Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Blue-eyed curse

Blue-eyed curse: the jump in prices that occurs when vendors see someone of eastern European decent and assume they are wealthy.

Carly and I have the same basic features, lighter colored hair, blue eyes, pale skin. What makes the Blue-eyed curse worse is that there are a lot of blue-eyed, light skinned Mennonites who are indeed very wealthy. Unfortunately we are not wealthy; we make around the Paraguayan minimum wage.

This past weekend we took several buses to get to and from 2 volunteer run radio programs and a VAC meeting. Every single time they tried to charge us 2,000-3,000G more than the actual rate. Fortunately Carly has been here for 15 months and knows what the actual ticket prices are supposed to be; she was able to get them to eventually sell them to us at the normal rate. I’m just amazed that they don’t recognize her, realize that she lives here and knows when they are not giving us the correct rate. Granted she had to learn the hard way what the prices were, by sometimes getting the right rate and sometimes getting overcharged, so maybe they are hoping she’ll forget and they’ll get lucky. Maybe its because Carly is still so nice to them when they are trying to overcharge us. It’s a very indirect, non-confrontational culture here, so her tactics are the most culturally acceptable.

However I do not have the money or the patience to kindly humor this kind of corruption; I’m a Muni volunteer for heavens sakes, this is what I’m supposed to help reduce. Thus, I am inclined 1) talk to the Muni and see if there is anything I can do on the local government level 2) take the direct route and inform the ticket vendors that I live in Campo 9, I am a volunteer in the community so I don’t have much money, I know the actual tickets prices, and I that is the price I intend to pay.

I have no intention on wasting what little money I do have to pad some asshole’s pockets and wasting precious few minutes of my life trying to get him to give me the correct ticket price. If we can reach that understanding as soon as possible with these individuals, my bus trips will instantly become more hassle free.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

So I’m here…Now what?

Brilliant question!

But I still I don’t really know yet. Welcome to the PC.

My plan right now is to spend a few days relaxing, getting training out of my system, setting up my room, and establishing a new daily routine. I should start visiting people, but the weather has been a bit dreary since Sunday, so people aren’t really out and about and I hate to visit peoples’ houses and track in mud.

My contact at the Muni, Nelson, is very nice, but he hasn’t been about to give me any specific information about what they want me to do exactly. He is a really busy guy. I’d like to help him as much as I can but I don’t want to end up as his secretary. From what I gather, they want me to:
• Train the Funcionarios [Muni employees] in ‘Public Relations’ by which they seem to mean helping the Muni work with and communicate to the public
• Train the Funcionarios in how to work in groups and
• Do team building exercises with the Funcionarios
• Help the Muni employee who works with comisiones vecinales [neighborhood groups]
• Work with the local health commission

As I mentioned, some of these requests aren’t particularly specific. I’ve tried to probe into the details of these requests, but thus far Nelson has been too busy to give me any answers. I’ve found this to be a common problem in Latin American in general. In politics especially, candidates offer these huge goals, on the level with solving hunger and poverty. However there is absolutely no definition of what these goals really mean or an exact plan to accomplish them.

I also plan to:
• Go to the health clinic and going with the nurses when they go to the campo do vaccinations; they know everyone and I’ll get a chance to meet the non-urban community people
• Study Guarani and Spanish every day; perhaps learning Portuguese and old German so that I can talk to those communities
• Do a community needs assessment aka walking around, talking to people, and letting them gripe to me about what needs to be done better. I compare this to what the Muni can/wants to do and help them plan it out.
• Help Carly in the schools to get to know the teachers and kids
• Exercise (finally), my poor body is melting, very sad
• Help plan a youth civic education camp for the end of summer with some other volunteers
• Cook up a storm Woohoo!! My family this afternoon was a little surprised that I didn’t intend to eat the lunch they prepared [mandioca, coquitos, and a large portion of cheesy noodles with just enough tomato to make the cheese pink, with a salty salad]. I ate with them, but I made my own food [hummus, Mexican flour tortillas, and salsa yum]. It may take a little while, but eventually they will see what I eat and realized that it is better for me to cook for myself. I don’t like to be this picky and possibly insult them, but it’s a health issues for me right now. I’ve gained a little weight so my knees are starting to hurt. If I continue to eat like them, I will gain more weight, and my knees will get worse. If they can’t appreciate that, then I’m just going to have to insult them. My knees will hurt too much to do otherwise. But I think they’ll come around since Marcia was a nurse. I also feel bad about eating their food in general because they aren’t charging me rent and it isn’t fair for me to eat for free. I’m not good at mooching.

My shopping list of things I wanted but have abstained from buying until arriving in site included:

• Towel-I’ve been using my camping towel since training began
• Mortar and pestle-to crush sesame seeds to make tahini to make hummus of course 
• Armoire- rooms generally don’t have closets
• Sheets
• Rolling pin
• Hand towels-the family here uses the same one or two for everything, so I’m not certain they are very clean and I don’t want to cross-contaminate my stuff.
• Bathroom basket
• Bath sponge
• Non-stick pot and pan
• Slip-on shoes to walk around the house
• Umbrella
• Tupperware
• Bars for my window
• Scarf-I lost my only one at the 4th of July party at the embassy.
• Internet- possibility, depending on how much access I have via the Muni computers

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

A place I call home…

Bienvenidos A Campo 9/ J.E. Estigarribia!!!

From what little I’ve seen of Campo 9, it looks like it will be an amazing site. Here are some quick descriptions of the city and my new living arrangements.

City Profile

• 20,000-30,000 people (medium-sized city)
• 3 good sized grocery stores, all within 1 block of each other on the same road
• 2-3 restaurants
• High-functioning Muni
o The muni already works with several NGOs to improve their operations, which means they are very open to change and improvement
• East side of Paraguay: aka there is water and lots of vegetation
• On the main ruta [highway] between Asuncion and Ciudad del Este = buses are constantly going through our bus terminal and I can easily get to Asuncion or neighboring cities.
• Has a Brazilian community, an ‘American heritage’ community [Don’t know what that means exactly just yet], and a Mennonite community
• Economy: agriculture, small factories that process soy, wheat, mandioca, milk, and fish products
• Thus far, everything I need thus far is within walking distance
• There is an education volunteer named Carly who also lives here. She will be here for the next 9 months, with her very cute doggie, Luna.
• Lots of schools, including several small colleges, to work with.

New Host-Family

• Dad-Anibal-works with DEAG, the agriculture department. Quiet but very nice. Very active in the community.
• Mom-Marcia-Retired Nurse, currently does private consults specializing in child and infant health. She also has a pharmacy. Very active in the community.
• Sister- Natalia-10 years old. Talks a lot, which is part for the course. I’m 3/3 on the 10-12 year old clingy sister front. She is still learning how to talk to me aka When I say ‘speak slower’ it means she actually needs to pause after individual words, especially in the morning when my Spanish/Guarani ears aren’t turned on yet.
• Kitten-Michi, which is the generic name for any cat that doesn’t have a real name, like Jane/John Doe. All white, bat-shit crazy…or maybe all kittens are like that, I don’t really know what is normal for cats.
• Bunny-I think they adopted it the day before I arrived because they didn’t have it when I visited 2 weeks ago. I’m a little concerned because they eat rabbits here; I hope it stays a pet. I’m also going to have to do some education with them about its nutrition and space/exercise needs. It currently lives in a teeny box, without room to move and gets only lettuce for food.
• Brother-David-22 years old, He is a jack-of-all-trades and only lives at the house occasionally from what I understand. He has a wife and a child in another city, so I assume that is where he usually lives.
• Marcia’s Niece- Kaateri maybe? 22ish- She is working full time, but I think she is going to start college sometime soon.


The family was under the impression for some reason that the Muni was going to pay for my rent. This does happen occasionally, and I think the Muni is still contemplating helping me out a bit, but ultimately it is my responsibility to take care of rent with my monthly PC allowance. Now that I’m out of training I’ll make about 1,500,000G [~ $US300]; which is close to the minimum Paraguayan wage. When I told Marcia I was going to be the one paying the rent, she told me I didn’t need to pay anything.

Years ago, when she was in her late teens/early 20’s Marcia met a PC volunteer in the town she grew up in. This volunteer did some sort of medical/health work and let Marcia accompany her during her rounds in the community. Because of this, Marcia developed an interest in nursing. The volunteer realized this and encouraged her to go to nursing school. Unfortunately the school was in another city and Marcia’s father didn’t want her to leave. The volunteer convinced her father to let her attend the school, and accompanied Marcia to the city to make sure it was a safe place for her to live. Marcia explained to me that she owes so much to the Peace Corps, and she doesn’t need my money, so I can live with them for as long as I want, rent free. I intend to pay her enough to cover utilities and the occasional meal or snack, though I’ll have to just guess how much that will be because she wouldn’t give me a number on how much that is worth. Talk about paying it forward.

The House:

The house is pretty large for a Paraguayan home: Medical Exam room, pharmacy, 1 complete bathroom, 2 bathrooms with just a toilet, a spare/supply room, living room, a very large kitchen, and 5ish bedrooms. Daniel’s room, my room, and one of the partial bathrooms are not connected to the main part of the house; they are in the back corner of the yard.

My room is smaller than the one in J.A. and water leaks in and forms a wet spot on the wall when it rains, but other than that it is great. Even better, it has a window that lets the light into the room in the morning so I won’t sleep until noon; I just have to put bars on it per PC regulations. The room also has an incandescent light bulb, which means I can actually read and study there.

I’m about 2 blocks from the main street and 5 from my muni. Talk about convenient.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Top 10 reasons why I’m so happy to be out of training

• Setting my own schedule
• Cooking my own food
• No more micromanaging by Teresa
• Putting down roots in the community and building relationships
• Learning Guarani and relearning Spanish on my own terms
• Getting to know the awesome volunteering in my VAC
• Being able to wash my laundry whenever there is good sun, not just on the weekend or during lunch
• I get a cell phone
• Did I mention cooking for myself?
• Finally working on real projects

On August 17th I finally arrived in site! After almost 3 months I have just finally been allowed to start volunteering. Yes…technically I wasn’t a volunteer until this past Friday, I was just a trainee. It was a long three months, and I’m so glad that our entire team of 18 trainees all made it to site without anyone leaving early.

Training had its ups and downs, and after a rocky day-before-I-leave morning with my J.A. Saldivar host mom, Teresa, I was incredibly happy to get to site. No fear, no nervousness, just pure delight. I will definitely miss my three host sisters… but so long J.A. Chaocitos.

Monday, August 17, 2009

No longer an Aspirante:Swear-in Weekend

The swearing in ceremony was short and sweet. The ambassador swore us in at her house at the embassy, then we got to eat finger foods and an amazing chocolates cake. People have been raving about this cake for days and I was a little worried that it wouldn’t meet expectations, but I was oh so wrong. It was ricisimo, especially considering I’m not the biggest fan of chocolate cake. They sell it by weight: 45,000G [$US9] per kilo. I think ours cost about $400,000G [$US80], which is more than most volunteers pay in rent each month. And the lady who makes them doesn’t have a normal cake store; you have to know about her via word of mouth. So yea, this was one damn special cake.

Ronnell’s speech:

As soon as I get a copy, I’ll post it.

I spent the weekend in Asuncion hanging out with volunteers, gorging myself on free wireless internet, trying not to spend too much money [Final bill: $360,100G(1 month’s rent). Ouch], and wandering around without a specific goal or schedule.

• Chocolate Cake!
• Getting to see admin people act like normal humans
• Josh/Josue from G24. If you know him, that is all that needs to be said; if you don’t know him, you’ll never understand anyway.
• Free breakfast and wireless internet at the hotel
• Having Gina understand the difficulties I had with former host mom Teresa.
• How many volunteers does it take to figure out how to use the ATM: Answer-5 volunteers plus the security guard that took pity on us and helped us figure the darn thing out
• One volunteer intended to go back to his training community to spend more time with his host family there. He ended up staying at the hotel in Asuncion every night: checking out every morning, and checking back into the hotel every evening. I have no idea why.
• Emailing a girl who is going to begin training in September about what to pack
• Listening to Norte music in the hotel room. BTW big thanks to Elmer for putting some more songs on my computer to mix it up a bit.
• Watching Harry Potter in English. The movie wasn’t good, but I was tickled pink to find a theater actually playing it in English. I refuse to see US movies for the first time if they have dubbed into Spanish; the actors’ voices are too important.
• Watching more reserved volunteers slowly come out of their shells, especially after a few drinks.
• Ahendu at Older Bar
• Not feeling like I misrepresent myself when I say I’m a PC volunteer ‘cause I’m official now :)

Friday, August 14, 2009

Ronnell´s Speech During the Swearing in Ceremony

Asuncion, Paraguay
Aug. 14, 2009
US Embasador's Residence

This speech is going to go fairly quickly. I am kinda in a rush. I have an appoinment with a banking official becuase I am just hours away from becoming millionaire!...well a Paraguayan millionaire and I dont know about you guys, but this is my first time, so I am kinda anxious to get out of here and reap my fortune? Now, if I get my phone aftewards, I wil call you and tell you where I spent my guaranies.

Mba’echaepa Madame Ambasdasor. On behalf of G-30, I’d like to thanks for your hospitality and opening your home to us on this occassion. Also, Buen dia to Donald Clark, Director of Peace Corps Paraguay APCD Elisa Chague.
Buen dia guests.
And buen dia G-30!

Most of us who came to Paraguay on May 28 of this year quickly discovered that the Peace Corps Paraguay packing list was quite inadequate. My fellow group mates and I have come to the conclusion that the very things that we were advised not to pack were some of the items that we want and need most. As says the packing list, denim jeans, sunglasses, baseball caps and other items were some of the things that most Paraguayans don’t wear. That may have been true a few decades ago, but I would say that things have changed. but I’d like you to check out what the folks are wearing on the colectivo and in the campo. The ironic conclusion though, is that we could have left all luggage and bags behind in the US, and still made it to Paraguay equipped with what we truly need to be able to connect with this country and serve its people. Igual, podemos servir al pueblo Paraguayo sin nuestras cosas materiales.
Furthermore, there are some items that we came to find that we need but actually did not pack with us. But we still brought them. We were not able to actually pack them, but we still carried them with us. Thats because they are intrinsic to what makes us human. We were born with those items that we need most to live and serve in the world. We came into life with our brain, eyes, ears, hands, mouth, legs and most importantly, our heart. Lo mas esencial es el corazon. These items, though not on the Peace Corps Paraguay packing list, we have found them to be most practical, most useful and most effective at completing our mission of service and sharing. Unlike clothing, flashlights and laptop computers; our brains, eyes, hands, mouths, legs and hearts give us the tools not just to stay warm, navigate blackouts or type up pedidos. But they also give us the opportunity to absorb both tangible and intangible elements of our new environment, process new events and feel love. Amor para la gente, para el pais, amor para el mision de Cuerpo de Paz.

Yes, business apparel will give the appearance of a well-spoken man, but the contents of his brain and the eloquence of the words from his mouth, and mastery of the language will be the manner in which he can prove it. Expensive water-proof hiking boots will help us to maneuver rugged terrain, but our eyes and ears will be the tools we use to help lead us back to town if we get lost. We will follow the smell of carbon burning, sopa paraguaya cooking and the sound of kids playing. If the very laptops that we were told not to bring, but are thankful that we did bring, decide to crash, it will be our hands and need for human interaction which brings us back to reality. We will meet people, and shake their hands. We will be pulled along dusty roads by mita’i who will attempt to show us the way to get away from what we brought in our luggage and to reconnect to la vida pura.

Our legs will carry us. So far, they have led us down empedrada roads, caminos feos and into the homes and patios of people that we now call neighbors and families. And once more they will carry us to new homes. These legs will propel our bike petals. Apparently we are the only folks in the entire country that cannot ride motos.
Our hands, mouths, eyes and ears allow us to absorb our new surroundings. When we touch hands with a Paraguayan in the campo, we touch his life-source, the tools that don’t require sharpening or lubrication, the hands that carpir, sembrar, and cosechar cada epoca.

Actually, Peace Corps tested this “built-in luggage” before we were even accepted into the program. Remember those physical exams? and for some of us, rigorous tests to show that our human suitcases were still in working order: legs still ready to walk and or run, eyes still ready to soak up oceans of images, ears able to comprehend a new language or two, mouths ready to smile warmly and make cultural chasms fade away, hands ready to greet others and work in side-by-side Paraguayans, and brains ready to process all of it, learning from the people, allowing us to pack and live lightly. This human luggage as we can call it, allows us, as Peace Corps volunteers and citizens of the world to seamlessly move in and out of contrasting environments. From talking to the president of a comite vecinal, to (in the case of today) potentially giving a speech in front of the President of the Republic of Paraguay. We can seamlessly, go from speaking English, to Spanish to Guarani. Well, this is our goal anyway.

How many of us had an airline loose their luggage? Yes I have too. And just think, we all made it through those next couple of hours or overnight without the seemingly essencial things that we had packed for our trip. And why? Because we are human, we are a part of the animal kingdom. Animals don’t carry sacks of stuff on their backs wherever they go. They already have exactly what they need to survive. And we do too.
So yes, the PCP’y packing list should be revised. Yet, at this point that list would never be able to adequately cover the most essential items that a future volunteer would need. Those items are made up of the things that make us human.

At different points during this training season, I created several Top Ten lists in an attempt to process and annotate all of the things that I was experiencing. And today, I would like to share a new Top Ten list with you all. This list focuses on how I have changed and become a little more tranquilo, a lil’ more Paraguayo, or Brasilero, or whatever. This list includes some things there were difficult to get over for me. And I am sure that you have your own ideas and that you have jumped some of the same hurdles. I hope they have resulted in true changes and adaptation that does not compromise who you are.

Top Ten Things That I am Now OK With:
TEN- I am ok with not having constant internet access. But I think Bambi has found the remedy for that problem.
NINE- I am ok with being the only black male in the group.
EIGHT- I am ok with being asked whether I am Brasilero and explaining that my parents are actually American.
SEVEN- I am ok with letting the women serve me. But on a serious note--I mean to say that I am ok with being a guest in someone’s home and being a guest in someone’s country.
SIX- I am ok with peeing in public. Phew... Sorry girls.
FIVE- I am ok with being the tallest person in almost every setting. And I am ok with people pointing at me and asking me why I am so tall.
FOUR- I am ok with being called el Michael Jackson original, Michael Jordan, and I am definitely ok with being called Obama! And now, I wouldn’t mind being called Aarron Williams...if folks besides Don Clark knew who that is. If you didn’t know, he’s the new PC Director.
THREE- I am ok with my proficiency level in Spanish. And that only means that I understand how much more I need to learn. And that goes for Guarani too.
TWO- I am ok with missing some things that are going on back home. On Fridays, I miss going out to the clubs or out to eat with friends. And on Sundays, I do miss spending time at my grandmothers house. It may just mean that I will have lots of appointments with friends and family to make up when I get back.
ONE- I am ok with Ronnell Perry or Ron as he is now known in the campo. I was ok with him back home, but its totally different in a new culture while still connected to a bunch of Americans. I am ok with who he is as an individual, and who he is in a group setting amongst all of the other personalities and opinions. It doesn't mean that I wont continue to evolve him, but it does mean that comparing him to someone else, or changing him because of negative outside forces wont make him any happier.
Each of us is on that journey. So, when you find it hard, just put on your American hiking boots and your headlamp, and you’ll get there...even if you run into a couple of empedrada roads or a few arroyos y esteros. Remember what you packed and what you didnt have to pack---because those qualities and intangibles will always serve you, you’ll always carry the most effective tools inside.

Thank you for your time. Jajotopata!

Monday, August 10, 2009

Hand-Me-Down Dogs

I miss Brinkley!

(Seriously, just look at her, just beautiful)

Not having a dog is so painful. There are all of these adorable street dogs that just want someone feed them and not throw rocks at them. When they realize I’m not going to hit them or run them off, they just grovel for attention. I don’t pet them, unless I’m about to go into the house where I can wash my hands, because they are really dirty, they aren’t used to people petting them so they might bite, and they eat the trash and dirty diapers that people leave in empty lots and along the side of the road. I am hurting greatly for a poopy free puppy of my own.

In my site, Carly has an adorable little Paraguayan mutt name Luna, who I intend to adopt as my niece. Luna is an adorable white little 1 ½ year old bundle of energy. Carly adopted her from someone in the community who was trying to get rid of the puppies from a mother dog who was ill. Carly took the little runt, Luna, who was the only puppy who survived; the mother died as well. Carly had a box welded to her bike for Luna to sit in while she rides around town; if she runs alongside the bike other dogs will attack her. Dogs here chase anything that moves quickly including joggers and motos. Unfortunately, Carly and Luna are only going to be living in Campo 9 for nine more months. Then her service time is over and she and Luna are returning to the states.

I don’t know what I’ll do after that to get my puppy fix. I’m in danger of adopting a dog of my own because there is someone in the community who has a boxer who has puppies frequently so there are a number of boxers around and about. I have a serious weakness for boxers. And Boston Terriers. Heaven help me…I don’t know if I could turn either one down.

The only real impediment would be whether or not my new host family will allow me to have a dog. I subtly inquired on my future site visit whether or not they’ve ever had dogs. Evidently they used to have 2 dogs and 2 cats; they currently have 1 kitten. So they are a pet friendly household.

Ideally I’d just like to find an adult dog on the street that I get along with and make him mine; I don’t want to do the puppy thing. Another possibility is the ‘hand-me-down dog’ option. It seems that volunteers who don’t want to/can’t take their dogs with them back to the states pass their pets down to other volunteers. I spoke with one guy who is the 3rd PCV owner of his dog, and he isn’t taking her with him either. Also if I have a dog that I can bear to part with, I’d feel much better leaving it with a volunteer.

People here aren’t quite as enthusiastic about their pets as people in the states are. Today Pabla mentioned that the volunteers she trains often list their pets as one of the family members, which was very surprising to her. Dogs in particular often are a part of the household mainly for security purposes; they protect the yard and house from intruders. While I have certainly met some people here who love and care for their pets just as much as any US family, they are in the minority. For example, Jenna and I sometimes have to pretend to throw a rock at a dog near our house who runs at us very aggressively when we are anywhere near his unfenced yard. The owner is a customer at the dispensa that Jenna lives at, so one day Jenna made a comment to her about the dog’s behavior. The owner told Jenna that the dog didn’t know us, which is why it acts aggressively. Her advice, throw a rock at him and he’ll run off. This woman gave us an official invitation to her hit her dog! If I have a dog and someone tries to throw anything at it, I’m going to be holy-hell pissed. If I knew my dog was in danger of being hit by frightened people, I would put up a fence or tie it up.

Another interesting point regarding dogs…Its almost impossible to get female dogs spayed because very few of the vets know who to do it. I thought this was vet school 101, but evidently not. Instead, responsible pet owners have to give their dog a birth control shot every 3 months. It costs about 10mil [$2]. Unfortunately most people don’t want to go through this hassle, so many people just ‘kill the bitches’ to avoid the puppies. That’s a quote from Carly, who was using the correct terminology. However, her word choice caught me off guard since people aren’t usually talking about dogs when they use that phrase. She said it forcefully because she was not happy about it, which startled me even more. After not hearing many swear words in English for so long, the slightest one sounds much stronger than normal. Carly told me that the people in her neighborhood were very unhappy to have a female dog in the neighborhood and advised her to get rid of Luna.

In the end, I know I’m happier when I have a dog. However it’s a big expense, a lot of responsibility, its harder to take vacations, and setting up life back in the states would be harder. I guess we’ll have to see.

I´d like a hamburger and a hazmat suit please.

I believe I mentioned a while back that while I’m here I’ve decided to be a vegetarian. This isn’t a significant change for me since I was pretty much a vegetarian back in the US, especially if I was doing my own cooking.

What is a ‘Vegetarian’:

Now, what exactly does being a vegetarian mean here? Well, first off if I tell a Paraguayan that I don’t eat ‘ ‘carne[meat].’ However the word ‘carne’ generally just refers to ‘beef’ here so I have to go through the list an explain that I don’t eat chicken, pork, or fish, either. I do eat dairy products and eggs.

Because I have almost no time to cook my own food, I’ve been flexible and allowed myself to eat food that has been cooked with meat and I just pick out the meat. My host mom in J.A. is actually one of the cleanest Paraguayan cooks that I’ve seen, so I don’t worry too much about contaminated meat. However I’ve already established at my new site that I do not eat things cooked with meat.

During training I’ve also eating things cooked with animal fat which generally includes chipa and mbeju, those these can be made from vegetable oil. However a fateful dinner in Villa Florida changed this and I’ve already explain to my family in my new site that I also don’t eat animal fat. One of the host families was cooking mbeju for some of us volunteers to have for dinner. They pulled out a 2 liter plastic soda filled with suspicious grey stuff. A short while later, they began squeezing this thick sticky glob into the mbeju mixture dough and I realized that it a giant bottle of pig fat. I think they used about 1/3 of the bottle. I almost vomited. I to look away from the table towards my awesome vegetarian volunteer friend at which time we both started laughing since we were having the same reaction to the table drama. And yes, we both ate the mbeju, and yes it was yummy. But now that training is ending I pretty much avoid chip and mbeju if I don’t know how its cooked. I can’t get the image of Carrie’s kindly host dad squeezing that ghastly grey fat out of the bottle out of my head when I do. I’m even feeling a little queasy just writing this. Fortunately my host mom in Campo 9 is a nurse and I didn’t see any scary grey bottles at the house, so I’m pretty sure her mbeju is safe.

Fun facts:

• Pescatarian: No-landanimals, poultry. Yes-seafood,
• Lacto-ovo Vegetarian: No-meat, poultry, or fish. Yes-eggs, dairy, honey
• Lacto Vegetarian: No-meat, poultry, fish, or eggs. Yes-dairy, honey
• Ovo Vegetarian: No-meat, poultry, fish, or dairy. Yes-eggs, honey
• Vegan: doesn’t eat anything made from animals including dairy products, eggs, broths, honey, seafood, gelatin [made from animal skin, bones, and connective tissue], etc.
• Flexitarian: A diet that consists primarily of vegetarian food, with occasional exceptions

Why I am a Vegetarian here:

Reason #1) Meat Handling Practices:

The meat handling practices in this country are frightening. As far as I’m concerned all meat should come with a bio-hazard sticker. I’m not confident that the live animals receive proper medical attention, may have parasites, and they are often on the skinny side. However I will say that their though their general diets and overall quality of life is probably far better than the poor factory produced animals that are raised the US.

It’s treatment of the meat once the animal is dead that scares me. I’ve been told by an American working for CHP, my training program, that the meat from an animal that has just been killed can actually sit out for 2-3 days before it needs to be refrigerated. I think this is bullshit. This is a subtropical climate with high humidity, and bugs of all sorts everywhere, not to mention stray dogs, cats, chickens, and small children. The meat often hangs in public where the afore mentioned parties can easily access it or it sits in bowls or on meat counters this I highly doubt are sanitized before the next round of meat is put on them. While I do think animals that are killed relatively closely to their cooking date, I have no faith that they are always consumed before the magical 3rd day. I have seen very few dispensas [very small neighborhood stores] that have proper storage facilities to put the meat that does take a few days to sell.

Even if the meat is stored properly, I am pretty sure there is cross-contamination between the meats and other items in the store. In smaller stores, it is not uncommon for people to handle the meat with their bare hands and not wash their hands before they touch other pieces of meat or any other items. For example, at the dispensa near my training school I went to buy some bananas. While I was in line I saw the store lady:

1. Grab a huge piece of meat with her bare hands
2. Cut it with a knife that I’m pretty sure hadn’t been sanitized since its last use and has been used to cut who knows what
3. Put the chunk of meat on a scale to weight it [I don’t remember if she put any paper under the meat to prevent it from directly touching the scale]
4. Put the meat in a bag and give it to the customer
5. Go about her business selling other stuff in the store without washing her hands
6. Repeat the same meat handlings process for another customer. Again, she never washed her hands, never put on gloves, the meat wasn’t refrigerated, it was just sitting uncovered in a bucket on the counter, I’m not confident she put something on the scale [which she also uses to measure vegetables], touched everything else in the store,
7. And she was shooing away the kittens that were meowing on the ground under the bucket o’meat. And you know that she can’t protect the meat at all times so there is a good chance some lucky kitty gets a nibble on occasion. Did I mention that most of the cats, especially the kittens, have parasites?

Jenna, another volunteer, did say she has noticed that her host mom, who runs a dispensa, is very very clean with her meat ie always wears gloves, and protects the meat from touching other items in the store. So there are exceptions.
However in this instance I held on to my bananas like it was life or death. Thankfully they don’t sell bananas by weight usually so she didn’t have to touch them to know how much to charge me. She did have to touch the package of the knock-off M&Ms that I bought, which still scared me. Fortunately it has been a good while since this happened, and I’m still alive, so it didn’t kill me…this time…I’m pretty sure it was a close call.

Reason #2) Having Complete and Utter Control Over My Diet *muuahhaa haaa

Another reason why being a vegetarian makes my life easier is that it is such a radical difference from the way that the Paraguayans eat that they just don’t know what to do with me. And thus they are much more inclined to just me make my own food, which is what I prefer.

While much of the Paraguayan food is tasty, it consists almost entirely of starch, sugar, and salt. I went with my J.A. host family to have lunch with Teresa’s family. This entire meal consisted of: fried empanadas, mbeju, pajagua mascada [kind of like a very large hushpuppy], and dinners rolls and mandioca[similar to a potato]. This translates nutritionally to: deep fried starch, grilled starch, more deep fried starch, baked starch, with a vegetable starch. At my host family’s house in Campo 9 we had noodles, with mandioca, with sopa Paraguay [very dense, corn breadish], with a very salty salad. And they wonder why so many people here have gastritis and other digestive problems? I have to give them credit though. I’ve never seen so many different slight variations on the same basic group of starches. They are certainly making the most of what they know.

The funny thing about this meal was that the night before, my host mom [who is a nurse] and I spoke at length about how Paraguayans do not incorporate enough vegetables into their diet even though they are fresh, cheap, and plentiful here. I think I’m going to introduce them to the 1/4, 1/4, 1/2 rule. 1/4 of a dinner plate is carbohydrates, 1/4 is protein, 1/2 is vegetables. Let’s see what they think about them apples [its not like they are going to eat them or anything ;) ].

At least Carly, a volunteer who has been at my site for over a year, is a pescatarian. She has acclimated a good number of people in the community to the basic idea of vegetarianism. Though Paraguayan still pretty much think I’m going to die of malnutrition.

I will give my J.A. host mom credit though, she does cook have a lot more veggies and less starch that most other families and she avoids salt and sugar. Though she did try to get me ricotta cheese with coquitos. According to her its ‘rico’ because it doesn’t have salt. Same things with cakes that aren’t very sweet. She’s on the right track most of the time, though she does incessantly try to stuff coquitos down my throat with every meal

…And thus I am a vegetarian …and I’ve also managed to convert another person in our group to the cause.

Explanations I can use with Paraguayans why I’m a vegetarian:

• I just feel really bad for the animals: True, but not effective
• I don’t like meat: Semi-true, but not effective because it is a little insulting and solicits a ‘but why don’t you just try a little, maybe you’ll like it this time’ response
• My ethical system indicates that I need to avoiding causing the unnecessary suffering of other creatures and meat isn’t necessarily-Completely true, but incomprehensible to many Paraguayans
• Meat isn’t good for you and it is easy to get protein from not meat sources: Very true, but Paraguayans generally don’t really know what ‘protein’ is or what the nutritional advantages and disadvantages of meat are.
• I’ve been a vegetarian for soooo long that my body has trouble processing meat now and makes me sick: Not completely true [the meat does make me nauseous on a mental level, does that count?], but pretty effective except that I’ll have to explain why I started and why I’m not trying to slowly integrating meat back into my diet
• Meat makes me sick- Again, only true on a mental level, but pretty effective since they already have numerous beliefs about food combinations that supposidly will make people sick.
• My doctor says its better for me to not eat meat: Not true, but effective [Paraguayans are very disinclined to argue with doctor’s orders]

Donor cycle

I have never been a fan of motor cycles. I just can’t imagine how someone could feel the least bit safe going 80 mph without any sort of real protection. Here in Paraguay the situation is even more dangerous. Relatively recently, several new factories/motorcycles stores opened up. Prices have plummeted so there are motos absolutely everywhere.

As far as cheap mobility goes, this is great because motos are far cheaper to purchase, power, and maintain than cars. But the death rate for motos is skyrocketing, so I’m not sure if the extra mobility is worth it. About a week ago my teacher, Pabla, had 2 neighbors who were killed in separate moto accidents the same weekend. This week 2 volunteers came to class today, each with their own story of someone else who had died this past weekend in accidents. Guys in their late teens, early 20’s have been the ones most often killed while riding the motos, but its not uncommon to hear of several people dying in the accident when the moto collides with another vehicle.

For example the accident involving 1 of Pabla’s neighbors had a total death toll of around 3-4: the guy on the moto, the guy he hit, a policeman who pulled over to help, and, I think, a truck driver who ran into the pile-up [though he may have only been injured]. I hear about these incidents regularly, not through the grapevine, but from people who directly knew the deceased. Its no wonder PC has prohibitions volunteers from using motos at anytime for any reason. If they find out a volunteer has been on a moto, they will ‘administratively separate’ them from the program and sent back to the US.

One reason is that motos are involved in so many accidents is that people don’t maintain them well. I often see motos at night, barely, without working headlights. Also, motos are extremely overloaded with people, sometimes 4-5 [including very small children and babies], or bulky, heavy items. This makes them really difficult to steer.

There are very few asphalt roads. Most are very rough cobblestone or extremely uneven dirt roads. This is really hard on the motos, which makes them wear down quickly. The only nice thing about the stone and dirt roads is that people generally can’t drive at high speeds, however on the asphalt they fly down the road, in between other vehicles, on the side of the road… Actually its very common for people to drive on the wrong side when they are passing slower cars. Obviously in the states we can do this as well, but they do it much more frequently here and when the oncoming traffic is much closer.

Another road hazard is that the lines dividing the lanes are a suggestion more than a rule. People drive where ever they can fit, stop and start suddenly, cut each other off, pull out in front of each other, run red lights, drive really really slow or really really fast, not with the flow of traffic, buses race each other to get the next fare, wooden bridges collapse because they aren’t taken care of, you get the idea…oh and there often aren’t working seatbelts in the vehicles.. These things are the norm, not the exception. Its frightening. Even if I was allowed to drive here, I would get in an accident within 10mins.

Ultimately, it is really inconvenient that I can’t ride a moto, but its better than getting into an accident and killing myself or someone else. Now I’m just worried about all of my little Paraguayan friends who seem to be oblivious to the danger of driving recklessly, even when the friend are the ones becoming statistics.