Saturday, November 26, 2011

Dia de Gracias

What a great day.  Dia de Gracias will probably go down on my list of top 10 Thanksgiving celebrations ever.  Not since the Philippines have I been away from family on Thanksgiving, and never have I been so far away from so many foods that I didn't even know I missed.  Thanksgiving with the Ambassador in the American Embassy... does it get any better?  Well, possibly the White House, but in Paraguay it doesn't get better. =D

Everyone looked all spiffed up, and I'm sure I really impressed the Ambassador when I got of the bus wearing my anti-motion sickness bands on my wrists.  Gosh, I can be a nerd sometimes.  It didn't take long for some of us to jump right in the pool.  It's the first non-brown body of water that I've seen in 2 months, and it was glorious.  Seriously, what a change after last week at our sites... from the campo to super-chuchi.

Dinner was turkey, stuffing, potatoes, and some amazing pumpkin and pecan bars made by Medical Mary.  There were a few of us that got a little greedy before the meal even started.  I think I must have eaten at least 7 of those things.  Some people even ate two plates of desserts.  And they had coffee!  The ever-elusive beverage that I drank like 40oz a day of in the States... it was amazing.  I think all of us were really grateful to be there with each other.

Of course, all of this gorging didn't come without consequence... Food comas were aplenty.

I even got to watch some of the Lions game on satellite cable!  Sure, it was a horrible game for the Lions, but it was so nice to get to watch some futbol americano instead of soccer for once. Chake, Bryce... Chake (careful in Guarani).

I don't say it enough, but this group of volunteers is a really awesome group of people.  I haven't often been part of a group where everyone is so motivated and positive.  It was really great to just enjoy a good meal with each other, completely free of the recent stresses of site-selection and visits, and have fun together.  I think all of us have come to realize over the last two months how much we have to be thankful for.  Our standards have changed and we've been conditioned to live with less, but (at least in my case) I have a new appreciation for the love and support of an encouraging family and friends that are like brothers and sisters to me.  There's a lot of stuff that goes down in life, and the only consistent things are our relationships with God and with those we love.  Nothing else really matters, does it? 

I've been in a bit of a pressure-cooker for the last couple of weeks.  I've been praying consistently for wisdom, patience, grace, and compassion.  God often teaches us patience by putting us in situations where we have to be patient.  We don't just get a check in the mail for patience and then BAM--just have it.  These qualities have to be developed.  It was great just to be surrounded by 33 new good friends, let loose, and have a good time.

I often wake up in the morning forgetting that I'm here.  I mean--what an opportunity!  I still can't believe it sometimes that I'm living in South America, sometimes bucket-bathing, with all my clothes stained a pale orange color because of the dust in the air.  This is an experience that I don't want to take for granted, and I am so thankful to be here living this adventure!

I hope you all had a great Thanksgiving! 

Friday, November 25, 2011

Future Site Visit - San José Boquerón

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!  I'm sad that I can't be with my family today, but we're having a get-together with all of the trainees at the Ambassador's house in Asunción, so that should be fun (I'm writing this on Thanksgiving).

The compañia of San José Boquerón is located roughly 10 km from the puebla of Ybycuí, which is about a 2-hour bus ride from Asunción.  Last Friday, I met my contact's 18 year-old son, Luis, during our "Encuentro" at a retreat center and we jumped on the bus and headed to site.  It's a small community of maybe 300 people, but not that many houses.  It's common for people to have 10 to 14 kids. As a follow-up volunteer, I had the benefit of having someone to talk to about things from a Peace Corps perspective, which was huge.

I lived with a family near the school, and they were extremely friendly and hospitable.  I'm grateful for their patience with my broken Guaraní and Spanish, because it was a real wake-up call for me of how little I know.  I'm coming along okay and I'm trying not to get discouraged, but learning two languages at a time is not easy.  I sometimes don't even know which one people are speaking.

The first morning, I went to a weekly book club (club de libros) with Amanda, the current volunteer.  She meets up with kids for an hour each week so they can practice their reading skills and draw.  I plan on continuing the club once I get to site permanently, because it's so important that these kids learn to develop their imaginations and creativity!  Plus, working with the kids is going to be one way that I can continue to integrate into the community and opens up doors in the future for working in the schools.
The second day I was supposed to climb the Cerro, but it rained most of the day.  The third day I was supposed to go to Ybycuí with Amanda, but it rained most of the day.  And on top of that the running water had been out of service for two weeks and the electricity went out for two days... It was difficult for me. Tranquilo, right?  However, I did get to spend some time in the afternoon walking to the fields and getting to know some families.  Most of the lowlands are wetlands, so everything flooded.  The streets turned to rivers and just about everyone stayed inside for the two days.

This town is much different from where my training location is.  The fields are about a half-hour walk from the community, so most of the men are gone all day.  They leave on their ox-carts in the morning and often don't return until late afternoon.  It presents some challenges for me as an ag volunteer because I will have to split my team between the men in the fields and the very active women's comités in town.
The final day, Amanda and I went to Ybycuí and met the DEAG extension agents (the Ministry of Agriculture), she showed me where to shop, the post office and police station, and stuff like that.  We also met a young English teacher that works in one of the schools.  He's 22 and speaks pretty good English, but wants to learn more.  I think we're going to meet often so he can practice his English and I can practice my Spanish and Guaraní.  There's also a KOICA (the South Korean version of the Peace Corps) volunteer that lives in Ybycuí, so that should be fun.  He has another year of service and speaks Spanish really well, so I'm hoping we'll work together a lot.  Maybe I'll even pick up some Korean. (HA!)

Just some notes for the future, the odds are really good that I'll have decent internet access (yay!).  Amanda has it and is able to video skype with her family without too many problems.  This means that I'll be able to chat with all of you occasionally, as well as keep this blog going for my full term of service!  Also, I will be having a change of address soon, so I'll be sure to note when that officially switches over.  If you want to continue to send things to the Peace Corps office, that works fine.  After December 9, the "PCT" will change to a "PCV" though.  And as I mentioned above, Ybycuí has a post office, so I'll post that address later on.  Regarding skype or email, my contact info is on the right sidebar above, and I also have Google voice/video(?).  I Haven't used it yet, but I recently installed it on my computer.

Please continue to pray that I will stay positive.  It's unlikely that I will have a lot of space until I move into my own house in February or March, the electricity and water problems have potential to drive me a little crazy, and working with kids is really intimidating for me.  Especially during the Christmas season I'm going to feel the isolation from my family and friends (I'm feeling it already), so I can't let any homesickness take over. I have about two weeks left of training, and then I'm officially a Peace Corps Volunteer and the adventure really begins!  Thanks to all who write to me and send me things. ;)  It's always nice to get stuff from home.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Areguá and Site Selection Day!

Hello friends!  Things are really picking up the pace here in Paraguay.  Yesterday we all found out where we would be stationed during our two years of service!  But I'll get into that a little bit later.

Yesterday we had our "Viaje Cultural" in Areguá, a town not too far out of Asunción.  They had a lake!  It feels like forever since I've seen any real water bodies.  Being from Michigan, where no one is ever more than an hour and a half away from an enormous lake, water is noticeably lacking.  Areguá is a beautiful area, and we got to spend time climbing around on a rare rock formation, visiting a church and pottery-making store, and some people even went swimming in the lake.  It was a little brown for my taste. ;)

After arriving back at the Training Center in Guarambaré, we had a quick session where we learned some songs in Guaraní and how to dance to Paraguayan music.  Sorry guys, there's no way I'm posting a video of that part, haha.  Rhythm is not my forte, and certainly neither is dancing in general.

But honestly, now on to the good stuff.  The staff brought out a huge map of Paraguay with the 34 locations marked on the map.  Then, they drew one of our ID pictures out of a basket and stuck it on the map where our locations were.  Due to political turmoil in the north, all of the trainees are placed in the southeast portion of the country.  When they called my name, I walked up to the front and received my folder from Gloria (our program director) and went over to see where I would be living and working.  It felt like getting my diploma and then finding out where I was going to go to college all over again.

My location is called San José Boquerón, which is a compañia about 10 km outside of the pueblo of Ybycuí, which is in the Department (state) of Paraguarí.  Ted and I stopped in Ybycuí on the way to our volunteer visits back in October, so I'm fairly familiar with at least what the town looks like.  I'm going to be what Peace Corp refers to as a Follow-Up Volunteer, meaning that there is currently a volunteer stationed at that site until December, and I will be taking her place.  The volunteer that I'm replacing ran one of our training sessions, and she's also from Michigan and went to MSU!  So that means I won't have to describe where I'm from, which takes away like half of the Guaraní that I know, haha.

I'll be meeting my community contact and heading down for a visit starting on Friday, and I'm really pumped about it!  According to the info packet I was given, the volunteer currently working there has spent a lot of time with the womens' comité and with the kids in the school.  I'm hoping to be able to continue her work, while adding some soil recuperation and natural resources conservation tecniques.  This is getting exciting!  I'm just eager to get to the site, see what it looks like, and try to get a feeling where I might get started.

The info says that the farmers in this community plant on the hillsides because the flat ground is mostly wetland.  I'm going to stay away from wetland determinations (I've had enough of those for a LONG time), but it looks like I'll get to do plenty regarding contour farming and maybe some other options.  Any of you NRCSers, please feel free to share some ideas!

Overall, my Peace Corps experience continues to get more and more exciting.  I'm having a great time here with the other trainees, the staff, and the Paraguayans that I've met so far.  My swear-in ceremony is coming up on December 9, and very soon after that I'll be moving to my site.  There's a chance I may have access to internet at my new house (eventually?), but there is also a café in Ybycui, so keeping up the blog shouldn't be a problem.  Hopefully I will continue to have new and exciting experiences to share with all of you on a weekly basis!

I'll be sure to give a solid update after my return from my first week at site, and of course, expect more photos and videos!

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Long Field Practice in San Franciscomi

Hello!  Long Field Practice was a blast!  We arrived in San Franciscomi on Tuesday morning and jumped right into the work.  My language class, our instructor, and our technical trainer (Jonathan) drove about three hours south of Guarambare to the department of Caazapa.  We spent four days working with Gabe, the current volunteer in that site.  Gabe is in our sister G, which means that he arrived in Paraguay a year ahead of us, and will be around for our first year of service.  I´m G37, he´s G34.  Because of federal budget issues, things are about to get wonky with the G´s... glad I don´t have to figure that out.

After lunch with our in-town host families, Kristen, Emily, Laura, and I went over to a woman´s house to make glasses out of wine bottles.  We used wire and friction to heat up the bottles, and then plunged them down into ice water, and they just broke.  Then we sanded down the edges.  It´s a pretty cool project, and a great way to recycle.

Day two was a lot of trees and bees.  We did our first wild hive capture, called a trasiego, and it went pretty smoothly.  I had a couple of holes in my gloves so I got stung a couple of times, but it was no biggie.  No need for an epipen here!

The next day we did our charla on balanceados cacero and created a calendaria agricola with the ag comite in town.  It was all in Guarani, and I think it went pretty well.  All of the people who attended were great participators, and it felt great to know that making their own animal feed instead of buying it is something that many of them may conceivably try.

The last day we did some work in the schools, planting trees with the kids and teaching them about liquid fertilizer, which we refer to as abono tea.  Gabe was a great host, and it was great to get another perspective on what the life of a volunteer is like.

On Wednesday we get our site assignments!  Friday, we get to go spent a few days at our sites over the weekend.  Then it´s just a few more weeks and I´m out there on my own!  I´ll be sure to post something later next week after I find out the exciting news!
PS- Please DO NOT send things FedEx or UPS... it´s crazy expensive!  I didn`t know it would be so crazy when I said that before.  I suggest sticking with regular mail, and don´t send anything too pricey.  Thanks!

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Che cherera... Braulio?

"Chéveguarã Braulio Iñaña." Meaning "I think Braulio is bad" in Guaraní. All of my professors have said this at least once in my academic life, and it only took five weeks for it to happen here. To clarify, Paraguayans have a hard time with my name, so I was given the name Braulio by my language professor, Diosnel. Bryce comes out sounding like either "Bl...iiiiice" or "Breeeesay" and most people just laugh when I introduce myself, so Braulio it is. When in Paraguay, take on a Paraguayan name.

Guaraní class is a good time. Diosnel is an awesome instructor, my classmates are fun, and in general things happen without too many distractions. It's only on some days where things get a little carried away, and it's possible I may be the reason for some of that. Hence, chéveguarã Braulio Iñaña. haha.

I drew this rabbit on the board because we were talking about parts of the body and were scheduled to work with rabbits (tapiti) during out tech session that afternoon (ka'aru). See, you're all learning Guaraní right along with me! Can I sign somewhere that I'm fulfilling one of the Peace Corps mission goals? "Helping to promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans." Check! Mission accomplished. ;)

In case you can't read it in the photo, here's a few useful phrases in Guaraní:

Che rekaka ne = My poop stinks.
Ne katî = Your underarms stink.
Mba'epa. Reykuã porã = What? I smell good.
Ne akãne = You're stupid.

All useful, right?  Haha. Good times with the Guarani.
It's been another big week of tech sessions. Chickens, pigs, rabbits, making thatch roofs... BUSY.
The weeks are flying by these days. Next week is our Long Field Practice, which I talk about a little bit in the video below. I really don't know that much about it yet, other than that I will be gone from Tuesday to Friday next week. And then, WEEK SEVEN! Week seven is exciting because it means interviews with our APCD and then site selection. Let's face it, this entire training period has led up to site selection. I (as well as every other trainee) really want to know where I will be living for the next two years of my life. The waiting is almost over!

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Vermiculture, Beekeeping, and Homi´s Farm

Well friends, this has been a busy week for the Ag trainees!  Each tech training day has at least one really interesting element.  I’m glad I’m an Ag volunteer and not in Environmental Education!  Sorry EEs, but you know it’s true – Our job is just more fun than yours.

Anyway, Monday started off with four hours of Guaraní classes followed by our tech sessions, which are now taking place at an agricultural high school in Nueva Italia.  We had classes in composting and vermiculture (worm composting).   Let me tell you, I cannot wait to start my worm box.  Seriously!  Worms (cevo’í) are a pretty fascinating subject.  It always helps to have a couple of very enthusiastic volunteers to lead our sessions as well.

Tuesday brought more fun with classes in Paraguayan soils, followed by green manures (abonos verdes) presented by two volunteers that also attended Michigan State!  I even had a class with one of them, which just proves that we live in a very small world.  Our third session that day was on the benefits of crop rotations, which I was pretty familiar with (thank you Dr. Renner and Cropping Systems!  See?  I DID learn something in college!).

Wednesday was boring, so I won’t write too much about it.  It was a combined sector day at the training center which just means classes on personal safety, STDs, botflies (SO GROSS--Google it!), and stuff like that.

Thursday was the best day I’ve had in Paraguay so far.  It was beekeeping day!  There was also a session on tree planting, but let’s be honest—bees (káva) trump trees any day.  We suited up and went out to the hives.  We looked something like astronauts out for a moonwalk, but no one got stung!  It was an incredible feeling walking into the swarm, having bees crawling all over my body.  I’ve been into bugs since my entomology class at MSU (something else I learned in college! Thanks Dr. DiFonzo!).  I really hope that I get to continue beekeeping in my service.  I think it’s something I may keep up once I get back to the States. 

Friday was another chill day at the training center; language, progress interviews, and an exam.  Glad that’s over with.  I’m so done with exams.

The week finished off well.  One of our sector trainers grew up on a farm on the river right outside of Asunción, and gave us the opportunity to explore it.  The family is almost a completely self-sufficient farm, with rabbits, fish, cows, chickens, and pigs.  They grow the food for their animals right on the farm, and also are using vermiculture and an anaerobic digester for gas fuel for cooking and other uses on the farm.  It was a pretty amazing place, and it’s great that they use their operation as an example for education around the community.  I’ll post more pictures on facebook if you want a chance to see more.

So that was my week!  Hopefully yours was just as interesting.  Thanks to all of you who sent me some news and information as to what is happening in the rest of the world.  It’s always good to stay informed!

Ridiculously complicated Guaraní word of the week: oñeñe’ê – Means “they speak” (impersonal)