Friday, August 8, 2008

Off I go!

I finally got my site assignment. I will be in the department of Caagazú, very near the border of Alto Paraná. Apparently, weeks of intensive studying and paying attention in class, as well as mad-Guaraní skills, actually paid off. I got the site I wanted, I got the prize site. You have to cross a river to get to my site! (which is especially exciting in a landlocked country. The lake is actually the result of the Itaipú Dam, meaning it is man-made) There’s a balsa (barge), which takes people, motos, buses, and huge semis filled with bananas across the lake. Being that this is Paraguay, the balsa doesn’t have a motor. Instead, it’s pulled by a motorized boat which is tied to the side! Somehow it manages to make it across every time! My site is even more rural than I asked or hoped for. There is no running water and the electricity often cuts out. Because of the lack of running water, I’ll be using a latrine and getting my water from a well. The site is practically an island (an island within the island that is Paraguay), meaning not only is it in the middle of nowhere, but it’s also isolated. It’s 10 km from the nearest town (not including the river). Only one bus runs everyday, heading into town at 7 in the morning and returning at 12 noon. It doesn’t run if it’s raining of course, leaving me with a two hour walk along the muddy dirt roads on either side of the river.

The name of my site means “there’s work to be done,” which is an incredibly appropriate name. The volunteer before me was super-guapo (hard-working), super-active, meaning I have a lot to live up to. Hardly anyone speaks Spanish and he spoke pretty fluent Guaraní. For the next several months, while I learn the language and observe the community, I’m going to be known as “that quite girl who never speaks.” It helps that I’m the complete opposite of the former volunteer; they’ve already commented how they’re trading the blond blue-eyed boy for the morocha (“burnt skin,” basically brown) girl. But, I’m still absolutely terrified of not living up to the high standards the past volunteer has set for me.

To completely contrast with that, I’ve spent the past three days in Asunción in “chuchi-town.” After our swear-in, the entire group of us checked into a really nice hotel which offers discounts for Peace Corps volunteers. To celebrate our swear-in, and because we know we won’t get it for a while, we’ve been treating ourselves to good food at nice, super-expensive restaurants around town. For the past two months I’ve been contrasting Paraguay with Argentina, as that’s my former Latin America experience and it’s what I know. I was shocked at how different they are, but now I realize how completely wrong I was. Asunción is pretty similar to Bs.As. minus the amazing food and gorgeous architecture. The youth party till 6 AM, they use the same slang – “che, boludo!” –, they listen to American music. They say that the cities of the world are much more similar to each other than they are to the rest of the country. For example, Mumbai and New York are more alike than Mumbai and the rest of India. The same applies to Paraguay, maybe even more so. Asunción has the same standard of living as Israel, which is number 15 of countries, while rural Paraguay has the same as some of the poorest African countries, around 147. That’s a huge gap! That means that all the wealth is concentrated in the capital, while the rest of the country lives in poverty rivaling Bolivia. It makes me think that maybe Paraguay isn’t such a weird country after all; it’s not that different from what I know. But the fact that this gap exists is the reason Paraguay needs development workers: because becoming number 15 is within the realm of possibility for the rest of Paraguay. Our job as PC volunteers is to work to make it so.

My address has changed. It is now:

Pooja Virani, PCV

Cuerpo de Paz, CHP

162 Chaco Boreal c/Mcal. López

Asunción 1580, Paraguay (South America)

Pictures of my future site:

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