Tuesday, December 13, 2011

End Scene

I got a call today from a number I didn’t recognize the number and assumed it was one of my exercise ladies calling to tell me she wasn’t going to be able to make it to class tomorrow, so I didn’t pick up.  I got a text a few seconds later, with a message from Don, our country director, asking me to call him.

“Shit, they're closing the office” was my immediate reaction. 

While I copy Don on many of my email messages, he and I don’t talk on the phone ever.  So I knew getting a call from him probably wasn’t a good thing. It wasn’t; the Regional Office is closing.

When I first got this job I was amazed at how fast Dee called me back with the news.  I told her “Good news travels fast, bad news usually takes a while.”  People linger over bad news, hoping the situation will change, hoping the numbers will change,  not wanting to ruin someone’s day.  For several months now the future of the Regional Office has been in question.   I knew Don and Dee really like the idea of a Regional office, and when we were set to expand, it made complete sense.  But the economic situation in the US canceled the planned influx of volunteers and cut our budget.  I knew without seeing them then numbers weren’t pretty and weren’t working in our favor.  I think we were all hoping for a Hail Mary budget turnaround, but it didn’t happen.  The hanging doubt over the future of the office made it clear to me the office was closing, it was only a matter of when. 

“If the office is open in 6 months; it will be open in 5 years” and my hopes aren’t high, is what I told a fellow volunteer. If they could find a way to make the office work in the short term, with the current budget, I knew they would be able to make it last in the long run.  That was about 2 months ago. 

I don’t know what they are going to do with me or when the office is closing its doors.  Don was tired and very apologetic on the phone, sorry that he couldn’t deliver the news in person.   He just got back from the states after traveling to give Emily back to her family.  It has been a tough few weeks in Peace Corps and I hope he gets to deliver some good news soon.

Hopefully they’ll let me stay in San Ignacio until after the exercise competition is over.  It would be unfortunate to lose the momentum I’ve started building with the 150 women who have attended my class here.  I also have become quite attached to the volunteers down here.  Misiones in particular is a special place and Asuncion has never had any appeal for me.  I don’t know what I would do with Tucker either if I had to move again.  There is also a meeting I wanted to schedule between all of the volunteers in Misiones and the Governor and his staff, as well as some small workshops I wanted to put together.  Maybe they’ll let me be a Regional Coordinator, just without the office.  I’ll miss the air conditioning, but I can still get a considerable amount of work done on my own.  Hell, my house is big enough.  If they gave me the copy and printer, I’d be almost as good as the existing office.

That said I’d also like to work more with Dee, who is an absolute rockstar in my eyes. 

Who knows what is going to happen.  Don said we’d talk more tomorrow and start working out.  I’m just glad to know one way or the other, officially.  Limbo is no fun.  No hard feelings though.  I knew Don and Dee tried their hardest to make it work.  But they have to do what is best for everyone not just little ole’ me.  Fortunately this probably couldn’t have happened to a better person.  Working in ambiguous situations is something I’m extremely good at. Hopefully they’ll realize and remember that and will be able to write me a fabulous recommendation someday. J

I’ll let you know more when I do.  Till then I’ve got some roasted cauliflower to eat, a p90x plyometrics workout to test out, and a workout routine to tweak for tomorrow’s class.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Up and Over

Emily's Memorial Service at the Peace Corps Office

The event started around 7:30pm with a full house, more than attended the Peace Corps Director Williams visit one speaker noted.  Speeches began with Nikki Briggs, Emily best friend as Master of Ceremonies, speeches from Elisa, our sector director, Dee the assistant country director, a letter from Aaron Williams, the global Peace Corps Director, and a video tribute from Emily’s G.  Briggs did an absolutely amazing job of keeping herself collected most of the time; I was quite impressed.  If it had been Bree, I’d be a puddle of the floor for the forseeable future.  The video tribute wasn’t quite finished, but what we were see was so touching.  G33 is a very close, very special G, and that comes out crystal clear in the video.

After the initial speeches, the rest of us attending the ceremony were allowed to share our own memories of Emily.  The service started around 7:30 and ended after 11pm I think, so you can only image how many people got up to speak.  Some of her Gmates who we didn’t get to see in the video spoke, some added to their video comments, some of us who didn’t know her as closely shared the moments we had with her too.  Even people who didn’t know Emily, but were still touched and detested by the loss of one of our own spoke eloquently about the Peace Corps  Paraguay family.  Final words were giving by Santiago’s family, Emily’s fiancĂ©.

Some people made us cry (I’m looking at you Dee), some made us laugh, some gave us a greater appreciation of our experience in this country and the people sitting next to us.  It was a wonderful tribute to a wonderful person.

At the end of the ceremony a dove was released in Emily’s honor.  The Peace Corps logo is a star coming off of an American flag and becoming a dove; Emily also had a tattoo that read “She flys on her own wings”.  The dove, who had been sitting in a box in the air conditioned office most of the day, flew up… and over…and straight into the glass wall of the hallway surrounding our medical office!

After the shock wore off, and quickly confirming the bird had not injured itself, everyone burst into laughter.  The bird flew away of its own accord a little while later.  Now whenever I start getting misty about the whole situation, I just think about that damn bird and it makes me smile.  Emily had a great sense of humor; I think she would have appreciated the moment.

Monday, November 28, 2011

That Person

That Person

by James Shelley, November 3, 2011
Readability | Instapaper

That person. The one you keep running into and your conversation always goes like this: “We really should grab a coffee sometime and catch up.”
That person. You know you share something in common with them, but you’re not exactly sure what that commonality is yet.
That person. You have no agenda other than a stirring curiosity about the way they think and the way they look at the world.
That person. Somehow you’ve both let iCal, Outlook, Blackberry, and Quo Vadis get in the way of actually being together.
That person. This is just a little reminder that today you need to…
☑ Contact that person.

Our Hearts and Thoughts

On Sunday morning my fellow volunteer, Emily Balog, was driving home with her boyfriend after spending the weekend celebrating Thanksgiving with her Training groupsmates.  Their car somehow went out of control, hitting a minivan containing a music group headed towards the capital.  Emily died instantly, several others are still in the hospital in critical condition.

I didn’t know Emily well, we chatted a couple of weeks ago when she asked me for material about nutrition and health classes she wanted to start in her community.  I did know her well enough to know she was a talented, passionate, creative person.  She will be greatly missed by the Peace Corps  family.

Even those volunteers who don’t know her have been profoundly affected by this loss.  Peace Corps Paraguay is an great extended family.  Your g-mates and vac mates become your immediate family, RPCVs are like grandparents and great aunts and uncles, and everyone else in-country will back you up at the first word if the need arises.

It is astounding the amount of trust that instantly develops between volunteers.  I like to joke that the only people on earth who can actually understand what I’m saying at all times are other volunteers.  During our darkest and most challenging times during our service, our volunteer network pulls us through.  Whether it is having 2 hours conversations in 10 minutes increments (we get the 1st 10 minutes free a call, so we set timers to cut the call just before then), dropping everything to go visit a friend in need, hosting a friend and binging on True Blood, Arrested Development…, we do whatever is needed to take care of one another.  Losing part of that community is devastating.

Tomorrow is the memorial service at the Peace Corps office.  The admin team is being very generous and offering to reimburse travel and hotel expenses for volunteers who would like to attend.  I am really thankful  to live at a post that takes care of us so well.

Good bye Emily.  You will be missed.

PS: I’m pretty sure a considerable number of volunteers knew about the accident before it was announced to the family.  Most volunteers have the sense of courtesy to transmit this information via phone, but some posted took to Facebook.  Those posts were removed when volunteers realized the family hadn’t been informed, but the Spanish ones on her wall stayed posted.  I can only hope the family didn’t see the messages before hearing from Peace Corps. 

Since online culture and etiquette is still being developed, I’d like to put it out there that perhaps in the future people should avoid outing a story like this for at least 24 hours.  The family and close friends are going to need at least that amount of time to be contacted and start making their own calls.  Personally, I waited to post until I saw there was a new story in one of the Paraguayan papers.

I will say I'm happy that people have been good about distributing the various news stories without linking them to her profile.  It would be very irritating if the same story describing the accident was posted repeatedly on her wall.  That or her privacy settings are keeping it from happening.  Either way, puntos for everyone using facebook tagging respectfully.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

I'm Boycotting Hoopla

Christmas scented air fresheners being advertised before Halloween!  Black Friday starting on Thanksgiving evening! People rioting and getting maced!

What the heck is going on up there!?

And you wonder why I avoid the holiday season.  I wish everyone could spend at least one holiday season not in the US or any place that celebrates like the US so you could see how not miserably crazy and stressful things can be.

Bad Movies

Julia and Casey stayed with me for a few days for Thanksgiving.  As generally happens when any number of volunteers get together, we made amazing food and watch way too many movies.
I made a cinnamon bun bread that was positively amazing.  We also made hamburgers and French fries, success here as well.  The hummus, potatoes, and apply pie, were equally amazing.

Sadly the moving watching did not turn out as well.

We watched Breaking Dawn, Cowboys and Aliens, and Red Riding Hood.  All of which were as bad as the critics have said.
Breaking Dawn suffers from it usual bad acting in all Twilight films and the fact that I don’t completely understand why all of the menfolk are so twitterpated with such a shell of a female character.  There was no independent plot and its clear parts 1 and 2 should not have been separated since their isn’t enough substance in BD#1 to actually sustain an independent movie.

Cowboys and Aliens didn’t have to be bad.  The acting was good, but the plot was completely predicable.  You never got the sense the characters were actually in danger.  I think it would have been salvageable with the same basic plot if the movie had been funny, but as is, it too itself far too seriously.

I’m not sure what was wrong with Red Riding Hood.  Again, the acting wasn’t bad, but the was just something not engaging about the plot.  There is this whole mystery about who is the wolf, except they don’t do a good job procedurally of leading the viewer through the mystery.  Again, another bust.

So total fail with our movie watching experience, but made better by the company of good friends... and a few glasses of wine.

PS: Also found out there was an animated 3D movie called "Mars Needs Moms" that totally failed. Reeeeally, never could have seen that coming

Looking Fancy, Feeling like a Whale: Thanksgiving Mission Accomplished

After going to the local casino in San Ignacio for their Thursday Karoke night, my friend Casey and I decided it would be awesome to host a Thanksgiving dinner in San Ignacio.  We could have a big early dinner at my house or the office and then go to the casino for some singing, dancing fun.  Unfortunately I wasn’t able to get enough people to commit to coming, so I invited myself to my friend Melissa’s Thanksgiving in her site in Villa Florida.  Villa Florida is on a river and Melissa had already arranged to have her dinner at a hotel with a pool.  River/Pool is a very fair exchange for Karoke.

Casey made garlic potatoes, Julia made hummus, and I made apple pie that morning, caught one of the only double decker buses (with ac!) that will actually stop in San Ignacio without charging the full price all of the way to the capital, even if you want to get off sooner.  Amazingly they charged Casey and me the normal price (it was such a nice bus they could have charged up to 50% more), and they completely forgot to charge Julia at all.

(Pie and Potatoes on the Double Decker Bus)

We were all dressed up, so there was a lot of rubber necking going on while we waited at the bus stop, including 5-6 of the local police officers piled into their truck cruising around, and a set of guys in a truck who  let their vehicle roll back 4 car lengths so their car would be waiting in front of us instead of at the stoplight they were at.

We got to Villa Floriday around 3, having only picked at food around my house and finishing off the hamburgers I made the night before so we were getting hungry.  We found out dinner wasn’t going to  happen until about 7pm, so after a quick dip in the pool we heated up some pita bread and broke open some Lays and went to town on the hummus.  I have to say, it’s the best batch I’ve helped make.  I think I might just have to stop making it because I don’t think I’ll be able to top it.

In true Hora Paraguaya fashion, the locals didn’t start arriving for dinner until 9-10pm, after Melissa messaged them tell them to get to the hotel because the turkey was done and we were ready to eat.  Potluck style dinners aren’t really the norm, the host usually provides everything.  But Melissa’s friends did a good job of bringing additional dishes and we had a nice assortment of different meat dishes,  potato salad, empanadas, etc.

Julia, Casey and I had eaten so much hummus that we could hardly take advantage of the main course.  But we did our best.  Julia made a serious dent in the sausage plate in front of her, like there was an actual divot in the cut sausage pile.  Admittedly it was really good. 

Before we cut the turkey, we each went around the table saying what we were thankful for, a new tradition for the locals, who were very hesitant at first, especially the few stragglers that came after the main group had gone and started eating.  But Melissa held firm and told them they couldn’t eat until they shared.

I was surprised how some of the guests actually seemed ot like the hummus we made.  It had a really strong flavor, which usually Paraguayans don’t like.  The potatoes didn’t go over real well since we put a bunch of pepper and garlic.  The apple pie, which was very tart and cinnamon, didn’t go over very well either, since they prefer their desserts very sweet and sugary.  Not that Julia, Casey, and I were at all perturbed by this.  Casey ate the last half piece for breakfast the next morning, most of it was polished off while waiting for the bus that evening.

We left around 11pm to catch a bus back to San Ignacio, got charged the correct price again! Amazing! Got back into San Ignacio a little after midnight and started walking the 15minutes back to my house.  As we did a carful of guys offered us a ride, we declined, and declined, and declined again.  They even offered to get out of their car and walk with us.  No thanks gents.  They eventually got the message and went away.  Like I said ,we were looking pretty fancy, even if we felt like whales.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Game of Thrones

I admit it, I'm hooked. I blazed through the 5 books in two weeks. Considering they are ~800-1000 pages long each, well, let’s just say the laundry is a little backed up and I should probably make a meal that doesn’t consist of squash stir-fry or I’m going to start turning orange. I also devoured the first season on HBO in a few days.

The sad part is that season two won’t be available until next year, and the next books, well, it took the author 6 years to go from book 4 to 5. Hopefully he won’t keep me waiting until I’m forty to finish the series. That would make my crush on Jon Snow, ~17 years old in the books, but played by a 24 year-old actor in the TV series, very inappropriate. Hopefully covering a book per season will help keep him on a reasonable timeline.

And speaking of Jon Snow, I’d like the record to reflect my prediction that Lyanna Stark is Jon’s mother and Rhaegar Targaryen is his father (not Ned Stark).

Ooops its been a while.


Lila is still gone. She disappeared almost exactly 2 years after I moved in with my host family in Campo 9. Lila had been living at the office, which has a huge grassy yard, surrounded on all sides by brick walls. I don’t know if she somehow escaped while the cleaning lady was raking the leaves off of the sidewalk in the front of the office. She may have also jumped through the iron gate at the entrance we use to lets cars into the yard. The first 2 feet of the fence are far too small for her to squeeze through, but she could have jumped through the bars above that because they are spaced farther apart. It is also possible that someone stole her. She was very friendly and would come up to the gate if people were on the other side. So someone could have pulled her out through the gate. Naturally I feel like shit about it because I could have put chicken wire on the portion of the gate with wider bars, but I didn’t because I didn’t think she’d try to jump out. The yard was so big, and there was so much noise, cars, dogs, etc on the other side, I didn’t think she’d feel the need to leave. She always did have a bit of a Harry Houdini complex.

Even though she has been gone for over a month, I still have a habit of keeping an eye out for her when I walk around the neighborhood and the office. If she jumped out, she could jump back in right? But really I hope that she died a quick death. I’d hate to think she is out there in the bushes somewhere, scared, hungry, thirsty. I’d also know how miserable she would be if someone stole her and the put her in a tiny cage. Its better for her to be gone than to suffer.

Dog sitting:

Recently I was the proud babysitter of 3 other dogs, 4 including Tucker. All under the age of 11 months. Yep, that’s a lot of puppy. Fortunately they were all really well behaved. Mo went into heat a few days before I was going to get her spayed, so she and Tucker had to stay apart. But other than that, they all got along swimmingly well. The most irritating part was keeping them all fed. I live 25 minutes, walking, from the grocery store so hauling kilos of dog food, rice, potatoes, carrots, and eggs got old really fast. Then I had to prepare the food. Tucker and Moe eat rice, potatoes, carrots, and eggs, which meant tons of chopping and boiling. Zoe and Indy ate dog food, but I always added a little of oil and egg because Zoe was terribly skinny when she came to me and Indy is a bit picky. Evidently when Indy’s mom leaves him at the vet when she goes out of town, he doesn’t eat for the first few days. Thankfully I didn’t have that problem. I also had a hard time making sure the dogs didn’t eat each other’s food. But it all worked out in the end. All the dogs when home chubbier than they came, which is my measure of babysitting success. And Julia bought me some pretty earrings and a Peruvian had from her vacation, which was a nice bonus.

End of Winter:

Winter is coming to a close here. There is always that moment of hesitation when I start to do dishes at night, expecting the water to be so cold my fingers will be numb by the end. I can take a shower ever other day, or every day, joys! If I want to because I don’t start to become hypothermic the minute I turn the hot water off. I do have to start paying more attention to what I wear unfortunately. During the winter time I’ll often wear my pajama shirt to work because I never take my jacket off. Who cares what I’m wearing underneath if they’re never going to see it. J We should still have some cold fronts that come through the next month or so, but by this time in November, I’ll certainly be complaining about the heat. Thankfully the winter has been quite tolerable.

The end of winter also means the return of mosquito. I woke up two days ago with 4 new bites on my right foot. Time to put up the mosquito net.


For the past two years I’ve attended the big Peace Corps volunteer Thanksgiving bash at a hotel near Encarnacion. While it’s a lot of fun, it really isn’t worth the 380 mil price tag for the event, at least not more than once. So this year I will probably be hosting a small Thanksgiving at my house. I’m also looking into going to Brazil for Christmas and New Years.

Home Leave:

When I signed on for an extra year of Peace Corps, I also got 1 month of home leave. I’ve decided to take it during the month of February of next year. I’ll probably spend a couple of weeks in Texas, a couple in Georgia, and I’m thinking of maybe jumping up to Philly to see family there. Who knows. I’ll let you in on the specific dates when I know them.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Tonights broadcast is brought to you from my new house.

I’ve been house hunting since the week of Easter, April 24th, when I moved from Campo 9 to San Ignacio Misiones to work at the Regional Office Coordinator. After weeks of searching, my new co-workers found a house for me in a neighborhood about a ~20 minute walk from the office.

The house is huge, probably 2-3 times the size of my previous house. There are 2 medium sized rooms, a master bedroom, a huge living room, a kitchen, and a bathroom (with a door that opens properly this time). The floor is good quality tile, and the ceiling and roof are also solid. It faces east, which means it will be cooler in the summertime, which is more important to me than being warm in the winter since summer here lasts longer.

It also has a huge yard for Tucker and Lila. Lila is staying at the office for a while longer because there are tons of holes in the chainlink fences that need to be closed up.

While I do like this house quite a lot, it’s a solid 20-25 minute walk to the office. Eventually I’d like to find something closer. There was a house about a block from the office that I looked into, but the owners couldn’t make a decision in time, this house was available now, and I really needed to move into my own place. There was a house a while back, notably closer to the office that I passed on because it was 500mil G per month and I was hoping to find something in the 300-400mil range. This house is 450mil, but I’d pay the extra 50mil to be closer to the office.

So I’m not going to settle too deeply into this house, since I’ll be keeping an eye on places closer by. But for the next 2 months or so, this will be home.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

You'll Be a Good Dog... But For Now, You Are a Bad Puppy

Rolls of toilet paper shredded: 4-5

Shoe, blanket, jacket thefts: too many to count (3 today)

Bags of rice destroyed: 2

Stole a bag of potatoes and scattered them about the yard

Bags of salt destroyed: 1

Bags of sugar destroyed: 1

Innumerable plastic bags shredded

Steals and shreds floor mats

Destroyed his dog bed

Takes the blankets and sheets off of their shelf and lays on them with muddy feet

Chewed through rope leash I tied him up in the yard with 3-4 times

Destroyed his rope walking leash 3-4 times, until I bought a chain one, then he destroyed the cloth handle

Tore several pages out of Victor’s Anna Karina book

Destroyed a newly purchased bag of 2 dozen eggs: 5 survived intact

Tooth brushed destroyed: 2

Razors destroyed: 2-3

Bottles of conditioner punctured: 2

Takes clean laundry off of the clothes line

Pairs of underwear torn up: 1

Pairs of missing underwear: 1 (that I know of)

Only jumps on me with muddy feet when I’m wearing clean clothes and need to speak with someone important. Jumps on visitors the minute they walk in the door

Absolutely freaks out when left alone for more than 15 minutes for any reason

I see snip snip in your future...

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Announcing the New Regional Office Coordinator…Me

Yes, I am the new volunteer coordinator at the Peace Corps’ regional office in San Ignacio, Misiones. Unfortunately, the previous coordinator had to leave before his full term ended in December, so the position suddenly became vacant. I applied, was interviewed, offered, and accepted the position on Monday, April 11th.

I will be leaving my current and much loved home, Campo 9, on Monday, April 18th. Peace Corps will be sending a truck to help me move. We’ll stay in Asuncion for the night, and then make the trek to the new office the next morning. I’ll be moving in during Holy Week, so I’ll get to play house and set things up while most people are taking a holiday. That will help me get my sea legs before the big work starts.

I don’t have a house yet, but the lady I’ll be working with, Adrianna, is looking for one for me.

Yes, the animals are coming with me. I noticed the new office has a nice grassy yard, so Lila may live at the office as the mascot during the week, especially if my house doesn’t have good space for her. My little street bastard, Tucker, is also going to be coming. I intend to have plenty of Benadryl on hand to keep him calm during the trip, since he’ll be sitting in my lap. I have a travel crate for Lila, but not for Tucker.

The office consists of Adrianna, who will take care of the administrative responsibilities, Victor, the driver, security personnel, and me, the volunteer coordinator.

I’ll be in charge of about 50 volunteers.

I’ve been told I get my own office J

I get a raise!

San Ignacio is 4 hours south east of the capital.

My job will consist of supporting the volunteers in the area, especially during their first 3 months. I’ll visit volunteers, help with projects, plan joint projects, and build relationships with local organizations.

I’ll be working with volunteers in all of the sectors, Community Economic Development, Agriculture, Education, and Health. Basically my job is to run make our office into a miniature version of the main office in the capital. I don’t know much more than that because I’ve never been to the San Ignacio office.

Initially I’ll focus on getting to know the area and the volunteers and pick up and projects the previous coordinator was working on.

I told the women in my exercise class today that I was going to be working with them anymore. They seemed sad and a bit nervous about the future of the competition. I'm going to write up all of our exercises and script Friday's class and next week for them, so hopefully that will give them some confidence and they'll be willing to run things themselves after that.

Life is about to get very very busy

Friday, April 8, 2011

Back By Popular Demand

By popular demand, I’ve started up the exercise class again. We’ll have one more week of class, and then begin the competition on the 18th. Thus far we’ve had a pretty low turnout because we had to change the time from 6:30 to 6:00 because the sun sets around 7 and the field we use doesn’t have lights. Fortunately we were able to get permission to use the city government owned multi-purpose center, which does have lights. That means we’ll be able to change the time back to 6:30 on Monday.

I’ve made it to the interview portion for the Regional Coordinator position. I go in for it on Monday.

Tucker is officially bigger than Lila. She usually weighs between 10-12lb and he weighs about 16. There was a notable change between when I left on vacation and when I returned. His aunty Julia must have been feeding him well. I’d guess he is about 4 months old now. Having a dog again has been really nice. He needs two walks a day to keep his energy levels in check, otherwise he is unbearable. But it is good to have something to make sure I don’t lounge around in bed until noon. One of the reasons I wasn’t too keen on getting a dog was I was concerned about my little yard getting overwhelmed with poo. I grew up with 2 large dogs and 1 small one. They were quite an efficient little poo factory and I wasn’t looking forward to getting back into the business. But thankfully having one small dog is very manageable, especially since he usually poos when I take him for a walk. Considering there are cows, goats, stray dogs, chickens, etc using the streets as their latrines, I feel no need to clean up after him and it helps keep my yard clean.

[Tucker! Lila is not a chair!]

Lila is doing well. She wasn’t happy about the addition to household, but they have learned live with each other. Lila doesn’t avoid Tucker and Tucker knows that he’s in deep trouble if he chases her. Still trying to get him to stop sitting on her. Oh well, no one is perfect.

For size comparison purposes:

[Tucker and Moe sharing 1/2 the bathroom mat. He is just a bit larger than one of the floor tiles]

[Tucker taking up most of the bathroom mat]

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Back in Campo 9

One of the best things about Argentina was how nice everyone was to the street dogs. In Cordoba in particular the dogs were huge and clearly well fed. In Iruya we were adopted by a dog that followed us around. In Humahuaca there was an adorable dog in the hostel we named Cooper because it we were watching Anderson Cooper report on the Japan Tsunami. In Cordoba we had the deaf dog in the hostel, Jorge’s dog Rulo. But everywhere we went the street dogs were nice, would come up to you if you encourage them. Actually as far a street dogs go, they were quite clean.

It was refreshing. That is one thing I will always hate about Paraguay. People there treat animals like shit.

And speaking of animals, you may wonder what I did with. Lila stayed at my house and my landlady came by to give her vegetables, oatmeal, and water. Other than that she just ate the grass in the lawn. She doesn’t use the bathroom in the garage ever, so there was no worry about clean up.

Tucker went to my neighbor’s house across the street for a couple of days, and then he went to stay with Aunty Julia at her house. Evidently he was a pain in the ass, poor Julia isn’t quite experienced enough with dogs yet to handle one like him yet. But I brought her Alfajores and a scarf to make up for it.

I missed both of the terribly, especially towards the end of the trip. I kept having nightmares about dogs attacking Lila.

Fortunately I came home and they were both safe and sound. The whole family is together again the house. Home sweet home.

Going Home

After bumming around Purmamarca for a while, we caught the bus to Jujuy (pronounced: who who E ) wandered all over the downtown looking for our hostel, got some food, and settled in for the night.

We hoped to do a horseback riding excursion the next day, but they turned out to be too expensive. When we arrived in Jujuy I began to realize that Courtney was getting a bit road weary. When we left for Salta the next morning I realized it might be best just to catch the next bus to Paraguay, instead of staying in Salta for the night. We arrived around 2pm, the next bus was a 4:30pm. We bought our tickets and used the two hours to take the gondola ride to the top of a hill offering us lovely views of the city. We hoped the bus after that and were on our way home.

The bus ride back turned out to be a real pain in the ass actually. The road between Salta and Resistencia is surprisingly rough, which made it difficult to sleep. They also decided to play some of the worst movies ever made. One was called Yeti. I think a 14 year old boy wrote and directed it. It was terribly and nonsensically violent. I was listening to an audiobook instead of the movie, but it was so amazingly bad the Courtney got my attention and told me I absolutely had to watch it. So it did, and it was terrible.

To make things even worse the movie started to replay after we watched it the first time. I gave them a few minutes to notice, or for someone to inform them it was on again, but it continued to play. I went downstairs and told the bus attendant, who promptly changed it to Forest Warrior, a 1990’s Chuck Norris movie. Chuck Norris plays a forest sprit who help a group of kids save a mountain from a logging company. Basically FernGully in live action Chuck Norris style. It had Chuck in it, ergo it was awesome, or at the very least an improvement upon the previous film.

Around midday we stopped for almost three hours because some people were blocking the road doing some sort of protest. It took them that long to figure out it would be best to just back that bus up and take the 20 minute or so detour around the protesters. After we finally got moving we picked up a group of people from what I would guess was a bus that broke down. This meant I finally had to share the seat next to me. This was unfortunate because I realized there was something resembling vomit a little too closely under my seat. I discovered it after stepping in it with one shoe, putting the shoe up on the seat, resting my leg where my shoe had been, and feeling a wet spot. EWWWWWWWWWWWW. Thankfully it didn’t smell and I had plenty of tissues to cover it up. It was far enough back that I could avoid it when I wanted to, which was good because someone decided to sit in the seat next to me when we picked up the extra bus of people.

After a long while we got to Clorinda, the city on the other side of the river from Asuncion. There weren’t any buses that went from Salta all the way to Asuncion. We missed the stop at the bridge to go through customs and ended up at the normal bus terminal. So we, and two Swedish girls who were also going to Paraguay that we adopted, took a taxi back to the bridge. Finally we stamped out of Argentina, stamped back into Paraguay, and caught a van back to the capital.

I have to say, it was really nice to be back in the ‘guay. I missed the Guarani. I didn’t miss the dirtyness, but the familiarity of it was nice. I liked being some place I recognized again.

That evening Courtney and I went out with the Swedish girls, and the taxi driver tried to charge us 60mil instead of 40mil. Ahh yes, its good to be home.

Salt Flats and Funny Photos

We arrived in Purmamarca, when to the first hostel we came to, and went to bed. In the morning we took a van to the salt flats an hour outside of the town. We proceeded to take advantage of the very flat landscape and took dozens of silly photos.

[They cut holes in the salt so the water drains in to the holes and leaves the rest of the flat dry enough for us to be goofballs on. Proceeding with the goofballery]

Most people go to Bolivia to see salt flats, the largest in the world. However, after seeing the ones in Purmamarca, I think I can confidently check ‘visiting salt flats’ off my list of things to do in South America. There were very interesting, but the one hour that we spent there was sufficient.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Argentina Part 3: Jolley Good Wong Graber

[The boys horsing around in Iruya]

After a few days, our volunteer coordinator Courtney Wong joined us in Cordoba to form Team Jolley Good Wong Graber. Me, Kevin Good, Zach Graber, and Courtney Wong. And yes, the name was my idea. How sad would it have been if we had had someone with a normal name. I think that may be a new travel guideline: Must have fun name.

Team Good Graber when to the Salta region on Saturday, while team Jolley Wong stayed a bit longer in Cordoba, since Courtney arrived a little late.

After riding in the coldest bus on the planet, Courtney and I arrived in Salta and caught a bus to Humahuaca to meet up with the boys. Or so we thought. After receiving some of the most incomprehensible text speak messages from Kevin we finally realized they were in Iruya, a town 4 hours farther north of Humahuaca. Unfortunately by the time we arrived, there were no more buses to Iruya until the next morning. Fortunately Humahuaca is a lovely little town.


I was struck by the fact I could understand people’s Spanish again! It was also amazing at how nice everyone way. People in Cordoba were not particularly friendly, but here everyone said hello to us on the street, locals and tourists alike. Everyone was so pleasant.


Courtney and I caught the 8:30 am bus to Iruya the next morning. I realized as I got onto the bus I had left my travel blanket back at the hostel and asked the driver if I had enough time to go and get it. At first he said no, but a few minutes later he indicated I could go get it if I hurried. I heard a collective groan from the other passengers to which I gave them a mental ‘fuck all yall, I want my blanket’. I ran 2 blocks to the hostel, found the blanket, and was back in less than 5 minutes. The bus attendant hadn’t even started checking peoples’ tickets yet. So there.


Through our deciphering of Kevin’s texts, we gathered that he and Zach though Iruya was one of the most beautiful places they had seen. At first I was skeptical; the geography strongly resembled Big Bend Park in. However slowly but surely I saw what they saw. As we came closer and closer to Iruya, an astoundingly beautiful, cloud covered valley. Honestly, that view alone was worth the 8 hours of travel.

[Jolley Good Wong Graber in Iruya]

We arrived in Iruya and Team Jolley Good Wong Graber was reunited. I got off the bus and immediately noticed the boys had gotten quite a bit of sun since we left them in Cordoba. Courtney noticed as well. It must have triggered our motherly side because we couldn’t help but asking if they had been wearing sunscreen, did they have sunscreen, did they want to borrow sunscreen. They didn’t seem to believe us that they had gotten quite so sun kissed, but I assure you the Paraguayans will comment when they go home.

[The gals horsing around Iruya]

We only spent a few hours with the boys before they caught a bus back to Salta. Courtney and I did some exploring, though not much hiking. The altitude was getting to me and I'm out of shape for vertical walking. Give me a flat road and I'll walk all day, put a bit of an incline and I'm a goner. That evening we cooked up some tasty stir-fry, chatted with the owners of the hostel, and marveled at the clouds rolling into the valley.


The next morning we resolved to get up early and go for a hike, but the valley was still enveloped in a snuggie of fog. We abandoned those plans and slept in. I did a bit more walking around the next day as we waited for bus back to Humahuaca and then Purmamarca for the night. As we left Iruya, a storm rolled in from the south and the bus with hit by a short hail storm. Thankfully things cleared up for the rest of the day.

Argentina Part 2: Cordoba-I still speak Spanish right?

[Zening it up at the art museum]
Upon arriving in Cordoba, Kevin immediately pissed off a baggage handler by removing his pack by himself from the luggage area under the bus because it was blocking the rest of the luggage. I had done the same thing moments earlier but because my pack was a bit lighter and the handler’s back was turned, I accomplished the task without him noticing. The baggage handler yelled at Kevin while I quietly tiptoed behind another bus.

We decided to find a hostel to drop off our stuff. I’ve hosted several couch surfers lately so I was hoping to be able to use the site myself during this trip, but the hosts never came through, which was very disappointing, so we stayed in a hostel the entire time. Fortunately the hostel was about USD$9 a night, so it is not like we were breaking the bank.
I noticed several things.
1) The city was incredible clean. The first day or two I would find myself looking at the sidewalks as we walked, memorized by the lack of trash.
2) Cordobian accents made me question my ability to speak Spanish. I kid you not; I had no idea what those people were saying half of the time.
3) Cordobians are not nearly as friendly as Paraguayans
4) People don’t try to cheat you at the bus terminals. Everyone pays the same price.
5) Cordobians, especially in the downtown area are very well dressed, and the women are very skinny.
6) I love smoothies. Almost every little café and restaurant served smoothies and they were delicious.

• Artisan fair
• Being in a clean city were things work like they’re supposed to
• Meeting Kevin’s sister and hanging out with her host family, Jorge and company
• Finding a bank that would change guaranies into pesos
• Cooking jambalaya and risotto in the hostel
• Adorable deaf puppy at the hostel
• Awesome art museum
• Zoo
[Baby Hippo at the Zoo]

Argentina Part 1: Have a good trip…No jail…or Herpes

[Kevin Good, Me, Zach Graber (Gray-ber)]

Our trip to Argentina got off to a rough start. Kevin, Zach and I spent Sunday night with another volunteer about an hour outside of the capital. We got up Monday morning, ready to head to the bus terminal to go to Cordoba, only to find out there was a bus strike. We decided to take our chances and head to the road to see if the buses were indeed running. So with a final adios from our friends and a last bit of sage advice from Lindsay ‘Have a good trip…No jail…or Herpes’ … we were off.

Thankfully we were about to catch one of the few buses running and made it to the Asuncion terminal. Once we were there, we were told there were no buses available to Cordoba until Wednesday probably due to residual Carnival travel and Womens’ Day, a national holiday.

Determined to leave the country, we caught a bus to Resistencia, a major bus hub along the way to Cordoba in hopes of catching a bus there. We arrived in Resistencia that evening and found there were no buses to Cordoba from there either. So we took a bus to Santa Fe, the next bus hub on the way to Cordoba. We arrived in Santa Fe and finally were able to catch a bus to Cordoba, where we arrived around 10am.

Wheat's Wrong With You?

Part 1: My Shitty Knees

I’ve had knee issues for a long while. I remember being in gym class in high school and wondering if the other girls were in as much pain as I was. Freshman year of college I went to the doctor and found out I have a common issue where the cup my knee cap sits in is too shallow, so it is really easy for my knee cap to move around excessively. The doctor also mentioned the muscles around my knee weren’t holding the cap in place properly. The diagnosis, physical therapy and waiting until I ‘got older’. Yes, the doctor actually said I just had to wait until I got older so my muscles would naturally become less flexible. Thanks doc.

The physical therapy and a knee brace to use during exercise, took the edge off somewhat. Still waiting to see if ‘getting older’ helps, 6 years later no improvement thus far.

When I came to PC, I was completely unable to exercise, so the knee problems came back with a vengeance. Once I was out of training and living in my own house, I tried to get back on the exercise train, but it didn’t work this time. For over a year I’ve been taking 2-3 400mg ibuprofen and 2-3 500mg Tylenol a day, every day. On a bad day this might go up to 4-5 of each. If I’m traveling I would take one of each every 3-4 hours. It was the only thing that worked.

Evidently this is a lot of ibuprofen and Tylenol. After startling a few friends with the quantity of meds I was taking, I talked to the Peace Corps nurse. The nurse wasn’t worried about me taking 2 ibuprofenes a day, but evidently 3 is the tipping point where I need to take an additional medication, Ranitidina, to protect my stomach.

I never actually knew ibuprofen could be bad for your stomach lining causing a whole host of nasty side effects. Evidently I was the only one. Sucks for me.

Part 2: Gluten

I didn’t know much about celiac disease until one of the girls in my group in Peace Corps had it. Being the information junkie I am, I did quite a bit of googleing until I had familiarized myself with the topic. In people with celiac disease the immune system reacts abnormally to gluten (a protein in wheat, barley, and rye), causing small intestine inflammation and damage. According to a 2003 University of Maryland study, as many as 1 in 133 people have celiac, though it may be even more common since a large number of cases are undiagnosed. Don’t worry, I don’t have celiac.

Once I had gluten on my radar, I noticed it showing up from time to time in health and diet articles of varying reliability. Admittedly, going gluten-free is one of the newer fast weight loss fads, as can be seen with an increasing number of gluten-free products.

However I did notice that many of the health, not weight loss, focused articles mentioned another issue, wheat intolerance. It is basically a non-allergic, but still negative reaction gluten. People with celiac have very strong symptoms that can occur within hours of eating a small amount of gluten. Wheat sensitivity is a more difficult to detect because the symptoms take longer to manifest, sometimes 2-3 days.

What caught my attention was that aching joints was one of the most frequently listed symptoms. In addition to knee pain, I’ve also had unexplainable aches in my hips and pain in my hands severe enough I had become concerned I might have carpal tunnel.

I’ve also had inflammation problems. When I go for even a short walk my hands will swell painfully. Since coming to Paraguay I’ve also had such severe swelling in my legs that it felt like my calves were going to burst open. During my first summer in particular, I can’t tell you how many sietas I spent with my legs up in the air against a wall trying to get the inflammation to go down. When I googled causes of chronic inflammation, wheat and dairy issues always at the top of this list for dietary causes of inflammation.

Part 3: The Experiment

(Note: While there are scientific tests for celiac disease and wheat allergies, they are notoriously unreliable. Also they often don’t work for wheat intolerance because the effects are more subtle)

Here is what we know. I’ve been taking obscene amounts of ibuprofen to combat joint pain and inflammation. Ibuprofen causes digestive issues. Wheat intolerance causes joint pain and inflammation. Wheat intolerance stems from digestive problems. Did the Ibuprofen cause wheat intolerance? Hmm. So about a month and a half ago I decided to do an experiment called an elimination diet.

I couldn’t stop taking the ibuprofen cold turkey, but I could cut out wheat. So I did. After a week and a half I was down to 1-2 ibuprofen and Tylenol a day. I kept at it. Taking 2 of each became my new ‘bad day’ dose. Some days I didn’t take anything. I continued the experiment during my trip to Argentina. Twice I was in buses for 20-24 hours. I took meds twice during each trip, as opposed to my usual dose every 2-3 hours. Once we were in Argentina we had ice cream several days in a row. I was perplexed because the ache started to come back. Turns out most ice cream has gluten L. Very very sad news.

When I got back from Argentina phase 2 of the elimination diet started, reintroduction of wheat. From Monday to Thursday of last week I ate wheat. On Wednesday I started feeling occasional pain, but I chalked it up to walking Tucker twice a day. By Friday the pain was back. Today is Saturday and I’m fighting the urge to take ibuprofen. I stopped eating wheat again yesterday. I’m hoping that I don’t have to wait a week and a half again for the pain to subside.

Part 4: Conclusion

I currently have a wheat intolerance.

I don’t know if taking large quantities ibuprofen damaged my digestive system and caused the wheat intolerance. Maybe I’ve had a wheat intolerance all along and the hideous amounts of bread I had to eat with my host family during training pushed it to a new level and the ibuprofen exacerbated the effect. Maybe it’s a combination of the two.

The next step is to stop eating wheat again for a longer period of time, I’m shooting for 6 months. That should be long enough for any damage caused by the meds to heal. If the problems come back again when I introduce wheat again, then I probably really am wheat intolerant. We shall see.

Now why did you need to go through that huge TMI overshare? Because wheat intolerance often has a genetic component. If you’re related to me, which I assume most of my readership is, you may unknowingly be wheat intolerant as well. Even if you’re not related, many cases of wheat intolerance go undiagnosed.

For me it was worth the experiment to find out. I’m not at all happy I can’t eat bread, or cereal, or tragically, ice cream at least not for a little while. But I am happy to finally have a way to control my knee pain other that waiting to get older.