Saturday, August 30, 2008

The Youth Group from Santa Rosa

This is a picture of a few guys from the Santa Rosa youth group. Again, this is not my site, but there is another volunteer in Santa Rosa that I visit from time to time. This is photo of the guys who refused to let me carry by backpack. They decided that they had to carry it for me to the bus stop. Great group of guys.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Family in Santa Rosa

This past weekend I went to visit my host family in Santa. I went to Santa Rosa about a month and half ago to vist a volunteer. This was part of our training: to go spend a week with a volunteer and observe his work. I stayed with a awesome family that was very kind and took me in as one of their own. This past weekend I went back to visit them see how they were doing. See the picture below.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Update on my living situation…

Well, I have been here in Misiones for about a week. When I arrived planned on finding a family pretty quick. Unfortunately, it has not worked out as planned. I am still renting a room from a nice lady. I have spoken with a number of families and most of them wanted to charge extremely high prices. The Peace Corps is one of a few humanitarian groups in Paraguay. There is Japanese group that is similar to the Peace Corps and also a German group. However, these groups are paid a whole lot more than the Peace Corps pays us. Many of the other groups do not integrate into the community like the Peace Corps does. For this reason they live in the nicer places and rent large homes that house a number of people. For this reason, the peace Corps volunteers like myself sometimes have trouble finding reasonably price housing, given the fact that many people expect us to be walking banks. This is not the case. So continue to pray that I will find a family that will take me in. If not, I will continue to live on my own, but this will make my work a lot more difficult

Where am I from? (I think I have forgotten)

Recently, I was sitting in the plaza enjoying the day and eating some ice cream. My friend Jesus, also another volunteer, was in the plaza as well. Because tall fair complexioned people with coarse hair are not a common sight here in Paraguay, our presence always turns a lot of heads. Well recently, I had a lady approach me and begin to discuss (even argue with me) about where I was from. She asked me where I was from and I asked her to guess. She ran down the list of places where I “had” do be from. This list included Brazil, Venezuela, Bolivia, Peru, Cuba and the Dominican Republic and finally Africa (yes, the country of Africa). When she got tired I told her I was from the U.S. and she responded, “No puede ser” (that can’t be true). I asked her why and she responded that they don’t look like me. I asked her when was the last time she went to the U.S. to see what they are “supposed” to look like. She said never, but ‘’you know, they all have blue eyes, with blond hair”. So I had to explain to her where I was from and the diversity that exists in the U.S. The lady didn’t believe me, so I just talked to her in English. Finally she just walked off. This was an unusual event in that the lady didn’t believe me, but it is very common (at least 2 or 3 times a day) that people ask me where I’m from or yell something at me. So far, it has not bothered me too much, but when they want to tell me what the people look like in the U.S, that does kind of bother me. In fact I think it’s funny. I’ll have more later.

Saturday, August 9, 2008


Since wednesday we have kind of been on a break before gong to our sites. We have been using this time to purchase whatever odds and ends are only available in the capital. So I have been spending lots of my time Chill-laxin' (Chillin and Relaxing). But when saturday comes I will have to head to my site and will not be back for the next 3 months.

Swearing In…No longer a Peace Corps trainees,

Last Wednesday (august 6th) We were finally sworn is as Peace Corps volunteers, and are no longer trainees. This event took place at the embassy and once again I was impressed by the embassy. I guess one is surprised by the stark differences between what’s outside and the embassy grounds. The event took place under a covered patio outside. We don’t have an ambassador at the moment and the Peace Corps country director is on vacation. So the assistant country director presided over the event. The event was pretty simple, nothing too fancy, but still a big moment. I really can’t explain why it was a big moment, but I guess it has to do with the extremely lengthy process to become a Peace Corps Volunteer.

When you sign up to become a volunteer you first have to fill out a very lengthy application. Second, you are called in for an interview. If the interview goes well, then you are nominated to be a volunteer. These first three step can take 6 to 8 months. Then you have to wait another 2 to 3 months to find out where in the world you are going to be nominated for. Fourth, you receive your invitation to serve. Once you agree to the invitation, you are still not a volunteer yet. Technically, you are agreeing to participate in the “training”. Once you arrive at staging (the U.S. city you fly to immediately before departing to country of service) the Peace Corps begins preparing you for what you will see and do immediately after arriving in the country of service. Fifth, you arrive in country. This seems great because your surroundings are new and exciting. Yet at the same time, you don’t know what to expect. At this point the Peace Corps informs you that, still you are not volunteers. We are Peace Corps aspirants in training. From the time you turn in your application to his point, can sometimes be as long as 2 years. This is the only explanation I can give for the grandeur of the swearing in ceremony. It just amazing how simple the ceremony is but also how a wave of emotions hit you at the same time. So anyway, we swore our allegiance to the U.S. and then were allowed to enjoy the food. Most of the volunteers decided to spend the last few days in the capital before going to their site for the next few months.

While in Asunción I decided I was going to have a BIG FAT HAMBURGER from BURGER KING (burger KANG, as Steve and I would say it). So I walked to 25 blocks and found Burger King. I went inside and ordered a double whopper and the biggest French fries I could get. I didn’t finish either one, but boy was in heaven for the short time I was stuffing that hamburger in.
Anyway, below I have attached some pictures of the swearing in ceremony.

Despedida… Saying goodbye…

Despedida is the Spanish word for goodbye. At this point in our training most of the volunteers feel very comfortable with their families and hate the thought of changing to a new environment. I think I fit in the category as well. I’ve been treated very well by the Perez-Aguayo family. I’ve mentioned to them on many occasions that I wish I could stay here in Guarambare. I know that it’s impossible, but I think I would I enjoy the most is the simple fact that I have a routine, I have become comfortable with it and I know what to expect from the routine. The mere thought of changing routines and beginning this process again is rather daunting. Moreover, to have to do this alone without a peace corps trainer, or language teacher to help me is kind of scary. To be honest, I have not required any help from the Peace corps trainers nor the language teachers, but simply knowing that my safety blanket is being removed is enough to make me nervous. It’s like the little boy who has been riding his bike for the last 6 months with training wheels, but has not needed the training wheels the last 5 months. When Daddy approaches his son and the bicycle with the wrench to remove the training wheels, Daddy had bettered be prepared for a vicious fight to the end from his son. Not because the son can’t ride a bike, but because the training wheels have always provided the little youngster with the security to answer to question of “what if…….”. Again, I have never required the assistance of the trainer nor the language teacher, but now that my blanket is being removed, I’m like a babying coming out of the womb, “put me back in….it was warm inside there!”

So back to the Despedida, the last few days here have been filled with these formal goodbyes. We have been invited to many goodbye parties by different families. My family did not do one for me. Little do they know, but I’m thankful that they didn’t. To me it seems bassackwards. Maybe I’m the one who is confused, but I think the volunteers living in the families homes need to be throwing the party for the families in a way of saying thanks. If I were to be walking in downtown Oklahoma City and picked up homeless child and took him home, cleaned him up, fed him and taught him all sorts of things, I think it would weird for me to throw him a party when leaving (still not knowing much about the culture he’s about to enter). The best way the young child could repay me would be to keep in touch and keep me informed about how his life is going.
Here in Paraguay, the Perez-Aguayo family has accepted a stranger into their home. They have opened up every nook and cranny of their home to a stranger. The Peace Corps has not done a mental evaluation on me, and this family has no idea if I’m crazy, going to rob them or hurt them. What assurance do they have? They have provided me with a room and a key to my room and allow me to go into my room and close the door (which I would never do). To me it seems that the family needs to be given a party, not me. Without, the family most of us volunteers would be found in the street crying because we don’t know how to buy and hot dog. For this reason I’m glad that they did not throw me a party. I have told them on many occasions, I think the Lord provided this family and I’m thankful for them. Don Eddie likes to drink coffee (actually tea) in the morning, and although it does not compare to having coffee with my Dad in the U.S., it helps to facilitate a good relationship with my host dad here in Paraguay. My host mom here is retired but still works at the school as the director and is out of the house a lot. Like my mom at home in the U.S., when my host mom comes home she make sure to express to you personally how happy she is to see you. My host sister Gladys (actually the maid that works here, but is just like family) has a good attitude about working around the house. Given her job as a house assistant here in Paraguay, this means that she is probably from a family of severely limited economic means. Despite this she is diligent in her work and appears to enjoy her work (I don’t know if she really does though). The family treats her as a daughter and helps her by paying for her schooling in exchange for her working at the house. In a strange way, her position, socially and economically, inspires me to be a better Peace Corps volunteer. According to the Peace Corps, the generation of Gladys (and especially the generation younger than hers) is the first to grow up in Paraguay without a dictator. Gladys’ effort to overcome her position without expecting someone else to take care of her is something new here in Paraguay. This attitude is a very North American attitude, but not so common here in Paraguay. This is another reason why the Peace Corps work can be very effective here in Paraguay. Many of the people are mentally ripe for the planting of new ideas. I just hope the ideas that will be planted will be good seeds.

For all of these reasons and more, I’m thankful to my Paraguayan family for helping me to learn all of this. This will help me in my work. This is why I think they deserve a party, not me.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

DJ Markoss...

The first day I arrived in San Juan Bautista, I was briefly shown around and then driven to the local radio station to announce my arrival. The previous volunteer that served in SJB left in august of 2007. So most everyone in the town still remembers him very well, in fact some are surprised to find out that he has gone, when I tell them that I am the new volunteer. During my first visit to my site, my main objective was to find a family to live with. This is not an easy task, because few people are eager to let a stranger simply move into their house. So while at the radio station, I decided to take advantage of my time on the air and announce to the community that I was looking for a family to live with. I didn’t think this would be effective and I was right, it didn’t work. However, it did express to the community that I didn’t have a place to live. Many people already recognize the stranger walking around the street. Each time I meet someone new, their first questions is, “Y con quien vivís?” (Who are you living with). Most people have heard me on the radio and are curious to know who I’m living with. This is funny, because although many people know I don’t have a place to stay, none have offered to take me in. This is not abnormal. The way most things are done in Paraguay are by reference from friends. I’m pretty confident that when I arrive on Saturday I will have a place to stay. I talked to the director of a high school and he assured me that we could find something for me among the professors or the families of the students. I have also spoken with some of the previous volunteers in my site and asked them to contact their previous families and see what they can find out. Lastly, I have a friend back in the states whose parents live in Paraguay and they likewise have friends in SJB. As far as I know, I should have a few options of families to choose from once I arrive on Saturday. See the pictures below of DJ Markos.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Villa Florida

After receiving out site assignments, the next day we were off to visit our sites (a one week site visit). On the way to San Juan Bautista (my site) we had to drive through a number of other sites and drop volunteers off. Once we arrived to the state of Misiones, we passed through Villa Florida. Villa Florida is a touristy site that is very nice and receives many tourists throughout the year. The place is beautiful and well organized. The good thing is that this site is only about 30km north of SJB and one of my good friends was placed in Villa Florida.

This day, the municipality was celebrating the mayor’s birthday. In traditional Paraguayan style and huge asado was prepared (an asado might be compared to a barbecue). I liked seeing the way the meat was cooked and prepared. Though the method might not be exactly sanitary, I guess the heat would kill anything that might harm humans. To cook the meat, an open pit is dug, about 1 ½ -2 feet deep. The pit usually runs a long length (thus creating a shallow trench). The length depends on how much meat is going to be prepared. Next long sticks of wood are driven through the meet and the sticks are stuck in the ground vertically along the trench. The trench is filled with fire wood and charcoal and a fire is started. The meet that runs the length of the trench is and cooked by rotating the stick in the ground every so often, thus turning the meat and evenly cooking it on all sides. The meat is wonderfully calicious (calicous = better than delicious). In fact all the different cuts of meat are good. I don’t know the different parts and types of meat in Spanish, so I have just had to try all the types by trial in error. On more than one occasion, I have eaten blood sausage. As of now, blood sausage has probably been the least desirable, but I’ve managed to eat it without leading on that I really didn’t like it. See the pics below on how the meat is cooked.

My Host site (Missiones)...

My new site- San Juan Bautista, Misiones. I spent the last week getting to know my future work site. I walked into the municipality not knowing exactly what to do. After being shown around and introduced to all of the employees (called Funcionarios in Spanish) I learned that there will A LOT of work for me to do. The municipality were I will be working in San Juan is one of the best organized municipality in the country. The town of SJB is very active and involved and participative in the local government. For me, this is good and bad. It’s good because this means that I will many opportunities to work in various areas of the municipality. The bad thing is that I’m concerned that the Peace Corps may expect a lot from me since I am surrounded by great work opportunities. By the previously mentioned concerns are the least of all my concerns. The mayor has asked that I work with comisiones vecinales (neighborhood commissions) and educacion cívica ( civic education). I am glad that he chose these two sectors because I enjoy them. However, the neighborhood commissions, deals with helping people from groups in order to solicit funding for projects. My greatest concern is that in most cases the individuals in the neighborhood commissions speak Guarani, the other official language of Paraguay. Unfortunately, I have not mastered this language. In fact, I know very little.
Last week, while visiting my SJB, part of our homework was to find a family to live with for our first 3 months in site. Well, I gave it my best shot, but unfortunately did not find a place to stay. So as of today (Tuesday) I have no place to stay when I arrive in SJB on Saturday. While in SJB last week, I did make some contacts with people who agreed to try and find a family that I would be comfortable with. I’ll keep you posted on this.
Lastly, before receiving my site I said a prayer to our heavenly father, that I would be placed near some of my fellow volunteers. SJB is located about 30km from Villa Florida. One of my good friends was placed in Villa Florida. Villa Florida is a tourist site and there is a lot to do. This is a good thing because there are numerous buses that run between the two sites. A bus ride from SJB to villa florida is less than 20 minutes. Another good friend of mine is located in the next state over in the city of Pilar. A bus ride to Pilar is roughly an hour and half. Needless to say, the lord came through for me!
Thanks for reading, stay tuned for more updates……

Receiving our Site assignments...

The day before we went to visit our future working sites, we received notification of where we each of us would be going. If you have seen the video, you will remember that at the training center we have a large map of Paraguay. When our site directors came to the training center they used this map to place our names on, indicating where would be going. Our three site directors each walked in and placed boxes on the ground. These boxes contained our site assignments. After placing the boxes in front of themselves, each one took turns reading the names of the volunteers and their future site. As each director read a name, our technical trainer would walk over the map and place our name in the corresponding place on the map. This was a very tense moment. Everyone’s eyes were glued to the map as we tried to figure out who was next to who and who received the best sites. More than anything, each person was hoping that he/she would not be placed in the CHACO. The Chaco is the western portion of Paraguay that is barely inhabited given super-harsh climate. Lucky for me I was not placed in the Chaco. See the pictures below...