“Change is the law of life. and those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future” – John F. Kennedy
Trinidad, Itapúa, Paraguay
Chara says that every day is a new slate to becoming an adult. An becoming an adult is a lot easier than you think. She decrees that there are three daily steps to being an adult on any given day:
1. You must have changed underwear that day,
2. You must have put on deodorant, and
3. You must have brushed your teeth.
This is what adulthood has become for us, yet somehow I find that on most days here in Paraguay, I have not reached adulthood. Two out of three is a good day, one out of three is normal, zero for three is the most typical. I am obviously not ready for adulthood.
Three weeks ago, I was told where I’ll be living for the next two years. During site placement, all of the trainees were given the names of their sites and a folder outlining all of the useful information related to their service. I was given a site in the department of Itapúa in the south, in a tiny community called Óga Ita. Don’t search for it on Google Maps. You won’t find it. After site placement, we were sent off to visit our sites for the first time.Typically, Peace Corps volunteers here in Paraguay are a good distance away from other volunteers, but I am extremely lucky and grateful to be only two kilometers away from my very good friend Chara. During our visit, I quickly realized that I am lucky in more ways than just being close to a good friend. I have an extraordinarily beautiful site deep in the hills of north Itapúa. The hills are covered in crops of wheat, soy, mandioca, and yerba mate, with a small stream running at their base. This stream provides Óga Ita with it’s namesake (Rock House), as it has naturally formed a rock cavern, under which the stream runs. The cavern is beautiful, with a waterfall on one side and a natural spring bubbling at it’s base. As well, Chara’s and my communities are right next to the San Rafael Reserve, which is the largest remaining reserve of South-Atlantic Forest, the richest ecosystem in terms of biodiversity and sheer amount of tree and plant species. With Doug, we set off to the southern part of the reserve owned by an organization called Pro Cosara. The organization was started by a Swiss family who settled here in the 70’s and have been advocating for the increased protection of the reserve since they arrived here. The couple who started it all, Kristine and Hans, still live here, and they treated us to a European style breakfast and coffee after I had already had my Paraguayan breakfast of cow liver and revido (a fried flour meal). Culture confusion #1. Then we chatted for a while with them and some of their guests, who are usually from Switzerland or Germany, which meant that Spanish, English, Guaraní, and Swiss German were being spoken in intervals after breakfast. Culture confusion #2. We explored their encampment and the museum they have set up afterward with their guests, Rebecca and Lukas, who I had actually met briefly on the rickety bus ride just two days earlier. On a three month trip throughout South America, Paraguay was one of their last stops before heading home, and they were interested to hear Chara’s and my stories about the Peace Corps and how we were going to live out in the middle of nowhere for the next two years. After an absolutely amazing lunch (Doug said he goes to Pro Cosara every now and then and Kristine feeds him well every time. You’ll find me there, speaking Swiss German, in three months time, I bet.), we headed to their lake to swim around before heading back to our communities. I am continuously surprised at how blessed I am with my placement in Óga Ita, as my community held a meeting the next day to get to know me and hear about the Peace Corps. This is rare for a first time volunteer, and I can’t believe how organized this tiny community is. They have a neighborhood committee, in which almost every family is represented, a women’s committee, and a farmer’s committee. All three know which kind of environmental projects they want to do and know that I can help them. Two years will fly by like a piece of cake. (Doubtful. Peace Corps is anything but a piece of cake).
After our site visits, Chara and I met up with our other good friend Hannah, who has also been luckily placed in Itapúa, in Encarnación. This large city at the very southern point of Paraguay has been known as more tranquilo than Asunción, with better amenities. With it’s location on the Río Paraná, Encarn has a glorious beach, with a stunning view of Posadas, Argentina in front of you and a great selection of bars and cantinas behind you. We explored the city for a while before taking the five hour bus ride back to our host families and the last of training.
Training has flown by. I am done. I am a new volunteer, no longer a lowly trainee. First, we had Thanksgiving on Thursday, which I’ll label as Culture Confusion #3. We had a Thanksgiving pool party along with volleyball in the sun, complete with a full American meal, touched up with Paraguayan influences. Good fun, but Thanksgiving poolside is a strange concept. Then on Friday, I took an oath, the same oath that Presidents and military officials have been taking since the creation of the United States. I swore in as a volunteer, and I now write this blog from my room in Óga Ita. I am now a volunteer and I repeat that over and over in my head, still wondering the same thing I’ve wondered for two months now. What did I get myself into? I will now wander through my town, to the homes of all fifty residents, getting to know them, asking them wquestions, and integrating myself for the next three months. I will learn Guaraní, as even Spanish is not spoken here. I will start improving a small shack to make it fit for myself to live in for two years, which means installing a shower and building my own outhouse. I will start my own garden. I will feel lonely at times and at others, feel extremely elated and grateful to be here. I have permanently thrown myself into Culture Confusion, where cow liver resides alongside Swiss coffee, and beaches exist in landlocked countries. I accept the challenge of Culture Confusion. I am a volunteer now. I am flexible. I am adaptive. I am a new two-year resident of Paraguay.
P.S. My mailing address has changed, I’ve updated it in the “About” Section here on my blog. If you’re dying to send me something, I always love letters and packages accompanied by seeds for my garden, preferably things you don’t think I can get here, but I’ve also started a “Wishlist” Section if you want to consult that! Please and thank you!