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.

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