Thursday, November 29, 2012

The Long Goodbye, Part 2

I am incredibly busy in site right now, and that’s exactly how its supposed to be.  During training they told us all these things about how your service is going to be.  They explain that, at least for agriculture volunteers, the first few months of service are going to feel slow. Then, most volunteers move into their own house and things speed up.  The first year mark rolls around and volunteer projects are getting off the ground.  Then, the second year just flies by.  Community members know the volunteer and have more confidence in her, meaning the second half of the second year is just plain busy.
That’s exactly how it went for me.
I drank a LOT of tereré in the first few months with EVERYONE.  It didn’t fee like I was doing much, and I worried that I was a “bad” volunteer.  But that long community integration time has been paying off this second year.  I’m glad I did worry to much about doing charlas and tallers (lessons and workshops) in my first few months, my language wasn’t good enough anyway.  The result of waiting, is that now people KNOW me and are (mostly) willing to listen to me.
There is also something they talked about in training, called the “emotional rollercoaster.”  It talks about the emotional ups and downs that most volunteers experience.  This is the best link I could find.  Basically it breaks down, in astounding detail, the highs and lows of service.  There are several swings in the 10 weeks of training, then a little peak when you get to site, then a dip as you relies what exactly your in for for the next two years.  It goes up again as you settle into life in the country. There is a peek at the year mark and a dip directly after; perhaps a indicating that your pleased with how far you have come in a year, and then the realization that you have a year left.  Then it evens out for most of the second year.  Finally, it dips at 2 to 3 months before your COS (close of service) date; the time during which you are worrying about the future, trying to finish up your work, and saying goodbye to the people you have grown to love and quite likely will never see again.

You should all be impressed that I limited my self to just three tree planting photos...
During training I rolled my eyes and for the most part ignored these predictions.  But I came a cross the paper detailing these ups and downs about a month ago, and was absolutely astonished at how accurate they were to my own experience.  Apparently they actually know what they are talking about in training.
One of the schools.
On top of being busy with work in site, there is also the astounding amount of paperwork necessary to leave Peace Corps.  Remember all that paperwork you had to do to get into Peace Corps, well you have to do almost as much to leave it!  I was all set to start applying for jobs while in-country, but I have decided to just wait until I get back to the states.  The busyness and my oh-so-slow internet connection, just make it too difficult.  Since almost no one in my community knows I have a computer, they don’t realize that I’m actually working when I’m inside my house.
English Class!
I finally met my “follow up” this week.  For the most part, Peace Corps Paraguay has a 6 year, three volunteer, rotation for any given site. The idea is that there is a “first time” volunteer, and then two separate “follow-up” volunteers.  I was a first time volunteer. I was my community’s first resident volunteer.  My responsibility was to build a foundation of understanding and good will upon which follow up volunteers could build, along with continuing any projects.  The fact that my community wanted another volunteer after me, and was viewed by Peace Corps as a good functioning site for one, is fantastic.  I think I got a really good follow up and I am very hopeful for her and for the community.  I absolutely wish her the best (I’m not saying her name or posting a photo because I haven’t asked her permission).  She will have a very different service that I did (everyone’s service is unique), but I think she and the community will do great things together!
Piña Poty, the Women's Committee.
I know I started out this post saying how busy I am.  But I wrote that several weeks ago, now its much more tranquillo.  I am mostly just wrapping up my classes and packing up my house… and saying goodbye.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Adventures in the Campo

My cat, Perejil.

I was going to do a "The Long Goodbye" part 2 post.  But I'll save that for next week.  For now, here are a few short tidbits about my adventures in the campo.

There was a series of storms that knocked the electricity and water for three days. Shortly after the first storm hit, and in the brief calm before the second, my neighbors came over and asked if I was ok.  I assumed they were concerned because in a storm two days previous, my roof had nearly blown off (we had nailed it back down securely earlier in the day), and they knew that I was afraid of thunder.  Unfortunately there is no where to hide during a storm, other than under the covers, which end up getting soaked by water blowing in through the three inch gap between where my walls start, and where my roof starts.
The part of the roof that nearly blew off.  Also, note the lack of tapa-junots in between the boards, allowing the sun to shine and the wind to blow- inside the house.  This is the room that actually has SOME tapa junots.  Some day I'll post a photo of the other room that lacks them all together.
Look at that lovely gap between the wall and roof! This is what I call air conditioning! 
However my neighbors then said I should come outside and “mira un poco!” (take a little look).  And there, illuminated by flashes from distant lightning, was a tall, formally upright tree with half its base uprooted, leaning precariously over my little cabin… in fact right over the spot where my bed was.  I considered my options, and decided I would sleep in the kitchen, so if the tree fell on my shack, the coming storm at least I wouldn’t be in the direct line of its fall.  However, my neighbor got a long strong rope and tied it to a pieces of thick bamboo.  With another 20 foot bamboo pole, he wedged the line into a fork in the branches.  As the next storm started to arrive, he tied the other end of the rope to my peach tree, and pulled the line taunt. As far as we could tell, as the rain started to fall harder and the lightning illuminated his work, it looked probably that IF the tree fell tonight it would pulled from its path enough to land beside the house, or possibly just knick the corner of the kitchen. The storms also resulted in three days without electricity or water.  Asi es la vida.
The tree, formally upright, leaning precariously over my bedroom.
The oh-so-strong peach tree thats stoping the other tree from falling on me.

Also, here is a photo of a different tree, from an earlier storm, that managed to miss both my house and my latrine, but just barely.  Doesn’t look like we are going to have another drought this summer!
Thats my latrine in the back ground...

In other news, here is my day from my life about 2 weeks ago: 

Part One- My chicken had apparently been stuck down a dry, unwalled well for several days. After attempting to lower several children into the well (ignoring my pleas not to), my neighbors lowered a homemade ladder and an adult sort of repelled to the ladder and climbed down. The chicken was retrieved, and my neighbor made it back up too. He requests a 5mil bottle of caña (sugar cane s
You'll never run away again...
piret as payment.  I ate the chicken a few days later with two visiting Peace Corps trainees.

Part Two- Our Women's Committee meeting is interrupted when a kid comes to inform us that the town drunk is hassling the town hothead/owner of the allmacen (a "store" that sells alcohol, onions and toilet paper). Several señoras literally run off to manage their husbands. Later in the day, three of the drunk's six kids come by my house... and hang out for HOURS. I don't have the heart to turn them away...

Part Three- My neighbors fixed my garden fence that blew down in the storm last week. I'm very grateful, but they also "cleaned" the garden, thus hoeing down the red onions, thyme, and broccoli.  The next storm blew it down again, and seeing as how I'm leaving in December, I'm not going to bother fixing it.

Part Four- The water from my spigot (can you BELIEVE that is the right spelling) has returned to its normal semi-cloudy color. It was running "Paraguayan dirt" red this morning as I attempted to do my laundry.

This is the color of the "Paraguayan dirt red."

Sunday, September 23, 2012

The Long Goodbye, Part 1

My house.
I didn’t get the coordinator position for next year, which I mentioned in a previous post.  The outcome was unexpected.  Like most people, I don’t like loosing. I’m not used to reaching for something and not getting it; I got into my top choice for college, after college I got the job I most wanted, I got accepted into the Peace Corps when I was ready to leave said job.  So, I’m not used to rejection.  However, now I’m glad (and not just because I’m trying to make myself feel better).  Working on my resume has made me realize that the extra year of my life would have just ended up being a few more lines and what is already shaping up to be a good resume. Well, clearly it would have been more than that, but basically it’s time to move on to new things.
Na Polly, my Mama Paraguaya.
Its great to finally know what next year holds.  It was difficult to look at other options when I though I might be staying in Paraguay.  One of the effects of knowing I’m leaving in December is that it’s hitting home that I might never see the people in my community again.  At least when I was leaving Indiana to come to Paraguay, I knew I would be back in a few years.  I knew I would most likely see my friends and family again.  As it is, I hope to come back to Paraguay in 5 or 10 years, but I honestly don’t know if that will be an option for me.  I’m lucky I’m so close to my community.  I’m sure many volunteers leave after two years with no desire to look back.  But despite my shortcomings as a volunteer (my utter inability to learn Guarani), the people here have taken me into their hearts and homes.
Kids taking over my house.
More kids... taking over my house.
Additionally, I have acquired friends (and more) in Santani, the large pueblo near my community.  At least I will be able to stay in touch with the wonderful supportive community of people I know there.  Most of them are on facebook.  I’ll stay connected, at least peripherally, to their lives.  However in my actual site (which is much poor and more rural than Santani), only one person has a computer, and I doubt he has facebook.  My neighbor, Mabel (one of the few people my age in site that I hang out with) asked me about text messaging the states.  Dang I’m going to miss it here.
Julieta and Teresa
On the other hand, whenever something annoying/painful/frustrating happens, I now rejoice that soon, I’ll soon not be bothered by such things.  I will not have to deal with caterpillars, frogs, or tarantulas overrunning my home.  Sure, those things will exist in the States, but they wont enter my house with the same ease they do here.  Giardia (thanks Peru)? Pinworms (thanks kids)? Eye infections? Possible in the states, but much less likely.  When I feel the call of nature in the middle of the night, I will no longer have to make the rather hazardous trek to the latrine.
Traveling will be different.  In the states I’ll probably have access to a car, but much less access to buses and much fewer locations within walking distance.
Communication will be different too.  I’ll speak the dominant language fluently (and the second most predominant language passably), but Ill no longer be an exciting foreigner towards which people extend endless amounts of patients.  I’ll blend in… I’ll no longer stand out. Is this good or bad?
Bingo in English class.
Clearly I have some more thinking to do on this topic.  I “Close of Service” (COS) in under three months, so I’m sure there will be a Part 2 to this post.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Sustainability in Development Work

Chicken/ Gallina/ Ryguasu
I am nearing the end of my service.  After 20 months in site, I am trying to look back on what exactly I accomplished here.   I worked hard to make most of the activities I did sustainable.  After all, what use is development work unless it is sustainable?  Unsustainable development work can even be harmful to the very communities its supposed to help.  The thing is, frequently unsustainable development work has immediate tangible results that make the do-gooders feel… well, good.  You can literally see what you have done (it just might not be there 2 years- or 2 months- after you leave).

Personally, I feel like my work falls into three categories: Unsustainable, Maybe Sustainable, Sustainable. 

English class.

Unsustainable: My most unsustainable work was probably the English classes.   Clearly those classes cannot continue with out my presence.  I was hesitant to teach English for this very reason, but it was one of the few requests I heard again and again from my community; Its important to listen to what the community wants.

In the foreground, the floor cooking fire that campo families use when they don't have a fogone. In the background, a newly build fogone (it's still missing the chimney).  The benefit of a fogon is two fold: It is much more fule efficient than a fire on the ground, and it funnels the smoke out of the kitchen greatly reducing heath problems for women and children (who generally spend large chunks of their day in the kitchen).

Maybe Sustainable: The fogones (fuel-efficient cook-stoves).  Some were built with two stellar Amigos de las Americas volunteers, some were built using EPCA (it stands for Environmental... something, something, something) grants.  Most involved some family participation.  I put this in the Maybe Sustainable category, because some of the families only participated in periphery ways.  They provided the red dirt, mixed the mescala, sought out glass bottles to help fill in the base.  But in other families, members were more involved in the actual construction; laying the bricks along side the volunteers, participating in every stage of the construction.  In these families, if the stove breaks down, they will likely be able to fix it.  I won't go so far as to say that they could build one on their own from memory.  But with a good clear diagram they might.  Another maybe sustainable activity is the worm bins I have with a family.  Its too early to tell if this will last for any time at all.

Me and a community member working together.
Community members finishing up their fogone.

Sustainable: With my encouragement and guidance, 5 or 6 families planted abonos verdes last year (nitrogen fixing green manures).  This year most of the families appear to be saving the seeds and planting again without any comments or reminders on my part.  This makes me happier than I can express.  Maybe I did accomplish something here after all.  Also I worked in both school gardens last year, talking about the importance of compost and companion planting.  This year, I have done no work in the school gardens, but I can see the compost piles from the road and the plant beds look to have two or three types of vegetables in them instead of massive, unbroken beds of lettuce.
School garden, last year.

I’m not sure what my last 3 ½ months in site will bring (or if I’ll be in Paraguay for an extra year or not).  But as of now, I’m feeling pretty good about my service.