Thanks everyone for following me during my time in the Peace Corps. It has been so great to come back to the States, catch up with all of you, and talk about my experiences. I am off on my next adventures--an MFA in poetry at UMASS Boston, starting up a micropress for young writers, and writing a new blog. Please check out my new website and subscribe to PoetVentures to join me on the next leg of the journey.
Saturday, June 21, 2014
Monday, July 29, 2013
Hi, I’m Emily’s brother, Aaron. I’m taking over the blog for today while Emily cooks some brownies to celebrate the new tank of gas for the stove/oven. I left the hot summer in Massachusetts to come visit Emily in Paraguay. Paraguay is a lot different than America, and I want to share a few of the things that I have experienced during my visit.
I’ll start with lesson number two. To greet someone, one person says, “ba’ay shappa” [mba'eichapa] the other person(s) replies “E’pona.” [ipora] This is equivalent to: “How are you?” “Good.” If I am walking down the street, and I see someone but do not plan to stay and chat, I say, “Adios.” Although, people are always happiest when Emily, and I stop by for a chat. If you want to know lesson number one, I am sorry, unfortunately it had to be censored from the blog.
On my first day here, Emily and I ate breakfast and then we went on a walk. We stopped by one of Emily’s former host families. As we walked up to their house I said, “Ba’ay Shappa”, the family laughed and replied, “E’pona.” Emily introduced me as her “Armano” [hermano], “Brother.” We were told, “eh’wapu,” [eguapy]“sit.” As they asked Emily questions about me in Guarani, we were given breakfast number two, Pireka (similar to fried dough) with a cup of Cocido (when made traditionally it involves taking Yerba mate, and sugar, then caramelizing the sugar with a coal from the fire, and then putting all three into hot water or hot milk.) When I finished my first Pireka I was offered a second one, and as I was afraid to offend my host, I accepted. Emily tried to turn her second helping down, and she tried to explain that she wasn’t hungry, but her former host mom would not hear of it, and made her accept a second helping. I can only imagine what would have happened if I had turned mine down, as I don’t know how to speak Guarani. Like a lot of Emily’s friends they wanted to know how old I was, if I spoke Guarani, if I was married, and if I had any children yet. (One grandmother I met joked that by 18 I should already have two kids.)
A cool thing about Paraguay is that this type of hang out isn’t only for people that are close friends. In the community many people run small stores out of their houses. When we have gone to buy food, or cooking supplies, before we make the purchase we sit down, we drink some terere (yerba with cold water), or mate (yerba with hot water), and we chat for a little bit. Emily introduces herself, she introduces me. They ask if I am happy in Paraguay, and if I have kids yet. When that is out of the way, then we can buy what we need. It’s really relaxing, but we need to have a lot of free time when we plan to go to one of these stores, Emily tells me that it’s possible that we might be invited to lunch.
Oh hey look! There’s an ox cart passing by the house! Anyway…
One thing I really don’t like in America is our pennies. It costs more than a penny to make a penny, I always lose them, and I really can’t buy anything with a handful of pennies. But Paraguayans have figured it out. The answer to pennies is “candy change.” With most transactions, if there is any change I’m handed a few sucking candies with the receipt. It’s wonderful. Instead of endless frustration with coins lost in the sofa, I get to enjoy a little candy.
I’ve noticed that when it comes to “reduce” “Re-use” “recycle” Paraguayans have Americans beat with both “re-using” and “reducing,” and in general being resourceful. Old soda bottles are used as containers for seeds, honey, milk, etc. When we had the cocido it was poured from a container similar to a cool-whip container. CDs hung from string are used to scare the birds away from plants. The trunk of a taxi was opened with a screw-driver because the lock was busted, and toys, tools, appliances, and cars seem to have later expiration dates than they would if these objects were used in the US.
Whose cow is this, and why is it in my yard? As a resident of Needham Massachusetts I rarely get to see cows, chickens, guinea fowl, pigs, or horses. In all of the places I have visited in Paraguay, every family has at least a few chickens, a cow or two, probably a few pig, etc . For anyone who was wondering, roosters start cock-a-doodle-doing at around 3:00 AM. I really don’t know why people think they start at sun rise. Despite the pre-mature wake up call, the animals are really fun to watch. At one house the chickens and the pig would all try to sneak into the kitchen every time the door opened. Then our host would run into the kitchen to kick them out, and around twenty chickens would run out of the kitchen. By Emily’s house there is a gang of around seven chickens that roam around and stop by the house every so often, when they’re done digging through the yard they walk over to another house. This is cute, but I have noticed that it can lead to a few problems. Because there is a constant flow of animals running around the yard eating anything edible many gardens suffer. Emily worked with some Paraguayans to protect their gardens with new fencing. Additionally there is a large loss of eggs. One lady in the community keeps her chickens in a very large cage/pen. One day she sold us a dozen eggs from her chicken. However, other people with a similar number of chickens lose a lot of eggs. Chickens like to lay eggs in the same place every day. Without a centralized designated laying area, chickens might lay their eggs in any number of unknown places.
I have had a lot of fun visiting my sister and meeting her friends in the community. Unfortunately my trip is almost over, and I have a really long ride home. Time to start packing, Chaio.
Posted by E J at 5:51 AM
Monday, May 13, 2013
Happy mother’s day from Paraguay! One year ago, I was walking down the street in my site and happened upon a used grain-sack in the middle of the road. Thinking to myself “I could probably use that for something,” I went and lifted it up. It was a bit heavier than I expected a grain sack to be…and I was soon the proud owner of Jasy Ysapy Jaeger (The-Dew-of-the-Moon Jaeger). We have been best friends ever since/rainy day snuggle buddies.
In honor of Jasy, who I came to own by attempting to REUSE a grain-sack, I would like to talk about one of the projects I have been working on since the New Year: my girls’/recycling art group. One of the challenges of Peace Corps service is that I have to do community-motivated projects. Just because I believe that something in my community should be different, doesn’t mean I get to change that. I have to work with community members to figure out what types of community development are important to them and then figure out how my abilities and skills match with their needs. And then we begin to work. One day, I was talking to my best friend in site, Mirna, about how I missed visiting art museums in the states (there’s no MFA here), and she said to me, “I really like art!” when I asked her what type, she said, “Well, I think I would like art if I ever saw any.” This conversation eventually led to Mirna and I working together to form a girls’ group focusing on making arts and crafts from recycled materials.
Some of the really great/special things about this group:
Brooms from soda bottles
- It was all Mirna’s idea! She both wanted to learn more about art and also wanted to learn some different activities to occupy her time—she works with her boyfriend on a farm, but during down time, she wanted to learn how to do something more than just watch soap-operas.
- This is one of the only extra-curriculars for girls in my community—while there are many local soccer and volleyball games, most of are just for boys/men to play. This is one of the few spaces for the girls to meet, hang out, etc in a non-‘party’ (alcohol-free), safe environment.
- We use only local materials: mostly trash and some basics like glue that can be purchased nearby. We work on a very small budget. Most of the girls don’t have their own money. The girls are responsible for bringing the trash that we use. The trash is a great source of free art supplies!
- The objects we make replace things they would normally buy or want to buy. We are reducing the amount of trash left to litter the community (which does not have a regular trash pickup or dump) and saving money.
- Many of the group members help teach the classes (especially since my language skills are not the best for giving instructions), we are learning how to be leaders! And also how to be creative… each participant tweaks the project to their own style. No two pieces ever look alike.
- We make awesome stuff!
Cups from glass bottles (I did this one with my women’s comite too)
Earrings from tin cans
Brooms from soda bottles
Brooms from soda bottles
Decorative bows from magazine pages
Picture frames (these ones we made with magazines)
Gift bags from newspaper
7 strand string from plastic bags
CD-tile picture frames
homemade shampoo and conditioner.
7 strand string from plastic bags
CD-tile picture frames
homemade shampoo and conditioner.
I never knew how to make any of these crafts previously, but sometimes being a PC volunteer just means being the middle-woman for resources (such as the internet!). Some great resources for recycling projects have been: pinterest, instructables, about.com, spoonfuls (and more). I do my best to translate the instructions to Guarani and make one example, and then the girls take it from there. Luckily they are much better visual artists than I am.
One more word about international development/the Peace Corps: over the past twenty months I have learned so much about the unique struggles of the people in my community and Paraguay as a developing nation. However, at the same time, many of the challenges here highlight/remind me of things back home. Just because the USA describes itself as “developed” doesn’t mean that we don’t share a lot of the same ‘developmental’ issues. The USA is still learning how to deal with the environmental consequences of consumerism and the “TRASH PROBLEM.” Recycled art/reusing trash to replace buying new items is just as relevant in the USA as in Paraguay. While in the States we may be able to afford new art supplies, it might be worth while trying out recycled art materials—it’s amazing what can be done with some cans, bottles, and plastic bags. For starters, just google plarn!
Posted by E J at 5:42 AM
Friday, April 5, 2013
Happy Passover (and Semana Santa/Easter) from Paraguay! Throughout my service, I have struggled at different points with how to be Jewish in Paraguay. In the states, from pre-school through college graduation, I had always been surrounded by a strong Jewish community, have had access to regular services, celebrations of Jewish holidays, and opportunities for education/reflection. Here in Paraguay, things are a bit different. There are a sprinkling of Jewish volunteers across the country, but Paraguayan society at large is deeply steeped in the Catholic faith and tradition. In fact, Jewish volunteers (along with volunteers who are atheist, Buddhist, Muslim, Protestant) are often encouraged not to share their religion with community counter-parts because of issues of prejudice in the community. Being ‘in the closet’ about my Jewish identity and lacking much of a local Jewish community has been a weird feeling.
Last year, I chose to go home for Passover, because I felt like, on the holiday of freedom and liberation, I just needed to be in a space where I could be myself, freely and openly Jewish. But this year, I decided to stick it out in the sticks, because it was important to me to participate in the community traditions surrounding Easter, which I had missed last year since I went home. However, I still felt like a seder could be possible with the help of some local volunteers….And thanks to some great neighbors, EZ, Stacy, and Alissa, I was able to put together an amazing seder in Ysypo, Misiones, Paraguay and celebrate a Jewish holiday in Paraguay for the first time in my service!
Why was this years’ seder different from all other seders?
1. At all other seders, I have used Matzah from a box, be it burnt and holey shmurah matzah or factory made. This year, there was not enough time for a certain care-package containing box-matzah to arrive from the states, so I made my own. Thanks to Uncle Joe for the idea and Ha’aretz English version for the recipe!
2. At all other seders, I use horse-radish for the bitter herb, this year lacking a good source for horse-radish or radish, I opted for lettuce. I also borrowed a medicinal root from Stacy’s fridge that looked rather similar to horse-radish to use a visual reminder on the seder plate. There were lots of giggles when we got to the “point to the maror” line (“How did that get there?”).
3. At all other seders, my family eats homemade matzah balls “dipped” in Robin Jaeger’s famous chicken soup. This year, we had a little Passover miracle, in the form of a “just in case” matzah ball mix that EZ got in the mail from the states, but what to use for the soup? Some miso-mix, fresh dug sweet potatoes, and chopped veggies came in handy for a golden broth. Also the parsley we used to dip in salt water came directly from my garden (the only plant to survive the summer).
4. At all other seders, we conduct the meal reclining in our cozy dining room. This year, we had the seder outside on Stacy’s spacious porch. We could see the full moon outback, and also offer up the matzah and Elijah’s wine without opening the door. We also concluded the seder with some entertainment in the form of a water-rocket demonstration!
Posted by E J at 12:52 PM
Tuesday, February 12, 2013
One of the most important goals of Peace Corps is to promote sustainable development—changes that will last after the volunteers leave. In my branch of Peace Corps Paraguay, the agricultural sector, one of the ways that sustainable development, or sustainable agricultural plays out is by working with the Paraguayans to use the products from their farms and communities as efficiently as possible, to create as much of a closed circle as possible. One way to more efficiently use farm resources (and increase the yield of an individual farm) is to maximize on the “by-products” of family farms. For example, waste products such as cow manure, fallen leaves, and vegetable scraps can be combined to make amazing fertilizer to increase the vegetable production in the garden or field. And the left over fat (tallow) from meat can be used to make soap (which is cheaper and possibly less “chemically” then the soap at the store).
Speaking of soap…I have been itching to learn how to make soap since I’ve been in Paraguay. So, I was very excited when Mark and Susan from Arazape (a community that is about ½ hrs drive north of me) invited me over to try it out. Susan has made soap many times in the states, however, she always made soap using different vegetable oils. This would be first time for both of us using tallow. We figured, we would try it out once on our own and then teach the recipe to our communities. Susan had procured the recipe from another volunteer who had made soap with his woman’s commission, and so, after buying some lye and tallow from the local hardware store and butchery (respectively), we were ready to go.
The Official Recipe for Tallow Soap
- Melt down cow fat in a large pot.
- Combine lye with water in a glass container.
- Dice up herbs and grind up some oatmeal to improve soap’s smell and add some gritty scrub.
- Check recipe to make sure you have followed exactly all the steps.
- Pour lye mixture into tallow.
- As your soap boils and bubbles over into yard, stir rapidly.
- Back away from smoking brew.
- Add herbs.
- Scrape hardening foam off of lawn and add back into pot, adding a couple spoonfuls of boiled grass and dirt.
- Attempt to find original recipe with snail-speed internet connection.
- Pour foamy brew into molds.
- When foamy brew cools down and is obviously planning on remaining a cold foamy brew, re-melt on the stovetop.
- Pour back into molds.
- Let cure for a week and enjoy.
- Optional: find a new recipe.
Photos taken of me by Susan Alves from twokeepgrowing.blogspot.com
Posted by E J at 4:04 AM
Tuesday, February 5, 2013
It gets very hot in Paraguay in the summer. I’m talking like 100+ on a daily basis, without AC. While I love Paraguay, and I know that I willingly put myself into the Peace Corps, and therefore accepted this situation upon myself, it is still very hot. Luckily, over the past year, I have picked up some traditional and not so traditional coping strategies to deal with the blazing heat of summer in Paraguay.
My original Coping Method:
· Sitting in a chair, with my mouth open in disbelief, thinking “It can’t possibly be this hot?
o Pros: holding still/not over-exerting yourself in hot weather is a very important step of heat-stroke prevention.
o Cons: catching flies.
More Successful Methods:
· The Mango Method: find your local mango tree and parking there from 10am-4pm
o Pros: mango trees are magical creatures that create their own air-conditioning. While the rest of the air might be still and stagnant, there is always a fresh, cool breeze beneath the lush foliage of a mango tree. This is a good way to make friends with many community members who use this same strategy. The addition of a hammock makes a mango hangout almost irresistible.
o Cons: mango season—suddenly in January, when you most need the magical tree, you need a helmet to enjoy the shade. Ripe mangos falling from more than 30 feet are not gentle.
· The Tea Circle Strategy: drink ice-cold terere (tea)
o Pros: cold, delicious, and communal rehydration. Often combined with the mango tree method.
o Cons: after 3 or so pitchers the diuretic qualities of terere kick in. Quarter-hourly pee-breaks can be complicated if your bathroom is see-through.
· The Herbal Remedy: A leaf in your cap
o Pros: place a couple amba’y leaves in your hat and you are good to go in terms of sun protection. Amba’y trees are pretty abundant: most families in my community have one growing in their backyard.
o Cons: might garner some strange looks in urban settings.
· The Guapa Way: Do everyone’s laundry (guapain PYan Spanish means hardworking, not sexy. Though of course, the two aren’t mutually exclusive).
o Pros: kill three birds with one stone with a 2-3 hour laundry session. By the time you are done, you will have cleaned a week’s worth of clothes, you will have had a good upper-arm work-out, and you will be soaking wet and cool.
o Cons: you really need a shady area for this one. Otherwise you will have 2-3 hours –worth of sunburn.
· Chef’s Specialty: cooking outdoors
o Pros: keeps the heat away from the house.
o Cons: firing up the tatakua, the outdoor, clay oven, uses a lot of firewood and takes a lot of time. Therefore, it is not so convenient for everyday use.
· A Layered Approach:
o Pros: light colored long sleeve shirts and pants protect you from the sun, keep you modestly dressed, and according to some create a micro-climate/air-conditioning system using merely your skin, sweat, undershirt, and overshirt.
o Cons: twice as much laundry.
· Visualization: snow-angel meditation
o Pros: this method is portable and great for bus-rides
o Cons: if you are Paraguayan, you probably have never made a snow angel before. Additionally, after a 5 hr no-AC busride (that should have only taken 3.5hrs!!)passing through high-noon, the image begins to fade.
· The Honi-Method: rain-dances and circles in the sand.
o Pros: a strong afternoon shower, called “aguacero,” can keep temperatures down for the rest of the afternoon and even the following day. Not only does this shower rejuvenate your sanity, but it also brings some life back into the field crops.
o Cons: stares/gossip from neighbors as they watch the “nortetavy” (crazy northerner) doing something weird, once again. Also, if the rainfall comes with high winds, you will probably lose power, jeopardizing the contents of your fridge/freezer and leaving you without a fan and therefore vulnerable to major mosquito attacks until power returns.
Posted by E J at 4:20 AM
Friday, November 9, 2012
The story about the Jewish cemetery in Prague goes that once upon a time, when a famous rabbi of Prague was on his deathbed, he asked as his parting wish to be buried at the side of his beloved teacher, who had long ago been interred in the Prague cemetery. The only problem, the space at both of his sides was already filled. However, a miracle occurred, the earth spread, and there was space for the student to also be buried beside his teacher. This story (le’havdil) could be taken as analogy for Paraguayan hospitality, especially surrounding meal times. There is always room for more at the table. In fact, chances are, if you find yourself at a Paraguayan’s house before 9:30, you will be eating a second breakfast. If it is after 9:30, you will be invited (sweet-talked, guilted, stared-down) to stay for lunch.
One of my host-mom’s, Ña Rafaela, takes this type of hospitality to a whole other level. Sometimes when I show up, there are immediate family members, multiple cousins (who have their own moms making lunch as well), in-laws, boarders (they were actually staying with other families, but somehow in the end, moved into Rafa’s house), grandchildren all smished around the table. I don’t think any of them called ahead. I certainly didn’t. And yet, everyone is able to get seconds and thirds. I think maybe Rafa just senses from the wind that she should add another cup of rice to the soup.
While sometimes PC’s innocently come to work with a community member in the morning and just end up getting invited to lunch, sometimes (especially when it is either really hot out, it’s a traditional PYan holiday, or when I have a really bad cold) it is more intentional: the art of the lunch crash. I mean, there is nothing better for a bad cold then really hot gizo—chicken or beef soup with rice. Cooking it on the gas stove just doesn’t taste the same. I also love to lunch-crash because that is how I’ve learned how to cook some different Paraguayan dishes and also learned about living “close to the earth.”
In my community, meals are generally cooked over the fire—fueled by firewood. Paraguay, is 95% deforested currently. Educating about trees, reforesting, and planting trees here is so important. Since trees are scarce, much of the firewood is collected from dry/fallen branches or from trees that can regrow after partial shearing.
Vegetables are seasonal—as in, in the summer it is too hot for vegetables to grow in Paraguay without a sun-shade. In the winter, 99% of my community cultivates gardens. Ña Rafaela’s garden is one of the largest in my site—she expands every year. Here she is harvesting cabbage for our salad.
Ña Rafaela’s oldest daughter and her first cousin chopping together.
No food is ever wasted. When I first attempted to make composts with some community members, I learned that whereas suburban Americans might have lots of leftover vegetable scraps to compost, many of the food scraps here are earmarked for various livestock. Chickens, for example, love to crunch on the remains of leafy greens such as cabbage (or on the leafy greens themselves if the garden doesn’t have a good fence!).
You never know how something might be repurposed or multipurposed here. This bucket makes a perfect gigantic salad bowl.
Although there is running water in my community, the water is pumped from a special type of deep well (about a 5 minute walk from Rafa’s house) and then runs to individual houses. If the power goes out, as it often does in this rainy spring weather, or if Rafa’s nephew forgets to reset the meter, the water stops. Here Rafa’s daughter drains the wash-water from the greens to use for soaking dishes.
Lunch time! Today (in addition to myself), there were cousins and in-laws at lunch.
Happy thanksgiving from the Paraguay (I will be celebrating with by attending a Lady Gaga concert…)
And here is my favorite smile in all of Ysypo Potrero (Rafa’s son).
Posted by E J at 6:03 AM