Our Story

Our Story: After meeting in graduate school at UGA, we were married in 2011 in Marietta, Georgia. A year later, we joined the Peace Corps as environmental conservation volunteers and embarked on our adventure in Paraguay!

Disclaimer: The contents of this blog are ours personally and do not reflect any position of the U.S. government or the Peace Corps.

December 24, 2012

Christmas in Ayolas

For Christmas this year, we got to travel to a nearby town named Ayolas to visit our first host mom's brother (our host uncle) and our many host cousins. Located on the coast of the Parana River, Ayolas is famous throughout Paraguay for its beaches, its fishing, and the second largest dam in the area known as Yacreta. The first biggest is Itaipu, but you'll have to read our other post about our trip to Itaipu to learn more about that.

We arrived in Ayolas at lunchtime and were promptly offered the opportunity to sample some traditional Ayolas cuisine.  So we sat down at the table, and our "aunt" brought out heaping platters of carpincho (aka capybara) and surubi (aka South American Catfish). Capybaras are large aquatic rodents - the largest rodents in the world in fact - and are native to the vast wetlands of Paraguay. Their meat is very unique because it has the texture of beef with the flavor of fish (and tastes fantastic with a mixture of soy sauce, lime, lemon, salt and pepper. The surubi is giant freshwater catfish that is absolutely delicious! Its meat is tender with very few bones. We ate some lunch, then we sat outside and drank terere.

After our meal, we headed out for a hike along the river. The rocks were really pretty along the shoreline, and Sarah and I even found some petrified wood! Our host dad, Cesar, gave us a little geology lesson. The river was very wide and pretty, with lots of fishermen and beach-goers enjoying the sunny day. Many people don't swim in the river because there are a lot of deep pozos (holes, or springs I guess) where it gets very deep and the current is strong enough to pull you under. We hiked all the way down to a small beach where a bunch of people were gathered, then we turned around and headed home.

That night was Buena Noche (Christmas Eve). We ate a big meal of cow tongue, carpincho, carne, and "potato salad" (with lots of mayo!). There was also a lot of Clerico, which is a giant fruit salad with a little bit of white wine and cidre (sparkling cider), which is very tasty. Then there were fireworks. They had been going off here and there the whole evening, but by the time we were eating dinner, they were nonstop. Most people have the really loud fireworks without many colors or sparks. Just loud booms. And the neighbors were launching them super close to the house. Eventually we all finished dinner and hurried inside to celebrate and to escape the calamity.

Everyone got comfortable. We readied the guitars. At 11:59 and 50 seconds, the countdown started to ring in Christmas day. It was exactly like New Year's. 5!-4!-3!-2!-1! Woooo! Feliz Navidad! Then we all sang happy birthday to Jesus. We all played some songs. Sarah and I made everyone sing and dance to Mami Loro. (For a demonstration, please watch this video of Mami Loro).

The next day was Christmas. We all got ready and headed out to the beach. We found a great little secluded area next to a hotel that caters to fishermen. We hung out and ate leftovers from the night before and basically did nothing. Fede and Guille, our host brothers, were teasing me pretty much the whole time, which made for a lot of fun. They also taught me some bad words in Guarani, but only so I would know them when kids in the colegios used them.

Our host uncle snagged a big fish, a golden dorado, and let me reel it in. I guess I kind of caught it. I'll go ahead and take credit for it for now, until I have a chance to get back out there and catch one of my own. Another interesting thing is that you see many other races in Paraguay. In CB, we have a lot of Russian and Ukrainian people. In Ayolas, we saw a bunch of Japonese people who were out at the beach enjoying a great cookout. There is a big mix of cultures here which almost always has the same story; they hated the world wars, and they got the hell outta there; fled to a neutral country in the heart of South America to escape all the nonsense that was going on with the kids who just couldn't play nice. We didn't take pictures of them though, cause that would have been a little awkward.

After the beach, we tried to skype with a bunch of the family, which was great! We ate some more fish for dinner, mainly a caldo of the fish head, which was surprisingly tasty, and we learned that the cheek meat is the best. We relaxed for the night, and everyone prepared us for the trip to visit the dam in the morning.

The next morning, we got up and headed out early to see the Yacreta dam. Our host cousin Maria-Eugenia (Which is the spanish equivalent of Mary Eugene).. or better known as Uki, a 23 year old college grad who works at a nonprofit in Encarnacion, volunteered to be our tour guide. We saw the museum at the dam welcome center and saw a bunch of fish in jars and a bunch of stuffed animals. We took a bus to the dam and got out at several places to take pictures. We also ventured inside and saw the main generators and got a full explanation of the inner workings.

 All-in-all, our Christmas experience was filled with all of our favorite things. We were welcomed by a very warm family and got to share some good times for the holidays. We got to experience more culture and learn about how Paraguayans celebrate Christmas. We also got to hang out at the beach and see some pretty famous landmarks in a really cool town. Not too shabby. We hope next year is just as great!

December 20, 2012

Our first few weeks in site

When we arrived in site on December 10th, we lived with a wonderful host family. Nohelia and Cesar have two kids Federico (17) and Guillermo (14); or Fede and Guille for short. The parents are both teachers, and both were on their summer vacation until school started up again. Even though it was their vacation, they were always on the go! They are super into church. They go to Mass twice a week, where they know everyone and the kids play guitar during the youth group portions. The parents go to several other bible study groups throughout the week. Then, they usually play volleyball in the evenings. This starts around 9 or 10 and usually goes until about midnight. They are always going to other little events that are sprinkled throughout the week. It takes a lot to keep up with them! We lived with them for 2.5 weeks, right up until New Year's. So, here is what we did with them.

Our first week in Bogado (the cool kids just call it Bogado...instead of Coronel Bogado), we tagged along with the family to every event. We went to a graduation ceremony for the kids. Both of their kids were graduating with honorable mentions; they were superstars. I would count a Paraguayan graduation as a cultural experience. All of the parents walk their kids down the aisle and then kiss them on the cheek, and everyone applauds for every family. It actually kind of felt like a wedding at first. It was kind of long; we got there at 7:30 and didn't leave until 11. The very first thing that happens after everyone sits down is the Pastor comes out and gives a speech about how every kid should always follow God in their lives. Then 6 different leaders from the community line up, and every kid goes through, receives their diploma, and shakes every persons hand. The whole time, there is piano muzak playing; American songs that no one knows. Songs like "My heart will go on" and "Candle in the wind," but everyone just likes the pretty melodies of the songs; they dont actually know the songs. So we got funny looks when we were singing the words to all the songs really softly. We took pictures of our family as they walked down the aisle and we tried to sing the Paraguayan national anthem, but didn't know all the words.

One Saturday night around 8ish, we went to a bible study group where we met a ton of couples, and we were given little paper hearts with a great message: Defiende tu amor. Ama y valora. Defiende. Crece. This coincided with the message of the bible study; to always defend and grow your love. A great message of always working together to keep your love strong. On the other side of the little paper heart, there was a great message that was related to the bible study, but was great motivation for any couple in general:

Te estoy haciendo feliz?
Que tengo que hacer para hacerte mas feliz?
Que tengo que dejar de hacer hoy, para hacer te mas feliz?

The translation is am I making you happy? What do I have to do to make you happier? And what do I have to stop doing today to make you happier? They used these little talking points as the basis for the whole meeting, and we felt really refreshed afterwards. :) Not only was it a great message, but it was also really great that we understood most (well a lot, anyway) of what they were saying in Spanish. This of course all took place late (8ish-11ish) on a Saturday night. Paraguayans are always doing things really late at night!

Also in our first week, there was a giant storm! We all woke up in the middle of the night to loud (really loud) thunder, lightning, and water leaking in through the roof. We all jumped out of bed and headed into the hallway cause it sounded like there was a tornado coming. We debated getting under the table and/or putting mattresses over ourselves, but then decided to stand in the hallway for a bit cause it was the most structurally sound place in the house. After things cooled down a bit, we acquired buckets (baldes) from around the house to put under the water dripping in. Then the guys all grabbed squeegies and started pushing the water into the bathroom drain. We sat on the bed and provided light for the job with our cool headlamps from REI. Then we both found dry spots on the bed and eventually went to sleep. It was a giant storm that caused flash flooding all over the country and downed trees all over the place. It was pretty crazy.

We also had a birthday party for Cesar on another Saturday night. This was a typical Paraguayan birthday party. Everyone comes and sits down in a big circle. They make conversation, and they catch up with each other. The circle gets bigger as more people show up, and it gets smaller as people start to leave. About every third or fourth person gets a cup of soda and/or beer and then people share. This is a custom that we were very familiar with because we learned to share drinks with our training community. Then all of the women go into the kitchen and prepare little plates of snack foods (empanadas, sausages, etc.) while the men sit around and chit chat. Then we all ate. At one point, Fede and I decided it was time to play guitar and get the party started. We played the Felicidades song, then everyone wanted to hear me sing some songs. Sarah and I sang Jumper and Californication, then Fede played some Argentinian songs. Then I started playing Twist and Shout, which I only know one verse of. So I just kept playing it over and over again. Then Sarah got up and started dancing, and pretty soon all of the women there got up and started dancing. It was a lot of fun. Sarah and I went to bed around 1 and everyone was still up. This was another Saturday night where everyone stays up really late and somehow still makes it to Mass at 7:30 in the morning. This is a common practice. I am still super impressed by it.

Nohelia and Cesar are professors in multiple different cities. We tagged along with Cesar to visit the different schools he worked at. One was at a town called Artigas. There is a small university there where Cesar teaches agriculture classes. The town was very similar to any other town you would find in Paraguay, except that the name Artigas sounded very familiar to me, and I couldn't put my finger on it. Then I looked it up when I got home in the book I'm reading "The Open Veins of Latin America" by Eduardo Galleano. Jose Artigas was the man who personified the agrarian revolution. In the early 1800's, he was the voice of the poor country people, the indigenous people who had long been exploited and taken advantage of, and he fought vigorously to give the land back to these people. His efforts were thwarted by the Uruguayan and Argentinian governments around 1820, and in his defeat, fled to Paraguay for the remainder of his life. It was here, in this town of Artigas where he resided. Another fun fact that I learned from Cesar was that the town had a different name before Artigas. It was named after a pair of Indigenous Guarani brothers; Cango-Bobi, and people like to argue over which brother was a better leader than the other.

So, this should catch us up to the first couple of weeks in site. We still have to write a post about our trip to visit the Itaipu dam, and then we're gonna write about our Christmas festivities in a little town on the river named Ayolas. Stay tuned!

December 17, 2012

A trip to the east

During our second week in site, we were presented us with an offer we simply could not refuse: A free trip to Ciudad del Este, Itaipu Dam, and Monday Falls! Our host mother, Nohelia invited us to join her class's end of the year trip. (Here in Paraguay, school ends in the first week of December for summer break).

That Sunday night, we boarded an overnight bus with around 40 high schoolers and 10 chaperons. We put in our earplugs, took some tylonel pm, and tried to get as much sleep as possible. The next thing we knew we were jarred awake by the boys singing pop songs at the top of their lungs around 5 AM. They also like to play a game where you read road signs in a funny voice and laugh really hard. You know how teenagers are.

We arrived early at our first stop, the Itaipu Dam. While we waited for the visitors center to open, we checked out the street vendors' blankets filled with handmade jewelry. I bought a colorful strap for my camera, and Ben got a bracelet woven with the colors of the Paraguayan flag (red, white, and blue) to use as a keychain. In the meantime, the students had grouped in circle around a huge insect that they were poking with a stick. When the center opened, we shuffled into a small theater and watched an informational film (in Spanish) about the dam. To learn about it in English check out the wiki article: Itaipu Dam.

After the little video, everyone piled into a bus and they took us on the dam tour. They stopped at a place before the dam to get a great dam picture. Then we got on the dam bus and drove down the dam until we reached the dam control center. We got to get out and walk beneath some dam corridors and get a dam lecture before we left and got on the dam bus again. The whole dam tour was actually pretty short - Maybe about 20 dam minutes, which are actually the same as regular minutes. We thought it was a great feat of engineering at first, and we were impressed, but even though it's really big and pretty, it's still terrible for the environment, right? Later we did some research and found tons of articles that talk about how all the dams in Paraguay have really devastated the surrounding ecosystems. So, dams are cool, but not our favorite thing since we've been here.

Next, we all piled into our original bus and headed to Salto Monday (which is pronounced Mon-Dah-U). The waterfalls here were really beautiful, and it was good to see that it was well maintained. A few of the kids picked up bottles and threw them into the waterfall, which shows that PC environmental conservation volunteers still serve a purpose here. We hung out for a while and enjoyed the view. They also had a little "eco-tourism" canopy walk, but it wasn't anything special. It was just a little set of walkways suspended about 20 feet in the air, just out in the open. One of the kids in our group paid to go, so we were content just watching him do it.

After the falls, we went to Ciudad Del Este. They let all the kids loose for a few hours. Sarah and I wandered around with Nohelia and our new friend Cesar, a profe that we met on the bus. We wandered through the malls checking out the prices on different electronics like electric shavers and cameras. There are several different malls in C. Del Este. The streets are packed with street vendors and little booths. Then there are hundreds of other people walking around selling everything from socks to pen drives. It was quite an experience. Little kids would walk even walk up to you trying to sell you stuff. Sarah bought a backpack from a little vendor, then we headed to a grocery store for some lunch. It was a buffet style restaurant where you pay per kilo of food, and it was crowded and noisy just like similar style restaurants in the states. I've included some pics of the city, but it's really hard to capture the calamity of the city in a picture. But it's a great place to go if you want a cheap knock-off of anything. 

It started raining just as we had to load back on the bus and take the long trip home. Sarah and I had a great time on this trip, and best of all, it was completely free! We were pretty lucky. We met some cool kids and teachers, and got to see some great parts of Paraguay. 

December 10, 2012

Welcome to Coronel Bogado!

So everyone is probably really curious; what is our site like? Is it super campo? Do we live in a shack? Do we have running water and electricity? Do people speak mostly Spanish or Guarani? Well, this post should clear things up.

We arrived in Coronel Bogado on 12/10. It's a little town with about 19,000 people in it. The Wikipedia entry for Coronel Bogado should give you a good idea of the demographics of the city. The Municipality has a blogspot site, which has some cool pics of events, and of the park in the middle of town. These don't quite give you the full experience. So here's a little tour of our site. 

The drive in is like this; for about 5 hours. With a town here or there. 

Then when you reach our department, you see this big farmer dude welcoming you to Itapua. Located in the southeastern corner of the country, Itapua is characterized by fertile soil, humid weather, and scattered forests. Tourists visit the region to explore the Jesuit ruins, play on the beaches of the Parana River, and join in on the country's largest Carnaval celebration in Encarnacion. 

Then you start seeing lots of these rice processing facilities. You also see some others for sugar cane and other crops. 

Then you arrive in the city, which looks like this. Giant semi-trucks are barrelling down the road. Motos are weaving in and out of traffic. And there are people selling stuff on every sidewalk. There's a chiperia every 10 feet. (Chipa is basically a cheesy bread made from mandioca flour) And Coronel Bogado is the CHIPA CAPITAL OF PARAGUAY! We've already tried a bunch of places, but haven't decided on our favorite yet; although the chipa with the ham and cheese inside of it is really delicious, and is basically a whole meal in itself. 

Then you walk some more. There's always a lot of walking in Peace Corps, no matter what your site looks like. We are prohibited from driving cars, and from riding motos. So, you walk everywhere; which is actually a great way to experience the city. 

The sidewalks are where everyone tries to sell you things. Here you see a clothing store, but you can find anything: Bikes, washing machines, stoves, ovens, mattresses, couches, TV's, brooms, anything! Sometimes the store owners sit outside and invite you by saying "Adelante, adelante;" Most other times, you walk by and say "Adios!" which literally means goodbye, but you use it as a greeting on the street as you're passing by people. 

The whole city is laid out like a grid. You think this would make it easier to learn the city. It doesn't. There are hardly any road signs, so it might as well be a maze. But it has everything you need. There's a supermarket, plenty of stores to find clothes, hardware, and gifts, a COPACO (phone company), cell phone stores, places to make photocopias, ice cream shops, lots of despensas, chiperias, hamburger and hot dog places, places that sell Lomitos (delicious gyro llike sandwiches), and basically anything you need. There's no movie theatre, bowling alley, or anything like that. 

The socioeconomics of Bogado are very variable. You can see a house like this ->

Directly next to a "chuchi" house like this ->

<-- a house like this... could have a wood-burning stove, probably electricity, maybe running water, and only cold water if it does,  definitely chickens, maybe a cow or two, no washing machine, definitely people sitting outside drinking terere, half the time Guarani speaking... you can see this...

<-- Directly next to a house like this... two floors, electricity, gas stove, granite counter tops in the kitchen... has a kitchen... hot water, cars, etc. etc. etc. So it's pretty variable. You never know what you're gonna get every time you turn a corner. But one things for sure: Everyone is super nice and will say adios and half the time will ask you where you're from, and invite you in for terere and introduce you to the entire family. 

Typical despensa (convenience store, usually someones house). In here you can buy the basics: toilet paper, instant coffee, and toothpaste. Sometimes the farmacias look like this too. Or it could be a bodega, which mainly just sells drinks, beers, sodas, etc.

 Most of the roads are empadrada (giant rocks that have been strategically placed to make a road; kinda like a cobble stone road in an old city in the states). Everyone drives extremely slow on these bumpy roads and riding bikes on them is literally a pain in the ass. 

No description of Bogado is complete without describing the Peatonal. It is a beautiful two-lane walkway that passes through the center of town for walking, exercising, and bike riding. The wikipedia page mentions that we have a walkway here, but it doesn't mention that it's gorgeous! Sarah and I have a lot of pride in the Peatonal. We walk it several times a week for exercise, many times picking up trash along the way. If you need to rest, have a seat on one of the many benches.  

After you walk the entire length of the Peatonal, it's not paved anymore. It looks like this; usually with a cow, some chickens, or a big pack of dogs running around. At night there are some really loud frogs that make a high pitched squeal. We have to walk it in its entirety because both houses we have lived at have been on the southside of town. We will describe our families that we have lived with in another post. For now, you have a good idea of where we live and what its like to live here. We plan to move to an apartment in the centro in mid-feb. More to come on that. Anyways, that's our site. If you have any questions, let us know!

December 7, 2012

Swear-In Weekend

Our last days in Tacuruty were bitter sweet. We were a little sad about leaving our training community. We had worked so hard to make connections in our community, and to bond with our family, and after two and half months, it was all coming to an end. We made printed out photos that we had taken of our host family and put them together into a little album, with a letter thanking them for everything, which we gave to them a few nights before Swear-in.

Packing before swear-in and moving to site was a big undertaking, but we got it all done. That friday morning, a truck came to take the bulk of our belongings and put them in long-term storage (We won't see any of that stuff until Feb. 14th). We said our good-byes to some of the family and headed out on a bus.

Right before we were getting on the bus to go to the municipality in Guarambare for swear-in, we saw our friend Andrew, who had finally decided that it was his time to ET (early terminate). He was headed back home to study fish and have a more fulfilling sciencey job than PC could offer. We all liked him a lot, so it was a really sad, surreal moment when we all made the bus wait while we said our goodbyes to our new friend who we were sad to see leave. !Que Triste! Why did we take such a sad photo!?!

And now the sweet stuff! We were done with training! We had made it. Sarah and I had learned TWO languages. We had made it through all of our tech trainings; the security exams, the medical exams; the technical exams; we had built a bench and planted lots of trees. We had lived in another country for over two months and met tons of people; and we had made tons of friends during training. We were so proud of ourselves, and we felt like we had accomplished something really great. The whole training experience was awesome. And now we were off to swear-in with all of the PC staff, and all of the families in our community.

We arrived to a large open auditorium that was covered in streamers and Peace Corps banners. Everyone was there. We hugged a bunch of people as we arrived. We shook hands and everyone congratulated us and said that we should be very proud of ourselves. We took our seats, snapping photos and waving at everyone. We sang the national anthems for both Paraguay and the US (which, sidenote, did you know that each stanza of the US national anthem is a question? minds=blown).

Another thing that is interesting is the oath that we had to take for Peace Corps:

I, [state your name], do solemnly swear or affirm that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, domestic and foreign, that I take this obligation freely and without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion, and that I will well and faithfully discharge my duties in the Peace Corps by working with the people of [the host country] as partners in friendship and in peace.

We listened to some speeches by the US Ambassador to Paraguay and his wife about how great our work is going to be for the country. One of the other volunteers gave a great speech on behalf of the volunteers, and then some community leaders gave some speeches... about... well I'm sure they were really great, but they were speaking Spanish super fast and I'm pretty sure we didn't understand everything they said. But we shook their hands after and told them gracias a bunch of times. We took our picture with the ambassador, James, and his wife Martha, and told them we had been married for a year. Then they gave us some great marriage advice on marriage! To mix things up, to always try new things, and to always stay close to each other.

We took a lot more pictures, ate some empanadas, said our good-byes to our trainers, language teachers, training directors, and we were outta there. We took our last ride on the chu-chi bus with AC and arrived in Asuncion. It was the weekend of the Virgin de Caacupe, so the city was pretty dead.

By some random freak chance, we wound up staying at the same hotel that Andrew was at. We met up with him, then regrouped with some other volunteers at the Black Cat Hostel. Everyone was having a good time. We were all congratulating each other and reminiscing of our good times throughout training. Then we decided that, since Andrew was flying out early in the morning, something really awesome needed to happen to him his last night in Paraguay. So I jumped up and said let's shave his head! And everyone was in.

Breton donated the shaving cream, Jordan donated his mack 5, Tilre tried to use his straight razor, but no one was having that. And we shaved his head right there in the Black Cat. That's what he gets for leaving. We're pretty sure he wanted us to do it anyway. There was absolutely no alcohol involved. Then we all went swimming. Then us Tacuruty kids went to a karaoke bar restaurant and sang the whole night. There was still absolutely no alcohol involved.

For the rest of the weekend, Sarah and I saw some sights in Asuncion. It was a pretty quiet city. We had a little date night; Burger King milkshakes and a movie. It's going to be our Asuncion standard. Then we took a long bus ride down to Coronel Bogado.

Paraguay Photos