Monday, August 18, 2014

Settling in as an Encarnecena

I'm going on my third week as an Encarnecena; and since I will be living here for the next two years I might as well adopt the local namesake.  I am amazed that I will be living the life of an urban Peace Corps volunteer, instead of my romanticized image of a rural volunteer watching her garden grow and fending off the occasional hostile cow.  Although my site placement has hit me somewhat by surprise, I am thankful for the many opportunities I have to pursue here. 

As soon as I arrived I hit the ground running with a two-day conference promoting volunteerism with various speakers and projects highlighting local volunteer organizations.  I made friends with young people from the three Rotaract organizations here in Encarnacion and was able to accompany one group on a project visit to a neighboring health clinic and attend the awards ceremony for elected officer positions, which turned out to be an elegant evening of pomp and circumstance at a sushi restaurant.  I have been pinching myself lately and wondering, "am I really in Paraguay?"

I also am working a few days a week at the office of employment where I will develop curriculum to help young people find employment, better their resumes, improve their professional English and even start a social entrepreneurship course with a national seed funding competition as the end result. 

The rest of my time I am using to work with various non-profits in the area, specifically one that focuses on sustainable urban development on a city, national and international level.  I get to develop a best practices course for non-profit management and help bring these organizations along from the start-up/fly-by-the-seat-of-their-pants phase to a more sustainable and operationally sound model.

I also confirmed with Fundacion Paraguaya, a reputable microfinance organization, that I will be collaborating with them to perform a social performance audit using the measurement tool developed by Truelift, an organization I worked with in Colorado.  This will be the basis of my work for my master's thesis at the University of Denver.

In addition, I should probably also mention that I will also be compiling a community study of Encarnacion and various SWOT analyses of the organizations and institutions I will be working with here in Encarnacion.

So if anyone (including myself) thought that I would be lounging in the countryside, sipping on terere and voraciously reading Anna Kerenina and all the other classics I downloaded on my kindle, you're dead wrong.  Now if I can just get my professional Spanish up to snuff, I will be ready to take on the next big life challenge that has been handed to me: become a guapa (hardworking) Encarnecena and make some serious waves over the next two years.

Wish me luck!

Monday, August 4, 2014


Besides internet being scarce and unreliable, I have also experienced a technology computer se decompuso (the handy word used for every situation in which an object is destroyed, decomposing or dead). 

Instead of dwelling on being disconnected, I have taken advantage of the extra time to read, study guarani and hang with my Paraguayan family. In the past few weeks I have unraveled some stories and created a few stories worth repeating of my own.  Like last weekend when my sister, fellow PCV Ashley and I had a close encounter with a blood thirsty toro (bull) that chased us off the empedrado (cobble stone street) into a concrete wall, where our only defense was to crash into each other haphazardly, limbs and umbrellas flailing, and land in a panicked, bruised and muddy heap, which of course drove the rabid toro away. This is my second encounter with a cow here in Paraguay, and I was certainly pondering my animal karma as the owner of the bull stood in the near by field laughing hysterically. 

The last couple weeks have also revealed stories of hardship and faith that exude a strong sense fatalism and realism in Paraguayan daily life. Religious ceremonies and festivals are omnipresent as the last week has been filled with celebrations of San Juan, the saint who apparently dictates young Paraguayans' relationship statuses (San Juan dice que si, San Juan dice que no), and doll-like effigies of virgins passing by in candle-lined streets followed by a procession following their virgin to the neighborhood chapel. I've heard an incredible Paraguayan story of a pilgrimage to the basilica in Caacupe while six months pregnant with a one year old on her back to thank the virgin of Caacupe for miraculously bringing her sick child back to health. And most recently, there's the story of my young Paraguayan friend who has had to make some difficult choices because of her abusive family situation. In her words, si dios quiere (if god wills it) she will survive.

Overall the time has flown by and although I have been missing much of the events of the outside world and the community I used to know, I have been able to take a closer peek into the lives of  my Paraguayan friends and family. Please excuse me if my lack of technology has taken me away from my former network, but be assured that in the long run being absent/or more present has helped me to aprovechar (appreciate) the Paraguayan stories that are to be told. 

Until my next post...

Officially a Peace Corps Volunteer

With great pleasure I am now able to say that I have officially begun my journey as a Peace Corps volunteer. As if packing up and moving to Paraguay wasn't enough, I survived the training process an am now living and working in the Southern city of Encarnacion.

Of course the goodbyes from training were bittersweet. Our training group of 25 bright, diverse and like-minded individuals from all parts of the US is now dispersed throught Paraguay, after sharing our first two and a half months together. For me, the hardest part was leaving my host family who not only opened their home but also their hearts to me while I was there. I spent my last day in Villeta visiting my 91 year old grandmother, still sharp as a tack, and my last night snuggled in bed with my host sister and mom like I had always been part of their family.  Generosity is not limited by language or culture and is a truly universal human characteristic. 

I arrived at my site after 6 hours on a bus to a plethora of opportunities, now all I need to do is a comprehensive community study and spend some serious face time with anyone willing to share a terere session with me. I kicked off my time here with a two-day conference centered on the importace of being a volunteer, which for me was not only fitting but inspirational to be surrounded by young Paraguayans who are truly changing their world. It was difficult not to jump in with enthusiasm during every activity, but instead I chose to observe and will continue to do so until the big picture of who, where and what I will be working with comes into focus. 

For now I would like to extend a thank you to all who encouraged me along the way and everyone involved in the process of me being here. I am seeing so many possibilities on the horizon of the next two years and look forward to sharing my experiences and learning life lessons along the way.