Filed under: Paraguay
Welcome back to this week’s blog theme: “Things That Have Gone Horribly Wrong,” where I feature ridiculous and embarrassing stories from my Peace Corps Service. Today’s story is ABOUT: the Bus Ride from Hell.
Transportation in Paraguay is definitely on the ‘totally crappy’ spectrum. While buses are the main form of transportation (especially for Peace Corps Volunteers, who can’t ride on motorcycles or drive cars), they are some of the worst in South America. In fact, the majority of them (especially the local Asunción colectivos) are extremely old buses that have failed security checks in neighboring countries like Brazil, Argentina, and Chile. So, they’re all shipped on over to Paraguay, where we deal with completely bent-out-of-shape, dusty, gaping-holes-and-broken-windows, and continuously breaking-down buses.
(Note: not ALL buses in Paraguay are like this. There are a few super-fancy, double-decker buses with plush seats and air conditioning that travel along the main routes of Paraguay and then into neighboring countries. But the grand majority of these buses, to put it realistically, are totally shitty).
Moreover, oftentimes the worst part about these buses is the complete lack of regulation as to how many people are allowed on them. Bus peons try to pack as many passengers as possible onto a bus, until you are trapped like a sardine in a can. If you can’t find a seat, you stand. On the worst days to travel, such as holidays, or rush hour, you’ll find yourself hardly able to breathe.
My bus line to Caazapá, La Yuteña, leaves much to be desired. While there are worse bus lines in Paraguay, it’s definitely up there. Depending on the bus you get (which you will never know until the second it arrives), you can get on a complete hunk of junk with vomit-caked seats and windows that won’t open or close, and that break down 4-5 times before reaching it’s final destination. Sometimes you can get a relatively normal bus that actually has reclining seats and foot rests. There is ONE La Yuteña bus that is oh so fancy, with air conditioning and plush seats- but it is so, so rare (only a few times a year), and comes at the most random hours. Whenever one of us Caazapeño Volunteers actually gets to ride on it, it’s like a trip to heaven. We like to call it “The Great White.”
A La Yuteña bus. This is one of the nice ones.
This story however, has nothing to do with the ever-elusive ‘Great White.’ Nope, this is about being on one of those completely crappy buses with a whopping 102 degree fever, at 1 AM. I was coming back from one of our Volunteer camps, and I had a terrible virus. I was returning to Caazapá because one of my Paraguayan contacts had a big job interview over the phone the following day in English, and I promised him that I would be there for moral support. So even though the Peace Corps medical team offered to cover me for a night in the capital because I looked deathly ill, I decided to brave a mid-night 5 hour bus back to my site to be there for my friend.
My first big mistake? I only had 10 mil in my pocket (the equivalent of 2 dollars). I could have gone to the ATM in Asunción before getting on the bus, but I felt too sick and exhausted. What could go wrong? It’s just a 5 hour bus ride, I thought to myself, as I settled onto a crappy seat, shoved tissue up my nose, and prepared to pass out. This was a bad thing to think, because I totally jinxed myself.
The first half of the bus ride passed relatively normally. I burned up with fever, dealt with a splitting headache, and coughed and sneezed all over the place, which pretty much alerted every Paraguayan in the general vicinity to stay as far away from me as possible. For the first time ever, I had the seat next to me completely open. I should get sick more often, I thought to myself in a dreary, disoriented haze.
Suddenly, the worst of the worst happened when you’re traveling in the middle of the night; the bus broke down. I peered outside to get stock of our surroundings. If this was nowhere, we were in the middle of it. People started filing off the bus, and I seized in panic. It was 1 AM, I felt deathly ill, and I had no idea what was going on or where I was.
“What’s happening?” I asked the bus driver. “How long until the bus will be fixed?”
“The bus is broken,” the driver told me. “We have to wait for the next La Yuteña bus to come along, and then you all can board on that one.”
The next La Yuteña bus was scheduled to pass by 3 hours from now. And with a full bus of people getting onto another full bus of people, I knew this was not going to be pretty. What was worse was that I had no money to jump onto another bus, and all of the nearby Volunteer sites to this middle-of-nowhere-place weren’t home because of the Volunteer camp. And, my phone was about to die.
When faced with some tough situations in the Peace Corps, I have oftentimes surprised myself by handling them with humor, patience, and grace. This was not one of those situations. The most logical thing that I could do in my fever-ridden haze was to start crying. Tears and snot flowed down my face freely. ”Please, please just try to help me find a seat on the next bus. I’m really sick, and I don’t think I’ll be able to stand the whole way home,” I pleaded with the bus driver.
The unsympathetic (okay, less fluffy, asshole bus driver, as most on La Yuteña buses are) turned away and ignored me.
For the next three hours, I sat in a pile of dirt, alternating between crying alone and feeling very sorry for myself, trying to sleep sitting up, and talking on the phone to my friend Sam, who was mercifully still awake. Finally, after what had seemed like an eternity, another La Yuteña bus pulled up. Except there was one problem. We were all passengers off of a loaded bus. This La Yuteña bus was already PACKED. To the gills. There were already a whole slew of people standing in the aisle. How in the hell were we going to fit another bus load of people onto this bus? Wasn’t there some better solution?
Well, in Paraguay, there wasn’t. We all started filing on to the bus. Packed does not even begin to describe the misery of standing on this bus. I could have lifted my feet off of the ground, and been fully supported by the weight of the people standing next to me- THAT’S how packed it was. Claustrophobic people need not apply to the Peace Corps: every single possible body part I had was making friends with other discombobulated and foreign body parts.
The bus driver on this current bus seemed to believe that this many people on one bus was a bad idea. YA THINK?! “There’s too many people on this bus, this is dangerous,” he told our bus driver of the bus that had broken down. “The police will pull us over and fine us.”
“IT’S OKAY, SIR!” yelled a bus patron, a lady who’s voice was almost muffled from the over-capacity. “GOD WILL SAVE US! IF WE ARE MEANT TO DIE, THEN WE’LL DIE!”
It was at this point that I realized that if there was a Hell, this is what it would look like to me.
I did eventually make it back to Caazapá (I couldn’t handle the standing in my fever-haze and got off the bus two hours later, collapsing at a fellow Volunteer’s house), and I made it just in time to my friend’s interview the next day.The bus ride from hell continues to be a traumatic memory, but hey- at least I’ll know that short of rolling off of a cliff, I’ll never be on a worse bus ride again in my life. That, and to always carry extra money. Or, just in general, don’t travel on a bus when deathly ill.
Thanks to Jon and Nalena for saving my ass. And thanks to the Great White, for making all of those shitty La Yuteña bus rides worthwhile.
Filed under: Paraguay
To continue on this week’s blog theme, “Things that Have Gone Horribly Wrong“, where I feature ridiculous situations from my Peace Corps Service, I’m proud to PRESENT: The Story of the Coldest Night of My Life.
It was the Winter of 2012, and it was bitterly cold (picture me holding a flashlight up to my face and saying this in an urgent, whispered voice). My best friend Mira was visiting me from the United States, and so I decided to take her on a little tour of Paraguay to see some interesting sites. We first stopped by Encarnación, my favorite city in Paraguay (perhaps because it actually has a river, or because of the plethora of Asian cuisine- but that’s for another post!), and then decided to continue on to Trinidad, home to a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Jesuit Ruins. It’s beautiful, and definitely worth visiting.
Mira and I in Trinidad.
Fortunately, one of my fellow Peace Corps Volunteers and G-mates Julia lives in Trinidad, and she graciously offered to let us stay in her house for the night.
Julia in Trinidad.
Now, this is the point where I should probably tell you that I had scabies. Scabies is a seriously annoying and temporary skin infection that at least half of the Peace Corps Volunteer population seems to get during their service. It’s annoying because 1) it itches like crazy, and 2) you have to basically burn all of your clothing to get rid of it. Okay, I’m exaggerating. Wash the hell out of all of your clothes, sheets, covers, and pillowcases until they resemble a mere shadow of their former selves. And while you’re at it, douse yourself in enough special Scabies soap and lotion that you also resemble a pink, liquidy monster.
Don’t ask me how I got the scabes, because I have no idea. My Peace Corps doctor thought it may have been the stray dog I let into my house a few times, and that the scabies got into my bed linens. Or it could have been from a hostel bed in Asunción that didn’t wash its sheets from the last Volunteer (I can think of a few places that don’t do that…) Or, it could have been from the house of another Volunteer that I was visiting recently. But wherever I got it from, I got it in the worst place of all time. On my butt. So naturally, Mira and I started calling my affliction ‘butt scabies.’
So, it was a merry day in Trinidad with Mira, Julia, me, and my butt scabies. We visited the Jesuit Ruins twice (once in the daylight, and once in the evening during their eerie but beautiful light show), cooked a marvelous dinner, and then prepared for bed. I had of course, notified Julie about the butt scabies, and we agreed that it would be best that rather than share her bed, I sleep on her cement floor. Julie graciously set me up with a Yoga mat and a blanket. I was not prepared however, to sleep on a cement floor on the coldest night in Winter 2012, where it was in the 30′s. Did I mention that Julia’s house is constructed of wooden planks, full of large holes to let the night air come wafting in? Also, did I mention that I was sleeping on a cement floor?
Julia managed to capture a picture of this timeless moment.
Thankfully, I had three companions that were initially lifesavers. One was my water bottle, that has been my ultimate savior in the Winter. The second were all of my clothes- yes, all of them. I wore about three layers of clothes, and my socks, and my shoes, to bed. Third was Julia’s small space heater, which was mercifully on the floor next to where I slept. The first half of the night was frigid, but I survived. I curled up next to her little space heater, feeding off of the heat. I affectionally dubbed it in my mind Lifeforce.
What Julia didn’t realize however, was that the space heater was acting up. It kept hissing and spitting sparks. At some point in the night, Julia got up to use the bathroom during one of it’s hissing fits.
“Brittany, I’m really sorry but we need to turn this off,” she said, unplugging Lifeforce. “This could get really dangerous and start a fire.”
I glared at Lifeforce. WHY DID YOU GIVE US AWAY?!?! I screamed at it silently. THIS COULD HAVE BEEN OUR LITTLE SECRET!! It was then that I realized, while talking to an inanimate object in the dead of the night, that I had gone crazy. Five minutes later, without the warmth of the space heater, I was reaffirmed of this fact when I wished to dear God that Lifeforce would have started an electrical fire. It may burn Julia’s house down, but at least I’ll be warm, I thought deliriously.
The next five hours of my life were something of a living hell. I drifted in and out of consciousness, occasionally creeping into Julia’s kitchen to boil hot water for my water bottle, which seemed to go completely cold every hour. I contemplated all of the ways I could turn on Lifeforce without Julia noticing. I tried to visualize fireplaces, hot springs, Bikram yoga- or at least when the sun would come up, and I would finally be warm again.
Finally, 6:00 AM rolled around and the first rays of the sun started peeking through Julia’s wooden planks. Exhausted, freezing, and completely disoriented, I jumped off of her yoga mat and ran to her front door, fumbling with her lock and key.
“Brittany?” came a groggy voice from Julia’s bed. “What are you doing?”
I don’t even think I answered. SUN. WARMTH. Were the only things I could mentally formulate.
That’s how Julia’s neighbors found a strange American, dressed in 3 layers of clothing and a blanket, drunkenly stumbling around her front lawn at 6 in the morning, desperately trying to find a patch of sun to stand in.
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Want to read more ridiculous stories? Check out Inappropriate Things I’ve Said In Paraguay.
Thanks to Julia for being such a gracious host and good sport! And thanks to my butt scabies– for being gone, hopefully forever.
Filed under: Paraguay
Welcome to this week’s Blog Theme, “Things That Have Horribly Gone Wrong.” This week I’ll be featuring the best stories from my Peace Corps services- cultural faux pas and ridiculous situations that I’ve stumbled into as a Peace Corps Volunteer. Some are gut-wrenchingly embarrassing, some pitiful, and even some downright sad– but you can be guaranteed that they are all hilarious.
Before we continue, I should probably state that this post is not safe for work. Don’t be reading this and giggling uproariously at my mishaps while your boss passes by. This is also not entirely appropriate for children, unless you’re keen on them learning some choice Guaraní swear words.
I figured what would be better to ring in this week by sharing a few small stories of completely inappropriate things that I’ve said during my service. These were all unintentional (thanks Guaraní, you bitch of a language), and are probably about one millionth of a fraction of culturally inappropriate things I’ve said without realizing it. Thankfully, Paraguayans have a wild sense of humor, so these have turned into stories I am repeatedly asked to share at parties.
During training, we had 4 hours of language learning every morning, 6 days a week. It was short of torture, especially since I was placed in the most advanced class. Initially I patted myself on the back about this accomplishment, but then realized that I was learning a brand new language, Guaraní, IN Spanish- a language that, at the time, I had a mediocre grasp at. Jaha Recesope (Time for Recess) quickly became my favorite phrase.
Anyway, within the first week of intensive Guaraní, I learned the word ‘tembi’u,’ which means food. I decided to try this out on my Paraguayan homestay family, and surprise them over dinner with my impressive use of Guaraní. Instead, what came out was a word that was so, SO not food.
What I meant to say: This food is delicious. (Qué rico este tembi’u).
What I actually said: This small penis is delicious. (Qué rico este tembo’i).
As you can see, the difference between ‘food’ and ‘small penis’ in Guaraní is literally two short syllables: i’u and o’i. My homestay family just about died of laughter. Dirty, dirty Guaraní!
Another classic Guaraní mistake I made with my homestay family during training was about six weeks later, when I had started to get a much better grasp of the language, and could start forming small sentences! I was so proud of myself. I was all like, look at how awesome I am! I’m going to show off. And it is literally always when I think that thought, that I end up saying something horribly wrong.
Winter in Paraguay can be frigid- even though the lowest it can get is in the 40′s, Paraguayan houses have no insulation or indoor heat- so you are just cold, all of the time. One evening, as I was wearing my usual three layers of clothing and waiting for some hot water to heat up to drink maté (which is the best beverage to keep you warm), my homestay sister asked me ‘Nde ro’y?‘ (Are you cold?)
Now, the sound ‘y’ in Guaraní is extremely hard to master for Americans. It’s a crazy nasaly, high-pitched noise that sounds like… well, there’s just no comparison. Think of how we say “Ooooooooo” in English, and then raise that about 12 octaves.
So I hadn’t mastered the ‘y’ sound yet (and 2 years later, still haven’t fully).
What I meant to say: Yes, I’m cold (Che ro’y).
What I actually said: I want sex (Che ro’u).
Only in Guaraní can the difference between ‘y’ and ‘u’ mean sex.
Flash forward six months later, I was on my way back from my first trip to the United States, where I had spent a glorious and much-needed Christmas with family. I had eaten all kinds of delicious food, seen tons of friends, and spoken dizzying amounts of English for two weeks. Spanish totally slipped out of my mind, and receded into a fuzzy memory.
On my trip back, I brought a suitcase full of canned goods (most of it was Indian food), many that were gifts from family members to last me for a few wonderful months. As I was getting my bags from the baggage claim at the Asunción Airport, I loaded them onto an X-ray machine. I had been the last one off the plane, and there was only me and three male Paraguayan officials checking my bags.
As my bag full of canned goods passed through the X-ray machine, one of the men asked me “What’s inside of this bag?”
Through my then-hazy Spanish, I struggled to remember what ‘preservatives’ meant. I decided to fall back on the usual ‘I’ll just put an ‘o’ on the end of this English word and it will be Spanish.’
What I meant to say: My bag is full of canned goods.
What I actually said: My bag is full of condoms.
I still didn’t realize my mistake, even after all three of the men burst out laughing, and one winked at me, telling me to save one for him.
“…And You Can Use This When You’re Caliente”
For Christmas, I bought my neighbor and ‘Paraguayan mother’ Mari oven mitts from the United States. Mari is the ultimate Paraguayan ‘Ama de la Casa’ (Stay-At-Home Mother), and is an awesome cook. It’s just about as good as her boasting skills, which she projects far and wide to all of Caazapá about the best Sopa Paraguaya in the city. So, naturally I thought that these oven mitts would be the best gift ever for those times she needed to take Sopa out of the oven, thereby establishing myself as the best hija in town.
We opened her gift around her entire family, and they oohed and aahed over the beautifully stitched oven mitts. I decided to explain to her how to use them.
What I meant to say: You can use these to protect your hands.
What I actually said: You can use these when you’re horny.
I went from being the best hija to the town pimp. My neighbors still call me out on this.
So there you have it: some of my most unintentionally inappropriate things I’ve said in Paraguay. While all hilarious, at the time they were all at least a little embarrassing. But, sometimes embarrassment surpasses language. Like the time I was teaching my first class at an Adult Teacher’s Institute. And someone loudly stood up and pointed out to me that my fly was down. And I wasn’t wearing any underwear.
There’s nothing you can do in these situations except laugh. At least publicly, and then cry later.
Hope you enjoyed some of my most offensive slip-ups in the ‘Guay! Tune in tomorrow for another post.
Filed under: Paraguay
Well, my time in Paraguay is drawing to a close sooner than I thought. Due to some extenuating circumstances, I will be coming home a month earlier than planned, and wrapping up my service by the end of June.
This is both exciting and sad for me in different ways. I’m really excited to come home and be with my family and friends- I will be able to celebrate my grandmother’s birthday with my entire family, which is so fantastic! I can’t wait to see everyone, to be home in my house, and pet my dog.
I’m also sad to leave Paraguay, a place that I’ve called home for 2 years. I told my English classes today, and I surprised myself at how sad I was to see their long faces. I was even more shocked when I told Denis later at his store, and he actually teared up.
“So you won’t be here when the new Volunteer comes to visit?” He asked me. Caazapá will be getting a follow-up Volunteer, and traditionally the new Volunteer visits for a week while the old Volunteer is still in site. Denis will be their main contact, so they’ll be staying at his house.
“No, I won’t be,” I said sadly.
“Who will be there to make fun of them with me then?”
Now that my early Close of Service is official, life feels totally different. Yesterday I started the process by taking down all of the pictures in my house. My kitchen looks barren and sterile- not at all the cheery place it used to be. But I think it’s good- every time I walk in there’s a reminder staring at me in the face: I am leaving soon.
Good news for the blog though! I have about 30 stories I’ve been meaning to post for months now. One of my projects is to get them all written out before I finish service. So, you’ll be hearing from me. A LOT. As in, every other day a lot.
We’ll be starting out with a bunch of posts I’ve stockpiled for over a year, which I think are some of the best of Paraguay: this week’s ‘Blog Theme’ is “Things That Have Gone Horribly Wrong.” These are some of the best stories from my service about complete cultural faux pas and ridiculous situations I’ve stumbled into. I hope you’re as excited as I am, because these are the stories I’ll be barking to my grandchildren from a wheelchair.
Here’s a juicy little teaser.
Joining the Peace Corps has always been a dream and life goal of mine, and an active one when I first applied in 2009. Exactly four years later, I’m suddenly so close to the finish line that I can taste it. As has become totally normal over the past two years, I’m feeling a lot of different emotions at the same time. I have less than 50 days left in Paraguay- 50 days before this chapter in my life comes to a close.
Let every second last a lifetime.
Filed under: Paraguay
Well, I finally made it to the beginning of the end of my Peace Corps Service: my COS Conference.
A COS Conference, or ‘Close of Service’ Conference, is a 3-day event, 3 months before the end of your service. The Peace Corps invites your entire training class (mine is G-36) to attend mandatory workshops on readjusting back to life in the United States, logistics in finishing your service, how to wrap up projects and say goodbye to your communities, financial planning, in-country and sector feedback, potential job opportunities in Peace Corps and the US government, resume building, and best of all: a mountain-load of paperwork.
The first day of our COS Conference.
For the Peace Corps, your COS Conference really is a mark of the end of your service. In other words, it’s Peace Corps telling you that it’s time to face the music: your time is almost up, and all of that tereré drinking and general tranquilo lifestyle you’ve lived over the past 2 years is not going to serve you too well if you don’t have a plan for the future.
Vicky drinking Guaraná soda out of a wine glass. Always classy.
So let’s just state right here that this COS Conference totally crept up on me. It feels that I just got to Caazapá last week, yet suddenly we’re in May and I’ve been living in Paraguay for 2 years. There’s still so much that I’m learning about Paraguay, that I still don’t know- so many more projects I could work on, and that I’m still working on. I still don’t speak Guaraní to the point where I can understand all of the grossly offensive jokes at parties. Where did the freaking time go?!
But as we all hung out at the super fancy hotel that the Peace Corps put us up in and gorged on incredible and limitless buffet food, I couldn’t help but realize that the true intention of this conference was absolutely coming to fruition: within 3 days, my mind totally shifted. My service in the Peace Corps is truly coming to an end, and before I’m even fully cognizant of it, I’ll be back in the United States. At the conference, we were encouraged to write out lists of what we needed to do to wrap up in our sites- professionally and personally. Before I knew it, I had a laundry list of objectives. ‘Visit Dora’s family, Visit Wilma’s family, Invite Carlos and his wife for dinner, have a luncheon at the Cooperative, wrap up Geography classes by end of June, set aside furniture for future Volunteer at Dennis’s house…’ and the scribble goes on. It was all right in front of me: a map to actually finishing my service, and saying real goodbyes to people I’ve lived with for the past 2 years.
We also had a series of ‘I’ve actually taught this as a Peace Corps Volunteer, are you seriously making us do this?’ activities, such as ‘setting expectations for the conference’ and situational cases that we discussed in groups and then discussed as a whole. One such activity was drawing how we saw ourselves during training, during our service, and then post-service. For training, I drew myself as a starry-eyed optimist, dreaming about the amazing Peace Corps Volunteer I would be. For my service, I just drew a giant bubble that said “A HOT MESS.”
Evelyn and Dion, showing off some of their drawings.
The biggest indication to me that our service really is coming to an end was our ‘COS Picture.’ Every COS Conference, Peace Corps Paraguay takes a big picture of the training group. It’s usually posted on Facebook and in Peace Corps Newsletters- another signal to other Volunteers that yes, that G is about to leave. I always used to stare at those photos of earlier training groups and wonder what could possibly be going through their minds now that they’re so close leaving Paraguay. It is definitely weird being one of those Volunteers now.
As usual, my G had to take a series of weird photos, because we’re awesome like that.
Ita Training Group
J.A. Saldivar Training Group
Our G36 ‘Prom Photo’ that is just about as awkward as us.
Trying to create a G36 pyramid…
The best part of the COS Conference was the photo shoot. And of course, hanging out with my wonderful G-36. I feel extremely lucky to be part of such a special group of people, and it was great to spend time together.
Since I’ve gotten back to Caazapá, things haven’t felt quite the same. But I suppose that’s how it’s supposed to be. I only have 50 days left in a place that I’ve called home for 2 years, after all.
Filed under: Paraguay
I never had cats growing up. My Dad and sister are both allergic (and supposedly I am as well, though that theory has since been tested false), and so we’ve only had dogs. Therefore, I never really got the ‘cat thing.’ I didn’t consider myself a cat person, and I never knew what to do around my friend’s cats.
So imagine my surprise when I unexpectedly got paired with a kitten as a sort of ‘end-of-service’ surprise!
One Friday night about a month ago, I was getting in my daily exercise by jogging down my favorite running trail (P.S. in Paraguay ‘running trail’ means ‘dirt road to someone’s house’). This running trail is my favorite place to jog; the road is small and winds through fields, passing a tranquil pond that looks spectacular when the sun sets, and eventually ends at a family-owned horse barn. It’s quiet, and there are barely any motorcycles or cars that drive by to kick up dust (never a fun time trying to run while choking on red dirt).
As I turned a bend, I came upon a tiny black kitten in the middle of the road. He was bone-thin, with matted fur, and small enough to cup around one hand. But he was very much alive- he immediately jumped on my shoelace, wanting to play.
Before his first bath
At this exact moment, a rare car passed by, with the owner of the farm inside. Disoriented, I picked up the kitten.
“Is this your kitten?” I asked him.
“No, sorry,” replied the man.
“Do you know who’s he is?” I looked around the path. There were no other houses in site, and I was totally confused as to how a kitten that small could have gotten out in the middle of nowhere.
“I’m sure that people threw him out here to die,” the man said nonchalantly. “When people don’t want dogs or cats, they usually leave them here.”
Angry, but unsurprised (I’ve heard plenty of similar stories), I resolved to bring the kitten back to my house so that he wouldn’t die once the night became cold.
Originally this was a short-term plan- I would take care of him for the weekend and then give him to my city’s vet on Monday, so that she could find him a home. But over the weekend, I completely and unexpectedly fell in love with him. Perhaps it was the constant climbing into my lap to snuggle, or the purring of contentment every time I petted him, but I soon became completely hooked. And after I gave him a good bath and some medicine and cat food, he completely transformed from a mangy little thing to an adorable kitten. I named him Harry.
Harry’s first weekend at casa Brittany.
There’s something about having a kitten that just makes life so much better. For the past month he’s been my wonderful companion and snuggler. He is a very sweet and gentle cat- he loves to cuddle, drink milk, and play with the variety of DIY ‘cat toys’ I made him (twisted pieces of tape and balls made from paper). He also loves hide and seek.
Harry likes to sleep by my lamp at night.
He also likes getting his belly rubbed.
My windowsill is one of his favorite places, since it’s sunny there all day.
Harry hiding in my covers
After living with him for a month now, I have officially become converted to ga-ga over the moon catdom, and I totally get it now. I get all of those LOLcats and ‘I can haz cheezburger,’ and those ‘crazy cat ladies’ stereotypes. I love having a cat. Or more importantly, I love having Harry. One man’s trash really is another man’s treasure. I still can’t believe someone would throw a little kitten out into a field to die- but their loss is my gain.
I promised myself I would never get a pet while in Paraguay because I become so attached to them. And this has proved true- I am absolutely attached to this little guy. Unfortunately, for a variety of reasons I can’t bring him back to the United States (for starters, my parents have banned any other pet addition after I brought a puppy back from India- and rightly so, since I left her on their doorstep while I traveled around the world!) Fortunately, another Volunteer who loves cats and lives close-by is happy to take him when I leave.
So for the time being, I feel so grateful for Harry to have entered my life – even if it’s just for a little while. He’s a great friend, and he has made the end of my service in the Peace Corps wonderful.
I love you Harry!
Filed under: Paraguay
I’m posting at 3:30 AM, so I may not be completely coherent while writing this. But sometimes those feelings just grab you in the moment, and you would rather write them down then let them go.
I rode on a bus for 10 hours today. My first 5-hour trip was at 6:00 AM this morning, when I went to the capital of Paraguay for an interview for a job post-Peace Corps. Turns out I had mistaken the day of the interview, so there was nothing left to do but turn around and get right back on another 5-hour bus to Caazapá!
And truthfully, if I had made the same mistake 2 years ago and had to travel on a bus for 10 hours for no reason, I would probably be pretty miserable and frustrated about the whole deal. Today, all I did was laugh. Life is sometimes so ridiculous that there’s nothing else to do but laugh, and find humor in crazy situations.
So I was sitting on this 5-hour bus ride back to Caazapá on my dingy little bus line ‘La Yuteña,’ the kind where the seats are caked in I-don’t-even-want-to-know-what and when someone puts their seat back it falls onto your lap. And this bus was packed to the brim, as usual, with babies and children on every spare person’s lap, and adults lining the aisles. And yet, I felt totally relaxed and peaceful. I didn’t listen to music. I didn’t get bogged down by the 20-mile-an-hour bus ride, or the apparently drunk guy stumbling over my seat every few minutes. I just sat there in peaceful silence. I waved and smiled to a few of my fellow Caazapeños that happened to be on the bus with me, and offered them Ritz Bits cheese crackers I had gotten in the capital.
Okay, maybe this doesn’t sound like a big deal at all. Big whoop, I sat on a bus for five hours. But you know what? I spent a lot of time on the bus thinking about how much my experience in the Peace Corps has changed me. A bus ride like this that used to be so unfamiliar and uncomfortable, and at times frustrating, now felt totally normal. None of those little things didn’t get to me- at all. I just watched the stars out, and felt content on yet another bus ride back to my site. Back to my home.
And in that moment, I realized that Paraguay is now more of a home to me than the United States. Sometimes I feel that I can’t even identify with the United States anymore- everything I read in the news are about shootings or bombings, or congress blocking bills that over 90% of the American people want. I watch movies such as ‘This Is 40′ which is about an insanely wealthy and successful American couple who have beautiful children and a wonderful lifestyle, yet bicker and curse at each other every single second that they can. Is that supposed to entertaining? I’m disgusted. Or I read articles about the glorification of ‘busy’ and cringe about returning to such a narrow-minded definition of success.
Paraguay is not perfect by any means. But there are so many truly beautiful things that I love about this country- loving your neighbors, the meaning of community, spending quality time with people you love (and not hiding behind a technological device while doing it), living fully in the present, not defining success by what job you have or how much money you make, going with the flow.
Paraguay has made me more patient, more present, and kinder. It has helped me so much to see that the important things in life are not how much you make and own, or how you are defined by what you do. I never want to forget that. And in that moment on the bus ride, I felt so sad that in a few short months, this will no longer be my reality. Caazapá will no longer be my home. La Yuteña will no longer be my main form of transportation. I will no longer spend my days on lawn chairs, drinking tereré and chatting with my Paraguayan friends.
I guess the point of this post is two-fold. One, the Peace Corps is so hard, and it never, ever stops. You are first so overwhelmed with the raw experience and adjusting to such a foreign place, and it never lets up. And then when you finally start to get comfortable, finally start to make friends and family, finally start to understand, finally start to call this place your home– you must leave.
Two, though it was never easy, I will always love this experience that the Peace Corps gave me, and there is a part of me that will always always think of Paraguay as home. And even though I still have my days where I am really frustrated with the way things can be here– I never, ever want to forget how much I love Paraguay, and how much this country has taught me.
Yesterday, one of my closest friends in the Peace Corps and site-mate, Zoe, left Caazapá and finished her service. She has been with me in Caazapá since Day 1, so this is a big transition for me. It has made it more than ever apparent to me that I’m up next. 103 days left to go.
You get a strange feeling when you’re about to leave a place… like you’ll not only miss the people you love but you’ll miss the person you are now at this time and this place, because you’ll never be this way ever again.
Filed under: Paraguay
Okay, let’s get this out of the way: I haven’t posted on this blog in a month. Shame on me, I am sin verguenza (as we like to say in Paraguay). I’ve gotten all carried away with posting on my shiny new blog and sort of let the pictures do the talking for awhile. Also, March and April was one hell of a roller coaster ride! Sometimes all you can do is enjoy the highs, and hold on tight when there’s a sudden dip.
Anyway, back to the subject at hand, and a seriously important and awesome one at that– at the end of March, my family came and visited me in Paraguay!!!!!
Truth be told, when I first got into the Peace Corps I started bugging my parents non-stop about coming to visit me. I tried every guilt-tripping tactic imaginable (I told you this post is all about being sin verguenza), but truth be told it was all out of love- I just really wanted my folks to see my experience and ultimate life dream that I had about being a Peace Corps Volunteer. I wanted them to understand what it was all about, and experience both the joys and challenges of service for themselves. For awhile, my Dad’s response to visiting was always a slightly sarcastic “Sure, see you there in 10 years!”
At some point, about a year into my service, I gave up on the idea. It just didn’t seem destined in the stars that my family was coming down to Paraguay. And then, something magical happened. I was randomly talking to my Dad on the phone one day in November, when he casually slipped in that he and Mom were “thinking” about coming to visit me. I nearly dropped the phone in shock. “Sure, we’ve always wanted to visit, we just didn’t know if we could!” My Dad told me over the phone. I’m still trying to ascertain whether that statement still applied to the 10-year rule, or if they just kept it a secret for a long time.
Anyway, the dream became a reality, except there was an added bonus- my 12-year-old sister Kate came along too! During her spring break, my Mom and Sister flew down to Paraguay, and we immediately crossed on over to Argentina to visit the amazing Iguazu Falls. We then got back to Paraguay and stopped by Asunción to pick up my Dad from the airport. After a quick visit to my homestay family from training, we headed over to Caazapá.
Mom and Kate in Argentina!
Spending time with my family, as always, was incredibly fun and rewarding. My family met all of my Paraguayan friends and my closest Peace Corps friends. We made homemade mozzarella cheese, roasted vegetable hummus, and rosemary focaccia bread. We played games and painted the ocean of the world map I’ve been working on for my World Cultures class. They learned some Spanish (“RICO!”) and Guaraní (a bad word that I lied and said meant “Happy Easter,” which made Paraguayans go into hysterics. When I told them what it really meant my parents were not amused). We visited the oldest church in Paraguay, petted carpinchos in VillaRica, and ate at the ever-famous ‘Bolsi Bar’ restaurant in Asunción.
Family painting the world map!
It was so great having my family here, and I’m so happy and grateful that they came and got to see and understand my life in Paraguay. It meant so much to me, and I’m so happy they were able to visit and really see what my life is like here. This really is what the Peace Corps is all about- cross-cultural exchange. As my DPT (Peace Corps boss) Dee told me, without me living in Paraguay my family would probably never have thought to come and visit here. Now they’ve been able to see and understand a completely different culture and country, and Paraguayans were able to meet them and learn more about America.
Thanks so much for coming, Mom, Dad, and Kate! Thank you for being so open, flexible, patient, curious, and willing to learn about Paraguay. Thanks for spoiling me (thanks to my parents I am now the owner of a brand-new space heater, which will save my life come winter!), for loving me, and fully supporting my dream.
Breaking bread with Liz and her family for Easter in Paraguay!
Filed under: Paraguay
Hope you like the new header and background to my blog. I usually change out the photos every new adventure to show a different ‘theme’ to my life, and it changes every few months. Well, it’s been 2 years since I’ve had this one, and I’m ready to see the theme change to something different. And changed it has.
For a good portion of my service, I felt half-in and half-out of my community, Caazapá. Since I was project manager of ‘Jóvenes Empresarios del Paraguay,’ (JEP) I had a hard time making steadfast commitments to a schedule since I would sometimes have to run to the capital of Paraguay at a moment’s notice for meetings with our partners or potential sponsors. It was a lot of travel. Every few weeks I would suddenly disappear for two or three days, and people in my community noticed. ‘You always go to Asunción,’ my neighbors, friends, or cooperative members would complain, exasperated when I couldn’t show up to birthday parties or community events. They seemed to think I would go to Asunción to sip mai-tais and lay by the pool. I think the hardest part was that they weren’t seeing the results of JEP in Caazapá. That, and that I was continuously broke at the end of each month.
I don’t regret for a second working on JEP for over a year, and the incredible results we achieved. We pulled off a national business case competition, a national apprentice competition to get youth excited about entrepreneurship, and a national business plan competition where the winner won over $1,000 to start her own business, an organic lettuce company. We motivated over 400 youth to take our business course and create business plans, and we saw 10 start-ups launched in Paraguay through our initiative. And, through a lot of pure hard work, we collectively raised over $20,000 in a year to make it all happen and continue to be successful for the next group of Volunteers who took on the project, and we got two incredible Paraguayan partnerships on board to support us. That last part- the funding and partnerships- were really pulled off by three people- me, my boss Elisa, and my co-project manager, Taylor Schrang.
THOSE are results. I feel wonderful about the work we’ve done, and it has been a highlight of my service. With that being said, I did have to make sacrifices in my community, and I felt guilty about that. I couldn’t be fully focused on Caazapá or achieving the greatest amount of success I could as a Volunteer there. So I promised myself that when we finished our last apprentice competition in February, I would stop focusing on national initiatives, and start focusing on my site.
Focused I have. With the start of the school year, I find myself teaching EIGHT classes. Three English classes at a lower school, two geography/cultural learning classes to another lower school, two business courses at two Universities (four times a week), and one photography class at my friend’s photography store. School has started in full-force now, so I’m 100% all-in and committed to teaching these classes every week until the end of my service. I’m also starting a youth entrepreneurship network with Paraguayans in my site, and we meet at least once a week about a local event we’re planning, to promote our initiative.
I never saw myself as a teacher, but I’m suddenly fully immersed in this role. I’m running around making photocopies and meeting with government institutions to get things off the ground. I’m poring over manuals and the ever-resourceful Internet for ideas, and spending hours creating Powerpoint decks. I’m implementing some of those crazy classroom management techniques, like ‘raise-your-hand-in-the-air-to-show-you’ve-stopped-talking.’ I’m buying foam board to make passports and paint to do a world map project with kids, and borrowing projectors to show movies.
In some ways it feels a little scary to be so involved. It’s a commitment, and it’s something I have to stick to. When things go wrong I can’t just run away to another friend’s site for the day. I have to sort of adapt back to the real-world and plan out specifically free time I have to do my laundry by hand, cook meals from scratch, study for the GMAT, go running, and actually relax. Basically, it feels like actually growing up and being an adult.
But in other ways it’s wonderfully liberating to spend nearly every waking moment of my life serving others. Where before I didn’t get to see the great results of JEP until we put on the event that took 6 months to create, I see great results every single day in Caazapá. Kids cheering when I enter a classroom because they can’t wait to learn English. The look of wonderment on a child’s face when I point out to them that there are seven- yes, seven- continents in the world. The excitement of my students at University, who get to come to class and discuss innovation and what it means to be an entrepreneur. The empowerment that 4 Paraguayans feel when it comes to creating a network with their own hands, and learning what it means to build an organization together.
The Peace Corps is spot on. This really is the toughest job I’ll ever love.
So with a new look on my little corner of the internet, comes a new chapter. I’m all in, Caazapá.