Here I am, 1/3 of my way through service. 9 months in Paraguay, 6 months in my permanent site. Here’s where I’m at:
I haven’t posted in awhile, for a few reasons. One being that this is my normal life now. Things are pretty routine, and not many things seem like updates to me. Another reason being I’ve been in a pretty solid slump, for reasons I have shared with people in private (feel free to ask if you are so inclined!). Lastly, I’ve kind of felt like a bum – but I’ll get into that later.
It’s been 6 months since I moved to my permanent site. I’ve got my own house, I know 3/4 of the community, I have started to find my niche in my community. Everything is pretty comfortable, and for the most part I am very happy with where I am. As I mentioned in my previous post, my work may not seem or feel very tangible or impactful in this moment (and it still doesn’t sometimes), but with constant encouragement and ongoing conversation with fellow volunteers, I can rest a little easier each night feeling ok about what I did that day. I was working on two tangible projects – building chicken coops and brick ovens – but as the natives had warned me, the government is seriously corrupt here and all the money they set aside for projects like these generally goes into the pockets of the politicians. So we are waiting for responses from them regarding financial support, but will likely be looking elsewhere for funds soon. Politics here are very frustrating, and also a central part of the culture. We just had elections for mayor and local positions, but I have heard and witnessed firsthand that the candidate with the most money wins, and that’s about all there is to it. And what can I do about it? Nothing. But, asi es la vida. That’s life.
Which leads me to the “I’m a bum” feeling I’ve been having. It is now December, and the school year has ended, along with my English classes and sex ed classes. It is also hot as Hades and rains half of the week. My work options have been cut down significantly, and so have participation levels with it being so hot and also people taking vacations and what not. I spend a lot of time reading/watching movies/etc – more than I thought I would be. But whenever I feel lazy I hash it out with my volunteer pals and they tell me they spent the last three days in bed and then I don’t feel so bad…
That being said, for the summer I have a Kids Club planned (like a mini summer camp, or ‘Tot Lot’ for my Wyomissing friends) and a Cooking Club. Just had my first meetings with them this past week. Kids Club went pretty well, about 15 kids the first day – played kickball and spud and the kids loved it (that being said – if anyone has any games or crafts ideas that would fit well with this, please let me know!). 3 people showed up for the Cooking Club… I guess it’s better than zero! We made a delicious chocolate cake and cupcakes – lots of my students were really excited to make cupcakes because they told me they all watch Cupcake Wars on TV but never have the molds to make them (shoutout to my sister Michelle for mailing me those from the states!) Hopefully those three will spread the word that I know how to bake! They often don’t believeI or like my cooking because I am vegetarian and they are all carnivores, but a love of sugar is universal.
I’ve also got a new kitty and puppy to keep me busy! The cat I call “Michi” because it’s guarani for cat and that’s what all the natives call their cats. The puppy I named Sugar Magnolia, I call her Maggie. They are horrible and can’t figure out how to go to the bathroom outside. But I could not be more thrilled to pick up their shit because at least I’ve got some company! They have really helped turned my morale around. When you are living in a place where no one understands you or where you come from, sometimes you start to feel like you are actually the crazy one or in the wrong.. societal norms are a scary powerful thing! But coming home to unconditional love from these two really keeps me going.
My fruit trees are blooming nicely, got hundreds of mangoes on the way! And lots of my students are gifting me fruit because they know I love it so much – watermelon, blackberries, grapes, and manzanitas (little apples that are kind of tart and shaped like cherries). So the health morale is high! Eating lots of fruits and veggies, and also playing soccer with my district’s women’s soccer team. We play in the finals this Saturday! Also in the process of forming a women’s team in my town Santa Catalina, we have our first practice next week!
The other big event that has happened recently was the fiesta patronal for Santa Catalina, or Saint Catherine in English. She is the patron saint of my town and the day of celebration is November 25. Festivities begin nine days before, as every night they have a mass, called novenario (nove- being the root of the number nine..). I attended a few of these masses, and then the big mass on the 25th. Everyone takes off school and work to go for the service at about 9:00 AM, and some people wake up at 4:00 AM for a morning serenade with a band in the church. At the service they also have first communion and confirmation for the young ones. After the service, everyone parades around the town with the dolls that represent the saints – literally EVERYONE. It ends around noon with some food and candy for the kids.
The Saturday following festivities continue with the fiesta patronal – a huge party where they have a famous band and people from all surrounding towns come to enjoy. Unfortunately it was very rainy for our weekend and not a ton of people showed up, but we still had a great time. Sunday was the torin, or bull fighting – and it was awesome. A few professional men and women came with the red capes and all, taunting the terrifying bulls. I was scared shitless. The walls that contain the bulls are not very stable, and some people had told me that last year one of the bulls broke it and escaped and hit a bunch of people. Everyone laughed at me as I tried to take close up photos and would run away anytime a bull came near me.
In other news I spent Thanksgiving with a fellow volunteer Julie in her town about 30-40 minutes away by bus. We had dinner with Paraguayans, but instead of a turkey we ate parts of a cow head, brain included. Brain wasn’t so bad – they wrapped the head in tin foil and cooked it over a fire all day, so the meat had the consistency of pulled pork in a way – much more delicious than other meats I’ve eaten because it’s usually really tough. Brain kind of had the consistency of fish, fell apart in my mouth, but not much taste to it.
Christmas I will probably spend with my host family here in Santa Catalina, and New Years to be determined! Booked a flight home for the end of this upcoming May, so looking forward to spending my birthday with all of you in the states! The experience in Paraguay is great, but sometimes you need a little America in your life. Whoever is picking me up from the airport – have some Yuenglings ready.