Friday, July 25, 2008

Long Field, nearing the end and a rainstorm in Paraguay!

Long Field – this refers to a week where four aspirantes got to a Volunteer’s site and participate in activities that the Volunteer has set up. It’s supposed to be a weeklong experience of Volunteer life. Along with three of my fellow trainees, I went to a very pretty site named Aregua (pronounced Are-a-wah). Aregua is on a lake – the biggest in Paraguay. It’s an old colonial town and has a lot of old homes, some of which have been restored to their original beauty. One of the things the volunteer there – Josh, is working on is tourism and he is starting with trying to get the colonial homes historical protection and funds to restore and maintain them. During the week, we met the staff in his municipality, gave charlas and planned activities for kids at a “camp” for their winter break, participated in volunteer meetings and took an awesome canoe ride on the lake. All in all, it was a great and relaxing week.

We stayed with host families (as usual) during the week. The family I stayed with lived on the last road in town and were definitely more campesino than any of the families I’ve stayed with thus far. Their house was on a big piece of property and they had a vegetable garden and lots of fruit trees. They also had a lot of chickens, ducks, three dogs, and two cows. They were really nice and were amazing cooks (leading me to begin my diet immediately upon return to Guarambare).

Things are really beginning to speed up now. On Monday, we’ll start our last complete week of training. On Friday, we’ll be told what sites we are going to and on Saturday, we’ll leave to visit our sites. We’ll be in our sties from Saturday and we’ll return to Guarambare on Thursday. Our main objectives on these visits are twofold: find a family with whom we can live for our first three months there and get to know our counterparts. Peace Corps believes in working with and not for people so none of the work we do is in isolation. Rather than do projects for people we do them with people and the best model is always working with our counterparts who can then pass on information/knowledge to many others. And as per Peace Corps policy, we are required to live with a family for our first three months in site. How one goes about finding said family is the big question. Imagine, I’ve got to visit families (essentially interviewing them) to see if both they are comfortable with me and I with them (enough to share a living space for three whole months). It involves negotiating what they will charge for room/board/food and in my case also trying to find out if they are comfortable preparing food for a vegetarian (meat is such an important part of the culture here that many find it uncomfortable and strange to give someone food that has no meat).

At any rate, we return from site visits on July 31 and the following day is just a debrief on visits and our final training evaluation. We are also planning a final end of training party, probably on the 2nd (Saturday) but it will also hopefully be a birthday party for myself (3rd of August) and my friend Joan (4th of August). We only have the 4th and 5th of the following week before we leave for Asuncion and swear-in! Swear in is on August 6th (a Wednesday) and we’ll probably be told to be in our sites by Sunday or Monday (which means we have time to shop in Asuncion for things we think we might need in site). After the mandatory 3-month family stay, I will almost definitely find my own home and will hold off buying too much stuff until I see what I need.

The rainstorm…it started as a non-typical winter day. That is to say that the high temps (in the 70’s and 80’s) continued and this day was particularly warm. It looked like rain in the morning and I was annoyed at forgetting my rain jacket at my host family’s home. It didn’t rain and in fact, it turned out to be a nice day. A group of us had arranged to meet at Mark’s house after training class that evening to exchange photos. There was about 10 of us there when the lights went out. We thought we had blown a fuse – what with so many computers and what not going at once. It didn’t take long for us to realize it was the entire neighborhood though. It was then that Mark’s host-father warned us that if we wanted to leave, it was now or never! His warning was a bit too late though because the torrential downpour started before we were able to get our jackets on (I had mine this time)! We had no choice but to unplug all of the technology and sit in the dark and chat. We hung out there until the rains subsided a bit, probably about 45 minutes to an hour. Not bad really. However, due to the lack of drainage in Guarambare, we were all walking through the several-inch-deep-mud puddles to go the few blocks to our homes. The fact that there was a lot of lightning had us all a bit nervous, as there was no way to avoid the puddles. I made it home to find my own host family hanging out in the dark. I sat with them a bit and then decided to see if I could do a bit of work on my computer (working off of the battery). About an hour after I got home the power finally came back on. Ahhh – finally, I can wash my face and get some sleep. Oops – not so fast – the water was turned off! Not only that, my host family’s living room had about an inch of water on the floor (the origin of the leak has not yet been discovered). I waited for about half an hour (until around 11PM) and then decided shut-eye was more important than a clean face and brushed teeth!

Next morning…well, I shouldn’t have been surprised. Not at the mess in the streets from the night’s rainfall, (another torrential downpour began around 3am) but at how cold the morning was. The day before the weather had been extremely hot (somewhere in the 80s) and this morning it clocked in around 53 degrees. Pull out the sweaters again and find the knit caps. What a winter! It has been more or less like this since we arrived in late May, but a 30-degree swing in temps from one day to the next is too much! Oh well, life in Paraguay is nothing if not unpredictable!

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