Change Yourself…Change The World.


La Familia En Paraguay: Family In Paraguay!
April 14, 2013, 10:47 pm
Filed under: Paraguay

Okay, let’s get this out of the way: I haven’t posted on this blog in a month. Shame on me, I am sin verguenza (as we like to say in Paraguay). I’ve gotten all carried away with posting on my shiny new blog and sort of let the pictures do the talking for awhile. Also, March and April was one hell of a roller coaster ride! Sometimes all you can do is enjoy the highs, and hold on tight when there’s a sudden dip.

Anyway, back to the subject at hand, and a seriously important and awesome one at that– at the end of March, my family came and visited me in Paraguay!!!!!

Truth be told, when I first got into the Peace Corps I started bugging my parents non-stop about coming to visit me. I tried every guilt-tripping tactic imaginable (I told you this post is all about being sin verguenza), but truth be told it was all out of love- I just really wanted my folks to see my experience and ultimate life dream that I had about being a Peace Corps Volunteer. I wanted them to understand what it was all about, and experience both the joys and challenges of service for themselves. For awhile, my Dad’s response to visiting was always a slightly sarcastic “Sure, see you there in 10 years!”

At some point, about a year into my service, I gave up on the idea. It just didn’t seem destined in the stars that my family was coming down to Paraguay. And then, something magical happened. I was randomly talking to my Dad on the phone one day in November, when he casually slipped in that he and Mom were “thinking” about coming to visit me. I nearly dropped the phone in shock. “Sure, we’ve always wanted to visit, we just didn’t know if we could!” My Dad told me over the phone. I’m still trying to ascertain whether that statement still applied to the 10-year rule, or if they just kept it a secret for a long time.

Anyway, the dream became a reality, except there was an added bonus- my 12-year-old sister Kate came along too! During her spring break, my Mom and Sister flew down to Paraguay, and we immediately crossed on over to Argentina to visit the amazing Iguazu Falls. We then got back to Paraguay and stopped by Asunción to pick up my Dad from the airport. After a quick visit to my homestay family from training, we headed over to Caazapá.


Mom and Kate in Argentina!

Spending time with my family, as always, was incredibly fun and rewarding. My family met all of my Paraguayan friends and my closest Peace Corps friends. We made homemade mozzarella cheese, roasted vegetable hummus, and rosemary focaccia bread. We played games and painted the ocean of the world map I’ve been working on for my World Cultures class. They learned some Spanish (“RICO!”) and Guaraní (a bad word that I lied and said meant “Happy Easter,” which made Paraguayans go into hysterics. When I told them what it really meant my parents were not amused). We visited the oldest church in Paraguay, petted carpinchos in VillaRica, and ate at the ever-famous ‘Bolsi Bar’ restaurant in Asunción.


Family painting the world map!

It was so great having my family here, and I’m so happy and grateful that they came and got to see and understand my life in Paraguay. It meant so much to me, and I’m so happy they were able to visit and really see what my life is like here. This really is what the Peace Corps is all about- cross-cultural exchange. As my DPT (Peace Corps boss) Dee told me, without me living in Paraguay my family would probably never have thought to come and visit here. Now they’ve been able to see and understand a completely different culture and country, and Paraguayans were able to meet them and learn more about America.

Thanks so much for coming, Mom, Dad, and Kate! Thank you for being so open, flexible, patient, curious, and willing to learn about Paraguay. Thanks for spoiling me (thanks to my parents I am now the owner of a brand-new space heater, which will save my life come winter!), for loving me, and fully supporting my dream.


Breaking bread with Liz and her family for Easter in Paraguay!



New Start
March 18, 2013, 2:34 pm
Filed under: Paraguay

Hope you like the new header and background to my blog. I usually change out the photos every new adventure to show a different ‘theme’ to my life, and it changes every few months. Well, it’s been 2 years since I’ve had this one, and I’m ready to see the theme change to something different. And changed it has.

For a good portion of my service, I felt half-in and half-out of my community, Caazapá. Since I was project manager of ‘Jóvenes Empresarios del Paraguay,’ (JEP) I had a hard time making steadfast commitments to a schedule since I would sometimes have to run to the capital of Paraguay at a moment’s notice for meetings with our partners or potential sponsors. It was a lot of travel. Every few weeks I would suddenly disappear for two or three days, and people in my community noticed. ‘You always go to Asunción,’ my neighbors, friends, or cooperative members would complain, exasperated when I couldn’t show up to birthday parties or community events. They seemed to think I would go to Asunción to sip mai-tais and lay by the pool. I think the hardest part was that they weren’t seeing the results of JEP in Caazapá. That, and that I was continuously broke at the end of each month.

I don’t regret for a second working on JEP for over a year, and the incredible results we achieved. We pulled off a national business case competition,  a national apprentice competition to get youth excited about entrepreneurship, and a national business plan competition where the winner won over $1,000 to start her own business, an organic lettuce company. We motivated over 400 youth to take our business course and create business plans, and we saw 10 start-ups launched in Paraguay through our initiative. And, through a lot of  pure hard work, we collectively raised over $20,000 in a year to make it all happen and continue to be successful for the next group of Volunteers who took on the project, and we got two incredible Paraguayan partnerships on board to support us. That last part- the funding and partnerships- were really pulled off by three people- me, my boss Elisa, and my co-project manager, Taylor Schrang.

THOSE are results. I feel wonderful about the work we’ve done, and it has been a highlight of my service. With that being said, I did have to make sacrifices in my community, and I felt guilty about that. I couldn’t be fully focused on Caazapá or achieving the greatest amount of success I could as a Volunteer there. So I promised myself that when we finished our last apprentice competition in February, I would stop focusing on national initiatives, and start focusing on my site.

Focused I have. With the start of the school year, I find myself teaching EIGHT classes. Three English classes at a lower school, two geography/cultural learning classes to another lower school, two business courses at two Universities (four times a week), and one photography class at my friend’s photography store. School has started in full-force now, so I’m 100% all-in and committed to teaching these classes every week until the end of my service. I’m also starting a youth entrepreneurship network with Paraguayans in my site, and we meet at least once a week about a local event we’re planning, to promote our initiative.

I never saw myself as a teacher, but I’m suddenly fully immersed in this role. I’m running around making photocopies and meeting with government institutions to get things off the ground. I’m poring over manuals and the ever-resourceful Internet for ideas, and spending hours creating Powerpoint decks. I’m implementing some of those crazy classroom management techniques, like ‘raise-your-hand-in-the-air-to-show-you’ve-stopped-talking.’ I’m buying foam board to make passports and paint to do a world map project with kids, and borrowing projectors to show movies.

In some ways it feels a little scary to be so involved. It’s a commitment, and it’s something I have to stick to. When things go wrong I can’t just run away to another friend’s site for the day. I have to sort of adapt back to the real-world and plan out specifically free time I have to do my laundry by hand, cook meals from scratch, study for the GMAT, go running, and actually relax. Basically, it feels like actually growing up and being an adult.

But in other ways it’s wonderfully liberating to spend nearly every waking moment of my life serving others. Where before I didn’t get to see the great results of JEP until we put on the event that took 6 months to create, I see great results every single day in Caazapá. Kids cheering when I enter a classroom because they can’t wait to learn English. The look of wonderment on a child’s face when I point out to them that there are seven– yes, seven- continents in the world. The excitement of my students at University, who get to come to class and discuss innovation and what it means to be an entrepreneur. The empowerment that 4 Paraguayans feel when it comes to creating a network with their own hands, and learning what it means to build an organization together.

The Peace Corps is spot on. This really is the toughest job I’ll ever love.

So with a new look on my little corner of the internet, comes a new chapter. I’m all in, Caazapá.



And We’re the Three Best Friends That Anyone Could Have
March 17, 2013, 11:31 am
Filed under: Paraguay, Pictures Post

Meet my best friends in Paraguay.

This post has been a long time coming- literally, I’ve been meaning to post it for months. My wonderful friends Denis and Liz have popped up in photos throughout my blog, but I wanted to write a post dedicated to our awesome friendship (singular, we’re a three-headed beast).

At the exact mark of my 2nd year of service in the Peace Corps, I accidentally stumbled across Denis and Liz- and after realizing how incredible they both are (and literally right under my nose- Denis’s family owns a Video and Photography production store right next to a TV station I go to every week, which is 2 blocks from my house)- I still can’t believe that it took me a full year to find them.

I’ve discussed this before, but being in the Peace Corps and the only American in a completely foreign place can be a huge loss of identity. All of the things that I thought made me who I was before the Peace Corps- being an avid reader, a foreign movie buff, passionate about social enterprise and micro-finance, etc.- didn’t translate in Paraguay at all. My daily conversations with Paraguayans in my community included whether I liked to drink tereré (the staple Paraguayan drink) and eat mandioca (the staple root vegetable). I oftentimes felt lonely.

Then one day, as I was passing by the television station, Denis (who later told me he ‘finally plucked up the courage,’ since he said he always saw me passing by), asked if i was a Peace Corps Volunteer that lived here, and wanted to work with the local Boy and Girl Scouts group. Thinking this would be a great place where I could focus on leadership and self-esteem skills with youth, I said yes. At the first meeting, I met Liz, who is Denis’s closest friend, also works at his shop, and is the other leader in their Scout group. Then a few days later, I happened to be walking down the street and saw Liz at the store. I invited Liz to go to a party with some close-by Volunteers over the weekend, thinking she wouldn’t actually show up. But she did, and so did Denis. And it was definitely one of the most fun nights I ever had in Paraguay.

Since then, Denis, Liz, and I started hanging out every day. Denis loves photography and videography, so we had a huge common interest. We listened to the same music, and they both loved watching movies. But the biggest thing we have in common is that we are all total weirdos. We have bizarre inside jokes, poke fun at each other, and oftentimes quote my terribly phrased Spanish and Guaraní.

My life in Paraguay completely changed when I met Denis and Liz. I can’t imagine my life without them in Paraguay, and I feel so lucky to have met such wonderful friends. Sometimes I feel that some of my friends in Paraguay are by coincidence- because I live here and so do they, and so we may as well be friends. This is not how it is with Denis and Liz. They aren’t just my best Paraguayan friends- they really are some of my best friends in the world.

So Denis and Liz, thank you 1,000 times over for being my friends. Thank you for making me really love Caazapá and feel happy and comfortable here. And thank you for being weird, and embracing the weird American.

Check out some pictures of our exploits over the past 8 months below.

Friendship



Be Present
March 16, 2013, 1:58 pm
Filed under: Paraguay

This morning, I went to check the hotel my family will be staying at while visiting me, where there’s a near-by laundro-mat shop that I avoid like the plague. When I first got to Caazapá as a Volunteer, I brought my laundry there to be washed, and was told by the lady that it would cost 20 mil (5 dollars). When I came back to pick up my laundry the next day, it suddenly changed to 50 mil (13 dollars). If there’s anything I hate most from traveling, it’s being manipulated and offered the ‘foreigner’ price. I basically got into a fight with the laundry lady about the discrepancy of the price, and told her it wasn’t fair that because I was ‘the American’ I was subject to more than double the price change. But I paid my bill, and left. I never used the laundro-mat in Caazapá since then.

This morning, and nearly 2 years later, I went to the hotel with my best Paraguayan friend, Denis, to confirm the reservation. Since the landro-mat is the only place in town where you can wash your clothes, I stopped by the shop to find out prices in case my family needed it.
A summary of the conversation that followed (which included sneering, jeering, and name-calling) from the lady at the shop was this: “I know who you are, you’re the bruja (English translation: bitch) who fought last time about the bill. Get out of my shop, I want nothing to do with you.”

Now, I’ve been in the Peace Corps long enough now to know that my elatedness/happiness and frustration/sadness with living in Paraguay is cyclical, though it is independent of time. One day/week/month I’ll be on top of the world, and will feel that my time in Paraguay is the most incredible and formidable experience of my life. I can’t even think about how sad I’ll be the day that I will have to leave Paraguay, a place that’s become my home. The next day/week/month after a series of negative experiences and cultural interactions gone awry, I’ll be totally down in the dumps and shut up like a hermit in my house for a period of time, cursing Caazapá and counting down the days until I can get on a plane and leave this place.

I’m not exaggerating- the range of feelings are that vast, and there’s not much middle ground. While a lot of my first year as a Volunteer has been learning how to deal with this constant roller coaster of emotions, during my second year I’ve started to accept them as inevitable and part of the experience. A lot of the challenge has been learning to deal with those negative experiences completely alone.

So, I could tell this coming week with a few negative experiences (out-of-control English class, unkind indirect comment from the Head of a School about my performance as a Volunteer, controlling neighbors chaining their dog inside their house because he always follows me everywhere, etc.) was going to be one of the low times when I feel really frustrated with Paraguay. The laundro-mat lady treating me as if I was less than a human felt like the tipping point. Ashamed and embarrassed in front of Denis, I was ready to run back to my house and feel super sorry about myself.

While these kinds of experiences happen anywhere in the world, they feel a lot worse when you’re the only foreigner and American who lives alone and depends on other Paraguayans for human interaction. Hearing unkind comments or people who have mal-intent about me when I’m constantly alone and vulnerable can be really hard.

I tried to control how upset I was around Denis and shrug it off, and we went back to his shop to hang out. Denis was in an apparent ‘I’m-going-to-cheer-Brittany-up mode’ and put on happy music, trying to get my mind off of the incident. I half-heartedly laughed at his jokes and plastered on a smile, but I kept blinking back tears.

“You’re not really here, Brittany,” Denis finally told me, giving up. “Are you still upset?”
“Yes,” I said truthfully.
“Do you know metaphysics?”
“Yes,” I repeated glumly.
And Dennis stared out onto the street in a very philosophical way. And suddenly, he said with such clarity and grace, “Well, there are 2 main rules from this that I’ve learned, that I always follow in my life. The first rule is that you should always be in the present moment. So that lady was stupid and treated you badly? Forget about her- that’s already in the past. Focus on what’s happening right now. We’re sitting together and listening to good music, it’s a beautiful Saturday with wonderful weather. Don’t let her ruin your day- stay in the present and appreciate what’s in front of you.”

“Wow,” was all I could say. I was deeply moved by his little speech. Dennis was absolutely right. I was stuck in the past, embarrassed and hurt by what the lady had said to me. But really, continuing to be upset about it wasn’t hurting her- it was only hurting me. And it would be a shame for my day to be ruined because of it.
And moreover, all of the little things that had built up over the past week that made me feel frustrated didn’t ultimately serve me in any way, except to make me feel bad about myself and my place in Caazapá, and Paraguay. It was as if Denis had completely snapped me out of my downward slide into negativity and cynicism. It was amazing how such a simple speech could be so true.

“And what’s the second rule?” I asked, intrigued.
“And, the second rule is also the first rule.” Dennis improvised.
We laughed.

Dennis then asked me if I believed in elves, and proceeded to tell me with complete seriousness that he saw one running around his backyard last week. I tried to keep a straight face. Then we sang karaoke.

At the end, I felt so much better and happier. Dennis was right.

Enjoy the present moment.

And the apparent elves in Caazapá.


My Wonderful Friend Denis



365 For My Year 25
March 12, 2013, 7:42 pm
Filed under: Paraguay, Pictures Post, Plain Mary Jane

In honor of turning a quarter-century old, I have created a new blog! Yes, it’s an addiction- once you pop, the fun don’t stop. Or once you blog, the fun don’t… someone finish this rhyme for me.

Remember my bucket list, or the list of things to do before I die? Somewhere on that long index of life-long objectives is:

– Take one photo every day for a year to document my life.

In lieu of turning 25, living as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Paraguay, and plans of many adventures to come after I finish my service, I decided this is the year to do it. I will always want to remember my Peace Corps experience forever- and since I haven’t been doing a great job of documenting it through photos, I thought this could be a great motivator for me to take pictures of my everyday life here that I will look back on with great fondness 50 years from now (or “man, I’m so glad I don’t have to wash my clothes in a bucket anymore.”) It will be the ultimate “I once walked 7 miles to school uphill both ways” yarn I can spin to my grandchildren, and I’ll have photos to prove it.

I actually tried (and spectacularly failed) to do this year-long project leading up to starting the Peace Corps when I was 22- but after 3 months of taking monotonous photos of my life in the United States everyday (I lived at home, jobless, for a few months waiting to start my service), I threw in the towel. This year, in order to keep up the motivation and dedication to the project, I created a photo Tumblr blog where I am posting one picture a day. So far it hasn’t been too boring yet- things in the Peace Corps are always interesting.

So without further ado– check out 365 For Year 25!

Already showcasing my Paraguayan life. I teach dogs how to play piano.

And don’t worry- this little blog won’t be going anywhere!

Enjoy!



It’s Dinner Time In Paraguay
March 5, 2013, 6:50 pm
Filed under: Paraguay

What do people eat in Paraguay? Some of you might wonder.

Well, this post isn’t about that. If I was writing about what Paraguayans eat, I’d make sure to post lots of pictures of meat grilled and/or fried, with loads of mandioca (the staple root vegetable here) and Sopa Paraguaya (a type of Paraguayan cornbread that includes lots and lots of cheese and pig fat).

No, this post is about what the NORTE (me) typically eats in Paraguay in my little house. Today I’m focusing on a dish I make quite often. A dish that would probably make any Paraguayan in Caazapá gag, since it’s loaded with vegetables and doesn’t even have a trace of meat (The word vegetarian does not exist here). It would probably also make them vomit afterwards as well, since it is on the mild form of spicy, and most Paraguayans I know will blanch at the sight of even two shakes of pepper over any dish.

I wanted to share with you guys my vegetable casserole dish because I’ve been out of the United States for so long and have not had access to any type of easy-bake food or dish that has even a hint of flavor other than lard. So, a lot of my experiences with cooking in Paraguay is getting really creative with the spices and sauces I have available to me to make unique dishes. Perhaps I’ve deluded myself into thinking that this is the most creative and uniquely flavorful dish ever, but I think my vegetable casserole is SUPER TASTYIt’s like a religious experience in my mouth. And when you live in a community where sometimes the best vegetable you can find rhymes with ‘funion’ (sadly, they don’t actually sell funions here), it’s like a party over at casa Brittany whenever I get to make this awesome side dish, which usually lasts me for over a week. I often eat this as a side dish with my lunch or dinner (and sometimes I just eat it as is). It’s fantastic.

So since I consider this a creatively awesome dish, there must be an equally creatively awesome name. And I have decided the name will be “Brittany’s Creatively Awesome Vegetable Casserole.” Nice ring to it, right?

Onwards!



Ringing in 25
March 2, 2013, 11:39 pm
Filed under: Paraguay

There are some things you want to remember for always. So I’m going to write them down here, even if they’re more of a free-form jumbled mess than I usually post.

The week leading up to my 25th birthday has been absolutely the best ever.

On the first day of many celebrations, last Monday, my dear friend Vicky took me out to dinner to a Mexican restaurant in the capital for my birthday! We feasted on tortillas, sangria, and I had unbelievable shrimp fajitas- an incredible feat for a landlocked country! Vicky even made me my favorite cake of hers, an olive oil rosemary cake (it’s super delicious), and the waiter came out with a giant firework candle. It certainly didn’t hurt that I had spent the day at the Spa (as a reward for 2 months of assiduous GMAT studying). Thanks so much Vicky for a great night out in the capital.


Celebrating my birthday at a Mexican restaurant with Peace Corps friends

On Wednesday as I returned to Caazapá, the group of Volunteers that live close by to me (as we call it in Peace Corps Paraguay, my ‘VAC’) had a meeting in the city. My VAC-mates surprised me with lemon cupcakes and chocolate oatmeal cookies! We then had an epic sleepover with gluten-free pasta (one of my fellow Volunteers is a celiac and graciously shared the pasta from a package from home), salad, and Argentine wine. A new Peace Corps trainee visiting one of my VAC-mates told us her incredible background story and we discussed human rights, activism, and the efficacy of the Peace Corps while getting a little tipsy. We ended the night with cheese popcorn and “The Perks of Being a Wallflower,” one of my new favorite movies.

On Friday, my sitemate and one of my closest friends in the Peace Corps, Zoe, came over to my house to ring in my 25th in style. We started with dinner and drinks with our friend Denis at our city’s ‘fanciest’ restaurant (we had burgers, fries, and one too may ‘Sex on the Beaches.’) Hearing that the ‘Circus’ was in town (a once a year event), we walked on over to check it out. By ‘Circus’ in Paraguay, I’m not talking about Cirque du Soleil. I’m talking about an event that was SO terribly bad, it went all the way around to being good again. Definitely the highlight of the show was a man who came on to the stage carrying a torch, pulled out a long handkerchief, and threw it over and over again in the air, tying it into knots, and twisting it this way and that way as if he was performing ‘magic.’ Zoe, Denis, and I could not control ourselves. We were laughing so hard we almost choked on our cotton candy. There was also an 11-year in a tube-top and daisy dukes performing the worst ‘sexy’ dance on stage of all time, and what appeared to be a 9-year-old boy riding a motorcycle inside a circular cage. We truly had a truly fantastic time. As we walked back to my house the clock hit midnight, and we officially rung in my birthday by big bear hugs in the street.

I woke up on the morning of my birthday with a Vanilla milkshake, made by Zoe! We then headed into the center of my town to meet up with our friends Denis and Liz, with a lovely little tree, shovel, and compost from my worm bin. I had decided a little while ago that for my 25th birthday I wanted to plant a tree, and continue the tradition every year onward. The tree I picked out for this year was ‘Corazon de India’ (Heart of India). If that wasn’t a perfect enough name, it grows my favorite fruit in the world- custard apples (known more popularly as ‘buddahead fruit’ in Asia)! It’s a very popular fruit in Thailand, and though I’ve seen it a few times in Paraguay, it’s not nearly as common down here. I loved the idea of Paraguayans being able to seek shade from the summer heat while drinking tereré together and feasting on delicious fruit. So, I decided to plant my tree in the ‘Plaza de los Heroes,’ the biggest plaza in Caazapá!


My Tree!

This was my first time planting a tree (well, I DID do a tree-planting project in Caazapa a year ago with some high schoolers, but they planted the trees while I watched). I was a little nervous, thinking I wouldn’t be able to do it properly- but since Denis is a Scout and has planted plenty of trees, he showed me the entire process. I don’t know why I thought it was complex- it was super easy. We first dug a small hole and loosened up the dirt, put in the compost, watered it a little bit, and then put in the tree, removing the plastic wrap. Then we covered up the hole with dirt and watered the tree. Since the tree is so young, we tied it to a pole to help it grow strong. Meanwhile, Zoe and my other Paraguayan friend Liz took pictures. It was the absolute perfect way to start off my birthday.


Zoe, Me, Denis, and Liz in front of my tree. I love all of you!

But the day wasn’t over yet! I hopped on a bus to Paraguari where my friend Molly lives, to celebrate my 25th with 10 good Peace Corps friends at her house. After a dusty bus ride, I downed my second milkshake of the day in an air-conditioned restaurant, and joined Molly and friends for guacamole. As more and more people arrived, we climbed onto Molly’s roof to watch the sun set, and then went out to dinner at a local restaurant- where yes, Molly gifted me my THIRD milkshake of the day by sticking in a candle! Three milkshakes in one day is definitely the way to go when it’s your birthday. After a Skype chat with some of my best friends from Global College, I joined my friends in the Peace Corps and spent the rest of the night on the roof, drinking beer and telling stories.

Tomorrow we all head to Salto Cristal, a beautiful waterfall in Paraguay. I have been wanting to go for a year and a half, and I am so excited to be heading there for the first time with good friends.

It was definitely an incredible birthday to remember, always. Being 25 years old feels great. Some people have pointed out to me that I’m ‘old’ now. I don’t feel old. I’m really glad to be in the heart of my 20’s, and be on wonderful adventures with incredible people halfway around the world. I also felt a lot of love from many Paraguayans today- so many who texted and called to wish me a happy birthday. And many Peace Corps Volunteers as well! I really have built a wonderful life down here in Paraguay. I feel so blessed to be here.

Thank you to all of my wonderful friends, family, and Paraguayans who have made this birthday so wonderful and special. Here’s to the next 25!



How Have Trains Impacted Your Life?
February 13, 2013, 12:48 pm
Filed under: Paraguay

Today I have a special post in honor of my wonderful Peace Corps friend Molly, who is raising funds to create a cultural center at a historic train station in Paraguarí. Molly’s currently blogging about trains for 30 days on her blog. Today I wrote a guest post! Check it out on Molly’s blog, or read below:

When I look back throughout the span of my 24-year-old life, it’s pretty crazy to realize how much trains have influenced me culturally. Perhaps trains, or just the general form of transportation, inspired me to travel over 4,000 miles across the world to join the Peace Corps in Paraguay, where I met Molly. One thing is for certain though- trains have held a pretty important place in my heart throughout all of my major phases in life. Check some of them out below:

1) Thomas the Tank Engine

When I was a toddler, I remember getting up early every morning with my brother and sister to watch Thomas and Friends, one of our favorite television programs. My parents, obviously getting the hint that trains were our thing, bought us toy trains and tracks to play with- you know, one of those KidCraft build your own train tracks that were so popular in the 90’s. Thomas the Tank Engine, through the TV show and the toys, really taught my siblings and I the importance of sharing- which definitely proved to be key when our family grew to seven!

My brother was even Thomas the Tank Engine for Halloween! But I couldn’t find that picture, so here’s one of my Dad and us enjoying a train ride in New Jersey.

2) The Little Engine that Could

The Little Engine that Could will always remain a classic in my family. When I was a child learning how to read, The Little Engine that Could was one of my favorite books. But what did I really love best? The animated movie! I remember watching that so many times as a kid. The song “I Think I Can” was always my favorite part, and I would watch it over and over again. I believe this song definitely inspired me to never give up on my dreams. I’m sure that resilience proved key in some of my tougher moments as a Peace Corps Volunteer!

Check out the song here. This song always made me feel happy. It’s contagious!

3) Platform 9 ¾

In 1999, At age 11, I started reading Harry Potter. I never stopped until 2007, when the last book came out. I was definitely one of those hardcore fans who stood in lines for hours at every book release. I can’t even begin to describe all of the things that Harry Potter taught me, and how it influenced me growing up. Through Harry I learned leadership, the importance of friendship, and to always do the right thing. Harry Potter also brought my whole family together- each book release and movie was a right of passage. I’m really grateful to have grown up with these books, and with Platform 9 ¾.

Me visiting King’s Cross Station in London, 2009.

4. Atlas Shrugged

As a junior in college, I first read Ayn Rand’s tome Atlas Shrugged while I was in India. I ripped through the 1,000+ page book in three days. It’s a captivating tale about industrialization in the United States, and the protagonist’s attempts to keep her rail line company afloat. It’s a book about justice, honesty, and a novel that turns capitalism on its head. This book really made me think about the world in a completely different way, and changed my perspective on business, government, and philanthropy. While this book has had a lot of critical reception, it’s definitely worth a read. It was a great rite of passage into my adulthood.

5. Molly’s Train Station!

There are so many more little ways that trains have influenced me throughout my life, but I’ll leave you with the most important one: Molly’s train station in Paraguarí. The dedication and hard work that Molly has put into this project to make it happen is truly inspiring, and will have a lasting impact on her community. She inspires me to be a better person and most importantly, a better Volunteer. I feel really blessed to know Molly and see the impact her service is having on her community.


Molly and her sister Carybeth, after painting a beautiful tree in Paraguarí! They also painted on the tree the famous quote, “A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in.” (Greek Proverb)

In Paraguay, children have not had these same cultural influences that I had growing up. By donating to Molly’s campaign, you’ll be giving them the opportunity to have a train station impact their lives. You’re not just investing in a train station- you’re investing in a place where Paraguayan children can come to read and play games, a place that will create local jobs for youth, and a place where a community can gather together to celebrate their cultural heritage.

So after counting all of my blessings by looking back on how trains have influenced my life and looking at my second home in Paraguay, I leave you with one question: How can we help trains impact and inspire theirs?

Donate to Molly’s Train Station Here.



Peace Corps Cribs: My House in Paraguay
February 11, 2013, 9:00 am
Filed under: Paraguay, Pictures Post

The day has finally come. A year and a half in the making (for me to take some pictures, that is), I present to you my house in Paraguay: MTV Cribs Style.

This tour is the real MTV Cribs experience for 3 reasons: 1) because I’m supa-fly, duh! 2) I show you the contents of my fridge, as any self-respecting person on MTV Cribs does, and 3) because my house actually is a pretty crazy awesome pad compared to a lot of other Peace Corps Volunteers around the world. With the combination of Paraguayans giving me free stuff, getting free things from previous Peace Corps Volunteers, and saving up for months on end (aka, eating the equivalent of ramen noodles so that I could afford a stove to cook them on), I’ve hobbled together more than everything I need to live in a comfortable and functional space (except for the tarantulas, but that’s what ‘Mata Todo’ (Kill All) spray is for).

Oh, and I also brought some things back with me from my visit to the States (such as my comforter- after seven months of using my sleeping bag as my covers, I had a mental breakdown caved in and brought my security blanket back down to Paraguay). And I also am a major decorator/photo hoarder, and have super generous friends that send me snacks from the States. AND I’m also just extremely lucky to live in such a big house for a seriously low price ($80 a month- thanks landlord). Is the crazy mold worth it? Check out the pictures and you decide.

TMI Disclaimer over. LET THE PHOTOS COMMENCE!

Photos of Mi Casa