Hey there, devoted fans and followers (a.k.a. mostly friends of my parents). It’s been 7 weeks since I left the U.S… Seven happens to also be the number tons of meat, yucca, and fried carbs I have eaten here in Paraguay (more on that in a future blog post).
Despite social media evidence to the contrary, Peace Corps training hasn’t been all puppies and kittens and sunshine. The first week was really hard; I was homesick, physically sick, and wondering whether I’d made the right decision to come down here. In my seventh week, I still have some doubts and miss the people and places back home, but this experience is growing on me. I am staying with a nice host family, and the other trainees in my community are wonderful. I enjoy our classes, and I am back to being excited about swearing in as a volunteer in December.
You might have been under the impression that I already was a Peace Corps Volunteer. I’m sure that’s what my parents have been telling people (when they’re not talking about their younger daughter who was on SNL a few weeks ago). In reality, we don’t swear in as Volunteers (PCVs) until December. In the meantime, we have 10 weeks of training, which are also known as a 10-week job interview. For now, I am a Peace Corps Trainee (PCT).
The life of a PCT is quite busy. Monday-Friday we are in classes from 7:45 am to 5 pm, and Saturdays we have class from 7:45 to 11:30 am. In our limited free time, we are supposed to be studying our languages, practicing cultural integration, and working on a project with a member of our community. In reality, we have also spent a decent amount of time doing laundry, hanging in hammocks, taking pictures of baby animals, dancing, and eating ice cream and pizza.
But most of the time is spent in classes, which are divided between language and culture, tech training, security, and health. Security and health briefings mean that every few days we learn about a new thing that could go terribly wrong. We also occasionally talk about topics related to the Peace Corps’ mission and our role in it, which inevitably leads to a healthy but somewhat off-topic discussion about U.S. foreign policy (e.g. how our government supported a dictatorship here). (Note: Peace Corps Volunteers do not and have never reported to the U.S. embassy nor any other agency.)
The majority of our class time is reserved for language and technical training. I am an Environmental Sector PCT, so I am learning about biodiversity, gardening, composting, agroforestry and reforestation, environmental education, waste management, recycled art, soil, and more. We built a garden, organized a community trash clean-up, and planted trees, among other activities.
I am also learning Guarani. This is an indigenous language spoken by almost all Paraguayans (some of whom speak little Spanish), which I only learned about when going through the Peace Corps application process. Our Guarani classes are taught in Spanish by some pretty amazing language teachers. While I’ve learned relatively little Guarani in 7 weeks and cannot for the life of me pronounce certain letters, I think it is less challenging than Spanish (and certainly English) when it comes to grammar. I am also feeling relatively confident in my Spanish communication skills, which are quite far from fluency but adequate for discussing most thing.
Outside of the 7:45-5 class schedule, we’ve had a few official trips to other parts of Paraguay. One day, we completed a sort of scavenger hunt in the capital city of Asuncion. With another trainee, I was told to explore a market where you can buy almost anything (legal or illegal) and to visit a museum about the dictatorship. More recently, each trainee visited a current volunteer for 4 days. I went to a site about 2 hours away by bus. It rained most of the time I was there, so the volunteer and I worked in her community’s school one of the days but spent most of the week watching movies and cooking foods with flavors from home. This past week we had a “Long Field Practice” where we went to a visit another volunteer in small groups lead by a teacher. My group drove about 5 hours to a relatively rural site. We gave “charlas” (chats or presentations) to elementary school students, helped build a table from “eco bricks” (made from plastic bottles stuffed with trash), practiced Guarani, and explored the community and its surroundings (including a waterfall).
In a week, I will know my own site placement – the place I will call home for two years. It’s an exciting and challenging and confusing time that I cannot begin to describe in this blog post. …Actually, I could describe it, but I’ve chosen not to so that I can finally post this update without making you read an entire novel. So until next time, I wish you all happiness and a resounding defeat of Donald Trump.