Friday, July 25, 2008
Well today was the big day. We received our future work sites. Today was a very stressful. We have been waiting anxiously for the last 9 weeks to find out where we will be working and in what capacity. We have heard all about the different climates and different geographies of Paraguay. This morning seemed to last for an eternity as we did our regular routines in anticipation for our Site Directors to arrive. At about 3pm they arrived. If you have seen the video of our training compound you may remember that there is a very large ground-to-floor map of Paraguay. When the directors arrived, they wrote our names on small pieces of paper and put them on the wall, but not on the map in Paraguay. They places them in a line and had our training coordinator stand next to the list of names as if he was Vanna White. The three site directors had us all take a seat and they stood next to each other with a box of folders that contained all of our site assignments. They then each took an even number of folders out of the box and distributed them among themselves. One by one they then called out our names and announced where we would be going. As they announced our names our training coordinator (Vanna White) placed our names on the map in the corresponding sites. I will be going to the city of San Juan Bautista in the state of Misiones. San Juan Bautista is located in the south of Paraguay close to Argentina. This place is very green and one of the pretty places in Paraguay. The good thing is that all of the southern part of Paraguay is green. So, I feel blessed to have been placed in the site. The work that I will be doing will consist of numerous activities and secondary activities and projects, but I was placed in this site because of my management experience (McDonald’s) and experience teaching and training (McDonald’s). Also my main project will be civic education and working with neighborhood commissions. I am happy to work in these two areas because the civic education will means that I will have to touch the political matters here in Paraguay. Civic education will probably be done in the community, schools, even some of the universities (this location is not terribly likely though). The neighborhood commissions work will consist mainly of helping the people in the community group together into what is called a commision vecinal (neighborhood commsion) in order to get funding to perform local projects. This work is the most interesting because I will have to help the individuals work in groups and following the legal ramifications to have their group recognized by the municipality. This also means that I will be working very closely with the intendente/alcalde (the mayor in English). However, all of this sounds fun and good productive work, but of all of this, the most challenging work will be the group dynamics of getting people to work together that 1) don’t know each other and 2) don’t trust each other. So when working in groups like this and handling money, transparency is critical. Unfortunately for Paraguay, transparency is something that is almost unheard of. This will be a challenge, but I’m excited to working in this area and in this site. To top it off, my Site Director was able to place me close to two of my better friends Jesus and Joan. This was a big deal also because being placed close to your friends almost never happens according to Peace Corps. Lastly, I was placed close enough to Jesus that we will probably be working together in our different projects.
Anyway, back to the Urban Youth Basketball team. At the end of the week we played in the tournament (three teams) called “Friendship International”. There was a team from a nearby town, the team volunteer’s Urban Youth team and a Peace Corps Team (the one I was on). Our team consisted of three girls and four guys. The three girls were the volunteers that came down with me. Three other Peace Corps volunteers met us there in the town to participate in the tournament. The very first came we had to play a team from the nearby town of San Ignacio. I was expecting some kids who could barely even dribble the basketball. However, all of these guys were taller than I have and knew how to play very well. I knew immediately that we would get beat. However, I didn’t know what was coming next. The tournament had been announced on the radio and most of the town knew that the tournament would take place. Therefore many of the Urban Youth basket ball team’s family came to the event. Of course their brothers and sister also came and brought friends. Many individuals came to the court to watch, in fact many of the children sat on our bench, so much so that we didn’t have any place to sit. So what happened? One of the Peace Corps volunteers that came to play with us begin to act up. During the game the team from San Ignacio begin to play very unfairly, taking cheap shots and smarting off yelling many gesture that were unbecoming. Because of the way this team acted this particular volunteer began to yell and curse at the other team. At one point, all us volunteers felt very embarrassed to be part of the Peace Corps. This particular volunteer begin to curse and insult the other team. Most at the court were taken aback by the volunteers behavior, especially us volunteers. At the end of the game (we lost) one of the players from the other team walked over to our bench (in front of everyone there) and told the Peace Corps volunteer off. He told him that his attitude was completely unacceptable and that as an American should be an example for Paraguay and especially for all the children that had been following us around, and that he should be ashamed of himself. This was done in a screaming fashion and all that were present saw the arguing that was going on. I don’t need to tell you that that was the first time I was completely embarrassed and wished that I could just sink into the floor and disappear. The only thing that I could do was turn to all the children explain to them that the Peace Cops does not condone the type of behavior that the volunteer displayed and that most Americans are not as short tempered as this volunteer. Thankfully, most understood and agreed with me.
Sunday, July 20, 2008
If you have never heard of Cocido, Cocido is charred tea and sugar. You blend this together and then add boiling water. It is delicious. I drink it every morning at breakfast. What´s even more fascinating is seeing how it is made. One usually mixes the sugar and tea together dry. Next your drop a flaming piece of charcoal in the dry mix and scoop the tea and sugar over the piece of flaming coal to char the tea and somewhat carmelize the sugar. Once charred really well, you dump this mixture into boiling water. You then remove the charcoal shortly after and drink what´s left.This is calicious.
Sunday, July 13, 2008
Since beginning training her in Paraguay, all of the volunteers have become pretty close. We are all experiencing many of the same things and given that we only have each other to talk to about our experiences, it has brought us together like a little family. In an effort to get to know each other better, we decided we would write poems titled ``Where I´m From``. Each of us wrote poems about our home towns, families and other things that are important to us. At the beginning I thought this was one of the most stupid ideas I had ever heard of. When my day finally came to share, I decided to give it my best shot. After receiving ver good feedback from my poem I have decided to post it. Please let me know what you think of it. I didn´t like it a first, but the process was fun. If you liked it let me know and maybe I will continue to write. See Poem below. Unitl Next time!
WHERE I'M FROM
I am not from the mixing bowl, or a place well known.
Many of you have heard of it, but have never visited my home.
I am from prominent and pervasive plains...clean air, lots of space, and we know all of our neighbors by name.
I am from dirt, dust and tractors.
Where I come from the local church, in our lives, is still a major factor.
I am from a family were house rules are not broken and most are simple, mostly based biblical principal.
I am from discipline that might include a switch, hand or belt, but always ends with a kiss a hug and conversations that are memorable and heartfelt.
I am from a family of loud talking, shouting, cooking, dancing and music. Respecting your siblings was expected "Now, now you know the consequences...you choose it."
I am from going grocery shopping at 2am..as a family.
I'm from skating rinks, skating parties and couple skates.
I am from parents who lived, saw and experienced brutal race relations, but have encouraged me to express and share love and compassion with other nations.
I am from Oklahoma. I am from the Black side of town. I am from the white side of town. I am from the "no-body-wants-to-go-to-side-of-town" This side is usually full of the other brown people, restaurants, cumbia ranchera and duranguense music. Also on this side of town, some of the most loving, compassionate and caring people can be found.
I am from heartfelt smiles & firm handshakes. I am from Sunday entertainment that includes a drive around the lake.
I am from big sky sunrises and sunsets, slow living that's free from the complex.
I am from a place where a "how are you?" is followed by an "I'm doing fine"... a conversation ensues because we are not as concerned about time.
However, I am also from one of the many places that populate the military and for you, we put our necks on the line.
I am from a place where the list of professional dress items will likely include cowboy boots.
Lastly, I am from the United States. Were many flaws exist. However, given my race, the U.S. has done more for me than any other place.
This is the band that came to serenade my host Dad Don Eddie. If you have been keeping up with he blog you`ll remember a previous post about this group that came to my house for my host dad´s birthday. Though I did not record the song that I liked so much, maybe this one can give you a hint of what it was like.
Tuesday, July 8, 2008
Switching back to the atmosphere here in Paraguay, part of the Paraguayan experience also includes dealing with the litter covered streets, the poorly maintained and mistreated trees and foliage. On top of this, the streets are full of motorcycles spewing stomach churning exhaust. This is only topped by the numerous diesel engine trucks and cars that fill the air with such a thick exhaust that you might believe the area you are standing in is on fire. This is the city of Asuncion (don’t get me wrong, it has its nice parts too) and among all of this is where the United States Embassy is located.
As we figured, the embassy would be rather difficult to get inside. High security, many police officers with guns and an expectation of obedience on behalf of those entering the embassy, sets the atmosphere at the entrance. Upon entering the embassy (the bubble) the whole world seemed to change. “Where was the smog, the loud traffic, the ugly trees”, I thought to myself. It was as if the Embassy had hired Disney to create and imaginary bubble. Where were the staring kids? No one looked at us because we spoke English loudly. In fact everyone else also spoke the same infamous language. I wasn’t concerned about anyone cutting me, or having to watch my back. The trees were HUGE and impeccably trimmed. The grasses seemed to be greener than I remember grass back home. I don’t think I’ve ever seen palm trees so tall. Innumerable types of flowers and plants decorated the grounds of the embassy. At this point I had been walking for about 10 minutes in one direction and could not see the end of the embassy grounds. As I continued walking I noticed that water dispensers were set up throughout the grounds also, these are the kind you would see in the offices, with the big blue jug on top (these might have been there because of the 4th of July event, but I’m not sure). Every tree and plant was labeled with a name indicating the kind of plant it was. Also each tree was numbered with a dog-tag-style tag. Although, the temperature didn’t really change, however I couldn’t argue against one who would say that the temperature even seemed to get cooler. I guess I could just sum up the experience by saying that I was very impressed with the size of the embassy and the attention to detail, to make the embassy look impressive. It might help to mention that although we are in the season of winter here, it still gets very warm on some days and then changes to freezing a week later. Today it must have been 80 degrees out. I think by the end of next week it will be in the mid 30’s.
Okay, so why was the embassy so big? The American Embassy in Paraguay is the second largest embassy in the world, after the one in Iraq’s green zone. Why? You history buffs can probably figure it out. Let’s take a trip down history lane (a quick one, I promise). After World War II the cold war begin. You history buffs will remember that Argentina had many dictators in the 1950’s. Chile in the 1960’s and the U.S. over threw Salvador Allende in Chile in the 70’s. In reality, this was the Cold War experience of S. America at the time. Paraguay is at the heart of S. America and has always accepted war criminals. Paraguay was one of countries to allow the most World War II war criminals to seek asylum here. The fallen dictator of Nicaragua (Anastasia Somoza) also lived here in Asuncion. In other words Paraguay is a place where lots of trouble foments, given its geographic isolation. Paraguay had its own dictator (Alfredo Stroessner) from 1954 to 1989 who ruled with a brutal iron fist. So, during the cold war, the U.S. heavily supported Stroessner. The idea behind the control was to allow Stroessner to rule, but the U.S. to a large degree controlled Stroessner by supplying him with whatever he needed to fight communists, and hated communists Stroessner did. So as far as the U.S. was concerned the U.S. had a great thing going. So, basically, the embassy is so large because of the critical role it played in managing the interior and all of South America during the cold war and protecting the world from communists.
Okay, back to the embassy. Well, by now it’s time to leave. As I left the embassy I stopped to pick-up my huge Leatherman pocket knife (the one that almost caused some problems on the way inside). When the security placed the knife in my hand, he gently guided my through the door and outside with his other hand. This was as if he used the knife to “pop” my Embassy-Disney created bubble and reality again hit me in the face. If you remember Charlie Brown’s friend Pigpen for the comic strip Peanut’s, this is how I imagined myself. I said goodbye to the Bubble and walked to down to the street with the smog, the noise, the children and the stares from all the passersby closing in around me once again. Back to reality.
Monday, July 7, 2008
Well, today (July 3rd) was our 3rd dia de practica. We decided that since we had interviewed the community, the municipality and the directors of the schools, the next logical step would be to do a focus group with the students at the school. We chose a 6th grade class from a public school and a private school. So today we went to the public school first at 8am. We got there to find out that instead of our requested 9-12 students we would have about 18-20 students. This was not terribly bad, we just didn’t know if we would be able to control the whole group.
For the most part Jesus and I decided that the best method would be to pretend that we had not done any research and simply have a conversation with the children and see where it lead. If you remember our topic is “Basura” (trash). We have been investing why Gurambaré is completely covered with litter and trash. This includes contaminated streams and parks that are full of litter. We have been wondering if the people even see the trash, and if they do, why don’t they clean it up? We used visual prop called “The Arbol del Problem” (The tree of problems), which was basically white construction paper with a tree drawn on it, with the roots at the bottom and a big, full, green tree at the top. The tree was more symbolic than anything else. The goal was to question the students about the causes (roots) of litter and trash in the community, and then discuss the effects (the budding green part of the tree) that the trash can have on the community.
To begin with, we passed out paper and had the children make themselves nametags so that we could call on the children if they didn’t want to speak up. From the start the children we very active and were eager to interact with 2 Brazilians (yes, the initially thought we were from Brazil). To make a long story short, we find out that most of the children’s parents burn their trash each night, instead of paying for the local trash service which takes away the trash.
This school had children that were very active and eager to participate.
At 10am we arrived at the private school with high hopes. When we arrived with checked in with the director and waited for the 6th grade teacher to come down and get us. (so far so good, the public school just allowed us to walk into the school, past hundred of kids, and appeared to not have any means of security to keep the children safe.) The teacher soon arrived and took us to her classroom. On the way to the class we noticed that all of the children had uniforms on (not uncommon at any school) and the school was much better kept. The teacher lead us to her classroom but allowed us to enter first, while she waited outside. Upon entering all of the children stood in unison a practically remained “at attention” until we told them to be seated. Ten seconds later the teacher came in, and again they stood immediately an in unison. With this kind of welcome I was impressed with the children and of course had high hopes about the outcome of the class.
Sadly, I can sum up the whole class period in one word “mudos” (mutes). Jesus and I worked that class, promised dance lesson, promised candy, told jokes, had the kids make a circle, had the kids stand and shake their hands and I even had to break dance in order to show them how loose and relaxed we wanted them to be…….all of this and nothing. The students barely spoke and didn’t want to answer or participate at all. Don’t get me wrong, none of the children were falling asleep or even slouched in their chairs, they just simply did not want to answer any questions.
Upon talking to our trainer, he indicated that many of the private schools may have more resources, but they also have more rigid teachers. In other words he was describing the fact that many of the students in the private schools are more accustomed to taking orders from the “authority” figures, but rarely are the asked to respond to anything or contemplate their thoughts, but instead simply obey.
So in conclusion, the dia de practica went very well. We learned that some of the classes just won’t go as planned and not always will we have what it takes to make the children talk and speak up. All-in-All a productive day. See picture below.
As the saying goes… "Everything changes, the only thing constant is change itself…" While I don't remember who said that, I believe it to be true. In fact, the saying is so true that one does not even need to know the author to recognize the astuteness behind the comment. During my time (5 weeks) here in Paraguay I think I changed tremendously already. I think what scares me the most is that I will be here for 26 more months…what other changes will occur, and to what degree? It does not seem like I have been gone that long but when I think about the other volunteers that I have met, the families that I have met and stayed with, it seems like that I have know them for a lifetime.
Paraguay is a Latin-American country that still practices the siesta or the early afternoon nap. Perhaps maybe not so much in the capital of Asuncion, but even there, one is not surprised to see many businesses closed, or posts unmanned during the siesta hours. Throughout Paraguay (especially in the countryside) the typical business/social hours maybe from 7am to 11:30am. From 11:30 to 1:30 the town is quiet, store doors shut and barred, and families are eating lunch together. At 1:30 people take naps (siestas) until about 4pm. At 4:30pm stores open up once again and business is conducted as usual until about 7:30 pm. Though these hours maybe vary by an hour or so here and there, this schedule is pretty common of all type of businesses. For example, banks are only open from 7am to 1pm. Municipal buildings quite frequently have the same hours. Therefore you can see that most business and services tend to somewhat operate around a schedule that permits people to enjoy the siesta or mid-afternoon nap. Just for a side note, our Peace Corps training is about the only organization that does not adhere to this practice. This is how I know the streets are completely empty at these times. I am the only lunatic out walking the streets during siesta time. State policeman protect co-op locations from riots and manifestations that can get out hand. They normally carry 12-guage shotguns. During siesta hours I have seen them sitting down asleep at the doors of the co-ops.
In the short time that I have been here I have learned that "progress" and "development" look very different depending on where one comes from. I have noticed that many Paraguayans see what other countries (U.S. Western Europe) have an comment on how rich they are. Then they look at themselves that talk about how much they don't have. Strictly looking at material gain, Paraguay does not have anything. I watched a man trim tree branches today, with a machete. He hacked away at it for hours. This would have been much easier had he had a simple chainsaw. Anyway, as I look around myself and at the families that we as volunteers stay with, I have come to the conclusion that the family focus and importance that is seen here in Paraguay could not be transposed to the U.S. nor could the hyperactive, consumption and work focused culture of the U.S. be installed here in Paraguay. The Paraguayan values a tight (sometimes too tight as far as I'm concerned) family unit and time to spend with the individuals. This is seen in the many hours that family and friends spend drinking mate and terere (both herbal drinks) in the morning, afternoon and evening. Seeing it through the eyes of an American, I might think that this "lazy" behavior is exactly why there is so little productivity here. I imagine that a Paraguayan looking at the U.S. would think that we simply don't love our families, after all, they spend so much time working and worrying about work and rarely do they spend time with their families. With all of this said, I have realized that "progress" takes on a different presentation than what I realized. I have come to understand that development of Paraguay will not mean to make the country look more like the U.S. but to instead find out what the people what to achieve and then assist them in being more efficient and productive while preserving their preferences and cultural norms. After all, the Peace Corps was invited here to "help" not invited here to change Paraguay as we see fit, but instead to help them accomplish what they see fit for Paraguay.
I didn’t get to record the song I really liked, but do have a video of a different song. The video is a very large format, so be paciente with me and I will do my best to try and get it posted a.s.ap. Here are some pictures.
This is a video of a San Juanazo. To be very brief, a San Juanazo is a Catholic celebration of saint john. The events that take place at a San Juanazo are (or don´t appear) to be at all related to the catholic faith. In this video the children are trying to lick a coin off of the back of a skillet. Yes, that´s right, I said ``lick``. The skillet is hung from a string so this task is rather difficult, not to mention SUPER unsanitary. The children take turn trying to lick it, and the winner gets a good prize. See the video.