Filed under: Paraguay
Are you interested in reading about every project I’ve done as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Paraguay? Well, in an attempt to be as transparent as possible about my service, and additionally create a space where potential job opportunities/graduate schools/future networking possibilities can read about my projects in a formal and professional format, I’ve posted my official ‘Description of Service’ on my website! (Want formal and profesh? Check out this blog title, yo. This is my attempt to be lighthearted in this straight-laced post. You probably got that though. I don’t know why I’m still talking.)
‘What’s a Description of Service?’ you may ask. It is an account of all of the projects and activities I did as a Peace Corps Trainee and Volunteer in Paraguay from May 26th, 2011 to July 5th, 2013. This is an official document that is archived in the Peace Corps Headquarters in Washington D.C. for a period of 60 years after completion of service. It was reviewed by my primary boss, Associate Peace Corps Director Elisa Echague of the Community Economic Development Sector, and reviewed and signed by the Country Director of Peace Corps Paraguay, Emily Untermeyer.
The document spans three pages, so it’s quite long. But, it’s something I’m excited and proud to share. If you’re interested in reading about all of the projects I’ve done as a Volunteer, head on over to my newly created page, My Description of Service.
Or, if you’re feeling too lazy to click (I get that way
all the time sometimes), I’ve also just copy/pasted it below. Happy reading!
Description of Peace Corps Service
Brittany Ann Boroian
Republic of Paraguay 2011-2013
After a competitive application process stressing technical skills, motivation, adaptability, and cross-cultural understanding, Peace Corps invited Ms. Boroian to serve as a Community Economic Development Volunteer in the South American nation of Paraguay.
Ms. Boroian began an intensive 10-week Pre-Service Training on May 26th, 2011 in Guarambare, a small sugar-processing center located 45 minutes south of the capital, Asunción. The program consisted of language training, technical skills training on Community Economic Development, and Common Areas training. As part of the technical training, Ms. Boroian spent time preparing and delivering sessions where techniques were observed and critiqued by Paraguayan trainers and local guests.
Training program included:
- 120 hours of formal Language training of spoken and written Spanish and Guaraní.
- 90 hours of Common Areas training which encompasses cultural adaptation, introduction to development, safety and security, and health training
- 183 hours of technical skills training and field based activities to promote increased economic opportunities, leadership skills, and capacity building with individuals and groups in their communities
- In addition, as part of the language and cross-cultural component of the training program, Ms. Boroian lived with a Paraguayan family for 10 weeks.
On August 5th, 2011, Ms. Boroian completed training and was sworn-in as a Peace Corps Volunteer. She was assigned to Caazapá, a medium-sized city in the department of Caazapá, roughly 300 km Southeast of Asunción. Spanish is spoken there, although women and children frequently use Guarani, the national native language, for daily life.
During her first year Ms. Boroian worked on a range of projects within her community. In her placement with the cooperative Ycua Bolaños, she primarily worked with its Production Department in offering marketing and sales strategy seminars to women’s commission groups. Ms. Boroian also participated in a variety of micro-finance trainings with the cooperative’s micro-finance consultant, and offered resources and suggestions to better promote their loan product. During her second year, Ms. Boroian assisted the Production Department by undertaking a sales analysis for their honey products. Additionally, she improved the entrance display, which enabled them to make smarter purchases and increase their sales. Ms. Boroian also aided in investigating new markets outside of Caazapá by researching different market segments for their product and connecting them to two national distribution companies.
Outside of the cooperative, Ms. Boroian was invited by two local high schools and one university to teach four Construye tus Sueños courses, a youth micro-entrepreneurship curriculum developed by Peace Corps, to over 100 students. At the culmination of the university course, Ms. Boroian held a local business plan competition, enabling the top two students to attend Paraguay Emprende, a national youth business program designed and implemented by Peace Corps Paraguay. Ms. Boroian worked with Servicio Nacional de Promoción Profesional (SNPP) to certify the course, enabling her students to be accredited in any South American country under MERCOSUR. Ms. Boroian additionally consulted with a number of small businesses in Caazapá, including a local grocery store, confectionary shop, weight loss program, and a TV station.
While Ms. Boroian concentrated mainly on entrepreneurship and economic development in her service, she also worked on a number of leadership activities. Ms. Boroian helped form a local entrepreneurship network with four Paraguayan youth, with the intention of job creation and building leadership through entrepreneurial activities for the community. Ms. Boroian also was an active leader in the Boy and Girl Scouts Group in Caazapá, where she helped facilitate weekly leadership and self-esteem activities. Furthermore, Ms. Boroian attended and brought two youth to both Jóvenes por Paraguay leadership camps (a Community Economic Development national workshop promoting self-esteem and leadership that inspires, equips, and mobilizes youth to work on community projects).
Ms. Boroian was an active member of her sector’s national initiative, Jóvenes Empresarios del Paraguay, (now Paraguay Emprende), a youth business program designed and implemented by Peace Corps Paraguay’s Community Economic Development Volunteers. As Project Manager of the initiative, Ms. Boroian coordinated the efforts of over twenty-five Volunteers to put on the first national business plan competition as well as a national business case competition, both monetized at over $20,000. Through the yearlong initiative, over 400 Paraguayan youth attended the business course Construye tus Sueños, 30 viable business plans were created, and 10 start-ups were launched in Paraguay. She additionally brought 7 Paraguayans in total from Caazapá to the national events. Ms. Boroian’s main roles in the project were in team strategy, partner acquisition, and working with a team to fundraise over $10,000. Ms. Boroian helped to acquire partnerships with two prominent Paraguayan organizations that provide funding and contacts for current and future events, so as to sustain their operations long after her departure.
Although officially assigned as a Community Economic Development Volunteer, Ms. Boroian worked on a variety of secondary projects. In her first few months of service she organized a tree-planting project with a local agricultural school, enabling Paraguayan youth to plant over 100 trees in a community conservation center in Caazapá. Ms. Boroian additionally collaborated with neighboring Volunteers to create a half-hour weekly TV program on Caazapá’s local network,Causa Común, where they discussed topics related to farming, blood pressure, HIV/AIDS, biodigesters, family finance, nutrition, entrepreneurship, dental health, parasite prevention, self-esteem, and other affiliated subjects.
Ms. Boroian taught seven English as a Second Language classes during her service to various groups of adults and children. She taught these classes in a variety of institutions, including the local cooperative, a teacher’s institute, and a local primary and middle school. She used the classes to increase the student’s knowledge of the language and culture by utilizing interactive American games, prizes, and stories from the United States. Ms. Boroian organized activities to raise cultural awareness of the United States in the grade school as well through a pen pal exchange program with a 6th grade class in Florida, and a visit from her parents and sister. Ms. Boroian helped advance the job prospects of one student who applied to three positions that required English. She helped him study for the TEFL and proofread his resume, cover letters, and application materials for each job.
Ms. Boroian taught a variety of classes during her service to various groups of adults and children. Through the Peace Corps Paraguay program Ahecha, a participatory photography project, Ms. Boroian helped bring a new life perspective through the guided use of cameras to adults in her community. She gave drum set lessons to a group of students at a local music school, teaching them to both play and sight read. At a local primary school, Ms. Boroian held a school-wide recycling competition with fellow Peace Corps Volunteers in her regional nucleus to educate Paraguayan youth on the importance of recycling. She awarded the two classes that produced the best results a 4-month World Cultures class. Through this course, Ms. Boroian promoted the importance of service to her students by creating and painting a world map with them for the school. She additionally increased their knowledge of world geography and regions of the world such as India, Kenya, and the United States with cultural activities, movies depicting the countries, and cooking local food for them to try.
Ms. Boroian was as an active member of the Kuatia ñe’e, a tri-annual Peace Corps Paraguay magazine, where she contributed articles and worked as layout editor. She also published a number of articles about life in Paraguay in Vida de Latinos, a South American magazine, Pink Pangea, a women’s travel community, and her widely-read blog, brittanygoesglobal. These articles gave detailed accounts of Paraguayan culture and customs, achieving Peace Corp’s third goal of helping promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans.
Ms. Boroian has achieved an advanced high competency level in Spanish at the end of her service. She effectively used Spanish to communicate in her work at school, with her colleagues, community contacts, and in daily life. In addition, Ms. Boroian was also able to learned basic Guarani, which she used at the marketplace, with friends in her community who possessed limited or no Spanish skills.
Ms. Boroian completed her Peace Corps service in Paraguay on July 5th, 2013.
Pursuant to section 5(f) of the Peace Corps Act 22 U.S.C 2504 (f) as amended, any former volunteer employed by the United States Government following her Peace Corps Volunteer service is entitled to have any period of satisfactory Peace Corps Volunteer service credited for purposes of retirement, seniority, reduction in force, leave and other privileges based on length of federal government service. Peace Corps service shall not be credited toward completion of the probationary or trial period or completion of any service requirement for career appointment.
This is to certify in accordance with Executive Order No. 11103 of 10 April 1963, that Brittany Ann Boroian served satisfactorily as a Peace Corps Volunteer. Her service in Paraguay ended on July 5th, 2013. She is therefore eligible to be appointed as a career-conditional employee in the competitive civil service on a non-competitive basis. This benefit under the Executive Order entitlement extends for a period of one year after termination of the Volunteer’s service, except that the employing agency may extend that period for up to three years for a former Volunteer who enters military service, pursues studies at a recognized institution of higher learning, or engages in other activities that, in the view of the appointing authority, warrant extension of the period.
Signed by the Country Director of Peace Corps Paraguay, Emily Untermeyer, on July 5th, 2013.
The Peace Corps never tells you how hard it will be to leave the community you’ve called home for the past 2 years of your life. It’s so hard that I felt it was impossible to even write about it, and so I kept putting it off. But everything deserves a proper ending, no matter how difficult, so I’ll do my best to convey my final week in Caazapá.
I don’t think I’ve ever felt so emotionally drained as I did during the last week in my site, even though it was by far the most incredible week of my service, and probably one of the best and most memorable of my life. The littlest things would send me spiraling into a blubbering mess: packing, realizing I had ’3 days left,’ walking down a street and wondering if this would be my ‘last time going down this street,’ etc. My Paraguayan friends started to make it into a game to count how many times I cried over a five-day period. We lost track after the second.
It’s interesting to reflect on how much leaving this time period in my life has affected me. First off, I’m not the biggest crier, yet I found myself welling up over the tiniest things. Every day as I got closer and closer to finishing my service in Caazapá, it came with such a sense of foreboding and anxiousness that I had never experienced. It was as if I didn’t believe life continued on after the Peace Corps- strangely enough, I remember feeling very much that way at the end of high school. Both were similar in that they were huge chapters in my life ending. Second, I can’t say that these past two years have been the happiest of my life- far from it, I would say that while it’s been an incredible and life-changing experience, it’s also been the most challenging, frustrating, and at times, isolating time period. Yet while I initially felt an immense sense of relief and happiness at coming back to the United States at the end of my service, as the days got closer and closer I felt more apprehensive and sad to leave. And while I had felt through most of my service that I had fistfuls of time, more time than I knew what to do with than ever before- the last two months of my service flew by so fast that I blinked, and it was gone. And saying goodbye had never been harder in my life.
Things went by in stages in my final week. I found myself wrapping up all of my classes.
Finishing my final World Cultures Class
My 6th Grade Students showing some love
Teaching my cooperative some sales strategy to promote their newest product, honey packets
My final ‘Build Your Dreams’ Entrepreneurship Class
My friends at the local University invited me to a goodbye party.
Bombtastic pizza made by Marlene
Then my local VAC-mates (Peace Corps Volunteers that live close-by to me) threw me a good-bye party in Caazapá.
All of us immediately passed out on our super comfy beds… before going out to rage it in Caazapá, that is! And by rage, I mean eat dinner and have a beer.
I made a quick trip to my homestay family’s house from training to visit them one last time. There were lots of tears.
My homestay family showing off my gift- some favorite pictures.
Then my training group, G-36, held a little going-away party for all of us at a retreat outside of the capital, which I popped by for the first night before heading back for my final weekend in site.
Gathering together to eat a ginormous and delicious meal prepared by chef Kevin.
Inhaling said food.
Oh yeah, and then this happened.
Love you, G-36.
My contact Carlos and his wife invited me over to their house for one last carne asado.
Mouthwatering carne de chancho- grilled pig. Possibly the best I have ever had.
Carlos and his wife Doris peeling a typical Paraguayan dessert- yummy oranges, which you suck like a juicebox.
And then my neighbors threw me a little goodbye party with- you guessed it- more carne de chancho.
My wonderful neighbors/homestay family for the past two years in Caazapá.
Meanwhile, I spent my days packing up my house as it slowly turned into a depressing shadow of its former self.
My boxes that I left for my follow-up Volunteer
Kitchen, sans table or any posters/pictures
My kitchen, without… a kitchen.
Taken on my last day in my house, my finished ‘Messages of Love’ project.
I had to say good-bye to my wonderful kitten, which was one of the hardest moments of saying good-bye.
Oh my Harry! I love you so.
Danielle, a Peace Corps Volunteer that lives by me, graciously offered to take care of him.
Then, the cooperative held a little good-bye party for me. There were a few speeches and I gave a brief summary of all of the work I did in Caazapá over the past two years. My contact Carlos presented me with a wonderful certificate thanking me for helping the Production department (certificates are big in Paraguay).
Good-bye fiesta at Cooperative Ycua Bolaños
I finished painting the World Map I had been working on for months, and then cried when it was finished (typical at this point).
Then, on my final day, I handed in the keys to my house. I didn’t take any pictures because it was too sad to see my house so barren and cheerless. When my landlord came to collect the keys, I really lost it. I wandered up and down my street like a loser visiting my neighbor’s houses and wailing that I no longer lived in Caazapá anymore while they all hugged and kissed my tear-stained face, whispering things like “Te quiero mucho, che muñeka” (I love you very much, my little doll). My neighbors and adopted Paraguayan family cheered me up by dancing to ‘Gangnam Style’ in their living room and feeding me glass after glass of wine mixed with Guaraná soda. After I was sufficiently calm (and drunk), we raced around Caazapá, up and down the center of the town, and they helped me bring my bags up to Denis’s house, where I was spending my final night.
I spent my final night in Caazapá the way I loved best: with Denis and Liz and our other friends Gracia and Joaquin, blasting Paraguayan music, eating carne asado, drinking wine and coke, watching movies, and running all around the city taking pictures in all of our favorite places.
Celebrating my final night with typical rico carne de chancho and spicy chorizo.
Lying in the middle of the road in Caazapá at 2 AM
Me and Denis
Me with my best friends.
We didn’t go to bed until 5 AM, which was pretty pointless since I had to get up at 7 AM to catch my final bus out of Caazapá. Denis, Liz, and Gracia all drove me to the terminal as we passed through the main avenue one last time (at this point I was mentally willing the tears to stop streaming down my face). The ticket salesman, a young Paraguayan who always flirted with me mercilessly every time I got on a bus, looked dumbfounded as I popped out of Denis’s car, laden down by three very heavy bags.
“Are you leaving? For good?” he asked incredulously. My throat was so tight that all I could do was nod.
At the last second, my neighbor and Paraguayan mother Mari showed up, and we sobbed and hugged, as I clung to these truly wonderful friends that had changed my life and made my experience in Paraguay so worthwhile.
Paraguayans have this saying: you come to Paraguay crying because you don’t want to go. You leave Paraguay crying because you don’t want to leave. Peace Corps doesn’t tell you that leaving will be one of the hardest things about this experience. But it’s also in those moments that you realize how incredible and special it all was, how worthwhile and enriching of an experience you had, and how every moment from then on will be a reward from those 2 years you lived and served in the Peace Corps.
Surprisingly, I didn’t cry on the bus ride out of Caazapá, and remained dry-eyed through the last 5 hour bus-ride to Asunción I would ever have to take. I felt incredible. In that moment, I felt like the most blessed person alive.
Filed under: Paraguay
I have just about the most heart-warming, gut-wrenchingly incredible story with an extremely important personal life lesson, and I am so happy to share it on this blog.
The Peace Corps is extremely hard; there’s no doubt about it. No matter how old you are, what stage of life you’re in, what development experience you have, where you’re going, or what you’ll be doing- being placed alone in a completely foreign culture and expecting to assimilate as fast as possible, is one of the most uncomfortable and challenging things a person can experience. And when you throw in the ‘development’ angle of trying to help others in the country you’re living in, it’s doubly hard. During your service, there are times when you try and try, and try until you can try no more, and STILL you try to make the smallest difference- but it’s so hard to measure change and impact during your 2 years in the Peace Corps, so oftentimes as a Volunteer I have felt frustrated and in my worst moments, cynical.
During the last 6 months of my service, I pushed really hard to get a number of projects off the ground in my community. One project was teaching a 4-month entrepreneurship course at the top University in Paraguay, Nacional Universidad de Asuncion, which happens to have an agriculture branch in Caazapa. The 4-month business course, ‘Construye tus Suenos,’ is designed to teach youth how to create their own business plans, and ultimately start their own businesses. Business plans are extremely necessary to successfully launch a business- and the course teaches all the important concepts an entrepreneur needs to know before launching a venture, like doing a feasibility study, analyzing costs and prices, learning basic accounting, understanding supply and demand and how to market their product or service, etc. They are also important, especially in Paraguay, to be able to take out a loan from a financial institution to start said business. And with 70% youth unemployment in Paraguay and a serious lack of innovation to address needs in their communities, entrepreneurship is an incredible tool to empower kids to create their own employment and have a successful future.
Another important point of this course is that it funnels into my sector’s national initiative, Paraguay Emprende. With the completed business plans, each Peace Corps Volunteer picks the best plan in their community to attend a national business plan competition, with the objective that the winners get seed funding to actually start their own businesses. I launched the first national business plan competition as Project Manager last year (then Jovenes Empresarios del Paraguay), and so it’s a project I hold very close to my heart, and I really believe in it’s mission.
So this course- I don’t think I have ever worked harder in my life for this to be a success. I met with various heads of the school and with a local government institution to certify the course so that it’s value would be recognized internationally. I spent DAYS preparing for each class- literal days. Meticulous hours spent on memorizing Spanish business terms, creating interactive and dynamic Powerpoints, looking all over the internet for inspirational speeches from the world’s best entrepreneurs (and in Paraguay as well), calling friends and discussing with them certain terms I didn’t fully understand so that I knew it cold for the class. I even did pre run-throughs in my house before my 3-hour weekly class. The dedication I had for my students to be inspired and motivated was on the highest level of achievement I could make it.
Yet while the class started with 40 students, over the weeks it dwindled down to seven. SEVEN. And as it is in Paraguay, classes were cancelled- constantly. The Paraguayan professor who helped me with the course would tell me half an hour before a class that it was cancelled because of the rain, or because everyone was suddenly on vacation, or because the heads from Asuncion came to visit the school and give a presentation, or because it was hazing day for the incoming freshman, or because no one just showed up. And after living in Paraguay for 2 years, I know that this is just how things are here- that if someone doesn’t want to do something, and can think up of an excuse not to come, they won’t. And it’s very, very common for a class that starts with 100 students, or 70, or 40, or 10, to halve after the 3rd or 4th class.
I knew these things, and I tried not to take it personally, but it still hurt. It hurt to be knocking myself out to the point of stuffing unicorns and rainbows and inspirational-’you can follow your dreams’ speeches down their throats every class and performing as if I was on stage, to have over 75% of my class be completely apathetic to it. To plan fun activities and exercises to make tough concepts like supply and demand fun and engaging, yet have 4 students show up for a class I spent hours preparing for. To pepper them with questions and continuously ask to check their homework, which were all different sections of the business plan, which no one ever did. There were so many times that I asked myself over and over again- WHY am I doing this if no one cares?!
But after the first half of the course passed, I started to see that the same seven people were showing up to class every week. One student, Edgar, started showing up to my house and asking for outside help on creating his business plan. He grows organic tomatoes, and needed capital to purchase supplies to create a greenhouse, which would triple his production. While he was shy and nervous and spoke more Guarani than Spanish, I could hear the passion in his voice and the ambition to realize his dreams. Then there was Giovani, a 21 year old powerhouse that had written his thesis on tomato production, and felt strongly that he could bring the best tomato to the Caazapa market- especially since all tomatoes in Caazapa come from other areas in Paraguay. His five year vision was to expand all the way to Asuncion, the capital of Paraguay. Out of the mere five people that actually finished the course, these were the 2 guys that were selected to attend the national business plan competition. We practiced their presentations, and I critiqued their Powerpoints and business plans to make them as competitive as possible. They were nervous, but excited to attend the competition- and especially because they both needed money to launch their ventures in Caazapa.
My final five students at the culmination of the course.
About 400 people took the ‘Construye tus Suenos’ course in Paraguay this year. Out of 400 people, about 40 were selected to go to the national business plan competition, a rigorous 3-day event full of judges and industry professionals from all over the country.
The outcome of the event was unprecedented. Out of 400 kids, Edgar and Giovani, my two students, BOTH won first place. They each won 2.5 millon Guaranies to launch their businesses. Giovani won an award for Best Presentation. The level of prestige for them is unrivaled- from two shy campo kids coming from small rural towns outside of Caazapa, they now KNOW that they will be a success. They now have access to mentors and have recognition from national institutions like AJE Paraguay and Cooperativa Universitaria. They have 2.5 millon each to launch their businesses, and now are connected to outside resources for other potential sources of capital, including even larger business plan competitions. Incredible does even begin to describe it. Their lives will be impacted forever. But MOST IMPORTANTLY, they now know that their hard work, dedication, and motivation to realize their dreams is worth pursuing- and for kids that live in a culture where so many people don’t believe that true change can happen, and so don’t even try- that is completely priceless.
This has been an incredible life lesson for me in so many ways. It’s very easy to get jaded about development, or feel cynical about how much of a difference you are making. But the ultimate lesson for me is to keep being inspired, and to believe- believe that there are people out there like Edgar and Giovani who had the courage to follow their dreams, and against all odds did it. And to believe that all of those hours I spent preparing for classes and teaching it to them, hours that at times I thought were worthless- ended up actually being some of the most worthwhile, incredible, and important work I’ve done in Paraguay. I wish I could put my feelings into words, but it’s not possible. All I can say is that I am in complete awe of my two students, and I have never felt so proud in my life.
Congratulations, Edgar and Giovani. Go out there and shake up Caazapa, and then Paraguay, and then the world.
I leave you with a video I showed my students on our first class, because I think it embodies the message I’ve told them all along: Never give up. Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.
Filed under: Paraguay
And before I even knew it, the time has arrived. I have less than one week left in Paraguay. Less than one week in the Peace Corps.
For pretty much two years of my service, I have been waiting for the Peace Corps to mean something utterly significant. I spent two years in Paraguay waiting for the day when I would transcend it all and be the best Volunteer ever (and by best Volunteer I mean never have grouchy days, feel frustrated, shut down, isolated, lonely, homesick, or feel like a crazy emotional monster). I spent two years in Paraguay waiting for this experience to mean something, when I would hit that moment when I would think with utter conviction,‘Wow, it was all worth it.’ I waited.
For 2 years, those feelings never came. And truthfully, I felt disappointed. I felt cheated of a certain expectation I had, that my service in the Peace Corps would be this life-altering, mind-blowing experience where I would make a huge impact (and impact in American terms) in my community, make the best friends in the world in the Peace Corps and in Caazapá, and be forever changed for the better by this experience. Yet when the days started winding down and I found myself still continuously frustrated with failing projects, cliquey Peace Corps Volunteers, and flailing relationships in Caazapá with people I had the deepest connections with, I resigned myself to the fact that these feelings would never come- at least while I was still in Paraguay.
But I have one week left in Caazapá, the place where I’ve called home for two years of my life. And quite suddenly and unexpectedly, I feel it. Oh god, I feel it. And I feel it with an intensity that I didn’t know I would. These past two years were the most challenging of my life, but suddenly, everything I am reflecting on are all of those great moments- the 10% of my service that I had that took my breath away, where I learned and grew in the best ways possible, where projects I worked so hard on succeeded, where I established strong relationships with my homestay family from training, my neighbors, my close friends in my community, my VAC-mates, my G– and suddenly, I cannot even put into words how incredibly devastated I am to leave this life, this little world that I know I can never truly come back to again.
The past week has been a string of farewell parties with people in my community, my homestay family from training, my neighbors, my G-mates, and VAC-mates. This week I wrap up my final World Cultures classes, have a good-bye party at my cooperative, and at Liz and Denis’s house. Today my neighbors invited me over to one last carne asado Sunday, where I told each of the family members what I am going to miss most about them. There’s been so much laughter, so many hugs, and plenty of shared tears.
And in those moments when you are surrounded by your entire wonderful homestay family from training, and you are all crying while you load a bus, not knowing when you’ll see them again- when your neighbor bursts into tears while talking about memories you’ve shared together over the past 2 years- when your best friends pop up unexpectedly to your house for dinner and stand in a circle hugging you- it was worth it. It was all worth it. Every second, every moment, was worth it, to feel how it feels right now.
Filed under: Paraguay
I’ve been avoiding writing on the blog for a couple of reasons.
For one reason, and the most obvious one, is that I don’t have consistent access to Internet without a computer. Two, I don’t have pictures I can upload from my camera to add to the whole ‘user experience’ of reading this little corner of the internet. But the third and actually most important one, is that with each passing day, I have been getting more and more anxious about leaving Paraguay and actually finishing my 2 years in the Peace Corps, and it feels beyond my scope to put into words how I am feeling right now.
But at some point I have to let it all out, so I will try to be as honest as I can.
As succintly as I can put it, I feel as if this is one of the strangest time periods of my life. It seems that this day would never come, but I am suddenly 13 days away from a congratulatory handshake, and a plane ticket back to the USA. This time, I don’t know when I’ll be coming back to Paraguay, to this home I have at times both loathed and loved for 2 years of my life. This huge life goal, something I wanted and dreamed about for years- being a Peace Corps Volunteer- is coming to a rapid and swift close. My classes have wrapped up. My house is slowly being deconstructed; furniture sold, things carefully packed, cheery posters and pictures taken down until there’s nothing but a lot of blank space. I have one more week with my kitten that I love dearly, before he goes to his new owner, a new Volunteer who lives half an hour from me.
When I first decided to finish service a month early, all I felt was immense happiness at the prospect of going home and being with friends and family. I imagined myself lounging at the beach in Florida with my sister, making coconut palm sugar chocolates with my mom, eating lots of fresh seafood, petting my dog, lying in my bed without fear of tarantulas or killer ants attacking me in my sleep. Every frustrating thing that happened in site that would usually bother me- classes cancelled because ‘it’s too cold outside,’ friends breaking promises, bullying neighbors, my backyard becoming an outdoor swamp due to nonstop rain- I just shrugged it all off with ‘only 30 days left.’
Yet I’m here at 13 days until I leave Paraguay, and with each passing day my excitement of going home has turned into anxiety- anxiety of leaving my Paraguay. Suddenly, all I am reflecting on are the good things, and all that I’ve learned here. And, how it actually feels very scary to go back to the United States, where no one understands Paraguay, my experience here, or how I’ve changed. Outwardly, I don’t feel that I’ve changed a lot, but inwardly I think that this experience has changed me monumentally. And coming back to the USA and not being able to chill on lawn chairs for hours on end, drinking terere and sharing comfortable silences makes me feel very strange. Not being able to pass by Denis’s shop any time I want to hang out with his family, or pop on over to my neighbor Mari’s house, is unfathomable. And even though teaching isn’t my biggest passion in life, not continuing the classes that I’ve poured my heart and soul into over the past 6 months actually makes me feel sad.
Leaving the Peace Corps also makes this a very strange and emotionally charged time period. Joining the Peace Corps was always something that I wanted for me, and it was a life goal I yearned to complete more than anything. Now, it is basically over with. I will never be at this time period again in my life, and there are no more new experiences to be had here. It feels like a very anti-climatic exit to a life goal I’ve desperately wanted to complete.
That’s it? isn’t the right phrase, but it’s the first that comes to mind. This was my Peace Corps experience, take it or leave it.
My feelings about leaving seem to change every few minutes, but for the most part I have been feeling sad about ending this time period in my life. I am very excited to go home to the United States and swing full-force into the next stage of my life, which is sure to be incredible (awesome update coming soon!) But, Paraguay has changed me. And though it has been the most challenging experience of my life, I love this place with all of my heart, and I will never, ever forget it or the people I have come to know and love here.
So there’s a lot of jumbled thoughts for you on going home, for good. And I know that when I come home, the past 2 years will all just seem like a strange dream.
13 days left in this dream.
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.