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.

November 29, 2012


Halloween - Halloween isn't a big thing here. You do see some decorations and/or costumes here and there, but there isn't Trick or Treating or anything like that. Sarah and I spent the night before Halloween making costumes out of 2 liter bottles. We just started cutting and taping stuff together with duct tape and by the end of it, we wound up with tree costumes. Mine was a big tree hat which turned out to be really great for games of "throw mangos and oranges into Ben's big tree hat" the next day in training. Others dressed up too; we saw some jellyfish, adam and eve, a superhero who was raised a sugar cane field, a fairy godmother, and a huerta. That night, Sarah and I walked with a group of other volunteers to meet up at Felipe's house for a little get together. We were going with the intention of watching movies, but once we got there, we all just got lost in conversation for a while and wound up not even watching a movie. Andrew carved a watermelon like a Jack-o-lantern, so I guess you could call it a Jack-o-melon.

Thanksgiving - This year we got to have Thanksgiving at the US Ambassador to Paraguay's house. They live in the city in a big house with tennis courts, a pool, and some other stuff I'm sure I didn't see. The 50 of us poared inside the house and made ourselves comfortable. We were allowed to do anything we wanted, so some swam, some played tennis, some played board games, and others used the phones and the internet the whole time. Sarah and I were the latter. We got to Skype with Sarah's entire family, and Jojo and PapaDon too. At dinner, we all sat around some really nice tables and enjoyed some excellent food. There was turkey and some delicious stuffing, mashed potatoes, a squash casserole thing, some other dinner stuff, and ice cream and pie for dessert. There were empanadas, but Sarah and I wouldn't even look at them because we had eaten so many since we've been in Paraguay.

Picture to come soon.

November 28, 2012

Future Site Visit: Coronel Bogado, Paraguay!

The Friday after site celebration, we boarded a bus that carried us to the CAFASA center where we would meet our future site contacts. These primary contacts would collaborate with us on future projects in our communities. We were greeted by Nohelia and her husband Cesar, both are teachers in our community. After brief introductions with our contacts, we moved to a lecture room to participate in a “getting to know you” activity. On big pieces of “charla” paper, we wrote out the characteristics we expected of our contacts, while they wrote out what they expected of us. As we shared our lists to each other we realized that for the most part they were the same: we all wanted someone friendly, dependable, understanding, hardworking, and accepting of our cultural diversity.

After eating lunch together, the trainees with their respective community contacts went their separate ways. Ben and I jumped in the car with Nohelia and Cesar and picked up Johanna, our PCV site-mate just outside the meeting center. Before beginning the five hour drive to Coronel Bogado, we stopped to visit the Basilica in Caacupe, the largest Catholic Church in the country. We spent about an hour walking through the church and climbing the winding staircase up to the balcony. As you climb the staircase you will find a painted history of how the Virgin Mary appeared to the indigenous people of Paraguay in a vision. We exited the church and crammed back into the car. The drive was long, but we got to talk with our contacts and see a great expanse of the countryside. Much of the area along Ruta 1 is made up of large flat grasslands with occasional interspersed clumps of trees. About two to three hours into the drive the rear passenger side tire popped and we had to go to the gomeria twice to fix it adding an extra hour onto our trip. Finally, around dinner time we rolled into Coronel Bogado.

The next day, our host family took us to the beach at Encarnation. The city lies on the Parana River and boasts a beautiful sandy beach. We jumped out of the car and took off our shoes as quickly as possible, yearning to feel the warm sand between our toes. The sand is as nice as any in Florida and instead of shells you can find beautiful river-worn rocks of many colors and patterns. Some even look like they may be pebbles of petrified wood (very plausible considering the large quantity of petrified wood that is exported from the eastern region of Paraguay).  At the water’s edge we were met by shimmering schools of small fish, which proceeded to nibble on our toes as we stood in the water. Had it not been for lack of waves and the view of the opposite shore, we would have thought we were wading in the ocean. Looking out across the river, you can see the gleaming sky rises of city of Posadas, Argentina. We left the beach to go grocery shopping at the giant super market called Superseis. There you can find practically everything you need for day to day life, just like any supermarket in the states.

When we returned to Coronel Bogado, we stopped by a trade show of artensania made by the local women’s group, Manos Laboriosos, which means laboring hands. We were impressed to find that much of their artwork is made using recycled materials! Que guapa!  Later that evening, we went with Nohelia and Cesar to a couple’s group reunion. They gather every week to reflect, discuss, and pray about keeping their married relationships on the path that god intended. After the reunion, we all played volley ball on a court behind the supermarket. Believe me when I say that Paraguayans are serious about playing volle. They wear team uniforms and have a team “reina” or “queen”. Fans come out to cheer and support their teams. They will play game after game never stopping for water or even to announce the winners. If you don’t keep track yourself, you won’t even know the score. They will tell you that you are just going to play one or two games, but before you know it, you’ve played four games, it’s midnight, and there is no end in sight!

The next morning we woke up early and went to Catholic mass with our family. Since we are neither Catholic nor native Spanish speakers we understood very little of the proceedings. Afterwards we joined our host brothers in the youth group and introduced ourselves by singing our song from the Lorax. The youth group has about 50 kids in it and we hope to work with them on projects in the future. Around lunch time we went to our site mate Johanna’s house to celebrate her birthday. Johanna has been in Coronel Bogado for over a year and a half working in education. It’s definitely nice having a fellow volunteer in site with us. The following day she took us on a tour of the town and introduced to many people we might work with in the future.   We visited the municipality, the university, and walked along the Peatonal, a beautiful path that runs through the center of the community.

Coronel Bogado is a lovely little town and we are very excited to begin working here. The chipa is delicious, there is a great little downtown area, there are several parks, and the people seem to be eager to have environmental volunteers. They have told us of a variety of projects that they would like our help with including restoring the community stream, recycling, planting trees, and even creating nature trails in a nearby forest. We can’t wait to get started!

November 21, 2012

Site Assignment Celebration

   The evening after our excursion to Aregua, we arrived back at the training center for a special celebration. Tonight, we will learn exactly where in Paraguay we will be spending the next two years of our lives! As we entered through the doors of the training center, we were met with the applause and cheers of the entire training staff: our language professors, technical trainers, training directors, country director, and program directors all were there. Our normally down-to-business lecture hall was transformed into a fiesta with banners, paperchains, and flowers. A giant topographical map of Paraguay stood at the focal point of the room. As we filed in and found our seats, we exchanged nervous hugs, excited handshakes, and words of encouragement. This moment would define the rest of our time here in Paraguay.

   After several introductions from the staff, it was finally time for the site announcements to begin. Everyone waited excitedly for their names to be drawn out of a large straw sombrero. As the names were drawn, each person taped their picture next the location of their future site on the giant map of Paraguay. One by one they called out the names of our fellow trainees: Nari would be going to Caaguazu, Andrew to Ayolas, Grace and Tamarra to Yguazu, and then it was our turn! The Overstreets will be going to Coronel Bogado. We jumped up out of our chairs and hurried to the front of the room. Our trainers helped us locate our future site on the map and together we taped our pictures up. Afterwards, we were given a folder of information about our site including a welcome letter, the volunteer request form, community demographics, and a tourist brochure for the Department of Itapua. After everyone’s name had been called, we celebrated with cake and fruit salad while we scoured our folders for every ounce of information we could find about our future sites.

Day Trip to Aregua

During week 7 of training all the aspirantes were given the choice of going on a cultural excursion to one of two nearby cities: Asuncion or Aregua. Since we’d already been to Asuncion during Tapeapovo, we decided to check out Aregua. The word “Aregua” in Guarani means “City from the Past”. The quaint town is famous for its ceramic artesania, strawberries, Lago Ypacarai, and Cerro Koi (a national monument of Paraguay).

We started the day, visiting the local SENATUR office, which is the national tourism agency in Paraguay. There, we learned a bit about the history of the town and about all the cool things Aregua has to offer. After that we traveled to Cerro Koi where we hiked among the unique hexagonal rock formations that can only be found in two places in the world (Aregua and somewhere in Africa). Because the rocks fracture into small flat pieces, they were used as cobblestones in most of the roads in the town. When we had climbed as high as would could on the cerro, we paused to view the little town of Aregua nestled against the expansive lake Ypacarai in the distance. Considering the relatively flat land of Paraguay, this was a breathtaking sight for us.

Back in town we ventured into the workshop of a family that makes ceramic art. The owner led us step by step through the process from how they mix the clay to how they paint and fire the finished products. Some of us even got to try our hands at spinning our very own pots (Ben and I were not so lucky). In the workshop they make a variety of products, everything from small decorative pots to piggybanks shaped like Sponge Bob. All over town, you can find hundreds of similar products in various colors lining the streets in little booths. Ben and I purchased two little ceramic pots as recuerdos.

Next, we headed to the Lago Ypacarai. As we approached, we were delighted to see a sandy beach and inviting boardwalk overlooking the brilliant blue lake. For those of us still yearning for the ocean, this was definitely a sight for sore eyes. We walked out on the boardwalk immersing ourselves in the view. The water stretched out in every direction sparkling as tiny waves reflected the sun’s glare. The Paraguayan flags at the water’s edge fluttered in the refreshing breeze. Standing there with Ben’s arm around me, I felt at home. The sun… the water… the wind… comforted me and reminded me of all the wonderful times we’ve spent in Florida together. I did not want to budge from this spot. We stayed there as long as we could, eventually breaking away for lunch.

We ate at a local restaurant called Don Pablo’s. Let me assure you, this is not one of the chain Mexican restaurants found across the U.S., but is a popular spot to get a quick bite of authentic Paraguayan food. We ate meat and veggie pies then explored the streets lined with artesania. We stopped at a booth, where a woman was selling strawberry preservatives, and bought a small bottle of strawberry liqueur. Our exploration led us into a shop of indigenous artwork from the Chaco. The small shop was packed with wooden sculptures of animals, ceramics, woven baskets, metal workings, and paintings. One tiny shelf held a dozen or so little stone figurines. The figurines were shaped like women and clad in dresses of colorful thread and plant fibers. We learned from the shopkeeper that they are played with as dolls by children in the Chaco. We bought two of the dolls (one for my mother and one for me) and a small wooden carving of a crocodile for Ben. By that time, we needed to meet up with the rest of our group to return home to Takuruty. We had a beautiful day in Aregua. It was a much needed break from the stress of training.

November 19, 2012

Excursions During Training

Well, we're a little behind on our posts because life moves a million miles an hour right now. But we wouldn't have it any other way! Here are a few things that have happened throughout training that we don't want anyone to miss out on. The date of this post doesn't really matter, because all of these things have happened throughout training, they're just not really big enough to have their own blog post. So here they're all lumped into one. Enjoy!

Tapeapovo - Guarani word that means something close to "hitting the streets." This was basically our first trip as aspirantes (trainees) to get out on our own and experience some of Paraguay. We were split into groups and assigned a few places in the city that we had to visit. Ben was in a group with two other volunteers, and had to visit the cemetery in Recoleta, the Health Park (Parque de Salud), and A Todo Pulmon, Paraguay Respira, which is an organization that plants trees in Paraguay to act as "lungs" so Paraguay can "breathe" again. Get it! Fun facts about Ben's trip:
1. When my group was on the bus looking for the Recoleta Cemetery, we got off at the first cemetery we saw, which happened to be in the wrong city (San Lorenzo, not Asuncion). So we had to hop back on a bus and pay again.
2. When we were getting off the bus at the Parque de Salud, I got off last. There were two guys standing near the exit of the bus, and as I approached, one of the guys made his way for the front and brushed up against me. He was uncomfortably close and there was really no need for the guy to get so close to me. So, if you haven't guessed by now, as soon as I got off I checked my pocket and my wallet was gone. Luckily, I kept my money in a wallet that hangs around my neck, so they only got 2,000 Guaranies (which is about 50 cents).
Sarah was in a group with Megan and Paige and their mission was to visit Asuncion Centro and find Senatur (the national tourism organization), Casa de Independencia, the Catedral, and Plaza de los Heroes. Along the way they browsed through the wares of the street side artesania stands. Sarah bought a little leather box for Ben (to cheer him up since he got mugged).They were also supposed to visit the ABC News building, but there was a huge teacher protest in the street, and they could not pass. Her group went to the infamous Lito Bar on Calle Palma for some lunch. Afterwards, all the groups met at the Peace Corps office to have a mixer with some of the current environment and agriculture volunteers.

Planting trees at the health post - This was such a great opportunity! Our tech trainers worked it out so we could go plant trees at a health post (health clinic) in Nueva Italia, a town about 30 minutes away from Guarambare. This was a great chance to roll up our sleeves and get dirty!We planted a bunch of trees along the sidewalks in the front of the building. We had just had a tech training on how to plant trees, so it was good timing. We planted the tree and put some bamboo poles over it to protect it. Behind the health post, we had to plan out the places for a bunch of citrus trees we were planting. We had a bunch of citrus trees in macetas: grapefruit (pomelo), naranja (orange), y mandarines (mandarinas). Four of us got together and tried to figure out how we could place the trees without having the same tree next to itself. We were all laughing as we tried to figure out the best arrangement because it felt like we were trying to solve an SAT problem. All in all, we were really happy to plant trees cause it felt like were finally doing something in Paraguay and not just training all the time!

Botanical gardens / icecream - We took a field trip out to Jardin Botanico (botanical gardens) in Asuncion. We got to see the grounds for free and we even got a tour around the facility. The botanical gardens weren't mind blowing, but they did have a lot of very interesting trees. The main thing that we all really liked was this giant tree that seemed to first grow upward, and then spring other roots from its branches and grow back to the ground. We all climbed it and had a great time, thinking the whole time it was this weird alien tree that grew back into the ground. Right before we left, our tech trainers told us that the tree only appeared to grow downward, but it was actually just a weird agricultural technique. You cut off a little branch, then wrap bags of soil around the cut. The tree then thinks it's been buried and starts to sprout roots. After a while, they just start growing downward and downward. I'm not exactly sure why anyone would want to do this, but it's a pretty cool idea. After climbing the tree and seeing the whole garden, we did an activity about planting trees in our community. Then we left the gardens and went to a little museum that happened to be closed. Since we still had some time before we had to get back, the trainers stopped by an ice cream place and we hung out there for an hour. This wasn't an ordinary ice cream place by the way. It was the chuchi-est ice cream place I'd ever been to. Once I find out the name of it, I'm gonna post it on here so you can see.

School Presentation - One of our assignments in tech training was to prepare an activity for youth at a nearby school in Tacuruty. We knew they were basica, but we didn't know which grade we would be given. Sarah and I had been planning to make a bench out of Eco-ladrillos (eco-bricks made of recycled plastic bottles with garbage stuffed inside), so we already had some posters. Our other teammate, Andrew, helped us make another poster asking where do we find garbage, and what do we do with it? During our presentation, we talked about problems with litter and the problems with burning garbage. Then we talked about Eco-ladrillos, and I told them that this is just one idea for recycling, and you can always be using your imagination to come up with new ways of recycling. This again, was another great experience for us, and we really enjoyed getting to talk to kids and flex our language skills.

So, that's it for now. There might be one or two more things we want to add to this post in the future.. so stay tuned. Bye for now!

November 10, 2012

Sarah’s Long Field Practice in Capilla Cue

In week 6 of Pre-Service Training (PST), trainees travel in small groups to visit current Peace Corps Volunteers at their sites and get the opportunity to practice using the technical skills they’ve been learning.  Since we traveled with our language groups, Ben and I had two different Long Field Practice adventures. I travelled with Cory, Stacy, Tyler, Ashley, and our language professora Ramona. We visited Matt in Capilla Cue, a small community in the department of Paraguari. Matt is an Environmental Conservation volunteer in our sister G (G-37). He splits his time between teaching in the community school and working with local farmers.  During our visit we got to participate in both!

Our first day in site, Matt took us to meet a local farmer and help him harvest his lupino seeds (an abono verde or “green manure” plant used to revitalize the soil between crops). So actually, this was a blast! Picture this: the six of us PCVs, our Paraguayan language professora, and a Paraguayan farmer all jumping up and down on a big pile of sticks. With every jump you hear a multitude of cracks and pops as the seed pods burst open and spill their seeds onto the patio floor. We must have been jumping for an entire hour!  By the time we had separated the seeds from the empty shells and twigs, the sun was setting, but will still had enough time to visit the farmer’s vegetable garden. There we got to practice spraying organic insect repellent, made from the leaves of a local tree, on his tomato plants. I got to taste the leaf of a Ka’a he’e plant straight from his garden. In Guarani, “Ka’a” means yerba mate (the plant they use to make tea) and “He’e” means sweet. The Paraguayans use this leaf in their tea to make it sweet. In the states this plant is known as Stevia, but it originated here in the heart of South America.

During the nights of our long field practice, we each stayed with different host families. My host family lived in a little house at the edge of the community. My host mother cooked us several different Paraguayan meals including chipa guasu and sopa paraguaya. My host father played the guitar and sang as with shared terere in the evenings. My host brother and sister were eager to show me their school projects and were patient when I tried to speak to them in Guarani. They spoke mostly Jopara, (a mix of Castellano and Guarani) so there were many times when I had no idea what they were saying to me. I did learn however, that the community name “Capilla Cue” means “there used to be a little church”, and if you walk along the red dirt road to the school you will pass by a large cross. Unfortunately, I was unable to figure out the exact relationship this cross has to the church that is no more. 

We spent the next morning practicing Guarani in language class with Ramona. That afternoon, we drank terere with one of Matt’s neighbors before asking them if we cut down some of their bamboo to repair the garden fence at the health center. They quickly agreed, and soon we were hauling long stalks of bamboo down the road. Once at the health center, some of us chopped and split the bamboo with a machete, while the others staked it into the ground and secured it with wire. I like to think that I was actually pretty good at splitting the bamboo.

Matt rewarded our hard work by taking us on a hike to a “nearby” waterfall. We climbed through barbed-wire fences, walked through grassy meadows, and for a large portion of the trip, wading in the river itself. All the while, Cory whistled the soundtrack of Lord of the Rings, making this feel like an epic journey. When the river suddenly dropped into a wide pool, we discovered that seeing the waterfall was well worth the arduous hike. Here we found a brilliant oasis in the rolling hillsides of prairie land. The water split into two falls and spread into a pool large and deep enough to swim in. There was even a little ledge behind the waterfall that was just big enough to sit on. As I sat in the crevice behind the cascading water, watching Ashley performing impossible yoga positions high up on the rock and the others splashing eachother in the pool, it hit me… “This is Peace Corps. This is what we all pictured in our minds as we suffered through the long application process. What could be more picturesque than the six of us swimming and playing beneath a beautiful waterfall in a foreign land?” I definitely wished Ben had been there to share that moment with me. After spending several hours swimming in the pool and climbing the surrounding rocks, we hiked in the dark back to our houses.

On the third day, after another morning in language class, we visited a corn field of a local farmer and helped him plant abono verde seeds between his rows of corn. The plants will help to keep the soil rich with nutrients even after the corn is harvested.  That evening, we worked with Ramona to prepare our charlas for the following day.

The theme of our charlas was making “Recycled Art” out of trash. For our charlas, we split into two groups: Stacy and I made water rockets out of plastic bottles with the younger kids, while Tyler and Cory made wallets out of milk cartons with the older kids. Both crafts were made of recycled materials. With the younger kids, we had to give our entire charla about the 3R’s (Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle) completely in Guarani. We started with the game “dibujo surpreza”, which Ben decribes in his post, to kids active and participating. Then we asked them leading questions about what trash they usually see and how they manage their trash. After that we introduced the 3R’s and told them about one fun way to reuse plastic bottles- Make a Water Rocket!  You should have seen the excitement as we launched our water rocket into the air! Afterwards we taught them how to make flowers from toilet paper tubes (the girls loved this!). The charlas were a success. We had a lot of fun and gained valuable experience presenting in schools! The next morning, we said goodbye to our host families and to Matt then boarded the bus for Tacuruty. 

November 5, 2012

Ben's Long Field Practice in Alberdi

Ben went to Alberdi on Monday, 11/5 a little town on the Paraguay River on the south west side of Paraguay. When standing on the banks of the river on a little dirt road and gazing out over the river, you can see a small town across the river called Formosa. A lot of kids from Alberdi take the bus into Argentina everyday to go to school, mainly because a lot of the schools are better in Argentina. Pregnant mothers actually even travel into Formosa to have their babies so that they can receive the far superior healthcare available in Argentina.

Alberdi itself is a great little town, or pueblo as you would say here. Even though we had to drive about 2 hours on a dirt road to get there, it was a great little town with paved roads, restaurants, colegios, etc. The main attraction would be the huge market section that extends the entire length of one of the main roads with multiple staircases at every block that offers access to great views of the river. (One of the few times we got to take the awesome Landcruiser instead of the worst buses known to man.)

Ben travelled with 4 others: Katalina (Kathleen - Hi Kathleens Mom Denise!!), Andres (Andrew), Pamela, and Elliott (Hi Elliott's Mom Pamela!!). They visited Jake, a current volunteer in the city who has lived there for over a year now. It was a very eventful trip, and we hit the ground running. First we figured out the sleeping situations. Us visitors stayed with different families; all except for me. I stayed with Jake cause the guy who I was going to stay with got bit by a spider on his neck and was having issues. Jakes house was great though and we had some good times.

One of Jakes main contacts was a guy named Roberto who operated a small computer lab called the Informatica. This was a place where locals took business classes (typing, excel, etc.) to get more technical skills and better their resumes. We spent most of our time in and out of this building. Our first night we went to one of their classes (which was mostly women by the way) and introduced ourselves; explaining why we joined the Peace Corps and what kind fo work we want to do in the future. It was a very real moment for me. Not just because I realized how bad at Spanish I really am, but because it was one of the first times explaining myself to a group of Paraguayans.

The next morning, Tuesday 11/6, we all got ready and headed to a small town outside of Alberdi called Lomas. This town was in the Campo. Campo basically means in the sticks, in the boonies, out in the middle of nowhere, a town where there are probably a lot of latrines and/or bucket showers. I guess there aren't any exact criteria for Campo, I'll just say this: As we were walking through into the school and through the courtyard, we could hear a ton of howler monkeys in trees doing mating calls.

We introduced ourselves to a small class of kids, and Jake gave a lecture on the differences between organic and inorganic garbage. Afterwards, the visiting volunteers gave a small icebreaker involving a trash relay where kids rush to a garbage pile, pick up a piece of trash, and race back to the starting point placing their piece of trash in either an organic or inorganic pile. After that, Jake made a timeline from 1 month to 1000 years and the kids placed garbage on the timeline based on how long they thought it would take for each piece to decompose. We wrapped up pretty early and headed to a small restaurant for some Sudubi (a fish native to these parts and is pretty delicious).

After this, we had language classes with Andrea. Then we had an impromptu meeting with some farmers from Lomas who were upset about the soil quality of their farmlands. The visiting volunteers again introduced ourselves and offered some ideas (very little) for a solution. Jake suggested that they plant some abonos verdes in a test plot of land. The farmers were very nice and humble, and we were honored to have met them and shared some culture with them.

After this, we went to the store and bought some supplies for cooking dinner. Then, we cooked dinner! We cooked in Robertos house, which was basically the back half of the informatica. We cooked chicken, some Korean fried dish, and mashed sweet potatoes. Very delicious! That night, after eating dinner we convinced Andrew to shave his head bald. We were really excited, but when the time came, he wound up just getting a good, modest haircut.

The next morning Wed. 11/5 we got up and went to the radio station to promote the youth group that Jake was putting together. We all gave a little blurb about who we are and the work we want to do. I wrote mine down completely in Guarani and read it verbatim. At one point, the DJ guy asked me a question, which I clearly did not understand and confidently replied "Heeee'eee" (The Guarani word for yes). It was VERY apparent that I had no idea what he was saying, and we all had a good laugh.

Later on we went to another school and did another ice breaker. This time we did Dibujando Supresa, as it has now been named, where kids line up and draw on eachothers backs with their fingers, trying to relay the original message through all the kids and have the last kid reproduce it on the board; much like the game telephone. It went pretty well, then Jake gave a long lecture on recycling. Another interesting part involved a picture on the board of a giant sweating sun, that appeared almost as if it were crying, but it wasn't, which at the time, I didn't realize. So when we were all asked what we thought, I'm pretty sure my answer didn't make any sense. But when Jake described it to me later, it seemed that the teacher did in fact use the drawing to offer some pretty deep insights into the problem of global warming.

Later that night we prepared for a youth group meeting that Jake had been advertising by talking on the radio and passing out flyers at the high schools. Since the main coordinator got sick, we secured the fire station as a last minute venue and got everything set up. We got things ready for a vasso making demonstration (making drinking glasses out of old wine bottles), and illustrated a giant picture to attract the local youth. We prepared an icebreaker about what Peace Corps is and what youth groups are, and Jake prepared a presentation about the different kinds of projects that youth groups are capable of. Not too many kids showed up, but that didn't stop us or Jake from giving a good presentation and having a good time.  Even the volunteer bomberos participated in the vasso making!

Our last morning there we got to sleep in, hung out and talked for the morning, then we collected everyone and headed back home. What a trip! If you have any questions about any details of these events, I can elaborate... just post and ask! And Hi to all the other Mom's out there! Like my Mom Lenny and Sarah's mom Angie!

November 2, 2012

Day to Day

What day-to-day life is like in Peace Corps Paraguay:

Monday through Saturday mornings we either walk to our language classes/tech trainings at the centro'i (small community center in our barrio) or take the bus into Guarambare. Paraguayan buses (or colectivos) are usually pretty crowded. Typically, we have to stand the entire ride into town (about 30 minutes), and sometimes you get that crazy driver who thinks he's in the Daytona 500! We could write an entire blog post about our bus ride experiences... Another fun fact is that our host mom cooks our lunch for us every morning and we take it to training with us. A few times, unfortunately, we have forgotten to bring it and our family laughs at us. In the evenings, we get to ride home on the chuchi Peace Corps bus- air conditioning and seats for all!

For the days when we're in the training center, we have several different presentations/trainings/classes that we participate in. Most are presentations mandated by Washington DC, presented by Ellen (Director of Training, or something like that), Dee (Another training director), the PC Doctors Luis and Luz, our tech trainers (previous PC volunteers), our security advisor Gustavo, or the directors of the Environmental Conservation project here, our bosses Eli and Allister. We have had countless hours of presentations related to medical (diarhea, dengue fever, shots, rashes, STD's, nutrition, dental health, alcohol, etc.), security (transportation safety, sexual assault, burglary, theft, harassment, healthy relationships, etc.), and other core presentations about gender norms, cultural differences, development, facilitation, being a good ally, monitoring and evaluation, the site selection process etc., etc., etc.

The rest of the day we have language classes. On the first day of training, everyone was interviewed for language placement. Those who had a strong Spanish background would start learning the local language, Guarani, immediately. Those who still needed to improve their Spanish would be placed in Spanish classes for the first two weeks. Sarah and I were placed in Spanish classes. After the first two weeks of training, our classes began learning Guarani. Guarani is a really interesting language, and we will be putting up more in depth posts about it later. The y's are pronounced much differently here. They are more of a gutteral sound that sounds like "uuuh" that originates in the throat. Here is a sample of some Guarani expressions:

Hello how are you?   Mba'eichapa
I'm great, how are you?     Ipora ha nde
I want to plant some trees.    Che anotyse yvyramatakuera

The weeks are sprinkled with different types of interviews. We have had a few language proficiency interviews for placement purposes. More importantly, we have interviews with Eli and Allister about where we want to be placed and what we want to do. I usually ramble on about how I want to work with the Paraguayan park systems, how I want to be involved with nature tourism or eco-tourism if possible, how I want to plant trees, maybe do some other science or research stuff, and the like. Sarah tells them how she wants to teach environmental education to kids, hopefully near wetlands, and how she wants to work with eco-tourism or nature tourism as well. At this point, we really have no idea where they are going to place us or what we're going to be doing, but from everything we hear, we think there's a good chance we'll be working with schools in a community, teaching environmental education, and partnering with local organizations in the community to help tackle problems with trash management, deforestation, forest fires, or agroforestry problems. We just hope they put us somewhere near water! We find out where we're going to be placed in mid-November. We can't wait!

Every week we have different tech trainings. One week we had a training on organic gardening. We learned how to make organic pest repellent, how to dig tablones (beds for planting plants), tree planting skills, seed identification, and the like. We've had a training on tool identification and safety where we got to practice with hoes, shovels, machetes and learned all their names in Spanish/Guarani. We've taken classes on tree management and forest conservation and the history of Paraguay's environmental issues. One week was focused on working with Paraguayan youth in schools. We learned a lot of fun songs to sing with the kids, such as Mami Loro, La Medusa, and Jaha Jaguata. You'll have to talk to us on Skype or call us to hear those songs! Another week was focused just on trash management. One day we learned how to make glasses out of glass coke/wine bottles. You take brake wire for bikes, wrap it around the bottle, and pull from side to side until the bottle gets really hot in one small strip around the middle; then you dunk it in a bucket of cold water and BAM the bottle breaks in half perfectly. We also learned hot to make wallets out of milk tetra packs. We've also learned about agroforestry techniques, how to wash clothes in a latona, and how to use Paraguayan money.

Other fun facts: There were 54 of us in the program when it first started, but two have left for personal reasons. The remaining 52 of us are split into two different groups: Agriculture and Environmental Conservation, about half in each. The agriculture kids will work mainly with farmers in their communities. Sarah and I are in the Environmental Conservation group (obviously). Each of these groups lives with families in two different barrios (little neighborhoods). So if you're doing math right, that means that we are split into four different groups in 4 different little barrios; two ECO (Environmental Conservation) and two Ag. Another fun fact: We are all split into different language groups; their really small (about 5 people) so we get a really great teaching experience.Fun Fact again: We are the first training group to get cell phones and internet in the training center. Lucky us!

So, yeah that was a lot of information. Please Please Please post questions here if you want to know more details about anything we're doing down here. We hope all of our friends and family are doing well. If you have any updates for us, let us know on here as well! Take care everyone!

Ben and Sarah

Paraguay Photos