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.
October 20, 2012
Week 3: Monte Alto (PCV Visit)
On the third week In-Country, trainees get to spend 3 days visiting a current volunteer (PCV) at their site. On Monday, Ben and I strapped on our hiking packs and travelled 4 hours by bus to a small community called Monte Alto near Caaguazu, PY. The view from Monte Alto is one of beautiful rolling hills. The red dirt roads sharply contrast with the green pastures and the brilliantly blue sky. The bus dropped us off in front of a small teal house where our PCV, Hannah, was waiting for us. Hannah is in our "Sister G", which means she is in the group of environmental volunteers (G-37) that directly precedes ours (G-40). Hannah has been living at her site for about a year now. She has done several environmental projects with women and youth groups and with the small school in her community.
We spent our first day in Monte Alto getting to know Hannah, drinking terere, and making a pizza together. The next morning, Hannah took us to meet her host family. During their first 3 months in site, volunteers typically live with a host family that will help them integrate into the community. After drinking some terere, we knocked a papaya (mamon) down from its tree, and headed for a picnic at the "nearby" stream. As an added bonus, a local boy, named Junior, joined us our venture. The walk took us about an hour, but we eventually arrived at a small river with sandy shores. We kicked off our shoes and waded through the chilly water to a large flat rock in the center of the stream. There, we ate grilled cheese sandwiches, left over pizza, cookies, and mamon for lunch. I soon realized that I was allergic to mamon, but that is whole other story. We swam in the river and had a wonderful afternoon. On our walk home, Junior pointed out the different types of cows, birds, and trees we passed along the way. We came across a broken tape cassette, which once contained Paraguayan polka music, lying in the middle of the road. Junior picked it up and tied the long strand of exposed tape around his waist, leaving a 15 foot slithering tail behind him. At one point, a cat began to playfully follow behind us as it tried, unsuccessfully, to catch the end of the ever-moving tape.
That evening, we piled onto Hannah’s spare mattress and watched the movie The Lorax. We were so inspired by the final song in the movie that Hannah and I spent the rest of the night translating the song into Spanish while Ben learned the chords on the guitar. The next day we performed the song for a horticulture class at the school in Hannah’s community, one verse in English and the second in Spanish.
“Let it grow! Let it grow!
You can’t reap what you don’t sew.
Plant a seed inside the earth,
Just one way to know its worth.
Let’s celebrate the world’s rebirth.
We say let it grow!
A crecer! A crecer!
Siembras para recoger
La semilla hay que plantar,
Y lo que nos da a apreciar.
El mundo va a celebrar.
Afterwards, we visited the house of the professor, where his mother played a few songs on the guitar for us as well. We drank terere, and then toured their vegetable garden (huerta), fields (kokue), and aquaculture ponds. Later, his mother let us sample the juice she had made from sugar cane (miel de cañe). She also showed us her crocodile that she had tied to a tree next to a small fish pond in her back yard.
The next morning we boarded the bus at 6:00 am and headed back home to Tacaruty. On the way, we stopped in San Lorenzo because Ben was in desperate need of a guitar. We looked in three different music stores before stumbling into the little back-alley shop called “Corochire”. The woman at the counter told us that all her guitars were hand-crafted of genuine Paraguayan-North American pine, right there, in her shop. Ben spent around an hour playing the guitars, wishing he could buy the more expensive ones, and then decided on a nice classical style guitar with nylon strings and a cut-away. We successfully haggled with the shop keeper to throw in a fabric case and colorful woven strap at a fraction of the cost.
All in all, we had a wonderful time on our excursion to Monte Alto. We loved getting a glimpse into our future lives as volunteers.
October 10, 2012
We are safe and sound down here in Paraguay! The country is beautiful! On our bus ride from Asuncion, we saw many types of tropical plants, beautiful flowers, and palm trees. There are many fruit trees that grow here including: limes, oranges, bananas, avacados, papaya, and even mangos. We are excited to have ripe mangos this summer, which will be in wintertime for all you North Americans. Each small town you pass through is known for its trades whether it be pottery, silver and gold jewelry, or musical instruments, each community maintains a flair of individuality. The main roads are paved and most locals dodge in and out of traffic on motorcycles. In Paraguay, larger vehicles always have the right-of-way even if they're driving in the wrong lane. Pedestrians beware!
During training, we are staying in a small town outside of Garambare known for its large and frequent ant hills. Many are as tall as our knees in height and can be nearly a hula hoop wide! We have heard there are several types of anteaters here, but have yet to see one. Our host family is very warm and welcoming. Our host madre is a teacher and our padre is a driver. They have four very friendly children ranging in age from 3 to 17. We live with several different animals: a puppy, a dog, two cats with three kittens, several chickens, and two ducks. It is not unusual to find a chicken in the kitchen every once in awhile. We are fortunate in that our house has both electricity and running water. Our family has given us a very nice bedroom, with a full-sized bed that has beautiful bedding that matches the curtains on our large stained glass window. The walls are painted orange and the tile floors are orange as well but darker. A large mosquito net hangs over our bed, but it is still spring so they do not bother us yet. The good lock on our door, and thick bars on our window help us to feel very safe here.
We spend a lot of time with our host family, practicing spanish, learning guarani, eating, and drinking terere. Our padre took us to the store last week where we bought our very own equipo de terere (a thermos, cup, and filtered metal straw). We are still learning how to use it properly. Our family is very modern in that our madre and padre both participate in cooking and completing household chores. We were worried that they might think it strange that Ben likes to cook, but actually, our padre taught Ben how to cook Paraguayan tortillas! They are fluffy fried biscuits and very different from the mexican tortillas we are familiar with. Although it is difficult communicating in any deep sense with our host family, we almost always find something to laugh about. Paraguayans have a great sense of humor especially when we mispronounce words in Guarani. One letter can mean the difference between "fish" and "diarrhea"!
We are gearing up for our trip to visit another Peace Corps volunteer in a town that is 4.5 hours away from us. We're nervous about taking public transportation, but we know it will be a great learning experience and give us confidence in travelling alone. Also, it will be great to get a little insight into the life of a volunteer who has been here for 1 year.
All in all, so far so good! Our host family takes great care of us, and we're learning a lot about Paraguayan languages and cultures. If you have any questions, please feel free to comment!
Ben and Sarah