Which is good, I think. Simplicity isn´t a place.

I got to walk around the city by myself, a nice breath of independence. I made a map at every corner, and managed to make a loop without getting lost. I walked with hung clothes brushing over my head on the covered sidewalks and calls coming at me ´´adelante.´´ I almost bought a shirt that depicted Homer as Che.

Last night the women who works at the cooperativa showed me a house she has that I could rent. It´s two rooms with a grass roof, a brick enclosure in the back with a toilet, and the water coming from a spicket in the back. It has a yard with avocado trees, palms and room for a garden. I said Puede ser, or could be, because I want to see what else is around. It´s right across from the church in the plaza, so it might be a little busy for me.

That same woman invited me over and for the second night I watch the telenovelas with her and her five daughters. I´m addicted, despite my best efforts to the contrary. The telenovelas are on every evening, like soaps in the states but in the evening. Last night they taught me to crochet while we watched Paulina have an affair with Ricardo. And on his wedding night!

Today I went to a craft show to help at their booth. It was just like my jewelry days. I think I´m going to like it here.

Monday, July 28, 2008

I´m CHUCHI baby!

Hello all. Please excuse me while I die and go to heaven. I love my site. While my buddies are out there digging holes, I´m in my own little casa with a bano. The first day my host dad was showing me how to use the remote on my tv, and I was like, no, this is not what I signed up for, but I´ll take it!

My site is a cute little town with cobblestone streets around a central plaza. Ao Po´i stores dot the street. They´ve already given me two shirts and they insist that I learn how to make it, which I gladly will.

There´s a nice family of girls who work in the store. The first day I was here they invited me over there house. One asked if I like Goons and Roses and Nirvana. They love American music. The second day I went over their house for lunch, and we sat and watched Guns N Roses videos from an illegal DVD with slightly delayed sound.

My host dad is the president of the cooperative and his wife is the retired principal. They have a manicured lawn with lots of flowers. The orchids are blooming from around their palm trees. Their house is like a little complex with lots of little houses. In front, they use one to sell Ao Po´i. Out of the other they rent DVDs and have two Playstations that the boys in town use by the hour.

The cooperative needs my help to set up a web site to sell their products throughout the world. They also want me to teach them Excel (can do) and how to use the computer that´s been sitting dormant, covered in a Ao Po´i cloth, in the corner of their office.

I´m so happy that I love the clothes they make. They´re so beautiful, and they have cute little clothes for children. Of course, this isn´t what you think of when you think Peace Corps, but it´s what I got, and it´s perfect. It kind of blew my mind the first day. Considering that I could have been redoing the books for a soy bean farming coop, it´s pretty amazing that this is my life right now.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Where will I spend the next two years of my life?

In Yataity!

What does that mean? How do you pronounce that?

Here are some excerpts from my letter

Dear Paulette,
Congratulations! You have been assigned to the Cooperative Artesanal de Yataity in the beautiful town of Yataity in the Department of Guaira. Yataity is known as the Capitol of Ao Poì, the famous Paraguayan artisan work. If you want to buy an Ao Poì shirt, dress, pair of pants, table cloth or basically anything else, Ao Poì, Yataity is the place to be. But your interest won´t be in buying Ao Poì (so they think) as much as it will be in selling it. In Yataity, there are various women´s groups laboring day in and day out to create this complicated design. So not only will you be working with the Coop to market Ao Poì, but you will also be working with women`s groups to be better organized, increase production. Not only will you have the opportunity to work with amazing people but you will also experience the fantastic culture of Yataity and the Department of Guaira. With the bustling City of Villarica right down the road, there will be no shortage of cultural experience. (Did I mention this is also where people go to party for Carnival, and where another volunteer lives on a compound with a colonel?)

So I`m going to be helping them market their products and make a Web site. This reminds of me of when I made that site to sell my jewelry after college. It`s funny that that didn´t really `work out,` but it´s one of those experiences that I never knew I would use in the future. Just goes to show you never really know what a failure is.

There are also two radio stations with which I can work. And I consider exposing people to the Beatles and James Brown community service. Also getting closer to sending that letter to NPR. Yeah Ira Glass, I started doing stories on the radio in the Peace Corps. Eso.

Also, the guys who pick our sites came up to me and said that my site is really beautiful and they didn´t want to leave it.

Other details include that I will be the only first volunteer in my group. The others are following up others. This means I will be responsible for breaking in the community to the odd habits of Americans and answering lots of questions.

My other friends are going to be working with organic sugar farmers, computer centers, and banana farmers.

A word about expectations. I wanted another site, but I told myself to not expect it, to be open. My friend Sasha ended up getting that one, and now I`m happy I waited. Life is so much better when you let it surprise you.


More cultural fun time= I went jogging yesterday, which is not normal. School got out right as I was jogging by, and a huge group of kids swarmed me, jogging next to me and laughing.

I explained Frappachinos to our language teacher today, and told him to put his cafe con leche in his blender with ice and drink it. First he told us that if he did that everyone in his house would think he was crazy. Then he said, in Spanish, `Cold coffee, huh.` And tilted his head to consider the possibility.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Guarani Craziness

Hi all. Here´s an embarrassingly disorganized little something from our first day learning Guarani. I was feeling overwhelmed and crazy. I feel better now, just realizing that the learning part is going to be the whole two years.
We find out our sites this Friday! The next day we hop on a bus and go to where we´ll be living for two years.
And I have a confession...I hacky sacked (sp?). The first time other people hackied, I stood back and made fun and called them `90s stoners. But then I gave in. And it´s fun. I´m a hippie.
Other than that, I had a great birthday in the capital. We all danced in a club that played sweet 80`s hits from America.

July 22_We got our first Guarani lesson today.

Learning three languages is showing me how arbitrary language is. It breaks that agreement you once had with life, that an apple was an apple, the sun is the sun. Turns out those are just a grouping of sounds the people around you agreed upon saying when referring to something real.

You think at first that learning a language is just about memorizing vocabulary. Turns out it’s more like understanding how different people are.

I had to twist my mind to understand that in Spanish they say, “I to them brought the orange to them.”

Well, in Guarani, some words are just endings.

One of the things that will help is that you can use Spanish verbs, for example, practicar, to practice. You take off the r, then you add -se to the end to say you want to do that. “Che” is I, for which you add “a” to the beginning to the verb. So if I wanted to practice, I’d say, “Che apracticse.”

For plural, you don’t add an “s”, instead add “-kuera.” There aren’t any question marks, instead you add “-pa” to the questioning word. To make a verb negative, you add “nd-” to the beginning and “-i” to the end.

Words can grow pretty quickly:

japo - to do

ajapo - I do

ajapose - I want to do

ndajaposei - I don’t want to do

Got it, now I’ve just got to learn to pronounce it.

And, oh yeah, there’s still learning Spanish. Our classes are moving forward so fast that I feel my foundation is so rocky. I’m going to have to review and review like crazy, and even then I’ll probably have it wrong, or it won’t make sense when I’m back in the states, trying to speak to people from Central America.

Also, we get warnings from our teachers about speaking “chuchi,” or too correctly. This would be like going around using “whom” with your buddies. This is not the accepted way to speak.

So yes, it is correct to use the pronouns “lo” and “la” in Spanish, but it’s too chuchi here. So my challenge will be to learn the wrong way and the right way, so I can be accepted here and use my Spanish back in the states.

And of course, people speak differently in different parts of Paraguay, so anything I have learned up until now may or may not be correct.

That word - correct. Does that even apply? Right and wrong have lost their meaning. The question is does it work to communicate.

This is started to feel like a mountain I started to climb, and now that I’ve gone a little ways, I look back and I look up and I realize how hard it really is going to be to get to the top. Though that way to not climb it is by just looking at it.

With my head swirling in these thoughts after class, I let out a sigh and sat on our mini playground. Eric came out, I looked up at him and said, “This is going to be the hardest thing I ever do.”

And he looked at me and said, “No shit.”

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Milk and cheese and bananas and chickens

Hi all! We're in Asuncion on our first night out in the big city.
We find out our site placements next Friday at 3 p.m. (why not just in the morning? Isn't that cruel?) We keep speculating who is going to get which site. After we find out, we're going the next day to check out the situation. I'm going to be arriving on my own to live there in two and a half weeks. That's crazy.
Sorry all this is long, but as the quote goes: "If I had more time I would have written you a shorter letter."

July 10 - Peace Corps Heaven

All I knew today was that we were going to visit an urban farm. We took a side street away from the fuming traffic and pulled up at a gate to a house hidden by tropical trees and guarded by two brown spotted hounds.
We were greeted by a man named Fernando, who took us to sit in chairs on the patio under the near constant shade of his property.
His family’s farm started when the area was all grasslands and spots of forest. His father believed in trying to make farming as natural and as closed process as possible.
To that end they have a biodigestor, which turns pig poo into cooking gas. He showed us bunny cages and told us what a great stew they make with white wine and rosemary. He showed us huge worm farms, speeding up the compost process.
He also had a pipe running through his compost heap, and he showed us how, as he poured water into one end, it came out warm on the other. They’re going to try to set up a shower to run off it.
He took us out to his “chacra” or field, which is small but effecient. He had corn and something called hibiscus which didn’t look at all like the hibiscus I know. He had healthy strawberry crops and told us to help ourselves. And, yes, I know how annoying it is when people go abroad then brag about how much better the fruit and veggies are. But oh it was so true.
In the field Fernando talked about how his crops were a little more expensive, but why wouldn’t it be worth it to not put poison in your body. He talked just like some of my friends back home. He said some people in town, who came in with the urban flood, don’t like that there’s a farm nearby. But they don’t seem to mind the factories.
After we marveled at their pigs and cows and innovative farming techniques, our hosts took us out front, where an amazing spread waited, assembled by the other family members. On a checkered tablecloth sat plates of Paraguayan cheese and quail eggs soaked in vinegar and pepper. There was jam made from guavas and strawberries and the fruit of the hibiscus. There was strawberry milk from their fields and cows. There was homemade chipa cheese bread and homemade cake and homemade yogurt.
Needless to say we tore it up, mmm-ing and aahing and feeding each other the things the other just had to try.
On the way out we gave Fernando a ride and he told us about brewing his own beer. And we drove on and a Spanish cover of “Under Pressure” played and the sun fell behind the silhouettes of palm trees.





























I love piggies




























































Feast your eyes on my feast
























July 11 - Today had its challenges

I could use a vacation from some things. I wish maybe, for one day, that the roosters’ screams wouldn’t enter my dreams at 5 a.m. every morning and wake me up. I wish my shoulder didn’t feel dislocated as I lay on my side on a two-inch thick mattress. I wish there wasn’t always a fly in my room. Just one, but always, buzzing laps around my head.
Today we went to make cheese with the ladies we’ve been hanging out with for several sessions now. Remember the bluntness I told you about? It was back with a vengence. One woman was asking about a death in the family, down to how I found out and how I reacted when I found out. Thanks, didn’t want to relive that.
We made cheese using a cow’s stomach. I’ve had the opportunity to see culinary teams in action and I know about the sanitation standards of the U.S. I miss those.
The woman who was helping us was making a point as she spoke, and to punctuate that point, she kept putting her finger on the soft cheese, the way one’s boss does on his desk. Her finger left a little bowl every time it left. The problem was, there was a curve of black underneath, where her nail met her finger. And everytime she pushed it into the cheese, I wondered if it was soft enough to really mold in there and touch whatever remnants lay underneath her nails.
I had a headache today and could not find my Spanish, so Sasha did much of the talking. But they asked me about two things: How much my watch was and how much my camera was. Then one woman asked me to give her my watch, several times. From what I can tell this is not a normal Paraguayan thing, but people do ask you how much things cost here. If you give someone a present, it might be the first thing they ask.
Also, I’m tired of being the Rubia. I have a name.
And I miss feeling like an adult. Today I was cutting my bread, struggling for a second, and my sister took it from me and cut it for me. My dad here told me he’d teach me how to cut vegetables.
You want to learn, you ask for help, but the second people overlap your existing knowledge, you get defensive.
Oh, and I’m sick of how hard learning Spanish is. Your spanish teachers try to explain words to you in Spanish, the dictionary says it’s something else, your family says they don’t use that word here. It makes me crazy. Tonight Matt told me that for a month and a half now, I’ve been telling my family the equivalent of: “I’m going to I am going to bed.” And yet no one has bothered to correct me. The only way I know I’m saying something wrong is the blank look on people’s faces at times.
Paraguayans are at the same time very direct yet not direct at all.
Phew, ok, feeling better.

July 13 - I love English

I got what I needed, a good old dose of American buddies. We all hung out on Saturday night. We grab some beers from the store, where I give my money to the guys so no one sees the rubia buying beer. We go to the Tim’s house and his dad puts on techno music and we sit on the porch. We fit in as many laughs and as much beer as we can until we have to head back to be home by 10.
We found out this week that due to “budget cuts,” that ugly term that I’d hope I’d left in the U.S., our last week of training has been canceled. That means that we’re swearing in on August 6, and we only have two more weeks actually in this town, in this house.
This means that I’ve kind of given up on pleasing people here. If I want to hang out with my buddies, I’m going to do it. If I want to go out, I will. I miss my freedom.


July 18 - Land of Milk and Honey and Bananas

We started the week of Long Field Practice on the barge to Tembiapora, crossing the land to a hillside of lanky palms, banana trees and cows. It hadn’t rained in two weeks, and the trucks hauling bananas kicked up red clouds that had coated the banana trees near the road.
We were visiting a guy named Kyle, whose two years are just about up. The people around his town call out to him as he walks down the road, saying his name like someone with a Mexican accent says “killer.”
He took us on his radio program to introduce us to the town. When he got to me, he asked me if I liked pakova. Our trainer put his head in his hands, laughing. I thought this was because I froze, not knowing the Guarani word. But he was really just laughing at the use of “banana,” which of course has a double (and naughty) meaning.
Kyle might forget that not all of us are as awesome as he is with the Guarani.
We toured the banana fields and visited a beekeeper who sold us a 2-liter bottle of banana flower honey. Paraguayans love to joke around, and besides telling Kyle to tell me he’s single (in front of his wife), he was telling all the guys how honey increases your stamina.
At Kyle’s cabin, we ate sandwiches of fresh bananas, peanut butter and honey on bread we bought fresh out of the basket of an albino Paraguayan boy’s bike.
Matt and I stayed in the same house due to some last-minute changes. It had a store in the front, a sewing room, and outdoor kitchen and a latrine that smelled of generations of Paraguayan beef shits. I planned my day around not having to go in there more than once or twice, opting instead for the open air of the hole behind Kyle’s house if I could hold it.
One night I went for it. A black horse scared the crap out of my on the way there. Five steps away I took a deep breath, entered, then shoved the door closed, which unfortunately forced my held breath out. I did my thing then tried to open the door. Nothing. Yank. Yank. Oh god it smells in here. But the bottom was stuck.
Matt had been just beyond the open door of the house, 50 feet away, chatting with our host dad. So I wound my battery-less flashlight, poked it through the opening above the door, and tried to Morse Code him to peek out the window so I didn’t have to yell. Click click. Nothing.
With three houses within 50 feet of the latrine, I knew this was going to cause a scene, but whatever.
Matteo. Matteo! MATTEO!!!
Finally he and our host dad came out and released me from my stinky confines.
From then on, above a dozen people over the course of the next day explained and acted out that you have to lift the door to open it.






The barge to Tembiapora






Matteo, yo & Eric








Naners are heavy




Anything you can do I can do...unless I don't feel like it







This is where we swam







Sunset on the way back from the swim

Eric Kills a Chicken
Ever since we arrive, my friend Eric has been bragging that he wants to kill an animal. I’ve been telling him he’ll be traumatized.
He got the chance on our trip, when his host mom told him he could kill a chicken. We were over there grinding and sifting corn, when all of a sudden he asked me to video something for him. We went in the outdoor kitchen, where there’s a pot of water steaming over a fire and his host mom holding a chicken by the legs.
There’s commotion: Flapping of wings, an unsure assasin, three languages of asking and explaining. Get the broom.
Eric is supposed to put the broom over the chicken’s neck and pull up on its legs to break it, but not too hard, says Kyle.
He steps on either side and pulls. Stretch and snap. The chicken’s head is on the ground, two noodles flowing out of it’s neck, and it’s body is in Eric’s hands, flapping.
We’re screaming, blood is squirting out of the carcass, spraying our clothes.
The senora of the house grabs the chicken and takes it to where its blood can spill on the cement and a nearby stack of unhusked corn. On the floor, the chicken’s mouth opens and closes. Five feet away, the organs that wound have produced the squaks are inside its flapping body. It was a magician’s trick, an assistant cut in half, yet tap dancing with her feet and smiling with her severed head.
Eric, who had been so excited, slowly picked feathers off his hands.
We calmed down after the senora put the chicken in a bucket to contain its last tremors. The senor of the house brought out the chicken head and positioned it like the top of a totem pole on the fence.
The chicken was then boiled, and Matteo and the senora plucked its feathers and let them drop into a cardboard box, where a cat had wandered in, licking. The senora cut the chicken open as it hung from it’s tied leg, its head watching from above. She identified the organs for us. We saw the eggs inside being made, hanging like a bunch of grapes, each at a different stage of growth. The biggest, a soft orange group, was handed to me to admire, and I was told that was good eatin’.
We folded open the stomach and dumped out the chicken feed inside. She whacked her knife at the joints and produced drumsticks. Eric had a reservations about how many chickens had to be killed for one night of chicken wings. The senora hacked the toenails off the chicken feet, which from the underside look eerily like fingers.
Our meal was placed in the oven, and we sat under banana trees to drink terere and chat in the English/Spanish/Guarani way of mixed company here.
The senora brought us out pieces of sopa paraguaya served on pieces of banana leaf.
We were called in for the meal, each person served a plate of noodles with a piece of chicken sticking out. Matteo’s bowl had the biggest unlaid egg in it, and we all soon found we had our own little surprise lurking in the soup. Our teacher had a smaller non-egg and what looked to me like the neck. Eric had the heart. I scooped in to my liquid and brought up the liver in my spoon.
I looked up and noticed that I had a unique view from my seat. Across from me was the senora, and over her head and through the doorway I had a direct view of the chicken’s head as I tried a bite of its liver, then hid the rest of its organ under its bones, which I had gnawed clean with my teeth.





Chicken head, body, feathers





Chicken egg preview







Aah!


Watch the video if you dare. It's quite graphic and not for chicken lovers.


video

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Language learning and teachings of a questionable nature

Hola. I just have some random happenings to report this week. Oh, and I have pique. It looks like a splinter in my toe, but it's really an insect that has burrowed into my foot with the hopes of making a nest. About half the group has gotten it. It's supposed to be good luck, but maybe that's just to make you feel better about a critter layin eggs in your baby toe.

We're going next week to our Long Field Practice, a week of shadowing another volunteer. I'm going to a banana plantation you have to get to by boat. Anyway, it might be a while before I update.


July 2 - Oh Tim

Things have not been the same in language class since Tim learned the phrase “relationes sexuales casuales.”
For he likes two things: Women and meat, especially if it comes in the form of fried pockets called empanadas. During our language classes, I catch him looking in his Spanish-English dictionary, giggling.
Our poor language teacher has to keep a straight face while he practices his question by saying to me, “Quieres muchos relationes sexuales casuales con los Paraguayos?”
If we’re learning about present tense, his example sentence is “Yo como empanadas.” For the past, “Yo comi empanadas.” Commands, “Por favor, traeme una empanada.”
Tonight we were at the bus stop, late getting home because we couldn’t tear unplug ourselves from the internet cafe. There had been no talk of going to the meat stand, where he answers his cravings for meat on a stick. We were counting out our Guaranis at the bus stop. We’d been waiting about seven minutes, when Tim burst.
“I’m going for asadito!” He yelled, running away from us. “If the bus comes just leave me. I’ll find my way home somehow!”
“Get me one!” I yelled.
“Ok!”
It was just 30 seconds later that a bus pulled up. I didn’t want to leave Tim in the dark by himself. We looked at each other and mulled the line.
Right then he booked it around the corner, holding his hat on his head and carrying a green little bag with two sticks coming out of it, weighed down by meat and two pieces of mandioca.
“Go! Go!”
We jumped on and wedged in the middle, holding on the rail with one hand, and feeding ourselves from meat sticks in the other.

July 4 - Happy Fourth of July

Oh, you know, just another day at the embassy, playing Frisbee and mowing down hot dogs and hamburgers while listening to a radio station piped in via internet from Miami.

July 6 - Bam in your face

We’ve been having “Dias de Practica,” or days of practice, where they send us out into the community to hang with a family and see if we can try to find out if they have any needs we can help them with over six days spread out over our training time.
My buddy Sasha and I have been hanging out with some women who live on beautiful land of sugar cane fields.
We find them in the kitchen, two sisters in law, their mother tending the store out front, and little kids, some old enough to jump the overturned chair that serves as a baby gate.
This last day they were making tortillas in their open kitchen, a building with a half-wall along one wall, letting in a breeze and casting photographer’s light on the side of faces.
Their kitchen was some countertop held up by stacks of bricks. Turning up the heat on the oil for frying tortillas meant putting more coco palm fronds on the fire.
The first time we visited I said little to nothing, as we toured their fields, followed by two boys calling for their dog, Pupy (pronounced Poopy, also a brand of diapers here).
By now, I feel like I understand about 80 percent of the conversation. It actually feels like chatting. I notice that my eyebrows lift at the same time as everyone else’s when someone says something surprising.
Paraguyans are never direct, but they can be pretty blunt.
We had a conversation at the last visit that went a little like this:
Paraguayan to Sasha: “You’ve gotten thinner.”
Sasha: “Oh yes, I have a little.”
Paraguayan motioning at my stomach: “You’ve gotten fatter.”
(Paraguayan putting arms at side and expanding them out.)
Other Paraguayan: “How much do you weigh?”
(This portion censored)
Pyan to my stomach: “Yes, you are fat. When you return home you will be fatter.”
Other Pyan to Sasha: “I like your skin. Her skin is dry.”

They asked us to teach them English, and one of the mothers, a sweet woman who looked to be about 60, was great at pronouncing.
“sheep” is what Sasha taught her.
I decided to pass along one of my favorite phrases, useful for when winning hands at poker or when gloating.
“Bam in your face!”
“Bamnyofae,” said the small keen-eyed grandmother, laughing to herself.
“Bamenyoufac”

When one of the woman brought in a sac of loaf-sized madioca and put them on the ground and started to peal, I asked her to teach us. Laid out an old sac and we gathered around it. Holding the madioca in her hand, she whacked the ends off using the force of a swinging knife.
Sasha and I got some knifes and started to scrape them down the sides. Then we had to peal off another layer. It was difficult a first to find where the white peal ended and the white madioca began, but I started to get the hang of it. Sasha and I compared our work and I gloated that mine was better.
One of the woman pointed at mine and said, “Es bam inyou face.”

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Delicious, yet not quite right

June 28: Mate Dulce?

My buddy Matt had one of those experiences that's just pure PC. His family took him out in the fields to collect cocos, which are marble-size coconuts. They cracked them open with a hammer, mashed them with a pestol and mortar, put them in a mate (MAH-te) cup. Then they gathered around a charcoal stove and put a kettle of milk and sugar on. They poured that over the cocos and drank.

I happened to visit at the perfect moment. My sister came from the house to peek in just as I was exclaiming "He terei!" (delicious in Guarani)

When I went back home my family said we were having mate dulce the next day. I didn't get to go into the woods and get the cocos, they just made it for me. No experience, but still delicious.

Mate dulce is our new drug.

But I wanted they experience. So the next time I they said we were going to have it, I said I wanted to go with them to get the cocos. "Vamos."

We walked in the back yard, where the chicken and cows roam around our drying laundry. My sister started looking around on the ground. I looked to the sky and asked, "Where are the trees?"

My sister laughed. Then, I thought I must have been misunderstanding, she explained that the cows ate the cocos, then they collected them. From their poop.

"Las vacas comieron?" I asked, "Entonces..." I haven't learned the word for "to poo," so I just put my hand on my butt and then jetted it out. "Si," she said, laughing.

Alright. Let's play, can you find the coco...










See it? Got it? Ok, one more try...









They´re the brown balls kind of hanging out near the poop mounds.

Appetizing, isn't it?

So then we put the poop cocos in a box. We took them to a rock and broke them with a hammer, then put the inner meat back in the same box. Then, without any kind of surgical-style hand scrub down that one might hope for, we prepared the mate dulce. Only something about it this time wasn't so sweet.

UPDATE...There is some Spanish debate about whether the cows poop out the cocos or vomit them up. I don´t know which explaination would make me feel better, but I´ll probe further into this issue.


June 29: On Not Being Indiana Jones

There’s a pleasure when you see new things. You see someone carrying a basket on their head and you say, “Yes, I’m in a new place. I have traveled far and now I’m here seeing things I wouldn’t see at home.”

Like the way people here eat fruit, splitting the peel in a curly-que until the grapefruit is a white ball, then scalping off the top and squeezing all the juice to the top and into their mouths.

I’m in South America.

Vendors board buses and speak in auctioneer’s Guarani, hocking socks, candy, medicine, porn. Out the window I see an ox cart shuffle in with city traffic, a wooden box with two mudflaps, both adorned with huge gleaming Mercedes decals.

This is why we leave home.

Since I’m here, in the Peace Corps, my Paraguayan madre makes the most delicious, exotic cafe con leche in the world. I am in South America, after all.

“Is it the instant stuff?” asked one of my fellow trainees. “That’s all we’ve had in my house.”

Instant? Instant? This stuff is so good, there’s no way it could be anything less that an ancient Paraguayan legend. I assume the beans are harvested from plants that grow through the cracks in the ruins of ancient monuments to the gods of deliciousness, brought through the forest by donkey and sold to those who only know how to negotiate in Guarani.

On cold mornings it’s waiting for me on the table on our patio. I cup my hands around its holy vessel, a mug covered in hearts and a big “Te Quiero.”

Then one morning I am there, in the kitchen, as my madre pours warmed milk into my mug, digs a mound of sugar and drops it in, then heaps pre-ground beans out of a bottle that says Nescafe. She stirs and hands it to me.

I look down into it as it spins like brown water flushing. Oh.

Ok, so they have instant coffee. They also have a stereo bigger than the one I had in college, sweet motorcycles, floor fans, and cell phones that go off during meetings. But I wanted loin clothes, exotic facial pierces, a canoe ride deep into the forest of a secret land.

But the Peace Corps, nor the Paraguayans, are here to act out the fantasy adventure movie I had planned. I may never even get to spit a blow dart into the neck of an enemy tribesman.

We want the exotic, the strange, something to write home about. But in the grand, ever humbling theme of This Is Not About Me, I have to remember that people still need help. And every time something is not the way I had planned it, for my own Indiana Jones Adventure, it reminds me of the reasons I had, or should have had, to come.

That's also part of the pleasure, the normalcy of it. You can travel until the water in the toilet spins the other way, and still no one wants to change the toilet paper roll.


Now enjoy these pictures of day old piggies, born across the street from my house. Day old should be hyphenated, but I can´t find the hyphen. Thank you.