Wednesday, June 4, 2008

My New Home

I have arrived in my new home, Paraguay. After talking about the Peace Corps for almost a year, I’m finally beginning my assignment. For the next three months I will be attending pre-service training in Guarambaré, the location of Peace Corps Paraguay’s training headquarters and a city about 45 minutes from Asunción. There are 18 of us in our program, 12 Municipal Development (urban) volunteers and 6 Rural Economic Development Volunteers (RED). We, the RED volunteers, live outside of the city and for 5 out of our 6 days of training each week, train separately.

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. Paraguay is an incredibly beautiful country, full of greenery and naturaleza. Even in the winter, everything is green. I am living with a host family that is incredibly nice and takes very good care of me. My father, 37, is a farmer and also works at a hospital; my mother, 27, is a housewife; and my brother, 9, is a third-grader and also incredibly adorable. They specifically requested a girl and wanted one so badly that they didn’t even mind me being vegetarian. I eat a lot of mandioca (a root very much like a potato or yucca…possibly another name for yucca) and a lot of other carbohydrates (my mother promised me that she would bring more vegetables for me to eat). In the mornings I eat bread with butter and marmalade and dulce de leche (yum!) and drink café con leche, which I especially relish because of the cold.

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)

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