Meet my best friends in Paraguay.
This post has been a long time coming- literally, I’ve been meaning to post it for months. My wonderful friends Denis and Liz have popped up in photos throughout my blog, but I wanted to write a post dedicated to our awesome friendship (singular, we’re a three-headed beast).
At the exact mark of my 2nd year of service in the Peace Corps, I accidentally stumbled across Denis and Liz- and after realizing how incredible they both are (and literally right under my nose- Denis’s family owns a Video and Photography production store right next to a TV station I go to every week, which is 2 blocks from my house)- I still can’t believe that it took me a full year to find them.
I’ve discussed this before, but being in the Peace Corps and the only American in a completely foreign place can be a huge loss of identity. All of the things that I thought made me who I was before the Peace Corps- being an avid reader, a foreign movie buff, passionate about social enterprise and micro-finance, etc.- didn’t translate in Paraguay at all. My daily conversations with Paraguayans in my community included whether I liked to drink tereré (the staple Paraguayan drink) and eat mandioca (the staple root vegetable). I oftentimes felt lonely.
Then one day, as I was passing by the television station, Denis (who later told me he ‘finally plucked up the courage,’ since he said he always saw me passing by), asked if i was a Peace Corps Volunteer that lived here, and wanted to work with the local Boy and Girl Scouts group. Thinking this would be a great place where I could focus on leadership and self-esteem skills with youth, I said yes. At the first meeting, I met Liz, who is Denis’s closest friend, also works at his shop, and is the other leader in their Scout group. Then a few days later, I happened to be walking down the street and saw Liz at the store. I invited Liz to go to a party with some close-by Volunteers over the weekend, thinking she wouldn’t actually show up. But she did, and so did Denis. And it was definitely one of the most fun nights I ever had in Paraguay.
Since then, Denis, Liz, and I started hanging out every day. Denis loves photography and videography, so we had a huge common interest. We listened to the same music, and they both loved watching movies. But the biggest thing we have in common is that we are all total weirdos. We have bizarre inside jokes, poke fun at each other, and oftentimes quote my terribly phrased Spanish and Guaraní.
My life in Paraguay completely changed when I met Denis and Liz. I can’t imagine my life without them in Paraguay, and I feel so lucky to have met such wonderful friends. Sometimes I feel that some of my friends in Paraguay are by coincidence- because I live here and so do they, and so we may as well be friends. This is not how it is with Denis and Liz. They aren’t just my best Paraguayan friends- they really are some of my best friends in the world.
So Denis and Liz, thank you 1,000 times over for being my friends. Thank you for making me really love Caazapá and feel happy and comfortable here. And thank you for being weird, and embracing the weird American.
Check out some pictures of our exploits over the past 8 months below.
In honor of turning a quarter-century old, I have created a new blog! Yes, it’s an addiction- once you pop, the fun don’t stop. Or once you blog, the fun don’t… someone finish this rhyme for me.
Remember my bucket list, or the list of things to do before I die? Somewhere on that long index of life-long objectives is:
- Take one photo every day for a year to document my life.
In lieu of turning 25, living as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Paraguay, and plans of many adventures to come after I finish my service, I decided this is the year to do it. I will always want to remember my Peace Corps experience forever- and since I haven’t been doing a great job of documenting it through photos, I thought this could be a great motivator for me to take pictures of my everyday life here that I will look back on with great fondness 50 years from now (or “man, I’m so glad I don’t have to wash my clothes in a bucket anymore.”) It will be the ultimate “I once walked 7 miles to school uphill both ways” yarn I can spin to my grandchildren, and I’ll have photos to prove it.
I actually tried (and spectacularly failed) to do this year-long project leading up to starting the Peace Corps when I was 22- but after 3 months of taking monotonous photos of my life in the United States everyday (I lived at home, jobless, for a few months waiting to start my service), I threw in the towel. This year, in order to keep up the motivation and dedication to the project, I created a photo Tumblr blog where I am posting one picture a day. So far it hasn’t been too boring yet- things in the Peace Corps are always interesting.
So without further ado– check out 365 For Year 25!
Already showcasing my Paraguayan life. I teach dogs how to play piano.
And don’t worry- this little blog won’t be going anywhere!
The day has finally come. A year and a half in the making (for me to take some pictures, that is), I present to you my house in Paraguay: MTV Cribs Style.
This tour is the real MTV Cribs experience for 3 reasons: 1) because I’m supa-fly, duh! 2) I show you the contents of my fridge, as any self-respecting person on MTV Cribs does, and 3) because my house actually is a pretty crazy awesome pad compared to a lot of other Peace Corps Volunteers around the world. With the combination of Paraguayans giving me free stuff, getting free things from previous Peace Corps Volunteers, and saving up for months on end (aka, eating the equivalent of ramen noodles so that I could afford a stove to cook them on), I’ve hobbled together more than everything I need to live in a comfortable and functional space (except for the tarantulas, but that’s what ‘Mata Todo’ (Kill All) spray is for).
Oh, and I also brought some things back with me from my visit to the States (such as my comforter- after seven months of using my sleeping bag as my covers, I
had a mental breakdown caved in and brought my security blanket back down to Paraguay). And I also am a major decorator/photo hoarder, and have super generous friends that send me snacks from the States. AND I’m also just extremely lucky to live in such a big house for a seriously low price ($80 a month- thanks landlord). Is the crazy mold worth it? Check out the pictures and you decide.
TMI Disclaimer over. LET THE PHOTOS COMMENCE!
Apologies this post is nearly a month late! There have been so many happenings in January, and many exciting things to update! But instead of giving excuse after excuse, let’s jump right into it: as stated in my previous post, I had the opportunity to celebrate Christmas outside of the United States for the first time in my life, and what better way to spend it than in Paraguay? I spent my ‘first’ Christmas, December 24th, celebrating all of the traditional Paraguayan festivities to ring in the holiday (read more about the experience here). The ‘second’ Christmas I celebrated was on the 25th, where I invited all of my close-by fellow Peace Corps Volunteers and some Paraguayan friends to have a traditional American Christmas dinner!
It was a blast. I’ve never cooked a traditional Christmas dinner before, so being in charge of all of the preparation, cooking, and decorating initially seemed like a daunting task, ESPECIALLY when you’re unsure of how the food will come out with Paraguayan ingredients. Then my grandmother’s genes kicked in and I turned into a lean, mean, cooking machine and project manager of the kitchen. Check out the pictures below of us preparing for the feast!
Our two beautiful 5 kg chickens (turkeys are rare and expensive in Paraguay) all spiced up and ready to be stuffed! Thanks to my grandmother’s instructions, I remembered to sprinkle paprika all over the top so that it would broil well. Thanks Muzzy!
My fridge full of all of the food I prepared ahead of time: twice baked potatoes, deviled eggs, and raspberry jello.
A visiting Canadian helping prep for our Christmas meal in my kitchen
Stuffing the chickens with our homemade apple… stuffing.
Our chickens ready to go in the oven!
Our ‘appetizer spread’ (my grandpa GB would be so proud): caprese salad, deviled eggs, latkes (one of the Peace Corps Volunteers who came was Jewish), onion dip, and the cheese platter! Everything was consumed in a matter of minutes, except for the cheese platter. You know that the food is good when Peace Corps Volunteers are so stuffed they can’t even touch the cheese!
Showing my Paraguayan friend Doris how to decorate gingerbread cookies! I got the cookie cutouts from the U.S. for this special occasion.
My friends Dennis and Doris decorating the gingerbread cookies. This is their first time they’ve ever done it before.
The finished result, a truly collaborative effort! Too bad I totally forgot about the cookies while they burned in the oven and were then inedible. Oh well…
Fellow Peace Corps Volunteers Wendy and Zoe serving our main entrées: roasted chicken, twice baked potatoes, stuffing, and cranberry sauce.
My closest Volunteer Zoe and closest Paraguayan Liz celebrating an American Christmas in Paraguay!
I forgot to even take pictures of dessert, which included my Mom’s famous Christmas candy and an INCREDIBLE cheesecake Doris brought that we all went nuts over. Even though our stomachs were bursting from appetizers and dinner we each managed to eat a slice each.
It truly was an wonderful celebration- us 11 participants played American Christmas music, drank wine and coke, and stuffed our faces full of incredible American food that you would never dare to dream of having in Paraguay (it was marvelous, if I do say so myself). Our Paraguayan friends LOVED all of the food, and we celebrated by having an impromptu dance party in my house afterwards. Dennis taught us Brazilian Bachata while Wendy busted out some incredible tango moves. We ended the night with popcorn and Men In Black.
Thanks to everyone that attended for making Christmas so special for me. It’s hard to be away from family during such an important holiday, but being surrounded by people that do love you makes it all the worthwhile.
For the first time in my life, I celebrated this past Christmas outside of the United States and without my family. Hands down, my family’s favorite holiday is Christmas, and it can’t come fast enough for my Dad. Usually the day after Thanksgiving we get our Christmas tree, and our house is suddenly glittering with decorations. My Mom pulls out our advent calendar, and my Dad marks down the days to Christmas by blasting Christmas tunes throughout the house and teasing all of his children about the amazing gifts he got us. It’s a very special holiday for us, and even though I’ve traveled non-stop for the past 5 years, my Dad has always ensured that I come home for Christmas.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t in the cards for me to make it back to the States this Christmas, so for the first (and most likely last) time in my life, I spent Christmas outside of the US. What better place to spend Christmas than in my second home, Paraguay? While on one hand it was sad to not be there with my family and celebrate our traditions, I got TWO Christmases for the price of one: a Paraguayan Christmas on the 24th, and then an American Christmas on the 25th. Both of these events ended up being some of my best times down here in Paraguay. Nothing is better than celebrating with the people you love, no matter where you are!
If I could describe this Christmas in one word, I would say it was unforgettable. Here’s to my first Paraguayan Christmas.
The FIRST Christmas- the 24th- I spent with my two best Paraguayan friends Liz and Dennis, who invited me to spend the holidays at their family’s house. Dennis picked me up in his car at about 8 PM on Christmas Eve, and we drove to Liz’s house to find about 20 people sitting on chairs outside on her patio. I sang ‘FELIZ NAVIDAD!’ (“Merry Christmas!”) as we pulled up, only to realize that they were all in the middle of prayer. Whoops.
This is a Paraguayan ‘nativity scene,’ which is very popular here. Almost every Paraguayan family has one outside of their house during Christmas. They decorate the nativity scene with Chipa (a traditional Paraguayan delicacy), cookies, Christmas lights, fruit, and the Baby Jesus!
Christmas in Paraguay is sort of celebrated like New Year’s is in the United States- on the evening of the 24th friends and family gather together for a big party and count down until midnight. So in typical Paraguayan style, we sat around on lawn chairs for a few hours drinking ‘vin-cola’ (Wine and Coke, a staple Paraguayan beverage) with all of Liz’s cousins and aunts and uncles, and counting down the minutes. I cracked jokes with Dennis and Liz (while Liz laughed repeatedly about me singing ‘Feliz Navidad!’) and drank a little too much cider. At about 11 PM Liz’s family pulled out chairs and tables to set up for the big Christmas feast, which consisted of typical Paraguayan ‘carne asado’ (grilled meat), ChipaGuazu (my favorite!), potato salad, and mandioca (a staple root vegetable, served cold and with meat). As I dined on roasted pig and beef we watched kids hurl fireworks at each other throughout the neighborhood, disregarding any sort of safety hazard per usual.
Liz’s entire family preparing to eat a delicious Christmas dinner!
Liz passing the carne asado to Dennis
Dennis getting ready to shove a huge piece of meat into his mouth
At 11:55 PM Liz poured champagne into glasses and we counted down to midnight on her phone. Once midnight struck everyone yelled ‘MERRY CHRISTMAS!’ and toasted. I was then hugged and kissed by every Paraguayan on the patio while neighbors lit off fireworks.
Liz giving the toast!
The Christmas tradition in Paraguay is that the children leave their wish lists next to the nativity scene on December 24th. This is the letter that Sofia, Liz’s niece, wrote.
Liz putting Sofia’s letter next to their family’s nativity scene.
‘Papa Noel’ (Santa) brings you your gifts at exactly midnight, and they ‘appear’ as everyone is toasting! All of the kids get to open their gifts and celebrate. Here is Sofia with a giant happy face because Santa brought her a kiddie pool to swim in during the summer!
After Papa Noel brought his gifts (including some gifts from the United States for Dennis and Liz!) we continued drinking, chatting, playing card games, and I even learned some choice curse words in Guaraní. We finally went to bed at Liz’s house at about 3 AM (but not before my parents called to read to me ‘The Night Before Christmas!’ So sweet!)
Dennis and his Dad
It was definitely a lovely and memorable Christmas Eve in Paraguay! Even though I didn’t spend Christmas with my family, it was a lot of fun to see the tradition of Christmas down in Paraguay and celebrate with two people who I care about so much in my site.
Stay tuned tomorrow for updates on the SECOND part of Christmas, which was where the real fun began.
Merry Day After Christmas!
What stories have you heard about Peace Corps Volunteers having a crazy meltdown? In Paraguay, there’s always the popular story of a Volunteer going berserk and stabbing a cow with a knife for eating her last pair of underwear. I’ve also heard the tale of Peace Corps staff finding a naked Volunteer alone in his house, stapling pancakes to the wall. While both of these accounts are a little bit hilarious, the stories ring true: we all have moments in our service where we go bat-shit cray-cray.
When you’re in the Peace Corps, ridiculous situations happen to you on a level that’s hard to even comprehend anywhere else. We’re alone, new to our communities, struggling to learn the local language, and trying to figure out how to live our lives in a completely different way. Many times in the developing world, things never go as planned, safety hazards are blatantly ignored by everyone, people are blunt and disregard what we consider polite, or rituals and customs in-country are completely different than what we would ever consider ‘normal’ from our American values. Peace Corps Volunteers do a great job of handling these extreme and often stressful situations with humor and grace. However, when a lot of them happen at the same time, there reaches a tipping point, and the littlest trigger can send us spiraling out of control into cray-dom, turning us into a blubbering, deranged mess.
How do Peace Corps Volunteers go crazy? I’ve illustrated a few examples of how a couple of bizarre situations can lead to a total meltdown. All of the situations outlined below are true instances that have happened to some of my Peace Corps friends in Paraguay. One of them happened to me: I’ll let you guess which one it is.
Walking down the street and being screamed you’re fat by a stranger (who by the way, is usually morbidly obese) can sometimes be worthy of a melt-down itself. But for this purpose, the Volunteer is pretty calm about the entire thing.
Bee hive in your house? Green chunks in your drinking water? House flooded by dirt and slime? Rats scuttling around your kitchen? Frustrating and annoying, but always a situation that can be ignored and dealt with later. This extra stress causes the cray-meter to slowly rise a little higher.
Crazy medical condition? Plastic bag full of groceries that you have to carry for 3 miles splits open in 90+ degree heat? You killed that rat in your kitchen by feeding it poison, but now it’s dead and decomposing somewhere in your house? Maggots got into your food and now there are a million flies in your kitchen? The cray-meter is rising, and you feel an explosion coming on…
The next and littlest inconvenience in your life, like not being able to fit the key into your lock because you’re impatient and just want to get into your house, is the trigger to an insane meltdown.
And that my friends, is how you end up sobbing in an aisle in your supermarket because you can’t decide on the right shampoo.
I was recently interviewed by Vida de Latinos, a new Singapore-based magazine, on my travels in South America! They contacted me after reading my blog and asked to feature me in their magazine. I feel super grateful and also excited to be highlighted in a travel magazine. Thanks Vida de Latinos for including me in your first edition!
Feel free to check out the article here- Traveling South America With Brittany Boroian.
And for those of you visiting from Vida de Latinos, welcome! If you’re interested in reading more about my travels through South America, check out my travels and pictures to Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay, Peru, and Uruguay. I’ve also been to many other areas of the world, which you can read more about by scrolling down to the ‘Categories’ section on the right-hand side of my blog.
Thanks for visiting and for your support!
Last week a fellow Peace Corps Volunteer and VAC-mate helped me make a worm compost bin in my backyard. I’ve always dreamed of having a worm compost bin, even in the United States, and I vowed that when I was a Peace Corps Volunteer I would make one in my house. It took me a year, but the dream finally came true, and now all of my kitchen scraps go to feed my little worms!
For those of you who don’t know the glorious benefits of worm compost, it’s a wonderful way to recycle a huge amount of your trash and additionally create fertile soil chocked with minerals that are great for the earth. If you’re a gardener, having a compost bin is pretty much the most organic way you can go for fertile, gorgeous crops. And if you care about the earth, it’s a fabulous way to recycle your kitchen scraps and recyclables without it going into landfills or dumping it into oceans all over the world. Plus, it’s fun!
And you’d be shocked at how many common things you have in your house that you can compost. Check out a few links on different products you can compost through your worm bin:
90 things you can compost
163 things you can compost
75 things you can compost, but thought you couldn’t
Since composting, I’m astonished at how much less trash I have- it’s basically only plastics that now go into my trash. And for those of you that are worried about the smell- if done correctly, worm compost bins are completely odorless and don’t attract flies or any other critters.
Making my compost bin was super easy and fun! Here are the steps:
Get yourself some California Red Worms (thankfully my VAC-mate Gabe had some and brought me a few to start my bin- thanks Gabe!)
If you look reeeaalllllyyy closely you can see a tiny little red worm poking out of the soil (Gabe’s finger is pointing at it). Aren’t they tiny?! They hate the sun light, so they just popped up for a moment.
My worm bin: a small fruit crate inside a larger fruit crate. This provides great drainage, since I need to water my compost bin to make sure it stays moist and keeps other critters (such as ants) out.
We filled the first layer of the fruit crate with dry leaves and dirt (thanks backyard!)
Our second layer was kitchen scraps I had been saving for the past week- cucumber peels, tomato skins, eggplant scraps, etc.
In goes the worms, right to their food!
Here’s a shot of the worm layer, ready to munch away on the kitchen scraps!
the final layer: lots of more dry leaves and dirt. You can also shred newspaper or cardboard, the worms love them!
Our makeshift top to my worm bin: a discarded window shutter. True posh corps.
This is my makeshift (and recycled!) additional trash bin, where I now put all of my kitchen scraps. I used an old paint can- the top stops fruit flies or other critters from getting wild over the scraps, since I usually leave it in there for a few days before throwing them all into my worm bin.
Here are my kitchen scraps ready to be thrown into the bin- banana peels, passion fruit skins, egg shells, and mango scraps!
I know it’s weird for me to be obsessed with a bunch of worms, but I’m so excited we are friends, and I love feeding them. I like to think of them as my little pets! I’m also excited that this great compost will make for the perfect fertile soil for my vegetable garden (coming soon!) This is definitely something I’d like to continue when I move back to the United States. Well, time to go feed them dinner.
I’ve been living in Caazapá for over a year now, but still have yet to introduce some of the most important people in my life on this little slice of the internet!
Over a year ago I went out on a house-hunting search in Caazapá. Geared with nothing but a barely sufficient grasp of Spanish, my super ‘negotiation skills’ I thought I had acquired from living in street markets all over Asia, and my pursuit of a good bargain, I thought I had all it took to find a super affordable and stylish house in my little city. W.R.O.N.G. As I spent fruitless days wandering up and down streets in each of the little ‘barrios’ in Caazapá, I was met with dingy little one-room shared-bathroom places for a whopping 300-400 mil a month (Translation: roughly 75-100 dollars, which is big amount to dole out for a 9′ by 9′ square room, at least with the salary I get). The reason for this is because Caazapá is a college town and has a bunch of universities, so all of the students quickly rent out all of the apartments and split any available houses. And as for my so-called negotiating? Turns out my ‘skills’ didn’t translate in Paraguay (either that or I’m just awful and refuse to acknowledge it). No one budged on their prices, and I thought I was totally out of luck.
That is, until I stumbled upon a run-down house on a beautiful street, sandwiched between a church and a couple of apartment rooms (you can see some photos of my house in this old post). The price was 350 mil per month, which was a total bargain (well, the reason why it was so low was because the walls are full of mold, but I didn’t let that deter me- I’ve just lived with my windows open for the past year). Besides, the landlord was this adorable little old man with the biggest, most genuine smile.
But what was the biggest sell? The first day I looked at the house, I decided to wander around the neighborhood and get a feel for the place. Right next to the church (the house on over) had a little grocery store. I timidly wandered in and immediately encountered a plump, middle-aged woman relaxing on a lawn chair and sharing tereré with what appeared to be her daughter. We struck up a conversation, and when she found out that I was considering renting the house right by her, she broke into a huge smile and said we would be neighbors, and friends! Her pure happiness was infectious. I loved being around her, and it was at that moment that I decided that this was a sign telling me to rent that house.
It was the best decision I could have made- not for the house, but because I’ve gotten to live next to Mari and her family for the past year. They have become my family in Caazapá. Not a day goes by where I don’t go over to Mari’s house to drink tereré, or share a meal, bake sopa paraguaya or brownies, or chat with her daughters, who have all become my ‘sisters.’ I feel so infinitely grateful to be a part of their lives for the past year, and for them to accept and love me.
Truthfully, Mari is wholeheartedly the number one reason why I was able to make it through some of my toughest moments in my service the past year. No matter what difficult phase I was going through- whether it was one failed project after another, my frustrations with communication, wondering if I was making any sort of difference in my community, missing home or my friends and family back in the States- Mari always was there with a smile and a hug, and usually hot chocolate. We’ve spent days together talking long into the night about her family, my family, and our lives. She lets me use her washing machine and always watches over my house when I have to go to the capital or to visit another site. She even got up at 11 PM at night when I was locked out of my house to make sure I was okay, and brought me back to her house to sleep.
Since she’s been so open to sharing her life with me, I thought it was only fair to share it with all of you! Here are some pictures of my ‘Paraguayan mother,’ and family.
This is Mari, and her beautiful smile! In this picture she’s making home-made popsicles that she sells in her grocery store. She’s extremely hard-working, loves her family, and is one of the most generous people I’ve ever met.
This is my ‘Paraguayan Dad,’ Higenio. This guy is also one of the nicest men I’ve ever met in Paraguay. He does a lot of work in construction and electricity, and has fixed a lot of stuff around my house. He’s also a very moral and upstanding person that I respect a lot.
Mari and Higenio’s youngest daughter, Techi. She’s 15 years old and is in high school. She’s pretty quiet, but we have a special bond.
Techi along with her older sister Fanny. Fanny is a dear friend of mine who loves to dance, sing karaoke, and wants to desperately get married (she’s 21). She’s very opinionated and we have a lot of interesting discussions together.
Fanny with our other little adorable neighbor
The three sisters! Techi, Fanny, and Laura (in the middle). Laura is in her late 20′s and has a little daughter. All three of them live in the house with their parents, along with Mariam, Laura’s little girl. Laura is a lawyer and very laid-back. She’s fun to watch ‘The Simpsons’ with, and always corrects me on my Spanish conjugation.
The two Mari’s! Mariam is Laura’s daughter, who also lives in the house. Mariam wouldn’t directly speak to me for about 7 months- it took her a LONG time to warm up to me! But now every time she sees me a huge smile breaks out on her face and she screams ‘BRIIITTANNYYYY!’ I love this little girl.
Mari cooking something delicious in her kitchen, which her husband built for her.
A shot of their living room, which is where I sit nearly every day to drink tereré, eat lunch, or have dance-sessions with Fanny.
Mari proudly showing off her little grocery store. Yes, I am one of her ‘clients!’ (Her customers are her neighbors).
So there’s a little bit about each family member that I’ve come to love dearly over the past year. They are incredible, and I am so thankful every single day that they love and accept this weird little American living in Caazapá. I’ve learned so much from them about neighborly love, about being accepting and open to strangers, and sharing whatever you have. I love Mari, and I love her family. I consider myself so lucky to have found my house, but not for the reason I thought. I’m lucky because Mari is my neighbor, and that I get to have such a wonderful relationship with her family. I’m lucky that they have always been there for me as a life vest, even at the worst moments when I felt like I was sinking. It just goes to show that love conquers all. Mari and her family will always hold a special place in my heart forever.