Tuesday, September 20, 2011

For Plemmons



The noise I make in the video is the noise that people use to chase chickens away. In this case, it makes MOTHER HEN get all nervous and make cool noises.

Without their mother hen, all of these dumb little chicks would surely fail at life, not send anything, and die cold and alone. Thanks mother hen.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Some Pictures

The women's committee. Everyone that's going to get a fogon had to plant 15 trees. This was the day the trees came, but this is what most meetings look like.

Two women from the committee.

Another woman from the committee with her trees.

More tree day.

Some folks.

Shameless me pic for mom.

Children's Day at the school. That's a mango tree. They're pretty much all that awesome.

Computer class on a cold day. This picture went to the mayor who bought the first computer and helped convince him to buy some more.

Another woman from the committee with her trees and her son. He calls me his "little friend".

Droppin knowledge.


First grade. Half of the four students were absent today.

Message to my Mom

My neighbors are awesome. Ña Mariana wanted my mom to know that I'm OK in Paraguay. So here you have it.

The first part: I told her my brother might be coming to visit (I emphasized MIGHT) and so she says that if he comes down my mom won't worry anymore because he'll be able to go back home and assure her that my neighbors are good people since before I came down she was surely worried that I was going to be surrounded by a bunch of Indians that would shoot me with their arrows. Seriously, that's what she said. Her son acts it out to emphasize her point.

Then her son says, "Hello, I am the FROC." That's because his name is Faustino Ramon Ovelar Cuenca, thus FROC. He didn't know that he sounded like he was saying, "Hello, I am the frog." I explain. Either way, he's actually learned a decent amount of English and his mom was really proud of him. She says, "They'll understand that!"

Then I drink some terere and Faustino says that I smell bad and have a bunch of grey hair because I'm sad. He's the man.

Then Ña Mariana instructs me to translate so she can send a message to my mom. Don't worry mom, they got my back.


Fishwater Cribs

I'm sure you guys are tired of seeing my house, but this is kind of a test run. I might try and upload more videos. Enjoy.


Wednesday, June 22, 2011


Working with some friends.

The women's committee official government recognition paper.

My neighbor's cow. He mows my lawn with his mouth.

Awesome dog. Basically mine. Often smells bad.

Computer practice.

Local tough dudes.

Cooking lunch and listening to music.

My washing machine.

My buddy Jordan, myself, a fogon we built, and the lady we built it for.

Playing with a couple friends at a cultural mix up concert put on by Peace Corps volunteers in the capital. You've got to have a Paraguayan in the band.


The director crushing up the fluoride tablet.

Mixing the powdered fluoride with water.

New toothbrushes are awesome.

The afternoon group - preschool through third grade - and the director at the Escuela Piray.

Giving out the fluoride treatment.

Rinsing with fluoride. They brush everyday at school and get the fluoride once a week.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Rockin the Porch

My brother sent me a text message about my last blog. It said: Dude more pics, less ramble on the blog. Here's why there aren't so many pictures:

First of all, it's really aggravating even trying to send an email with my internet connection, let alone upload pictures.

Second of all, and most importantly, it's really difficult for me to take pictures of anything worth sending. So much of my life and job revolves around integrating into the community and making people feel comfortable around me, and just wearing shoes can be a barrier to doing that well. Pulling out a camera, though modest by American standards, that's more expensive than just about anybody in my town can afford just so I can take a couple of snapshots to put on the internet with my computer (which nobody even knows I have, by the way) instantly sets me apart. A lot. I mean, I'm always going to be different, but I try to limit it. On top of that, a lot of the things that are interesting to me that I want to take pictures of probably wouldn't be appropriate to take pictures of, or at the very least might make people uncomfortable. I plan to take lots of pictures towards the end of my two years so if I run into some of these problems they won't matter as much. Right now, I try to keep the camera low profile.

So for now, these will have to do. A self portrait and a couple shots of the inside of my house. The self portrait is mostly for Mom who continually demands I post a picture of myself. Enjoy. And somebody punch Zach in the face for me. And Nick.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Getting Started

Alright, so I won't promise to update this more often because it's becoming more and more obvious that I'm incapable of making good on that promise. I'm sorry it's been so long. I have actually been really busy, but that's not really an excuse. I've had time to write. It's just kind of exhausting. I want to tell you guys everything about everything, but that's a lot to write, so I usually get overwhelmed and then don't write anything at all. Or I write a whole bunch, don't post it, everything changes and what I wrote is outdated, and then it's not worth posting anymore. So I'm going to make an attempt to keep it reigned in and not write another novel.

I've been in my house for almost three months now. I have a bed, a bookshelf, a desk, a fan, a black and white TV that picks up 2 channels, a small collection of pots and pans, and a small, two-burner camp stove that sits on the desk and is attached to a small gas tank. I'm cooking all my own food and am fully self sufficient, which is refreshing after spending about 6 months as a pseudo-child.

I'm also getting down to the business of doing my actual job now. It's funny how that works. I join Peace Corps to do some good work for others, and then the first six months are spent training, learning stuff, building a house, preparing, and basically working for myself. Still, along the way I think I've done a pretty good job of integrating into the community, making a lot of friends, and learning Guarani, which should all help in terms of getting my job done. And there is no shortage of work opportunities.

I wrote this about two months ago, and it never got posted: “I'm kind of overwhelmed by the possibilities. The rural health sector is kind of strange in that it has such a wide range of objectives. If you're an education volunteer, most of your work is in the schools with the teachers and students. If you're a municipality volunteer, most of your work is in the municipality. If you're a rural health volunteer, you work wherever makes the most sense, on whichever main project goal your community wants the most. Add secondary projects to that long list and it's impossible to do it all. I don't mean to say that education or municipality volunteers have it easy. I honestly don't know a great deal about their sectors, but I'm sure their jobs are difficult. I feel like those education volunteers especially got it rough... I just mean to say that it seems like they have a little more direction in what they should be doing. On the other hand, a rural health volunteer might help form and then work with a community organization that wants to start a sanitary latrine project, work with the municipality to get the project funded, actually build the latrines, teach the kids at the school about parasites and why sanitary latrines are important, teach the same thing to the commission, work with another commission on a fogon project, work with another women's commission to make soap and detergent, give them nutrition classes, teach about AIDS at the high school, and teach computers and English in his or her spare time, if there is any. I might end up doing all or none of this, but my point is that I just don't know where to start. It doesn't help that absolutely no organization exists yet in Piray, which means just getting people together to talk to them about what they want to do is really difficult.”

A lot has happened since then and I have a little more direction now. Alright, so here's the Peace Corps Paraguay Rural Health Sector standard procedure: All the rural health volunteers have to do a census of at least 50 houses in their community. The point of the census is to get an idea of what the community thinks is important, what sorts of projects they're interested in, what their homes are like, what kind of health problems they think are the most common/important, etc. Based on the results of this census, I have to write a community study, basically a report on the census, what Piray is like, what problems there are, possible ways to work on them, etc. Then, I present this community study to both my bosses and the community as a way to start discussion on how we're going to proceed.

This is all a good idea, but it takes a long time, and I didn't really need to generate discussion for a bunch of people in town to know that they want to build fogones and sanitary latrines. The lady with whom I did my second census jumped on the fogon idea. I'm pretty sure she was just waiting for me to finish my house and get settled before trying to work with me. So she decided she was going to get a bunch of the ladies together on her side of town, start a woman's commission, and begin a fogon project. It was pretty cool how fired up she was about it, and I thought it was a good idea, although I was slightly concerned about the fact that a lot of people in town weren't going to know about the project and weren't going to have a chance to get in on it. So I mention to the school director one day that these ladies were about to start a commission and that I was gonna help them with a fogon project. The director's a pretty good friend of mine by now. He's a really good guy. He also happens to be good buddies with the mayor, just got elected concejal (adviser?) at the municipality, and kinda knows whats up in terms of politics and commissions. He was going to invite the entire town to a meeting for the running water commission, and he suggested that I piggyback a meeting about the possibility of starting a fogon and/or latrine project. This way, the whole town would be invited and everybody would have a chance to know about it and get involved. Also, he told me that the mayor would be more willing to give financial help to the project if the project was evenly spread over the community as opposed to just a cluster of families on one side of town.

I liked the idea. At the time, I didn't know very well a lot of the families that live off the beaten path, set back from the main roads. The “fondo” they call it, which literally means bottom, or end, or back, like the back of the community. A lot of those families are the poorest. I knew that I wanted to work with them, but there were a number of obstacles. First and foremost, I didn't know them, and it's kind of intimidating, for me and probably for them also, if I just show up at their house, alone and looking like an idiot. It was hard to meet them, because they don't leave their houses a lot. They work out in their fields and then spend time at home. Generally speaking, they just don't move around a lot. Most of the people that I just happen to meet casually through other people tend to live on the main road, have (relatively) a little more money, are a little less standoffish, etc. So I had this problem, and I think it's pretty common among other volunteers also: most of the people that are the most accessible and the most ready and willing to work with us tend to be the people that are a little bit better off already. That's not to say that they can't use or don't deserve our help. It's just that the people that could use the help the most tend to be the hardest to start working with.

Anyhow, I liked the director's idea. First of all, just because of the politics. He liked the idea, he's buddies with the intendente, and he tells me the intendente will like the idea. This is important. I think I mentioned in an older blog, the municipalities have money that are especially earmarked for projects just like the ones I want to help start. It helps if the intendente likes you and your community. And apparently he does. He recently paid a sum of money sufficient to get everyone in town a sanitary latrine to the church to have it remodeled. He did the same for the church in a neighboring town. Now in my personal opinion, sanitary latrines are more important than a pretty church, but the church has an active commission that is able to solicit funds from the municipality. People that need sanitary latrines don't have a commission that is able to solicit funds from the municipality. Yet. Anyhow, the point is we want to do what the intendente's going to like. Second of all, I thought it would be a good way to invite the people in the fondo since I didn't know them well enough to invite them personally.

We send out this general invitation to the community. It has a couple short blurbs about why sanitary latrines and fogones are important and an invitation to come talk about the possibility of starting a project. About 30-40 people showed up. Slightly intimidating. I addressed a group of 30-40 people in Guarani, which I think may be my proudest achievement in Paraguay to date. Anyhow, I mention that a group of ladies were getting ready to start a project, but that we want to give everyone in town a chance to get involved. So I basically take a list of names of families that are interested in the project and explain that the first step is to get organized. Like I said, the best way to do these projects is to have an active, organized commission, officially recognized by the municipality, that's able to both organize its own events to raise money (which is amazingly effective in rural Paraguay) as well as solicit funding from the municipality, gobernacion, or any other organization.

It was a really great turn out, but the one thing I was disappointed about was that not many people at all from the fondo showed up. This was at least partly due to one oversight on my part. The invitation was given out with the water bill. The director was calling a meeting for the running water commission, of which he is the president, so he was giving out the invitation with the bill. The problem is, a lot of the people in the fondo never hooked up to the running water system. They can't or won't pay the (relatively small amount for running water) 200 mil connection fee and can't or won't pay the (minuscule) 10 mil a month. So they don't get the water bill. The bill does, however, go out to probably over 90% of the community, and you would expect word of mouth to do the rest, right? Well, a lot of these people, according to them, never heard anything about it, which to me is a testament to how much they keep to themselves. Lesson learned.

The past month and a half or two have been dedicated to getting this committee organized and running and completing my census. At that first meeting, about 30 people said they were interested in the project, but we started having meetings and fewer and fewer people were coming. This basically means that they came to one meeting to say that they wanted something, but were unable or unwilling to come to meetings, organize, and work for it. This is hard, because it's hard to tell the difference between those unwilling to work for it and those that honestly can't come to the meetings.

I didn't really need to do the census in order to figure out where to begin working, but it was a good way to meet a lot of new people and get the word out about the committee. When the church was being remodeled, there were 4 guys, aged 23-30, that did all the work. I already knew two of them kind of, so I stopped by to say hello one day while they were working. This soon turned into a daily ritual. I would be running around doing whatever, and I would always stop by at 2 in the afternoon to drink terere and hang out with them. These 4 guys are basically my best friends in town now. So when they had some free time they would help me do my census in the fondo with people I didn't know. This is exactly what I needed. Campesinos in general, and especially the poorer ones, are always hospitable but seem to be kind of suspicious and standoffish at first. I'm sure it doesn't help that I'm a gringo. But if I show up with someone that they know, who's already a friend of mine, and I can speak in Guarani with them, it's amazing how quickly they warm up and become really friendly. So thanks to my friends, I was able to meet the majority of the folks living out in the fondo and do the census with them. The census is painfully awkward, especially with people that you don't know, but I got it done. More importantly, it was an excellent opportunity to tell them about the commission and the project that we were starting and invite them personally. Quite a few of them now show up regularly, which is awesome.

So as of right now, my job seems to be community organizer. The census is done and I'm working on the community study I have to write. Also, after a whole bunch of organizing, confusion, waiting, planning, and fluctuating attendance, we've got a group of about 25 people showing up regularly to the meetings, and we just got all the paperwork done to get officially recognized by the municipality. I'm taking the papers in in two days.

So that's basically it. Lots of little things to talk about, but I'm tired of typing now. I hope this all makes sense and doesn't ramble too much. Feel free to send questions. I love you all. I'll write again soon. Maybe.

Oh, and a special shout out to Brandon Marlow. He just sent me a 600 GB hard drive already slap full of movies, television shows, music, audiobooks, This American Life, and Super Nintendo games. Totally awesome and a dangerous threat to productivity. Thanks Brandon.