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.

Close of Service Peace Corps Paraguay - Packing

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)?

Last of the Visitors

When we look back over the past couple of years here in Paraguay, we recognize that we’ve had a pretty good run of family and friends who’ve made the trip all the way to this lesser-traveled South American country that we’ve learned to call home. Our latest and (probably) last visitors came in the form of Nick & Jess.

Nick, Jess, Isaiah & Allison

They’re good friends from college who fit us in (really, crowbar’ed us in when you consider how difficult it was for them to get Paraguayan visas) as part of a South American victory lap for Nick’s having finished his Masters in school counseling. Besides brushing elbows with the likes of Will Farrell, they spent much of their time in Brazil watching a sports tournament known as the “World Cup.”

Now, for our American audience I feel that I should explain a few things. You see, there is this little-known sport called “soccer” where players run up and down [what is essentially a football] field for 90 minutes while kicking a round ball. Maybe a goal or two is scored during that time (accomplished by kicking the ball into some netting at either end of the field where the goalposts would normally be), but not necessarily. The “World Cup” tournament is considered the zenith of the sport and is held every four years–presumably because spectators wouldn’t be able to handle watching it more frequently than that.

We met up with Nick and Jess just across the border from Paraguay in Brazil, at the legendary Iguazu waterfalls. Now, we’ve been fortunate enough to have already seen the Iguazu waterfalls but never from the Brazilian side which offers more of a panoramic view of the falls. Heavy rains up-stream has meant that an even higher volume of water is falling, churning up more water and causing a lot of the views to be pretty misty. But, despite being slightly shrouded in mist, the waterfalls were still an impressive experience.

After a painless border crossing and spending the night in Encarnacion, we made it to our home in Yuty with enough time to clean up before heading to the children’s soup kitchen. The new visitors were a big hit with the kids, and several of the girls asked Jess about that soccer stud she brought with her who was showing the other kids a thing or two out on the field (and doing his best to avoid the previously atypical obstacle of cow poo).

The next morning Nick and I took the bikes on a 10(ish)K bike ride to the old steel railroad bridge that spans the Tebicuary river in the nearby town of Estacion. The weather was cool and slightly overcast, making for a lovely little ride. It had been about a year since I’d last seen the bridge, and at that time its transition to a bridge passable by automobile traffic wasn’t quite finished. Upon seeing it again, it looked like they’d alleviated the danger of an inattentive person falling through the bridge when they failed to see that several boards were yet missing.

Estacion Bridge

Our short yet sweet time with Nick and Jess finished with a rousing game of euchre. Surprisingly, at the age of 30, Allison still had never learned to play the card game. How she managed to attend for four years and graduate from Goshen College without having learned to play is a feat of its own. After a quick lesson for Allison (and refresher for me) the four of us duked it out on the back patio while sipping some mate.

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We walked Nick and Jess to the Yuty bus terminal to say our final goodbyes and sent them on their way to Buenos Aires.

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It’s been a pleasure and a privilege to have had so many wonderful folks come by and see us during our service in Paraguay. Family and friends are what we have missed most and what we’re most looking forward to when we return to the states this fall. But, for any of you who still want to come see a bit of Paraguay while we’re still here, there is still time! Well, only about two weeks at this point. So keep your eyes peeled for those last-minute flight deals!

Birthdays Galore

We like celebrating and in an effort to soak up as many experiences as we can during the little time we have left in Paraguay, we’ve been packing it in. Some of those celebrations are due to birthdays. Yay! I love birthdays.

First, was our fellow volunteer’s birthday in a town a few hours south of us. With Aleks and friends we cooked an absolutely delicious chicken curry dish, although there were some friendly debates between the Americans and the Paraguayans about how big the veggies should be diced. (Hint: many Paraguayans seem to feel more comfortable not actually seeing the veggies in their meals.) We all came to a compromise and the meal was spectacular followed by a fire-breathing cake.

Aleks birthday in Encarn

Aleks birthday in Encarn

And since too many desserts is never a problem, we ended the night roasting marshmallows over the fireplace. Kelly liked hers burnt.

Aleks birthday in Encarn - Kelly roasting marshmallows

The rest of us tried to be more patient.

Aleks birthday in Encarn - roasting marshmallows

Less than a week later we were on the birthday train again, this time celebrating our friend Igor’s birthday in our own town.

Igor's birthday party

He did it up right with a big and tasty asado or BBQ. Beef ribs and loin, yucca, rice salad and sopa paraguaya, a savory cornbread, were on the menu of the evening.

Igor's birthday party - Igor and Sanny

His sweet wife baked him a chocolate cake and my heart felt full as we belted out Happy Birthday in Spanish to the accompaniment to his friend on the guitar.

Igor's birthday party

Today marks exactly one month until we leave Paraguay. Besides attending a youth camp, a business plan national workshop, Isaiah playing editor-in-chief for his last edition of the volunteer magazine, and a few other odds and ends, we did our best to already wrap up most of our official projects.

Igor's birthday party

This hopefully gives us time to spend celebrating the special moments and the everyday ones with those we’ve met through this Peace Corps experience – both American and Paraguayan alike.

I See Paraguay

A very cool program that’s a part of Peace Corps Paraguay is called Ahecha Paraguay, which means “I see Paraguay” in Guaraní. It’s a way to bring creativity through photography to your town by checking out a camera kit from the office. The kit includes five cameras as well as some resources on teaching photography in your site.

Ahecha Paraguay

If you’re looking for one more benefit of being a married couple in Peace Corps, it’s that we were able to check out two camera kits, bringing our camera count to 10.

We decided to teach the course through Cooperativa Ycua Bolaños because they have been so attentive and easy to work with through many of our other classes. So they took care of the advertising and registration and we showed up to about 14 students (some had their own camera) who were excited to learn the principles of photography.

Ahecha Paraguay

Throughout the class we studied different techniques of photography and gave the students time to go into the community and practice them. One such theme was the use of light and shadows.

Ahecha Paraguay photos

Ahecha Paraguay photos

These are all photos taken during the course by our students. Some got some great shots of the way light works with reflections in water.

Ahecha Paraguay photos

Ahecha Paraguay photos

It’s been a very rainy week, so there were plenty of chances to practice snapping away at puddles and raindrops, as captured here when we focused on shooting something from up close, even using the camera’s macro mode.

Ahecha Paraguay photos

Ahecha Paraguay photos

Ahecha Paraguay photos

We talked about action shots and leaving space for the subject to do its moving.

Ahecha Paraguay photos

And we analyzed different perspectives from which we can take photos and what elements add to the photo and which distract from it.

Ahecha Paraguay photos

Ahecha Paraguay photos

It was a great, energetic group of students who impressed us with their desire to learn and put the topics into practice (instead of just snapping a bunch of selfies). It’s also always fun to see photos of our beloved town and how it can really come to life through the art of photography.

During our next trip to Asunción we’re going to print out a photo from each student in a nice big size and then display them in a sort of gallery in the cooperative for the community to enjoy before giving the photo (and a certificate!) to each student to celebrate their success in “seeing Paraguay” through the Ahecha Paraguay program.

Maps for the Future

Life in Paraguay is wet. The rains keep coming, although the flooding is happening in other parts of the country than where we live.

However, I feel very sunny when I look at the master spreadsheet I made with a tab for all our open projects and what needs to get done before we take off. It feels good, not because things are zooming to an end, but rather because it’s organized, there is a plan (get done with stuff), and I love spreadsheets. Especially color-coded ones like this one. (My tasks are yellow, Isaiah’s are blue.)

One project we’ve been chipping away at is the world map we and our youth group painted on the side of the soup kitchen. It actually started with the other volunteer who used to live in our town way back at the end of last year. But no matter how many months it lasted, or how many long breaks there were between work days, the map is traced, painted, and labeled. It’s done!

World Map Project Done

Now we just need to print off the above photo the next time we’re in Asunción to include with some thank you notes for all the businesses who donated paint and other items that made the project a reality.

Another item that got crossed off the list is our English tutoring class. For the past three months we’ve tutored three kids twice a week in English. We tried to keep it hands-on and interesting like with numbers bingo – complete with colorful bottle caps and a random number generator (and saver – to check answers at the end) that Isaiah quickly programmed for the purpose. I like being married to a handsome tech man.

English students Bingo

Wednesday was our last lesson, so we served chocolate chip cookie bars and presented the students with certificates for their dedication and hard work.

English students with certificates

Isaiah also finished up some 1-on-1 tutoring he was doing with a young man in town with a family business who wanted to learn about network security, and then programming, and then web design. Isaiah was a great teacher, providing his student with resources and acting as a guide in his quest to conquer the world of informática. In the end, the student was able to create a basic structure for a website for the family business, and sure seemed happy to to be in Isaiah’s presence for all those months.

We will miss working on some of these projects, but realize that there is a time for everything. We realize, accept, and even delight in this current “season” of Peace Corps work where we are handing things off and seeing how they fly on their own.

Christening a Chapel

This past June 13th was not only the day of the patron saint San Antonio, but it was also the day a neighboring small community of the same name inaugurated their newly built chapel.

Inauguración del Oratorio de San Antonio

Traditionally, the community of San Antonio had used the chapel on the property of the ranch on the edge of town, as was done last year. However, in the intervening months since, it was suggested by the area priest that San Antonio should have their own chapel instead of relying on one owned by a private individual. The community set to work, first forming a committee that was then followed by many fundraising efforts and days of construction work. It took the better part of a year, but the community built their very own chapel.

Inside the Chapel of San Antonio

It just so happened that our friend, Elva, was one of the important figures on the committee in charge of the chapel project, and she invited us to be part of the opening day ceremonies.

Elva Distributing Candy

The community waited patiently for the priest to travel the 4k from Yuty, who then blessed chapel. The mayor of Yuty was also in attendance and gave a moving speech regarding how the humble community of San Antonio really came together and achieved something great in the building of the chapel. Mass was held for the first time inside of the chapel, and then the figure of San Antonio was paraded out the door and the folks in attendance followed in a procession around the area. The morning concluded with snacks and drinks for everyone!

And wouldn’t you know it, but some of our friends from the children’s soup kitchen in Yuty were also in attendance.

It isn’t a true celebration without a Paraguayan asado, and so when we got to Elva’s aunt’s house after the ceremony that morning, preparations were already underway for making sopa paraguaya, an integral component of the aforementioned asado. Allison, eager to master the art of sopa making before heading back to the States, jumped right in with the other señoras and started helping. By the time the sopa pans were filled with the batter and placed in the tatakua, or oven, Allison had made a new friend.

In the midst of sopa making we all took a break for lunch. The soup de jour was something called puchero, which is apparently made up of lots of different parts of the cow that rarely wind up on a dinner plate in the U.S. Despite my unfamiliarity with the chunks floating around in my bowl, upon trying it, it wasn’t half bad.

Puchero

The inauguration of the new chapel finished up later that evening in grand style. Plates filled with grilled beef, boiled yucca, sopa paraguaya, and rice salad were distributed to all who were present. A small band comprised of two guitarists and an accordion player carried on long into the evening inside the new chapel.

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It was a privilege for us to be part of the inauguration of this important new building in the community of San Antonio.

Wrapping It Up

It’s about that time that many of the courses we’ve been teaching are coming to an end. Just last week we wrapped up our entrepreneurship class, named Construye Tus Sueños, or Build Your Dreams. The course takes you through each step of developing a business plan, from evaluating your business idea, to planning out the financial situation.

CTS Clausura 2014

CTS Clausura 2014

We had 11 students finish the course, write a full business plan, and present it in front of a panel of local judges. It was a formal wrap-up to the class and I felt so proud watching my students defend their idea and use technical vocab they had learned in the class without flinching.

CTS Clausura 2014 - Judges

Rafael was our motivational speaker as he opened up a restaurant after completing the same course a couple of years ago. He encouraged the youth to not hold back in fear, but to use their skills to reach for their goals.

CTS Clausura 2014

CTS Clausura 2014

CTS Clausura 2014

Here in Paraguay, certificates are part of the end of almost every course or workshop or event. They are very important. They represent what you’ve accomplished and they are saved and showed off in a sort of portfolio. Almost like a big ol’ resume.

CTS Clausura 2014

How to properly present these certificates is a skill we’ve mastered over the past two years.

CTS Clausura 2014 - National Workshop

The person’s name is called. They come forward while the audience claps. The certificate is presented (perhaps a photo is snapped at this point) and then the rest of the line shakes hands or double kisses the cheek and congratulates the participate.

CTS Clausura 2014

Then usually another photo is snapped with the certificate shown.

CTS Clausura 2014

It was a very fun, energetic, smart group of participants. Now the class is over but we’re working with one student, Day, who is pictured in the very first photo of this post, who we invited to attend the national level business plan workshop with us in July. She’s worked hard to polish up her plan, which we submit by tomorrow for the national-level judges to read and critique. At the July workshop, there is even seed funding to be awarded to help some businesses really get off the ground.

CTS Clausura 2014 - Group Photo

Wednesday saw us wrapping up another class, this time a computer one. We were asked to teach a computer skills class to local teachers who were given a laptop through a government program. The purpose of this gift was to help them with their work as teachers, but the reality was that many of  them had little knowledge or confidence in how to use them.

Informatica Basica Clausura

Informatica Basica Clausura

We taught how to move around in the computer, save files and retrieve them once again, and create folders for organizing all those documents. We taught the basics of creating documents, spreadsheets, and presentations and finished the course by creating an email account for each of the 15 participants.

Informatica Basica Clausura

Informatica Basica Clausura

Informatica Basica Clausura

It was fun to work with a whole room full of adults, as many of the other courses we’ve taught over the years have been more widely attended by youth. It was also fun to slip in some of my favorite teaching strategies into the teaching of this class, in the hopes it could spark some new ideas that the teachers could put in to practice in their own classrooms.

Informatica Basica Clausura

Informatica Basica Clausura

Wednesday marked the end, so more certificates, speeches, and snacks ensued. It was touching to hear some of the impromptu speeches the participants gave about how much the course meant to them. They mentioned feeling overwhelmed and scared of breaking the computer before the class and now they have confidence that they can get around and make good use of the machines.

Informatica Basica Clausura

They were excited to already be putting the lessons into practice at their work and thanked us for the confidence the course gave them to keep up with their technology-adept colleagues.

Informatica Basica Clausura

Informatica Basica Clausura

Isaiah and I were even surprised to receive certificates of our own, presented by the superintendent, as a symbol of their thanks to us for implementing the course.

Informatica Basica Clausura

Informatica Basica Clausura

Informatica Basica Clausura

It was a very sweet group of people and in a way it’s sad to see these things coming to an end. In another way, it feels great to be wrapping things up with a bow, a certificate…and an empanada.

Informatica Basica Clausura

 

The Old And The New

Yuty isn’t exactly on the way to much of anything, so when we get visitors it is a super special event. A few weekends ago we were tickled silly to host Tim and Sarah, fellow Peace Corps volunteers and friends. They are so amazing because this is their second visit to us in Yuty.

Tim and Sarah Visit Yuty

Tim, who should live about 4 hours north of us couldn’t get down the dirt road that connects us because of rain. Instead of giving up, he traveled 14 hours in order to get to our house from the longer, more roundabout and expensive but hard-surfaced road. Qué guapo! Seriously, what a trooper.

Tim and Sarah Visit Yuty

The weekend was amazing. We reflected on our experience these past two years, ate tons of delicious food, played games non-stop, and even put together quite a lovely video, which you will have the pleasure of seeing when it’s all spit-shined and edited up.

Then our next set of visitors was a married couple who are just beginning their Peace Corps journey, Genny and Stephen. I was assigned as Genny’s mentor so we had done a little emailing and Q&A before they left the States. I was happy to meet her in person and get to know them both.

Genny and Stephen Visit

Genny and Stephen Visit

They had been in Paraguay just a couple of weeks at the time of their visit. They are funny, intelligent, and equipped and ready for the ride that is Peace Corps service. They were a joy to meet and jumped right into all our activities – business class final presentations, reading at the soup kitchen, English tutoring, a cancelled computer class since no one showed up with the key…you know, the normal stuff.

Genny and Stephen Visit

Additionally, it was fun for Isaiah and I to think back on our time as trainees when those big two years lay before us. Showing them around our town and introducing them to our contacts here had us seeing our regular every day life with slightly new and refreshed eyes. It should be the perfect energy to take us through our final stretch of life in Paraguay.

 

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