Thursday, December 22, 2011

Out of Site: Virgencita de Caacupe, and the Swearing Out of G-31.

I spent several days out of site a few weeks ago (but only now have an internet connection strong enough to post this update). But thanks to some wonderful friends, I got the opportunity to do one of the most quintessential Paraguayan traditions. I participated in the pilgrimage to Caacupe. Its hard to describe the role the Virgencita de Caacupe plays in the Paraguayan culture. In the space of about a week, around 300,000 people go to Caacupe, cumulating on the 8th of December. The majority of pilgrims walk at least part of the way there. For the rest of the year, Caacupe has a population of only 42,000, and Paraguay itself only has a population of around 6,460,000. So having 300,000 people converge on one spot is phenomenal.

For me, the most fascinating part of the experience was the sensation of walking together with thousands of other people. It’s a fun, celebratory atmosphere. We walked from 9pm to 1am on the night of the 7th. Walking at night has the benefit of avoiding the intense summer heat, and considering we are walking up one of the largest hills in the country, that is important.

Many people come to pray for a miracle, or to give thanks for prayers answered in the past year. But many people (not just Yankees like me), come merely for the experience of participating in a longstanding, uniquely Paraguayan, cultural tradition.

This photo is from a visit to the church last year. During festival de Caacupe, it was much to crowded to get past the courtyard.

I definitely want to do it again next year, and walk maybe two or three times the distance. I’m much to lazy/out of shape to do a marathon (or any sort of running honestly), but I can walk of ages! I’m also thinking about trying to bike it. Anyone want to join me?

The day after walking to Caacupe, I went to the G-31 despideda (goodbye party). I’m G-34, so G-31 was my sister G. They means they were the agriculture and environmental education group that swore in a year before us. When we swore in they had already been here a year. Now that they have sworn out, that means…. I have been in my site for a whole year, and a new Ag and EE group (G-37) has sworn in. We are now the older, more experience G! I didn’t really feel much last year when the old group swore out just as we were swearing in. After all, I hardly knew them. But this year it has been hard saying goodbye to people I have come to respect and gotten to know well. I no longer have wise seasoned Ag volunteers to turn to when I have a question (actually I still have the talented Ag coordinator). It’s the first time that a G has sworn out, and I have really felt the loss. I miss you G-31.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Love is Sopa Paraguaya

Today was on its way to being a bad day. I stopped by a neighbors house and told him that the English class (that had been canceled last Wednesday due to a freak windstorm) was rescheduled for today at 4. I had been telling people in the community the rescheduled time sense Wednesday evening after the windstorm. Finally, this neighbor told me “you can’t have class today. Esquella San Jose is having their graduation this afternoon. No one will come to your class.”

Despite the fact that I had told several families about the class, no one had mentioned that it conflicted with this important community wide event. No one even told me the event was going to happen. I had several people say “yes. Ill be there” when clearly they wouldn’t be able to.

This happens frequently. People don’t want to disappoint or be rude by saying they can’t come (or they don’t understand a word I’m saying)… but that doesn’t mean there are going to show up. Honestly they same thing happened when I did turn-out for events in the States. However in the States I was able to culturally and linguistically interpret the responses better and fairly accurately gauge how likely someone was to turn up. In Paraguay, not only is it more difficult to interpret the responses people give me, but I’m also ignorant of important community events that could influence attendance.

Anyway, I thanked this neighbor for telling me and told him that the class was NOW rescheduled to Monday. I walked home incredibly frustrated and angry. Sometimes things just build up, and today was one of those days. No one in the community respects me. No one even bothered to invite me to the graduation. No one wants to be involved in the things I do. Why oh why is life so hard? I was emotionally over reacting to the whole thing.

Shortly thereafter, I decided go ahead and go to the graduation that was causing all the trouble.

It was great. The families were proud and the kids were excited. The children preformed traditional Paraguayan dances. Afterwards as the families split up into groups at various tables, a señora brought be a paper plate of food. Moments latter, another señora another plate…. By the end I had five or six separate plates of empanadas, sopa Paraguaya, and mellinasa.

It made me feel better about everything. My community cares about me. I’m awkward, I’m ignorant of things everyone knows about (and so no one thinks to tell me), I’m constantly doing strange things. But people are happy I’m here, and they want me to know that by giving me more sopa Paraguay than I can possibly eat.

I left the graduation with my heart (and my bag of food) overflowing.