Monday, September 15, 2008

A simple trip to Caacupe & the inconveniences of a rainy day

It sounds easy enough – a meeting in Caacupe. Here in Peace Corps Paraguay we have what are known as VACs – Volunteer Advisory Councils. VACs are basically a collection of volunteers from different sectors that all live within a specific geographic area. My VAC – the Cordillera (this is the name of the department or state that we live in) VAC has been planning a project for several months now. The project is a trek that will take us from one of the southernmost towns in this area to one of the northernmost areas. We will be walking or trekking from town to town (where volunteers live) and stopping at the schools to plant trees and speak to students about the importance of trees and environmental conservation. We’ll be eating and sleeping at volunteers homes all along the way. The new volunteers (of which I am one) can participate but the plans are far too far along to incorporate our towns into the plans.

At any rate, a meeting was planned to discuss this project. Neither Lauren nor Julie – my two closest neighbors were able to attend, so I had to go to the meeting alone. I really didn’t want to go alone, the trip would involve a bus change – but I had no choice. Anyway, I reminded myself that I had travelled throughout Thailand alone – surely I could handle this (after all, I didn’t even speak Thai and my Spanish is pretty good). So, on Sunday morning around 10:30 – I head off for the noon meeting in Caacupe. I had all of the directions for how to get there all written out. Of course, I am the person who could get could take a wrong turn in my own home and get lost. But I digress…, I got on the first bus with no problem. It filled up quickly and all of a sudden, I couldn’t see out the window to see exactly where we were. I tried to make my way up to the front so I could look out the window but we were still a bit far from where I had to get off the bus.

Unfortunately, more and more people were getting on and I was trying to stay near the front of the bus so I wouldn’t miss my stop. Finally, we get there and I squeeze past a bunch of people and extract myself from the bus. My next step was to cross over a highway intersection of 4 major streets. It wasn’t very busy, thank goodness, so I didn’t have a problem crossing. Just as I get to the street I need to be on – I spot a bus with the name Caacupe – YES! Unfortunately for me, that wasn’t one of the buses I was supposed to take to get where I needed to go, but I figured, well, it’s going to Caacupe and so am I, but alas no, that’s not quite right. I ask the bus driver about the restaurant where we were planning on meeting and he doesn’t know where it is. I call one of the volunteers that is attending the meeting and it is then that I realize that I need to change buses yet again.

So, I get off that bus and wait for about 20 minutes for one of the buses that I need. Finally, it comes and I get on and about 10 minutes later, ….it runs out of gas. Yes, the bus ran out of gas. The driver assured me it would only take about 15-20 minutes for someone to bring us more gas but I was already nearly a half hour late! About 15 minutes later (and with no sign that the bus will start running again) another bus that is going where I need to go starts coming up the road and so I get on (and pay) for now, my 4th bus! Finally, I get there. Unfortunately, for me, the meeting is nearly finished! The great thing is that I got to meet a lot of my fellow VAC members and I did learn a few things about the trek. In addition, I learned when and where the next meeting is going to be. Plus, I got to go on a bit of an adventure.

In order to keep the bus mishaps to a minimum, I decided to go back with an experienced volunteer. She’s been in Paraguay for nearly a year and lives in a town about 25 minutes from where I live. We set out to catch our bus yet it never arrived. After nearly 40 minutes, we flagged down an expensive charter bus going to Asuncion and asked if they could drop us at the highway intersection. They said that was no problem – of course they charged us each Gs 5,000 (the currency here is called Guaraníes), normally the buses cost Gs 2,300. We get on the bus and try to squeeze into the passenger section. This was not an easy feat – the seats were all filled and so was the aisle – to capacity. After being kicked and pushed as people squeezed past us to get off the bus, we finally arrived. Thank goodness the bus that would take us back to our towns came fairly quickly. The rest of the ride home was uneventful but that was a real blessing. The ironic thing about this day is that Caacupe is not that far away so the trip should not have taken as long as it did (on either end of the trip).

Oh well, I’m in the Peace Corps and what would I write to you all about if I didn’t have these kinds of adventures? Now…about my rainy day. I’ve mentioned before that the weather here can change dramatically from day to day. This happened recently. I bought a wardrobe (like a dresser, but has room to hang clothes in) for my new home and was in my bedroom organizing my clothes. It was so hot that I felt like I was going to pass out. My host sister suggested I turn on my air conditioning (one of the reasons I love my new home) so I did and my room eventually cooled down. I heard that the weather was going to get cooler and sure enough the next morning it was noticeably cold (probably in the 50’s) but it only got colder as the day wore on. The following day it was much cooler (low 40’s is my estimate) and beyond that it was raining.

Now, if you take a look at the pictures of my new home, you will notice that I live in a home with two rooms. Those two rooms are not connected, which is to say when I leave my bedroom, I am outside and walk about 10 feet directly across to get to my kitchen door. Now, my “kitchen” is equipped with a table, chairs, and stove/oven unit and a fridge but there is no sink or water source in this room. In order to wash dishes or get water I have to go outside to the sink that lies directly behind my family’s home. This sink is used mostly for washing clothes but also, now, doubles as my “kitchen” sink. So, on this particular rainy day, I had to run through the rain to get to the sink to get water for my morning coffee. Unwilling to leave dishes lying around (and attract unwelcome critters and creatures) I also washed my dishes in the rain (though I did put on my handy dandy North Face rain jacket). It was then that I realized that one of the things I miss about the States is the convenience of life. The weather often annoys us but other than slowing down traffic, doesn’t really interfere with our daily lives much (not speaking of hurricanes and other such natural disasters here). In Paraguay, when it rains, as you’ve surely learned by now, frequently the electricity goes out and many people stay inside of their homes all day. Most people do not own cars and if they do have their own mode of transport, in all likelihood it is a scooter or motorcycle. Unwilling to risk illness walking or riding in the rain, most people opt to stay indoors. So washing dishes becomes a problem for those that do not have sinks inside their homes (this is most people, not just me). Also, it isn’t just dishes that become an issue but washing laundry as well. It is not only usually washed outdoors but even for those who have washing machines, all laundry is dried outdoors (I have yet to see a dryer though I’m sure they exist). So on rainy days, no clothes can be washed either. In fact, when people hear or suspect that its going to rain, most scramble around trying to get these kinds of things done in anticipation of not being able to do them when the weather changes.

Another inconvenience of my outdoor “kitchen” sink is the lack of hot water. All faucets here in Paraguay only have cold water. Hot water is reserved for showers only (I have yet to see a bathtub in this country) and is obtained through an electric shower head that heats water as it comes through (the more you increase the water pressure the less hot the water so unfortunately, if you desire a really hot water, you’re stuck with crappy water pressure). So, when its cold or rainy out, having to wash my hands or dishes with ice-cold water is no fun. Now, we’re just about a week or so away from the start of Spring (21st of September) and they tell me that’s when the unbearably hot weather will start. I’m therefore, trying to remember and enjoy these cool days, because I know very soon, I’ll be wishing for another one (though I’m sure the cold-only faucets will be a pleasure during the hot weather). So stay tuned, soon you may be hearing about how the hot weather inconveniences my life. In the mean time, please note that I’m happy and healthy and dealing with the inconveniences and they are nothing compared with the amazing people I’ve met and am meeting! Hugs from Laara in the small town of Loma Grande!
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