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!