Asunción, Trinidad, Obligado, & Óga Ita, Paraguay
Service is picking up as I near the six month mark of being here in Paraguay. I’ve been busy running all over the place while simultaneously settling into my house and showing my face in my community so that they don’t think I’m a recluse (although lately that’s really what I’ve been out of pure exhaustion). I’ll pick up where my last post left off and do an update of everything in the last few weeks, as it’s been a wild and interesting time period.
After coming back from Paraguay Verde, there was almost no point in unpacking. I did laundry and then pretty much just put everything back into my backpack and trudged over to Chara’s to catch the bus to go to Asunción the next morning. We met up with Hannah and Ruchi, who was sick. And needed juice. And a tissue. And a nap. And chipa. And to charge her phone. She needed a lot of things. Peace Corps isn’t entirely about staying in your site 100% of the time (although our Country Director would love it if we did), and a couple times a year we have committee meetings in Asunción. The committees vary in subject from literacy to gender equality to the seed bank to trash management. They’re dispersed throughout the day and volunteers attend their choice committee meetings, grab books from the libraries, attend to doctors appointments, and catch up with other volunteers. Although these meetings are the “official” reason we go to Asunción for the weekend, I think most volunteers come for Ahendu. The word means “I hear” in Guaraní, and it’s an event put on by one of the committees that resembles a Peace Corps volunteer talent show, but better. Volunteers are pretty talented and we saw and listened to rock and country covers, Mozart on the clarinet, a little flute action, and a great cover of Desperado with accompanying fiddle. It’s a great show held at a different bar every time and most volunteers turn up for the festivities.
Besides committee meetings and Ahendu, we have a lot of free time in the city, and as it was our first time, my fellow G46 Environmental Conservation volunteers and I stayed together in my favorite hostel and took some time to explore Asunción. Between finding fun bars and restaurants, including a British Pub that served the first IPA I’d had in six months (I died and went to heaven and I won’t tell you how much it cost me), and a bistro that serves American style cuisine, the waffle being the choice item with volunteers, we set out to see what we could. Hannah and I went running along the river and saw the Presedential palace, a good view of the city’s skyline if you ignore the slums in the foreground, and a beach that we would think was nice if we weren’t from Itapúa and had snooty attitudes regarding Encarnación and it’s beautiful beach. The owner of our hostel also sent us in the direction of the neighborhood of San Jerónimo, which was built before the city was planned and consists of winding alleys and staircases on the side of a hill. All of the houses are painted vibrantly and are converted into cafés, a book and music store, an art gallery, and a gorgeous viewpoint from the top of the hill where you can see the city laid out before you. As you wander through the alleys, you can see recycled art everywhere, an EC volunteer’s dream come true, with plastic bottles, vinyl records, old tires, fruit crates, and cans painted and converted into fun and beautiful decorations. We also braved the immense Mercado 4, Asunción’s largest and busiest open air market where you can buy literally anything. All you have to do is ask. You want monkey meat? Just ask. Stolen cell phones? You don’t even have to ask, they’re out in the open. Drugs? Probably just have to ask. We didn’t stay long.
It’s always hard going from the big city back to my campo site, and even traveling that long and being in the middle of so much activity leaves me exhausted and ready for a three day nap. Unfortunately, the afternoon I got back from Asunción, I had a meeting with everyone in my community who wants Yerba Mate plants to discuss how many they want and how I think we should plant them. It went great except, in typical Paraguayan fashion, everyone showed up late and at various times so I had to explain everything four or five times. And one man showed up drunk. I explained to him alone six times and there was a lot of slapping my back and vigorously shaking my hand until it was numb. Oh and a lot of spit.
The last week of February was also technically my last week living with a host family. Although my house is on their land, I was still eating with them, but after my last meal of Mondongo (cow stomach. Smells like cow butt. Tastes like cow butt. Then you smell like cow butt.), I went to go get an oven and finally have it hooked up and am cooking for myself. Chara and I went on a day trip to Obligado, a town located in what’s known as the United Colonies, a group of European and Japanese colonies that have formed a large agricultural cooperative, to go grocery shopping at the cooperative supermarket. It was glorious. They have Gouda, homemade butter, chia seeds, chocolate chips, and salmon (all these items are ridiculously difficult to find elsewhere). I had to restrain myself, but now I’m living the high life with my oven.
An update on the cats: first, I found out that Mac is not actually a male, so now Mac is Stella. Second, I love and hate them at the same time. They snuggle but then they hop on my chest and put their butts in my face. And they poop on my flip flops. Third, and most unfortunately, when I came back from grocery shopping, only one cat, Stella, was around. I was worried that Mani had been eaten or killed and I waited to see if she’d just wandered away and would come trotting back, but she didn’t. Finally, I asked my mom this morning if she knew what happened. “Oh yeah I have her away.” Cool. Thanks for that mom. But I still have Stella, who was less obnoxious to begin with and I know that at least Mani isn’t dead. I expressed profusely that I want to keep Stella. She eats the bugs.
Between cooking on my own and dealing with my cat, it’s back to the tranquilo life in the campo. But I’m already repacking my backpack, as I’m off to my reconnect training for two weeks next week and I’m already looking forward to seeing my old host family and showing off my improved Guaraní. Although I’ll probably just nap a lot. That was a comfy bed.
Lastly, a congratulations to the new group of volunteers who came into the country last week. It’s unbelievable that I was there just six months ago, completely overwhelmed and confused. Look at me now! Only slightly overwhelmed and confused.