Friday, November 14, 2008
This discussion wouldn't be complete without a mention of school-sponsored fiestas. It seems that almost every week there's a party sponsored by one grade or another. Fiestas are the one thing the administration is serious about organizing. There may not be rain-dates for classes, but there are always rain-dates for fiestas. What's the purpose of these fiestas? To raise money for one school project or another. I'd like to know what "school projects" the fundraising benefits, because I've seen students charged for the cost of their exam papers (and we are not talking big packets the likes of your high-school exams, I'm talking about a single-sided piece of paper). Lessons are often put on hold so that students can get ready for one fiesta or another. I've walked into classrooms to find that instead of teaching the students, the teachers are showing the students how to model for that night's fashion show. On other days I've witnessed the teachers sitting around while the students run amok because that night there was a fiesta and the teachers wanted to give them a break from class (What class? Talk about pre-party!). What happens at fiestas is another matter in itself. The school raises fund by charging students for food and drinks. Ok, that may not seem so bad. Let me be more specific: alcoholic beverages. Schools charge their own underage students to raise money for those same students' education. The Paraguayan custom is to take a sip of a drink – any drink: tereré, Coke, wine – and pass it around. I've seen teachers take a sip of a beer before passing it to one of their students. Meanwhile, the police at the police station look on as if nothing is happening. I always thought that restricting the drinking limit to 21+ was a stupid, unenforceable law. While it's true that the U.S. government can't stop underage kids from drinking, you have to at least appreciate the fact that there's no alcohol served at school-sponsored events. Teachers are supposed to be role models for students. How can they be role models if they get they're as drunk as their students? Or worse, if they get their own students drunk? We hope for teachers that inspire youth and an education system that educates the leaders of tomorrow. The Paraguayan education system is certainly a far cry from that.
Thursday, November 13, 2008
Remember that feeling you had the first time you were covered in cow manure? Well, I certainly do! It was disgust at that green slime running down my arm; disgust at that pungent odor permeating my clothes. Why was I covered in cow poop you might ask? Because I needed it for my abonero, my compost-pile. I have a large bin in my backyard (hopefully it’s tall enough to keep the chickens out). I first put a layer of dry leaves to cover the bottom. Then I spread a layer of oh-so-sweet-smelling manure on top, after which I put another layer of dry leaves, followed by a layer of green leaves and rotten lemons, another layer of dry leaves, and finally kitchen scraps. I made sure to water the pile between every layer and add soil as well, just for consistency. The layers alternated between carbon-rich and nitrogen-rich organic matter, as to create the proper chemical reaction that will cause the pile to heat up. What was the point of spending all morning shoveling piles of shit, raking up leaves and rotten fruit, and hoisting buckets of water out of my well? What’s the goal? Crumbly, sweet-smelling compost (and this time I really do mean sweet-smelling) – the best all-natural fertilizer you can give your garden. A supplement that puts carbon, nitrogen, and potassium into the soil, enriching it and helping fruits and vegetables grow faster, last longer, and taste better.
Since I was already covered in dirt and sweat by this point, I decided to experiment with manure tea. I put heaping piles of cow dung into an onion sack, tied it shut, and placed it in a bucket of water where it will steep for a week or two, resulting in rich, liquid fertilizer. There was one hitch with this plan. I was getting the cow poop from my neighbor, whose house I reached by hopping a barbed-wire fence. The problem I did not foresee was transporting this bag of manure back to my yard. Imagine the sight of me stumbling around, desperately clutching in both arms, trying to move a surprisingly heavy sack of shit. This brings us back to the point where we came in, the one where I was covered in shit. Oh well, all in a day’s hard work!
P.S. Another problem I did not foresee was getting shit stains out of a shirt. I guess I’ll have to keep that shirt aside for my “lifting piles of cow shit onto my abonero” days.