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Tañarandy

On the Friday of Semana Santa, I visited Tañarandy, a community just outside of the town of San Ignacio, in Misiones, Paraguay. To explain a bit of the tradition, every year there is a candle-lit procession from the chapel to an open area and an artistic spectacle. After walking three kilometers holding candles, we saw a theatrical exhibition of tableaux vivants with dancing and dramatic lighting. But photos make a better description than words:

Market to mouth

I’ve had a few of my favorite types of cultural exchanges recently – food-related ones! Last Sunday was Easter for many people, and in many Catholic communities and all around Paraguay, it lasts the whole week. Semana Santa, or Holy Week, is the week leading up to Easter Sunday. Each day has a different tradition (the link has more specifics), but the most important tradition for this post is that you are not supposed to eat meat on Friday and Saturday (“chicken is fine,” according to a friend). In order to prepare, people binge eat on Thursday – karu guazu, big meal in Guarani – and bake a lot of chipa on Wednesday to eat later on.

Chipa-day

Wednesday I returned to Villeta and made chipa with my host family from training. First, you take the dough:

Chipa dough

Chipa dough

That bowl was full at the beginning. We made a lot of chipa. We might not eat meat for two days, so better make sure we’ve got enough to last, right?

Then you knead it, which was quite a bit of work and required muscle.

Didn't think I'd skip an opportunity for a bad pun?

I knead a break!

When everyone in the family left to relax and I was stuck working with the dough, I realized why they were so eager to invite me over to make chipa with them (actually, mamá never stopped working, but she never stops).

Meanwhile, you have to prepare the tatakua. “Fire hole” in Guarani, this is a large brick and clay dome that is fired up and stays hot for up to an hour so you can cook your chipa. It is an art to get the tatakua to the perfect, chipa-cooking temperature.

Preparing the tatakua

Preparing the tatakua

I didn't actually do anything

I didn’t actually do anything

Looking ready!

Looking ready!

In go the chipas

In go the chipas

Did I mention that coaxing the tatakua to the perfect, chipa-loving temperature was an art? Well, we weren’t the most skilled.

Joti is not looking too pleased by burnt chipa

Joti is not looking too pleased by the burnt chipa

We did manage to get a few good batches.

Can you guess which one is mine?

Can you guess which one is mine?

There you have it – how not to starve on the Friday and Saturday before Easter. These are probably 50% pig fat, so eat one and you’ll be full for a while, eat two and you’ll have gastrointestinal problems!

I made the shark (left) and the iguana (right)

I made the shark (left) and the iguana (right)


Sopa paraguaya

Another fatty food that you can eat on Friday and Saturday to tide you over until your next asado is Paraguay’s national side dish, sopa paraguaya.

IMG_3404

Sopa paraguaya is not a soup. It is like a dense cornbread that is made with corn flour, eggs, cheese, onion, fat, and salt. The story goes that founder of Paraguay President Carlos Antonio López ordered a soup of vori vori (liquid soup with corn flour dumplings), but the cook either accidentally put in too much corn flour or let it sit out too long so that the dumplings absorbed all the liquid. Luckily, Don López enjoyed the solid “soup” and there we have sopa paraguaya.

Señora Nancy and the sopa

Before Semana Santa, I went to Señora Nancy’s house to make some sopa. I brought along a Danish friend and he brought along a video camera. Please excuse the music blasting in the background, it’s a Sunday tradition.

Lil' Sebastian eating with chopsticks (I taught him!)

Lil’ Sebastian eating with chopsticks (I taught him!)


Killing a chicken

Method two of not starving during the “fast” is the karu guazu (big meal in Guarani) on Thursday. What follows is exactly what you think. For the meal, you have to have meat. My 73-year-old host mom knew exactly what to do. Warning: a chicken is killed in the video. Duh.

Mamá and the dead chicken

‘Tis the Season

Happy holidays and felices fiestas to all! I’ll post again after the holidays to update you all on my Paraguayan Christmas celebrations, but with a forecasted high of over 100°F, I can tell that my Christmas will be a bit different this year.

If you are rushing to get some last-minute gifts, consider helping out some Peace Corps Paraguay projects. I am currently helping out with three different projects that are all asking for donations this month. I’ve described them all below and if any of them strike your fancy, you can follow the link to make a donation. I’d love to chat about each of the projects with you or I’d just love to chat with you about whatever, just let me know and I’ll give you a phone call from way down south! Donations are tax-deductible and I’ll keep you updated on the progress of each of the initiatives so you know exactly who and what your money benefited.

Library Workshop

  • Libraries are really underdeveloped, lack appreciation, and rarely used. If a library is anything other than a set of Don Quixote in a small corner, it’s impressive.
  • The plan: Train 30 librarians from around the country in a two-day workshop to set up libraries in their community, improve their libraries, engage the community, and encourage literacy.
  • Make it happen: http://tinyurl.com/LibraryTaller2013

Leadership Camp

  • In its third year, Jóvenes por Paraguay (Youth for Paraguay), trains youth in a four-day camp in January in character development, civic education, as well as technical skills to enable them to return to their communities and form youth groups to work in community service projects.
  • The camp has already resulted in successful community service projects across the country and has created a network of youth who are now in charge of planning the camp.
  • Make it happen: http://tinyurl.com/JoPa2013

Photography Project/Art Camp

  • Creativity and individual expression are lacking and undervalued. When I’ve tried to get kids’ creative juices flowing with exercises in story-telling or art, they are painfully afraid of coming up with a unique, creative answer because they are too accustomed to rote memorization and copying answers from the board.
  • ImaginARTE is a three day camp for youth to foster creativity and individual expression.
  • Ahecha is a photography project where Peace Corps volunteers bring a photography class to youth in their community. The best photographs taken by Paraguayan youth are featured in an art show each year that rotates around the country (it can also be brought to the States — ask me how!).
  • The grant will fund the arts camp as well as new cameras that the youth will use for the photography classes.
  • Make it happen: http://tinyurl.com/ahecha

I hate asking for money, so thanks for reading this all. Just let me know and I’ll give you a holiday phone call!

Collecting Colectivos

As a volunteer in an urban site, I ride buses, or colectivos, a LOT. Some facts about bus riding here in Asunción metropolitan area:

  • At a cost of 2300 Gs (approx. fifty cents), this is the cheapest amusement park ride you can get.
  • There is no public transportation system; that is, all of the bus lines are run by 63 distinct private companies. You love the free market? Come on down. For one, this means that while there are plenty of buses that run the routes with the most demand (from nearby cities straight into downtown), there are few that connect the various centers of the city outside of downtown. Also, since the bus companies are trying to maximize profit, the incentive of the bus is to fit as many paying customers as it can into the bus and dodge in front of other buses–their competition–when they are on the main roads. Usually the customer doesn’t have any choice of which company to take (as each company runs a different route) so bus companies don’t have to worry about disgruntled customers switching to another service–they’re stuck.
  • Another problem of the privatization arises when one company owns multiple lines and this leads to unnecessary confusion. For example, line 15. The brand behind the line 15 owns a few different routes, so they are named the 15-1, the 15-2, the 15-3, and the 15-4. Each of these routes are distinct and overlap very little. I use the 15-3 to get to the Peace Corps office. Imagine my surprise the first week, I get on the 15-3, ask the driver to clarify that the bus is going where I want it to go, and he says no! Well, this happens twice, and I assume the directions I was given are wrong, or the 15-3 no longer runs the route that it used to run, or something is off. After much confusion, I find out that there are TWO different bus routes that are both named the 15-3. What?! Why they wouldn’t just make a 15-5 line is beyond me. This experience leads to the next important point about buses:
  • Each bus puts up a little sign in its window listing important streets/points of interest that it will pass so that you know what route it will take. Knowing where these important landmarks are in the city is crucial for figuring your way around on a bus. Or you at least must know how to ask the lady selling chipa how to get to where you want to go.
  • Of the 2194 buses that circulate Asunción area, 1558 (71%) are between 14 and 20 years old. In 13 of the 63 companies, the majority of their buses are considered “scrap metal” (“estado de chatarra“) (source).
  • From my own observation, it seems as though a lot of the buses are from neighboring Argentina or Brazil, and most likely did not pass the safety inspections in those countries.

All that being said, I love riding in buses! That is, when I can get a seat and it’s not too hot, which actually does happen sometimes, especially because I get on my Fernando de la Mora bus near the beginning of its route. My favorite part, and one benefit of having private companies in charge of bus lines, is the designs painted on all of the buses differentiating each company from the other. I love the colorful styles that each company uses, and I’ve created a semi personality in my mind for each bus line.

Lago Azul de Ypacarai, one of my faves

The bus that runs (almost) all night

The 21 “Corrales” — my bus!

Butt shot

Turning the corner in front of my house

What a beauty…

Training group having too much fun on the bus

More Paraguayan than Tereré

Matias, the 12-year-old son of Cristina who helps out the family next door told me there’s a saying: “That [thing/person] is more Paraguayan than tereré,” because really, you can’t get much more Paraguayan than this traditional drink that is passed and sipped all day, every day. (Later he told me that there was a saying “That [thing/person] is more Paraguayan than popcorn,” which I Wikipedia-ed and popcorn is from either Mexico or Peru, so my 12-year-old source on Paraguayan phrases might be a little dubious). Either way, I bought my own tereré equipment the other day, and I thought I should use this opportunity to write my obligatory Peace Corps Paraguay blog post on tereré.

My equipo!

For those of you who are already Paraguay-savvy, here are some updates about what is coming up in my life next so you can skip the tereré talk (updates about what just happened are here). In a little over a week the volunteer network I’m working with will be having it’s second annual conference about volunteerism in Paraguay. Right after that I go to “reconnect” which is three more days of Peace Corps training, but more importantly I get to see all of the volunteers with whom I spent my first 10 weeks in Paraguay. Then it’s Thanksgiving, which I’ll be celebrating with friends, and then what do you know, it’s already December!

Now, tereré! Tereré refers to a cold tea of yerba. The dry yerba leaves are placed in the guampa (special tereré cup) and ice water is poured over them to create a refreshing drink with an herbal/smoky flavor. You drink the tereré through a metal straw with a mini strainer at the end called a bombilla. Some people put yuyos and remedios (herbs) in either the thermos of water or the guampa. There are countless herbs that people use to cure all kinds of ailments. Also, yuyos are generally only added in the morning-time, not really sure why.

While I could buy yuyos in the supermarket and mash it with a mortar and pestle myself, or buy it on the street and have someone mash it for me, I am lazy and mortar-less, so I buy the yerba that comes pre-mixed with a yuyo. I really like the taste of the tereré mix that comes with the herb burrito, but when I mentioned this to my friend, she told me: “I can’t drink that, it makes me too hungry.” I delved further and realized that this was a nice way of saying burrito really flushes out your digestive system. As I soon experienced, each morning of drinking my burrito-infused tereré was like preparing for a colonoscopy.

Burrito: it makes you poop

But tereré is not just a drink, it is an activity. You can drink tereré by yourself, but in groups, it is always shared. One person (by tradition it’s usually the youngest) serves the tereré. The server holds the thermos of water and fills up the guampa to pass it around the group. When it is your turn, you drink the entire cup and pass it back to the server who fills it back up to serve the next person.

A group of friends drinking in the tereré circle

One custom I had difficulty with at first was saying, “gracias”. It seemed logical to me to thank the server when he/she handed me the guampa or when I handed it back. But NO, don’t do this. To say “gracias” is to say “thanks, I’ve had enough.” One of the first times I shared tereré I only got one sip before a “gracias” slipped out of my mouth and I was out of the rotation.

Tereré is very much part of the culture, and reflects the culture, of Paraguay. I’ve found that there is a strong habit of sharing here, especially within the family and community. It also shows how open and welcoming people are – in the States, you’d only maybe use the same straw as your close family or partner, you’re not likely to share between a toothless man and a half-dozen other strangers you’ve just met. The pace of the tereré is also very tranquilo, very slow, and sometimes people hold on to the guampa for a while before passing it back (which can be frustrating for a thirsty American).

Finally, my new equipo. I decided to go more basic and subdued (although there are some really beautiful sets with ñandutí) and bought a simple leather design and a guampa made from a cow’s horn. You can see I’ve had it inscribed with “Paraguay” and “Cuerpo de Paz” on the bottom – a nice recuerdo, souvenir, from Paraguay.

Close-up on the termo

I have been told by many that my guampa is “simpático”, a word here in Paraguay that would usually be translated to “amusing” or “funny”, but in a nice way. This is because my guampa is large. I used to defend it by pointing out that it has a large wooden base within the horn and it’s more slender, so it actually holds the same amount of tereré as any average guampa. But I decided I don’t really need to defend it. Some people just have large guampas, and some people like their guampas large.

Sippin’ that tereré

Updates from October 2012

Biblioteca Libre (the library)

  • It’s closed. BUT, only because we have some awesome students from the National University in the career of library sciences who are helping us out to rearrange the books and create a catalog.

Working in the library

  • Devin Glick, radio star. That’s right, I have a new radio show, called Biblioteca Viva, on every Saturday morning. It aims to promote reading through storytelling, interviews with readers, and well, we’ll see what else is in store! The first program went successfully; find out for yourself by listening here: http://snd.sc/YJntnv. You can listen to Radio Libre live from home at any time through this website: www.radiolibre.com.py; and all new information will be updated on the library’s Facebook page, here: goo.gl/TKoCf.

First program of Biblioteca Viva


Volunteer Network

  • National Conference. Our big yearly event is just over a week away, which means I’ve been busy today calling companies for chipa donations.
  • Beach party. The other organization in the volunteer network is based in the south of Paraguay, in Encarnación. They held a festival on the beach in the beginning of October that went quite well (if only the wind would have stopped trying to blow everything away). That’s right, Paraguay, a landlocked country, has a beach. Of course you have to expand your idea of a beach a bit, but there’s sand and water, and it made for a fun weekend.

It’s a Paraguayan beach!

  • I just have to mention, this is a great group of people. They are hard-working, care a great deal about what they do, and best of all, instant friends for me.

Some members of the Volunteer network


Site Presentation

  • Within the first three months in site, every volunteer gets a “Site Presentation”, where your Peace Corps boss comes to your community to explain what it is Peace Corps exactly does. Mine was probably the first to ever be broadcast on the radio. Everything went smoothly, and now whatever random listeners in town know that I’m not allowed to ride on a motorcycle.

Site Presentation on the radio


Election

  • Since this post happens to be coming out the day after election day: Yes, I did vote, all the way from Paraguay. I watched the election coverage from the Paraguayan-American Cultural Center with other Peace Corps Volunteers. I stayed up until I knew the winner, and there was lots of wonderful news to find out about in the morning as well.

Old Papers

Asado al tatakua. This picture has absolutely nothing to do with the post, but it was really delicious and must be included. The meat was cooked inside of the “fire hole” to juicy deliciousness.

I have been cleaning out the library, which has meant dealing with thousands of old magazines, with names like Nosotras and Gastronomía. I felt bad having to throw out all of the paper, but we really couldn’t do anything with them and it’s a bit of a problem when there isn’t enough space for books and you’re storing some of the newspapers outdoors in the elements.

Unfortunately, Paraguay does not have a system of recycling, so we set all of the paper out in front of the building to be taken away by the trash pick-up the next day. With the first load of paper, we are greeted by a woman who is waiting for the bus and she gladly welcomes a few reading materials to accompany her while she waits. By the time we come outside with the second load of papers, there is a man rifling through the boxes. “What are you doing with these? Can I take them?” We explain that he is welcome to take as much as he wants. He is overjoyed to hear that we have tons more left inside and helps us load all of them into a taxi he just called. He gave me his number to call him any time that we had anything to throw away and he’d be back.

I knew he must be getting some good money off of our old paper if he would pay a taxi for the ride, but I didn’t know his secret. Was there some factory that used old paper? We had some more old magazines to take out today, so I called him and he came right over with his cart. I asked him, where did he take all the paper I gave him?

“Brazil.”

A recycling center in Brazil, to be exact. I am now even more interested in this recycling subject. If anybody has any insight on how it can be profitable to pay for a taxi and on top of that get piles of paper over 300 km across the country to sell in Brazil, please let me know. I’m curious now if this is a widespread phenomenon, with reams of recycling being sent across borders every day? I’ll keep you all updated with the trashy stories.

I also invited kids from the schools in the neighborhood for a day of activities in the library (everybody loves Mad Libs I’ve found out). Here are some pictures of kids from the community enjoying the library. Everyone should also “like” the library’s page on Facebook (no matter how far away you live).

Showing off her Mad Lib

In Site

At Swear-In: I’m a Volunteer now!

I have been in my site for over a week now. I’ve spent time working with the library where I live, the national volunteer network, getting to know the supermercados and carpinterías in the neighborhood, and being bounced around on buses bumping around the city.

I have been entering into schools, the municipality, and NGOs to introduce myself to strangers, and I am reminded each time how friendly and open Paraguayans are. “Sure stranger, come in and talk to the Directora!” The volunteers here in Paraguay are pretty lucky, because so many Paraguayans have heard of the Peace Corps and have a positive image of the organization. This makes my getting-to-know-the-community job a great deal easier. “You’re a Peace Corps volunteer? Well let me tell you all of the problems my school has.”

Fundación Libre

I really like my site and the work I have in front of me, which looks to be quite a lot. The first project I’m getting into is the revitalization of the library (as of now nobody in the neighborhood knows it exists). One aspect about being a Peace Corps volunteer that I love is that I can be a free agent to work with whatever needs the community has. Also, I can work with a variety of people and organizations and serve as a link from resources to needs. This means there is a lot out there waiting to be done, and all that is holding me back is my desire to also be able to experience a bit of the Paraguayan tranquilo life. Sí o sí, that will happen, too.

Note: I updated the mailing address on the contact page (in case you want to send me something!)

Site Placement

Today I found out where I’ll be living for the next two years!

Before we could find out, we spent a day in Asunción seeing the tourist sights and relaxing (or at least trying to take our minds off of the big surprise ahead). In order to make you feel the anxious pain of waiting like we did, I’m going to show you my touristy Asunción pictures before you can find out my site.

In front of the cathedral

Emily eyeing some ñandutí

Eating chipa guazu and other Paraguayan specialties at Lido Bar

OK! So then we get back to the training center, and I am placed in. . .

FERNANDO DE LA MORA, Zona Sur

map

Fernando de la Mora is an urban city of 200,000 people right next to Asunción, I’m thinking that this would be Brooklyn if Asunción were New York City (which it most certainly is not). It is chopped in half by the highway, and my site is the southern part.

My primary work will be with Fundación Libre, a non-profit working to promote culture, art, and reading in Paraguay, and La Red de Voluntariado: “Somos Voluntarios por un Paraguay Mejor!”, a network of youth that promotes volunteerism.

I know little else – I have not even finished reading the packet of information they gave to us about the site and work – so I’ll leave the topic for now and we can all find out together what my future holds in store for me. I’ll be visiting my site from Saturday to Wednesday, so I’ll have a much better idea then what my life will look like as a Peace Corps Volunteer.

Moving Through Training

I’ve now spent two separate weeks visiting distinct volunteers in their sites. The week of June 18, Candace and I visited Steph in her community of Yaguarón, Paraguari, Paraguay, and the first week of July I went with my language class to visit Liza in Nueva Italia, Central, Paraguay.

Candace and I had a blast, and Steph was an amazing hostess. A stray dog followed us all the way up the famous hill in Yaguarón, we shared tereré with some men at the Municipalidad, we got a lesson in Paraguayan infidelity from Steph’s class of high schoolers, and I saved TWO cats. The first one was stuck in a tree for a few hours – the sobbing little girl told us that the dog had chased it up there. I climbed the tree all fireman-style and pulled the scratching and clawing cat down to safety. The second rescue was less exciting, as the dumb (dumb in a loving way) cat had gotten itself trapped underneath the dresser, which I simply lifted.

At the top of the hill in Yaguarón, with our friendly companion who followed us all the way up

I had a great time and learned a lot in Nueva Italia with Liza. We made some friends at her business plan class and the youth group. A group of women from an asentamiento (like a government housing settlement) taught us to make chipa, chipa guazu, and sopa paraguaya. We actually just watched them as they threw in the ingredients and stirred the batter with their fists to make the delicious greasy dishes. We did knead the chipa a bit and form it into shapes before putting it into the oven. I had a little fun and made the chipa in the form of a pretzel, a braided loaf of challah, and even a snowman! Unfortunately I did not have my camera on me in Nueva Italia, so I had to save the head of the snowman to remember the experience (of course I ate the rest and it was delicious).

Chipa snowman head from Nueva Italia

I still love my host family, and they are all bromistas and farristas (jokers and partiers). It’s been cold here, and yesterday when I came home from classes, my mom surprised me with a warm winter hat! She also bought the same hat for Franko (age 8), so we can match all the time. Too cute.

Matching hats! Thanks Mamá

Training is chugging along and I’m starting to learn more and more Guaraní. I will find out my site placement next Wednesday. That’s right – I’ll know where I’ll be living for the next two years next week. Mamá’s only worried that I’ll be close enough so that I can come visit on my birthday for three, no four, days of partying with the family.

The bromistas and farristas at Mamá’s birthday party

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