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.


Blogger Christine H. said...

Holy cow! You're one busy bee :-P.

Way to not die from the bacteria. Good for you for being so adventurous!

11:42 AM


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