Sunday, November 11, 2012

Si o Si

(Things I’ve set to accomplish no matter what).

Fact: My Peace Corps Paraguay experience simply wouldn’t be complete without first compiling a list of ”must dos” and second, proceeding to check each one off as I count down what little time I have left. The following is such a list including the details of both actual and emotional fulfillment:

*(Ride a Horse)—Check
Giddy Up (7/31/2012)

My beloved hermanita (little sister) Paola went off to college earlier this year, but we still manage to keep in touch through texts and hang out when she needs a study break on the weekends. One day during Winter Break, she messaged me saying she remembered how I repeatedly stated last year my goal of getting back on a horse. Not only did she mention the possibility of a place we could go to make it happen, —but in Isla nevertheless! I told her that I would still very much like to try it out again, to please look into it, and get back to me a.s.a.p. I got a call the very next day to meet at my host family’s house por la tarde (in the afternoon). I arrived and found both Paola and Carolina waiting for me with just as much nervous excitement. After my host mom wished us suerte (good luck), the three of us made our way out the door and began walking. On the way, Paola informed me that Aron (the family dog)’s veterinarian also happened to cuidar (take care of) some horses on a small ranch during his spare time, and that he was graciously offering to let us ride one of them free of charge. A very protective dog was the first to notice our presence; Roberto (the Vet) greeted us next followed by a quick hola from another occupied ranch hand. We were quickly offered a seat along with the always-refreshing tereré while each of us took in our surroundings. Not long after, a beautiful chestnut stallion was guided into view. Roberto turned to us and asked “Y quien se va primero?” (Who’s going first?). Paola, Carolina, and I all turned to look at one another, shifting glances until the bravest decided to advance. In the end it was Carolina who stepped up and took the first ride. Paola and I watched anxiously while waiting for our fears to reside and our turns to come. I went next and surprised myself with how comfortable I felt so quickly on horseback—as if I’d been ridding just days before instead of years ago. My only hesitation was although there was a saddle, there was nowhere to grip should something unexpected occur; alternatively, we were told to grasp fistfuls of the horse’s mane. Of course this made me uncomfortable at first as I was worried about hurting the animal, but Roberto assured me repeatedly that it would do no harm. So, I did as he instructed and he showed me by so it let the horse to go wherever I commanded it to. Tugs to the left, right, or towards the rider were all signals the horse was well trained to understand. Roberto even agreed to hold the reigns as an extra precaution. Together we did a few laps trotting around the open field and finished off with some galloping. The latter part was riskiest yet the most thrilling because I’d never had such an experience (not even during previous excursions). For a moment I understood completely why riding is also a sport (especially in Paraguay). It’s a pure adrenaline rush. The bold push the limits while others look on in awe and envy. It’s an entertaining good time for all, a win-win. So, I’d say in the end I got all that I’d hoped for plus some. Not too shabby for a novice cowgirl ;)  

*(Grill Out)--Check
What’s Cookin’? (8/18/2012)

It’s true some things just don’t compare with the likes of home, but there are a few exceptions that come close. I like to think that a cookout is one of those things, which is precisely why I decided to buy a grill. Ingredients aren’t as limited as I believed when I first arrived; and not to brag, but I’m getting pretty good at finding substitutes when need be. I suppose it can be chalked up to the simple fact that Peace Corps tends to force a person to adjust—especially a determined person, like myself. So once I made up my mind on a whim that it was time to fire up the grill again, I called up a few local and volunteer friends to invite them over and join me.
Six swung by and we all ate to our hearts’ content considering the conditions were perfect with: music to kick back to, pleasant weather, and a hammock strung up between two Mandarin trees. On top of that everything on the menu was delicious (see below) and the conversations interesting as always. I mean grilled food, good company, what more does a person need in life? Not much else if you ask me!

The following was served/consumed at the cookout:
(Read it and weep, Lol.)

-Grilled Chicken—courtesy of Grillmaster Zach
-Couscous Salad—courtesy of Marissa
-BBQ Beans—courtesy of yours truly J
-Chips & Dip (French Onion)—courtesy of Rose
-Pasta Salad—courtesy of Jaime
-Garlic/Rosemary Rolls—also courtesy of Rose

*(Run Again)—Check
Adidas 10K (8/26/2012)

Shortly after arriving in Isla, in part due to laziness but mostly as a safety precaution, I decided it was probably best not to just taking off running one day. Although I stifled the urge too many times to count—after one of my daily encounters with unsolicited male attention, almost immediately after digesting a piping hot plate of fried tortillas (they tend to cause a gal to form a love/hate relationship: so bad for you, yet so delicious), when someone makes an unfiltered comment in regards to my most recent weight fluctuation—the latter two not uncommonly following suit of the other. Yet this year something in me changed. As I familiarized myself with my surroundings more and more, I also came to the realization that I’d slowly eased into a comfort zone I’d subconsciously built for myself. No longer was I the “newbie” amongst my colleagues nor the odd “stranger” within my community. I’d learned my way around and therefore blended in (as much as one can forever being the odd one out). However, in the process I’d also let fear and the judgment of others strongly influence my happiness and overall well-being. In hindsight, I’d learned to “live like the people” but lost part of my individuality; a harsh but true reality that I refused to fully accept. As far back as I can remember I'd always been unique without trying—always marched to the beat of my own drum and been proud to carry the label. Why should now be any different? Simply put, it shouldn’t. Which is precisely why I would respect the thoughts, feelings, and opinions of others as before and as always, but make my personal choices well, mine again. Everyone knows any drastic change calls for drastic measures, right? So when Rose called me up one day and mentioned the idea of participating in a “10k”, I saw it as just the right push I knew I’d need. Not to mention the freshly paved ciclovia (bike path) within blocks of my house seemed to be calling my name. I could get into shape for the marathon while regaining the part of me I’d felt I’d temporarily lost, perfecto. And that’s just what I did. Each day up until the race I pushed myself to go a little further using both my aspiring inner and outer confidence as motivation. Despite the fact that the morning of wasn’t anything remotely similar to the weather I’d spent weeks training in, I still felt nothing but excitement. The starting point was packed. Thousands of others filled the course and a cheering crowd surrounding us all added to the adrenaline rush we already felt. When the start trigger sounded off I thought about all of the urges I’d held in time and time again and how I was finally giving into one sin verguenza (without shame). It was an awesome feeling and I relished it! Rose and I stayed in pretty close strides the entire time despite the inclined and uneven roads. After crossing the finish line, we received medals along with bags full of replenishing and promotional items on behalf of Adidas. Following taking a rest and enjoying a juice box for a few minutes, we wandered amongst the additional tents set up by sponsors and found a particularly interesting one offering a free electro-therapy session. We decided to try it and both agreed afterwards we’d made a good decision. It was also then that we realized how chilly the air really was in conjunction with us being sweaty and dressed for warmer weather. Although we had a strong sense of accomplishment and relaxation, the walk back to our hostel was not the least bit pleasant. Actually, by the time we reached it my hands were too numb to unpin my participant number, but Rose was kind enough to assist me. Then once I’d devoured some peanuts (the salt=heaven) and taken a hot shower was I able to lie down and fully take in the morning’s triumphs. To summarize: hello again exercise and welcome back weird girl hehe ;)

Rose & I post-race :) :) :)

*(Host a Party)--Check
Halloween Bash + Class (10/27/2012 & 10/30/2012)

I can’t pinpoint the exact date, but sometime last year I turned to Rose and said “I am having a Halloween party next year si o si (no matter what)!” The idea seemed exciting, as I had never hosted one before; I also figured this was the perfect opportunity to throw one since I live on my own (making decoration possibilities endless), and Paraguayans love a good time. Unlike in the U.S., Halloween is not celebrated nationwide here regrettably limiting costume options to awful or nothing. I decided instead upon a Masquerade theme with a slight catch—buy a mask (courtesy of Carnaval’s surplus) but be excluded from the contest, or make the best one from scrap materials and the premio (prize) is yours. Gotta love a spot-on example where one’s trash can also bring one(self) treasure, eh? Lol. I even offered to provide mascara (mask) templates one Sunday afternoon as long as folks wore their creative thinking caps and brought decorating materials with them. Three people took up my offer, but I was thrilled to see later on that everyone chose to go the recycled route. A vote was cast amongst the partygoers (hostess excluded) and Rose’s Dark/Light Butterfly won! To keep the good times afloat we also bobbed for apples and tried our brains at a monster guessing game. Thanks to Pinterest (I’m obsessed CC!), I put a bunch of festive decor and clever recipes to good use. And since only a handful of invitees showed, there was plenty of food to go around. We all ate our fill of “Candy Corn” Pizza, “Bloody Bones” breadsticks, 7-layer and “Monster” dips and washed it down with “Potion” punch. It all turned out delicious and I am forever grateful to Rose who helped me put on the final touches, and cooked the majority of everything since we were so crunched for time. We’d scrambled and sweated the afternoon away preparing and didn’t quite complete everything on the to-do list, but it all came together in the end. Guests were even sent home with some homemade bark appropriately wrapped in surgical gloves as favors. C’mon now who would want to miss out on that? Those who were in attendance had a blast for sure and those who missed out did just that, missed out. If this weren’t my last Halloween spent in the heart of South America, I’d definitely do it all again next year J

my Jack-O-Lantern buckets!
As somewhat of a bonus, I also decided that my next English lessons would be based on the topic of Halloween (I mean why not?!) I kicked things off with each class by toting my mask along and announcing that the first to guess correctly the animal I was portraying was to receive a prize. Much to my amusement answers were all over the place. I got sheep, wolf, leopard, and my personal favorite: hormiga (ant). Yet there was always that one lucky student who was able to hit the nail on the head. Jirafa. That’s right I was a giraffe. From there each class differed. With 6th we played a friendly game of “Quien Soy?” (Monster Edition). I selected a volunteer of whom I taped the name of an infamous monster. After showing his/her back to the class, the student then had to ask classmates a series of “yes or no” questions to try and guess their monster. Things ended with a bang…or should I say bark? I sent each one of them (including the teacher*) home with goodie bags of homemade bark leftover from the party. [*Side Note: She occupied an unsuspecting student’s desk when they left it unattended and I had my back turned. Apparently someone was paying extra close attention when I explained earlier how sometimes a trick is necessary in order to receive a treat, ha.] As for 5th grade, some lucky students had their “fortunes” told involving either a “truco” (trick) or a “dulce” (treat). Half the class received extra kettle corn or candy while the other half had to ride a broomstick like a witch or gauze their heads like mummies. The class loved it and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy watching the amusement/embarrassment as well--all in good fun of course. To end the day, I helped 2nd graders decorate and string up paper bats. The little ones loved using my chalk (a rarity as teachers solely it for lessons) and the majority even carried the final products outside during recess to “let them fly”. Post-recreo (recess), I taught them all how to say and the meaning of “Trick or Treat” followed by some actual Trick or Treating. I gave every kid a plastic glove and stated they could keep whatever they could grab with the gloved hand as long as they said the magic words “Trick or Treat”. Needless to say after diving into a seemingly endless candy sea, the numbers soared from one toothless grin (belonging to my Jack-O-Lantern bucket) to a room full. In summary, a little cultural exchange took place; learning combined with fun always equals a good time—for teacher and students alike!

G-mate/party guest Marissa and I :)

Rose & I pre-party!

*Visit the Zoo/Jardín Botánico

*Cliff Jump

*Have Chinese Food in Mercado 4

*Have a Poolside Picnic

*Go to a Cerro/Olympia Game

*Visit the Local Museums

*Try every flavor at Quattro D


*Make Sopa Paraguaya

*Buy Something Apo’i 

Monday, October 15, 2012

LSP '12

(Learn Serve Paraguay 2012)

Round Two. It’s possible I failed to make note of this experience (in a non-verbal sense) when I first encountered it last year. Forgive me. But in my defense, I was an adrenaline-infused, nervous wreck prematurely overcoming my bewilderment then. I had to regroup; once I finally did, the week had blurred by quicker than it arrived and thus (I regret to say) clouded my detail retention. However, this year I assured myself that history would not repeat itself, and my awe of the efficiency this time around has made it much easier for me to make good on that promise. Per usual to my perfectionistic habits, I began planning and recruited a small unit to help me back in early April.  The team consisted of David (very guapo colegio student/dear friend), Adaliz (ex-compañera of Paola/also guapa), and myself. The three of us usually met in my home each Sunday to discuss specifics, then we hit the barrios (neighborhoods) of Isla seeking out the folks we thought would be kind enough to host an American (or two).  We also outlined the activities coinciding with the three cooperating schools’ schedules and planned the meals around herbivores and allergens (neither of which were a cake walk, but we managed despite the challenges). Next, I got busy organizing the likely supplies as far as what could be found locally and what needed to resourced via stateside. Being there is only one of me and there was to be three groups at three different locations, I then turned to my fellow PCVs for any aid whatsoever they could offer. Rose, Zach, and Jaime (all representing G-35) plus Mel (G-34) all came to the rescue for which I was grateful (and still am) because I couldn’t have done it without them. In particular, Zach and Jaime tag-teamed the Escuela Grande with exercise charlas (lessons) and a playground paint touch-up. Rose and Mel took on the Escuelita with nutrition charlas and fruit tree planting, and I worked with Colegio students on recycling. We did a little community clean up as well and following suit from last year escorted the children from the comedores (soup kitchens) to the nearby health center for check-ups. During our down time we: took a mini tour of Isla, attended the local San Juan festival*, pulled up some mandioca (known as yucca in the U.S.) for lunch one day, attended both a harp practice and concert (the latter in our honor), gave David a surprise birthday cake this year, and for a little extra mescla (mixture) of cultures we hosted a goodbye party supplied with smores and chipa asador (the local corn bagel cooked campfire style). All in all it was a very organized chaos kind of week, but I found I was much more tranquila (calm) this year so my excessive planning wasn’t completely in vain. It’s a great feeling knowing putting forth a little extra elbow grease eventually will pay off in the end. Another year, another success under my belt,
I’ll take it :)

*The San Juan festival is held to honor the patron Saint Juan known for his love of fire. Ironically it usually takes during the winter months (yet any drastic changes that bring about random humidity are typically chalked up to San Juan’s influence).  
Traditional foods like chipa in its many forms (stuffed with meat or cheese; grilled or baked), mbeju (chipa pancake style), assorted empanadas, and “Clerico” (fruit salad for adults) are sold and consumed. Some sort of entertainment is often provided as well: a comedy and/or musical act for the adults while the kids take turns kicking around kicking around a ball of fire, literally. Last year I witnessed in awe at the frequent panic as it was kicked consistently beneath poorly parked cars. Although to my further astonishment none of the vehicles were ever relocated nor was the fireball ever extinguished. It is also not uncommon for multiple community establishments to each host their own. Basically if you’re a county fair kind of guy or gal, (unlike myself) then a San Juan festival is just the thing to make your South American dream come true, ha. 

Making recycling receptacles :)

Team Colegio!
peeling mandioca to make chyryry!

our hands-on decomposition demo

the whole crew + the birthday boy David

Pasaporte Por Favor (Passport Please)

This post is to help me sequence and remember the places I'm fortunate enough to travel to outside of Paraguay :)

1. Iguazu Falls (Misiones, Argentina)

Last year I was offered the generous opportunity to tag along with Learn Serve* however, due to Peace Corps policy that prohibits traveling within the first and last 3 months of service, I was not able to. Given permission this visit and with the offer still good, I didn’t hesitate to take it up. In spite of my unsteady nausea (the chipa asador from the night before upset a few of our stomachs; mine included :/), I packed a bag a boarded the “sick van” as it was deemed with a third of the Learn Serve group. I nursed my Sprite and drifted in and out of sleep for the majority of the five-hour ride, and wasn’t feeling much better when we stopped midway for lunch. However, I started to feel the slight ping of hunger (a good sign) when we finally reached Ciudad del Este (City of the East). Determined to not miss out on the big trip the following day, I ate some crackers and later half a sandwich and was able to hold both down. The next morning I felt significantly better and only got nauseous once more while we were taking the ferry ride over to Argentina. Luckily, one of the group leaders had a mint and surprisingly it helped. The rest of the day, I was able to enjoy the scenery. The park is divided into three parts providing a view of the waterfalls from different levels: above, below, and behind. Unfortunately we were unable to see each side, but the section known, as “The Devil’s Throat” was my personal favorite and by far the most breathtaking. In order to reach it, you must take a train ride constructed alongside a butterfly sanctuary that drops you off near a winding bridge that you must walk onto until it stops. Once it does, you are overlooking the top of the Iguazu Falls in all of its ferocious wonderment and beauty. The end of the bridge was packed with people and I didn’t expect to not hear myself think amid the noise, but I was still able to take it all in. How land can be perfectly constructed then taper off so severely (this baffled me and still does). Random butterflies fluttering amongst the wind and spritzing water. How we all looked like ants standing beside skyscrapers. Rainbows danced to absorb sunlight in between the shadows cast. It felt unreal in more ways than one; a scene from a movie or a little slice of heaven depending on your views (literal and spiritual). Either way you feel a presence and that is why I believe so many tourists flock to see it. This is a case where pictures simply do not do something justice. It is much more than mighty streams of water indeed, and I am grateful I had the opportunity to witness it for myself. Words hardly describe it (even my own), so I recommend to any and all to go and see it as well. Oh! I almost failed to mention the additional perks of possibly having your food stolen by a Coati (local animal; imagine an opossum mated with a raccoon), or for the true adrenaline junkie riding the waves of the Falls in a raft for a few extra pesos (Argentinian money) is another option. Neither of these appealed to me, but my point is there is much to be seen and something for everyone. It is most definitely a trip you’ll eagerly share the details of and likely carry with you forever. I know I will! J

*(Refer to post “LSP 12’ “ for further explanation/more details)

Signs for those pesky Coatis!