Monday, August 25, 2008

Slumber Party Weekend

August 22 - La Rubia y la Morena

Sasha came to visit today, discovering that we are just one quick hour bus ride away from each other. I played Show and Tell tour guide with my town. As we were walking by one of the Ao Poi shops, we heard a voice from a group of women doing embroidery: "La rubia y la morena." "The blond girl and the dark girl"

I took her over to meet my girls, and while we were there I mentioned that we were going to be eating dinner at Rosa's place, the restaurant where I sometimes eat lunch.

"Well, did you call her?" the girls asked.

Sasha and I looked at each other. Um, no.

So they called her for me, dialing 40045.

"Um, hi Rosa, yeah, we wanted to eat dinner there."

"Bueno, What do you want to eat?"


"Bueno. And what time will you be here?"

"About 7"

"Bueno. Chau."


Paraguayan dinner reservations.

At dinner Sasha and I mowed down Rosa's riquisimo milonesa, which is your typical slab of meat, breaded and fried.

After dinner the Kung Fu guy came in with his guitar, and Sasha and I sang Guns N Roses' "Don't Cry" while he played with a pick cut out of a phone card.

Sasha flirted in Guarani.

August 24 - Wild Weekend in the big city

Sasha and I headed out to the compound in Villarica to chop it up a little with the other volunteers. Walking there we saw a guy riding a motorcycle holding a can of Budweiser.

Across from the bus stop was a store we found out later was the chuchiest furniture and appliance store in town. Sasha went in looking for a hair dryer. We priced refrigerators, floor fans, blenders. We joked about having the overstuffed sofa and chairs in my little grass-roof house. There was an air conditioning unit for two million Gs. I asked if I could buy the flat-screen tv. She said no.

I kind of thought that my standard of living would be decided for me down here. It´s hard when you decide, when you can buy air conditioning, a washer and dryer, almost anything you want. I guess the deciding factor for me is if it sets me apart from my community. The girls have hair dryers, but almost no one has air conditioning.

We arrived at the compound with plans to dance it up with everyone that night, but when I mentioned the club to my friend there, he said that we can go, but he's not coming with us. For reasons no volunteer here seems to understand, the club doesn't open until 1 a.m. There are no other bars really to start at, nothing much else to do but wait.

Sasha chose to sleep until said start time, but I thought it best to plow through. So I played cards with the guys until it was time. We ended up walking out the door with Stewart, a volunteer from a nearby town and the only other one willing to brave the madrugada, starting our night out at 2 a.m.

The club was like any other in the U.S. There were the Paraguayan versions of men I'd see back home, those with their shirts sleeves rolled tight against their biceps, looking for ladies who enjoy a good gun show.

We drank Brahmas and danced almost from the second we walked in. We attracted a friend who knew how to lead and took turns twirling Sasha and me.

Sweaty and tired, we nodded to each other at about 4:40 and took it home. At nine a.m. the neighbors in the compound started blasting Limp Bizkit.

We breakfasted on pineapple, rolls, honey, instant coffee and leftover pizza. Sasha returned home straight from there. I took the bus that dropped me off at the routa and walked a few kilometers into town. As I neared my house, I heard kids running and yelling. Around the corner flashed what looked like a running puppy. Then a boy came into view, and huffed for a second at his losing pace. He then restarted after after the animal with his friend. As the scene passed me, I saw that the huffing boys were losing ground in the chase of a very fast little piglet.

Friday, August 22, 2008

New President...the TV Question...The Exercise Question

Hello everyone! I´m settling in, hanging out. I had my first successful video conference the other day. I´m on Windows Live Messenger if anyone wants to find me.

Yesterday I bought the fabric to make my first shirt. Hooray. I´m going to experiment for a while to see what patterns I want to use.

This morning I had the thought that this is going to be like when I went to Penland, aka craft camp. Then I worked in the kitchen on a work-study scholarship while I learned to make glass beads. Now it´s like a two-year craft camp, where I work in the cooperative. Oh, life is good.

I talked to a woman who actually makes the clothes, and she asked me if I wanted to learn to sew. Yeah, we´ll see. For now I´m going to pay her to make the clothes after I do the Ao Poi.

It´s Sasha´s birthday so she´s headed here then we´re going to spend tomorrow in the big city (Villarica) to hit the club. (Usually, it´s hit the clubs.)

August 15 - A new president

This morning while I was enjoying my cafe con leche, fireworks started in the streets. I’m accustomed to these on Sundays, when futbol games are won, but not on a Friday morning. I had forgotten it was the day for the new president.

In the first peaceful passing of power from one party to another in the history of Paraguay, Fernando Lugo became president this morning.

In fact, I can’t believe I’ve gone this long here without mentioning the story that has lead up to why Paraguay is the way it is, why the people are the way they are.

From 1954 to 1989 Paraguay was ruled by the dictator Alfredo Stroessner. In this time, many writers and musicians were exiled to Brazil. People with differing opinions and voices disappeared. No one enjoyed a good job unless they were part of the ruling Colorado party. During our training, some of our Paraguayan teachers told us about family members and friends who had been tortured, disappeared for a while or who locked for days in a room with a wire floor and white walls for sensory deprevation.

Paraguay became a democracy in the 1989. But even after the dictator left, his party ruled. Until this morning.

This is the first generation of people becoming adults now that didn’t grow up under a dictatorship. That’s where many of their parents got their tranquilo attitude. They didn’t have the power to change the way their lives were, so why worry? One of our trainers mentioned to us that when we ask a campo little girl what she wants to be when she grows up, probably no one else has ever asked her that in her life.

As Americans, we have that power, those opportunites, to pick ourselves up and change our lives. We´ve never known anything else but opportunity and freedom to make our lives better, if we only worked for it.

Yes, Paraguay is known for it´s coruption, but the people can see and hope now that things are changing. With an emphasis on transparency and shared profits, cooperatives are one of the ways Paraguayans are changing their country and their opportunities. And I feel really lucky to be a part of that.

August 17 - Television

The reports are starting to come in one how everyone is doing. One volunteer is up in the second floor of a vacation house with a washer and dryer he bought. My friend Tim called me from in a tree -- the only place he gets reception -- to tell me that his family served him pig’s head, skull included. Somehow it’s been miscommunicated that he likes the telenovela Marina, the one with the sexy villianess whose implants separate an extra inch every time she screams during her tantrums and return toward the center every time she takes a breath.

Oh television. It’s as much of a conundrum here as it is back home. When I watch it, I hate it. All the drama - The women with their tantrums. The bad fake slaps. The steamy sex scene that puts that adds an awkward touch to an otherwise pleasant evening with a Paraguayan family.

And there are the commercials. Somehow, the advertising seems more rediculous here. In America, no matter how anorexic and photoshoped the models are, we somehow think, if we throw enough money and gym time into it, we could look like that. Here, it’s like two different worlds. I see perfect world on the tv, then look around and see the third world.

But, everyone watches tv. It’s what’s done. Like back home, the conversations are on what happened last night on such-and-such a show. While I’m searching for ways to connect with people, it’s the easiest thing to chat about. And when I do catch an episode of Marina or Pura Sangre, it’s something to talk about with some of my PC friends who are far away. (Sasha thinks she might have to buy a tv, she´s that deep into Marina.) If community is shared experiences, then sometimes television is one of the only things you have to share with the people you want to keep in your community.

And, it´s TV. I like it. You don´t have to think. You don´t have to move. However, I consider myself a reformed couch potato, and I know my life is much fuller without. Must. Resist. Temptation.

I’m going to try to avoid it. Since the average American watches 5 hours of tv a day, I heard a statistic that by the time he is 60 years old, he will have spent 15 years in front of the tv. I want those 15 years.

August 19 - Crafty Dia

I woke up today at my usual hour, which is to say whenever I realize the noises in my dreams, twisted into screams or alarms, are really the roosters and hens on the other side of my wall.

I went out for my coffee. The empleada of the house talked to me about staying to live here for my two years. Of course, living alone is a strange thing here. What I didn’t say to her was that if I lived here, I would essentially have an empleada. While I sipped my coffee, someone else would be sweeping my floor, doing my laundry, taking out my trash.

Now, I can accept that life here isn’t going to be the rustic hut-life I thought it would be, and that’s fine. But I simply cannot live more luxuriously here than I did in the states. Playstations, coffee ready-made when I wake up, tvs and cars? I can’t live like this!

After breakfast I went to the IPA, where they teach Ao Poi, and sat with the ladies there for a while. Then I went to the cooperative and made Ao Poi there.

I lunched at home, tried to siesta but couldn’t, and got up. I listened to my Most Played list on my iTunes while I made a necklace for my friend Sasha’s birthday this weekend.

Then back to the cooperative. More Ao Poi.

By then my tushy was suffering from craft-butt, so I convinced my buddies to go for a walk. We strolled down a lane where the cobblestone gave way to red dirt, and suddenly I felt like I was walking in the top half of a hanging calendar. There were little ponds lined with yellow flowers. A man passed us on his bike, holding a rope that was attached to a horse trotting in front of him. We passed cows coming in from the field, which one of the girls feared after a freak moto vs. cow accident she had a while back.

Their dog trotted along with us as I talked about the ocean in St. Augustine. A man passed herding his cows with his motorcycle.

Then the land just opened up, the path swallowed by the tall grass. It went on until the hills in the distance, and I pictured myself as one of those cows with their legs disappearing into the grass, only for me it will be as I’m jogging along my new found path.

It was getting dark so we returned. We watched the telenovelas, I made Ao Poi and shared a packet of Skittles with them.


Something has to be done about my health. I’ve got to get something started here. One of the ladies here told me that the women don’t like to exercise, and that’s been confirmed by several sources.

I saw a Wii Fit mat in the store here, which is something you attach to this video game consol and do exercises with (There’s a boxing game!). And I’m tempted to dip into my dollar funds to buy one. But that just seems like the American thing to do, especially with exercise -- throw some money into some technology and think it’s going to change things.

I was hoping to play volleyball here, but only the men play. The only other thing I’ve heard of is this nice guy I met, who practices Kung Fu.

Yes, Kung Fu, and I’m welcome to join in.

The other option I’m considering is starting an aerobics class. That’s what I heard another volunteer did. But how to convince women to come. I thought about having a charla (talk) about the health benefits. But, we in America know all the benefits, but how many of us actually get out there and exercise? If we did Zoomba, it would be really fun, but people have to show up first. And public exercise requires a kind of lack of shame that I’m not sure is common here.

The woman who’s teaching me Ao Poi does walk some days, and I’m going with her tomorrow. We’ll start there.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Some pics of Yataity

Hi all, I wrote a blog on my Mac and now it´s not uploading here. Overall, all is well. I´m learning Ao Poi, learning Guarani, killin it with the Spanish, missing my fam and friends, and hanging out watching telanovelas. That´s about it. For now I´m just looking around seeing where I can be of use.

Oh, and a lot of you have asked what you can send me. I´m really fine, but the only thing I can´t get here are books. If you want to send something on down, there are some computer books on my Amazon wishlist that would help me when I start teaching classes. But really, I have everything I need.

Also, I´m trying to figure out how we´re going to make this online store. If anyone knows anything about that jazz, let me know.

Me speaking at graduation

The house Im living in now

The house I´ll be in for my two years

My friend making a table cloth

All the Ao Poi I´ve done so far!

Detail shot

The graveyard and grazing cattle

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Finally in Site and loving it

Hello all,
In the cyber cafe in my site. Today I got my first Ao Poí lesson. I love it. Here are some notes from our training graduation and three days in Asuncion. I´m off to watch the telenovelas and practice crochet.

I´m realizing my dreams of being a crafty old lady...just a bit early.

Also, my address is now:
My full name
Cuerpo de Paz
Box 23
Villarica, Paraguay

August 6

We have Wi-fi internet in our hotel in Asuncion. Que bueno! The hotel we use has a hostel called The Attic, a big room in the top with eight beds in it that rents for 40,000 Gs a night, or $10. There's another one, and between the two we fit our group.

We´re definitely adjusting to the Guarani. The other day we played a game for 13,000 Guaranis we had left over for a fundraiser. In two groups, we got so competitive, fighting over less than four dollars to be split six ways. Later my buddy Tim had a lunch of half a chicken, two pieces of sausage, and a piece of barbeque, blowing 20,000 guaranis. "20,000 Gs!" we said. Then I thought, that's five bucks. While cleaning out my purse, I found a receipt for a 29 dollar meal I had before I left the states. I converted it to Gs in my head and nearly fainted.

The night before last I had a long night of sickness and a 100.8 fever. I missed the morning of classes, but had to go in for the afternoon, where we had our despidida. The trainers had skits making fun of all of us, and we performed the same. Our skit went over really well, and I read a story I wrote as well. I'm glad I dragged out of bed to go.

We got our scores from our oral exit exams, and I got Advanced Low in Spanish. It's awesome, I guess, but I feel like I still have a really hard time understanding people. And so far to go.

Today was our swearing in, and I was voted to make the speech, which was fun. I'm having fun just writing little things here and there, looking for assignments now that I'm not writing for a living. (I'll put the speech at the end of this post. I'm cringing a little now because I didn't have too long to write it and now all I see are edits I would make.)

(My friend just walked in the Attic and, looking around at everyone together, but on their laptops, tapping at their cell phones, said, "Well, we're definitely back in the states.")


I've been wanting to buy a newspaper here to send back to my peeps at the St. Augustine Record to show them the difference in journalism here. For instance, on the tv news, you'll see victims of domestic violence and dead bodies, stuff that would never fly in the U.S.

As for the newspapers, there are several levels. There's Ultima Hora and ABC Color, which are the most respected. Then there's Esto!, which usually have chicks in thongs on the cover. Today's Esto! looked especially naked, so I bought it as an example. Then I opened it, and there were so many bloodied news photos and dead bodies that I just handed it off, grossed out.


We've already had one down on the "Oops I crapped my pants." It wasn't me.

Training Graduation Speech:

(References - *Jason is a mystery guy who was supposed to come but just never showed up. *Also, our director gave us this speech where he said we should think about the movies we had in our head about our service and be our own protagonist.)

To my fellow G-27ers,

Do you ever wonder where Jason is, our mystery 19th volunteer. I wonder if he's working some 9 to 5 somewhere, thinking about that time he almost joined the Peace Corps. We'll never know what actually happened to him, but I wonder if he just wussed out? I wonder if he packed his bags, said his goodbyes. I wonder if he went to the airport. I wonder -- At what point did he turn back?

I almost backed out a million times. I laid in bed, obsessing, needing to know exactly what my life would be like. I made lists of pros and cons, thinking I could quantify the decision. I sought advice from everyone. I even asked my four-year-old nephew if I should join the Peace Corps, and he said, "Sure."

But I still couldn't decide. Then one day I realized, I was afraid to fail. That's when I decided I at least had to try.

There were still plenty of moments of doubt. But, like you, and unlike so many other people, I got through every one of them. I think that's the biggest thing we should really be celebrating today.

Yay for us, that we'll never have to be the people who say, "Peace Corps, huh? I always wanted to do that."

Let's celebrate that we are not of the people who maybe sent out for the packet, but never filled it out. Maybe they filled it out but never found the guts to mail it.

Let's celebrate that we are not of the class of people who have been duped by advertisers into thinking that they should be spending their youths trying to look more youthful, spending thier money to be thinner, using their time to get more things.

Yay for us that we didn't listen to those who said you're going to work your job and go home to your couch and watch your tv and eat your fast food. This is how things are done around here.

We heard another voice, just a whisper, that brought us here. And we did all that paperwork and dismantled our lives and got on the plane.

And we had that movie in our head, the one that Michael Eschleman told us about.

But then we got to our sites, and, for some of us, it felt like we walked into the wrong theater. The set was all wrong. The cast was not following our script. We brought all the wrong props. And we're back to being scared.

This is because we mistook ourselves for the screenwriters. We are just the characters. And the characters never get to choose their challenges, only how they will act in the face of those challenges.

Maybe you saw yourself being Campo Cowboy, with bragging rights that you walk 10 miles to your latrine, uphill both ways, but you ended up chuchi.

Or you were hoping for chuchi, and now will find yourself with a lot of time to think, while squatting, about just how long two years is going to be. And you're wondering again - Can I do this?

When that fear starts to creep in, try to find that voice, that whisper, that you listened to in the months before you stepped on the plane. It's a humble voice, that didn't bring you here for the sweet Facebook photos or the captivating blog material. It's something that tells us that there's more to life that what we've found in our own little fishbowl.

And if we stay to find out how our movie turns out, we'll leave with benefits too numerable to list, the least of which is being able to say, "Peace Corps, huh? I did that once."

August 7 - Last night was my pleasure

Last night we started the celebration of our graduation at a Mexican restaurant. We had wide glasses of peach margaritas and meals out of volcanic rock bowls. Other volunteers came to join in the festivities, as well as our trainers.

From there we walked, through the chuchi part of town, beers in hand. No open container laws here.

We walked past the lit windows of shops that could have been from any shopping district of any American downtown. There were pink and blue baby clothes, mannequins draped in shiny shirts, couches with fluffy pillows for sale.

Then we turned a corner and bam...A mall. Outdoor tables surrounded by couples in club clothes. A bar called Liquid, with a waterfall running down one full wall lit in purple. A sparkling Swarvoski shop. Inside we found an Irish pub.

We bought Brahmas and found seats. A drum set was in place, and we waited for the show.

Then, taking the stage, Indie Show: Paraguay. The lead singer had on one of those khaki baseball caps with the seam around the top and a Led Zepplin T-shirt. The bassist had a long ponytail and a Pink Floyd shirt. The drummer seemed quiet behind his beard. I'd seen this band before, only not.

Then they proceeded to play not only American music, but great American music: Radiohead's "Creep," U2's "One," Pink Floyd's "Wish You Were Here."

We stood in front, air drumming and dancing. Everyone else in the club was just sitting watching, tranquilo. But the band was loving us and we loved them.

When I ran to the bathroom as quickly as I could, so as not to miss anything, all the girls in the bathroom looked cuter than I did. I had on my Birks, khakis, Ao Poi shirt and my hair back. They fixed their lip gloss with their jewelry dangling as they leaned over into the mirror. And I listened to their chit chat in Spanish, nearly the only clue besides the color of skin that told me I was in Paraguay.

August 8 - Asuncion

We've just been hanging out, running a bunch of errands in the Capital. There's pockets of poverty here, in shanty towns near the river where we don't go, but the populations are here.

At stop lights, there are children that clean the windows of drivers shaking their fingers. There are kids doing handsprings. There are people weaving in and out of cars with handfuls of tangerines for sale.

Yesterday two guys boarded our bus with guitars. After saying a few words, they just started playing. On buses where I nearly dislocate my wrists trying to hang on, they just swayed back and forth through the stopping and starting, just trying to play the Guarani polka for a few mil.

Between them and the band last night, I was thinking about the arts. How many super talented musicians have had to spend their lives working in the fields? What if Picasso had been too poor to afford paint? What if Shakespeare had kids to feed?

In America we're afraid to pursue our arts because we're afraid we not going to make enough money. Not too little to live, but too little to live without the shiny things we all think we need to be happy.

In Paragauy, people don't get to choose to sell out or not.

August 10 - First Day in site

I arrived late last night on a bus that was packed with people coming back from working in Asuncion to visit their families on the weekend. I kept trying to tell myself that at least I had a seat, but the people standing were practically smushing me into the left half as they leaned over me.

These buses for longer distances have those head rests that come up on the side. At one point I had my head pressed against one side as the woman next to me stood so closely that her boob kept bouncing into the side of my head. bounce. bounce. I thought, Why doesn't this ever happen to Tim?

I felt kind of sick, which I'm sure had nothing to do with celebrating for three nights in Asuncion. So I laid in bed most of this morning. After that I started my new routine, which I told myself I was going to stick to for a year: one hour of Spanish, one hour of Guarani, every day that I can. Or maybe just weekdays. Or weekdays that I feel like it. No, weekdays for sure.

Day one: Studies subjunctive in Spanish which my cell phone kept beeping. We're all enjoying our texting abilities. (My mass text from yesterday: Foot-long braided side rat tail spotted.)

Afterward I walked to try and find a store that sold notebooks. They were closed so I just bought some yerba to make terere in my new guampa.

I came home and the empleada (housekeeper) who lives on our property was walking her sheep.

I returned for hour two. Starting Guarani feels like starting over. How long ago did I study me, you, he, us, them in Spanish? And all that work that I've put into Spanish, all the work I still have to do, I'm going to do that, again?

This is what I avoid thinking about as I open to the first page of my Guarani notebook.

I'm recognizing the stages, too. First, you start to pick out just a word every now and then out a conversation of jibberish. And you say, "Mbae! I know that. I means "what." Yes!" Then you know a few more and more until it's every once in a while that you don't know something. That's where I'm at with Spanish.

August 12-

Yesterday I went to a meeting of all the volunteers in my area. In Villarica there's a volunteer who lives on a compound with a retired colonel and a parrot. While making assorted empanadas (pizza, thai chicken, breakfast, apple pie) we neglected the outdoor stove and the oil burst into huge flames that looks beautiful again the palms, as soon as we realized they wouldn't burn the house down. The colonel didn't seem to mind, but took over the cooking after that.

Also yesterday the empleada washed my clothes for me. This morning she approached me while I was drinking my morning coffee to show me one lone sock that was missing its partner. Then she told me that she would iron all my clothes this afternoon. Every time a housekeeper tells me she's going to do something, I feel this need to react like it's a friend who's just told me she's going to do me a big favor. "Oh really? Thanks so much." I said this as she stood with the one sock draped over her arm like a waiter with a towel.

This morning I was supposed to get my first Ao Po'i lesson, but last minute my friend here needed me to go with her to buy a computer. In the bus she handed me an advertisement and asked me if it looked like a good computer. I wished I had the number to my computer friend. Now I am the computer friend.

We stopped by a bead store, and I had to make the decision of whether I was going to dive into making jewelry here in Py. Reading, writing, Spanish, Guarani, website making, volleyball, Ao Poi, eventually garden-making and cooking: I've got a lot on my plate. But it's two years, so I dropped nearly 100 Gs on cheap crystals and string and tools.

We arrived in the rain at the computer store, just a small space with a few sparse shelves of electronics, she talked to the guys then looked at me, as if to make the final decision.

We drove home in a taxi with the computer desk strapped to the top, listening to Ryan Adams. The taxi driver had what looked like a good luck deer hoof with a rosary wrapped around it hanging from the review mirror.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

We're officially volunteers

hi all! We swore in today, so I'm now a volunteer. Everyone is getting their cell phones and calling each other. I've got to go get mine!

Here are some last photos from Aveiro:

Our group outside our school

Pennypacker, evil rooster
Me and abuela, or grandma
Matt's yard

Here's a look at Yataity:
The Ao Po'i Shop

My host making Ao Po'i

The orchids are in bloom

Saturday, August 2, 2008


Hey guys,
Not much is up. We sat the Batman movie, which was shown with Spanish subtitles and had an intermission, during which I bought a beer just because you can do that here.

I´m excited to get back to my site but I´ll miss my friends here at site.

I added something to the left over there, those little orange boxes are a way to be notified when I update. There´s a video explaining how to use them here.