Wednesday, June 25, 2008
Pictures of my house. I´ve also put a bunch on my Facebook page and you can view those at http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=2106157&l=80fb7&id=7402849
One of my friends here has also posted a ton of pictures on her blog which you can check out at www.peacecorpsparaguay.blogspot.com
Friday, June 13, 2008
That title might not make any sense so let me explain it. Guaraní is the indigenous language spoken in
Mba’éichapa? (How are you?)
Iporã, nde? (I’m fine. And you?)
Iporã avei. (I’m fine also.)
Che heterei la tembi’u (¡Qué rico la comida!)
And of course, the “who I am” spiel:
Che cherera Pooja. Che aspirante Cuerpo de Pazpegua. Che Estado Unidogua. Che proyecto Desarrollo Económico Ruralpe. (My name is Pooja. I am a Peace Corps trainee. I am from the
Now for a lesson in the Guaraní, or rather, how much money I make. The 4,000 Gs is equivalent to the dollar (it’s a sign of how much the U.S. dollar has depreciated when I learned that only three years ago it was worth 7,000 Gs). That might sound like a lot but let me put it in perspective. A pack of cookies is roughly 2,500 Gs, a bus trip 2,200 Gs, a bottle of shampoo 20,000+ Gs. When I go to the main training center in Guarambaré, I have to take two buses to get there and two to return (plus walk 35 minutes each way). That’s 8,8000 Gs. I have to pay 5,000 Gs to use the Internet for an hour (with service that makes a snail look like Speedy Gonzalez). To put this further into perspective, I get paid a stipend of 15,000 Gs per day. That’s less than $4 a day. I have to use 1/3 of my salary to use the Internet for an hour. I have to use for than a day’s worth to buy a bottle of shampoo. How’s that for Living Poor?
I love my host family. I don’t know who briefed them about crazy American ways, but they did a really good job. Unlike the other families, mine gives me my privacy. They let me sit in my room for hours to study (since training is like attending school 9 hours a day, 6 days a week and I always have a ton of homework/readings), which I often use as alone time and instead read or write in my journal. In fact, my host father often gives me a thumbs-up when I head off to study. This is very atypical of most traditional Paraguayan families. The concept of “alone time” or privacy doesn’t really exist in
I love how my family takes care of me. In many ways, it’s like being a 5 year-old again. Not only do I not do any work in the house (though I’d like to and when I have time, sy has been showing me how to wash my clothes by hand), but they treat me like their child; this despite the fact that my mom is only 5 years older than I am (she’s 27 and túva is 37). In the mornings, they walk me to our gate and wish me good luck. I always give sy kisses on both cheeks before taking off. I return home for lunch, and if I have training in Guarambare, she packs me lunch. When I return home in the evenings, they ask me what I learned. It’s like I’ve regressed to the state of a kindergartener, but honestly I love it. After a year of never being at home (which I’m sure my mom can tell you plenty about), it’s nice to be at home in the evenings and sleep at 9 or .
I’ve been talking to some of the other volunteers about their host families, and I really think I lucked out (actually, all 6 of us in my community have great families). The Muni volunteers have super nice houses, but their families have completely different lifestyles. One of my friends, with whom I ate lunch the other day and who is also vegetarian, was complaining that her family doesn’t give her enough vegetarian food, specifically vegetables. They usually just her one of the side dishes, and she never feels like there’s enough variety. My host mom specially prepares vegetarian food for me. On most nights, that’s all we eat. Even when there’s not meat, the main meal is vegetarian. Most of the Muni volunteers complained about how much time their families spend in front of the TV. They want more quality family time. In contrast, I always have quality family time. More than I can handle in fact. My parents spend hardly any time in front of the TV; they always have plenty of time for me and are always ready to and enthusiastic about spending (I prefer the Spanish word compartir…you don’t spend time with people, you share time with them) time with me. In a way, the Muni families are much more like the modern American families, each member is independent and leading his or her own life. But my family, and the families of the other RED volunteers, is a much more traditional Paraguayan family. That’s what I came to Paraguay to experience, not the comforts of home.
I am amazed at how easily impressed I am here. We saw the houses of the Muni volunteers on Saturday and I was blown away. One of the volunteers had a house with a garage! There were pictures hanging on the walls, a wooden cabinet in the dining room with two Ming vases, a large couch in the living room encircling the TV, and a nice patio. Another house had actual sofa chairs in the living room. From the front, it looked like a Spanish villa. In another house, I was amazed by how big the kitchen was. It had two types of ovens and looked kind of like the typical American kitchen. The bathroom actually had a shower curtain and a padded toilet seat. The final house I saw had three bedrooms. Three!
None of these descriptions may sound particularly astounding, but here they are. Some of them are not much better than houses in
An interesting thing I’ve noticed about
Wednesday, June 4, 2008
I am slowly learning what it means to live outside. You might think, “Oh, winter in Paraguay. How bad could that be?” There´s a definite difference between 50 degrees in the U.S. and living your life at 50 degrees. In the U.S. we spend a few minutes outside and then return to our 70 degree houses. But when you spend your life at 50, even less than 40 degrees (which it has been), it´s awful. It´s like a raw cold that gnaws at your bones and which you can never shake. It’s so cold inside that we, the newly arrived American volunteers, find ourselves yearning to be outside all of the time, even though it’s winter! Like a cat taking a nap, we find our own rays of sunshine to bathe in and provide us with some warmth. And like a cat, I find myself purring with pleasure at this little piece of happiness I have found.
We think of life lived in developing countries as one lived in the dark, both literally and with all the accompanying connotations. It is one lived without electricity, but also removed from modernity, backwards. Living in this place, where I have to walk past the chickens and pigs in the dark to use the toilet, I can understand those sentiments. I brush my teeth outside in the freezing cold and in the dark, and I shower in those same conditions. Even much of my life inside takes place in the dark. My host father likes “la oscuridad,” as he was raised in houses with little light. The kitchen doesn’t have a light, so my host mom cooks with the light streaming in through the window (from the light outside the house) and we eat dinner in the dark. My family lives its life in the dark and the cold, but they are not backwards.
During meals, I get to enjoy the fresh tomatoes, bananas, mandarin oranges, grapefruit, and mandioca grown by my father, and drink homemade juice (vegetables and fruits which put our genetically-modified ones to shame). The milk comes fresh from his cows. Before this starts to seem like an essay of homage to the simple life, I want to say that my family is not backwards in the way in which they have welcomes me in their home and their lives. They share with me their small home; I am the only one with my own room. My host mother has been specially cooking vegetarian food for me. In the evenings, I drink mate with my family (which I never liked while I was in
I have arrived in my new home,
I’ve only been here since Thursday, yet it seems like a lifetime separating me from this life and everything familiar. I arrived at my new home and was immediately aghast. There is no bathroom inside the house. I shower and brush my teeth outside. To be more specific, I shower outside amongst the pigs and chickens and ducks. Well, not exactly with them; the shower and toilet are located right behind the chicken coop and next to the pigs. I was absolutely distraught the first time I took a bucket shower outside in the freezing cold (it’s winter here). As my body shivered violently from the cold, I kept telling myself how much of an idiot I was for signing up to do this, and the title of the book “Living Poor” – a book written in the 1970s by a former Peace Corps volunteer – came to mind. I decided that for me the title meant being crazy enough to give up the privileges I have been lucky enough to be born with, in order that I may become a better person. This was confirmed in my mind when some of the other RED volunteers visited my house and exclaimed in both delight and horror. As to why they were delighted, I will get to that. They were horrified by my bathroom and told me that I was very brave for not turning and fleeing immediately. Yes, that’s right: I am the only one in the entire group of 18 to have a bathroom outside. But, I know it will be rewarding in the end, learning to live like so many around the world do, without indoor plumbing. At least I can say I’m lucky enough to have electricity and running water.
Now for the good news: the beauty of the country and my host family.
My father is a pretty big farmer; he grows corn, mandioca, tomatoes, bananas, sugarcane, mandarin oranges, grapefruit, and more. You have to walk for 30 minutes to reach the end of his chacras (farm). He also raises chickens, roosters, pigs, and cows, and has rabbits, four dogs, and a cat. One of the puppies thinks she’s a big dog and jumps all over me. The other is an adorable baby who broke his leg. I named him Alfajorcito because he’s sweet like an alfajor. For being not too far from a reasonably-sized city, I am truly “in it,” meaning practically in the campo. And while I may not have all of the modern conveniences, I can wake up surrounded by miles of natural beauty and an incredible view and look at a star filled with stars before I go to bed.
If anyone would like to send me snail mail or a care package, you can send it to:
Pooja Virani, PCT
Cuerpo de Paz, CHP
162 Chaco Boreal c/Mcal. López
Asunción 1580, Paraguay (South America)