So, of course the first thing you´ll hear me say is that I want to apologize for not having updated the blog since July, and I realize that while the hiatus may have been brief for me, (who does the majority of the blogging around here), it may have felt like longer for our devoted readers. Time just flies sometimes. And while I don´t want to make excuses, I´ll just tell you how it is. Coming to town, whether it be Caaguazu or Asuncion, is a little bit of a time vacuum. Which is not to say that time doesn´t exist in these places, but rather, the hours fly by like minutes. We´ll come in to town and I´ll sit in front of the computer. I´ll start calling people, checking e-mails, and before you know it we´ve passed 4 hours on the internet. The worst part of it all is that after one of these episodes, I feel like I have not accomplished one thing that I´ve set out to do. And then the guilt sets in. It´s even worse when we´re in Asuncion at the office. Inevitably all your friends come in and want to chat, eat lunch, go out for a beer, go shopping, eat ice cream, etc., etc. They want to know how you´re doing, and the feeling is reciprocal, which is why you get even less stuff done when you´re in the office. As if it´s not bad enough! Somtimes, you actually have legitimate business in the office. Things like finding books, information for a project, photocopies to make, meetings to attend, and forms to fill out. By gosh, on these days I literally dread going to the office. This is how it´s pretty much been the last month or so. We´ve been in to town a lot lately for things which required our presence. For example, we just celebrated the 40th anniverssary of Peace Corps in Paraguay. There was a big to-do about it and we received a decent amount of press from it. The Peace Corps director, Ron Tschetter, and his wife Nancy, schlepped all the way down from the states with a bunch of suits from D.C. to commemorate the event. There were about 2 days of activities, including an informal barbecue, and then a formal, dressy event where the ambassador spoke and all the suits looked important and photos were taken and we had a reception and photo exhibition spanning the 40 years of Peace Corps here in Paraguay. Nice, but for the most part, most of the volunteers were hung-over due to a house-party fundraiser held the night before. I happily bartended, which was great damage control for me. Others were not so lucky.
Right now, I am taking full advantage of the internet services offered at the design and management workshop which we are currently attending, while Chris is off happily learning Paraguayan card games (most often used as betting and drinking tools) so that he may better "integrate" in our community. Nice one, honey.
We´ve also experienced a lull in our work in the community. It´s still winter, and has been cold off and on, which always lowers the frequency and intensity of agricultural activity. But it´s on the way to warmer weather and should pick up some. Right now is a great time to garden and this is how we´ve been spending our time fulfilling the agricultural portion of my commitments. More time has been spent in school lately, and we are right now working to improve the garbage management situation in the three local schools. For now, they throw garbage into a shallow "pit" and burn it. Sometimes when the kids are out of school, and sometimes when the wind blows away from the classroom. Either way, it´s a horrible situation, and we take every opportunity to inform people (usually housewives and children) that burning plastic and other synthetic materials is terrible for your health. We give formal lessons in the classrooms about the specific health effects of burning plastic on various organs of the body and the like. We are working with one teacher in particular to implement a management program which would seperate the school garbage into 3 classes: organic (for compost), paper (which can safely be burned), and plastics, glass, metal and anything else you can´t burn or won´t burn--to be safely buried in a DEEP pit. It´s a bit challenging to educate adults about things like this because they flat-out don´t believe you. We´ve been laughed-off, shrugged-off, and been told that we´re straight up lying. Children though, we think we have a better chance with them. It´s hard with them because they lack a good, basic understanding of science a lot of times, and of course if burning plastic isn´t producing any tangible damage for the moment, why should they believe you? You can´t really try to explain these ideas using science. If you wanted to, you´d have to basically go back and teach them biology, chemistry, and other things of which they have little or no grasp, which would complicate matters. You just have to hope that they kinda take your word for it.
Which brings me back to why we have a really hard time with work sometimes. Why should anyone believe or trust or want to understand us?? We are essentially playing at being poor. We try to live at their level, but poor as we might feel, we will NEVER know how it feels to live poor, what it´s like to be under-educated, live without adequate healthcare, live under-nourished, or any of the other million things that they are that I have the good fortune of probably never being. We will finish our service, return to our rich country, attend rich graduate schools, secure good jobs, travel, buy houses, do so many other things that will never in a million years, be accessible to probably 99% of the people that live in the campo. I just pretend that I live humbly. Am I? Not really. I am certainly living what is considered below the poverty line by U.S. income standards, but definitely not here. We are the rich of the poor people in my community. No, not the rich of the poor. We´re just rich period. And I don´t blame them one bit for not trusting, not wanting to work, not wanting to understand us. I probably wouldn´t if I were them. We have a darn hard time speaking their native tongue and I want them to change farming practices which have been in use for decades when I can´t even convey my ideas clearly? Not only am I a woman, I am young, I am American, I am seen as being rich, I have never farmed--hell, this is my first time with a vegetable garden!, and I wonder why they don´t want to take me seriously when I offer up ways to improve farming and agriculture in their community? For sure, I´d laugh at me too if I were them. They probably wonder "Who does she think she is?" But that can´t stop me. I´m mainly here to show them things that they already have and that are working for them, and say "Hey, this is what you do have, and it could really work for you well if you just do this a little differently or think of it this way." I am not going to revolutionize the way my community grows crops, but I can get a few families to have a better garden. A garden with more variety and more vegetables, so that maybe their diets are better and then maybe their children like to garden, and so on and so on. I will not reform the schools near my community, but I can reach some of the students and teachers about the importance of critical thinking, and show them that school is not one big memorization lesson. And I probably cannot bring running water to the entire community, but I can try to help Paraguayans realize that they are their own best resource for goals they want to achieve, and that they don´t always need to ask an outside entity for money and assistance with the goals they want to achieve. For this I am here, and am grateful most days. We are also having a blast, making friends, sharing in peoples´lives, learning a new language, working on a marriage, living in a really laid-back culture, and becoming connected to a different part of the world I thought I´d never know. I really love this country... most of the time.