Monday, September 1, 2008

Ao Poi...Feeling Like a Volunteer...Settling in to life here...Packing List

Hi all,
Ok, so the nice ladies at the post office who paused making their Ao Poi long enough for me to send some post cards told me that I could get packages right here in Yataity. They’ll go to the post office, and the ladies said they’d bring them to me.

So the address is:
Cuerpo de Paz
Yataity, Guaira

The Paulita, Cuerpo de Paz part I just made up. You could probably put “Rubia” and it would get to me.

August 28
Today I woke up and walked outside and the lawn people were here. A man in a straw hat was pushing around what looked like a toy lawn mower, with a long cord, with other cords added on with black electrical tape, the whole contraption stringing its way inside. There was a machete on the ground for trimming the hedges.

I sat outside with my host mom and made Ao Poi. I’m in that phase of learning something new where it’s all I want to do. I keep trying to make myself study, but I say... one more line, one more line. So I brought out my laptop, and we listened to Amy Winehouse in the breeze with our embroidery.

I feel like I’m slacking, but all the ladies here love that I’m so into Ao Poi. “Que guapa,” they say. “How hard working.” They tell me I’m going to make lots of money, but I don’t think I’m allowed to sell my stuff.

I bought the fabric for my first shirt today. They marked it for me and I sat in bed tonight and worked wearing my headlamp.

I have this weird time at night, after I have my 5 o’clock coffee. I usually head back to the casita. My options are: listen to music, read, write, do ao poi, study, or play the snake game on my cell phone. Lately the snake game and Ao Poi have been winning vs. all other options.
Me in the shop with my nearly finished shirt.

August 29 - Feeling like a volunteer
Today a few of us met up in Asuncion to change our phones to the other company, Tigo. It’s a big deal which line you have here, or which chip. Because it’s expensive to call across lines, many people here have different chips. When they need to call their Personal friends, they pop open the back of their phone and trade out their Tigo chip for the Personal one.

It’s a competitive market, so, just like back home, the cell phone companies are huge advertisers. I think they have a deal where they offer to paint the outside of businesses for free where their chips are sold. Many are either red with Personal logos and the business name painted, or blue Tigo with the same. All over the TV, billboards and radio are spots, Tigo uses the cutest Paraguayan futbol player as their spokesman.
On the bus ride this morning we passed a hotel with its sign in Guarani, and word by word I realized to my surprise I could read it. Che Sy Roga. My mother’s house.

I got the bus at 6 a.m., so by the time we passed the chipa ladies, I was ready for my usual bus breakfast.

Now you have to be careful -- many a cases of the BIG D have been blamed on bad bus chipa. But there’s this area on Routa 2, where ladies in thick stockings and short skirts wait on the side of the road with their baskets. I think the buses are contracted to stop at this one company, where one lady and one person with a thermos of cocido get on. The bus continues on as they sell the chipa, which is like a Paraguayan cheesy bagel, and small plastic cups of hot cocido. This time I was surprised at how it felt -- like my usual favorite.

For once in Asuncion I felt like I knew where I was going. I bought my bus ticket for the ride home to make sure I could get a window seat, a task that felt like it was out of a language class.

On the local bus to the PC office hopped on all the usual vendors, including one fat man who, if it didn’t molest (annoy) us, would just like a minute of our time to show us this wonderful product. He then demonstrated this high-quality belt (I noticed he was wearing another kind), knocking the buckle against the rails so we could hear that it was metal. And he was going to offer it to us for just 10 mil. But wait, there’s more. Here’s also going to throw in this handly lighter. Oh, wait, and this wonderful wallet with pockets for your photos, cards, etc.

I got off before he handed out the clear-wrapped packages to be viewed by the unwilling infomercial audience. I watched the bus go by, followed by one with two men standing in the aisle, one playing a guitar and the other an accordian.
I checked into the Peace Corps Office, which is like our little Bat cave. There’s the doctor’s office, the director’s offices, a seed bank for free help starting a garden and even a lounge with a dvd player for us to hang out in. But the real spot is the library, with its free internet. There’s a free-for-all book trade of paperbacks, as well as references we can use back at site. I filled my backpack with books on marketing, feasibility studies for our web site, and new novels.

We all have our own little lockers, and people post funny pictures of each other on them, slip each other notes and dvds, and that’s where we get our free Newsweeks. It feels like camp, which is good. Because my motto is that life should feel like field trips and camp.

In the library you hear volunteers talking about vacations they’re going to take,
projects they want to start and collaborate on. People know each other from being in the same group of trainees, being in the same VAC (or area group), and from crossing paths in Paraguay. People share the goodies in their packages (Eric got Oreos! Oh my word I miss those.)

I spent too much money, as I usually do in Asuncion. On one bus, this little kid came around, putting two chocolates and a little piece of paper on everyone’s lap. The paper said something like: Please give me one mil for these chocolates as I am poor and need this money to feed my family.


No, I’m not spending any more money. Yes, I am a sucker.

I’m very aware of my obvious position as The American. Like everyone is watching me to see what an American will do. Like, oh look at your expensive clothes, but you can’t give a poor little kid the equivilant of a quarter?

I gave him the mil when he made his way back to the front of the bus. He took the little paper to use again.

August 30 - Yataity Saturday
This morning my host’s son came with his wife and their 2-year-old. The toddler played in the yard with the little girls from across the street. I sat in the sun and stitched my Ao Poi. My shirt is coming along.

I went to the cooperative for a little bit, then left at noon with a “Aha akaruta.” (I’m going to eat lunch) And they said Ok, Chau. It was my first Guarani sentence where people actually responded like it was normal conversation, they didn’t laugh like, ha, look what the Norte learned.

Back at the casa we had a huge asado with beef, pork, cheesy rice, salad, and madioca.
After that I went back to the cooperative to hang out with the ladies. My friends had me look at some lyrics they had looked up and written out in English, to “November Rain” and “Wish You Were Here.”

Alf was on the TV, with a voice like a dubbed voice like a Mexican Cookie Monster.
We were talking about clothes and sizes and one of the women asked me: “Tu madred es gorda?” Is your mother fat? Oh I laughed inside, thinking of all the middle school “Your mother’s so fat....” jokes. Your mother’s fat, the ultimate insult. And Is your mother fat? The ultimate off-limits question. But here, it’s just another fact. Your mother is fat or she isn’t. (Don’t worry mom, of course I said No.)

When I’m in the shop, the customers always come in, look at the racks to the right, then pause as they see me on the left, with my embroidery hoop by the window light. A Rubia making traditional Paraguayan craft. It gives them something to talk about with the shopkeeper.

After we closed shop I headed over to the girls’ house. On the way there I learned some Guarani cuss words. One popular phrase translates to Satan’s ass.
That night we watched a Thai kung fu movie, dubbed in Spanish with English subtitles, and ate popcorn.

August 31 - Who kills the chickens?
Sunday I returned to lunch, and helped them make empanadas and pizza. The chickens tried to peck their way in from the back door.

“Who kills the chickens,” I asked, with a nod to their feathered pets. Their mother, the girls told me, with a shudder.

Then we were talking about St. Augustine while pinching the sides of the dough filled with chicken and hard-boiled eggs bits.

“And in St. Augustine, Paulita,” said one, “Who kills the chickens in St. Augustine?”
This time I laughed outloud.

And now, a public service announcement:
This is for all the future Paraguay volunteers who just Googled “Peace Corps Paraguay Packing List.” I found some lists like this when I was preparing to go, and they were very helpful. So here’s my commentary to help you out:

Peace Corps Paraguay Packing

Things that have been key
220-volt adapter with surge protector
baby wipes
baseball cap
bath towel (The quick-dry campy type)
deodorant - Bring your own brand if you’re picky. One guy brought 40 sticks. I think that’s a little overboard.
Digital camara
duct tape - for when your spanish dictionary starts falling apart.
face wash, and maybe extra because it’s expensive here.
flashlight, the wind-up ones are convenient and impress the kids
Gatorade powder - nice for when you’re sick.
headlamp - In case you need to use a latrine at night.
hiking boots - when the roads turn to slush
hooded raincoat
internal frame bag
laptop - Peace Corps advises against it, but everyone who didn’t bring one feels like an idiot.
Lightweight pants
long sleeve or flannel
Long underwear. I sprung for the under armour, and I’ve been happy I did
Makeup. For those nights when you go out in the city and you just want to feel like a lady again.
Medium fleece jacket. I got a North Face three-in-one and it’s great.
Nalgene bottle - The Starbucks cup of the Peace Corps
nice shoes. You’ll want some work shoes. and ladies, bring some going out shoes!
sleeping bag. Bring one that had a hood, so that if you’re sleeping in questionable circumstance, you won’t have to touch anything but your sleeping bag.
Hand sanitizer
Swim suit
Purse, or something to carry around on a daily basis. Something like a small backpack that fits your notebooks.
USB Flash drive
warm hat

Take it or leave it
money belt - I wear it in Asuncion and I haven’t been robbed, but whatever.
nice outfit for swearing in
Notepads. Bring at least one for training, or you’ll have to buy one with the cast of High School Musical 2 on the cover
sunscreen - they give you some, but it’s not good for the face

Things I haven’t used yet, but you never know
baby powder
Bug spray
Camera cards - My friend in Africa told me he sends his home rather than upload his photos, but internet’s not that slow here.
can opener
deck of cards
Leatherman - It still makes me feel cool to have it.
permanent markers
recharchable batteries
sun hat

Things I didn’t need to bring
books - there’s a big network of book trading here
Camp soap - just bring regular soap
Shampoo/co (aah! Huge spider! ...destroyed) nditioner - they have plenty here. I’m a Suave girl now.
Digital alarm - my host family woke me up during training and now I have a cell phone
A modest dress - I bought an ugly long-sleeve brown dress, because I thought I needed to look. My host sister asked me if it was a uniform, and I have yet to wear it. (The women here do not really dress as modest as it seemed in the PC handbook)
glowsticks - I thought they’d be good for light, but now I have no idea when I’d use them.
knife sharpener
Spanish-English Dictionary - They give you one
Top-of-the-line water purifier. The water here is fine, and they give you chlorine tablets anyway.

I wish I had brought
beads (or whatever craft stuff you like)
more ankle socks so I don’t look like a loser wearing tube socks with shorts and sneakers.
sneakers. What was I thinking in leaving my sneaks?
a nice comfy hoodie
photos. I have some on my computer, but not nearly enough. And they’re not portable.
More shorts. PC said that the women here don’t wear short shorts. Um, I beg to differ.
More sports bras
More tank tops

Also, just go for the 80 pounds you’re allowed to pack. I bought every compact, light-weight, camp-style piece of equipment I could waste my money on. I was at 66 pounds with my internal-fram pack and one rolling backpack. Then I got here, and one other guy brought two huge rolling black bags like he was going on a trip to Miami. You don’t really have to carry everything you own. So just pack what you want to bring, because once you get down here, it’s going to be super expensive to ship or buy here.
But really, if I got here and all my stuff had been destroyed on the flight, I still would have been fine. I mean, the Paraguayans are fine with what they have down here, so so will we. So try not to freak out about it.


Brendan said...

hey paulette, i came across your blog on a peace corps website and it's been great reading as I'm leaving for paraguay in three weeks with the environmental education program. sounds like you've really settled in now. Thanks for the packing there anyway that you lock up your laptop when you're away from your site? Do most volunteers have cell phones? My email is - buena suerte down there,


Thoughts... said...

Hey there, I'm Julia and I'm heading down to Paraguay in a month as well (Brendan, I'm also environmental education, I'll email you sometime). Is it as risky as PC says to bring a laptop? I keep debating that one. Also, what type of business casual clothes should I be looking for? Between your packing list and your Guarani podcast/blog, you're a life saver!! Whenever you get a chance, could you email me at

Thanks! Julia