Sunday, June 28, 2009

Sunday, June 28, 2009-Cooking a cake for Pabla’s Birthday

Monday, June 29, 2009 was one of our language instructor’s, Pabla, birthday. So our group decided to make a cake to bring to give to her to celebrate. A week or two earlier our Medical Officer, Mary, made these incredible zucchini muffins. We knew we wouldn’t be able to find a cupcake pan,but the recipe should function fine as a cake. We decided to meet at Shavonda’s house on Sunday to cook. Unfortunately when Sunday came around, Shavonda realized that there was some tension between her host parents, and that bringing a bunch of gringos over probably wouldn’t be a good idea. So Carrie, Jenna, and I decided to go to Carrie’s house to cook. We asked her sisters what they already had in the house so that we could go buy the missing ingredients. Unfortunately we forgot that pretty much everything is closed on Sundays after noon, and we started looking for the missing ingredients(cocoa powder, a bar of chocolate, zucchini/carrots, nuts) around 3pmish. After going to 3 closed dispensas (corner stores usually run out of a house), we found 2 that were open and purchased the carrots, some chocolate mix powder, and some oreolike cookies. When we got home we realized that the host family didn’t have all of the items we thought they had at first and so a few more emergency substitutions had to be made…

Original Recipe
½ c butter
½ cup vegetable oil
1 ¾ c sugar
2 eggs
2 tsp vanilla
½ c milk mixed with ¼ tsp white vinegar
2 ½ c flour
4 T unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tsp baking powder
½ t cinnamon
½ t salt
2 c grated zucchini
1 c chopped chocolate/ chocolate chips

Our Version
½ c butter => 1 banana
½ cup vegetable oil
1 ¾ c sugar
2 eggs
2 tsp vanilla
½ c milk mixed with ¼ tsp white vinegar =>milk and lemon juice (omit vinegar)
2 ½ c flour
4 T unsweetened cocoa powder => 5 T chocolate milk powder
1 tsp baking powder => omitted
½ t cinnamon => omitted
½ t salt
2 c grated zucchini => 2c grated carrots
*Oh and all of the measurements were a guesstimate because I didn’t have a measuring cup…and another note… Microsoft word recognizes ‘guesstimate’ as an actual word…awesome
1 c chopped chocolate/ chocolate chips => crumbled cookie soaked in chocolate milk, which then became very mushy when Jenna mixed it together and became a thick pudding like substance. Pro-added chocolate flavor; Con-didn’t taste like or act like chocolate chips.

Final result…
A very very dense carrot cake with a hint of chocolate flavor. Definitely eatable, but not something I would make again.

Shavonda also ended up making 2 ‘cakes’ too. Funny though her banana bread and a chocolate chip cakeish dessert both had the same basic consistency as our chocolate ‘cake.’ Her’s were a little lighter and had a better flavor, but it was the same basic thing…and she used baking powder. I don’t know what happened, but I’m going to have to do a lot better preparation the next time I try to bake something.

We did give the cakes to Pabla, candles and all. We even sang to her in Spanish and Guarani. And by the end of the day the ‘cakes’ which we had cut into brownie size pieces, were all gone. Though we’ll eat pretty much anything right now, so that isn’t saying much. I pointed out to Aurelio, the other language teacher, that the cakes we made, in spite of their texture similarity, are actually nothing like the cakes we cook in the US.

Oh well, it’s the thought that counts right.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

San Juan Festival June, 2009

San Juan is one of the larger festivals in the community. It doesn’t seem to have a fixed day, but it usually happens sometime in June. I’ve also heard of communities having a San Juan as late as August. We weren’t really able to figure out any sort of mythology behind San Juan, the people generally just explained it away as a tradition that has been around for a while. What I was able to get a good idea of was the traditional activities and food surrounding the event.


Mbeju- looks like a Mexican tortilla, but it make of big crumbly pieces of Paraguay cheese(nothing close to any cheese in the US) and maize/flour(?)
Empanada de Mandi’o- made from manioca flour with meat on the inside. At first I thought they meant the mandioca (like a potato)was on the inside, so I could eat it. But of course not, this is Paraguay, there is meat in everything

Meat on a stick-it usually has a prettier name, but it escapes me right now

Sopa Paraguay- ‘Sopa’ means soup, but for some reason, Sopa Paraguay actually looks…but doesn’t taste… like corn bread. To avoid confusion with this dish, soup, as we know it in the states, is usually called ‘caldo.’ ‘Caldo’ usually just refers to broth.


Traditional Dances: As a fundraiser, a local school had the students dress up in traditional clothes and do some traditional dances. Each grade had its own dance to present, Kindergarten through 9th grade. We left early because it was taking a long time to get through the dances, we couldn’t hear what the kids were saying during the speaking parts, and it was getting cold. Since they started with the lower grades we never made it to the more interesting dances with the older students at the end. However at Angelique’s’ birthday, one of the hosts sisters did a dance with a small clay jar on her head. I’ve got video, maybe I’ll have a fast enough internet connection one day to post it.

Grease Pole: people try to get to the top of a very tall pole covered in grease/oil to get the prizes at the top

Sack races: Same as in the US
Walking on hot coals: didn’t have the pleasure of seeing this one myself. Supposedly you can only do it successfully on the evening of the solstice (first day of winter). Also supposedly, if you have a lot of faith you won’t get burned.

Piñatas: not the paper mache, animal ones were used to. The piñatas here are usually a clay pot or a huge balloon. There are several, that you can hit, but usually only one or two have candy/prizes. The others contact flour, water, etc.

Judas: Burning of a life-size doll made of old rags called a Judas. Usually a neighborhood commission is in charge of making the doll and give it a name of an unpopular political figure, However because the national Paraguay football team has lost their last two games, I’ve heard that some of the Judas’ have been named after people connected to the team like the coach. The Judas usually has fireworks inside that also explode after it is lit on fire. Yes, very safe, I know.

Kamba: teenage guys dress up in women’s clothing/rags with masks. At the fiesta near my house the Kambas were the ones the ones who lit the Judas on fire and then proceeded to tear apart the doll piece by piece while it was still on fire. Then they went to the dance floor, just the Kambas, and danced around wildly like they were possessed by an evil spirit, made vulgar hand gestures and dancing, and sometimes they just humped another…whatever same thing. Small children, future Kambas no doubt, threw the still burning pieces of the Judas onto the Kambas while they were in the dancing area in the plaza/soccer field. The Kambas were also the ones who climbed the greased pole. If little kids got too close, they would chase them away. When the Kambas realized I was taking pictures they were quite happy to pose for me.

Flaming Toro: The lovely Kambas also had a costume of sorts shaped kind of like a bull. The frame/body of the bull of the costume looked like an egg, lying on its side, cut in half length-wise, large enough for someone to get inside, covered in a white sheet. Sort of like a Chinese dragon/snake that they use in the traditional dances, but on a much simpler scale. The bull also had a small head with horns. The horns were made of some sort of torch which they lit on fire. The Kambas then proceeded to chase the other Kambas around the dance floor and try to gore them with the flaming horns. After a while the toro moved onto the soccer field and chased little kids around. I think the Kambas eventually tired of the toro and it too was left to the smaller children.

Jail: Someone pays to have you put into ‘jail’ (a human corral by the dance floor) by the Kamba. Then you have to pay to get yourself out or find a friend to pay for you. The Kamba literally picket people up or grabbed them by both arms to put them into ‘jail’. Then again, sometimes they would just sneak up behind people and grab them. After I took their photos, I was afraid they would try to sneak up on me too, but they never did. Silvana (host sister) and I had a tight grip on one another, so they would have had to try and get us both .

Host Dad: My lovely host dad, no doubt an experienced Kamba in his day, dressed up in a skirt, fake green curly hair, a long long wedding veil, an old jacket which he used to contain his very large breasts that he made with old towels. He proceeded to run around the neighborhood/plaza like a crazy man grabbing people and asking them to be his boyfriend (at least I think that is what he was saying, he was speaking in Guarani). Yup he was La Novia of the party. I’m sure that all good Kambas hope that one day, they too will grow up to be La Novia. What a catch he is indeed ;). Yup I have pics of this too. Funny thing though, dad didn’t remember posing for the photos I took of him that night in the house. Maybe someone had a little too much vino.

Ahh yes, all in good fun, what an interesting little festival

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Site Visit to Benjamin Aceval: Volunteer Karen June 20-23, 2009

Saturday, June 20
I was very excited to get out of my training site for a while. Learning Guarani has been difficult because I just don’t feel like I have enough time to process everything and I hoped that this 4 day three night visit would give me some time to go through everything. I left the house at about 8am to take the bus to the bus terminal in Asuncion. At the terminal I was supposed to get on a 2nd bus that was supposed to leave at 9:30 to take me directly to Karen’s site. I arrived at about 9:10; no bus. I asked around, made sure I was in the right spot, 9:30 comes and goes; no bus. The employees at the terminal advise me that the next bus leaves between 11and11:30. I wait until 10:15, realized you need some sort of card to use the public phone, consider asking the lady next to me if I can give her 5 mil to use her cell phone, and decide to try and see if my gringo phone works first. Amazingly it does. I let Karen know that the 9:30 bus either didn’t show, or left very early and that I would be on the 11:30 bus. I buy my first piece of Paraguayan pizza, which consists of a very thick, bready dough, a little itsy bit of sauce and a thin layer of sliced cheese. My host family pronounces it like ‘pixa,’ which caused much confusion the first day I was there. They were sure I knew what ‘pixa’ was but it wasn’t until they showed me a picture that I understood what they were trying to say. I made friend with a lady and her children sitting next to me. They were taking the same bus to the same city, which was a relief. At least I knew the bus did exist, it probably would come at the right time, and it was going to the right city. Also I could keep an eye on the family to make sure I got off at the right city.

The directions here are very interesting to say the least. My directions to know when to get off the bus were to tell the bus driver to stop at the yellow church or by the stand where the lady sells chipa once I entered Benjamin Aceval. It was pretty easy to figure out when I was in the right city, but finding the yellow church and/or the lady who sells chipa was tricky. The bus was full and it was hard to see out the front window. I never did see the stop, the bus driver knew which city I was going to, I had my pack with me so I was obviously a foreigner, and I clearly knew I needed to get off soon, but had no clue exactly where I needed to stop. The bus driver actually saw Karen waiting for me on the street, she is blond haired, blue eyed, white skinned volunteer, so she stands out. He stopped the bus, pointed to Karen, and was like there, the other white person, that’s who you’re waiting for. And then I almost fell off the bus because my pack was a little too heavy for my arms to control.

After eating dinner at Karen’s house we went around and met some of her neighbors and friends, visited her boyfriend’s grandmother who lives near the Rio Paraguay, walked to the Rio Paraguay, went to a comisiones vecinales (neighborhood group) meeting, and then went to a birthday party for one of her friends. The meeting was really funny because 1) the woman who invited Karen to come ended up being the president of the group 2) She invited us but didn’t come to the meeting herself and didn’t it didn’t appear that the other officers knew she wasn’t going to come 3) the members started complaining about her to the other officers once the meeting got started. The CV are actually really important in the community because they seem to be in charge of identifying all of the problems the city isn’t fixing and trying to get the funds to fix the problems themselves. I hope to do a lot of work with them when I get to my site. The meeting was also one of the first times that I got to see Guarani spoken in the public. The mixing of Spanish and Guarani, called Jopara, is actually really really interesting. If people are talking business they usually use Spanish. If they are talking about something more personal or homey, they usually use Guarani. When they were talking about dues and official business, they used Spanish. When they started talking about the baked goods they needed for a fundraiser/San Juan festival they were having, they used Guarani.

The birthday party was such a stress reliever. I didn’t realize how badly I needed to be some place other than the classroom or in the house with the family until I was able to get out, have a few drinks, and dance with the locals.

Sunday, June 21st
No clue what we did this day honestly.

Monday, June 22
I got to talk to the people in the voter registration office, visit Karen’s Muni (local government office), spend a little time on the internet, and most importantly, make perioges. Karen has a medium sized muni with about 40 workers. Everyone was very friendly and Karen seemed to have a very good relationship with them. Actually Karen seems to have done a very good job of getting to know the people in the community. Where every we went there were people that she knew. Sometimes we would stop and chat for a while or go and visit someone’s house for 30 minutes or so and then continue on our way. It will be a strategy that I try to mimic when I get to my own site. The more people you know, the easier it is to get people to work with you. Its also important for my safety to get to know as many people as possible. PC requires us to live with a host family for the first 3 months in site. Ideally, by living with a family I become one of their children. This will help protect me from being targeted because I won’t be just some random foreigner; I’ll be a part of the community.

Making perioges was really interesting. I couldn’t find cream cheese, so I used vanilla yogurt instead. The potato, onion mix smelled really odd at first because of the yogurt. However the taste was very close to the original. Actually, I probably should have used a little more yogurt. I was also amazing to be in the kitchen again. My host mom doesn’t let me do any cooking and even if she did, I don’t have much free time because the training schedule is really compact. Overall I would have to say they turned out really well.

Tuesday June 22nd
Because Karen lives so close to my training site, we were actually able to visit the State Capital, Villa Hayes. It’s named for the US President Hayes who was involved in the treaty that ended the Chaco war. The government building is really nice, right off of the river, with a beautiful courtyard. I’ve noticed that people are amazingly willing to listen to our sometimes very basic questions about their jobs. I’m also quite impressed with Karen when we meet people. She is very confident, personable, professional, and asks good questions. She speaks Spanish well and knows enough Guarani to show people that she is invested in the community. She is quite the little networker.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

June 7, 2009

1) Washing clothes:

• The weather has been on the cold, wet side and my schedule has been pretty compact so today was pretty much the first day that I had an opportunity to wash my clothes. The family has a washing machine, but it doesn’t work, so I had to do it by hand. I’m going to have a much greater appreciation for clean clothes here. Washing the clothes by hand sucks… a lot. T-shirts, socks, underwear, thinner shirts aren’t too bad. Pants, especially jeans, are huge pain because you have to scrub and scrub and scrub. The process is as follows 1) fill up tub with soap and water(winter = all the water is cold)2) wash light clothes first then get progressively darker (common sense except I’ve never had to think about it before) 3) scrub scrub scrub-each type of clothing has its own way that you have to scrub it ex: put socks on your hand, rub a bar of soap all over the socked hand, scrub hand/sock vigorously on the ribbed/stone encrusted surface of the sink 4) fill 2nd sink with water to rinse 5) Empty and fill sink again and rinse 6) Empty and fill sink for the 3rd time for rinsing 7) wring water out of clothes 8) hang dry in the yard 9) Iron everything (ironing kills microbes, helps make sure all of the clothes are really dry to avoid mildewing). New rule: If its not obviously dirty and it doesn’t smell, it doesn’t get washed.

2) On the bus

• First drunk person hitting on me in Paraguay:
o After washing clothes Patti and I went to the hospital to visit her cousin and her baby, who has been ill. On the way home we took a seat, Patti next to the window, me next to the aisle. A very very drunk man got on the bus a few stops later and sat caddy-corner to us. After striking various drink poses in his seat and trying to talk to us, he put two fingers to his lips and then tried to put them on my shoe which was sticking out into the aisle a little, mimicking a kiss. I saw him reach for me out of the corner of my eye and moved my foot in time. We moved to the back of the bus. He moved to the seat in front of us. We moved back to the front of the bus. He didn’t follow this time.
• Paraguay Honesty-Weight
o On the bus a severely obese young man sat in the front and started talking to the driver, asking if he could vary the buses path a little to get him closer to his destination or something to that effect. The bus driver told him…you’re fat, you need to walk. I think you might get sued for that in the US
• Fire
o We were getting close to our bus stop when a strange odor started spread around the bus. I don’t have a good sense of smell, and quite frankly some of the buses don’t run very well and smell funny all of the time, so I didn’t hardly notice. A motorcycle driver flagged down the bus driver, got him to pull over. The driver, his assistant, and some people on the street ran to the back of the bus, by the wheels. At first I thought that we hit something or someone (pedestrians don’t have the right of way, no one knows how to drive a motorcycle properly, and people hang out the doors of the bus). We were close to the front of the bus, so it was easy for us to get out, after waking a man who hadn’t noticed the commotion and was still sleeping. When I got out I could see the flames underneath the back of the car between the rear tires. The bus driver put it out with a fire extinguisher, gave everyone their money back for the ticket, and we caught another bus to finish our journey.

3) Random Observations/notes:
• Paraguayans prefer bar soap to liquid soap
• We get our milk from the neighbors cow
• There aren’t any bus stops. You put out your hand to stop a passing bus. They will start moving again before you’ve completely entered or exited the bus, so it’s a good idea to hold on tight
• No a/c or heating in any of the buildings
• During periods of drought or during the long summer, water isn’t available through the faucet. Our training facility has a bunch of plastic barrels that they store rain water in to flush the toilets when the water doesn’t work anymore.
• Its hard to find a trash can, even in an office building. People just throw the trash anywhere. My host sister, upon noticing our shock when she just dropped her cup on the floor of the market said ‘Its okay, This is Paraguay
• I never thought that speaking in Spanish would be a relief (as opposed to Guarani).
• My English is already deteriorating. Today June 8, 2009. I was trying to tell my fellow trainees a story about being polish and some of the polish words for ‘grandma’ and ‘grandpa’, but I kept on reversing the English words(using grandma instead of grandpa). I ended up having to tell the story using ‘abuela’ and ‘abuelo.’
• My cell phone works!
• I haven’t worn pants for so many days in a row since I started wearing skirts almost every day.
• I go to bed around 9:30pm every night and get up around 6:10am.