This week I was finally able to experience some freedom and little bit of travel within Paraguay! We were released from our busy training schedule to hit the road and visit other volunteers in the field. Two buses and five hours later, thanks to the random Paraguayans I had to interview for directions along the way, I made it to the small town of Caraguatay in the Cordillera district.
My volunteer hostess received me with delicious homemade pizza and loads of hospitality. We settled in for the afternoon in her vibrantly painted one room house and lounged on the patio in her equally colorful hammock. For four days I was able to get a sneak peak into the tranquilo life of a volunteer in a small community. We went to the radio station for the weekly program…but nobody showed up to put us on the air. After waiting for a half hour or so, we caught a bus to Caacupe and toured Paraguay's basilica, which attracts hundreds of thousands of pilgrims every year, who walk along the camino for a few miles or a few days to pay homage to the year's past miracles attributed to the Virgin of Caacupe.
In my hostess's community we hung out at the library she helped run, sipped terere and read aloud the many Paraguayan sayings and myths. We also walked an hour to the national park called Vapor Cue, where two huge steam ships used to transport supplies and troops along the nearby Rio Negro during the War of the Triple Alliance in the 1860's were on display. Next to the ships and the monument we had a picnic and enjoyed the sunny weather. I hope to spot a crocodile in the murky waters that have been rising far above their banks due to all the rain, but to no avail. On a serious note, there has been significant flooding in all of Paraguay this winter, and upwards of 500,000 people have been displaced.
Today I'm back in training and have a while to go before I will be able to travel again. But I'm feeling more confident in navigating my way around the hectic Paraguayan bus system and am reassured by the friendliness of Paraguayans. Visiting a volunteer was also a good look at challenges and successes in the life of a Peace Corps volunteer (PCV). No matter where I end up six weeks from now it is apparent that my ticket to success will lie within the slow but meaningful cultivation of community relationships, not only to combat feelings of loneliness and cultural isolation, but most importantly to build a foundation for impactful projects to come.
Monday, June 2, 2014
Mba’éichapa! That is to say, “Hello, how are you?” in Guaraní, the indigenous language of Paraguay.
I have already been in the country for one week but have not been able to access the internet in the small town my training group (G-45) is staying in. The first few days were extremely rainy and cold, which made me question how I was going to survive the winter without indoor heating. Fortunately, the sun has come out and the temperature has warmed up in the last few days. Nonetheless, I am finding that everything exists in a permanent state of dampness no matter how much you sun yourself or your clothes hanging out on the line.
I am staying with a host family that is super guapa (very hardworking) and very generous and kind. Us rubias (blondies) are a constant source of chatter for the town and it has been very fun stumbling back into Spanish while meeting all of the extended family in the area. I am writing down the recetas (recipes) of all the new Paraguayan foods I have encountered and have been helping my host mom in the kitchen, which she clearly loves. So far, it has been an exhausting and enriching week full of cultural exchange and daily fumbles on my part, which makes everyone laugh until they tear up.
I am also attending Peace Corps training classes that go from 8am to 5pm or later. This is exhausting, but is a huge help for language and technical training. My group, G-45, is full of like-minded adventurers and we have all proved to be a great support network for each other.
Time seems to be moving quickly, but my priorities have certainly slowed down. Without the internet and other distractions, I have found that life revolves mostly around Mate (a shared hot drink) and meal times, and the sharing of stories that go along with them. Dare I mention that my 29th birthday is approaching next week?! As I ride the cultural immersion rollercoaster, I remind myself to be thankful for the opportunity to have this experience and truly live an infinite number of possibilities here in Paraguay until the ride comes to an end.
All is well in el sur (the south)! When the Peace Corps training center gets its wifi up and running, I will have pictures for you.
Until then, happy trails.