Saturday, December 31, 2011

Feliz Año Nuevo de Paraguay!

What better way to usher in the new year than with a blog post?  Haha, well I can think of quite a few better ways, but this will just have to do for this year.  I'm currently in Asuncion for a couple of days with some of my fellow Ag Volunteers, and we're just enjoying each others company, watching the fireworks, and talking/taking crazy pictures of ourselves.  Good times, eh?

I'm typically a New Year's Resolution kind of person.  I make all sorts of promises to myself about what I want to accomplish for the coming year.  Sometimes I meet those goals, but more often than not I come to the realization that those goals were probably not super-realistic... to achieve them would involve a major change in circumstances or behavior.  Well, guess what?   I have that this year!

My goals for 2012 stem almost completely around my work as a Peace Corps Volunteer.  San Jose Boqueron is full of potential, and I intend to maximize it.  Next week I start the Club de Libros for the kids in the community.  It's important that these kids have the opportunity to not only sharpen their reading skills, but also learn to embrace their imaginations and develop a real sense of creativity.  Amanda started this during her service previous to mine, and I hope to find new ways to make it my own.

From an agricultural point of view, I intend to begin working in the fields with the farmers as soon as this coming week.  Farmers in my area are growing mandio, avati, manduvi, and kumanda.  It's also a huge year for algodon.  There are already quite a few farmers working with cover crops and contour cropping, but I really want to get to know how these systems are working for the farmers, and what ways we can tweak them to continue working towards soil recuperation.

My other projects for the coming year will to work with summer gardening (regarding shade and pest control), and some chicken management.  On top of that, 2012 will bring a *hopefully* mastery of Guarani and Spanish, as well as coming to be part of my community.  Right now I'm still feeling a little out of place, but I'll get there.

Paraguay offers a lot of opportunity for me to grow in my abilities within agriculture, but also with new social dynamics and my ability to teach (especially in the schools).  As I enter the new year, I am really glad that I'm here.  Being a Peace Corps Volunteer is such an opportunity, and I'm looking forward to taking advantage of my opportunity here to not only develop those new skills, but to also work with my community to help them realize their own natural and human resources... that they themselves can make their lives better.

Here's to a new year!  A new year full of challenges, successes, and failures.  Life is too short to wish you were somewhere else or to ignore opportunities.

PS- I'll try to do a video blog for my next post... I've been a little frazzled the last few weeks, so hopefully as things begin to stabilize, I'll have some better posts coming.  ;o)

PSS- I put another doohicky on the sidebar to log all of the books that I'm reading while I'm here.  I have a lot of time to read, haha.  There's also a tab at the top now where you can read my reviews about these books.  I'll put more effort into them later, but I'm still figuring out how I want to do it.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

2011 is coming to a close...

Christmas is over, thankfully, and I'm ready to move on with my life.  I let the pressure of the holiday get to me, but I've decided to pick myself up and start charging ahead once again.  No more moping!  It's technically the first and last Christmas I'll ever have to spend away from home ever again, so the recovery should be pretty quick.

Monday I went to La Colmena for a volunteer meeting, and it was great to just get out of site for a bit and refocus.  I met Maggie in Acahay, and we took the bus to La Colmena where we went to a pizza restaurant.  Man, I miss pizza.  We ended up running into a snag on the way back to Acahay (ahem... took the wrong bus, got off in the middle of no where, and had to walk like an hour back to the terminal), but for the most part it went smoothly.

The multiple highs and lows that happen every day as a Peace Corps volunteer can kill a person.  Seriously, you're killing me Smalls.  So yesterday, my program director called the man I wanted to lease the house from.  At this point, I had already met with a construction company in Ybycui for a price estimate on floor and roof tiles, cement, etc.  I was all set!  Then this guy tells my program director he has no interest in renting the property--he just wants to sell it.  My first reaction was true disappointment.  I knew that I had another option, but it was kind of far back in the community.

I decided to go explore that other option anyway, and it turns out the house needs almost no work, it's got a HUGE porch with a great view, and the landlord is going to let me use the shower and TOILET in his house.  Yes, I said toilet.  I'm actually pretty excited about this now, haha.  And the fact that it doesn't need repair means that it will be easier to get all of the previous volunteers things in faster, etc etc.  So yay!  I'm happy about that.  Plus, the landlord is the Professor at the school, so that should help me speed up my language learning, as well as give me opportunities for working in the schools when they're in session.

It's amazing how much you miss these when they're gone
I'm going to Asuncion this weekend to discuss some details, but over all, things are looking up.  I spent like 4 hours de-podding some kumanda (beans) this morning, and will no doubt be at it again this evening.

Thanks to all of you who offered encouragement over the past week or so.  I needed it.  But it's important now that I start to lock in on my experiences here in Paraguay, and not so much of what's happening back in the US.  I really need to start speaking more Guarani!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Feliz Navidad!

Felize Navidad everyone!  I'm choosing to ignore that crazy annoying version of that song that's played on the radio incessantly this time of year, which I'm sure you've all heard enough of.  I love Christmas music, but not that one.  But anyways, to the point Bryce!  So many words... all the time!

It's interesting... When I signed up for the Peace Corps, I didn't really think about the title of the organization.  I knew that I wanted travel, help people, and live in a new culture, but I never thought of the impacts of what doing these things might have in terms of conflict, or the lack of it.  My host-father for this week asked me if I had a gun with me, and it was the first time I really put any thought into the fact that I came to Paraguay working for the PEACE Corps... not the Marine Corps, which I definitely explained to him.  "Um, che amba'apohina Cuerpo de PAZndi!" Much laughter ensued.

But what is Peace?  And where does it come from?  Is it even something that can be obtained?  Is it permanent?  I have a lot of questions about words lately.  It's as if learning two other languages has forced me to reconsider the words I've used so often in my own native tongue.  "Wait... Spoon?  We call this a spoon?  That's SO WEIRD.  Weird?  WEIRD?  THAT'S WEIRD."  Hahaha, such is the life of a Peace Corps Volunteer.  Don't even get me started on trying to teach people English.  Gosh, what a disaster.  But anyways... Bryce, you're doing it again.  STOP.

So the word PEACE, as it is professionally and seasonally appropriate, is what I am going to talk about in my post today.  My pastor at my home church in Lansing, Don Denyes, gave a Christmas sermon on December 26th of last year on peace (which I downloaded before I left Michigan.  How handy are MP3 files, eh?).  Let me tell you, there could not have been a better time for me to listen to this sermon than this week--my first official few days as a Peace Corps Volunteer in my community.  It hasn't been easy and I've been working hard to pursue a place of peace in my life ever since I got here.  Paraguayans call it Tranquilo.  I heard this all the time in training... "Tranquilo, Bryce!  Tranquilo!"  Meaning "Relax.  Seriously, dude, chill out."

I think that Pastor Denyes did an excellent job of laying it all out.  So here are my notes from the sermon:

-What is Peace?
    -Peace is not just the absence of conflict.
    -From the prayer mentioned in Numbers 6:
        1. Completeness, wholeness, abundance of life
        2. Traquility of heart (The inside)
        3. Harmony with each other (The outside)
-What Peace did Christ come to bring?:
    -The word "Peace" appears in the Christmas account of Luke only 3 times:
        1. Guide us on the Path of Peace (Luke 1:79, Zachariah's song)
            -Walk in peace for all of our lives, both externally and internally
        2. Peace with God / Divine Peace (Luke 2:14, the Angels to the Shepherds)
            -We must turn from sin and trust in God (John 16:33)
            -Given to those to whom He has given His favor/been justified by faith (Romans 5:1)
        3. Peace in Death (Luke 2:29, Simian's prayer to God)
            -Peace only comes to those who know Christ
            -Jesus defeated death on the cross and the Resurrection
            -We can have peace in facing the last enemy called Death because Christ was victorious over death.

Now, I didn't come all the way to South America to beat Paraguayans over the head with the Bible.  While my faith is an enormous part of my life wherever I am, I fully understand that the US government is not paying me to win converts to Protestant Christianity.  Sharing my faith is something that happens naturally for me within my preestablished relationships, and not something I stand on a corner and scream at the top of my lungs about.  Listening to this sermon forced me to think about how all this fits into my current personal state within my Peace Corps service.

I'm far away from family for Christmas this year, which eats me alive when I think about it.  Even with that minor freak-out incident before dinner on Christmas last year, I love my family and the sometimes-chaos that being in one house with all those people can cause.  ;)  As a fan of Christmas trees, Christmas music, and all of the nonsense at the mall when I'm shopping on Christmas Eve (seriously, the people-watching is hysterical), it's been a challenge for me to deal with the separation anxiety that Paraguay has caused me during this time of year.  WHAT DO YOU MEAN NO PEPPERMINT MOCHAS?!  I WANT MY PEPPERMINT MOCHA! ahem... I'm over it.  Obviously I'm struggling to find some peace (and some coffee).

But that's just the thing... The peace never left.  I have that personal relationship with Christ that gives me access to His eternal peace.  I have peace in the fact that even if I am alone and isolated for Christmas, I'm never separated from God--and really, He's all that matters.  Sometimes life gets moving too fast (or too slow, in my case), that it's easy to lose touch with reality.  We celebrate Christmas because it gives us something more valuable than anything else in this world: Christ came to give us peace with God in the form of forgiveness of sin.  Peace is temporary without repentence. 

I'm going to remember that this year.  The company of family and friends, the gift giving, coffee cake, and yes--peppermint mochas from Starbucks, are all just cultural traditions that are bonuses to the real message of the holiday.  I can go without those bonuses for this year.  ;)  May you all have peace with each other -- and more importantly -- Peace with God this Christmas season.  Merry Christmas everyone!

Saturday, December 17, 2011

What the Watermelon? The Nefarious Sandia

Well folks, the time has arrived for me to start writing about actual work at site.  Well... sort of.  My work right now seems to revolve around sitting in the shade drinking water and terere and trying desperately to decipher what in the world people are saying to me.  I´m hoping... PRAYING... that I will eventually be able to figure out this language that sounds so completely different from what my professors taught me in training.

I´m currently living with a family on the outskirts of the community.  They have two young boys and a baby living with them, all of whom are very vocal and energetic.  I´ll be moving to another family next week, and another the week after that... Basically I move around until I get my own house, which I´m currently pursuing options so that I can get started in my garden and compost pile.

Just a quick fun story--
This family I´m staying with usually goes to bed at 9PM.  Last night, they knocked on my door just after 10PM, and offered me watermelon.  Not just some watermelon--HALF a watermelon.  The parents and kids enjoyed one half, while they expected me to finish off the other... I was kind of in shock.  There´s something about Paraguayan culture you need to understand.  Watermelon here has some kind of mystic property that regulates when and where you can eat it.  You can´t drink terere with watermelon, you have to be careful what you eat after eating watermelon, when you shower, etc etc etc.  It´s a cultural thing I haven´t totally wrapped my head around yet.  So anyways, it was just bizarre to get brought out of my room seemingly late at night to eat half a watermelon right before going to bed.  I just laughed my way through it, haha.  I found this photo on another site and thought it seemed appropriate--
So...end of story.

My internet works well at site!  I´m encouraged by that.  I was able to talk with Mom and Dad for a while yesterday, and chat with some other friends today!  It´s a real blessing that God has given me the ability to contact home, especially as Christmas gets closer on the calendar.

I´ll be sure to post near Christmas... I have a great entry I´m working on that I´m kind of excited about.  Hope things are well at home, and enjoy the snow!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

It's official -- I'm a PCV!

It's been a very fast 10 weeks, but it still feels like I've been in Paraguay for longer than that.  I'm really excited to go to my site and start working though!  I leave for my site tomorrow morning, and I will get set up with my host family and begin my two years of Peace Corps service.

The Swear-In Ceremony went well.  It was well represented by various Paraguayan and American government officials, and they had good cake.
Some of the Aggies and me.  I'm going to miss these people. :o(
My Host Family, Ignacia and Mica
My language class with our instructor, Diosnel

Before swear-in though, we all had a chance to go to a party where we ate some interesting things.  They had a boiled cow-head, so we all got to partake in brain and tongue and stuff like that.  It's not something that I would go for all the time, but hey--gotta try everything once, right?  We also had blood sausage, which I would not include on my list of my favorite things.  Now that I've tried it, I will be saying "No gracias" from now on.

The last couple of days have been spent walking all over Asuncion, getting used to the bus system, and exploring the malls and markets.  It's been hot here, so I'm pretty exhausted.  Asuncion is an interesting city, and full of helpful resources that I'm sure I'll be utilizing in my site.  I even found storybooks in Spanish for only Gs 15,000 (equivalent to about $3.50)!  Overall, I'm ready to get to work.  I have a lot of exciting projects in development, a lot of (hopefully innovative) ideas, and two years to complete them!

We had a dinner for just out training class tonight, and most people showed up.  It was a good opportunity to say goodbye to some people I won't see for a while.  It's a little strange to know that after being surrounded by 33 other people for the last 10 weeks, out of all of them it's going to be just me at my site.  But that just means I have more room in my life for Paraguayans!  ;o)

¡Suerte G37!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The Adventure Begins... Again.

Hello Friends!  I know it´s been a long time since I last updated.  I kept forgetting my camera, and I don´t like to just post text.  But things have definitely been busy!  We just finished training officially today, and we have our Swearing In Ceremony on Friday.  After that, I have 2 days in Asuncion, and then I´m leaving for my site!

I´m basically over my homesickness for now.  I think it´s been replaced by excitement.  I´m encouraged by my language scores (Intermediate-high for Guarani, Intermediate-low for Spanish), though I think they were being generous with the scores.  I spoke with Amanda (The volunteer I´m replacing) yesterday, and it sounds like the people in the community are just as excited as I am, which is great!  I´m really eager to get to site and start building relationships with my new friends and families.

In case you don´t know where San Jose Boqueron is:

View Larger Map

The last couple of weeks have revolved around closing out service, taking tests, and learning random skills that might be useful at site.  We cooked with our language professors (Chipa Guasu!), re-learned how to make good tererè, and made granola.
 It´s also been a great time to just spend with friends and enjoy the last few days that we all have together.  It´s crazy that pretty soon, I ´ll be living far away from all these people.  I´m going to miss them.  But we have phones!  We got phones and signed up for internet service in Asuncion yesterday, so it´s nice to be back in the 21st century! Haha.  I´m not going to post the number here, but I´ll send it in an email to people that I know.

I can receive calls for free, but that doesn´t mean that it won´t cost the caller anything.  I´m not sure what the skype to phone rate is from the US to Paraguay, or what it would cost for you to send texts.  Yes, people, I finally have a cell phone plan with texting.  But it´s probably insanely expensive... But anyways, hopefully we can all catch up soon!

Until then, Adios!

And just as a reminder, my address has changed in the sidebar.  The only difference is that the "PCT" has changed to a "PCT."

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Like a chicken with it's head cut off

Happy December, everyone!  In nine days I'll be officially sworn in as a Peace Corps Volunteer!  We finished up our last tech session today, and the next few days are going to be centered around preparing to leave for our sites.

I killed my first chicken last night.  Part of our training was that we managed a chicken coop and raised 40-day chickens.  Well, the chickens are ready for eating and each of us got to take one home to our families.  Michelle came over to watch the process because she decided to "hide behind a tree" (her words, not mine) and not watch for her chicken's demise.  My host mother showed me how to tie up the legs, and we hung it from a tree.  Then I took the chicken by the back, put my hand around the neck, pulled, and snapped the head backward.  This method was pretty successful, but not as fast as I'd hoped for.  It took me a couple of tries to finally kill it.  At least I didn't pull a Kristen and actually rip the head off the body.  Sorry if this sounds serial-killerish, but I find that hilarious.  How many people do you know that have literally ripped the head off of something?  Not many.  My host mother and sister gave me the most horrified faces when I asked "Why can't I just chop off the head with a machete?"  Apparently that way is kind of messy.  I'll get to eat it on Saturday.

It's getting HOT here.  Ridiculously hot.  I still have no idea how to convert from Celsius to Fahrenheit, but apparently it's been getting up to 110F here during the day.  My room is a total sweat box, and opening the window does nothing.  I've even had hot showers for the last few days... and of course it's on the days when all you really want is a COLD shower. =D  Figures.  It's become very obvious that Christmas is just not going to feel like a Michigan Christmas here.

Maybe it's the heat, or maybe it's the holidays, but I have been battling off some homesickness this last week or so.  I'm sure I'll slap out of it.  With training coming to a close, it's time for me to get mentally prepared to move to my site and do this alone.  When I joined the Peace Corps, I obviously wasn't looking for a resort weekend on the beach.  I knew this would be challenging and mentally exhausting, but ultimately worth it.  I always knew that moving away from friends and family would be difficult, and we've definitely invented our own sort of family structure here, but still it's hard to put aside and let go of everything happening at home. 

God led me to Paraguay for a lot of reasons... things I'm still waiting to discover.  As much of a professional challenge this is, and even through all the personal transformation it will lead to, I can't ignore the spiritual and moral challenges of living away from my usual support system.  It's more difficult than I expected.  Especially as the Christmas season comes around and I begin to leaf through the first chapters of Luke, I just wish that I had someone to discuss them with.  

There's a song by Caedmon's Call that has meant a lot to me for quite a few years now, and it always encourages me when I hear it:

Lead of Love
Looking back at the road so far
The journey's left its share of scars
Mostly from leaving the narrow and straight

Looking back it is clear to me
That a man is more than the sum of his deeds
And how You've made good of this mess I've made
Is a profound mystery

Looking back You know You had to bring me through
All that I was so afraid of
Though I questioned the sky, now I see why
Had to walk the rocks to see the mountain view
Looking back I see the lead of love

Looking back I can finally see (I'd rather have wisdom)
How failures bring humility (than be)
Brings me to my knees (a comfortable fool)
Helps me see my need for Thee

It just goes to show that even when we feel like we're in the dark and things are rough, there's always a bigger picture.  So much of my time here has already been spent focusing purely on the professional aspects of this job, and I'm about to move into the more interpersonal relationships side of things when I move to my site.  It may not be until I get home, that I see the changes I've made within my own life.  One of the major driving factors to me going to South America was to challenge myself personally in a way that I'd never done.  I wanted not only a change of circumstances, but a change in me.

The homesickness that I'm facing... sure it's bending me, but I'm not going to break.  It's amazing how many highs and lows I go through every day.  Such is life I guess.  God has blessed me with a great group of new friends and more different experiences in 2 months than I had in a whole year last year.  I mean... I killed a chicken yesterday! WHAT?!  Haha.  Life here can be rough, but it's all in the attitude.  Guess I need to keep mine in check.  ;)

I'm not a huge fan of how this vid was made... not crazy about random photo montages... at least pick a theme.  ;)  But the song is great!