Paraguay recently released it’s first commercial film, ‘7 Cajas’ (7 Boxes), a Spanish/Guaraní masterpiece. It’s a drama set in Mercado 4, a gigantic shopping district in Asunción, home to a large Asian community (well, large for Paraguay) and generally a hub for drugs, firearms, and plenty of illegal trading (I once saw a woman there trying to pawn off a baby toucan). The movie has been a huge hit in Paraguay, with theaters continuously selling out every showing, even months after the movie has been released.
I’m a huge foreign movie buff. I love learning about foreign cultures, listening to different languages, hearing beautifully unusual music and seeing the backdrop of exotic places. A few of my all-time favorite motives (to name a few) include Water (set in India), Tsotsi (South Africa), Jodhaa Akbar (India), House of Flying Daggers (China), Sin Nombre (Mexico), and Departures (Japan). I love movies that depict a lifestyle so different from my own.
‘7 Cajas’ took on an entirely new meaning for me. It’s a foreign film that perfectly depicts life in Paraguay, but since I’ve lived here for the past year and a half, it’s a life that I know and understand. From the big things, like poor Paraguayans concepts of needs that drive them (shiny new technology) and the machismo society that underlines the entire movie, to little things like giggling over the cheap bedazzled jean shorts the actresses wore, which are so common in Paraguay. The film was also shown in Guaraní with Spanish subtitles, and I was more than pleasantly surprised to realize that I understood most of the movie without even reading the Spanish. There were also elements of the movie that are hilarious, but mostly because I’ve lived here for a year and a half and understand the cultural context. There were moments in the movie theater where the audience was howling with laughter from some Guaraní slang, or guffawing at the near-perfect depiction of policemen in Paraguay. Suffice to say, I found the movie thrilling, moving, and hilarious. I loved ‘7 Cajas’ about 1,000 times more than any other foreign movie because I really understood it. I’ve already seen in twice, and I can’t wait for it to come on DVD so I can snatch it up. Even when I leave Paraguay after the Peace Corps, I can always travel back there through ‘7 Cajas.’
‘7 Cajas’ is starting to make international buzz after its debut in the Toronto film festival. Fox News recently wrote that the Low-Budget Paraguayan Film Could Become Next ‘Slumdog Millionaire’. I am super proud of Paraguay for this incredible film and its realistic portrait of the country! Seriously, I was grinning from ear to ear when this article came out. Paraguay has only come out with about 10 movies in it’s entire history, and none of them have been commercial on a level like this. It’s fantastic, I’m thrilled for Paraguay’s growing economic development, and I really hope that this movie does become as famous as ‘Slumdog Millionaire!’
Check out the trailer (now with English subtitles!) below. I hope you enjoy it- hopefully it will hit international theaters in a few months!
Note: This trailer has explicit language, so don’t watch this with a child in the room!
I’m still on a huge high after our successful Jóvenes Empresarios del Paraguay (JEP) national business plan competition. So to further celebrate the event (and also give all of you a little taste of the highlights) here’s a short promotional video of the competition!
Thanks to my wonderful G-mate and fellow Peace Corps Volunteer Julie Pretzlaff, we have some great footage, and now a video on how inspiring and important JEP has been to all of these youth who created business plans and attended our competition.
One of my bosses Giancarlo narrates the video in Spanish. My favorite quote from him (translated) is, “We will change this country, we will change every city in this country, and we will make Paraguay better with each passing day.”
Thanks Julie for your hard work! And to everyone who helped make this happen.
Many people who read my blog like living vicariously through my service. Many Peace Corps Volunteers dream of changing the world. Here’s a chance for you to change a life. If you look at one thing on the internet today, let this be it.
A loving daughter and sister. An amazing girlfriend. A hardworking student. A dedicated friend. A future teacher. A humanitarian.
Janet is 23 years old, and she is desperately looking for a bone marrow match. With only two months left to live, Janet’s time is running out fast. PLEASE help Janet find a bone marrow match. She is a wonderful person, and we need her in this world.
Ways You Can Help:
– Join the Registry. You can do this for free with Janet’s special promo code- it’s quick, painless, and you could potentially be saving a life.
– Host a Drive. Hosting a bone marrow/stem cell donor drive is one of the most effective ways to reach the local public. Only 7% of Asian Americans are registered in the National Registry. These in-person drives are essential to finding potential matches for patients in need like Janet.
– Donate. All generous donations will be used towards furthering the goals of “Helping Janet,” such as helping fund bone marrow drives.
– Help Spread the Word. You could spread the word through emailing friends and family, spreading the word to someone influential to save Janet, promoting her through Facebook or Twitter, or blogging or writing articles about her.
– Volunteer. You can help volunteer at a bone marrow drive and raise awareness about Janet or one of the other 6,000 patients looking for a match.
Below is a personal plea from Janet.
Two wonderful friends of mine have already signed up through the registry for Janet. You could change a life! Please help Janet find a bone marrow match. You can read more about Janet on her personal website, Helping Janet.
I want to share something extremely special to me- my favorite song in the entire world: ‘Hard Sun’ by Eddie Vedder.
This is the ultimate travel song. I’ve been listening to this nonstop since 2008, and it never gets old. There’s something tremendous about the way that Eddie Vedder sings this song, and it equally makes me feel incredible. Whenever I listen to it, I always think about all of the people in the world, and how we are all connected. ‘Hard Sun’ takes me to the present moment and makes me look at the big picture; that I am on an amazing journey and traveling all over the world. I always smile. I’m pretty sure I have listened to this song in every country I’ve traveled to.
Last night I decided to YouTube ‘Hard Sun’ and came to the shocking realization that this was actually not originally written by Eddie Vedder. It’s a cover of Indio from 1989. The old version is blowing my mind right now.
Let this song set you free.
Today, as my amazing training group of G-36 and I swear in as official Peace Corps Volunteers, I wanted to honor this special occasion by posting a video that perfectly captures the last two months of our training. For all of the friends and family of G-36, I hope you enjoy and think of us today as we celebrate!
I love this adventure. I love my life. I love G-36. And I love being a Peace Corps Volunteer.
Paraguayans LOVE their bread and cheese. It is practically in every dish they have, whether Chipa (a bagel type of bread stuffed with- you guessed it- cheese), Sopa Paraguaya (A corn-bread type dish chock full of cheese), or pretty much any other kind of delicacy in Paraguay, save the carne asado, which is just mounds of grilled meat. As a Peace Corps trainee living with a homestay family, I find it impossible to not be served bread and cheese in some capacity during every meal. Want some soup? Oh guess what, there’s cheese and bread in it! Want some salad? Well, you can just go right ahead and eat the huge loaves of bread in the center of the table as a side- Duh, Brittany!
But I have a guilty pleasure. There is a special Paraguayan delicacy that I have come to love more than anything- Chipaguazu. I first had ChipaGuazu when Vicky, another Peace Corps trainee, brought me some as a present from her homestay family (my Mom and hers live two minutes from each other and are constantly battling over who can fatten up the other volunteer more. Vicky has had my Mom’s fried eggplant and cake and I’ve had her Mom’s ChipaGuazu and Sopa Paraguaya). From the first bite I was immediately hooked- forget the high calories, forget that I’m inhaling nothing but corn, eggs, milk, and cheese- ChipaGuazu is the most BOMB-DIGGETY thing EVER!
If I had to try my best to compare ChipaGuazu to an American dish, I would have to say cornbread- but this puts cornbread to shame. Chewy and slightly burnt on the outside, creamy and gooey on the insides, ChipaGuazu feels like heaven in my mouth- whether straight out of the oven or served cold for breakfast the next day. I could eat it forever- and I bet you could too.
So with this in mind, Vicky invited me to her house to learn how to make ChipaGuazu with her homestay family, and I decided to post a recipe of it (AND pictures, AND a video!) on here. ChipaGuazu would be perfect as a side dish for Thanksgiving, Christmas, Family Reunions, you name it. Make this for your next party and it’s sure to be a hit!
So without further ado… ChipaGuazu!
Kenya feels more and more like a distant memory, but I still have so many unshared stories to tell on this blog. And so let’s start with perhaps the most exciting, ridiculous, and positively outrageous one: Contrary to popular belief, ostriches can in fact be ridden by humans. And yep- you guessed it- I rode one. Along with a ‘fellow Kiva fellow,’ Katie.
Many tourists and travelers who come through Nairobi are not aware that there is an awesome Ostrich Park about a 40 minute drive outside of the city. It’s great fun- you get a personalized tour of the surrounding farmland and a lesson on ostrich farming (including visiting ostriches from when they are adorable babies in their pens, to fully grown, scarily black-plumaged males 3 feet away from you with no barrier in between while they hiss at you threateningly. Don’t let this deter from visiting though, because being so close to such an interesting animal is breathtaking). You can chillax by their pool while you eat a delicious lunch of grilled ostrich leg, steamed ostrich meatballs, or smoked ostrich breast. And then finally, the main attraction for ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls alike:
A video of me riding an ostrich.
This was definitely one of the most unexpectedly fun experiences I have ever had while traveling. Check out more pictures below.
Chiang Mai, Thailand, is one of my most favorite places in the entire world. I originally spent two months in Chiang Mai with the Comparative Religion and Culture Program (CRC) with Global College in 2008. I came back again, two years later, to visit the program again. This post is a tribute to the top 10 things I missed most about this amazing place.
The best hotel in Chiang Mai. This is where Global College’s CRC program stays every year, and it is the nicest, most laid back happy place I’ve ever stayed at. The rooms are gorgeous with a queen bed, wicker furniture, fridge, and balcony, the staff are super friendly, and they even have a kitchen that you can use if you like cooking. If you ever come to Chiang Mai, stay at Trigong.
2. My old room at Trigong.
Yes, this is the EXACT same room that I lived in for two months at Trigong, and I was lucky enough that it was open so I could stay in it again. It was so crazy to be able to stay in this room and remember myself from two years ago- to walk into the bathroom and remember that this was where I cut off all of my hair for the first time, all of the nights I spent sitting on the balcony with my friends- it was really nice to both be able to recognize how much I’ve grown these past two years, but to also remember a few things about myself that I’ve missed.
3. Chai’s Bar.
Chai’s Bar is a bar directly across the street from Trigong. On CRC we would frequent Chai’s bar almost every night, where we became friends with many of the regulars and of course the bar owner, Chai. On one of our CRC trips, Chai took us to his house in Lamphun where we had a huge barbecue cookout and spent a night under the stars. When Barack Obama won the presidency in 2008, Chai threw a huge Obama party, where he served Obama cocktails and we let off an Obama good luck lantern into the night. For Loi Krathong, a huge celebration in Chiang Mai, we all made boats at Chai’s to float down the river in celebration. I have so many good memories of this place and the people in it. Being back here again was a dream come true.
4. Prego’s Massaman Curry.
I have been to 28 countries in 3 years, and this is still my favorite meal in the entire world. I used to come to Prego’s (an Italian restaurant right next to Chai’s bar) nearly every day to eat either their bacon, egg, and cheese breakfast sandwich, their pesto gnocchi, or their unbelievable Massaman curry. No one can make Massaman curry like Prego’s. Their dish is sweet yet salty, crunchy, and it always hits the spot in every situation. Massaman curry was my first meal back in Chiang Mai, and I nearly cried with happiness when they presented me with a recipe. Prego’s Massaman curry is my favorite dish in the entire world.
5. Buddha Head Fruit.
Buddha Head Fruit, or Custard/Sugar Apple, is a fruit famous in SouthEast Asia. It is my favorite fruit in the entire world: incredibly tasty and sweet, I would snatch these up in the market whenever I could in Chiang Mai (they are only available intermittently). I was therefore extremely pleased to find the markets chock full of Buddha Head fruit the first day I was in Chiang Mai.
6. Thai Pants.
Thai fisherman pants have always been a large part of my wardrobe since I first came to Thailand. They are fun, versatile, really fun to lounge in, and one size fits all. When I first came to Thailand, I originally bought two pairs of Thai pants for myself. One of those pants I grew so fond of that I wore them ALL of the time until they absolutely wore down. After getting them stitched various times all over South America, I eventually had to say a sad good-bye to my Thai pants. So now that I’m back in Thailand, I took the opportunity to go a little crazy on the Thai fisherman pants- I bought EIGHT, I repeat, EIGHT pairs of Thai pants of varying colors (for 2 dollars a pop, it was a small fortune). I know that it will be awhile before I’m back in Thailand, so it’s nice to know that I have about 8 years worth of Thai pants to tide me over.
7. Song Taus.
Song Tau’s are the main mode of transportation in Chiang Mai- I wish they had Song Tau’s everywhere. It’s basically a red pick-up truck with the back converted into two long benches for people to use as a taxi. For 20 baht (less than a dollar), a Song Tau will take you anywhere you want to go around Chiang Mai. It’s always extremely fun and a cool way to meet other travelers.
8. Chiang Mai Night Market.
The Chiang Mai Night bazaar is always the best place to buy gifts for anyone, ever. It’s an extremely long street chock full of cheap clothes, toys, bags, DVDs, and pretty much every gift you could ever think of. They are open every night starting at 6 PM, and when I was in Thailand last time I once went here every night for a week hunting for Christmas presents. I also bought my Thai pants here. Truthfully, Chiang Mai’s Sunday Market is better and more interesting than the Night Bazaar– but if you’re not in Chiang Mai on Sunday, the Night bazaar is always a really fun place to go.
Loi Krathong is a huge yearly celebration to celebrate the water spirits in Thailand. Thai float water boats down the river, let off thousands of lanterns into the sky, and lob fireworks at each other. It’s basically a time to kick back and have fun, and it’s one of the most fun celebrations in the world. Unfortunately, I missed the celebration by ONE DAY in Chiang Mai this year, but I was still able to participate in the festivities leading up to Loi Krathong- shooting fireworks and sending off paper lanterns. Here is a video of Loi Krathong celebrations in November 2008.
The best part about Chiang Mai has always been the fact that CRC has been there with me, which made the experience so much sweeter. This year, one of my best friends who was on CRC with me is now a Teaching Assistant for the program. Being able to be back in Chiang Mai with my sisterfriend has been the icing on the cake, and being around CRC made me feel like I was coming back to a family. Global College is an amazing school, and it’s also really small. Being around people who understand the experience made me feel like I was right at home.
All in all, being in Chiang Mai this week has been exactly what I’ve needed. I feel like I’ve found a small piece of myself again that I sorely missed, and I’m very happy to have it back with me again.
I love you, Chiang Mai. I’ll be back again someday, I know it.
I can’t believe that I’ve been in Bali for nearly three weeks now. The time has passed by in a dream-like blur, every day filled with happiness and bliss.
I’ve spent most of my time in Bali in a town called Ubud, which is about an hour’s drive from the ocean- a bit more inland, and a bit more laid back. Just today I went to Kuta beach, which is the huge blow-out party and touristy area of Bali- every square inch of every street lined with shops, massage parlors, restaurants, and Westerners dressed in skimpy bathing suits. The beach, chock full of people and surf boards. It was cool to check out, but Ubud is definitely more my cup of tea: much more laid back and full of lots of really cool museums and shows to see.
One of the shows I got to check out a few nights ago was a Balinese shadow puppet show. This happened by pure luck: I was at dinner, sampling a bunch of Indonesian ‘tapas,’ when the host came up and offered me a free ticket. A couple in the restaurant had planned to go but the husband was sick, so the wife had offered me his ticket instead. I excitedly accepted- nothing makes me happier than a completely spontaneous adventure.
The puppet show was really interesting. The story is about a demon in a kingdom who possesses strong supernatural powers, and keeps killing people. The demon demands that the king offer him a human sacrifice, or he’ll continue killing everyone. Bima, a prince from another faraway kingdom who also possesses strong powers agrees to humbly sacrifice himself. When the demon tries to eat Bima, Bima’s magical powers overpower him, and there is a huge battle between Bima, the demon, and his followers. Eventually Bima defeats the demon and the kingdom lives happily ever after.
Here is a clip of the Balinese puppet show that I took on my iPhone. The quality isn’t that great, but it’s still cool to check out:
This part is when Bima and Detya Baka (the demon) are fighting. The orange glow in the background is actually a fire torch. I really enjoyed the show, even though most of it was in Balinese.
Another place I’ve been immensely enjoying in Ubud is The Yoga Barn, a huge open space right by my house that has all kinds of classes, treatments, and a little healthy cafe. I’ve been majorly indulging and getting treatments there, including a ‘crown’ massage, which is a full on head, shoulder, and neck massage using special medicinal herbs, and a hibiscus soak. AMAZING!
Plus, last night I attended a Tibetan bowl meditation class, which was pretty unbelievable. I’ve never experienced Tibetan meditation bowls before, and it was a very powerful experience. The first half of the class I felt as if I was in immense pain and I actually had a physical reaction- I had a coughing fit and my nose started running. I had to leave the room for a few minutes so I wouldn’t disturb the others in meditation. The second half of the class I suddenly entered a complete trance-like state where I felt this incredible energy within me, as if something else had entered my body. It was a very surreal feeling, and when the class finished, I felt extremely awake and alert, yet peaceful at the same time.
I’ve been enjoying my time here so much, and it’s hard to believe that in only two days I’ll be moving on to Thailand, which both saddens and excites me. Saddening because I’ve had such a wonderful time in Bali. There’s so much more that I want to see and experience, and I’m not ready to leave yet. I think it will be quite awhile before I make it back here again, but I know I will someday. I hope that I have the opportunity to stay here for a longer period and understand more of Bali’s secrets. I feel as if I’ve merely begun to scratch the surface.
However, I AM excited to be heading to Thailand for a week, up to Chiang Mai, where I was two years ago with the CRC program at Global College. I’ve missed Thailand so much these past two years, and I can’t believe how lucky I am to be able to experience a slice of it again- even better that CRC is up there again this time of year, along with one of my best friends, Mira.
Here’s to lovely new experiences and back to old fond ones.