Wednesday, June 27, 2012

So What’s Going on Down There?

First off, let me reemphasize that any statements made here are my opinions and experiences alone and in no way reflect the position of the US Government, or of the Peace Corps.  I feel compelled to write this post in response to concerns by my friends and family about the situation in Paraguay.  I am going to do my best to simply explain the events and provide links to informative articles (some of which are on Wikipedia- not the most reliable, but handy for getting the gist of things), while avoiding any commentary on the politics involved.  Volunteers have been requested to avoid publicly giving opinions on the situation, and I want to abide by that request.
On Friday night, June 26th, Paraguay experienced a rapid change in leadership (some are calling it a political coup).    Paraguay’s Senate voted to impeach President Lugo in a vote of 39 for and 4 against.  Amongst other things, they cited an event that had happened a few weeks earlier on June 15th.  There was a clash (resulting in 17 deaths) between the police and landless farmers who were occupying land that had been given to the current owner under questionable legal circumstances by the dictator Alfredo Stroessner decades earlier.  Historically, Lugo’s presidency was significant in part because it was the first time that a “president from one party peacefully transferred power to another” ending over 60 years of rule by one party.
There is much controversy over the legality of the impeachment, in part due to the speed at which the whole thing took place.  Most people (including me while I was at a neighbors house trying out a new venenos caseros for her garden) heard about the plans for impeachment on Thursday morning.  By the time he was voted out on Friday night, he had had under 24 hours to prepare, and just two hours to mount a defense.  The vise president Federico Franco (who is of a different political party than Lugo), was sworn-in shortly thereafter.
So what does this mean?  Well, there are (mostly) peaceful protests centered in Asuncion, and more planed later this week all over the country.  Lugo is encouraging protesters to remain peaceful, but is not accepting the verdict. One concern that I have heard repeatedly is the well-founded worry that this might make Paraguay even more isolated (for a visual explanation of this see the map half way down this page).  Ambassadors have been called home from half a dozen South American governments.
I am safe.  Mostly, life is just going on as normal.  My neighbors still have their fields to hoe, and their cows to milk.  The only difference is that people are keeping their radios close and those few people with TVs are now very popular.  Like a telanovela, each development is discussed extensively over terere or if it’s a cold day, over mate.  Peace Corps Volunteers, of course, refrain from giving opinions on the situation so as to not strain relationships with host country nationals.
There are other things I wanted to talk about, but this post is heavy enough.  Future topics might include the challenge of being far away when there are deaths in the family (I have lost two grandparents in the past 4 moths), the fabulous craziness that is the festivalof San Juan (I am unfamiliar with the women’s games that are listed, but I definitely saw lots of fire soccer balls, burning effigies, and greased climbing poles at the party I went to), more angst on being lgbt and closeted, the possibility of maybe extending my time in Paraguay by a year, and the fact that my hens are FINALLY laying eggs.  So stay tuned!
**UPDATE: NPR did a story on Paraguay.  Here is the link.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Shock: Culture, Food, and the Potential International Appeal of Tereré

In Ann Arbor, on an industrially awesome swing.
After being out of the US for 20 months, I went on a two-week vacation to the States, spending a week in Bloomington, IN and a week in Ann Arbor, MI.  I head back to lovely Paraguay in a few days.

A few things about current American culture that I have learned about during my vacation:

Also, I forgot what its like to be surrounded by people who are JUST like me (family). For example, when we went out to eat at restaurants, we all ended up ordering the same dish… this happened three times, in three different restaurants.
In Bloomington, on my way to Contra Dance.

Aside from getting confused about where to put leftovers and empty containers, I have also been surprised by how much time people spend indoors.  In the US, our houses are much more enclosed than houses in Paraguay.  This is absolutely necessary due to the differences in climate and occupations (most people don’t have a bunch of farm animals to attend to).  But the stark divided between Indoors and Outdoors was something that I had not been cognitive of before living outside of the US.
One of the greater challenges I faced during my vacation was my inability to tune out other peoples conversations.  In Paraguay, because I actively have to work to understand Spanish or Guarani, it is easy to tune out other peoples conversations when on the bus or in a store.  But in the US, I can’t just opt-out of overhearing and comprehending a conversation I have no interest in.  I don’t WANT to know about some stranger's awkward faux pas with a coworker, but I have no choice in the matter.  It makes my brain a much nosier place.
The last cultural shock thing I’ll mention is about the difference in scale.  Walking around Lowe's, Target and Kroger's completely blew my mind. They are just so BIG and full of stuff.  It was really overwhelming and not in a good way.  Walking around a Supper 6 in Asuncion after being in site for a month can sometimes be trying, but it doesn't feel as needlessly massive as these other stores.

Flank steak with my Dad's homemade hot sause, local green beans with spicy mustered sause, and local new potatoes. Yum. 
OH, one more thing: FOOD.  Dang I love food in the USA.  I have been eating well and often in the US!  I had delicious home cooked meals made by my Dad.  He basically cooked all the foods that I have been really missing (mushrooms, flank steak, mixed greens, potatoes, etc.), and my friends Emily and Micah have been taking me to some of the incredible restaurants that Ann Arbor has to offer…. including South Indian food! Yum!  However in between my various delicious flavorful meals, I have been drinking plenty of tereré.  To my delight my family and Micah and Emily have been joining in as well… just in time for summer in the States.
In a few days I head back to Paraguay where winter has apparently arrived with a vengeance.  Guess Ill be switching from tereré to mate ….