Two years ago today, I left my house in New York to start a new life in the Peace Corps in Paraguay. Now, two years later I stand before you all a new woman. A woman who has lost much but gained more. A woman who has been beaten to the ground and who has raised herself back up. A woman who has learned to slow down, to laugh at herself, to let go and to look up.
I have become a teacher, a learner, a diplomat, an advocate, a mentor, a counselor, a negotiator, an interpreter, a manager and a mediator. More than that, I have become a daughter, a sister, an aunt and above all else a friend. I have learned flexibility, creativity, ingenuity, sensitivity, responsibility, critical thinking, networking, perseverance, resourcefulness and patience. I have learned a new language and a new culture. I have learned to let go of all of my expectations and let life show me what to do.
In these two years, I have experienced hunger, pain, disease, discomfort, loneliness, hopelessness, frustration, anger, stress, grief and fear. I have been challenged and put to the test time and time again. I have failed many times. I have felt like an outsider. But in these two years, I have also felt happier and more free than I have ever felt in my life before.
I have lost weight in my body, my mind and my soul. I have learned that resisting change is futile and that change is what makes the world keep turning and life worth living. I have learned that happiness is a conscious effort, and that nothing should be taken for granted. I have learned the true value of family and community. I have learned to value, cherish, and care. I have learned that sometimes beauty exists in the smallest things and that if we open up our awareness it is all around us, all the time. I have learned that love is the most sustainable thing that I have to offer, that it feeds the hungry, cures the sick and that it is worth more than anything money can buy.
Thank you, Peace Corps, for providing me with this amazing opportunity for growth and self-discovery. I will never be the same again, nor do I want to be. I am proud to say that I am and always will be a Peace Corps Volunteer in Paraguay!
So, five months later…
Tuesday, October 18th, 2011:
There has been so much that has happened since I last wrote an entry that I will not try to put down all the details. Instead, I think I will sum up how I myself have changed in the last half a year. Here are some of the big points:
1: I have lost 40 pounds since I came to Paraguay! This is a major positive change in my life that has needed to happen for YEARS. The result is that I am happier, healthier and SEXIER than ever! Body image was always a big problem for me, and I know that my self-confidence has been boosted big time!
2: I have learned how to play the guitar! Music is and always will be my passion in life, and learning to accompany myself while I sing has helped me understand that I really can do anything if I set my mind to it.
3: I have made friends! Most PCVs make friends during their service, but I failed to understand the depth of that friendship, especially in Paraguay. The idea of sharing in this culture goes beyond what I ever could have imagined. After my birthday party, where 30 people showed up (and at least 20 more couldn’t make it), I realized the impact I have made on this community and the impact this community has made on me. I am so blessed to have friends like these all over the world. Wherever I go, I AM LOVED.
4: I have learned the art of doing nothing! There are days and nights where I have sat in my room alone, staring at the walls, listening to the rain, and thinking deep thoughts. And then there have been nights where I have stayed up until dawn, sharing with friends. There have been weeks when I could accomplish no work. There have been days when I have worked until I drop. Either way, I am happy.
5: I have learned to laugh at myself! One of my major obstacles in life is that I take myself too seriously sometimes and Paraguay has helped me loosen up a bit. This is a blessing because I can see myself more clearly now.
6: I have learned to cook! And I have learned that I love to cook. I have wowed a few Paraguayans with meatloaf, paella, baked chicken, pasta with butter and herbs, and the much loved and sought after BANANA BREAD.
Everyone always says that Peace Corps changes you. Well, I love the changes so far and I hope that these two years will continue to bring me this much joy and positivity!
Monday, May 16th- Today was another crazy day. We had radio this morning, and Abbey and I did a segment on the benefits of reading. It went really well, and I had a blast.
After the show, Tess suggested that we go to Salto Cristal, a 75 meter (275 foot) high waterfall that is near La Colmena. We ended up getting 8 people all together to go and hired a local truck driver to take us out. The drive took about 20 minutes and the driver dropped us off at the entrance of the Eco-Park. We hiked through the woods for a while and then came to the edge of the gorge that the waterfall is in. We climbed down a sheer rock-face hanging on to only crevices, roots and vines. It took a long time, and when I got to the bottom, my legs and arms were shaking from exertion. Then we climbed along the river bed, creek-walking at times until we got to the bottom of the waterfall.
The view was absolutely breathtaking. The waterfall cascades straight down for almost 300 feet into a freezing cold pool at the bottom. We were the only ones there because of the time of year, but the day was sunny and warm and we went swimming. I swam out and under the waterfall, and sat on a rock ledge beneath it, looking out. It was surreal and amazing.
We sat in the sun to warm up and ate cheese and tomato sandwiches and fresh fruit. When the sun went behind the cliff, we got cold and hiked back up. The way up was actually easier (well, not endurance wise) because it was easier to find footholds and I didn’t feel like I was going to slip and fall face first down the cliff at any moment.We took the truck home, and I am so exhausted and stiff. But I do not regret this day at all. It was absolutely amazing!
Sunday, May 15th- Feliz Bicentenario Paraguay! Two hundred years ago, Paraguay became independent from Spain and the dictator Francia took over. The Paraguayans have been preparing for this all year, and they went all out today!
The day started with a two hour long parade. Then Kevin and Abbey and I went to get lunch in Bar Analia. The owner, Javier, was celebrating his birthday and he gave us our lunch for free! We had a delicious asado de chancho (grilled pork).In the afternoon, Kevin and I went to the Jineteada (Horse Show), where they showed off their horses and riding skills. In between acts, the performers would ride up to the concession stand and buy beer from horseback. It was ridiculous. Then we went to the Calecita (Carnival / Fair) where we rode the very rickety Ferris Wheel and ate beef and pork kebobs. Then we went to see the Torrín (Bullfight) and ended the night with a music festival in town. The bullfight was ridiculous. No bulls were killed or even hurt. Instead, three matadors chased them around the ring, jumped on their backs, and pulled their tails. One guy even ran directly at the bull and did a running leap into a front flip. The bull lowered its horns and the guy landed right on his back. All in all, the weekend was exhausting but wonderful.
Saturday, May 14th- Yesterday was insane here in La Colmena. La K-Chorra (a Paraguayan pop superstar) came here last night, and a ton of other volunteers came in. I finally met Kevin, who was the previous volunteer in La Colmena. He is a really nice guy. He is now a third-year volunteer in the town of Bahia Negra, in the Chaco. It takes 3 days by boat to get to his site. Really remote!Kevin, Rachel, Tess, and Connie came in from their communities. Tess brought her two friends who are on an 8 month roadtrip of Latin America with her. The concert was held in a big open-air gymnasium that had a stage set up with all sorts of lights and pyrotechnics. The main act didn’t come on until almost 3am! It was a long night, and a few of the volunteers spent the night.
Thursday, May 12th- This week has been crazy because so much has happened and is still going to happen. On Tuesday, I went into San Bernadino again to visit my friend Sherita and my friend Carol. I stayed at Carol’s house near the lake, and re-affirmed my desire to buy a house in SanBer, Paraguay. Tuesday we spent the entire day by the pool, catching up on the more than a year since we’ve seen each other. Then we walked down to the dock to watch the sunset. It is literally the most beautiful place I have ever been.
Wednesday was cloudy, so we went into Itaguá to look for a space heater. I found a really small one that will be perfect for the winters here. Then in the afternoon, we drove up to visit Sherita in her site. We visited her house and then brought her back with us to Hotel del Lago, where I worked as a receptionist for a month last year.
Thursday, Carol drove me into Asunción to catch my bus from the terminal. I got back and fell into bed. Tomorrow the crazy Bicentennial festivities start!
Monday, May 9th- The time goes by too fast, as always, and it’s Monday again. This weekend went so fast I can’t believe it. Really, the only thing interesting that I did was go to a barbeque with Marlene in the central plaza on Saturday night. We sat around and ate grilled steak and drank cold beer and had a great time. We were having such a great time that we thought Michael should come and so we went to pick him up. Marlene has an SUV, but even with a big car it was hard to navigate the deteriorating dirt roads in the campo. On Sunday there was a huge thunderstorm, so I didn’t go to the soccer partido. I just stayed in and relaxed and read a lot. When I woke up this morning, it was storming again. I was upset because I figured that no one would be coming in for the radio, but I found out that everyone made it in anyway. It would have been a month without radio otherwise. I realized that tomorrow will be my fourth official week here in site. Almost a month! How fast time flies. On the radio today, we played American music like Madonna and the others had put together a show about deforestation. I was surprised and impressed to hear that they talked mostly in Guaraní. I definitely have to improve my skills. Marlene says that Luz Mabel, the directora of the parochial school, is willing to give some of us lessons once a week. I will definitely take her up on that! The rest of the afternoon was uneventful. I tried to nap, but was deterred again and again by people coming into my room. When Damiana found out I was home, she immediately brought me food, even though I have eaten 2 big meals already today. She’s been super protective of me ever since I was sick that one time. At least today she brought me something delicious- a Paraguayan specialty called Mbeju which is like a hot cheese and dough pancake. It kind of reminds me of a Mexican tortilla in it’s shape and flavor, but thicker and with hot, melty cheese inside.
Saturday, May 7th- So I find myself writing this blog a week at a time instead of a day at a time. I can’t lie and say I didn’t have time, but this week was exhausting and I often lacked motivation to write. Don’t worry, faithful readers! I will be better in the future. This week will be just one big entry.
This Saturday was the second day of classes at the Escuelita que Yo Quiero. The first week was just for registration and there were few students. After school last Saturday, I received a text message from Michael, a volunteer in a nearby community, who was coming into town for a party later that night. I hadn’t met him yet, and was eager to connect with more people in my VAC (Volunteer Action Committee). We met for dinner and then spent the remainder of the evening talking and getting to know each other. We met some very interesting (and slightly intoxicated) personalities in town and were therefore entertained until the party started. The party itself was in a huge, open-air gymnasium and reminded me of a middle school dance. It was way too much for both of us, and we ended up leaving early (aka 2am instead of 5am).
On Sunday, we went to the soccer game as usual. I met up with Marlene, who is now one of my best friends here. She just moved back to Paraguay from New Jersey, where she lived for the last 10 years. She’s super tall for a Paraguayan, and is very sarcastic and fun. She’s friends with a lot of volunteers, and everyone stays with her when they come into town for the night. It got really, really cold and I had to crack out my sleeping bag during the night.
Monday was a cold, rainy day. Only my friend from training, Herre, came in to town for radio. We didn’t go to radio, but we did wander around the town, buy some fruit, and hang out. I also bought a hot water thermos, because it’s too cold for tereré right now. It’s mate weather. We went back to my house and drank mate while Herre used my internet. Then we went to lunch at Analia, the best restaurant in town. After lunch, we went to hang out at Marlene’s.
Tuesday was a slow day. I went to plan with Walter and Gladys for Saturday school. We spent hours talking and arguing, and I can see that Gladys can be very hard to work with and for. Luckily, she has a lot of respect for me, and takes what I have to say very seriously.
Wednesday was partly a good day. In the afternoon, Michael was in town again and I went to Marlene’s house to hang out with him. Unfortunately, I ate a whole plate of liver for lunch, trying to follow my goal that I would eat everything put in front of me. I was sick all night, and couldn’t eat any dinner.
Thursday was a rough day. I felt so sick and didn’t eat anything all day. Poor Damiana was so worried about me (because I told her I had a stomach virus). She kept coming in from the other house with plates of food for me. The problem was that the stuff she brought me was equally as repulsive as the liver. The first meal was fried cow stomach. The second was a slab of SPAM. Ugh. I fed the spam to the cat and the stomach to the dogs after she left. Then I went back to bed.
Friday I didn’t go anywhere. I woke up early and did two loads of laundry. It took all morning. Then I ate lunch with the family (no innards or meat substitutes, thank god!). Monse lent me her markers so that I could make things for school on Saturday and watched me color all afternoon. Then I taught her how to play UNO, which kept us occupied for several hours. I ate dinner with Carolina and Damiana, then came back and talked to my family on Skype. I love how easy it is to stay connected with technology.
Finally, today (Saturday) we had the Escuelita. I had made several things for classroom management, like a stoplight system and a marble jar (made out of a soda bottle and bottle caps). It was a successful school day. After school, I met another woman, a retired teacher, in town who wants me to live with her. Her father just died and she’s lonely. I told her that I’ll live with her for a month until it’s time to move into my new house. Everyone is encouraging me to live with her, but I am dying to move into my own place. I have the place all ready, now I just need to start preparing it to move in. I will need to buy all the furnishings for it. It was the house that the last volunteer lived in, but no one has been there for 6 months now. It needs a bit of repair and a lot of cleaning. I really want to paint murals on the walls to make it more welcoming and fun. I will let you know more about that process, which will probably start in a couple of weeks, after the Bicentennial.
Thursday, April 28th- This morning I rolled myself out of bed at a reasonable hour (8am! haha) so that I could go to the high school for a literature presentation. The students were doing a presentation on a book that was made into an American movie called Audrey Rose. We watched some of the movie (it was dubbed in Spanish), and I was shocked to see a young Anthony Hopkins. Somehow I always picture him Silence of the Lambs age. It was weird.
After the presentation, I went to the Parochial school for lunch. They were celebrating Día de los Maestros and all of the maestros (teachers) were there. It was nice to be included. I felt like a professional. We all ate mounds of salad, sopa paraguaya and ryguasu ka’e (barbequed chicken). Then we had cookies. Then we had cake. All this was served with glass after glass of wine and soda (they mix them here- I have never seen someone drink wine straight). It was a fun time.
After lunch, I came home and did some work on the computer. Then I took a nap. I know, I have a hard life, right? Tonight I went to the Poli-Deportivo to watch the elementary Olympiads, a youth sports event. I took lots of pictures, which I will put up tomorrow. When I got home, I made myself some hot chocolate in the new kettle I bought and I’m settling in for the night. I think I’ll watch one of the bazillion movies I have on my external hard drive. Goodnight!
Wednesday, April 27th- Today Abbey came into town to do some shopping and print stuff out. Together, we wandered around trying to find a place to print out a survey she’s made up for her teachers. Abbey’s town is very, very small. She only has one elementary school and one high school to work with, and she’s pretty much going to focus on the high school. It’s interesting because we are so close geographically, but her town is the opposite of La Colmena. La Colmena is urban and developed and sophisticated. Her town is rural and in need of development. It means that we will probably focus on entirely different areas during our two years. She has to start with very basic things for the schools, and I have all of that infrastructure in place already. I am more leaning towards leading workshops and working with more than one school, and she is looking to work one on one with teachers at just one school.
We couldn’t find a place to print out the survey, so Hilda told us to go to the high school in the afternoon. We first ate lunch at Bar Analia, the local restaurant that is owned by Hilda’s brother. I had a delicious chicken milanesa sandwich (fried and breaded chicken breast). We will be eating here every Monday after doing the local radio show with the other three volunteers from the area: Ivan, Tess and Rachel.
Abbey and I talked about what we’ve been doing. I told her about how this weekend I decided to attend the annual sound competition. What exactly is a sound competition, you ask? Well, it just happens to be when people pimp their ride out with a HUGE sound system that goes in the trunk of the car, and then they enter their car in the competition to see who can play music the loudest. And they don’t test them one by one. They all blare their music at the SAME time! It’s a big event that people have to buy tickets for, and I can’t quite figure out why.I went alone, because my host sister had dengue (YIKES! I put up my mosquito net for sure and have been camped out under it when I am home) and Hilda stayed home to take care of her. I felt a little uncomfortable because I went alone, in the dark, and there were literally clusters of drunk, leering guys in the streets. In the daytime this doesn’t bother me, but at night it’s pretty freaky. Since I didn’t know anyone, I made friends with the ticket seller at the gate. This whole event took place in the big arena in La Colmena, the Poli-Deportivo. I sat with her until most of the drunk guys were inside and the event was in full swing. Then I thanked the ticket lady, and walked home as fast as I could. It wasn’t the best way for community integration, but at least I saw the mayor and a lot of the community saw me there.
Page 1 of 9