It´s been awhile since we talked. It´s almost been two years since you´ve passed, but sometimes I like to pretend that you´re just off in another exotic country, without access to internet. The older you get, the rarer true friendships seem to be. I always considered you a true friend. And I miss you.
When you passed away, it came as a great shock to me. I´ve never had a friend die so young, so suddenly, and so tragically. I couldn´t believe that someone who was so full of life, who had so much left to do on this planet, could leave so quickly. For awhile, I just couldn´t understand it. Grief would hit me at different times, in the most random of places. Everything just felt so…unfinished.
While processing this grief over the first year of my service, I gradually came to a realization. You may be gone, but you will live forever through the people who´s lives you´ve touched. And so I decided to continue your legacy and your greatest love in life- teaching children- and bring all of your love, energy, and passion to 50 children in Paraguay.
Over the past year, I taught English to a 4th, 5th, and 6th grade class in my community, in your honor. I never considered myself passionate about teaching English, teaching to children, or just teaching in general- but this project ended up being one of the highlights of my service. Because I always brought all of the love and energy I knew that you would to each class, these kids returned just as much. They loved the classes. Every Tuesday became the highlight of my week- the day that I got to play fun games like Twister (to learn colors and body parts), English Jeapoardy, Hangman, and do great projects like creating family trees in English with these wonderful kids.
The looks on their faces every day I came to teach English
Receiving American Flags as a pen pal gift from 6th graders in the United States
With the end of my service in the Peace Corps drawing to a close, I´ve recently spent some sleepless nights wondering whether I´ve made any sort of difference here in my community, Caazapá. Today, as I went into my final English classes, all of our kids (yours and mine) surprised me with posters, handwritten notes, lots of cheering and hugs (and a few tears), and a cake. The director of the school presented me with a special Paraguayan lace tablecloth as a thank you. Those last few hours with my students made my entire two years of service worth it. I wish I could explain better how much it meant to me, but some things are just beyond words.
I had one final activity for all of the students for our last class. I told them about you, and what an amazing person you are. I told them that we traveled to India together before Paraguay, and that every place we went to you would always go find a local school to teach English to the children. I told them that the first day of my service, I found out that you had passed away. And that instead of being sad, I decided to do something in your honor- and so you inspired me to teach them English.
I asked them to help me create a banner thanking you. Each class decorated every word, and wrote messages on the banner like ´we love you Becky,´ and ´Rest in Peace, Becky.´ They finished by signing all of their names on it.
So I guess I am writing you this letter because I wanted to let you know that even though you´re gone, you are never forgotten. That because of you, 50 kids in Paraguay were able to fall in love with a language. And that one person in particular- me- will never, ever forget these kids. I find it very classic Becky that this project was something I did to honor you- yet a year later, I could never repay you for this gift that you gave me.
Thank you, Becky.
Filed under: Paraguay
Unfortunately, my computer has bitten the dust. I have no idea what happened- all I know is that I went to bed Tuesday night with my computer humming peacefully, and woke up to it the next morning completely dead. After calling Apple, they told me that I needed to bring my computer back to the United States for it to be fixed, since there are no service providers in Paraguay.
So essentially, this means that I am computer-less for the next, and final month of my service in the Peace Corps. Which is okay, and in some ways probably better for me to be fully present in my community. Unfortunately, it does mean that all of my planned blog posts for this month will be put on hold. I will hopefully be able to post a few here and there, though without pictures. I will be saving most of them for when I return back to the United States this July.
I am disappointed that I can’t share my final days of service, and all of the great photos I’ve taken during this experience. But, sometimes that’s just how life goes, and you have to roll with the punches.
So– in the meantime, feel free to read previous blog posts on Paraguay (or any other country I’ve traveled to previously) and hang tight until July! I’ll have many, many things to post about then.
Filed under: Paraguay
Welcome to the last story of this week’s blog theme, “Things That Have Gone Horribly Wrong,” where I feature ridiculous situations from my Peace Corps Service. Today, I’ll be sharing a recent incident: the day that my house flooded.
There comes a point of your service where you start to think that the worst is behind you. After you’ve been in-country for two years, you think you now know it all- the language, the customs, that carne asado restaurant to avoid explosive diarrhea– and you get lulled into a false sense of security. You start thinking insane things like “I”ll never feel as frustrated as I did during __________ time period!” “I’ll never be as lonely as I felt during the month of ________!” “I’ll never ride again in the backseat of a tiny car with 5 people sitting on top of me, while a stranger changes her baby’s diaper on my lap!”
I encourage you not to think those things, because you are just setting yourself up for failure.
I happened to be thinking along these lines the exact morning that my house flooded. I already had a bad start to my day- waking up to my bed soaked in cat pee. It was pouring outside, so I couldn’t wash any of my bedding, and it was cold, but I couldn’t stay in bed. Then my charger to my computer died, when I was at 3% battery. So, I was stuck in my house (which is like prison when it pours outside in Paraguay- you just can’t leave, and neither does anyone else), and I was couldn’t lay in my bed or watch movies on my computer- which are basically my two favorite things to do when it’s pouring outside. I was not a happy camper.
This bad day was on top of a string of frustrating things that had happened that week, so I was getting to the point where something small could just push me over the edge. (remember when I wrote a post on The 4 Stages to Having a Complete Meltdown? I was on Stage 3). This happened while I was sitting on my sofa chair with my kitten, reading a book. I happened to glance down to see my bedroom covered in half a foot of water.
My house happens to be on very low land in Caazapá, and it has a crazy mold problem because the rain leeches into the foundation of the house. I also can’t flush my toilet when it rains, since the water comes up through the shower drain. When it rains non-stop for a few days, my entire backyard starts to look like a lake. And since my backyard is on a higher plain than my front yard, it decided to become a river- a river coursing from one end of my house to the other.
As I jumped up from my chair, water gushed in from my back door, filling into all four rooms of my house, and flowing out through the front door. I had shoes, clothes, electrical plugs, and plenty of non-water proof items on my bedroom floor that were all now completely soaked. I cursed repeatedly while throwing these onto any surface spare surface I could find. I watched full-grown tarantulas swim by me into my house, and I tried valiantly to bail them back out with a bucket. Clumsily, I dropped my iPod nano into the water, and it submerged completely. Then something in me totally snapped: I had just hit Stage 4, and it was time for a Meltdown.
After a hysterical phone call to a fellow Volunteer while the water swirled around my house (I kept yelling “WHY WON’T IT STOP RAINING?!?!”), I sacrificed quite a few Peace Corps camp T-shirts to plug up the back door of my house, which effectively stopped the river. The worst was over. I surveyed my house, which now resembled something of a swamp. And suddenly, I started to giggle. And that giggle turned into a laugh. And that laugh turned into raucous, deranged laughter that lasted for a good 5 minutes. I couldn’t stop.
My house was underwater. I had officially gone crazy. And in that moment, life had never felt so strangely normal. It was just another ridiculous day in Paraguay.
My house, after I got most of the water out with a squigee and bucket.
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!