Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Adjusting to what it means to “come home” and adventures in Asuncion

As noted in my last entry, I had a great trip in Horqueta and the fact that I didn’t have to take another overnight bus (or any bus for that matter) to get home was great. But spending an extra day away from my host family’s home was brutal. I was eager to sleep in my own bed and shower in my own shower, etc. It made me reflect on what “my own” meant and what “coming home” actually meant. My host family is great and for the next three months, their home is my home. Despite the fact that my current living situation is only temporary, it was great to feel so connected to it and to genuinely look forward to returning to it. It also caused me to reflect on the fact that once I get to site after swearing-in (as an “official Peace Corps Volunteer – I’m only a trainee at the moment) I’ll find myself in yet another temporary living situation. Peace Corps requires that all Volunteers stay with a host family for their first three months at site. After that, we are free to find our own places to live or stay with the family we are with or find another family with whom to live. Most of us plan to move out on our own but until that moment, our living situations are all longish-term temporary, at least until November!

We normally have technical/cultural sessions on Saturday from 08:00 to 12:00. This past Saturday we had a morning session from 07:00 to 11:30 and then another from 13:00 to 17:00. That meant that Sunday was our only “day off.” Four of us decided to go to Asuncion for a little shopping and adventure. By bus, the trip takes about one hour and 15 minutes. We left around 10:00 and got into Asuncion around 11:30 (mostly because we neglected to get off the bus at the right stop and so we ended up circling the outskirts of the city for 15 minutes)! We had planned to go straight to town to do our shopping but because we found ourselves in front on two of the three shopping malls in Asuncion, we decided to simply stay put for the time being. We entered the mall in Asuncion, but what it really felt like was a brief trip back to the States. We used CLEAN bathrooms and settled in to the warmth being piped in by the central heating. We ate awesome meals (we found a salad bar and loaded our plates with veggies) and got soft serve ice cream from McDonald’s (we couldn’t resist). We shopped at the American style grocery store (though I didn’t find any peanut butter) and then we finally prepared ourselves to leave. Stepping back into the nearly freezing weather, we reflected on how easy it was to spend nearly half the money we had brought with us and decided that the mall would forever be a special treat. We did spend a little time looking around. I, in particular, was interested in acquiring a new pair of jeans. Levi’s are my favorite and I figured they wouldn’t be too expensive. The pair I found were 418,000.00 Guaranís. Unfortunately, our salary is 210,000.00 Guaranís – every other week! Everything we saw was out of reach…but then, that’s true for most of the population in Paraguay.

Heading towards the local markets in town, where we were guaranteed to find something we could afford, we instead found a ghost town. Not only was in Sunday, but it was 14:00, which meant it was siesta and all the shops were closed. Unfortunately, for us, given that it was Sunday, they would not be reopening at 15:00 as they do on all other days. We resigned ourselves to sightseeing and vowed to return on a Saturday afternoon or to head to the markets early on a Sunday. We saw the things we had read about in travel guides or the internet, the monument to the Spanish conquista of 1537, the Pantheon of Heroes, the legislature and the government palace to name a few. In order to save 2300.00 Guaranís and to get some much-needed exercise, we decided to walk back uptown to catch our bus back home. We over estimated our energy level and the actual distance we would need to walk and an hour and half later we were exhausted. We passed the American Embassy and all waved as we passed a piece of home. We finally reached the street where we would see our bus pass (you can flag the bus down anywhere and don’t necessarily need to wait at a bus stop) and waited the 10 excruciating minutes for it to pass.

The exhaustion of the day had made me cold and hungry. My host family doesn’t really eat dinner, just a little snack late in the evenings so I was relieved to see that my little sister (4-year old Valeria) had requested and received some homemade popcorn. I inhaled the leftovers and then grabbed my sleeping bag and cozied up inside. One of my fellow trainees (and a good friend), Mark, came over so we could study our Guarani together (we’re 2 of 5 people skipping the Spanish lessons for the local indigenous language, Guarani). We studied for an hour and a half until our brains collectively decided to stop working. My family had decided the evening’s cena would be pancakes (just like we make back home, but paper-thin) but didn’t want to disturb my study session so neglected to tell me they were done. I gobbled mine up in their stone-cold state (and was thankful to have something – even carbs, to fill me up ‘til morning). I wanted to wash my hair and since I would be jogging with my friends first thing in the morning (6AM), I decided an evening shower was in order. Hair washing showers are always obviously longer, but the cold weather conspired to make me want to stay in the nice warm water for much longer. As a result, I caused a fuse to blow as running the hot water (from the electric water heating showerhead) and was rewarded with a pitch-black bathroom and nearly instantly freezing cold water. Given that, it was probably around 48-50 degrees in my home that made the next few minutes unbearable. My host brother was able to quickly restore the power, but I was still left shivering (thank goodness I was rinsed off and ready to get out anyway)! I decided to stay up for a bit to let my hair dry and so I crawled back into my sleeping bag to watch a movie on my computer. Despite the presence of two warm blankets, I decided to sleep in my sleeping bag, mostly because I was just already so warm and didn’t want to have to re-warm my sheet and blankets!

Monday morning greeted me with an even colder blast of air. Jogging with friends ensures that I keep my commitment to exercise – none of us want to let the others down! Still, getting up at 6am in COLD weather is difficult. I grudgingly got up and put on a few more layers than I normally do. I walked over to Courtney’s house but her host mom told me that her knee was bothering her (probably from our long walk in Asuncion the day before) so I proceeded to Karen’s house. I found Karen walking towards me with her own host mother. Karen’s host family has a small farm and each morning her mom goes to collect the milk from the cows. Her host sister wasn’t feeling well (a common theme here on cold days) and so Karen decided to go in her place. I didn’t really feel like jogging anyway, so I accepted their invitation to tag along. The farm is about a 20-minute walk from the center of town (where most of us live) and we were all feeling a bit less cold by the time we arrived. The farm was bigger than I thought it would be. They had a lot of pigs (including some so-ugly-their-cute baby pigs) and about six cows. The milking had already begun and so Karen’s mom began to strain and bottle the milk. A lot of people here drink fresh milk rather than store bought. I’ve decided to forgo the milk drinking completely and instead just use store-bought yogurt. At any rate, the process was interesting if smelly. It was strange to see the amount of steam rising from the buckets of milk (there was a slight ewww factor at this, let’s face it, I’m not the most mature wine in the cellar) and I was surprised and how bad it smelled, but there is something nice about being so connected to the food you consume. Karen and I got back to our respective homes a bit later than planned and had to run to make it to the training center on time. We’re in the same language class (beginners Guarani) which made it a bit easier to walk in late (only a few minutes). Class went well and I was surprised by how far my language had progressed: Che cherera Laara, che aiko Zayas familia ndive ha che aspirante Cuerpo de Paz pegua. Che Estadus Unidosgua, Floridape. Che areko 32 ano ha avy’aiterei Paraguaipe = My name is Laara, I live with the Zayas family and I am a Peace Corps trainee. I come from the US, specifically from Florida. I am 32 years old and I am happy in Paraguay. Actually, we’re learning Jopara (that word means mix in Guarani) which is a mix of the Spanish and Guarani languages.

After a few hours of language class, I was more than ready for lunch. As lunch is the main meal of the day, I always prepare myself to eat a bit more at this meal. Thank goodness today’s specialty was yummy – vegetable soup and tortillas (tortilla here refers to little fried pieces of dough). Despite not wanting to eat too many fried dough delicacies, I ate like 5 or 6. I also ate two bowls full of the healthier yummy veggie soup. Oh well – that’s why I’m jogging! Before I knew it, it was time to get back to CHP (stands for the Center for Human Potential and it’s the name of the company that handles all of the Peace Corps training needs here in Paraguay) and an afternoon of technical training. The topic of this tech session was civic education. Getting people – especially kids, to see the importance in getting involved in their new democracy is really important. We learned more about a local NGO working out of Asuncion named ABC Color. They make a lot of games that are easily purchased (very cheap) and can be played by both adults and children.

The day was rounded out by my after-school snack, 4 mandarin oranges and a handful of peanuts. Dinner, when it came was yet more Sopa Paraguaya – a type of corn bread that has onions and cheese in it, in case I’ve not mentioned it before. Not bad really, but you get sick of it after you eat it for dinner a few days in a row!

After dinner I watched a movie on my laptop and then crawled into my sleeping bag and appreciated the warmth it provided. It´s amazing how cozy and comfortable warmth can be! It makes it that much harder to get out of bed in the morning – especially for a 6am morning jog! Oh well, my two friends (Karen and Courtney) and I are committed to getting some excercise during training.

Well, that´s a typical day for me, if there can be such a thing. Thanks for the comments – keep them coming. And thanks for all of your support!


Anonymous said...

May be I am biased, but I think you write very fluidly and descriptively. I like your style!
Keep up the good work Laara.
Your dad.

Ana said...

Hola Laarita!

I had a good time reading your adventures - keep posting! And I am looking forward to seeing some pictures of where you are living and of your host family!

Lots of love and hugs

Tere said...

Hola Laara
That story about your mall adventure reminded me our Monserrate adventure. You should write a book.
Don´t forget to send pictures

sussimanler said...

Enjoy all your adventures. Great picture of you and your friends all bundled up. Expecting the next chapter and more pictures. Love you lots, MUM