Sunday, December 30, 2012

Vacation Blog 2! Sort of...

Guys, I'm such a failure.  I keep letting life get in the way of this blog.  That's so not okay, because life is about blogging.  Ok not really.  It's good that I'm getting out there and doing things.

Guess where I am?  IN MICHIGAN!  That's right, the little location thingie for this post reads "Lansing, MI!"  This means that I have super-fast internet and I finally got all my videos from my parents' visit uploaded to youtube.  Here they are:

I'll write more about the experiences later.... once I get back to Paraguay.  Until then, feast on this:

I got a white Christmas afterall! :D  I head back to Paraguay in a few days, so I'll be sure to post some stuff about all my trips.  And I have some new exciting stuff planned for 2013!!  Have a happy New Year and I'll be back once I arrive in South America.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

It's Finally Here! Vacation Blog 1 - Asuncion

It's time for the long-awaited vacation blog!  My parents were here like two months ago, and I never wrote about it.  But now, my videos are edited together, my pictures have been adequately sized, and I actually have the time to sit down and write about my experiences with my mom and dad.  I'm going to break this all up into parts, because I think it will be a little long.

The day my parents arrived, I went to meet them at the airport.  It's hard for me to explain what I was feeling.  It was almost like I was nervous, I don't know.  The second they walked out from baggage claim it was that bizarre feeling of worlds colliding.  I'd been in Paraguay for nearly a year at that point, and I very specifically remember the last time I saw my parents in person as I rode up the escalator to my gate in Lansing when I flew out to go to Staging in Miami.

It was great to see them though!  They made it, which was a huge relief.  I was worried they would somehow end up stranded in Sao Paulo and not be able to contact me.  All that Portuguese... so many opportunities to get lost and confused!

"Hola! Nosotros necesitamos ir al centro. Cien mil no mas, si?" I tried to impress my parents with my Spanish right off the bat, but we had kind of a tough time locating a cab that would take three people with luggage.  So, I guess that was Paraguay experience #1 for my parents--cramming into the back of a taxi with their bags piled on top of them.  Welcome to my life, eh?

We stayed at the Palace for three nights initially.  I wanted to give my parents some time to adjust before we hit the campo. That night we went to my favorite Asuncion hotspot for dinner-- Bolsi!  Ugh... just thinking about a plate of cheese fries is making me drool.  I want to go to there. NOW.

On the roof terrace of the Palace Hotel in Asuncion
The next day I took them to the Peace Corps Office.  It must have been a holiday or something (labor day?), because the place was totally cleared out.  It gave me the opportunity to show them around though.  They even got to try some terere!  While they enjoyed it, I doubt they'll be sucking it down as much as I am.  I'm drinking ridiculous amounts of it these days.

Sipping tereré in the Peace Corps Office
This stretch of days was pretty hot.  I want to say it was over 100F, which was kind of random.  It cooled way down after they left.  But anyways, the Palace has air conditioning so after the office we went back to the hotel.  I'm thinking my parents could get into the whole asaje thing (siestas from noon to 2:00PM).

That evening we went to Manzana for pizza and enjoyed the nighttime view of the Presidential Palace.  There was also a Paraguayan national futbol game, so it was fun to walk around and have my parents experience some of that national pride.  All the bars had the games on, and even the taxi drivers were huddled around the TVs at their pick-up stations, terere in hand, cheering loudly for Paraguay.  Those are my favorite nights in Asuncion.  It reminds me of football Saturdays in Ann Arbor.

Dad and I outside the Presidential Palace
The Paraguay Nacional game being projected onto the wall at Manzana
The last day before we left to go to my site, I initially wanted to take them to Mercado Cuatro, but it was so hot we decided to go look at the PCV Ahecha exhibit.  I was kind of disappointed in the whole display... It's not that the pictures were bad; it's just that they were just sort of there.  There was hardly any information about the photos, and there was a random registration for a different event going on in the display room.  After that we walked back to the hotel for more AC.  That evening we went to Taberna Espanola for dinner, which is a fancy-ish Spanish restaurant near the hotel.  I had rabbit paella, and my parents got a salmon plate.  It's pricy, but can be fun to go there after spending tons of time being filthy and gross in the campo.  Sometimes it's fun to actually wear nice clothes and go out to eat an expensive meal at a nice restaurant.

The next morning, we took a city bus to the airport (another fun real-Paraguay experiences for my parents) to get the rental car.  And from there, the REAL adventure begins...

More to come!

Video Updates are Back!

Here's a video of when I climbed Cerro San Jose with the aspirante that visited me a few weeks ago:

And this is from my latest trip to Salto Cristal with my friends.  I love this place!

Friday, November 16, 2012

Over the Hill

Tuesday marked my half-way point of being in Paraguay. Hard to believe!  It's all down hill from here.  I also found out that I'm getting a few new Ag volunteers from the new group in the Ybycui area next month, which is really exciting.  I'll get to meet them early next week when they are here for future site visits.  More to come.  One of them is from Ohio though, so that's unfortunate, haha.  jk jk.

I'm sitting here with my Economic Development counterpart, Ken, and we're just hanging out today.  He's moving into his new house, which I'm eager to take advantage of.  He has a toilet!

I have to admit, I haven't been feeling so hard-working lately.  I have so many plans, but I don't want to start anything until after I get back from the United States in January.  I need to track down some blueprints for a pig pen somewhere, and I have some new seeds I need to plant in my demo plot.  I also want to do a couple of charlas for the women's committee that I work with... so many plans, so little action.

Here's a list of  things that I'm pretty into right now:
-My hammock
-the song "Good Time" by Owl City
-Not doing laundry (all my clothes are dirty... oh well)
-Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
-Kumanda yvyra'i.  I planted TONS of it.
-Dreaming about Taco Bell
-Dreaming about McDonalds
-Dreaming about Jets Pizza
-Survivor: Philippines
-Homemade cinnamon chips

So yeah, I realize these last few updates have been weak.  I just need to motivate myself to edit all of my videos together and get them posted.  Hopefully that will happen.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Post Creative Title Here

So friends, it's been like a month since my last update.  Fail.  This is going to be kind of raw update.  No pics or vids, and probably a lot of rambling.  I'm finding hard to focus as of late due to the fact that I'm going home in a month or so for the holidays.

It's hard to decide what to write about.  I'm spending a lot of time trying to avoid the heat.  It's not full-force yet, but every day is at least 85 to 90F so all work has to be done in the morning.  I am working in my two demo-plots and my garden, going to comite meetings and drinking terere with people in my community.  It's a lot of the same every week, so maybe that's why I feel like I don't have that much to say.

Lets see, other than that I'm really into Survivor and Harry Potter right now, but that's nothing new.  Lol, that really hasn't changed since I was like 14.  I find myself rooting for Lisa Whelchel, which is super random (remember those workout videos mom?  It's weird that I remember that), Jonathan Penner, and Denise.  Haha, I'm sure none of you know what I'm talking about.

Oh, here's something interesting.  Last week we had a VAC meeting in Yaguaron (about 1.5 hrs north of Ybycui), and we went to this community theatre event.  It got weird, people.  It was all in Guarani for the most part, but by talking with my fellow PCVs that went, we were able to figure out the plot.  Apparently it was about a poor man that met Death somehow, and managed to scare him up into a tree.  Don't ask me why Death is afraid of heights, but he wouldn't come down from the tree.  So because Death wasn't collecting anyone, no one was dying, so the world was filling up with zombies (sort of).  So St. Peter (who of course is sitting up in heaven drinking terere) has a talk with Death and the Devil (who is a large flambuoyant man covered in glitter and feather boas... huh?), and somehow convinces Death to get out of the tree.  Then the main character climbs the tree to escape Death, because he knows Death is afraid of heights.  It was all very strange and confusing.

From re-reading that last paragraph, I think it's probably better that I end this and just come back when I have something real to write about.  So, with that, have a good weekend!

Thursday, October 18, 2012

We have sprung forward... into october?

Alrighty.  Life is obviously moving really fast, because otherwise I would have nothing to do other than update this blog.

This last week, we had volunteer visits, which is insane because it feels like not that long ago I was visiting Jonathan over in Recta.  Remember this post?  That was a YEAR ago!  WHAT.  Anyways, I had a G40 aspirante named Nick come down to San Jose Boqueron and spend the week with me.  He was cool to hang out with and basically game for anything, so we made a new compost pile, visited with my contact, took a look at my demo-plot, and discussed a lot about what living the life of a volunteer is like.

Its crazy because so many of the questions he asked are the same ones that had me so concerned back when I was an aspirante.  He is way more go-with-the-flow than I ever was, and I think he is going to be a great volunteer.  So much of getting through training is all about attitude and whether you can stay positive.  He doesn`t seem to have a problem with that, so he will be fine.

We also got to go to a comitè meeting and climb the cerro, which I have been waiting almost a full year to do.  It was pretty incredible!  It also reminded me that, while I walk like 20 miles a week, I am still not conditioned for heavy exercise.  The climb was pretty intense!
Rolando, Guillermo, me, and Nick on the cerro.
I have been spending quite a lot of time with Rolando and Guillermo lately.  Things are always a bit goofy when they are around.  They love the word "thump" for some reason, and love the fact that I can`t say "pya`hu" which means "new" in Guarani or "todos" which ends up coming out like "toros."  I guess I can`t roll my rs as well as I thought.
Me with Guillermo (11) and Rolando (15)
I also had a few friends come out to my site for a couple of days before Nick arrived.  Even my community thought they were crazy.  All I have been hearing from my my host-bros is "Mario... crazy.  Lydia... crazy."  Haha.  Its funny cuz its true.
Johnny, la genta estan muy loca...
Overall its been a crazy month, and its about to get crazier as we move closer to Christmas!  I cannot wait to get home to see everyone, but honestly, I really just want to chow down majorly on some Jets Pizza and guzzle starbucks like its my life juice... but you know, being around family is a good thing too! =D

I have some video I really need to get edited and posted.  Oh, and FYI, one project I have been working on is this abonos verdes (green manures) blog, so feel free to check it out at  I still have a ton of work to do on it, but Im getting their.  Alrighty, more to come soon -- I promise!

Saturday, September 29, 2012

1 year down...

Well friends, it's been a year and a lot has changed.
One year ago, welcoming G37 to the Training Center in Guarmbare
I started out as this chubby nerd from the midwest, and now I'm a scruffy and slightly malnourished nerd living in the campo.  I've learned a lot, done a lot of new things, and I still have a whole year ahead of me!

My parents and me with my community contact and her grandson
I just thought I would do a quick rundown of some major things I've learned in my first year as a PCV in Paraguay.

1.  I consistently underestimate myself.  Peace Corps work is HARD.  Looking back at all that I had to do to get where I am now, it's hard for me to believe all that has happened.  I'm not usually a person who sticks things through for very long.  This whole concept of selling all my stuff and leaving my friends and family behind to move to the middle of no where to a place that I don't speak the language and have no idea how the culture works sounds insane.  But I've done it, and it's made me far more confident and assertive (Not sure I needed to learn to be more assertive...), and even though my language abilities are far from fluent, I can get by.  Integration is a challenge, but I'm making strides every day in the right direction.

2.  I am NOT in control.  While I was living and working in Ann Arbor, I was so independent.  I did basically what I wanted when I wanted, I ate whatever, yadda yadda yadda.  I wasn't really accountable to anyone, and other than having to go to work every day and making sure my bills were paid, I pretty much had it together.  Obviously, God wanted to teach me a lesson about this, so He sent me to Peace Corps.  I have zero control over what happens to me here.  I can't eat whatever I want, I can't jump in a car and go wherever I want, etc.  Even a lot of my work is dictated not by me, but by the people in the community that I work with.  I'll admit, it's in my nature to be a high-strung, tight-fisted, opinionated control freak.  I like to be the boss and call the shots.  I would say that my greatest challenge of being here so far is learning how to let loose and go with the flow.

One of the things I'm hoping to pull from this experience is to be a more balanced person.  I'm a man of extremes.  When I'm up, I'm really up, and when I'm down, I'm really down.  Something I'm experiencing here is learning to ride the waves in life instead of trying to steer every single part of things according to my preferences.  It's okay to plan ahead and be cautious, but sometimes you just have to throw yourself into stuff and let God pull you in the right direction.

3.  God often gives you the unexpected.  Coming to Paraguay, I thought I would find a community of other Christians waiting for me, and that everything would be perfect.  Instead, God put me in a mostly non-religious community, pretty isolated from other volunteers, and not a lot of fellowship.  This has been a really challenge for me, because I believe that as believers, we're supposed to be surrounded by other believers and participate in worship and fellowship together.  Well, I've gone one year without it, and while it's been challenging, it's also been a good time for me to reflect on my own beliefs and how God is active in my life without any outside influences.  That said, I'm hoping that God brings me some fellowship in this 2nd year.  It's a tough world out there, and I could really use some spiritual support.

SO, I've learned a lot more than this, and I'm sure in future posts there will be more ongoing discussion about how working in Paraguay is changing me.  I need to get the videos from my parents' visit edited so that I can finally post that blog.  I have a lot of interesting stories to share. ;-)  Other than that, I'd like to give a shout out to G40 and welcome them to Paraguay!  The new group of Ag and Environment volunteers arrived yesterday!  I'm now a veteran, and it's sorta weird.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Where have you been?!

Hey friends!  I am NOT dead!  I've just been in the middle of a perfect storm of circumstances that made blogging difficult:

1. It's Big Brother season.  I love it... not as much as Survivor, that would be impossible, but as a substitution for Survivor when Survivor isn't on.  Problem: it's on three times a week.  This is no issue in the US when I just set my DVR and watch things whenever I want.  But because it airs in real time  (not pre-taped, like many of my other reality shows), I've needed to concentrate more on using my online time to cosechar episodes.  Pathetic.  I know... Does rooting for fellow-Spartan and Michigander Dan make up for it?  Probably not, but oh well.  Sometimes a guy just needs to laugh at another guy wearing a spiritard.  There's no explanation that makes sense...

2. Alphabet Soup.  Sometimes I forget Peace Corps is a government agency.  Last week, I had to deal with IST, VRF, CNA, and PTIP (In-Service Training, Volunteer Report Form, Community Needs Assessment, and Plan de Trabajo I-something P-Something... I don't even know).  I was busy, alright?  Haha.  I thought I'd left the days of USDA, NRCS, EQIP, WHIP, CSP, CStp, FFRP, OMG SRSLY behind me.  Guess not.

3. Hammock Time.  I finally got my hands on a hammock, so when I'm not running around doing these other things, I'm laying in my hammock listening to music, reading horrible novels, and sleeping.  And eating tons of grilled cheese sandwiches.  Ayala, I love you. Never lose your cheese selection!

So what's new with me?  Project-wise, I'm still figuring out how to manage this chicken coops project.  I don't want to think about it right now, so I'm not going to write more about it.  It does a pretty good job of breaking my brain when I think about it.  I've also started a charla series on Natural Resources Management, the first of which is soil:

A charla is basically just an informal gathering where I get to talk in broken Jópara about agricultural things.  Peace Corps Volunteers love them some Charla paper!


Other than that, I spent Monday finally getting my demo-plot officially cleared and plowed.  I bought some sweet corn and watermelon seeds at AgroField in Asuncion, and I also have some crotalaria and kumanda yvyra'i abonos verdes seeds to plant within the next couple of weeks.  I've been composting like a beast and working a lot in my garden.  I'm actually growing things for once now, haha.

What I'm really excited about though is happening today.  My parents are flying in!  I'm SO excited for them to come and take part in my life here!  I'm really looking forward to watching them react to things, and also point out differences.  I've been here almost a full year now, and I've forgotten how things are in the US.  I expect it to be pretty hilarious. ;-)  We'll be spending a few days in Asuncion, hopefully getting to Aregua before the strawberry festival is over, crossing the border to Argentina to see Iguazu Falls, and heading down to Encarnacion to see some Jesuit Reductions.  I'm looking forward to going on a vacation and checking out of my PCVness for a bit.  I love being a volunteer, but to get to be an American traveling abroad just for a few days is going to be SO REFRESHING!

They're also going to come to my site for a couple of days, and I'm going to show them how to live in the campo.  Maybe do some laundry by hand in a palangana, maybe plant some stuff in my demo plot, eat some campo food... I can't wait!

Friday, August 3, 2012

I´m slacking...

Sorry guys.  I have some videos to upload, as well as some photos.  I haven´t been budgeting my computer time very well, so I don´t have the stuff ready to upload just yet.  Next week I´ll be in Asuncion for Ahendu and committee meetings, so I´ll be sure to get something uploaded by then.

Have a great weekend!

Friday, July 27, 2012

I´m powerless...

Life in the campo without power can be a bit boring at times.  Nights are brutal because it gets dark here at like 6pm.  Lucky for me I have a headlamp that works and a few books to go through!  I´m currently flashing back to 7th grade and reading Ender´s Game.  Good stuff.  I came into Ybycui today to do some grocery shopping, and I am hoping the lights will be back on when I get home.

Anyways, next week is the beginning of the month, which means MORE SALDO!  Right now I don´t have enough to upload my youtube videos, so right now you´ll just have to settle for photos.

 I did some exploring around Boqueron, taking roads I hadn´t walked down before and heading out to the kokues.  I also have a video about a home-made abono foliar (liquid fertilizer) for my garden.  So hopefully those will be up in a week or so.

Last week we had our Christmas in July party in Asuncion.  It was a great time, until I ended up in the hospital due to vertigo.  Glad that´s over.  But I DID get the much-needed measuring cups I had been wanting, so that will make my Sunday pancake making much easier.

Sorry this is kind of a lame blog.  I´ll have more to share next week, and if I have saldo I can type it on my own computer instead of this messed up keyboard in the Internet Cyber.  Speaking of that, does anyone know how to get a colon on these spanish keyboards? It´s like they never write out the time here... I´m always forced to round up to the nearest hour, which isn´t accurate at all.

Have a great weekend, and I´ll do more next week!

Friday, July 13, 2012

A lot of things...

Things I love:
-I finally got water installed near my house!
-I bought a space heater, and it changes everything.
-I can download the Blaine and Allyson morning show from 96.3 in Detroit.
-Mate. I'm totally on board with it now, and it's saving me from using all of my Starbucks coffee.
-Norah Jones. I don't know why I ever stopped listening to her.

Things I don't love:
-My Refrigerator's incessant need to be defrosted

Things I'm eating probably way too much of:
-Extra-Cheesy Macariceroni. That's what I call it, anyways.  I make up a box of mac and cheese and throw some extra queso in with some rice... it's ridiculously good and cheesy.

-Semi-Italian Veggie-Pasta.  Veggies, tomato sauce, carne de soja, noodles, and parmesan cheese.  See video below.
-Grilled cheese sandwiches
-Pancakes.  Can one really ever eat too many pancakes?  I think not.

Things I probably should never admit:
-I haven't officially bathed in 8 days.

That's right people... 8 days. As Sara would say- "Ew!"

Now, don't get me wrong I have been kind of hygienic.  I'm still brushing my teeth and I have washed my hair and covered the "triangle areas" a couple of times.  It's just sooooo cold, even if I heat up the water!  It would be different if I had walls or something when I cleaned up, but I don't have anywhere other than my porch right now to bathe and it's kind of... exposed.  I have to wait until the sun goes down and by then it is like 40 degrees.  Now that I have a water line, my next project is going to be a shower with hopefully an electrical hook-up so I can have warm water.  Oh life in the campo... the things I took for granted at home.

But honestly this has been a huge week for me.  The space heater makes mornings and evenings much more pleasant. I don't have to wear 4 layers and bury myself under blankets anymore.  And with water so close, dishes and watering my garden are a breeze.  Maybe my garden will actually start to produce some vegetables now that it's getting watered!

So because I've let things build up, I have a lot to share.  Here's a couple of videos from earlier this month with the 4th of July party I went to in Asuncion.

I'm really starting to focus most of my energy into my garden.  I spent all of today gathering mulching materials and working with my composting.  Earlier this week I prepared a liquid compost that will be ready in a couple of weeks.  I'm sure I'll do a video on how that works later on when it's done stewing.  Because things over the last few months in there haven't been going so well, I'm really trying to do what I can to improve the soil and make my management even more intensive.  Honestly, it's kind of embarrassing for me to call myself an Ag Extensionist and have such an ugly garden. :( Womp womp.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

I think it's time for some more vlogs!

I've been stacking up videos on my hard drive for a while now, waiting for a chance to upload them. Youtube takes forever in the campo. I have a couple more to edit and upload so maybe that will happen today. More to come later!

Monday, June 25, 2012


It was a cold, damp night.  I was sitting in my usual chair watching Saturday Night Live, just like I do every Saturday night.  The popcorn had cooled off, and my coffee mug needed a refill.  I got up to put some water on the stove, and then I heard it.

The sound of snapping branches and slurping citrus.

Little did I know, but the chickens have convinced the cows to join their personal vendetta against me.  They must have some secret agreement to torture the Norte.  The chickens attack early in the morning and last for the afternoon, followed by a 2 hour cease-fire between 6 and 8PM, and then the cows start their assault in the dark.

I wouldn't mind if they were just eating the grass, but not only are the cows really loud eaters, they are destroying the kumanda yvyra'i by my house and constantly brushing up against my garden fence, which I spent (as you all know) a lot of time and effort on.  If they knock it over, believe me--it's on.  I will not hesitate to #StabACow. "Stabbing a cow" is a term we PCVs use to describe losing it or going crazy.  Our trainers told us a story in PST about a PCV that lost it because a cow kept eating her underwear off of her clothes line, so she stabbed and killed it, and then had to change sites.  In training I thought it was a crazy story... but now I totally get it.  I dream of it often, and it takes a good amount of self-control to keep myself from going after them with my machete.

War has become a routine for me.  In this seemingly endless battle against the Farm Animals, I am constantly forced to remind myself what I am fighting for.  What that is... well, it has yet to be identified.  Sanity?  If anyone has any ideas let me know.

Monday, June 11, 2012

10 Bad Habits Picked Up By Peace Corps Volunteers

I'm pretty sure this video says it all.  I highly doubt much of this is Paraguay-specific.  I would be willing to bet that PCVs all over the world develop these same habits.

On a happy note, it's warm today, so I'm actually going to bathe, wash my hair... you know, things that normal people do.  It's been... 5 days.  Yeesh... Not a proud number for me to put out there.

But it's been so cold!!  I haven't even wanted to dunk my hands into water to do dishes, let alone pour a bucket over my head.  But today, and maybe even tomorrow, I'll take care of that problem, haha.  It's supposed to be mid-70s all week, so who knows?  It might actually feel good!

Thanks to my friends Maggie, Emily, and Kristen for their ideas to complete this video.  They all have blogs that I've linked to on the right, but only two of them update regularly.  Emily!  Your mom says to update your blog! =D 

Friday, June 8, 2012

Winter has arrived...

Remember how I always complained during the summer that it felt like I was living in hell because it was 115F outside and everything I touched was hot?  Well, that's certainly not a problem anymore... Winter is here!  And now I'm forced to dress like this at night:
Ok, not really.  But it gets very, very cold.  I'm certainly not complaining though.  The cold weather means wearing clothes longer without sweating, which means less laundry.   It means less bathing, also, which probably shouldn't be a plus... But it means like two less trips up the hill with buckets to get water.

The weather change has slowed me down a bit though.  I've acquired the gripe, or a cold, that I can't seem to shake.  I mentioned it to one of my senoras, Nora, that I wasn't feeling great and she provided me with some jujos to make a remedio, which I talk about in this video:

It did the job, if only for that evening.  I might have to see if I can find more malva and I'm pretty sure I have a guayava tree in my yard.  Between all the mate, hot cider, hot chocolate, and coffee I'm drinking, I'm definitely staying well-hydrated!

Things are coming along with my demo-plot.   I've worked with Luis for a few hours the last couple of days on clearing out a small portion of the field.  I wish I had a brush-hog!  Sometimes I really miss modern technology!
So far we've had nothing but shovels to remove all this brush
Luis and I are going to try to use a rolo-cuchillo on Monday to cut down what we can't get with a shovel.  Honestly, I'm not sure what a rolo-cuchillo is, or how it works, but it will be interesting to see.  A cuchillo is a knife, so it must be some kind of rolling knife thing... I don't know if I'm going to have to pull it or if we can get a cow to do it.  Luis is the 19 year-old son of my community contact that went with me to the Peace Corps sponsored workshop on Permaculture and Climate Change.  He's excited to put some of the permaculture techniques that we discussed into practice in the demo-plot.   I'm just excited to have someone to work with!

Other than being sick and working on the demo-plot, I don't have that much else going on right now.  Things in the garden are looking pretty feo... I have to figure out what is wrong.  I would post a picture, but it's really ugly.  I think it's just bad soil.  My friends Elijah and Maggie are coming to my site next Thursday, and I'm going to rely on Elijah's expert gardening knowledge to help me out.  I do currently have my worm bin completed (I'll  do a video about that for my next blog), as well as two compost piles, so I'm well on my way to recuperating my soil!

I had a great birthday celebration in Asuncion.  I'll  probably do a blog on that later in the week.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Permaculture, my birthday, and some salmon.

Hi friends!  It's already June!  A lot has happened since my last blog post, but I ran out of saldo earlier this month and due to some traveling I didn't have a chance to spend time in Ybycui to write a blog post.  But with the new month comes a new load of saldo.  Huzzah!

A couple of weeks ago I took one of my friends from site with me to a permaculture workshop in Villarrica.  It was a great day of learning about climate change in Paraguay and its potential impact on agricultural systems.  My friend, who is going to be helping with my demoplot starting this week, is very excited about all of the things he learned.  I'm hoping that we will be able to work together to use this demoplot to show my community examples of conservation practices like mulching, cover crops, crop rotation, and companion plantings. 

I'm really excited to get  back into the agricultural side of my work.  I got so used to talking about all of these conservation practices with farmers when I worked for USDA-NRCS, and it's crazy to me that the only real agricultural work I've done in the last 8 months (!!!!) is put together my garden, which sadly is pretty hideous right now.  The soil is in desperate need of some help, so I'm not sure how much produce I'm going to get from it this time around.  Maybe with some heavy composting and mulching I'll get my seedbeds to something more productive.

I've been in Asuncion since Thursday.  I came in to discuss my plan of work with my program director and to get some worms for my worm box.  I also turned 26 last Wednesday, so I've spent kind of a long weekend celebrating with my friends.  Last night we went to a really spiffy Spanish restaurant and I ordered some salmon.  It was expensive, but totally worth it!  I also got to take my jeans to a lavaderia and have them washed and dried (with a clothes dryer!!!), which was incredible.  Campo-clean is definitely not washing machine-clean, so it's definitely a treat to get my clothes actually clean for once, haha.

This coming week I'll be working on my demoplot.  I don't really have much else planned, but things pop up out of no where pretty often, so you never know what else could happen.  Have a great week!

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Happy 200!

It's hard for me to believe, but this is my 201st post!  I kind of wasted my 200th on that Sweedish guy at the hotel, so I'm going to celebrate it now.

I started this blog back in March of 2007, right as I was beginning to think about studying abroad.  This blog holds the records of many of my adventures... Camping trips, study abroad in the Philippines, trips to California and Washington, life while working for the USDA, and now Peace Corps.  I was looking back at a few posts, and I had to laugh at this one:  Gas at $3.65 and I was having a heart attack... my how the world changes.

As I continued to look through old posts, I had to come back to the title of this blog.  It's not just the world that has changed since 2007, it's myself as well... always in transition.  In a lot of ways, my worldview when I started this thing was pretty limited to mostly life at Michigan State.  These days, I've lived in two countries other than the US, had a full-time job with a salary, gained 5 nieces... life changes so fast!

I received an email from a close friend of mine today, and it was about how rarely life turns out the way that we planned it.  I never thought I would be in the Peace Corps, or that I would be living anywhere close to South America--ever.  I also thought I would have everything figured out.  I had all these plans of a job and living in a big city somewhere.  I also thought that all of my friends would be around me all the time, and no one would ever leave... Now we're all scattered all over the world (literally), and I've come to realize that even though I'd made these plans, I didn't even really know what I wanted out of life in the first place.

I'm turning 26 in a couple of weeks, and I can say that while I love the unpredictability and excitement of not having life turn out how I planned, it sometimes can be a little frustrating.  But gratefully I have one major thing in my life that remains constant-- God.  My friend sent me this verse from Ecclesiastes 11:5- "As you do not know the path of the wind, or how the body is formed in a mother's womb, so you cannot understand the work of God, the Maker of all things."  God has His plan for my life, and I shouldn't be so concerned about directing it.  So much of making decisions in life is just giving in to the Truth and choosing the options that you know are right. 

I'm very close to my 8-month mark in Paraguay, which is pretty close to being 1/3 of the way through my service.  It's moving insanely fast.  I think it's good that I'm here though.  I've wondered, at times, if my being in Paraguay is somewhat spiritually destructive for me because I don't go to church and I don't have a regular Bible Study group that I fellowship with on a weekly basis.  One things that I'm learning is that God wants me to learn how to sit in the passenger seat for a while.  He wants me to learn how to stop and smell the roses (or in my case, drink terere and enjoy the view).  I'm learning some pretty valuable things here that had I stayed in the day-to-day grind of full-time work I would not be learning.

So, hurray for 200 posts, and let's hope for 200 more!

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Who is this Mysterious Swiss Dude?

Ever since my G swore in as PCVs in December, there has been a man from Switzerland staying at the hotel we always stay in.  It's become very apparent that he's living at the hotel now, because 5 months later, he's still there every morning eating breakfast in the common room and watching Animal Planet.  He's obsessed with Animal Planet...

So anyways, yesterday I was sitting at my table eating breakfast alone with not much to do so I started to speculate what this guy's story was.  This is what I came up with.

1. He murdered someone in Switzerland, and now he's hiding out in Paraguay because no one knows anything about Paraguay and living is cheap.

2. He's an eco-terrorist, which is why he's always watching Animal Planet... he's looking for ideas.

3. He's stole from one of those super-secure Swiss banks that do what they want regardless of the law.  Either that, or he was an accountant for the Russian Mob and he embezzled from them and he's on the run.

4. He recently got divorced, and his ex-wife is a monster.  Paraguay is a good place to go if you don't want people to follow, hahaha.

My friend Elijah chimed in with these ideas:

5. He's trying to set up an invitro insemination import business using swill bulls to improve Paraguayan milk production, but because he doesn't speak Spanish or Guarani, his sales pitch gets terribly misinterpreted and he's still looking for a backer.

6. He's a watch maker who has fallen on hard times with the cell phone becoming the new global time piece.

Whatever this man's story is, I find him super-interesting.  I don't want to know the truth, though, because if his story turns out to be boring I'd just be really disappointed.  People are a lot more interesting when you make up their dramatic life stories in your own head.  Maybe, if he's still here when we COS in December 2013, I will ask him what his deal is.  But I don't know, I don't want the mystery to be taken away.

In conclusion, I apologize for blowing your cover, man.  While I secretly hope these speculations are true, I don't want anyone hunting you down/bringing you to justice/whatever.  I don't want that on my conscience.

So... not much actual content in this post.  Sorry about that.  I have a Permaculture workshop coming up next week, so hopefully I'll have more relavent subjects to talk about in my next post.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

VAC Meetings, Empanadas, and #dbhp

I amazingly got a few votes for my double-fried, super-oily fried rice empenadas.  Gosh, what a mess.  I really need to invest in an Empanada Press.  I made a total mess of my house last night attempting to make these things...  But the contest was fun.  We also had some apple and cinnamon, southwest, carne, and pizza empanadas for sampling.  As a fan of empanadas, I was definitely a happy dude around lunch time.

After discussing some important business and playing some games, a few of us that were staying the night walked over to a park on top of a hill in Paraguari.  Good times were had.

Anne, Molly, Bridgette, Dave, and I at the top of the cerro in Paraguari
After the walk we went to get pizza then headed back to Molly's apartment to play some games and hang out.  It's always fun to get together with other volunteers (especially from other sectors) and find out what kind of work they're doing in their sites.  Everyone's site is so different!

It was a nice quick break from being in site.  But tomorrow I head back, and I have a lot of work to do!  Water to install, a garden to water (my peas and garlic are popping up!), and some chipa to make this weekend with Na Venancia.  I may be going to Asuncion next week to drop off some library books, get some worms for my worm box, and pick up a cat from my original host-family in Guarambare.  It's time for me to annihilate these rats for good!

Monday, May 7, 2012

Garden Update

The huerta is finally planted!  Now all there is to do with it is water and wait!  I'm very excited to get my hands on some home-grown green onions, peas, carrots, etc.  I really can't wait to have the cilantro so I can make myself some bean burritos!  Oh Chipotle, how I miss you.

In other exciting news, I had an extremely productive meeting with my community contact this morning.  I was able to see that the women are indeed working on their gallineros (chicken coops) which I had previously been concerned about, and was also able to acquire some land for a demo-plot.  Having a place where I can demonstrate new techniques and experiment with cropping systems is a HUGE part of my service here as an extensionist.  I have a lot of projects in the works right now, but cleaning out the demo-plot and planting some abonos verdes may bump to the top of the list.  Because of my new responsibilities as Groundskeeper for the Peace Corps Seed Bank, I need to familiarize myself with all the seeds and methods of planting/cutting for abonos verdes, and my demo-plot is going to be very instrumental with that.

What else have I been up to since returning to site?  Well, admittedly I took a couple of days to myself where I read, played The Sims, etc... I've also been eating tons of mandarinas and talking a lot with my host-brothers.  Those two crack me up!  They ask some really bizarre questions.  Things we've discussed over the last few days: Charlie Sheen, September 11, Jennifer Lopez, why the F word is a bad word (despite it being in all of their music), the differences between crazy and weird... That last one is something I'm still working on with them.  They both think the other is crazy, when really they're both just weird, haha.  And I mean that in a good way.

My next blog post will probably be about our VAC meeting on Wednesday.  We're having an empenada cook-off, so hopefully there will be some creative choices that I can get recipes for.  I'll try to remember my camera.  I've been forgetting it a lot these days.

Also, I just want to give a shout out to my sister, who just had a new baby girl on Friday.  I'm really grateful that things went smoothly, and I'll be looking forward to meeting her when I go home for Christmas!

Monday, April 30, 2012

Still out of site...

I miss my site.  I really really miss my site.  I was talking with my friend Emily tonight about how I just want to go home.  Which is weird, because it's only been recently that I've started to refer to my house in SJB as home.  Michigan will always been my HOME home.  I lived there for twenty-five years, and I will forever be a Michigander that listens to Kid Rock, drinks bottles of pop, and occasionally drops the accidental Canadian accent on words like "sorry."  Oh Tim Hortons, what I would do for a box of TimBits right now...

But yes, for the time being Paraguay has become home.  I've built a network of friends that have become a surrogate family for me while I'm here.  I have some younger siblings, some older siblings, and sometimes a mom and a dad... though I do seem to be the grandpa of the group a lot of the time, haha.  Someone needs to be the responsible old crotchety one every once in a while.  I also have a great house with an awesome view and a job that keeps me busy.

So yes, I miss home, and if everything goes according to plan I should get to go home tomorrow.  It's been a long couple of weeks out of site.  Last week was a jam-packed training session full of medical and security reminders, tours of research institutes and universities, and powerpoints of permaculture gardening and composting.  Lots of stuff going on, eh?

I did get a couple of days off to see my friend Laura's site in Ybu near San Bernardino.  It was so beautiful!  She has a pretty clear view of Lake Ypacarai from her house.  It's amazing how different sites are from volunteer to volunteer.  The people, culture, and location all have strong influences on the work that we do in our communities.

Now I'm back in Asuncion, and I should be in bed because it's going to be an early morning run to the office so that I can get to the Training Center for these LPIs.  Fun stuff!  Apparently tomorrow is the Paraguayan Labor Day, so there seems to be some confusion as to whether or not the buses will be running tomorrow or not.  Hopefully they will!  I'd really like to sleep in my own bed tomorrow...

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Ahendu, Reconnect, and other nonsense

Woah.  It´s been so weird being out of site for this long.  It´s been almost a week since I´ve slept in my bed, terere-ed on my porch, or made french fries for dinner.  I actually miss my house, haha.

I arrived in Asuncion on Thursday afternoon.  Friday morning we had a meeting for the Seed Bank, and I volunteered to be the Groundskeeper.  Basically I´ll be in charge of maintaining the Seed Bank log and cleaning up the seed storage area, as well as run the meetings for the next year.  I´m excited because I have been looking for a way to further involve myself during my Peace Corps service.  I´ll be working with a few friends who are also part of the committee, and it will give me a few extra responsibilities which is great!  Can´t be afraid to tackle new things!

Saturday evening we had Ahendu, which is basically a big music event that hosts performances from Paraguayans, PCVs, and other volunteer groups in Paraguay.  It happens every time a new group of volunteers swears into service.  It was fun to just hang out and talk with everyone from my G, as well as other volunteers that I´ve met over the last 5 months that I´ve been in site.

I have to say, at first I didn´t think I was going to make any super-good friends while I was here.  I just kind of expected to be isolated in my own little corner of Paraguay and that I wouldn´t have much of a social life.  That is not what happened though.  I think there´s something about sharing these kinds of experiences and challenges that brings people together.  There are quite a few people that I spend time with on a regular basis, and it´s great that our conversations don´t just revolve around what is happening at our sites.  We talk religion, politics, about our friends and families... I´m incredibly blessed to be surrounded by such a supportive (albeit completely insane) group of people that make me laugh a ton.

This week has been all about reconnect.  I´m staying with my original host family, and it´s been really fun to catch up with them and practice my language.  I´m getting better I think... it´s hard to gauge.  The people in Inmaculada speak much more clearly than the people in San Jose.  We´re covering a lot of topics during the training, from seed-saving to green manures to grant writing.  It´s all good stuff.

Time is going fast, though, and like I said I miss my house.  I´ll be ready to go back to SJB when the time comes.

Friday, April 13, 2012

What does my routine as a PCV look like?

Me in my ridiculous straw hat working with my community contact, Na Merarda, in her garden
Obviously every Peace Corps Volunteer has their own unique experience.  It's why I so often see the #liveyourownservice tag on things.  I think in some ways, not comparing out day-to-day life is what keeps us from getting crushed under the pressure of measuring up to the super-guapo, or realizing that you're at the bottom of the Impressive PCV Meter.  It's all about claiming that you're a balanced person living the best way you can in a very area-specific situation, hahaha.

So here is my routine on days when I don't go to town, which in no way reflects the routine of any other PCV in Paraguay.

7:30 Wake up to chickens usually pooping on my porch right behind my bed.  Plywood does not insulate sound.
8:00 Coffee and cinnamon oatmeal, devotions (2 Kings and Psalms, currently)
9:00 Some days laundry, some days go search for internet
10:00 Occasionally search for terere among the community. On laundry days, still doin' laundry.
11:00 Get fidgety and decide if I'm going to build something/work in the garden. Still doin' laundry on laundry days.
12:00 Decide I don't have the materials I need to build or that it's too close to lunch to start working anywhere.  Start cooking/making peanut butter and jelly.
12:30ish Eat, read, listen to Survivor podcasts
1:00 Do dishes, clean up house, put some clothes away, etc.
2:00 Terere time! Sometimes read, sometimes listen to music or a podcast. Sweat.
3:00 Again, get fidgety and decide if I'm going to build something/work in the garden.  Maybe go for a family visit, sometimes go to internet if I didn't in the morning.  A lot of times I read through manuals or mentally plan charlas that I will do at comite meetings when I can actually speak in Guarani.
3:10 Decide I don't have the materials I need to build or that It's too late to start working anywhere. Text/talk on the phone with other PCVs.  A lot of times I sit and talk with my host-brothers and drink more terere/eat manderin oranges that grow on the tree next to my house.
4:00 Refill water bottles and go see Nora to fill back up on eggs.  I never have enough eggs!
5:00 Shower time! Get water to do dishes with after dinner.
6:00 Decide what I want for dinner and maybe read or play some Angry Birds. It gets dark out early now... what else am I supposed to do?
7:00 Cook (aka make a total mess of my house), eat, do dishes, clean up.
8:00 TV time!
8:30 Coffee
9:00 Popcorn!
10:00 Decide what I'm doing tomorrow, clean up dishes from snacks.
10:30ish Go to bed.

This is obviously for ho-hum days.  If I have scheduled work, comite meetings, or things like that I definitely don't spend as much time reading or listening to music.  But yeah, life for me in a lot of ways is pretty tranquilo.  Once the garden gets going, I'll have weeding and watering on my TTD lists, and getting rabbits will change things for sure in the future.  I also manage my compost pile pretty frequently.

Next weekend I'm heading into Asuncion, because G38 (the newest group of volunteers to come to Paraguay... Health sector, I think?) is swearing in and the volunteers have a big party with live music called Ahendu ("I listen" in Guarani).  Things tend to get a bit crazy, so I'll stay for a little bit, but I'm not staying out all night like some people in my G did when we swore in.  After the party, my G has our reconnect training in Guarambare for the week, and we'll get to live with our original host families!  I'm excited to see them.

I'm doing well.  God has really been working in my heart and helping me to let go of things at home that I have no control over, and to just give into the experience here.  I think I'm realizing with time that after this, I will be able to endure a lot more when I get back to the United States, and that gives me a lot of confidence.  I never doubted for a second that God wanted me here and even when I was thinking of going home, I knew that I couldn't unless He sent me.

There are lots of things for me to learn here still (besides the languages... that's a whole other blog post, haha), and I'm excited about the possibilities.  One of the most important things that I'm learning right now is that I'm not in control at all... which is like the most traumatic thing for a control freak such as myself to learn.  Life is short, but there's a lot of different ways it can go.  Every day we're faced with choices.  Some are important, some are not.  But the important thing is that I surrender what I want to God and just follow the Spirit, doing what I know is right.

I'll write more on this stuff later.  I have to buy all the materials to install my running water and shower near my house (looks like today is a guapo day! yay!), and I only have two hours before the truck leaves me with 120 meters of plastic tubing... that can't happen.  I'm not walking 6 miles with all that.  I'm sure I'll get a few more posts in over the next week or so, and definitely next week!  Enjoy the weekend, friends!

Monday, April 9, 2012

Building a huerta

My updates are getting too few and far between for my liking.  Over the past few weeks, my life has been completely dominated by this stupid fence project, and I am SOOOO glad it's over.  Building the fence led to a lot of dirt and sweat, which then led to a lot of laundry, which takes like a full day to do... So fence + laundry + Semana Santa = no time to write, and nothing interesting to write about.

But now the fence is done, I'm mostly caught up on my laundry, and Easter is over so... Here I am!

Fence building can be fun.  It's also frustrating depending on your level of expertise with wire work.  I'm awful.  Like for real--I need a class.  I have no idea how to tie things off.  Basically you have to saw your bamboo to a predetermined size.  For my fence, I chose roughly 54 inches.  After sawing to length, the bamboo needs to be quartered by using a machete and a hammer.  Luckily, I didn't chop off any limbs or toes.  After that, they need to be wired to a support that has already been attached to the corner posts... My fingers are all sliced up because of the stupid wire, haha.

A schematic of how I laid out my garden.  Each square is 1 square foot.
Now I'm double-digging seedbeds.  It's not so bad if the sun is hidden behind the clouds, but it has been HUMID.  I've done two, and I have three more to finish.  I bought seeds for carrots, green onions, red onions, green pepper, swiss chard, cilantro, cauliflower, cucumber, spinach, etc.  I'm looking forward to diversifying my diet a bit more.  I've been eating a lot of rice, vegetable soup, and eggs.  I'm hoping to buy a cooler today while I'm in town so that I can start buying meat.

The next couple of weeks I will be diving into my community needs assessment.  I'll be interviewing community members and drafting up a report.  It should keep me busy until my "Re-Connect" training at the end of April.  All of G37 will be heading back to the training center in Guarambare for a refresher training in language and some other things.  It will be so much fun to see everyone!!

Easter here was surprisingly uneventful.  Lots of Chipa, lots of family came to my community, but in general not that different from a normal day in San Jose Boqueron.  Hope all is well at home!  I'll try to upload a more personal blog soon.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Adios Verano! Stay away forever...

The Paraguayan summer is officially over.  It´s no secret that I have become almost giddy with excitement over the arrival of sub-70F temperatures.  On my way into town this morning, I wore a long sleeved shirt, a fleece vest, a long sleeved fleece over that vest, gloves, and my Big House Football U of M winter hat.  And guess what?  No sweat!  I don´t even have to shower anymore!

Along with the demise of hell (aka summer) means the start of garden season.  Those of you who pay attention to my facebook know that I have been overdramatically whining about the effort that my bamboo fence has taken over the past couple of weeks.  Well, minus the gate and the composting area (which I will finish tomorrow), the fence is done!  So now it´s time to get down to business creating my seed beds and planting my vegetables.

Now for some personal reflections.  I arrived in Paraguay six months ago today, and though time passed quickly, I can´t help but feel a bit homesick.  My life here is never boring, but a lot of the days are the same.  I get up, have my coffee, read 1 Kings and Psalms, maybe do some laundry, visit with some families, drink some tereré, and go to bed.  It´s only when I contact home that I realize that things ARE definitely changing.  People are getting married, retiring, or moving, having babies, kids are growing older, etc.  My niece is currently potty-training and speaking in full sentences.  When did that happen?  I´ve also been thinking a lot about how I won´t be going up to Grand Lake for the next two summers, and that´s weighing on me too. 

But everything I do here is a new, exciting experience.  God has been teaching me that each and every day is so jam packed with different opportunities.  It just takes getting out into the world and see what´s happening! 

Now that I´m done with my first three months in site I can start paying attention to various vacation offers from other volunteers, as well as start exploring my own options.  My parents are talking about coming down to visit me in July or August, so that´s exciting!  I´m also looking at ski packages in the Andes, as well as the usual excursions to Buenos Aires or the Amazon.  South America has a lot of travel options, and I´m excited to get started!

Sorry, this entry is kind of lame.  I´m out of internet saldo until the 1st of April, so I can´t upload any of my videos or photos or anything.  It´s a lot better when I have something to talk about.

I´ll probably come back to Ybycui on Monday morning, so then I´ll have some more content.  Happy Spring/Fall everyone!

Friday, March 23, 2012

Salto Cristal, Food 'n Stuff

Haha Food 'n Stuff.

A full week and no new blog updates!?  That's so unlike me!  Let me fix that.

Last Monday I headed down to La Colmena and met up with Maggie and her VAC, Elijah, and Mario to visit one of the tourist attractions in our area--Salto Cristal.  This place is absolutely incredible!
It was a day of laying out in the sun, swimming, and enjoying a day out of site.  First, we had to take a truck ride about forty minutes outside of La Colmena into the campo.  Then, we had to scale the tricky landscape to get to the bottom of the canyon where this river was located.  It was tough work!  There's not a real trail... You have to look where you're going because it's very steep and very rocky.

But again, totally worth it!  The water was so cold and refreshing.

In other news, I'm still plugging away at my fence.  I have one side left to do, and then I'll be able to double-dig, create my tablons, and then plant!  I'm excited to get the garden going!  Very soon after finishing the fence I plan on installing a water line so that the garden is easier to water.

I'm also in the process of starting my Community Needs Assessment, which is a document that I create for my community as a means of identifying potential projects and to bring to light the present resources that already exist in the community.  I feel like my NRCS training has set me up well for that, as I know where to look for natural resources in soil, water, air, plants, animals, and humans (oh, and now plus energy, right?).  I'm excited to get going on doing my interviews and stuff because I feel like it will also help give me direction on what I might be working on for the next couple of years.  A rough draft is due to my program director in Asuncion at the end of April.

And lastly, here's a random video of me cooking for the first time in my house.  I've had it saved for a while but never posted it.  Nothing fancy.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Who wants to build my fence? Anyone? phooey...

So March is half over... when did that happen? I have been pretty busy traveling around for the past few weeks, and it´s been nice to just be home for the last few days.  I have the joy of building a fence this weekened, so that should be interesting.  I just bought all of the wire that I need, as well as a saw and some wire cutters, and tomorrow I get to start splitting and sawing all of this:

Bamboo, or takuara in Guarani. For my super-lindo fence.  heh.
I´m always relieved when I walk into the ferreteria (hardware store) and can actually convey my point in Spanish.  I´m getting there, slowly but surely.  "Hola! Yo necesito los dos alambre po´i y atar, tenazas, y un serrucho.  Es para una cercado. Y clavos tambien."  It´s not always that smooth, but today I came out a winner.

Eventually the cercado (fence) is going to be placed neatly next to my house, where my garden will be.  Due to my never-ending battle with the chickens, ducks, and other foul fowl, a fence is required to keep my future veggies alive.  Another reason why birds are the worst thing in the world.  I´m hoping to put in at least 3 or 4 tablóns of green peppers, carrots, onions, cucumbers, spinach, zucchini, etc.  I also want to have room for my compost piles.  It´s a  small area, so I´m definitely going to need to be smart about the layout.

Hopefully I will be finished by Sunday afternoon.  On Monday, I´m going to Salto Cristal with some friends, and then I plan on buying my seeds at an agrovet next Saturday when I meet up with some friends for lunch in Paraguarí.  I´ll try to video some of the work I do as a demo of probably how not to use a machete.  This is one of those days when I wish my Dad could drive down to help me with projects like this.  Math and geometry were never strengths of mine, and I don´t know if I have the patience for this kind of repetative and frustrating work.  I´m sure it will be fine though.

Once this fence is done and the garden is planted, I want to start working on the water line and building my shower.  I´m probably going to draft some help from other volunteers for that project... I don´t have a clue about plumbing!

Things are going well.  I don´t even really think about home much anymore.  I´ve sort of fallen into a groove here, which is good.  The weather is gradually cooling, and the days are just flying by!  I can hardly believe April is coming so fast, and the next group (G38) will be swearing in soon.  I´m almost a veteran!  My G has it´s Reconnect training coming up, which signifies almost 4 months at site... life moves crazy fast!

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Be vewy vewy quiet. I'm hunting wabbits

I never thought I would want rabbits.  I'm trying to rid myself of rodents in my house, so why would I want to bring in others?  Well, I'm starting to see that it's a good potential project to encourage livestock diversification in my site, as well as bring something new to my community, but I'm getting ahead of myself...

Friday I left early early early in the morning to catch the 7AM bus out of Ybycui to Asuncion, where I was meeting up with my usuals, Mario, Elijah, and Maggie.  We took care of some office business (library books, mail, etc.), then headed off to the Embassy for a couple of glorious hours in the pool.  After that, it was dinner (with chili cheese fries!) at Bolsi.

Just outside of Ybycui while walking in the morning just before sunrise.
The next morning, after enjoying a delicious breakfast at the hotel, I jumped on a bus to Carapegua (about 40 minutes north of Ybycui on the bus) to attend a workshop on rabbit raising that another volunteer was doing.  We learned about feeding, mating, and killing rabbits.  I even got to help kill one and then skin and clean it!  I'm probably going to end up with a few rabbits at my house just as a personal project, and maybe a few people in my community will be interested in the future.  That's the hope, anyways.

I'm headed back to site tomorrow after some grocery shopping.  Then it's on to my fence and maybe even getting the water installed finally... we'll see!

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Contracts, funding, and declaring war on Nature

Wow.  Talk about flashbacks to an old life that-- while it's only been five months-- seems very, very far away.  Before leaving my Soil Conservationist job with the USDA-NRCS in early September, I was in the process of meeting with farmers interested in the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP).  It's no secret that I had a love/hate relationship with this program.  So much paperwork!  Some days that was a good thing (air conditioning!), and some days it was horrible (Conservation Measurement Tool!).  My brain was working in full "program eligibility mode."  At the same time, I had been working with the previous year's CSP participants on getting their documentation on file so that we could pay them for the work they did within the program for 2011.

Cut to Tuesday last week.  This time, I was the one sitting down in an office with my community contact, Ña Merarda, and a man representing the NGO funding our upcoming chicken coops project in San José Boquerón.  I was back to looking over contract requirements, eligibility, and funding opportunities.  Whoa... Where am I?!  Poor Merarda had to sign the contract three times, and we even had to pull in our Peace Corps Deputy Director for a signature (oh signatory authority... I was ok with leaving you in Michigan).  It was all SO FAMILIAR.  But to be honest, for the first time in five months I finally felt like I was back in the driver's seat.  This is my element!  I'm surprised how much I miss knowing what I'm doing, because somewhere down the line I forgot how clueless I was about working here!  Of course, the whole meeting was in Spanish and Guarani, so I didn't catch much of the actual conversation.  But conceptually--I was there!  Hey... these days I take all I can get.  I just love the feeling of holding a contract with dates, dollar amounts, and essentially standards and specifications!

I met with the Women's Comité on Tuesday this week and we went over specifics.  Again I felt back in control, explaining what items were covered by the grant, and how the amount never changed regardless of what was required to actually build the 14 chicken coops.  I found myself using the phrase "this isn't designed to cover the entire project" in my head... which I'm still working on translating into Spanish.  This phrase has been my motto for the last three years of working with NRCS.  It appears that all over the world, not just in Washtenaw and Wayne Counties, people think that receiving funding means that the project is paid for.  Nope!  It's always a give and take.  There's always responsibility for the receiving party. 

I'm a bit nutty.  I kind of love rules.  Rules allow society to function effectively.  I don't know how many avid 30 Rock watchers read this blog, but there was a pretty incredible episode a couple of weeks ago about what happens when rules go out the window.  You get people on the subway screaming about popsicles and wafting their nasty gym clothes odor to scare people away.  30 Rock isn't for everyone, but I love it.  Anyways, I am excited to work on this project!  There are deadlines!  There's a list of procedures!  There's required documentation upon completion of the project!  There's STRUCTURE!  Oh structure, how I've missed you.  Now my challenge is to get these ladies to work within that structure.

In other news I'm still looking for a cat.  I spent the day building shelves in my house instead of asking around, so I'll have to get on that tomorrow.  On Saturday, another volunteer in Carapegua is hosting a taller (tie-yair, Spanish for workshop) on keeping rabbits.  I'm not crazy about rabbits, but there are some interested people in my community who want to look into livestock diversification, so I'm going to learn more.  We had a couple of days on rabbits in training, but I definitely need a refresher on the information.  Other than that, it's more of the same.

I'm not putting anything heavy on them.  They're just old crates--nothing fancy.

They're basically just hung on the wall with wire and resting on a couple of nails for support. 
 And by the way, I'm now keeping my cookies in the fridge.  If the poison won't kill the rats, I can at least make their favorite foods more difficult to find.

UPDATE: As of this morning, I have a new creature to battle over turf with-- Tarantulas!  If I ever find one of these inside my house, I may just have a heart attack and die.  No me gusta!  It's as if the rats, chickens, and spiders are all collaborating and trying to drive me out of my house.  But you know what?  I have a machete, and I will go straight-up Samurai if I have to.  This is war!

Um, no thanks.
Bryce 1, Tarantulas 0

Monday, March 5, 2012

The war over my food continues...

Yikes.  It's not the isolation that's making me seem a little crazy... it's the animals.  May they all die a firey and painful death! >:-(

Thursday, March 1, 2012

I get around

Happy March everyone!  It's crazy... I've officially begun my sixth month in Paraguay.  Early on in my service I didn't buy what everyone said about how fast time passed... but I'm totally getting it now.

I may or may not be stuck out of site today.  It's been raining since pretty early this morning, and I'm still in Asuncion.  I need to head out soon if I want to get back before dark, but if it's raining it won't make a difference.  I'll probably have to stop at a friend's site on the way home and spend the night.

Transportation is always interesting here.  The bus system can be erradic, taxis are expensive, and our restrictions when it comes to hopping on motos increases the difficulty.  A taxi from Ybycui to my site can cost 40 mil guaranies, which is like $9.00 just to drive six miles, and there's no guarantee anyone will drive it in the rain because the road is so bad.

It's amazing how my sphere has shrunken over the past five months.  In the US, it was no big deal for me to jump in my car and drive to across town to go to a restaurant, maybe BBQ with some friends in Ypsilanti or Whitmore Lake, then go downtown for coffee or the market... 50 miles in one day was no big deal.  Here, many people don't leave their houses all day, and maybe will go into Ybycui for a few hours once every couple of weeks.  It's just a different world.

I don't really miss the driving, but I do miss having everything at arms length.  When I lived in my apartment, it was a 5 minute walk to Meijer where I could be fruit and vegetables, frozen pizza, or a bag of chips.  Now I have to plan my meals way ahead of time just to make sure that I have all the ingredients, and so I can pick up what I'm lacking next time I'm in a place like Asuncion or Paraguari.  It's teaching me how to live with less though, and I'm much more conscious of cost and what I really need.

Well, I'm going to head over to Super6 and pick up some food, and then have lunch and try to go back to site.  Have a great weekend!

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

I´m getting worms...

Ok, so what is vermiculture?  In Spanish, it´s referred to lombricultura and in Guaraní we talk about cevo´i, but that doesn´t help you... It´s worm farming!

These are the worm bins from Homi´s family farm in Asunción from when we visited during training.  Mine will not be this big or this fancy.
I would say that when I was with the USDA-NRCS in Ann Arbor, I was working with some cutting-edge farmers and many new concepts in agriculture.  Many of the farmers that I was working with were in their mid-20s and straight off the Student Organic Farm at MSU (of which fellow Paraguay PCV Mason Bradbury is also an alumni); I don´t know why I never heard of worm farming before coming to Paraguay!  Probably because we didn´t cost share it, haha. ;-)  Actually, it´s typically something that´s used on a very small scale, so I guess it doesn´t surprise me that I never came across it.  But it seems like I would have stumbled upon it while searching for cricket farming after I learned that cricket poop is sometimes used in organic farming for fertilizer.

Anyways, I haven´t created my worm box yet... I´ll write more about it after I start.  Part of the upcoming chicken project is talking about worm composting and using the worms as a potential protein source for chicken feed.  Remember balanceado casero?  Dried up worms can be ground up in a molina and created into worm flour. This flour can then be mixed in with ground corn, eggshells, and soybeans or kumanda yvyra´i to complete the chicken feed.

When I mentioned this concept to my community contact, she didn´t seem too convinced, so I´ve got some work ahead of me if I want people to consider using this method of composting.  I need to get my own worm box done as an example... Guess I´ll just add that to the list of things I gotta do soon, haha.  So much to do!  I need to install water, builda shower, built a fence, double-dig my garden and create tablóns, and figure out how to start a worm box.  Busy = Happy, though!

EDIT -- So this is random, but I just stumbled on an exit essay that was posted online from my experience in the Philippines.  I wonder how long it´s been up there?  You can read it here.  Feels like a long time ago, and I´ve officially been in Paraguay for longer than I was in the Philippines... woah.  haha.  Some of you newer readers may have noticed that this blog started way back in 2007 with that international experience.  Life takes you so many places!