Saturday, May 30, 2009

Getting Ready…


On my parents held an amazing Going-Away party for me at the house for all of the family and family friends. I got to see some people who I haven’t seen in 4-5 years. It was so nice to catch up with everyone, even though I won’t really be able to keep in touch for another 2 years. Thank you all for coming.
I’m going to especially going to miss seeing the Great Periogi/Tamale exchange at Christmas. Yum!


I have a gift; if there is a marathon on tv, there is a good chance I will find it. The winner this time was World’s Deadliest Catch which I watched as I packed and repacked my bags. Not surprisingly it’s a little challenging to fit two years worth of items into 2 checked bags, 1 carry-on, and 1 personal item. Oddly enough, the weight of my bags was never a problem, I never seemed to have enough space. Even with the amazing giant space saver compression bags, I still couldn’t fit what wanted. I’m sure that I can buy whatever I really need in Asuncion, but the first 11 weeks have a very busy training schedule. I’d prefer not to have to 1) be miserable because I have to do without something I didn’t realize was essential2) make the potentially long trip from our training site back to the capital. Granted, it takes a lot to make me miserable, but being a new community will be difficult enough, I’d like to have a good foundation of items to help increase my comfort.


Today I left for Miami. I got most of my stuff together last night, but of course, I still needed to finish a few things including 1) Return the day pack I bought from Sports Authority 2) Deposit a check 3) Buy travelers checks 4) Buy some personal items en-mass at Wal-mart including a very large purse to put a few things that I just can’t get into my suitcases and an voltage converter for my computer 5) Back up my computer 6) Make sure everything is in packed up for my parents to store. The flight was a little turbulent, not excessively so, but because the last flight I took scared me half to death, the mild turbulence had me white-knuckling the seat for a significant portion of the flight. At the end the flight was smooth and I was able to relax. Hopefully this means that I’ll be able to relax more on the next two flights.

When I arrived in Miami I took the hotel shuttle checked in, unpacked a few things, met my roommate for the night, went to the gym, talked to the roommate some more and then went to bed. I only got about 5 hours of sleep the night before because I was packing and I intended to go to bed early Monday night, but I stayed up until about 1 talking to my very friendly roommate who also happens to be in the same program. I also thought I was already in South American for a second when I was in the hotel gym and someone asked me in Spanish if the elliptical machine worked.


After going to the gym again (I probably won’t have access to on in Paraguay, so I had to take the opportunity when it was given to me) my roommate and I got up and went to our first training session. We turned in paperwork and did a bunch of activities to help us get to know one another and hopefully relieve some tension that we were feeling. Surprisingly, I wasn’t nervous at all. Seriously. I was more apprehensive about the flight to Sao Paulo, Brazil, than joining the Peace Corps. I also learned that with only 18 (8 municipal Development aka ‘Muni’; 10 Rural Economic Development aka ‘RED’)of us, we are a very small group. We also learned that one girl just never got on the plane for some reason. I think she also sent an email to the program people that said to the effect of…I’m sorry, I can’t come this time. I really don’t understand how someone could come this far into the process and not get on the plane. Personally I started applying back in the fall of 2007. They couldn’t keep me off of that plane if they tried. Overall we have a very diverse group. It feels like we differ from the stereotypical just-out of the university 23ish student (like me ). We have about 4 people who are 50+, 6 ish in ther mid 20’s, 1 lady who was in the PC before, most of the people in my program have a masters, we’re from all over the country (no other Texas folks), about 60% women. The women leading the session said that PC people who work with in Latin America have a special affection for the people who agree to go to Paraguay because we’re the most flexible. Evidently sometimes people are unwilling to learn the Native American language, Guarani, which often gets mixed into Spanish. They don’t want to get their pretty little Spanish ‘dirty’ with influence from another language. Then again, if that is their perspective and they aren’t willing to let their language skills be affected by the local environment, they might as well just stick to speaking Spanish at the university with the academics.
For some reason PC decided that we had to leave the hotel at about 3:15 pm even thought our flight wasn’t until 8pm ish. I was a little worried because when I got to the airport, PC still hadn’t passed out the tickets or the passports. When we arrived though, I found out that they had given these items to two of the participants (since no one from PC accompanied us to the airport). It was a little funny that PC accidently booked two of the participants on a flight that left earlier in the day. Fortunately there were still spaces on our flight, so they didn’t have trouble getting a new ticket.

After waiting for several hours, we were finally able to get on the plane. It was easily the nicest plane that I have ever been in. We had individual tv screens built into the seats in front of us and they had a variety of movies or tv shows to watch as well as games to play like tetris. Sadly my controller didn’t work very well, so no tetris. It was also a nice big plane, so there was hardly any turbulence the entire time. Its nice to finally have a good flight under my belt since the hellish turbulence that I experienced a while back while flying between Philadelphia and Dallas. On the way there I was not lucky enough to be one of the people with an empty seat or two next to me to lie down, but I did spend most of the flight talking to a very nice Mormon guy, 20 years old, who had been living in Florida doing his mormon service trip for the past two years. They are only allowed to call home twice a year, on Christmas and Mother’s Day I think, and they can email once a week. He was very, very excited to be going back to Brazil, and so we chatted almost the entire way to Sao Paulo. As a result I only got about 1 hour of sleep before the flight attendant woke me up, and scared me half to death when she grabbed my shoulder, for breakfast. When we got into Sao Paulo, it was about 5am. Rather than let our large group wander confused around the airport, an attendant walked us to the area to get our boarding passes and checked make sure that our luggage was automatically being transferred to the next plane. We got on the plane to Asuncion around 9am and after another 2 hours we arrived and were met by the PC staff. They, and most of the airport staff were wearing masks. While the H1N1 Influenza A 2009 [per Bree and her Emory buddies ;)] virus seems to be calming down in the US because of summer, Paraguay is entering the winter flu season. They are very worried that the flu will travel south, mutate, strengthen, hit Paraguay and the rest of South America, possibly mutate some more, and return to the US as winter comes. As a precaution all of the PC trainees have to get flu shots, among others. It was rainy and quite cool, but I figured that would be the case so I packed a jacket in my carry on, which also didn’t fit in my checked luggage. After some quick introductions we hopped in a PC van and road to our training site, about 1 hour away. They have an enclosed facility that has security 24/7. Inside we did some more activities for a few hours, did an interview to help place us with a host family, and then went to meet them. I was a little worried, but I didn’t really click with my host family in Chile that I lived with for 5 months. They were an older couple and I just never quite felt like I belonged there.

I’m am quite pleased to say however, that my host family is amazing! There are 5 people: a Dad, the Mom, Teresa, and three daughters Patti(22), Silvi (20), and Nata(12). Patti, Nata, and the mom are chatterboxes in the best sense of the word. I’m their 4th volunteer, so they know how to speak a little slower, or what words to use that a gingo would know. I had a little trouble with the dad at first. I decided to be a vegetarian here, which I pretty much am when I cook for myself, which he wasn’t happy about. He pretty much just wouldn’t talk to me. He directly, and via his wife, reminded me numerous times the first few days that I was there to learn how to live like a Paraguan, which includes eating their food. However after a few days I was able to explain to them why I wanted to avoid meat. He talks to me now, so I think they are a little more accepting of my decision.


I live in a house surrounded by an iron fence which we lock at night or when no one is home. The house has three rooms, a bathroom, a kitchen and an area that functions as the dining room, living room, and hallway. I have my own room (a PC rule), but I feel bad because I know that one or two of the girls lost the room to make space for me. I also feel bad because we are supposed to lock our doors when we leave, but I feel like they may think I don’t trust them. It’s a liability issue not to have the door locked, which has been explained to both family and me, but its still weird. The first two days I ended up taking cold showers because I couldn’t figure out how to get the hot water to work. They have a switch one the wall which turns on the electricity to heat the water and then you just turn a single handle to control the flow and heat. I don’t know how it works yet, but I don’t have to wait at all for the hot water and it’s a far more efficient system because the water isn’t kept warm all of the time, just when you specifically need it. For some reason they don’t use a shower curtain, so the floors get a little wet, but the water drops straight down from the head, so there isn’t as much overflow as you would think. They also have a squeegee in the shower because the drain isn’t quite lower than the rest of the floor, so I have to push the water towards the drain when I’m done. As in most Chile and Argentina, the septic system can’t handle toilet paper, so that goes in trash can. My room has a wardrobe, a bed, a couch and a desk and is quite large. There is a also a fan and very high ceilings, and a window thing the size of a door. The window leads to this small open area that connects to the bathroom and the master bedroom. During the summer I could open the window to get ventilation. Very nifty. The house is very well designed for the hot summer months. Unfortunately its winter so the house is probably colder than many of the others and I won’t be here when the warm weather finally arrives. We also have a TV and a radio.
I live about 15 minutes away from the school and its actually a really nice walk with my fellow volunteer who lives nearby. There isn’t a street goes directly to the school, so we sometimes walk on the street sometimes through people’s yards. The paths are well worn and the yards a large, usually with livestock, so its not like we are prancing through someone’s personal garden. Sometimes we stop and talk to the people whose yards we are walking through. This neighborhood has been used by volunteers in the past, so they are used to seeing random gringos passing through who don’t really speak very well so they are very patient with us. One volunteer who lives extremely close the school and a main road walked home with us one day. He said the walk made him feel like he was actually in the PC.


It was cold and rainy until Monday, when the sun finally came out. The temperatures were around 12C for the high and 5C for the low. It’s the kind of cold where you just have to accept that you’re going to be a cold and uncomfortable all day. The rain certainly doesn’t help. The first few days, I usually didn’t warm up until I had been in bed for a good while when I went to sleep at night.
Thankfully the sun came out on Monday, ending eight days of rain, and the temperature climbed to a high of 18-20C and a low around 8C. Without a heater of any sort, I have to wear my shoes at all times and 4-5 layers. Also, to cope with the cold, everyone goes to bed early, around 9:30pm on the weekdays. I’m soooooooooooooo happy I brought a sleeping bag otherwise I would be miserable right now. They should have put numerous *s and s next to the sleeping bag in the packing list, especially for the trainees that arrive at the beginning of winter. Our schedule is so busy right now, and its not a good idea to be out and about at night, that there isn’t time to go to Asuncion an buy one. If a volunteer arrives in the warmer months they have time to settle down before they have to worry about finding enough blankets to keep warm, but for us, its an absolute necessity.


As I mentioned earlier, I am doing the vegetarian thing here, which is difficult because meat is such a significant part of the culture. People just don’t feel like a meal is complete without it. But I’m getting along very well so far. We don’t really have breakfast, lunch is the biggest meal of the day, and there is a small dinner. We actually usually go back to the house to eat lunch. Usually I have coffee (Nescafe) or cosido (a drink made from yerba mate and sugar) for breakfast and for dinner/evening snack. Today we made essentially the exterior part of a corn dog with cheese mixed in (chipa asada). Not exactly healthy, but quite tasty. Part of the group also learned how to make homemade insect repellant from a local herb, cedron. Actually local herbs are very popular as medicinal remedies for stomach aches, coughs…(yuyos medicinales). They put them in tea and the hot and cold versions of yerba : mate and terere. Pretty much everyone has a little cup for the terere/mate and a thermos of cold/hot water that they drink constantly.
Random Coolness: We don’t usually by milk from the store. The neighbor has a cow, so when we need milk, Teresa just goes next door and gets it. They only buy milk if the cow is sick or if there hasn’t been much food for her to eat (before the eight days of rain, the area was having a very serious drought)


PC is giving us a bunch of shots to protect us from rabis, tetnis, yellow fever… and we also have a medical kit which I can use to supplement the first aid items that I brought with me.

Women are not supposed to walk alone at all, but especially not at night. I’ve accompanied Teresa and Patti both short distances to go to the store, so its not just a gringo safety thing. Actually, some of the paths that I take during the day to get to school/the bus to the city, I am not allowed to take a night because they go through fields with high bushes, no lights and sometimes people get robbed.
On the buses I should sit at the window or a Senora and start a conversation with her. I should not sit next to a man or make eye contact with them, keep my purse out of sight/in my coat when possible or securely in my lap when I can’t hide it. I also have to make sure to count the money the bus attendants give me back if I need change, because they are infamous for ‘miscounting’.
Pedestrians don’t have the right-of-way and people drive a little haphazardly as is, so its best to not walk along the major roads. We are absolutely not allowed to ride motorcycles, not that I would anyway, because it is the #1 cause of death of volunteers. Locally most people don’t have a license anyway, so their driving skills are not exactly strong.
My Spanish comprehension has come back very very quickly. But I’m having a lot of trouble speaking. I don’t do much talking normally, so the speaking exercises that we do in class are a bit tiring. At night I sound like a complete idiot, but it makes the host family laugh and they are really patient, so its not a big deal. And overall having three languages in my life at once isn’t nearly as difficult as I thought it would be.

Guarani is the reverse. I’m very, very, very slowly learning how to say the words and sounds, but I can’t understand even the basic questions that we are learning when someone verbally asks me. Its also hard because the way the class is structured isn’t great for my learning style. We are introduced to some new phrases as a whole (not the individual words), usually with some new vocabulary and grammar rules splashed in, and then we immediately start practicing using the phrases back and forth. For me, I prefer to 1)have time to process the new information alone before practicing it in the group 2) learn basic words first and then build the words into phrases [instead of being presented with the entire phrase first and then eventually breaking it down into the parts] 3) Organize the new information in a manner that allows me to see how it connects to the previous information [grouping related vocabulary, grammar rules, similarly constructed sentences, etc]. I’m also a visual/ kinesthetic learner. The way the words are written on the teachers flash cards don’t make make natural sense to me; they always write the question under the answer. On the board the vocabulary is mixed with unrelated vocab, with grammar, which is also isn’t separated. There isn’t time for me to re-write and organize everything as it is presented.

So, when we do the group practice, right after being presented the material, I do embarrassingly horrible because I haven’t had any time to go through my own processes. This pattern [being introduced to the material and then use it immediately] is part of the Adult Education Method, which has been shown to work very well for most adults. Evidently I’m not most adults. The way the class runs, it doesn’t even make sense for me to try and find a way for me to get some solo learning time during the class itself. The only solution that I can think of is to ask the teacher for a sneak peak at the lessons the day before so that I can start working on the material by myself. I still wouldn’t have time it organize the spontaneous information that arises in class, but it would give me time to secure the foundations of the lesson before class which should keep me from embarrassing myself so terribly.
As it stands right now, when I get home I’m so discouraged from doing poorly in class that I don’t want to look at the material anymore. What little time I do have to teach myself I don’t use properly. Its also difficult because I like to go home and sit and talk with the girls [they do most of the talking ;)] which is indeed an important part of the learning process and a great way to rationalize not doing my homework. Ugg, now I just need to figure out a quick and easy way to explain this to the teacher, in Spanish.

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