This is my first time writing a blog post as a Peace Corps Volunteer (PCV)! Obviously this means I am suddenly infinitely more qualified to share my experiences, so you should take everything I write very seriously.
We had our swearing-in ceremony on Friday. It was a day filled with many different emotions and many tears. We would miss our new friends and our first Paraguayan host families, and we were nervous and excited about what the next two years will bring. A few people had gone home before the end of training, and I think no one took lightly the decision to stay (or to go). It was pretty strange that suddenly, after almost 15 years of thinking and saying “I’ll probably do the Peace Corps someday” without really understanding what that meant, I was now becoming a Peace Corps Volunteer. And I was reminded that for the first time in my life, neither my parents nor other loved ones could be present at a ceremony like this.
We got all dressed up that morning – some more than others; I kept thinking “you had room for that dress/suit/shoes in your suitcase?!” We made ourselves more churro/churra (not a desert here, unfortunately, but rather a description of good-looking-ness/made-up-ness) and headed to a fancy private school near our training center, which was all decked out in Paraguayan style (draped fabrics) with some U.S. touches (the flag and picture of JFK).
We sang both national anthems, listened to some speeches, and took the oath of office administered by a representative from the U.S. embassy. I tried to think of an alternative to “so help me god” (I considered changing God to Good), but ended up just leaving out that part of the oath, which made me wonder what I will do when I become President (or something similar) someday. It also made me think about someone else who will be taking this same oath in January, which made the moment a bit less happy but all the more important. I think the 46 of us who became PCVs know more about what it means to defend the constitution than our future president does, and will certainly create fewer enemies for our country.
After taking numerous pictures and eating some snacks and cake, we said goodbye and headed to the various buses that would take us to our sites, excited and nervous to see what life in the campo (rural country/farmland) would bring.
On my bus, I sat next to a very talkative older woman. She told me about how she spent 3 months in California in 2001 but couldn’t get a visa to stay longer, and she told me where she was when the twin towers were hit on 9/11. I learned where she had lived at different times in her life, the birthdays of all her children, her weekly work schedule, and a bit about what happened to her husband. We shared some bus chipa (a chewy, bagel-like baked good made from mandio, or yucca, flour), and she showed me a picture of her pet parrot, who is apparently very gossipy… I’m sure most of my attempts to get to know new people in the next 2 years won’t come quite so easily!
After 3 hours or so, the bus dropped me off across the street from my community. Earlier that day, my new host mom had asked for a confirmation of what day I would be arriving. My reply of “today…” hadn’t got to her before my phone died, so I wasn’t sure if my arrival would be a surprise. I stood for a moment in a giant pile of stuff, unsure of how I would carry them the short distance to my host family’s house. I put on my backpacking backpack (which held a med kit, numerous books, and nearly 2 years of clothing, with my pillow, mosquito net, boots, sneaker, hammock, and dirty clothes hanging off of it), and then I crouched down to pick up my smaller (but still heavy) bags and loose items. Getting back up may have been the most physically strenuous thing I’ve ever done. I probably looked like a turtle that has been flipped on its back… At least, I hope I looked like a turtle, because turtles are awesome…
I made it about a hundred yards, huffing and puffing, before a woman came out of her store to tell me that two little boys, who had been sitting outside laughing as they watched me struggle, would be coming over to help.
When I got to the house with my helpers in toe, the only people at home were my 10-year-old host sister and her two younger cousins. They invited me to join them at the “beach,” which was 4 folding chairs set up on the back deck. We shared tereré (a drink I will describe in detail later) and they gossiped in Jopara (Spanish-Guarani mix). Later we played monkey in the middle and a version of soccer with one goal and lots of extra rules. I listened to them argue about whether my host sister had gotten in trouble for eating bread in the bathroom, and I received many hugs. Even with a 12 or 13-year-old cousin in the mix, the average age of my new friends was probably only 8 or 9, and I won’t be surprised if this doesn’t change much in the next two years, since kids are much more likely to have the time and energy to make new friends despite language barriers.
We ended the day by setting off bombas (small fire crackers that make a loud noise, which are quite popular with kids here anytime and anywhere)… And so, with a bang (or actually 6 bangs, since two of the bombas in the pack of 8 didn’t work), my time as a Peace Corps Volunteer began.