Saturday, November 25, 2006

Boo-Yah Ka-sha

In my last entry, I reflected on the dangerous aspects of the Mango tree. You may have thought I was exaggerating the precautions necessary to live a life free of fruit induced concussions; that I was merely inflating the risks of my environment to make me seem like more of an adverturer once I had survived my time abroad.

But then this past week, while speaking with neighbors in my community, we all heard the familiar whisk of leaves and braced ourselves for the oncoming assault, and what happened? A Mango hit me square in the back! Ha! If you have the Terrere spilled on you while here, it's meant to be lucky, so I figure a Mango to the back has to be worth something.

The week started as normal and included a language class about how to identify different body parts in Guarani, as well as helpful health phrases for those unhealthy days which will surely come (unfortunately, the expression "I'm sorry I can't shake your hand because my fingers are swollen to the size of Chorizo Sausages from my 37 bee stings" was not included).

After a while the names of some body parts blended into the names of others, and before we knew it, we were learning all sorts of Paraguayan slang that would surely cause trouble (or at least a stifled chuckle) in an inappropriate context. It basically was a class on how to pick a fight in Guarani. Our teachers here have been great at letting us take the class where we need it to go.

As it turns out, Paraguayans do in fact have a Thanksgiving. However, here they just call it Jueves (that's not my joke). My Dia de Gracias was spent in the company of all of the other Trainees and their Dishes-to-pass. We feasted, shot slingshots at mangos, watched Ali G , fell into food comas, and discovered the local dark beer. A Thanksgiving well spent.

But then Friday came. Our "Dia-D" as my Language teacher called it. The day to learn where we'd all be living for the next two years. To help us relax a little (and I know I needed it) we all traveled in groups to different cultural sites in the surrounding areas. My group went to a national park, a church, an Artisan's training center and market, and finally (my favorite) a Museum of Parguayan Mythology.

This museum consisted of over a dozen life-size representations of the many myths prevalent in Paraguay. One such creature is the Pombero, who according to legend, is an animal that transforms into a alcohol-drinking, cigarette-smoking beast who will attack and kill you at night if you walk alone. Its Boogey-man nature is quickly scoffed at by us trainees and turned into a playful joke amongst one another, but the Paraguayan people don't take it so lightly.

One fellow trainee, Sam, was spending time with his host brother one night when he (Sam) began whistling. According to the code of the Pombero, he is attracted to this whistle and will come hunting in its direction. The host brother began to cry, so Sam asked for support from his host parents to help neutralze the situation and calm his brother down. "No" the mother said. "The Pombero is real. I saw him last night." This drove the child even further into hysterics and the situation was never resolved.

We eventually returned to Guarambare and were circled up to be given our site placements. One by one, our names were read off and we were instructed to place a sticky note on the larger map as to where we would be placed. I was the last to be called, and according to my Placement Director, "It's because he's going the furthest away!"

My site is in the small town of San Miguel, near Mayor Otano (where I visited the Volunteer Dan), in the Department of Itapua. I am very near the Argentinian border and a 12-hour bus ride from Asuncion (the capital of Paraguay). I will be a first volunteer in my community (although Dan has worked a little bit of bees there before). This upcoming week I will be travelling with my Community contact to visit San Miguel to scope out my new site.

I lucked out in a lot of ways to have landed this site (the Mango must have helped afterall) and from what I know, it seems like a good fit.

As Winston Churchill once said, "Had I had more time, I would have written you a shorter letter." Sorry this rambled on so long. I hope you got this far. Write me a message. They're nice to read.


1) That very map I had mentioned with the sticky notes. I am the yellow one down in the South-Eastern region.

2) My Language teacher Delfina and I at the National Park.

3) One of the many Mythical creatures of Paraguay. This one, I thought, was the funniest.

4) A view of the lake in the nearby city of Aregua.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Long Field Practice

Right now in Paraguay it is Mango Season. This tree at different times of year is used for its far reaching shade; lately, however, it has become a bit more dangerous. Mango trees are in our yards, and along all of the roads and everyday you hear a whisk of leaves before a delicious bomb lands at your feet. I have been lucky so far not to have a bruised skull, but I can imagine myself waking up one day, looking up at the branches with a headache and group of passersby laughing at my misfortune.

As part of our training, we have 5 Dias de Practica which are designed as a time for us to get to know our community, locate resources, identify problems, and act on them in someway. Myself and two other trainees decided to give a presentation on Dental Hygiene to the kids in our community. If you can imagine two 6-foot men in full costume, acting out the importance of brushing one´s teeth in broken spanish and exaggerated pantomime, then you could have been in the audience. The kids liked it so much that we were invited to perform it again at the local church.

This past week, however, was different than any other we have had so far. It was our Long Field Practice where we travel to another community to have an accelerated glimpse at what our lives could be like in the coming two years. Our contact was a volunteer named Siobhan who had an exciting week planned for us.

I was placed with a farming family of 7. I shared a room with the 25 year old son Louis and my meals with the entire family. Luckily my family spoke both Spanish and Guarani so I could communicate quite easily. However, my family really seemed to enjoy it when I practiced my pronuniciations in Guarani (In their language, the words for Passion fruit, cat, and Guitar are all very similar, so when I told them that I really liked their cat juice, they couldn´t stop laughing. They even had to tell the neighbor.).

My first night I played futbol with the neighborhood group, but by the time my second night had rolled around, my presence had spread among the community. About another 8 or 9 kids came to play and it was a bit more serious. I tried my hardest to keep up with these Peles-in-training, but the full court sprints across their make-shift field, constantly on the lookout for slippery cow pies and ankle-twisting holes, slowed me down a bit and tired me out quite quickly.

After about half an hour of play, I was peer pressured into diving into their swimming hole. Although I tried to get out of it, claiming I had a fear of "Crocodilos" they assured me that only sharks lived in their pool. Once jumping in the murky waters, however, I realized it probably wasn´t the healthiest place for my immune system to be swimming. I dunked a few of the punks before escaping to their cold water showers (Dad, you can relax. The skin-eating bacteria has only made it up my calf so far.).

That night I harvested some Mandioca, their traditional food, and managed to cut open my hand real nice. The next day was spent beekeeping, giving presentations about yearly bee management, making soap, identifying green manures and other crops, and just taking in what our future sites may be like.

My beekeeping during the week was good, I felt that I was coming to recognize the General Dos and Don´ts which will help me in my years to come. I did manage to ignore a good amount of common sense one night with a fellow trainee and my host father.

We were in charge of helping my father Alquilino move a hive he had captured from the woods to his apiary. The best time to make such a move is during the night because a) all of the bees are back in the hive because they don´t forage during the night and b) they are less likely to sting you if they can´t see you.

We set out to find this hive and walked about 12 minutes down a path before entering his woods. We zigged and zagged through branches before finally coming upon his quite and tranquil hive set upon a log. We laid down our blanket, plugged the entrance to the hive with leaves, and lifted the hive onto the blanket. We wrapped it up but found that our blanket was too small. "No matter" said the inexperienced bee keepers, and proceeded to lift the hive and carry it through the all too quiet woods.

As we got going, however, the bees gentle buzz grew into a roar and they began flooding out of the hive. We put the hive down for a second to adjust and inspect our progress. The flashlight illuminated the hive and we found hundreds of bees covering the box and flying through the air. A splash of the light hit my gear, and I looked down to see about 20-30 climbing on my chest. I received about 3 rapid fire stings in the left forearm before hearing a buzzing inside my veil. The first time a bee has made it inside my clothes! I tried to kill the beast before he did any damage, but I caught a stinger to the left cheek. I groaned to the other beekeeper, and we decided to abort.

The hive was even more upset as we uncovered the entrance and undid the covers. The farmer tried to retrieve the blanket, but the other beekeeper shouted "Leave the Blanket and GO!" Although he may not have understood the words, the famer understood the tone and ran out with us.

On the walk home, it was decided that we´d try again the next morning at 5 before the sunrise. I was so upset at the failure, that I wasn´t able to fully appreciate the intensity of the Southern Hemisphere´s stars. We awoke and went the next morning, with all of the right equipment and completed the job. I got a few more stings, but they were minimal in comparison to the night before.

We returned home on Friday and I sat exhausted, swollen, and overheated in our transport back to our training communities. The Long Field Practice gave me a lot to prepare for and look forward to in the coming years. We find out which sites we will be placed at next Friday, and there´s a chance I might end up there. I´ll let you know as soon as I do.

Thanks for reading if you got this far. I´m doing well.



1) A Dangerous mango tree.
2) While doing my laundry, I noticed that the water spins the opposite down here. I took a picture and I think my family thinks I am crazy.
3) Me drinking Terrere.
4) Our group at our Long Field Practice site. The photographer didn´t realize her thumb was in the way.
5) A part of our tour and identification of all the different plants.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Speaking in the Third Person in a Third World

An eventful week. Let`s get down to it.

On Monday, we had two current volunteers help us with a beekeeping session. Matt is a bee keeper and Zach is in environmental education. Our mission that day was to transfer the hive that we had captured to our apiary, and fuse it with part of the crazy hive that chased us out last time. When we first arrived, we initially worked to try to find a queen to place in our new hive. We had no luck, but for the sake of practice we carried on. I initially received one sting on my arm, but wasn´t phased. We continued working the hives, when I received two more in succession. I had to put my panel down to relax for a second and asked another trainee to smoke me to mask the attack pheremone that is released when a bee stings. I got back to work and continued to receive 7 more stings, which at this point I had to leave.

I eventually returned and we completed our mission, but I was aching. Three on my left ankle, one on my right knee, two on my right arm, and four on my back. It was a night of tossing and turning, with my back aflame and my ankle itching like mad. As I showed off my swollen ankle and big red forearm to fellow trainees the next day during a tour of a Permaculture farm (see picture above, on the left), I managed to stand on an Ant hill and have my right ankle bit up. Oh, when will I learn.

The tour of the farm, however was fantastic. We were afforded a glimpse of how this Paraguayan family has created their own eco-system of sustainability. The waste from their cows and rabbits is broken down by their worms which in turn fertilizes their plants which feed their pigs, whose waste is decomposed by maggots, thereby releasing a methane gas with which they use to cook in their kitchen(!). The whole layout made so much sense, with the farmer working more as a manager than a laborer. When the father of the family was asked to speak of his Permaculture (Permanent-Culture) techniques however, he spent more time focusing on his life philosophy and all that his work had to teach his family and other farmers. It was a very educational field visit.

Wednesdays are our days to travel to the main headquarters to have bigger sessions with all of the other trainees. Since it is now week 5 (Can you believe it?) we had our second language proficiency test. I didn´t have to take a Spanish test, but I did have be interviewed in Guarani.

In class so far I´ve been able to grasp most of the many grammatical and syntax rules, so as I entered my tester`s quarters I felt somewhat confident that I could hold my own. We began. Disonel, another language teacher who has been teaching with Peace Corps longer than I´ve been alive, and in fact taught our current Country Director Michael Esschelman when he was a trainee way back when, started off with some easy questions. He lobbed up a few slow pitch softballs, hoping I could knock them out of the park, and I somehow managed to ask how his Husband was. ¡Que lastima!

My stomach sank, my concentration fled, and in no time I was broken man. I left the room with my head hung low and I tried to curse in Guarani, but I couldn´t find the words.

I cheered up in about a half an hour and was reassured by my language teacher that my Guarani would come with time.

The next day was the Paraguayan holiday "Dia de los Santos" (All Saints Day). My family traveled to the nearby city, Ita, in order to visit their deceased relatives in the graveyard. I managed to tag along. As we got off the bus, I was overwhelmed by the amount of people in attendance. We passed through the gates and I was met with a small village of pastel colored Casitas (small houses under which families bury their dead). I felt like a giant following my host mother as she wove her way through the neverending labryinthe of families, light blue houses, flowers, and trees. Children brushed past my elbow as they shouted to their friends ahead. "Chipa, Chipa, Chipa" advertised the bread man to any potential buyers. Widows wailed to their past lovers while old friends shook hands and made jokes. The sun beat down on us as we finally found our site and paid respects to my deceased Paraguayan grandmother.

What I found the most amazing of it all was the celebratory nature of life´s end. Before coming here I had read or understood the idea that Latin American countries take Death as a natural part of Life and celebrate it just as much as any other stage, but it wasn´t until I walked through this scene, saw its sites, and felt its energy that I fully grasped it.

That night, after returning, I spent time with my neighbors and friends in the community. They all claim to be interested in learning English, but as soon as I we start identifying exactly which phrases they want to learn, it always deteriorates into translations such as ¨Do you want to go steal a chicken with me?"

One friend of mine, Christian, however, was interested in delivering some messages from me to his host sister, a fellow beekeeping trainee. I wrote them down and had him practice them for me before he went to pass them on. Here´s a rough transcript:

Christian: Yuu Arr..
Casey: Si, You Are a...
Ch: Yuu Arr a Duurty Hoppy.
C: Casi. You are a DIRTY HIPPY.
Ch: Yuu Arr a Durrty Hippy.
C: Muy bien. Ahora, necesitas decirlo a Sarah!

The other trainee told me the next morning in class that she appreciated the message, although at first she had no idea why her host brother was calling her a ¨dirty happy." She did, however, enjoy the "Yuu arr Assunn" which was Christian´s broken version of "You are Awesome." I was in stitches.

Okay, this is entirely too long. I just had a great week. I hope you enjoyed the entry (if you made it this far) and that you´ve been getting my letters. Keep in touch and know that I´m thinking of all of you (except you Jeff).


Picture guide: 1 Group shot at Permaculture farm.

2 Me showing off the sweet Batea beehive that I built.

3 A glimpse at my open-air dining room at my house. You can even see my clothes drying in the background.

4 The tall one on the left is Ever who lives next door and has been a great friend and teacher so far. He is stretching Florencio who is my "cousin" who when I first arrived couldn´t look at me for more than 3 seconds before bursting into tears and running to his mother. Now, however, he calls me "Kurrui!" which is Guarani for "Senor" and we´re friends. The next one over is Freddi, who is one of Florencio´s older brothers. They all live two doors down. And the last one, is the one and only Carlito. They´re all family and spend a lot of time together, for example, playing Frisbee in front of my house.

5The next is a photo from when I went to visit the Jesuit ruins way back with my volunteer visit. I just thought it was a cool picture.

6 This photo is just a run-of'-the-mill in front of my house. Here the group is unloading sugar cane to make a juice for the final night of my grandmother´s prayer services or Rezos.ç

7 And last but not least is a picture from when I went to visit the volunteer Danny. Here I am standing with Danny (in the yellow) and a family that he works with in his community. Of course it wasn´t until after the picture was taken that Danny let me know that Paraguayans don´t smile in photos. ¡Que lastima!