Friday, December 11, 2009

6 Months Already!?

As of November 24thish, I have been out of the country for 6 months. This surpasses my previous out of country expirence of 5 months while I was in Santiago, Chile studying abroad. So far, it has been a breeze. No offense to those of you state side of course.

I spent pretty much all of my first three months in site, which is what PC recommends, but is something I do not intend to repeat. By the end of the 3rd month I was itching for some time away. I’ve decided to try to get out of site and go spend some time with other volunteers, either at their sites or in Asuncion at least once a month…starting next month. This month I have to stay in site because I’ll be babysitting Luna and Carly’s house for three weeks while she is on vacation. Consequently January is when I will begin making leaving site for a weekend a part of my routine. Unfortunately this means that I’ll be in site during Christmas and New Year’s, which is no fun. A friend from my group is going to visit me for a few days before Christmas and we are going to do Hanukkah stuff. I don’t like Christmas, she is Jewish, perfect fit. We’re going to make potatoes pancakes and Jalla. Holla Tee hee, I couldn’t resist.

I will say that Christmas is a lot more low key here. I’ve seen a few lights in the city, but nothing else. In Asuncion there were a few advertisements with a Christmas feel, including some with penguins in snow hats and scarves. Its summer here btw.

I could do Christmas with my host family, but Marcia is subtly moving me from the house guest to renter. Her son, who occupies the room next to mine, is moving out, I’m assuming to the city where his wife and child live. She told me that I could rent the casita, referring to his room, my current room, and the outdoor bathroom, for 250,000/month. I’m not sure if this includes utilities or not. If it doesn’t include utilities it is a complete ripoff. The wooden house Carly almost rented cost that much, not including utilities, and had 2 rooms, a large living area, a large yard, a partially enclosed half-room. We’ll see. Right now I pay her 150,000 a month ‘for gas.’

I think the progression is very interesting
We started at ‘You can stay here for as long as you want rent free’
To her asking for 125,000 to ‘help with gas’ (she made it sound like a onetime thing)
To me giving her 150,000/month voluntarily, which I had to practically force her to take the first time.
To her basically telling me that I need to rent the other room and my current room for 250,000/month

What was most interesting was the way she framed the proposition. She said it was an opportunity for me to be more ‘independent’. The funny thing is the only real way that I could be more independent is if I moved out. I do all of my own cooking, cleaning, laundry, etc. I’m in a room that they probably couldn’t rent out by itself without at least providing meals to the renter.

The only thing I use of theirs is the shower inside the main house, it has electricity, and the kitchen. I have a shelf I’ve taken over in the refrigerator, but I don’t feel bad about using it because they don’t keep leftovers. I also use the gas stove, though I’ve been cooking much less lately. Occasionally I may eat some of their bread, mandioca, or rice which I’ve perceived to be a negligible amount. She did tell me to act like the house was my own. She has repeated this mantra on several occasions including when I asked her if it was all right if a female volunteers spent the night.

However in her rental proposition she mentioned me setting up my own kitchen. Perhaps that is her indirect way of telling me that those ‘negligible’ amounts of food I’ve eaten or the shelf I’ve commandeered are not such trivial matters.

I’m bothered by her suggestion that I become more independent, because it sounds like she wants me to leave. But I don’t think that was her intention. She is a smart woman, a business woman. She knows that Nortes value independence and she knows I like to cook, so she used those items as her buzz words in her sales pitch… Also my three required months of living with a family are complete and evidently so is my semi-free ride. Her generosity has run its course, she has gotten me through the rule book. Now she wants rent money.

Perhaps I’ve not wowed her with my three months of community observation, as recommended by the PC, while I’ve stayed with them. The course of her life was changed by a PC volunteer and maybe she is disappointed I haven’t brought that same personal revolution with me for her daughter.

My plan is to accept her proposal beginning in January, assuming the David is out of the room by then. This also assumes utilities are included and I still get to use their refrigerator. Carly is leaving me hers when she leaves, so it would be absurd for me to get one of my own to use only for three months. If something about my refrigerator habits is annoying her…well it’s only for three more months.

Being moved into the renter position makes me feel less like family, so I don’t know if I want to spend Christmas or New Years with them. It also makes me even more eager to get out of the house before Carly leaves in April. If all goes according to my new plan, I’ll move in with Carly after her boyfriend Stephen leaves with Luna for the US in mid March.

Anyway, that’s me after 6 months. I’ve been trying to keep up with the news as best I can. I get CNN updates headline updates sent to one of my email accounts. Though since I read the most recent emails first my reactions to

CNN: ‘Fort Hood shooter apprehended’
Me: Wait! There was a shooting a Fort Hood?!

So I’m curious, what do you all think are the most important events I may have missed out on, things that in about 2 years will still be good to know?

And no, not that Kanye West stole Taylor Swift’s spotlight and Beyonce came to the rescue and then Obama broke the cardinal rule of being famous in the technology age thinking anything he says if off of the record or the overly aggressive female soccer player who is lucky she didn’t get charged with assault. Though I am curious about what songs are being most overplayed on the radio there.

Thank you for your assistance in reducing my culture shock upon reentry :)

Please post below.

Thursday, December 10, 2009


A butterfly that has decided to live in my bathroom. Scared the daylights out of me the first time. I thought it was a bat.

Lila´s current cage, as opposed to the lego inspired set up before made from my luggage.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Our Lady of the Holy Bug Repellant

Every year around December 8th, thousands of Paraguayans make a pilgrimage to Caacupe.
Paraguay is a predominantly catholic nation; by law their president must be catholic. Their current president was a bishop.

As such Paraguayans also have the prerequisite affection for the Virgin Mary, which yields may local variations. You may have heard about the Virgin of Guadalupe, which is the normal Virgin Mary celebrated due to her appearance to a man in Mexico.

In following with this tradition, Caacupe has its own Virgin of Caacupe. Go here if you´d like to read about the specifics.

Now the truth is that most Paraguayans can’t really tell you much of this back story. They do the pilgrimage out of respect for tradition. Some don’t even stay around for mass. They walk to the city, arrive, and then head bus. No, you don’t get bonus points in Heaven for walking back to your house.

However I have renamed the Virgin of Caacupe as Our Lady of the Holy Bug Repellant; during the pilgrimage I didn’t get bitten once. I know, me, the personal buffet of millions of little blood suckers developed some mystical shield for one night. It was beautiful. That’s the story book ending, now back to the beginning.

You have to do the Caacupe pilgrimage at some point; it is an unofficial requirement of Paraguayan citizenship and interestingly Peace Corps volunteer service as well. If you did the walk when you were twelve, you’ve fulfilled your duties and don’t have to walk again. However there are some families that make an annual journey out of it. The purists start walking from wherever they live in the country. Initially, after being inspired by Jim Carey’s Yes Men, I said yes to the 13 hour trip with some local purists who annually made the trip from their house. I’m happy to say that trip fell through. What can I say, I am not a purist, just a visitor. I’m too out of shape to go on 13-hour whims.

So my Peace Corps buddies and I all met together at a nearby city Ypacarai, 20k/12mi outside of Caacupe. Actually 3 of us had to go through Caacupe in order to get to Ypacarai in the first place, which felt a little silly, since we’d actually be backtracking on our pilgrimage. Anyway, we were told this would take us about 5 hours. We took 3.5!

Well at least half of us did. We initially started with about 10 people, but the group split between the group clearly descendents from the grandmas who power-walk around the mall [that’s the fast group for any of you who haven’t had the pleasure of experiencing this suburban phenomenon] and the tranquilopa group who actually took the walk at a semi normal pace. I was in the first group, and for the record my grammy doesn’t walk around the mall, but she probably gets more exercise than I do at this point from her lengthy daily walks through neighborhoods.

We stopped for dinner at El Cucuruchu. I’m not sure about the spelling, but it sounds like the word for cockroach, la cucaracha. In spite of the possible name confusion, they have really good food. I bought a muffin to save for breakfast. After this quick rest, the power-walking decedents made our abuelitas proud by hauling it to try and make it to the midnight mass. Actually we got to the main plaza around 10:30pm, plenty of time to spare.

After staking out a spot on the plaza with a good view of the jumbotron screen set up in the back of the church, we sat for a bit, Angelique and I played a seemingly generous game of ‘No, seriously you take the trail mix’ aka ‘If you don’t get that bag away from me I’m going to eat the whole thing, so pleeeease take it’. Ugg, where are Nam or Rujie when I need them to keep me from getting more bootylicious off of peanuts, raisins, and chocolate pieces.

Anyway, Angelique, Melissa, and Angelique’s 2 Paraguayan friends when to look for t-shirts and to see if they could find Angelique’s family that she stayed with during training. Elmer and I diligently guarded the groups valuables and spot on the plaza…aka we fell asleep. Our lullaby was Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth playing in English with Spanish subtitles at a nearby kiosk against trash, for recycling. I do wonder where that group was when we walked for 20 trash lined kilometers without seeing more than 1 or 2 trashcans.

I wasn’t actually able to sleep on the ground. Melissa had the foresight to bring a blanket, but that only softened the ground a little bit. Besides, I was too distracted by how surreal the experience was.

First, was able to get a seat on the way down to Caacupe, which is amazing in and of itself. The week of Caacupe until about Easter are the busiest bus times for Paraguay, unfortunately they are also the hottest. Carly was kind enough to recount last year’s stories of standing the entire 4-hour bus ride to Asuncion in sardine-esque conditions. Unexpectedly my bus to Caacupe decided to go no farther than that, which really upset the people who had paid to go all of the way to Asuncion. Fortunately I was able to catch a local bus to meet up with my posse in Ypacarai. While I waited for my party to arrive I watched large thunderheads pass overhead, but didn’t get more than a drizzle of rain which cleared up by the time we started walking. The rest of the evening/night had perfect weather, just cool enough to make our pace enjoyable, though I did wish for a light sweater once we settled down in the plaza. This is a very different experience from the boiling hot temperatures experienced by the volunteers who walked last year. The sky was clear and I was able to see the stars when the trees over the highway weren’t too thick. Everyone was in good spirits selling chipa, all using the same recorded voice ‘Chipa, Chipa, Rrrrrrica Chipa!!!’, snacks, drinks, etc. There were also plenty of people giving out free drinks, though I had brought along one of my Camel backs, which I conveniently realized fits perfectly into the pouch inside of my day-pack that is too shallow, and strangely shaped, to fit anything else. There were the standard religious trinkets, kitschy knick-knacks, t-shirts, sunglasses, hats, one kid trying to sell me a candle for 1mil, when everyone else was selling them for 500, then dropping the price to 2 for 1 mil… which is still just 500 per candle. There were some very entrepreneurial people setting up bathrooms on the side of the road… not port-a-potties mind you. They dug holes in the ground and then build a wooden frame surrounded with black tarps/trashbags for privacy. People who had actual bathrooms in their homes or businesses along the ruta rented them out for about 1 mil, some people even offered their showers. Many of the Paraguayans were wearing flip flops. We were amazed at how quickly some of the Paraguayans were walking, considering that one guy I know from my site was in serious pain after casually walking about 2 blocks with Carly and me when we took Luna out that evening. No one walks here unless they have to, they will use their moto to make even 1-2 block trips. So to see so many people out and about, sans motos, was astounding. Melissa commented that they should have something like this once a month, to help encourage people to be more physically active.

Then we got to Caacupe and headed for the plaza, which was pilgrim central. People sold mats and card board boxes to help soften the ground, people were curled up everywhere in small groups, home of the temporarily homeless.

I listened to Al Gore drone on for a while, waited with Elmer for our laggard group to catch up [they never did and ended up sleeping for a while at someone’s house, one of their friends, and catching the 6am mass], watch the policemen make their rounds, occasionally escorting people away, most people seemed to be in pretty good shape, though I did see one boy fall onto a mother who was rocking her child. His friends picked him up, woke him up and, calmly walked him away.

I guess that was the most remarkable thing…how calm everything was. Perhaps it was because it was the middle of the night and most people were tired from their several hour walk. But it was just amazing to see so many people, in such a small space making so little noise, so little movement, no rush, maybe taking a nap or just sitting talking quietly. Some catholic missionaries were out an about trying to convert people. One came over to Elmer and I starting with a completely inappropriate line of ‘I’m going to tell you something you’ve never heard before…standard Jesus love, sin, and forgiveness pitch. I’ll give the guy credit, he had a very nice and soothing voice, perfect for converting tired people on a plaza, if I would have been 5 years old, I would have asked him to read me a bed-time story to help me fall asleep. But come one honey, Christianity is the most popular religion in this have of half of the globe, hands down with no close seconds. And we’re in a country where Catholicism is state-sponsored. So started with the ‘I have something to tell you that you’ve never heard before…’ pitch is probably not the most accurate starting point. I also don’t understand why you think that spending time trying to convert people making a Catholic pilgrimage to Catholicism, since most people are Catholics already.

Actually another interesting occurrence in my site specifically is the presence of Jehovah’s Witnesses from Germany who have been sent specifically to try and convert the German speaking Mennonites…Except they are already Christians. Alas, I will never truly understand the whole Christian vs Christian conversion. Aren’t they all batting for the same team in the end?

Other than the interruption by my little soul saver, no one bothered us or made much of a fuss. As the plaza got more and more crowded people started tripping over my leg which I had extended into what became an informal walkway, I chose not to move it because it was the only way it could rest my leg with my knee in a comfortable position…and my leg was there before the walkway.

Our souvenir hunters got caught on the opposite side of the church when the midnight mass began and the crowd suddenly solidified. I caught bits and pieces of the mass on the jumbotron screen on the back of the church that I was facing. It seemed like someone was inserting little musical intermissions whenever the priests weren’t talking.

After mass, Angelique, Melissa, and the Paraguayans made it back, with their t-shirts. We decided to find buses to take us home and ended up finding another group of volunteer who had just arrived and were going to stay around until the 6am mass. They had more men with them and as such were quite happy to take the rest of my trailmix off of my hands.

We chatted, spotted a bus to take us to Angelique and Melissa’s site, and jumped on. To our amazement, the bus was almost empty. After picking up a few more passengers, we started to leave Caacupe. Then the bus decided to do a 23 point turn, mas o menos, on a small 2 lane, city street, go the opposite direction back into Caacupe, and procided to drive around for about an hour picking up additional passengers until the bus was stuffed. Finally we headed to Coronel Oviedo, arriving around 5:30am.

I caught a few winks of sleep at Melissa’s house then woke up with an allergy induced cough around 7:10am. Realizing that I wasn’t going to get rid of my cough anytime soon, which would needlessly keep both of us up if I stayed at Melissa’s house, I decided to head home. I walked 2k/1.2mi to the bus terminal and bought a ticket home.

I had my first real encounter with a terminal attendant who seemed like he might be in the mood to justify his hiked up ticket price. Silly man, he should know better than to fight testy tired people during Caacupe week, even if I look like a tourist. I gave him 15mil, while he was writing 20 on the ticket, he told me in a very innocent tone of voice that the cost of the ticket was 20mil and acted like he was going to start justifying the price, when I gave him a quick lesson in basic algebrat:

‘No. It is 15 mil to Campo 9. It costs 30 mil from Campo 9 to Asunción and its 15 mil from here [Coronel Oviedo] to Asunción.’

Now I didn’t actually know what the usual price was to C9 was, but I was too tired to care if 15 wasn’t the standard rate. It was fair according to the above calculation and I was not going to pay ningún Guarani más damit!

He gave me my ticket 15 mil ticket without another word and pointed me to a bench where I could sit and wait for the bus.

A while later I got on my bus, and had one last final joy of completely freaking out the lady in the seat next to me by drinking water out of my camelback hose, which was poking out of a hole in my backpack designed specifically for that purpose, thus concealing the water itself. I always feel a bit like a reverse scuba diver when drinking from the mouthpiece.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Red Water

They are working on the wells again. No water at all until about 11am. After that it turned on and off and alternated from almost clear to this red mess.

It is red because that is what color the dirt is, so it isn’t toxic; I could strain the sediment out it I wanted. Or I can just wait until they stop fiddling around with the pumps and the clear water starts flowing again.

Friday, December 4, 2009

RIP Eeyora

Nati’s white rabbit, the one Carly and I nicknamed Eeyora, the one I bought her in place of Lila, just died. Big surprise.

Marcia said she thinks the male rabbit did something to her. Oh I don’t know if I mentioned him before. Nati threw a fit a few weeks when the cat disappeared for about 2 hours, so her parents immediately bought her a new rabbit. He is full grown, brown, quite handsome actually.

Naturally they are going to get her a new one, because according to them, she ‘loved it so much’. Loved it so much she gave it all of the foods I told her time and time again were not good for her, often didn’t have water in the cage, kept her in a cage with the cat [which is too small for one animal, let alone the three they’ve been keeping in there], never cleaned up after her… Oh goodness, do not get me started again.

Nati is at her grandmother’s house and doesn’t know yet that the bunny is dead. I wonder if they are just going to try and buy her a new white rabbit and not even tell her the old one died. I doubt she would notice.

At least Marcia found a new cleaning woman, who now is the one taking care of the pets and cleaning up after the pets.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Home Sweet Home

We finally did it! We finally found a new house for Carly!

After two months of telling everyone I knew that I was looking for a house to rent and getting no-where, Carly and I started pounding the pavement, going up and down the city blocks looking for ‘For Rent’ signs, ‘For Sale’ signs, or houses that generally looked abandoned, and popping into stores or talking to people outside of the houses every few blocks to see if they knew of any available areas. In the entire city we found:
• 1 house that had a ‘For Rent’ sign but that was too expensive
• 1 house very cheaply priced but nowhere near the urban areas where Carly and I work, it also didn’t have a bathroom
• 1 apartment that was beautiful, but the landlady never got back to me with a price, it was also a little ways outside of the central area, which wouldn’t have been a problem if the area in between was a little safer to walk through at night
• 1 house not in the central area that was priced way to high considering its location and it didn’t have a modern bathroom.
• 1 wooden house that we was rented out from under us. It had a modern bathroom, 2 rooms, a living room, and an area in the back with a sink to do laundry. It was perfect, had a really nice sized yard that I had hopes of turning into a vegetable garden. It was located on a main street, Carly was good friends with the people who lived across the street, and the landlord lived just a few more houses down, and there was one of the city’s best ice cream places and pizza parlors just a few blocks away. We actually found the house while taking a break from the heat to enjoy some ice cream and asked the owner if she knew of anything that was available. I was a little worried about the house being made of wood, because all of the other houses in the street were made of bricks. Naturally a wooden house is easier to break into, though it did have a wrought-iron door in front of the normal door, which would at least make it look more imposing. Also another volunteer in my area had his wooden house broken into; they just tore off the tin slabs his roof, which is was this house’s roof was made of. Also, wooden houses have more bugs. However Carly didn’t seem worried about that and also assured me that wood houses are very nice and cool in the summer, which was our main complaint about her current home aka the tatakua[oven]. Unfortunately when we came back, less than a week later, to have sign the rental contract, the landlord told us that actually they house was technically rented to someone else, but he just hadn’t seen them in a while. I think he just found someone else.

So we went back out on the streets, block by block. Finally we walked into a little corner store selling small gifts, house decorations, crafty stuff and nick-knacks. A very friendly woman inside informed us that she did indeed know of an available house, hers, which was right next door. Actually her house was shaped like and ‘L’. They were renting out the ‘_’ part and living in the ‘I’ part. The available area consisted of 2 rooms, a modern bathroom, a large garage area, and a yard separated from the main house’s. The price was right, the location was perfect [2 blocks from where Carly currently lived], the family seemed nice, they had their own business, so they would be less likely to try and bleed Carly dry.

Determined not to have another house slip out from under us we went back the next day, showed her the standard rental contract that PC used, which she approved. Carly was going to bug bomb the house herself, but the new landlady offered to do it before she moved in for free.

A few days after that, Carly arranged a move-in date, and by November 26th she was all settled in. I felt really bad that I couldn’t help her move, but I had a required 3-month check-in[Reconnect] with the Peace Corps, so I was gone the entire week that she packed up and moved. She was also babysitting Lila for me, so she had to cart her between the old and new home. Actually I heard that our friend Richard transported her in a box on his moto, which she was not too happy about.

Anyway, I’ve promised her an apple pie from Grammy’s recipe when she gets back from helping her boyfriend, Stephen, clean his house in preparation for his parents visit. The Granny Smiths have been very tasty lately.

I did get to see her all settled in when I picked up Lila on Monday. She has everything set up quite nicely and was working on a few repairs with Stephen.

Why the New House is Awesome
Fair Price: 300 mil, not a bargain, but a good price
Temperature: The new house has good shade and faces east, which I am convinced is better than west facing houses [like my room and Carly’s old house]. The house has good cross ventilation through the windows. Also the two rooms are not too large, which will make it easier to heat them in the winter.
Space: 1 bedroom, 1 kitchen, 1garage/living room instead of the matchbox I currently live in or the 1 large room that Carly was in before. Actually I think her new garage is the same size as her old house. Yard: The house also has a small yard, so Luna now has a place to run around instead of being tie to a tree all of the time. It should also be enough room for me to make a small garden.
Floor: The floor is rough unfinished concrete like Carly’s old house, which sucks, but the rooms and bathroom are both tiled, so they will be really easy to keep clean.
Location: 4 blocks from the Muni, within 5 blocks of the city’s main three schools where Carly works, 4 blocks from the city’s smallest super market.
Rent substitution: The landlady will allow us to make improvements to the house in lieu of rent. So we could tile all or part of the garage, have someone put in finished cement, etc.
Non-Miserable-Landlady: The new landlady has a little store so Carly will not be her sole source of income. Carly’s miserable former landlady didn’t have any other notable source of income, so she robbed Carly blind at every change. Carly is too nice and paid whatever the landwench asked, even when she knew it wasn’t fair, instead of telling her to bugger off. Actually, since this is an indirect, non-confrontation culture, I’ve found that looking someone directly in the eye and telling them ‘No’ or correcting them in a confident manner is extremely effective. The bus people always quote me the Norte price but have yet to fight me when I simply hand them the correct fare.

Fun Side Note: Ironically, while we were knee deep in our house hunt the landwench told Carly at the Beginning of November that her daughter was coming back from working in Spain or Argentina, perhaps as early as December and so she would need the house back. At first we were disappointed because we were afraid we had missed out of that gotcha biatch moment where Carly tells Miserable-excuse-for-a-landlady that she is leaving..See ya wouldn’t wanna be ya. Kind of like when you are about to break up with someone but they beat you too it. The final result is the same, but for some reason it just doesn’t have the same feeling of triumph. Fortunately Sra. Miserable… disappeared for most of the month of November and never mentioned her daughters potential return to Carly. So Carly did get her moment of victory, indirectly since she had out buddy Richard tell Sra. Miserable that Carly was moving…as she was physically taking her things over to the new house. At little last minute but whatever, technically she did as Carly to move. Sra. Miserable little leech tried once more to claw more money out of Carly, telling her via Richard that everything was fine as long as she paid her November’s rent that she owed… One problem… Carly pays her rent at the beginning of each month, so she already paid November’s rent. Carly said she would pay the rent, which she doesn’t actually intend to do. She plans on avoiding the leech for the next 5 months.

Not so great points:
• There is a small soccer field caddy corner to the house, which does get a little noisy some nights.
• There seem to be more mosquitoes at this house than her last one. Hopefully living there for a while will disturb their breeding sites enough that their numbers will go down.
• The room Carly has made into a kitchen wasn’t originally intended for that purpose, so there isn’t a sink or counters. However, I might try to add those things and substitute them for rent if there are water connections.

And in summary, after two months we found a grand total of 2, yes 2 houses, that Carly could move into. Did I mention there are about 20-30,000 people in my community? Let’s just say the housing market is a little tough here. Which is why I’m toughing it out with a host family until Carly’s service ends.

I’m just jumping out of my sock in anticipation of living at Carly’s house temporarily for three weeks when Carly goes on vacation and permanently at the end of April when Carly moves back to the states.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving!

Paraguay doesn’t celebrate Thanksgiving, but PC volunteers do :). Since it wasn’t an official holiday, the fact that my Reconnect event ended on Thursday didn’t matter, because the unofficial festivities didn’t begin until Friday. Each Thanksgiving a good portion of the ~200 volunteers in Paraguay travel to Capitan Miranda, outside of Encarnacion, for a Friday-Sunday bash at a local resort. Easy there, not on Uncle Sam’s dollar, okay well indirectly on Uncle Sam’s dollar since my salary comes from the gov… but we did have to pay to go. Actually I felt a little guilty because the resort was so nice. Seriously, it’s a top notch semi-tropical set-up. It crossed my mind while admiring my surroundings ‘Hey, I’m in the PC, am I supposed to be having so much fun? I thought I was supposed to suffer a little bit? Aw heck, let’s have a good time.’

Friday consisted of hanging out at the pool we took over due to sheer numbers and the fact that volunteers were staying in most, if not all of the rooms by that particular pool. It was really nice to put faces to so many of the names that I hear floating around all of the time.

We ate a traditional Thanksgiving dinner cooked entirely by PC volunteers. I heard they had someone bring in real Velveeta from the US for the mac and cheese. For once being a vegetarian in Paraguay paid off. We were called to the buffet line by tables, but the cooks and vegetarians got to go first, regardless of their table. I won’t go into detail, but the food was delicious, the one thing I wish they would have done differently was label the food, and note whether it was vegetarian, and maybe a note it had nuts, dairy, gluten if it wasn’t obvious. I was lucky because since I served myself at the same time as the cooks, I was able to ask them directly.

(The main dinner was masquerade themed)

On Saturday I went to see the nearby Jesuit ruins. My camera’s batteries were dead, which of course I didn’t realize until I got there. I’m waiting for people to post to facebook so I can nab some pics. The ruins were very interesting, but the price was much higher than expected. Recently they made some improvements to the site so they more than tripled their prices. We also had to buy a three day pass that allowed us access to two other ruins, there wasn’t a single day, 1 ruin pass. However we were a large group, and made a fuss about the price, so they gave us a guide for free.

Saturday night consisted of a talent show and auction to raise money for our Gender and Development(GAD) programs.

The talent show was pretty good, mostly people on guitar, including our country director who actually has a very nice singing voice. Go figure.

While G30 didn’t have any representatives in the talent show, I am proud [because I had sooo much to do with it naturally] to say that Dina Davis started the auction off with a bang. Her 5 watercolor paintings inspired a frenzied bidding, even though no one had actually seen the paintings before the auction. Minor organizational flaw. Personally, when I found out that Dina’s work was going up for sale, I made sure to comment about how talented she was whenever it came up. She did some amazing sketches and thank you cards during training. Considering how fierce the bidding because, I’m guessing that my g-mates were doing the exact same thing.

Other fun items for sale, a hair cut by one of the volunteers, and pedicure with the removal of up to 4 pique. I think I mentioned pique in an earlier post. Pique is a type of flea that generally gets into your feet, especially if you walk around in sandals or flip flops, buries itself just under the surface of your skin and lays eggs. It starts as a black spot, the flea, which is soon surrounded by a halo of white, the eggs. If you don’t dig the flea out with the eggs, eventually it will burst on its own, like a blister, oozing the egg matter all over. Awesome I know.

GAD initially thought they would make less than 100,000 from the auction. They ended up making 1,200,000ish.

After the auction there was a dance party. Yes, I danced. No, you cannot see proof. If I find any, I will destroy it.

Thursday, November 26, 2009


For our first ‘Reconnect’ lasted for three days. My entire group went back to our training community in Guarambare to see how everyone is doing, have a medical session with Medical Mary and Dr. Luis, talk with the PC directors, listened to a few charlas to give us some project ideas... The week also heavily focused on language classes, which I was not happy about. CHP’s language training style and I have never gotten along very well. One the first day we were divided into small preselected Spanish and Guarani groups. The first two hours were helpful, but after lunch the teacher decided that we were going to play games with the new words. While I do understand that games help some people learn, I am not one of them. I find them to be painful and generally embarrassing if they take place right after we’ve learned new material and I haven’t had time to process it yet. So I decided I didn’t want to play games, I wanted to go and study the material by myself.

During training I would have learned a lot more material if I had spent less time in class. I should have just excused myself everyday after about 2 hours of class to go study the material alone. However I felt like I was a bad volunteer if I didn’t stay in class the whole time. I stayed, was miserable, and completely lost my desire to learn Guarani.

Once I left training I remembered that my responsibility was to learn the language, in whatever way was best for me. After that, I decided that I wasn’t going to waste my time with language exercises that weren’t useful for my learning style.

It took about two months for me to regain my desire to learn Guarani, and I didn’t want to lose that, which I why I was so insistent about being allowed to study on my own.

Rough translation of the actual conversation I had with my language teacher on the first day:

Lyn to the teacher after seeing the game board: ‘Hi, I’m going to go study the material from this morning by myself. Games don’t just work for me.’

Teacher: *Gives me a hard stare like he doesn’t understand what I’m saying
‘Oh then we’ll do something else…’
*Reaches to collect the boards from the causing the other students, who do indeed want to play the game, to protest and hold onto their game papers.

Lyn: ‘No no, they can play if it works for them, it just doesn’t work for me, so I’m going to go study by myself outside.’

Teacher: *Hard stare
‘I don’t think you’re allowed to do that’

Lyn: *Hard stare, slight, set smile
‘I’m going to go study by myself’

Teacher: *slightly exasperated expression that in an indirect culture probably means ‘Get your behind into a seat now…please’
‘Well I’m going to have to tell such and such that you didn’t come to class.’

Lyn: *Not from an indirect culture blows off said warning, smiles, and probably rolls my eyes.
‘That’s fine’
*Goes to a bench outside and studies

Reconnect Day 2 and 3

The next day our little group had the pleasure of breaking in a new teacher. And by pleasure I mean that for the next two days we treated her like a bunch of fourteen year olds torturing a first time substitute.

Case and point:
After doing activity with flash cards that we generally decided was not helpful, we then had to use the guarani words from the flash cards in a sentence. To spice things up we started using the word for ‘to dance,’ [ajeroky], since we had all had a hard time remembering it even though we’d learned it in class, in all of our examples. Every single one of them. Even after the poor woman started shaking her head and saying, ‘use a new verb guys, new verb’ we persisted because we had to do something to pass the time.

One day three I just completely skipped out on the second half of class because it was so dull that I was losing my mind. Jenna and I just sat under a tree and chatted while everyone was in class. Evidently while I was gone Miguel took over the class, went over to the board, and started reviewing the dirty words and phrases we had learned during training.

In our defense, she was a pretty bad teacher and as such we were not able to get her to answer the questions we did have. We would ask her a question and if we didn’t understand her response we would ask her again in a different way, trying to get a different response to clear up the confusion. But she would just point at the board and repeat her response from before. She also couldn’t put things into the following structure:

…which is the format that all of our language training is been in.

To give her credit, she was a good sport about it. It is hard to be mad at Carlos and Miguel; they are quite funny, even with they are being terrible students.

In an effort to get out of language class, Jenna and I decided that we wanted time to get together and discuss what everyone was working on, which is what we thought Reconnect was about in the first place. People could still go to language if they wanted, some people were genuinely finding their classes to be very helpful, or they could come to the alternate session and discuss projects. The male professor I’d had a staring contest with was the one who controlled the schedule, so I figured it would be best to ask my program director, Elisa, to request the extra meeting time. I don’t think he is my biggest fan. The next morning the teacher went to Jenna to inform her that our alternate session had been approved 

Host Family:
Oh yea, and I decided not to stay with my old host family during reconnect. Living with Teresa was just too stressful. I probably won’t go back and visit them. I do have 2 of the sister’s emails. I’ve been talking to one of them, she never asked if I was going to come and stay with them, so I didn’t have to find a polite way to say ‘Your mother is a pill and it stresses me out.’ I am sad that I probably won’t see them again, especially little Nati, such a sweetheart.

I stayed with a sweet old woman who had hosted volunteers in the past when her city was used as a training community. It was just a few blocks from the school, and not having to take the bus to CHP was very nice, though I did miss out my morning walk to Jenna’s house to pick her up and then walk to the bus stop.

Only one other person from my group also decided not to stay with her host family, but I think it is because she is going to visit them in a few weeks.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Its Getting Hot In Here

Back when I was living with my parents my mom and I used to watch the weather channel. As summer approached our good ole friend the high pressure system would slowly settle over the lone star state like a hen on her eggs, smothering us all into pathetic human puddles as we jumped from between air conditioned buildings and air-conditioned cars. Mom and I used to wait to see how high the temperature would get before the weather person would finally use the word ‘hot.’ Usually they would usually use the words ‘warm’ or ‘very warm’ until about the high 90’s, though I think I recall a few times when it was around 101 and they still had the audacity to use a diminutive form of ‘hot.’ Though it does feel like your admitting defeat when you finally admit that it is indeed more than just a little toasty outside.

As it stands, I have never been so glad to be from hot-box Texas and so accustomed to wilting heat. Right now it is definitely warm, probably in the high 90’s. I read Tomb of the Inflatable Pig, a supposedly non-fiction travelogue about Paraguay that is much more closely related to a novel with all of the exaggerated and pretentious bs he put into that book. Anyway, the one thing I did find entertaining was the number of people from Texas that he came across while he was in Paraguay. Evidently I’m not the only one who noticed the similarity in climate.

I’m proud to say that while I am sweating constantly, my favorite place in any room is right in front of the fan, and the only a/c I have access to is in the Muni, I do not feel terribly uncomfortable…yet. I get a bit sweaty if I go and walk around between noon-3pm, but as long as I have my umbrella to give me a bit of shade, I’m fine. The only time I have any problems is at night, since my perfect sleeping temperature is around 68 degrees and yesterday evening around 8:30pm the temperature was still about 85-88 degrees.

I do have a friend who recently purchased an a/c window unit for his house for 1 million g. He is moving back to Canada sometime between February and April and I’m hoping that when he leaves I might be able to get him to sell me his a/c at a discount. If it is in February or March, I might even be able to get Carly to chip in if the a/c lives at her house for those months.

At least this is still technically spring, so hopefully on occasion I can look forward to periodic showers that will pull the temperatures back into the 70’s and 80’s for a few days. Although last year they didn’t get any rain for 6 months, the week I arrived here in May was the first rain they had had since December, so who knows.

I actually am surprised that the Paraguayans have already started complaining about the heat since they should be used to it. It is still a dry heat as well, which makes the temperatures even more tolerable. I do have a lot of people who tell me that it didn’t used to be this hot and the climate is changing. Climate change or not, it is far too early in the summer time to start being miserable. Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure that when January rolls around I’ll be crying ‘uncle’ with everyone else. But for now I’m surprisingly content.

Weatherperson Jolley’s current forecast: Very Warm

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Lila Growth Update

Lila with a 2 liter bottle

September 26, 2009

October 27, 2009

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Stalker Swine

As I have mentioned in the past, I admire how Parguayns don’t let any part of the animals they butcher go to waste. They use every little bit. However I do not like it when I’m feel like I’m being stalked by those every little bits.

Sometimes Marcia accepts payment into the form of something other than cash from her patients. Recently payment came in the form of a pig. I discovered said payment about 2 weeks ago when I opened up the freezer to put a 2liter jug of Tang to cool down.

There he was, all of him, the whole pig, just laying in the freezer. Thankfully I saw the back legs first, instead of the head. I can’t help but wonder which flat surface they used to cut of the head, and if they actually sanitized the surface afterwards. I swear there were two bloody smudges on the edge of the freezer where the handle is.

(Note the bloody handprints that are still at the rim of the freezer on the right hand side *Heeby geebies)
Eventually they cut off the pig’s head so that the body would lay flat, probably so that his slit open stomach wouldn’t be so exposed. The pig sat there for probably a week or so. Unfortunately sometimes they left the freezer top open or didn’t plug it in, so I can’t image the meat was very clean. However one day I opened the freezer and didn’t see the little feet sticking out. I slowly leaned farther into the freezer, just to check and see that it was all gone and they hadn’t left a bloody mess in its place. Op nope not all gone. They left the head in the freezer!

I was told the body when to Anibal’s parents house, but I have no idea why they decided to leave the head behind. Anyway, the decapitated pig head sat in the freezer by itself for a few more days. 3 days ago a huge storm blew through and knocked out power for several hours. When lunch rolled around I went to heat up some left over chili on the gas-powered stove. I couldn’t turn on the lights, but the kitchen has lots of windows, so I didn’t have trouble finding my way around. When I went to get a pot from under the sink, I noticed that there was something sitting there. In the dark it looked like a strange pile of leafy vegetables. Of course as I got closer I realized that, yes, they left the pig head in the sink. I about fell over and took a few steps back. I had quickly gotten used to the body and the head sitting in the freezer, but why do they have to keep surprising me like that. Goodness people, if you are going to leave a head sitting in a sink, why not give the vegetarian a heads up so I don’t have to get light-headed from inhaling so fast. It didn’t help that it smelled funny. Ugg, I made my chili and left the dirty dishes next to the sink since obviously I was not going to hazard trying to clear myself a space.

I knew that the defrosting head, though I highly doubt it was frozen in the first place since the freezer was hardly ever plugged in, meant they were probably going to have it for dinner soon. I avoided looking into any of the large pots on the stove or into the oven that afternoon and the next day. However on Saturday evening when I went to prepare my standard popcorn dinner, there was a very gross smell in the kitchen and I could tell Marcia had something in the oven. I didn’t look, but she opened the oven door while I was standing nearby, thus revealing a pig jaw, complete with teeth, and other meats bits and letting out a nice big waft of smelly cooked pig, which does not smell anything like bacon by the way. My shoulders cringed as I turned around and started walking out of the kitchen. Anibal caught my grimace and we both started laughing a bit. Again I knew there was pig bits in the oven, but it shocked me a bit to see the jaw itself on the tray, and the smell didn’t help. Oh goodness, Marcia cooks the meat her patients give her, ugg, the smell is just revolting.

I figured after they had the pig bits for dinner that night, I wouldn’t have to worry about any more startling encounters with the little porker. I was wrong. I opened up the freezer and was welcomed by the leftovers of the pig-head dinner sitting in the freezer. The jaw was still there.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Curse you Pooja!

A fellow volunteer asked to stay with me with me for a night to be able to catch the bus in the morning to her site which is on an island several kilometers off of the main highway that runs through my town. The one night stay turned into a four night marathon when the rains came and didn’t stop. She came in on Thursday evening, on Sunday there was some sun, but the buses and taxis don’t really run on Sundays, so she decided to head out on Monday morning. In the wee hours of Monday, the storms came back. But Pooja was set in her determination to get home after a two week trip to the US, some time in Buenos Aires, a few nights in Asuncion. She hadn’t been home in a month and had an 8-month old puppy waiting for her. We waited until the morning rain was just a drizzle, carried her brick-laden luggage over the mud and empedrado to the concrete shoulder of the highway, walked to the terminal, and put her on a bus that had just pulled in the terminal to O’Leary. At 9am she was in a taxi on the way to the boat, around 2pm she called to let me know that she had finally arrived home.

During her stay she was kind enough to leave me with a host of movies, and Marley and Me. She was reading it during her stay and I picked it up to look at the pictures in the center, then I couldn’t help but reading a few pages after the pictures. Pooja caught me and left me the book, which I didn’t want her to do because I had sworn of reading the bok or seeing the movie. The dog dies, got it, don’t want the details thankyouverymuch. But it’s a book, and I don’t have any on me that I haven’t read, so I couldn’t help myself.

The waterworks started around the time when Marley started having difficulty with getting up, going up with stairs, controlling his bowels etc.

Dot, our 15-year-old Doberman/Boxer mix, who was around 80lbs of pure affection at her peak had the same slow decline. Towards the end we had to physically pick up her backside for her because she couldn’t maneuver her hind legs into position or get them to extend. Once she was up she was stiff, but she moved more or less fine. Fortunately she was generally just content to hang out on the floor in a deaf bliss on the living room floor, so we didn’t have to elevate her by hand too often. But when the bowels start to go, that is the line in the sand for my parents. I was on spring break at a leadership camp in 2005 during my freshman year at UT when I got the news.

So far our pure-bred dogs, Gizmo and Buckwheat have died around 10-years old. Dot, the mutt, lasted until about 15. Brinkley, my parents tank of a white boxer, must be around 6, maybe 7, or so and she has a heart murmur. When my mom took her into the vet for her first check-up, the vet told her to take her back, because of her heart condition. At which point my mom started to cry; we are all already head-over heals for our little Valentine’s Day/Mom’s birthday snow baby. She is white, and when we presented her to mom, it snowed.

After reading the book I started thinking about Brinks, and Lila, and about the silly, stupid, puppy love that we have for our animals. The make our lives a living hell sometimes, peeing on all absorbent and non-absorbent surfaces, gnawing on furniture and clothing. I’ve already got ridiculously invested in my 3 month old rambunctious, impish little rabbit whose little rabbit feet must really be lucky because they are still attached and are being cared tenderly, generally patiently, by me, the one person in this city, other than Carly, who isn’t tempted to turn her into bunny chururu or bunny stew. Chururu means fried. Even now, I’m kind of hoping the Carly doesn’t go to Thanksgiving so that I can drop Lila off with her.
I can’t help but think about the email or call that I’ll get someday saying that my parents had put Brinkley down like the call I got with Dot or the text that went to my cousin Brad’s blackberry when they had to put Gizmo to sleep the day I arrived in Mexico to spend my end of high school vacation. Ugg, I don’t want to even think about it.

So thanks Pooja for leaving that hilariously funny, torturous book with me. Now I have to find an up-beat movie to watch to get it out of my head.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Workin' in a coal mine, Goin' down down down, Workin' in a coal mine, Whop! about to slip down

Work is finally picking up. Finally. Here is what I’m working on.

• Making a community calendar and putting it in three prominent locations in the city.
• Putting together a brochure about the Muni explaining what it is and what is does.
• Working with Paraguay Vende, a US AID subsidiary, to help local small business get their products into the local supermarkets.
• Developing debate teams. The education here is all based on rote memorization, so I’m trying to introduce a little critical thinking into the mix. I’m also working on a start-up packet for PC volunteers to help them teach debate too. I’d like to have a nation-wide tournament eventually.
• Working with one of the national ministries to help promote a country-wide moto safety program.
• Trying to get PC to send more volunteers to my area. I’d really like to have an environmental education nearby, but and agricultural extension person would be cool too. Both would be even better 
• Giving presentations in schools about the Muni, democracy and civic participation, the environment, and health topics. I’d really like to have a sex-ed course, but that is a delicate topic, especially in a Catholic country, so I’ll build up some better school connections first.
• In November I’d like to start bi-monthly training sessions with the funcionarios.
• I’m going to visit another volunteer this Friday to help her do her hand washing sessions for National Hand Washing Day.
• Marcia told me that two community groups may ask for my advice to improve their organization.
• I’m on the curriculum committee for a Muni focused youth summer camp in January or February.

Not work but still time-consuming
• I’ve started sessions with a Guarani tutor, and I’ve found a former Mennonite who I might be able to get to teach me Low-German. Now I just need a Portuguese tutor.
• Looking for a house for Carly.

Friday, October 16, 2009

I have become the play thing of the biting insect gods

We have about 10 little chicks living in a box in the kitchen. They were payment from one of Marcia’s patients for some medications. We already have 4 hens and 1 rooster and Marcia said their cage is only safe for 10 adults. Personally I think that would be a horribly tight space for 10 chickens, but anyway… I suspect as the little ones get older the family may start having more chicken based meals to help make room for the new ones.

Maybe I’ll get my wish and they’ll finally eat the noisy one. I’ve almost learned to sleep through his racket, but not quite.

While visiting the main education office chatting with some of the workers there, I mentioned about how Lila is in no danger of being eaten by me because I’m a vegetarian; I don’t eat ‘carne’. A woman in the office commented how rabbits are considered white meat. I really don’t understand why they are always trying to get me to eat an animal that I clearly demonstrate a high amount of affection for.

I’ve started making darn good swiss-chard quiches lately and today I made Cincinnati style chili. The flavor was very interesting; it has cloves, cinnamon, coco powder, and ground nuts. Unfortunately it was very light on the vegetable side. The recipe called for just tomato paste, onions, and garlic… boooring. Next time I’ll mix the Texas and Cincinnati recipes by adding actual tomatoes, green peppers, and red beans to the Cincinnati-style spices. Should be mighty tasty.

Anibal tried to fix my roof recently. It still leaks by my bed and along the wall by the door, but the patches over Lila’s cage are holding strong. As long as those stay in place, I don’t mind the other leaks.

It looks like Lila is getting even more of the black in her coat, at the tips of the cream colored section. Interesting fashion choice for summer. Not the most practical selection, but since she won’t be spending hardly any time in the direct sunlight anyway, I guess she can dress herself up however she sees fit.

Lila is losing her winter coat, so she snows on my black pajama pants when I play with her in the morning. In particular she has a little circle of short hair at the base of each one of her ears, I’m assuming this is an area that she scratches a lot, so the winter coat has come out faster here. However the hair on the top of her head is still long. Carly says she looks like she has a toupee.

I have become the play thing of the biting insect gods.

I spilled some juice on my foot this afternoon and forgot to wash it off, punishment = 5 mosquito bites in 15 minutes in a circle about 2.5 inches in diameter. This is in addition to the ant bite already on that food and the 3 other ant/mosquito bites on my other foot. Itchy Itchy.

When I was in Chile, I learned to drink hot tea to help me warm up in the absence of central heating. I developed a particular affection for the Chamomile Honey and Rose Hip and Hibiscus flavors of one brand of tea, Supremo. I went back to the states and forgot all about the tea because I had a heater. However back in Paraguay I am again without any sort of mechanized heating system, so it is back to the tea routine. Amazingly Supremo is sold in one of the supermarkets. Actually I guess it is not that surprising considering it is manufactured in Chile, which is just a hop-skip-and-a-jump away.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Reforesting Paraguay

I just finished a book about the Dust Bowl and people who stayed at their farms. The Worst Hard Time by Timothy Egan. A really good read that seems to give a very good summary of the agricultural side of the Great Depression by presenting the factual information about the event woven into the narratives of people who lived through it.

It does make me worry about Paraguay. The dirt here is a fine, powdery red sand. We are in the center of South America, so there is no good reason for the dust that would be prized on a ocean-front. The only explaination I can think of is erosion. This is a sub-tropical climate that has been reduced to farmland. I’m living in the center of a green desert with rolling acres of almost nothing but wheat, sunflowers, and soy. While walking on the dirt road behind the ruta I can’t shake the feeling that I’m in small farming community somewhere in the north east, layering rolling hills of crops to the horizon. Its beautiful…and extremely destructive. I’ve heard there is a law that 10% of farmland has to be left as forests, but it is clearly not being enforced. During training I got to see terrifying maps that showed the ever dwindling forests that are being replaced by cropland. Soy is the most important commodity in a poor country; they aren’t going to cut back. There is a factoid that states that this part of south America has the highest amount of different bird species. I’ve usually heard it stated in the present tense, but I highly doubt that it is true anymore. Where are all of these supposed birds living? Not in the treeless fields.

And the removal of the forests has had other negative impacts. Hotter summers, longer winters, droughts, more variability in the climate as a whole. Generally forests function like giant climate moderators, softening the extremes. Now the forests are quickly disappearing. Ask any older Paraguayan and they will tell you that something is off. The seasons just aren’t right.

Unlike the arid grass lands of the great plains of the US, whose soil and rainfall was never meant to sustain anything beyond a thick carpet of hardy grass [and wouldn’t be able to do so today if it wasn’t for people taping into the Ogalla Aquifer] sub tropical soils are not as nutrient rich. If you remember back in grade school, in tropical rain forests, all of the nutrients are at the surface of the soil and above, in the dense plant mass itself. That is why tropical forests make such poor crop land, you can slash and burn for a short period of time, but without the dense biomass system there to recharge the nutrients, the soil is quickly exhausted. While I’d guess this effect is a little more moderate in sub-tropical climates, over long periods of times, the final result is probably the same. Modern fertilizers make up for some of the difference for those who can afford it, but that has its own risks.

I just worry that someday the droughts will come and the crops won’t grow and the normally rich eastern portion of the country will look more and more like its scrub-land brother in the west. I’m afraid that what happen during the dust bowl will happen here, but there won’t be a government with the resources and organization to prop the system back up again like the US did with the New Deal. This is an economy based on agriculture, the smallest, most sensitive populations here are those who work the land in small plots. They will be the ones hardest hit by the mismanagement of the mega farms.

There is a small effort to ‘reforest’ Paraguay, but this doesn’t actually consist of turning farmland back into forest. The program mostly just plants trees in parks and school and other urban areas. Not that that is a bad thing, the more people learn about the importance of trees and how to take care of them the better. However, it is a huge misnomer to say that planting trees in a plaza is ‘reforestation’.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Parasols and Paraguas

After 10 years of using Retin-A, I’ve finally decided I need to heed the ‘Avoid Direct Sunlight’ warning on the box. Even though I use 85spf sunscreen on my face and neck every day, I’m still getting red and I have freckles on my face. I may even, oh goodness, I can’t even say it… I may even have a tan. There, I said it.

To stop the slow advancement of the tan and freckles, I try to observe the siesta and stay indoors from about 12:30-2ish, sometimes even 3 if is a really hot day, when the sun’s ray are the strongest. In the mornings and afternoons I have started carrying an umbrella to keep my face shaded. It is my own little personal cloud. *cue Winne the Pooh’s ‘I’m just a little black rain cloud’

Fun fact
Umbrella in Spanish is ‘paragua’ from the words: parar= to stop; agua = water. Lit = stop water
Parasol/ an umbrella used to keep out the sun is called a ‘sombrilla’. ‘Sombra’ is the Spanish word for ‘shadow’.
If you look at the word ‘parasol’ itself which I would guess comes from the French words for
‘stop’ and ‘sun’
I also find quite entertaining that on a clear day my umbrella is a ‘sombrilla’ and the same umbrella is a ‘paragua’ on a cloudy day. Such a dynamic little item. Actually I have two umbrellas, a large black one for rain, and a smaller silver one for the sun.

I don’t know if the Paraguayan’s realized that black umbrellas will actually generate a substantial amount of heat by themselves in the direct sunlight because of the dark color absorbing the sun’s rays.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Harry Houdini has been reborn as a rabbit

Harry Houdini has been reborn as a rabbit. Lila has an uncanny ability to thwart all of my carefully planned attempts to keep her in her own space, preferring to run free all over my room, which usually includes a potty break on my bed.

First she learned to circumvent the various pens I made from the footboard of my bed and my luggage by knocking over pieces of the make-shift wall, squeezing through small holes I missed, etc. Then she learned use the small table that serves as a roof for her eating and sleeping area as a stepping stool to jump over the cage wall. Once outside of her normal cage area, she learned to use my carry-on sized luggage as a step to my tallest piece of luggage. Sometimes these pieces are about a foot away, but evidently she is willing to make the jump anyway.

Several times I step into my room only to find my little furball standing next to me on the tallest piece of luggage right next to my hand. After coming back from a week at Carly’s house, I was dismayed to find she had finally grown big enough and strong enough to jump on my bed, so that also wouldn’t work as an obstacle anymore. Fortunately last week the carpenter finished the pieces of her cage, so that gave me a new weapon in the fight against my jackrabbit at heart.

Lila’s new ‘cage’ is four independent pieces, 2 squares just under 2.5 feet in length, and 2 rectangles around 5 feet long and just under 2.5 feet high. I didn’t want them connected because I can arrange them in a variety of ways to give her a variety of pens, including one with a top. Very snazzy.

Sometimes Lila jumps onto the chicken wire with all four feet. My little Spiderman in the making hasn’t learned how to actually climb the chicken wire yet, but I wouldn’t be surprised if she figures it out eventually.

Today I arranged three of the cage pieces in a stretched out ‘Z’ formation so she could run around half of my room, without being able to get on the bed or near the dresser. I came home to find little poo balls on my bed, my jar of peanut butter on the floor [thank fully unopened], the measuring cup that I use to progressively dole out Lila’s daily allotment of oatmeal, and a few other items on the floor.

You see, after using the spokes of the front wheel of my bike to climb over the barrier, she jumped on my bed, and then onto my dresser, to get to the oatmeal. When she was done with the oatmeal, she probably jumped back onto my bed, and hopped back over the barrier to her allotted side of the room where I found her pleasantly munching grass in her litter box.

I don’t think I’ve mentioned before, but Lila is an oatmeal monster. She is almost as bad as Inigo was with his food at first, but she doesn’t bite. When I try to pour the oatmeal into her bowl, instead of waiting for what falls, she goes straight to the source, putting her head directly into the measuring cup. If I try to pull away, she uses her head, front paws, and sometimes her teeth to grab onto the cup to keep it from floating away back to the dresser.

Evidently she decided today that she would to cut out the middle man, me, and opt for the self-serve early dinner option.

I’m very tempted to give her a little more of that oatmeal that she craves so much to put a little junk in her bunny trunk and weigh that load down a bit.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

At Home

I spend the last week at Carly’s house while she was on vacation in Brazil with Stephen. She wanted me to look after her things as well as Luna. For the first time since I arrived in Paraguay, I finally felt at home.

I was well-hydrated and well-fed. I could come and go as I pleased. It was amazing. I visited Marcia’s house a few times to get supplies and it was nice to see her again and be welcomed by the family though Nati was overwhelming sometimes after being alone in the house.

At Carly’s house I loved being able to:
• Going to the bathroom every 3 minutes for the 30 minutes following a quickly chugged glass of water [my bladder is the size of a thimble] without worrying the host family will think I am sick.
• Getting up at 6 or 6:30am naturally because I had a good night sleep so I don’t need to sleep until 8 to make up for the tossing and turning in my hard little bed with the roosters outside.
• Not having to worry about Nati banging at my door for no real reason to wake me up at 7am when I don’t want to deal with people yet.
• Being able to get up early in the morning and not be locked out of the kitchen because Nati isn’t awake yet and for some reason she seems to be the primary keeper of the kitchen key
• Having the muni and Cristo Rey[school] about a block away, so that going to work is quick and easy.
• Take up the entire refrigerator without worrying if I’m imposing on the family’s space
• Not having to get completely dressed in the bathroom after a shower
• Coming and going as I pleased without having to worry about the front gate being locked when I get home or worrying that the gate won’t get locked at all and
• Not having Nati constantly in my ear chatting mindlessly touching all of my stuff
• Having a shower head that actually has a good stream of water, the hot water doesn’t last, but in the summer who cares.
• Cuddling up every night to Phantom of the Opera, Miss Potter, Brokeback Mountain etc, that Carly had on her Ipod.
• Making a delicious batch of meatballs and bean stew
• Carly’s bed. It is big and soft. When I woke up this morning after sleeping in fits on my normal bed, I think I bruised my hip. Seriously, there is a sore spot. It could be from my backpack, but I didn’t put the waist belt very tight and the pain is only on one side.

Luna Highlights:
• Luna running away from off-leash area back towards they highway
• Luna digging a moat around Carly’s house
• Luna finally learning to eat all of her breakfast, lunch and dinner which consists of ground beef, dog food, an egg, and mashed potatoes and carrots.
• Luna tried to eat the food I was keeping on the kitchen table, but the first two things she got a hold of were spicy pepper flakes and lemonade flavored Tang. She seems to have stopped after that.
• Luna broke the small tree that her long-leash is tied to, getting out of her collar, and welcoming me as I opened the front door to let her inside the house as if nothing had happened.
• Luna destroyed some of Carly’s tupperware in her quest for shredded coconut.

I brought Lila with me to Carly’s house for the week because I didn’t trust Nati to be able to take care of her and I didn’t want to walk back and for twice a day between the houses. Fortunately her cage was completed on Saturday, so keeping her at Carly’s house was easy. Lila had to stay in the cage most of the time because I couldn’t rabbit proof Carly’s house and Luna is too rough to be trusted with her. We had a good week, but I wasn’t able to take her out and give her as much attention as normal.

Lila was quite happy to get back to my room at Marcia’s house and her normal freedoms. When I left Carly’s house on Friday evening I was a bit tired after making three trips to Marcia’s house to bring my stuff back, a trip to the grocery, and three walks with Luna, cooking, cleaning, and doing some basic unpacking. Remember, I walk everywhere I go.

That evening I just sat on the floor with Lila, she crawled into my arms and I held her and petted her for what seemed like 20 minutes. She put her head right under my chin for a while so I could nuzzle her and give her little kisses. Then she relaxed into the crook of my arm, eyes half closed, fighting sleep like a little kid in the back seat of a car with their head lazily rolling back and forth. Putty Mode Activated. My head was starting to droop too and my eye lids were heavy, but she had been so deprived of attention for the week, I just couldn’t stand to put her away. Eventually she regained consciousness and hopped out of my arms. I put her into her cage for the night and went to bed.

Back at Marcia’s house…

There were some nice things about being back at Marcia’s.
• Doing laundry is much easier.
• My room actually cools down, unlike Carly’s sauna of a house that is always hotter than the temperature outside. We’ve started looking for a new house for her to rent.
• I like the company of Marcia and Anibal.
• The smooth cement floor in my room almost felt slippery when I tried to sweep it after dealing with Carly’s very rough cement floor. I think it used to be a workshop of some sort.
• Being able to play with Lila and let her run around. I realized that she has gotten big enough to jump on my bed again and thus I am quite thankful that I got her little pen made in time because the bed won’t keep my possessions safe anymore.
• Cooking is easier because Marcia’s house has the gas stove and more pots, pans, and dishes, so I don’t feel like I’m constantly using and rewashing the same thing over and over and over.

Other adventures.

One day I semi-lost Carly’s house key. I walked to Marcia’s house and walked back to Carly’s. When I
got there, I didn’t have her house key on my key chain anymore. The other keys were there, but her’s wasn’t. I searched everything I had on me and then walked back to Marcia’s. I was sure that it had not fallen while I was walking, when meant it had to be somewhere at Marcia’s house. Thankfully Nati found it on the kitchen table.

Nati was completely and utterly convinced that Lila was not the same rabbit when I got back to Marcia’s house. She commented that there was more white around her eyes, which is possible, her fur is also getting some black tinges at the end. I explained color change is normal in rabbits, especially when the seasons are changing.

Then she started saying how this Lila was smaller and had smaller feet. While it is possible Lila may have a tiny bit of weight, I can assure you that her feet have not gotten smaller. What actually happened is that Nati got a rabbit that is actually slightly bigger than Lila, and is steadily getting larger because Nati feeds her too much, which thus making Lila appear smaller.

I’ve now decided the two greatest dangers to this new rabbit are obesity, which causes a host of health and digestion issues. Heat is also another potential danger since Nati is prone to keeping her in a cardboard box. She also might run away, because she generally lives in the kitchen and the door is often open. I still think they will probably eat it when Nati gets bored.

Carly and I call the sacrificial bunny ‘Eeyora’ because she is just this dumpy little passive piece of fluff. When you try to pick her up or pet her, she stops moving completely and just sits there. Eeyora even seeks out Inigos attention even though this usually consists of him gnawing on her head.

All in all, I’ll be ready to move out soon. I can’t justify leaving until April when Carly leaves me her stuff, because I’ve got too good of a gig here. Almost no rent, nice family, lots of freedom. But I’ll be ready to go when the time comes.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Lila is Growing Like a Weed

(September 7, 2009)

(September 26, 2009)

(End of August, 2009)

(September 19, 2009)

(September 26, 2009)

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

By decree of Marcia, Lila is officially mine. *Angels sing Hallelujah

In return for me getting Nati’s rabbit, I have to go buy her another one, which, if left to her own devices she will probably kill or maim. Bitter sweet. I get to keep my little gem safe from Nati’s brutal hands, but at least one other rabbit will suffer because if it.

It started all started this morning…

1) I told Nati that Lila couldn’t sleep in her room with her bed.

2) She asked if she could spend the night in her room. I also said no to that as well.

3) Later, she went into my room, took Lila out, put her in the kitchen, and Inigo started attacking her. I told Nati to put her back in my room, when she didn’t, I did it myself.

4) A short while later I snapped at Nati because she ran over to the bushes Inigo was climbing in and forcefully jerked him out by one leg, probably almost breaking it. I yelled at her for grabbing him by one leg so harshly as well as for freaking out every time he tries to climb something.

She had a conniption the other day when he was climbing on the roof of the chicken coop. She tried to send Aldo up onto the roof to get him down. She literally almost strangled him when she took the cord I was using as a leash for Lila and tried to tie it around his neck to keep him from getting back up there. I keep trying to explain to her that his climbing habits are normal, and in all honestly it will just get worse since he is going to be quite the little tomcat since there is almost no chance of him getting neutered. They bought the poor guy a collar today, so I think they’ll start tying him up, but at least Nati isn’t going to asphyxiate him with a homemade noose.

5) Anyway…I’m going to take care of Carly’s dog Luna for about a week when she goes on vacation to Brazil. I’ll be staying at her house and I have every intention of taking Lila with me because I don’t trust Nati with her. Nati told me I couldn’t take Luna with me and that she would take care of her. Personally I have far more confidence in my ability to control Luna than my ability to get Nati to care for Lila appropriately. I told her she didn’t know how to take care of Lila, she didn’t even know how to take care Inigo and he is a far easier creature to take care of, she doesn’t listen to me when I try to teach her how to take care of either of them and I wasn’t willing to leave Lila with her without supervision.

6) And then a little while later I told her to stop feeding Lila the leaves off of some random tree. Nati still doesn’t understand that just because Lila will eat it doesn’t mean that it is good for her. Case and point: Luna loves cow poo and random dead bird carcasses but won’t eat the fabulous, well-balanced meals that Carly makes for her.

7) Then I told Nati to leave Lila under my dresser because Lila is terrified of Nati. Nati took her out, claiming that Lila licked her hands. I accept that Lila may have licked her hand, I do not accept that she came out of her own volition, which means that Nati grabbed her and pulled out. My dresser has about 2-3 inches of space between it and the floor. The fact that Lila is somehow able to squish herself through that space is a miracle in and of itself. Which means that Nati probably came very close to severely hurting Lila as she wrenched the poor little one from her safe space.

8) I scolded Nati for taking Lila out from under the dresser, and then gave her a ‘I don’t believe you for one minute’ scowl after Nati gave me her fish tale about Lila coming out of her own free will.

Yea, all that in one day. We were not getting along to say the least.

Nati started getting really bratty after all of this saying how it was her and Aldo’s rabbit, implying that I couldn’t take Lila with me and that I had to let Nati play with her. I gave her my same, ‘You don’t listen to me when I tell you how to take care of her so I don’t want you around without supervision’ speech.

This is that same child that has never bought a single leaf of food for the rabbit, who only yesterday bought her first bag of cat food for Inigo, who was willing to let Lila starve to death in her own urine and poo in a bucket in the kitchen, still doesn’t understand that you have to support a rabbit’s body, you can’t just pick them up by their arms, who causes Lila to run and hide under my dresser in fear AND who introduced Lila as ‘Lila Jolley’ when my program directors came into town for my site presentation, and has been referring to her as ‘your rabbit’...suddenly she cares that the rabbit is hers.

Unfortunately she is on the spoiled side, so her parents don’t do a thing about it. She went to school; I went to the muni. When I got back Marcia and I talked. She recognizes that I care about Lila or at the very least have put a lot of money into feeding her and building her a cage. We agreed that I would get Nati another bunny and I would keep Lila. When Marcia and I told her that I would buy her a bunny, she was so excited. Personally if the situation had been reversed and they offered to buy me a new rabbit in order to let Nati keep Lila, I would have rejected the offer. Lila is special.

I’m going to keep trying to teach Nati how not to torture the thing, but I’m not touching it, looking at it, or providing any care to it whatsoever, not one dime. It doesn’t get any of Lila’s food, they will not be friends. If I hear it scratching in a bucket in the kitchen, I’m eating outside. If Nati is playing with it, I’m going somewhere else. I will buy it for her per our agreement. After that I don’t want to know it exists. I Will Not Get Attached.

Marcia and I agreed that Nati will probably kill it. Personally I think it is horribly irresponsible for Marcia to just stand by and let Nati treat a living creature so poorly. She and Anibal seem completely oblivious to the presence of the animals in the household. I think Nati could decide to set Inigo on fire and they wouldn’t notice and if they noticed, they wouldn’t correct her.

Now to make matters even worse, Nati had decided that she doesn’t want a baby bunny, she wants a grown rabbit. Marcia has decided that she is going to purchase a rabbit of the opposite gender so they will have babies and she can sell them in the campo. Now instead of having one bunny that Nati is going to kill and hopefully learn a lesson from, Marcia is going to sponsor her cruelty by making it into a business, giving her plenty of little rabbits to smother. At least Marcia might actually somewhat take care of the rabbits. It is still going to bother me how poorly Nati treats them, but they will probably have a semi-decent place to live somewhere in the yard and they will get fed. And a lot of them will probably die in the summer because Marcia doesn’t know how to really take care of them.

If this becomes a rabbit chop-shop, I’m going to have to leave. I might have to leave anyway depending on how poor the living conditions of the rabbits’ are. I already know of a really nice lady who hosted a PC volunteer in the past who was the backup in the event that Marcia didn’t have space.

I just can’t stand to be with Nati right now. Inigo tried to bit her last night when we were watching tv because she was smothering him. She asked if she could hit him for it; I said ‘no’ and explained he clearly wanted to get of the bed and she wasn’t letting him, so she deserved it. Oh boy do I understand how he feels.

It is really terrible that this is coming between me and the family. Marcia told Nati that she and I are sisters so we can’t fight. Overall they are amazing in so many ways. Marcia and I are getting closer, we joke around and have a friendly cooking competition going. Up until now, I’ve been incredibly happy here. But I have a big heart, my big heart led me to join Peace Corps, and big heart won’t let me stay some place where small little animals are dying slow miserable deaths.

I some ways I feel responsible. If Nati had just killed Lila from neglect maybe we would be done with this mess. Aldo wouldn’t have bought two bunnies of his own, Nati wouldn’t be getting a second one to mistreat, and Marcia wouldn’t be trying to start a bunny business. I feel like by saving one and showing how it can thrive with a little bit of care, I may have caused innumerable others to suffer.

And yet I just love Lila so much. She makes the lonely nights so much easier because if I feel bad I can just cuddle up with her or watch her run around my room in crazy happiness. Every morning I sit up and look over into her makeshift pen at the end of my bed. When she sees I’m awake she looks at me as she sits on her back legs and gives me a ‘Good Morning! Let me out plez, noms plez, cuddle plez? kthanxbi’ look. [Yes, she speaks lol]. Sometimes I let her out and then curl back into bed if it is cold. If I still don’t feel like starting the day a little while later I’ll put my hand over the side of the bed, within seconds Lila comes binking over to give it little bunny kisses. There is no better way to wake up.

I’ve even been in contact with a rabbit rescue organization in North Texas to get advice about how to best care of Lila in such a non-rabbit friendly environment. For example rabbits are supposed to eat large quantities Timothy and Alfalfa hay, but they don’t really sell hay of any sort here. Even the large livestock animals like horses and cows don’t get it. So I’ve been given the okay to stick to fresh grass. I also have been feeding Lila these rabbit food pellets, which have been responsible for her weight gain, but I doubt they are very good for her. Their purpose is to fatten commercial rabbits and it probably has goodness only knows what kinds of random fillers. Amazingly the rabbit people have recommended switching her to rolled oats, and equally amazing is that this is what I eat for breakfast every morning. I’m probably in one of the only places in the entire country where I can easily find quality oatmeal.

*very sad sigh

I just don’t understand how people who have such big hearts for people can have such small hearts for defenseless little animals.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

I do not have enough buckets to deal with this !!!

Ahhh shit shit double shit. I’m getting flooded here! There are now at least 5 spots of actively dripping water in Lila’s living area, 2, oh no…let’s make that 3 in the corner by my bed, the 1 by the door is gushing, and now there are 2 leaks around my light bulb, 1 from the actual socket area, 1 a foot away …and…every time I turn around I notice a new leak…and I do not have enough buckets to deal with this! And …the buckets/tupperware I do have doesn’t work well because most of the drips are right along the wall and the lips of the containers and the fact that the containers are slightly rounded or completely circular means I can’t get them close enough to wall to actually catch the water… and the containers are so shallow that the water is splashing out of them… and since they are shallow they are going to need to be emptied during the night or they are going to overflow on the floor…and now I can’t keep my rug from getting wet because there are too many leaks… and it is going to smell to like a rat died in the wall for days because of the moldy, dirty rug….and people are going to think its Lila who is making it smell bad, but it really isn’t because I clean her litter box out every day and… and… wahhhhhh, I want my blankie…….*curls up in the fetal position and prays to the peace corps gods that there are not little drip, drip, drips on my bed tonight.

(Just a few of the buckets in my room)

Forecast tomorrow: More rain, still no running water
Irony = all of the buckets I have to collect clean rainwater outside the house, are being used inside the house to collect dirty roof-filtered water inside.

(And we are now passing the lovely Jolley Falls on your right coming down the wall there and just below you can just see Lake Lyn and Jolley Lake, which is on its way to becoming the Jolley River as it works its way towards the door)

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Job Description: PC Volunteer Aka Bunny Raiser

You’re probably thinking, hmm I didn’t realize that Lyn/Lyndsay went to the Peace Corps to play with bunnies and kittens. Ahh, if only that was good enough to count as work. I do feel like my work related energies are currently focused on training bunnies and kitties to be polite and training Paraguayan’s not to kill them, at least not accidentally. No one at the Muni who is nearly as cute as my two little fuzzy pocket pets and official work has been slow. This is a challenge because I’m far better at working than doing anything else. Heck, I’m so bad at mindless small talk that I’ve created a community survey to help give my conversations a purpose and give me a reason to knock on strangers’ doors errrr… clap at their front gate.

(Lila drying herself on my computer fan after her bath, and then I learned you aren´t supposed give rabbits bathes. Evidently it stresses them out. Woops)

I will admit that it took me a long while to write the questions for survey for the funcionarios and community members. I blame the great Teresa Purge of August 2009 that spilled over into September. But then it took almost 2 weeks to get copies of the surveys printed because Nelson’s printer didn’t want to work…And there was rain for almost an entire week, nothing gets done during the rain. I also made the invitations for my site presentation on Tuesday and handed those out to all of the funcionarios. I’m going to have Marcia talk about it on the radio in the morning and the tv on Sunday.

I intended to start my community surveys tomorrow morning…but it is raining again…and the world stops turning for rain. At least I did my laundry yesterday.

I got my first pesado text message the other day from some guy commenting on how my skirt fit me that day. I didn’t know who it was at first, but then he called me, asking to speak to Nelson, the guy I work with most right now. Turns out that Mr. Pesado is a guy who works in the Muni who has been pesado since Day 1, asking me one more than one occasion if have a boyfriend, do I like to drink, to I like to go out, the normal pesado things that pesado guys ask. Oh brother.

Nati talks all of the time. I mean all of the time. She follows me around and talks. She doesn’t really say anything, she just talks. Most of it is nonsense to me because she mixes in ‘hina’ and other random Guarani words where I don’t think they belong. Smile and nod. Smile and nod.