Thursday, December 1, 2011

she flies with her own wings...

After a teary-eyed, beautiful memorial service for Emily Balog, another peace corps Paraguay volunteer, I feel part of a close-knit family away from home. Emily was a community economic volunteer serving here in Paraguay. She tragically passed away on Sunday in a car accident. She was returning to her site from a Thanksgiving get-together with her boyfriend when a dip in the road caused him to lose control of the vehicle, crashing into a van full of musicians. Emily and the driver of the other car passed away. Her boyfriend is in critical condition in the hospital and has had 3 surgeries since Sunday morning.

I couldn’t be prouder to be a part of our Peace Corps group celebrating her amazing life. She’s touched my life so profoundly even though I had only run into her at the office a couple of times. It touches close to home knowing that a car accident can happen at any moment. It is an incomprehensible event that has caused pain for so many people especially her close family and friends, but it makes you realize that you need to appreciate each second you have on this earth. She lived each second of her life smiling, taking adventures, and being a great friend and family member to those who knew her. Thank you, Emily, for your service in Paraguay and for leading such an exemplary life. I admire you.

Keep Santiago, her boyfriend, in your prayers, as well as her loved ones. I can't begin to imagine how her family must feel right now.

Monday, November 14, 2011

wedding frenzy + workin hard

I had to wake up at 4:30 in the morning to return to my site after a visit to Joel’s sisters in San Juan (Paraguay offers terrible bus schedules). But, I had the opportunity to see the sun rise over the open fields and realized.. OH CRAP I only have 5 months left in this beautiful country.

5 MONTHS?! I have so much left to do in 5 months! Where did the other 22 months go? How did this all happen so fast? My time here has been filled with so many amazing experiences including meeting and getting engaged to Joel, teaching children to read, speak English, wash their hands, brush their teeth, eat vegetables, and be creative through arts and crafts! There have been so many up and down times during my service, but what I remember most are the endearing qualities about Paraguayans. They are so generous, happy, and care-free.
Wedding preparations are full blown. There’s less than 3 months until the big day… February 4th, 2012. It’s been unbelievably easy to plan a wedding here because there aren’t many options to choose from. Things are really coming together and I couldn’t be more excited. Joel just started working at the food store in order to be able to pay for his ticket to the states and trust me--- he’s working hard! 11.5 hours a day/7 days a week. The poor boy doesn’t have time to breath and they’re paying him basically nothing. He’ll think working in the states is a luxury in comparison to this. He’s working on his English and has mastered all of the slang phrases thanks to the “modern family” and “big bang theory”. He’s really excited to get to meet all you guys and is a natural born Phillies fan… already decked out in apparel!
My reading groups have become a huge passion these last few weeks. After doing diagnostic testing, 62% of my elementary school, grades 1-6, have low reading levels. There have been kids over the past 3 months who have improved their reading level by 3 grades. Some have found a passion for reading and are constantly asking me to borrow the books and others have broken their lack of self-esteem and aren’t afraid to read out loud anymore. Of course, there are still those kids who show no interest, but it has been by far one of the most rewarding experiences. We’re planning on doing summer book clubs/camps to continue the momentum.
We’re also starting exercise classes 3 days a week to compete in a department-wide peace corps represented fitness competition. Should be verrrrrrry interesting to see old senoras doing a push-up… If you got any Richard Simmons videos, send them my way! HA!
In a nice short summary, life is moving fast and has been a fabulous time in Paraguay.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

.... 8 months later

Well I am an absolute failure at blog updating, but better 8 months late than never! What I have been up to in the last 8 months? Well I have been home and back for Christmas and my family has come to visit rural Paraguay and Buenos Aires in July. They were both interesting and special experiences. Being home over Christmas has made me realized that I have definitely changed and there are things about our American culture that are not so pleasant. There are also things that I truly missed… like my nephews, family members, friends, food with flavor, and washing machines! Having my family here was also quite the experience. I think my mom, dad, and mo really enjoyed the trip even under the tight living conditions in my house! They met all of my neighbors and the most important people in my community which was so weird for me. It felt funny having my life from home and life here be so connected during their stay. They got a brief glimpse into the Paraguayan life style and I am so grateful that I can now explain things better to them because they got to experience everything first hand. I hope they learned about the culture a bit and are relaxing while sipping some terere or mate back home!! I’ve also been on a trip to the amazon river in may with 6 other volunteers which was beauuutiful.

Aside from all these vacations, I HAVE also been working. Since the last time I wrote, my brick oven commission received the money to buy the materials from their government. I built 14 brick ovens while another brick layer build 5 others. Our brick oven project is completed and we have moved on to chicken coups! Never did I ever think I’d be working on chicken coups or building brick ovens… craziness. Anyway, my commission grew from 17 members to 36! This shows that they have a lot more “confianza”, or trust, in me because we had a successful first project. We’re currently fund-raising and handing in our paperwork to the government to write up our petition for more financial support.

In the melting summer months of January and February, 3 volunteers and I completed a successful summer health camp including themes such as dental health, parasite education, sports, art, and exercise, and environmental awareness . It was so fun being able to meet so many active children and teaching them how to play football Americano and make friendship bracelets!

I’ve started working in the schools again also. I’m collaborating with the doctor and nurse of my community to do sex education lessons in the high school and am working with a 20 year old friend named Luci to do trash and recycling lessons with the elementary school kids.

My garden is finally flourishing! I’ve been eating lots of lettuce…

I also recently started going to a neighboring community called Guayaki where things are quite different from my site. They don’t have running water, so they’re drinking out of dug holes in the ground. Wells don’t even exist. They also don’t have any form of bathroom, nor any kind of health professional working in the area. It’s quite a different scene there. I’m working on requesting a Peace Corps volunteer for this community in the future. Hoping all goes well.

Let’s see… I think I’ve hit all the major highlights. For all you nosy people, I do have a PY boyfriend and no, we do not know what will happen when I leave in April. Only 9 more months… I cannot believe how fast the time is passing here. I still have way too much I want to do before my time is up! I’ve grown quite attached to my people here and can’t imagine leaving them. Just recently my 9 year old friend laura wrote me a letter for friendship day in Paraguay. It’s adorable and way too nice. I’ll translate what it says:
Dear Daniela,
Daniela you are the best friend I have ever had in my life because you have taught me many things. I love you so much. You are so beautiful that when you arrived to Paraguay, you made the sun shine brighter.
Your friend, Laura

Haha I’m going to miss my San Pableros 
Anyway, this was just a brief update to let you know I am alive and doing well!

Friday, December 3, 2010

summer vaca has begun!!!!

It’s been almost 2 months since my last update, oops!! As most of you probably already know, I had surgery the last week of October. I’ll spare you of all the unpleasant details because I’m okay now and feeling much better! To sum it up, I had what’s called a Dermoid Cyst and the doc says it’s probably been growing for about 2-3 years now. It was pretty large and they ended up having to take out my left ovary and part of the fallopian tube, but luckily everything on my other side is fine and dandy! I do have tons of pictures from the surgery and of the cyst if anyone is up for seeing the nastiness of it, let me know haha. I was in the hospital for about a week between San Ignacio and Asuncion, and then I stayed at my boss’s house in Asuncion for a week after to recover. They are one of the nicest families I have ever met and they were so generous while I was there. I got back to site about 3 weeks ago, and everything’s been going smoothly! When I got back, my 7 year old best friend greeted me when I got off the bus and helped me carry my bags back. He’s absolutely adorable and I’m really worried about what I’m going to do when I have to leave him after 2 years. His name is Abran and he basically lives at my house. He comes with me everywhere and everyone here calls him my son. Love! Anyway, my friend Sarah stayed with me a couple days after I got back to help me buy groceries, clean my house, and get situated again. Since then, I honestly haven’t been doing much. We had a health workshop in AsunciĆ³n last week. I brought my 15 year old friend and I think she got a lot out of it. It was her first time leaving our community, so that’s kind of cool. Then all the volunteers went to Encarnacion to celebrate thanksgiving American style! We ate turkey and mashed potatoes and all the goodies...super rico. There was also an amazing pool so we spent thanksgiving working on our tans . School ended today for summer vacation, so lessons in the school have wrapped up. I’m planning a 3 week summer camp including sports, arts and crafts, and health topics for January and February. Speaking of summer, it’s been HOT! Yesterday it reached 103 degrees and I had to shower 4 times to stop sweating. Can’t wait for the heat of January to roll around…

I come home in 2 weeks for Christmas and new years! It’s almost incomprehensible knowing I’ll be back home so soon. The differences between Paraguay and Jamison, PA are absolutely ridiculous. I’ll get to see what reverse culture shock feels like, that’s for sure! I can’t wait to see all your beautiful faces!!  you’ll have to call my house line or something because I’ll be cell phone-less, but let’s hang out! See you soooooooon!

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Survival of the tormenta.... oky tuicha

At about 7pm on Thursday night, the sky began to turn ugly as the sun went down. Within 20 minutes, after a day full of sunshine, the winds picked up, the sky became black with sporadic lightning bolts right on top of us, and the thunder seemed as though we were being bombed. The windows of my house were actually shuddering with each thunder clap. I prepared for the rain by putting the bucket in the kitchen where it normally drips, locking my doors, and finding my flashlights. With a huge clap of thunder, the electricity went out for what would be about 40 hours. I tried going to bed,as there is not much else to do without electricity, but the wind was blowing so hard, I was afraid for my kitchen, where the roof is a bit less than secure. I got up to peer into the kitchen only to find the gutter between the kitchen and my bedroom roofs overflowing with rain water, producing a mini waterfall. The refrigerator was getting poured on, as well as all the recycled materials I had been collecting to teach about how one can reuse trash. There was nothing I could do at that hour, so I shut the kitchen windows and pretended like it wasn't happening. I sat back down on my bed and realized it was all wet from water blowing through my bedroom window because of the wind. I moved my bed, shined my flashlight on the floor and saw a huge growing puddle in front of the door. The wind was blowing so hard, it blew all the rain water from my front patio into my room, wetting all my didactic materials for dental health. I called Jacob and Steph in a panic, complaining about my situation and asking for their advice. I went to bed with my headphones on to block out all the noise and hoped for the best.

The next morning, I was woken up my a knock on my door at 6:30am. It was my little 6 year old neighbor coming over to make sure I was okay. He helped me clean up my kitchen a little bit and went on his way to go play in the mud. There were trees down all over the avenida. I saw tons of people going out to the road with their machetes, thinking what the heck is everyone doing?! People started walking by with tons of chopped wood being pulled behind them on ropes or on the backs of their horses or cows. I thought they were just cleaning up the road, but then realized that everyone was racing out there to get the best firewood used for cooking.
Part of my tree fell on my power lines, but luckily didn't tear them down. I had to ask my neighbor to come over with his machete to help me get it off the cables and he happily came to my rescue. Next thing I have to do, is fix my gutter in order to rainproof my house a bit more.

The next 24 hours was spent rearranging my room to get everything off the floors so nothing will get wet in the next rain storm. I cleaned up all around my house, sweeping all the leaves and sticks up to put in my abono (compost) pile. Without the computer, a cell phone (my battery died within a few hours of the electricity going out), light, or water, I laid around reading my book, eating peanut butter because I had no water to cook with, and hanging out with neighbors, enjoying the fact that I had survived the big storm! If my house can survive a storm like that, I'm pretty sure it can survive anything. hooray!

mom- i didn't write this blog to worry you, just to share my experience.. DON'T WORRY about me. i'm fine :) love you darling

Sunday, October 3, 2010

an update from my hammock :)

i'm in one of my really super hyper moods right now.. monica/ roommates, where are you??

to get all my jitters out, i decided to hop in my hammock and write you all a blog update. spring has arrived, which means beautiful weather. im laying on my hammock on my outdoor patio right now enjoying the breeze and sunny blue sky. i have a nice view of my really AWESOME garden which has onions, lettuce, squash, spinach, broccoli, parsely, basil, carrots, and peppers sprouting up. i'm also admiring my hand-washed clothes hanging on the line to dry and am grateful that i got that out of the way yesterday. if you're wondering, hand washing clothes is a tiny bit more difficult than having a washing machine! first you have to fill up a bucket with soap and water, put in a small quantity of clothes, let them soak, hand scrub them and then scrub the dirty parts with a brush, and then rinse them 3 times in a separate bucket to rinse the soap out. i will forever appreciate a washing machine and dryer.

the clock skipped ahead an hour today and not one person in my community told me about it until about 12 o clock this afternoon; that's how much time doesn't matter here. i know what time it is by the type of activity going on. for example, i wake up at about 5:30 every morning to the sound of birds chirping, roosters cockle-doodle-do-ing, the outdoor water spigots of my neighbors filling up their tea kettles for their morning mate, cows being herded past my window to the pasture, and men getting ready to go work in the fields and yelling guarani phrases at each other as they pass by. i have learned to roll over and go back to sleep until about 7:00 or 7:30 when the children show up at my door anxiously waiting to play. i constantly have kids at my house, which makes for good company, but sometimes i get so overwhelmed by their energy that i have to tell them to please... GO HOME! i make myself some coffee with the fresh cow milk my neighbor gives me daily and eat yogurt with granola and banana for breakfast. on weds and fris, my english class starts at 8:30 and we play fun games and learn new vocabulary, using the side of my house as the chalkboard. then, i have class again at 1pm for the older kids. my students are learning rapidly and there are a few super dedicated and intelligent kids that i know for a fact will speak english by the time i leave here. on the other days, i clean my house, work in the garden, go to the school and do lessons, or visit my neighbors and have terere. i know it's just about lunch time when the pre-lunch terere break rolls around. after lunch (i've been cooking up a storm!), i chill out in my hammock, drink some more terere, or go for a bike ride or walk around the community. i usually play cards once a day with the kids (thanks mo and neerav for the UNO cards!), visit my best friend sandra, and make my afternoon coffee or mate. at about 6:30, (now 7:30), i sit on my front porch reading and watching the sun go down. after dark, i finally get my alone time and watch a movie on my computer, listen to music, plan my lessons, or just sit and stare at the wall thinking, holy crap... i still can't believe i live in paraguay and am doing what i'm doing. it still amazes me that i've been here for 8 months and that in just 2 months, ill be zapped back to the states to celebrate christmas the good way. my life is 1000000% different; everything here is "tranquilopa" which basically means "everything is super chill".

today i had the ultimate paraguayan experience. my friend, Luci, invited me to her house to kill a chicken. i woke up this morning SUPER excited because i've been waiting and waiting to do it. i have had many previous invites to partake in a chicken killing, but it took me this long to build up the guts to actually do it. i arrived to her house on my bike, with my 2 biggest fans, 8 year olds laura and suzi running along beside me. We ran after the chicken, I grabbed it by it's neck and feet and pulled, pulled, pulled. i felt it's neck breaking and when it stopped moving, i assumed i had done it... chao chicken. but 3 seconds later, it started flapping around again and Luci had to lay it on the floor, put a broom on its neck and pull it's feet until it's head actually came off. we dunked it in boiling water, pulled out all it's feathers and finger nails, and cut it open only to find a bunch of little eggs inside that it was preparing to lay. we cooked the parts in water, including it's claws (they say they taste really good... YUCK), added vegetables, and sat down to an awesome home-cooked meal. can't say i ever would have imagined myself doing this a year ago, but things are a little different here.

i also wanted to take the time to thank everyone who sent me a package for my birthday. i received more than i could ask for and am so appreciative for everything. i'm organizing all the arts and crafts supplies to have a summer camp for the children, and i've been savoring every american food item i get. you'll never know how much it means to me to know that you took the time and money to send something. you're all the best and i miss you very much! thank you.

love you all, peace homes

Monday, September 13, 2010

aiko iporaterei

As the title of this entry says in guarani, "I'm living the good life". I just completed my 4 month work report that gets sent to Washington DC to assure them that I am not just chillin out in my hammock all day. Reflecting on the last 4 months made me realize that I really have accomplished a lot. Granted, the majority of that time was spent trying to integrate into my community, but that in itself is no easy feat. I would say it's probably the hardest part of being a peace corps volunteer. To me, successfully integrating means that I have adopted enough of their culture to be considered normal. I'm still that crazy blonde who has no family here, cooks weird food, talks funny, and who has bruises all over her body because she attempts to do man's work. BUT, I think I have gained my community's trust and I really do have a lot of people who care about me. I attempt to speak Guarani whenever I can, and they respect that. My old host mom now speaks to me only in guarani which means a lot to me because in the beginning she said to me, "You don't know any guarani. If you can't speak our language, how are we going to work together?" And now she is the president of my Fogon Comission and we are working together just fine. :)

I have been a very busy bee these days. I just finished a 4 week charla series about nutrition with all the high school students. We learned about the importance of a balanced diet by analyzing the food pyramid, about vitamin and mineral deficiencies in paraguay, basic nutrition facts (like you must eat fruit to maintain your health), and how to make milk from soy beans. Almost all of this was brand new material for the students. They've never heard of Spinach before and had no idea which foods contain calcium, let alone the other vitamins and minerals we talked about. I think they enjoyed my lessons and I hope they learned something. I had some issues with classroom management (as this is my first time teaching), but I had a few tricks up my sleeve to deal with the trouble makers. I also have issues with the 15-18 year old boys in my classes. They're completely obnoxious and inappropriate, but i guess that's what you get for being the only blonde haired person nearby. On the other hand, the elementary school kids are amazing. I walk in the classroom, and everyone stops what they're doing to listen to what I have to say. It's really a pleasure teaching them and I know they're learning new things for sure. This week I will be finishing up 4 weeks of dental health charlas. We covered why teeth are important, how to brush properly, how to use floss (because none of these kids have ever used it before), foods that are good and bad for your teeth, how a cavity forms, and this week we'll start fluoride treatments. All 84 students now have their own labeled toothbrush with a sample toothpaste tube in their classrooms and they brush every single day at school. They also each got a dental floss and I constantly see kids using it. A big thanks goes to Dr. Stone, who donated all of these materials.

Nothing too new with the Fogon (brick oven) commission. We just had another meeting yesterday, and we finalized the paperwork to hand in to the municipality. There are 20 people on the commission who will eventually get fogones. This Saturday, the commission is hosting a party to raise money for the cause.

My favorite project thus far has been teaching english. I was so hesitant to start classes because quite frankly, I was not at all interested. However, a few persistent kids got me to give in and thank god I did. I started with 2 students and now have 45. I teach 2 classes every Wed and Fri for an hour each. We have class right at my house and I use the side of my house as a chalkboard and it erases perfectly! We've learned greetings, a couple verbs, some adjectives, numbers, and animals so far. The kids are between the ages of 7-16 and the 10-11 year old age group is definitely learning the fastest which I found interesting. There's some who are learning rapidly; I can already have a conversation with them, and others much slower. However, everyone is so interested and really putting in a lot of effort. In my opinion, it's also boosting their self-esteem because I'm all about positive reinforcement, and giving them a different perspective on how one can learn. Their classes in the school are ridiculous. If the teacher shows up, she or he usually writes a million words on the chalkboard, and leaves while the students are told to copy what it says in their notebooks. Literally, that is what school is here. At least in the english class, we play games and have a lot of active participation which they are responding really well to.

I also went to a Peace Corps sponsored HIV/AIDS workshop with one of the nurses, Lourdes, from my community health post. My boss had to call them up and get her permission to come, but I am SO thankful he did. The doctor at my health post had previously told me that they don't want me to teach about sexuality or anything regarding sex in the high school because the parents will get mad. He said that since homosexual marriage was legalized in argentina, the parents have been worried that it'll happen here and so they're way of dealing with it is to not talk about it at all. First of all, I don't really see the relationship between homosexuality and teaching about safe-sex, hiv/aids, and STIs. Early teen pregnancy and the spread of STIs is a mojor problem in my community and instead of educating about prevention, they want to just forget about talking about it altogether??? That's ridiculous! Anyway, at the workshop we learned about how to teach about it using didactic materials, statistics in paraguay, discrimination, transmission and prevention of HIV/AIDS. Two people living with HIV came and told us their story which I think was extremely eye-opening to all the paraguayans in attendance. When we got back from the workshop, Lourdes sent me a text that said, "Come to the health post, we're going to plan a charla to give to the parents." I went and had a meeting with the 3 nurses and doctor and we discussed that we will first present all the information we learned at the workshop to the parents, see what they have to say about it, and then begin charlas in the high school about less controversial topics such as self-esteem, values, and gender equality. Later on in my service, I will hopefully have the permission of the parents to start teaching about sex. We'll see how everything turns out!

Well, this is getting extremely long, so I will stop for now. Sorry it's been so long since I last updated. In general, things here are great and I feel like I am right where I need to be. I love my work here, even though I have some days where I'd much rather be at home spending time with my family and friends, and NEW NEWPHEW!!!!, but I know that these people really need me and I need them. I am learning so much about another culture, different people, and about myself. This is the only experience I will ever have like this and I fully intend to make the most of it.