Your Cards Live On

We treasured all the mail we received from you guys while we were living in Paraguay. We’d often attempt to hold off on opening something until we got home to make a production out of it or, if we were lucky enough to receive more than one item on a given day, we’d give our self-control a run for its money and try to space out the unveiling of the cards.

We even created a space for these special possessions: our card wall which spanned our living room and was often marveled at by each new visitor.

Card wall

When packing up our house in preparation of moving on from Paraguay, we debated what should be done with these paper items that had brought us so much joy and served as a daily reminder of our community of support from back home.

Reusing Cards of Love

We decided that carrying them with us didn’t mesh well with our strict desire to travel light and free (just one big backpack each) as we slowly make our way home. So we came up with a solution to let the magic of the cards live on.

Reusing Cards of Love

After pouring over the notes and messages one last time, we packed up the mound of cards (you guys were good to us!) and headed to the soup kitchen ready for a special craft project. After all, it was Friendship Day, which is celebrated widely in Paraguay, so it made sense for the kids to create friendship cards out of the cards we had received from family and friends.

Reusing Cards of Love

Reusing Cards of Love

I underestimated what a hit it would be. Eyes lit up and squeals were heard as I laid out the cards (or at least the front covers) on the tables before the kids. They selected their favorites (quickly, before their neighbor did) and then waited impatiently for their turn with the limited number of glue sticks we provided.

Reusing Cards of Love

They cut and pasted and designed their own friendship card for someone special in their life. They asked us what the words meant and practiced repeating them. Even the cook got excited at the cards and scurried over to the work table to snatch a few up for herself.

Reusing Cards of Love

Reusing Cards of Love

She selected one that said, “For My Granddaughter” and said she would save that for when she had neitas of her own.

Reusing Cards of Love

We did this project on one of our last days at the soup kitchen, so I was well aware of the limited time I had left with these young children who managed their way right into the depths of my heart.

Reusing Cards of Love

Looking at Isaiah watching the crafting go down, I knew we were both struck by the sacredness of seeing our worlds mixing and the love of our friends and family back home being passed forward on that Friendship Day to our friends in Yuty.

Thank you for being part of it.

 

Paraguayan Landscapes

After saying goodbye to our community in Yuty, we welcomed a big blue moving truck to our house on August 1. The two men packed it full of all our belongings, which were to be delivered to a new Peace Corps couple, Genny and Stephen, who had visited us while they were still in training.

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We had arranged to get a ride with the truck so we’d be able to see what would be Genny and Stephen’s home for the next two years. When two men instead of one showed up to do the loading, we weren’t sure it would be possible. Until they suggested setting up a cozy little place for us in the back of the truck.

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Before anyone worries, it all turned out great. The furniture was super stable and we were comfortable on the thrones of our blue patio chairs. It was perfect. We climbed aboard and began slowly driving away from our home, through the town. In doing so, we waved huge goodbyes to our neighbors as we passed. We passed our corner store and waved to the daughter there, and then her mother ran outside and waved and waved with both hands to give us a real farewell.

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Next we passed the municipal building where a group of familiar men were standing, laughing, and sharing tereré and sent us away with huge smiles and waves. I mean, it was just perfect. We made it to the edge of town and passed the big yellow house where we spent the first 6 months and then drove onto the main road heading out of town.

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From the back of the truck we could look out on the expanse of landscape that was our home. The home we likely won’t see again for many, many years. As we bumped along the dirt stretch of the road the beautiful scenery became blurry and unrecognizable with my tears. And then came the outpouring of tears and the deep sobbing from the soul that came from the recognition, if only for that moment, that this stage of our life is really coming to an end.

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Isaiah took my hand and together we rode along in our private cocoon for the next 8 hours, surrounded by our things, taking in the sites of Paraguay as the sun set and the night stars shone. To add to the serendipitous moment, a fellow volunteer we know was strolling down the street of his town right past where we had stopped to get gas.

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Eventually we arrived at Genny and Stephen’s host family’s house and spent the evening and next morning with them before heading on again. What a memorable way to pack up and move on; one we’ll not soon forget.

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Faces of Yuty

Our last week in Yuty before packing up and heading out was filled with all the kindness and warmth that Paraguayans are known for. We were invited over for dinners and snacks and tereré sessions and given little gifts to remember our friends and community by. It was overwhelming and humbling and is exactly the kind of outward hospitality that I love about Paraguay and hope to be able to incorporate into my life as well.

Without further ado, here are just some of those friendly faces that made living in Yuty so wonderful.

Entrepreneurship Workshop

We are officially Returned Peace Corps Volunteers as we’ve already finished up our two years in Paraguay. However, in the flash of packing up and saying goodbyes, we have a couple events to document. You know we need it all in here so when we’re old and grey we can look back and try to remember just what all went down in the P-guay.

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One such event was this year’s Paraguay Emprende national workshop. Isaiah, Elva, and I taught the 15-week course on how to plan a business and write a business plan for the second year in a row. At our local presentation, we selected one student with the most viable business plan to attend the national workshop with other youth from across the country who had taken the same course with their local volunteer.

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From our course, Day was selected with her business plan to amp up the small business her mom and her already run of creating and printing t-shirts and uniforms for local schools and offices. For you Iowans, maybe they’re the local version of Imprinted Sports.

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Since I was still having a blast at Camp GLOW (and there’s always so many events over the schools’ two-week winter break), Isaiah and Day attended the event without me. It was sad to miss, especially when I heard that Day’s presentation went super well and at the end of the 3-day workshop, she was even awarded a trophy for Best Written Business Plan! What an honor among 20-some of the other top students from across the country.

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It was a great event that is gaining more support and momentum and involvement with awesome Paraguayan organizations with networks and influence. I can’t wait to see where Paraguay Emprende goes next!

G-39, We Did It!

Thursday afternoon we had our final event as Peace Corps volunteers in Paraguay. Those of us left from our group, G-39, gathered in the office for some kind words from our fearless leaders (including the brand new Country Director!)

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And as is only fitting considering the number of certificates we’ve each given out over the two years, we were each presented with a certificate of completion for two years of service in Paraguay. As if that wasn’t good enough, it was followed by a delicious chocolate cake.

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Per tradition, we then each rang the Peace Corps bell, officially closing out our time as volunteers.

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I like closure and this ceremony was a perfect way to come full circle and end our Peace Corps run.

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So was a last visit to probably our favorite restaurant in Paraguay, Gagnam, near Mercado 4 for some delicious Korean food and super friendly staff. Heck, the owner’s daughter is now even in college in Isaiah’s home state of Kansas. It’s a small world after all, eh?

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What’s next for us? For the next month or two Isaiah and I are going to enjoy some more of South America, starting with a loooong bus ride to Brazil tomorrow morning. We even look forward to meeting up with Isaiah’s brother and wife along the way. As for the blog, we plan to keep popping in with a quick update or some photos of what we’re up to, so feel free to come along for the ride!

How Peace Corps Volunteers Readjust to U.S.A.

In honor of our original Peace Corps training group (G-39!) having our Swearing Out ceremony this afternoon to officially end our run as Peace Corps volunteers in Paraguay, I wanted to reflect a bit on the transition we face in heading back to the States.

We hear this transition home can be tricky; even as difficult as the adjustment to a new culture in the first place. Therefore I was relieved when we came across the World’s Most Amazing Video the other day. It’s full of awesome tips of how to re-adjust to life in the U.S. The actors seem to truly understand all the strange habits we’ve picked up here in Paraguay and how those might not be seen as “okay” when we’re back Stateside.

Since this short video has helped us so much, I wanted to share it here for any Peace Corps volunteers completing their service now or soon, or any others who find yourselves in the U.S. of A after a time away.

I hope this wonderful video will help your readjustment too.

Break at the Bridge

In the midst of packing the house and spending time and saying goodbye to friends, Isaiah and I hit the dusty trails Tuesday. We’d biked out to the little town outside of ours, named Estación, which means station, since it’s the home of the old train station that’s no longer operable, once with Elva toward the beginning of our time, and Isaiah went once when Nick was visiting. This time we ditched the bikes and set out on foot. Partly to soak up the beautiful day and have some down time away from all the hustle of preparations, and a huge part because Isaiah’s bike pedal broke off and we don’t have the tools to fix it.

The deserted building that was once the train station is still there and so is a beautiful iron bridge that brings our town pride. Signs say it’s around 8 km to the town of Estación and then a couple more to the bridge where we stopped to grab a bite we had packed and snap some photos.

It was a great chance to eat up another piece of our lovely town while we can and recharge our batteries for the big transition that is to come.

Now the only question is, who posed with it best? Send in your votes for the next Yuty billboard model!

Option #1:

Walk to the bridge, Yuty Paraguay

Option #2:

Walk to the bridge, Yuty Paraguay

Option #3:

Walk to the bridge, Yuty Paraguay

A Time To Uproot

“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens.” -Eccles. 3

Friday morning the moving truck will arrive and haul away our belongings. After a bumpy journey, they’ll be delivered on the doorstep of a fresh, lovely, new couple who are just embarking on their two-year Peace Corps experience. So we are packing. Making piles. Donating. Throwing out.

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This is so my cup of tea. I love cleaning out and packing. It brings such satisfaction to physically see the progress. Where once a cupboard was stuffed full of Stuff, it is now empty and clean, its contents gently tucked away in a box. It’s a fresh start. It’s the idea of the Next Great Thing.

Sure, I can get sentimental and nostalgic with the best of them. I can wax poetic on the red dirt that’s stained my shoes for the last 730 days. I can tear up at the hoard of smiley kids in worn, mismatched clothes that runs to me with hugs at the ready every time I show up at the soup kitchen. How about when the bus driver passed me his thermos and guampa and I served tereré to a content little group of strangers-turned-friends on my bus? Yep, that was heart-warming and I doubt I’ll see a repeat performance once I’m back in the States.

Close of Service Peace Corps Paraguay - Packing

At the same time as all that is true, I stand at the frontera of my future. A future I’m quite thrilled about. I know that things are just things (a far cry from my childhood self who spent worrisome hour upon hour choosing the one stuffed animal to pack for vacation, only to end the struggle by having all but one fluffy friend tell me they’d really prefer to stay home anyway. Phew, no hurt feelings!) and a house is a house and a town is a town. We have thousands of photos and memories to last a lifetime.

Close of Service Peace Corps Paraguay - Packing

Best of all, my very most favorite part of my time in Paraguay is not something I have to leave behind. Isaiah is packing up too and together we’re preparing for whatever lies ahead.

Close of Service Peace Corps Paraguay - Isaiah Packing

Perhaps I’m just in a good place as I type this today and the crash of emotions will come whenever it sinks in that this is real. This big, important, life-altering experience that we anticipated for years is actually, truly, really done. Complete. Terminado. Over. Or maybe it won’t hit me for months or years. Either way, we’re packing up and gearing up for taking the next step forward. That next little step forward is all any of us can really do anyway, so it’s a great place to start.

You Go Girls

Remember way back when I reached out for financial help to make the latest Girls Leading Our World camp possible? You and many others chipped in (thank you!), and last week the camp became a reality in the beautiful Tierra Prometido camp in Paraguari, Paraguay.

Camp GLOW Paraguay 2014

Leticia and I traveled there from Yuty and upon arrival met 44 other girls and 20-some other Peace Corps volunteers with whom we’d spend the week.

Camp GLOW Paraguay 2014 - Allison and Leticia

The camp was a roaring success. The girls got to know each other and seemed to have so much fun.

Camp GLOW Paraguay 2014

Camp GLOW Paraguay 2014

We learned about healthy relationships and effective communication to get what you deserve while still being kind and respectful.

Camp GLOW Paraguay 2014

Camp GLOW Paraguay 2014

We discussed gender roles and what it means to their daily lives. We dreamed big and felt excited to be women in this neat-o world.

Camp GLOW Paraguay 2014

Camp GLOW Paraguay 2014

I’m certain each girl left camp to travel back to their home communities at the end of the week a little more confident, a little more empowered, and with a whole handful of new friends.

Camp GLOW Paraguay 2014

Camp GLOW Paraguay 2014

I’d even venture to say the same of us volunteers.

Camp GLOW Paraguay 2014

Lunchtime

A different twist on corn dogs or pigs in a blanket.

Shopping Mariscol Lopez corn dogs

What’ll it be? Hoof (back row) or tail (front)?

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