Monday, July 7, 2008


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.


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