650 Days

My 650th day in Paraguay seems as good a day as any to finally publish another blog post. (That’s 650 days since first getting to Paraguay; I’ve spent around 50 of those days traveling elsewhere.) It has been a while.

There are now fewer than five months until our official “close of service” (COS) date! Most volunteers take a few weeks or a few months after COS to travel before heading back to the U.S., but since I have a cat to transport, a boyfriend waiting for me, and – most importantly – no money, my plan is to be home by the end of November. Speaking of which, if anyone has a job opening for me, I am now accepting applications for potential employers!

Of course, despite my increasingly frequent daydreams of city life, hiking opportunities, an office job, and access to great food, five months is still a decent chunk of time. I have a lot left on my to-do list for Paraguay.

Before leaving my community, I want to finish a scientific method/science experiment project I’ve been doing with 7th, 8th, and 9th graders. Ideally, we will do a science fair with them and/or have science professionals come to the school to talk about college/career options. I want to continue organizing a reading buddies program with the 1st, 2nd, 5th, and 6th graders and to figure out the best way to leave the books with the school so that they’ll actually be used after I leave. I want to implement some better waste management practices in the school that could potentially be replicated in homes. I want to make an educational video with the kids to teach them and others about caring for the environment or better managing waste (while also inspiring creativity and story-telling). Finally, I want to paint a world map on a wall of the school and do some activities with the kids to learn about geography. This last project is one we’ve been trying to start for a while, but we are waiting on funds from the municipality to buy paints and other supplies.

Honestly, if all these things can be accomplished before I leave, these next 5 months will be more “productive” then the last 21.

I frequently worry about whether I’m doing enough here. I think we all do. Feeling unproductive is common in Peace Corps service. Most organizations and individuals are results-driven and achieve great things by setting a series of small goals and moving forward be accomplishing each in turn; Peace Corps service on the other hand takes volunteers who want to change the world or at least a couple lives, gives them very few ways to measure their progress toward these lofty goals, and then defines success as still being in-country and mostly sane after two years. I think it’s beautiful that we have a government organization devoted to sharing cultures, building international relationships on a local level, lending a hand here and there, and hoping everyone grows from the experience, but it’s a frustrating job.

For example, if I saw widespread household trash burning, I would want to change laws or devote resources to building state-of-the-art incineration and recycling facilities rather than just asking people to stuff all their trash into plastic soda bottles and use these to build crappy benches. (This is obviously just a random, hypothetical example and not something that keeps me up at night in my house filled with piles of my trash and clouds of smoke from neighbors’ trash fires.)

Foreground: an eco-brick. Background: bags of trash to be stuffed into future eco-bricks

As I reflect on what it means to be successful as a Peace Corps Volunteer/world citizen/human, I often think about what our APCD (basically the leader of the environmental sector here at Peace Corps Paraguay and also a lovely and intelligent Paraguayan woman) says: that a successful service is one in which the volunteer is happy and the community is happy. I think about this philosophy mostly because I disagree with it, but I can’t seem to decide whether I disagree because it’s too low a bar or too high. This experience has made me feel grateful, challenged, and humbled, but it has rarely made me happy. Besides, I want something to show for my time beyond emotions.

This same APCD visited me a few days ago for a routine second-year visit. We went to the school and visited an important family so she could ask how things are going and gauge the community’s interest in getting another volunteer when I leave. I was a little nervous before the visit because I didn’t feel like I had anything concrete or impressive to show off from my recent work, but everyone told her how good a person I am and raved about how much they appreciated my talents and hard work. (Note: when they talked about my talent and hard work, they were not talking about my abilities as an environmental volunteer or literacy educator. Rather, they are talking almost exclusively of my ability to make decorations for their classrooms. They described in great detail my ability to cut animals out of colorful paper without using models.) The APCD said those positive reviews were important and a sign that my service is going well.

Of course, hearing that people are impressed by my artistic talents and want another volunteer who can also do all the artistic work in the school wasn’t really the validation I was looking for. Nevertheless, this visit did provide another reminder of the value Peace Corps is bringing to me and my community. During the car ride to my site from the Peace Corps office in Asuncion, I was telling the APCD about some of the books I’d been sharing with the kids at the school and with my neighbors. I’ll get to the part of this conversation that stuck with me after providing a bit of background information.

Literacy education is not part of my job description, but it’s an area where I have a little bit of experience and a lot of passion, and it’s an area where this country has a lot of need. Paraguay does not have a strong reading culture (or really any reading culture) due to a number of factors including an absolutely abysmal primary education system, the relatively high cost of books, an absence of libraries, and the fact that many people’s primarily language is Guarani, which was only converted into a written language a few decades ago. I don’t have high hopes of significantly changing this situation as a Peace Corps Volunteer, but thanks to some people in the U.S. (mostly Grandma Betty) I have approximately 30 Spanish-language children’s books to share with my community.

I’ve been using these books for a reading buddies program, and about once a week I read to the preschoolers and kindergartners. Neither of these activities has produced dramatic results, but I’m noticing small hints of progress that give me hope; for instance, every time I read with the littlest kids, more of them know to start a book from its front cover instead of back.

I’m also trying to share the books with kids who come to my house regularly. Recently, I gave my neighbor a copy of The Giving Tree for his fourth birthday. He asked his mom to read it to him every single night for weeks and he can pretty much recite it by memory. I also gave another neighbor the first Harry Potter book for his 11th birthday. Later that day, I saw his mom sitting outside reading it.

“Wow,” she said “this is great! It’s like a story!” Less than a week later she called over the fence between our yards “do you have any more of those Harry Potter books? I stayed up late last night and finished it. I never really wanted to watch the movies, but reading it is so much better!” I think that was probably the proudest moment of my Peace Corps service and maybe my life.

As I was telling our coordinator about these small moments, she turned to me and said “see, they might not have these experiences if you weren’t here.” (Except she said this in Spanish and also she didn’t actually turn to me because she was driving, and having a conversation in a car without looking at the road is only possible in movies)

Of course, I didn’t do all that much work to make these experiences possible – I didn’t build a library or teach anyone to read – but it’s true that if I weren’t here my neighbor probably wouldn’t be reading Harry Potter and almost certainly wouldn’t be having conversations about Harry Potter with a woman from New Hampshire… and I wouldn’t be sitting in my hammock, drinking tereré and listening to my neighbors discuss Harry Potter in an indigenous language that 3 years ago I didn’t even know existed. I believe this is part of why Peace Corps service isn’t a complete waste of time. My being here in Paraguay has provided me and at least a few Paraguayans with experiences we would not have had otherwise. Not many of those experiences are dramatically life-changing, but they all add to our lives in some way.


Lessons from Year 1 

I’ve been in Paraguay for a full year now! *insert “wow” emoji*

I’m sure some of you will be exclaiming “A whole year already! My, how time flies!” But from my perspective, the past 12 months have defied the general rule of each year flying by faster than the one before it; I can’t believe it has been only 365 days. 

With some exceptions, these have been 365 long days, and I’ve spent a lot of the past year missing home, second-guessing my decisions, and feeling unproductive or inadequate in comparison to what I feel I can or should accomplish. If I had known what the past year would involve, I may not have come to Paraguay. 

At the same time, I don’t entirely regret not having that foresight. I am still mostly convinced this experience will be worth it in the end.  

I now have almost 15 months left. On the one hand, that is an overwhelmingly long period of time to be away from the people, places, and foods I love, and to be doing a job that does not exactly contribute to my professional or financial goals. On the other hand, there is so much more I want to do here, and a year is a short period of time to accomplish it all. 

Though I’m not yet half done, I have decided to share three general lessons (of many) that I learned or more thoroughly internalized since starting this thing we call Peace Corps “service.” 

1. I have learned I am capable of many things… which doesn’t necessarily mean I want to do any of those things ever again. For instance, I’ve learned I can cook pretty well, even if I’d much rather have others cooking for me.  I’ve learned I can live by myself in a house without being too afraid, bored, or uncomfortable alone with my thoughts. I’ve also learned I never want to live alone again – mostly because I hate always having to be the one who provides food and shuts off the lights before going to sleep, but also because I enjoy having someone (the right person) there with whom to share my space and life. 

Other things I’ve learned I can do include: bury a rotting dog carcass, fight off a pack of dogs, resist the desire to adopt sad cats and dogs, live with the constant knowledge that water and electricity are fickle resources, collaborate with people who think and work very differently than I do, spend hours listening to conversations conducted primarily in a language I do not speak, and accept that my values, beliefs, and opinions are not the norm. 

2. I’ve also learned a bit about development work, at least in so far as Peace a Corps can be considered development work. 

You know the whole give a man a fish vs. teach him to fish saying? Well, empowering people with skills and knowledge rather than giving material goods is central to the Peace Corps mission, but I’d like to suggest a more comprehensive take on the old adage:

“Give a man a fish and he might eat for a day – if he has no cultural or dietary restrictions against fish; teach a man to fish – if you know how to fish, speak the man’s language, and understand the best time and location to conduct  fishing lessons in his community – and he might be able to feed himself for months or years, at least until his fishing equipment breaks and he doesn’t have the resources to repair it… or he might never go fishing because he already had a job he knew how to do, or because fishing is a woman’s job in his country, or because you didn’t give him a boat, or because you forgot to take into account that there are no bodies of water nearby. Maybe at the end of the day you and your new friend will both forget about fish and plant a garden together because that’s what Mr. Potential-Fisherman wanted to do all along.”

The point is: when a project involves humans, there are always countless factors effecting the desire and ability of those people to participate and succeed. Without knowing about the individuals, communities, and cultures involved, you won’t accomplish even the best of ideas. 

3. Now, a (perhaps not-so-shocking) confession: for twelve months, I have been struggling to love Paraguay. 

It occurred to me fairly recently that my lack of love was not as much a problem as was the fact that I had been waiting until I fell in love with the country to fully make it my home and to enthusiastically throw myself into my work here. I had a sort of “oh, duh” moment when I remembered that people usually don’t have the luxury to make a place their home because they love it; instead, they love it because it is home. 

It’s the same for relationships with other people. Paraguayans are generally humble individuals, but as a group they are quite proud, so I frequently find myself rolling my eyes (internally) when I’m told that Paraguayans are more open, more friendly, more generous, etc. than other people. It’s true that nearly all the Paraguayans I’ve encountered have been wonderfully generous, kind, and welcoming; I just don’t think those are unique characteristics. When I hear other volunteers rave about the amazing friendliness and generosity of their communities, I sometimes think maybe they have discovered something uniquely wonderful about Paraguay, and I wonder why I can’t do the same. 

The thing is, people are no less important (both in the abstract and personal sense) when they are unextraordinary. I still don’t think Paraguayans are better than people anywhere else in the world, but now many of the people in my community have become special to me. 

I guess that’s how it always is. While I generally think my friends and family are amazing people, I didn’t start loving them because I objectively believe they are better than everyone else or that I couldn’t have equally meaningful relationships with a few of the other billion humans on this planet if I had the chance. The people we love the most are usually just the people we have gotten to know the best. You can’t get to know places or people well without them always being a part of who you are, for better or worse.  

Being a Peace Corps Volunteer (especially in a country that is not a tourist destination) is a good refresher course in taking the time to get to know people and places with which you don’t immediately fall in love. When people share your interests, language, and primary personality traits, or when places are full of vibrant art, majestic nature, and gourmet foods, it is easy to imagine them becoming important to you. But your life can become equally enriched by the unexpected connections, the relationships and the homes you built because you happened to end up with those people in that place for those 27 months. 

Two Weeks of My Summer Left

The following was written in early September, 2016 but not published until now:

 [PSA related to this post’s title: If you are a Harry Potter fan and have yet to listen to the Harry and the Potters wizard rock song about the last two weeks of Harry’s summer before his third year at Hogwarts, please do so before reading on.]

Two weeks from now, I will be in Paraguay.

There are many reasons I don’t want to go. First of all,  I have a boyfriend whom I love and get along with quite well. We’ve been dating for a little over 7 months, which is not very long in scheme of things but is significantly longer than my previous record of approximately 3 dates. Besides not wanting to leave him, there are a number of major life events I will miss in the next 27 months (2 and 1/4 years). For instance, I will be away for my sister’s college graduation, both of my grandmothers’ 90th birthdays, and my cat’s 18th birthday (roughly 90 in cat years). I am also very disappointed that I won’t be able to vote for our first female president in-person or attend her inauguration on the National Mall. (I’m not superstitious, but I knocked on wood after writing that just in case, because the universe seems to have developed a twisted sense of humor for this election.)  Last but not least, I don’t know whether the new Gilmore Girls episodes will be on Netflix in Paraguay, and that seems an awfully big risk to take.

Despite all this, I can’t wait to be a Peace Corps Volunteer. It is something I have wanted to do for at least ten years, and my intended roll (Environmental Education Promotor) seems pretty much perfect as far as I’m concerned. The fact that I know very little about Paraguay or what I will actually be doing there makes me even more excited, though I’ll admit I am a bit nervous about living in a hot, flat, and landlocked country and learning a third language (Guaraní). Other than actually packing, I am ready for the “toughest job you’ll ever love” everyone talks about.

Of course, as anyone who has experienced the medieval (?) execution/torture method where they tie you to two different horses can probably attest, being pulled in two different directions is a bit uncomfortable. Right now, half of me is tied to where I am while the other half is on a plane to South America.But I feel so lucky because I know how wonderfully fortunate I am that there is virtually nothing in my life I want to give up, and practically nothing in my future I want to avoid. Before I got my invitation to serve in the Peace Corps, I was in the exact opposite place. When people asked me if I was ready to graduate, my answer was “well, I’m definitely ready to be done with college, but I’m also not excited for the ‘real world.'”

I would much rather be pulled in two directions than pushed from one thing to the next, because it’s just love and joy at the end of those ropes right now.  



Día del Niño

When I was a kid, I once asked why there was a Mother’s Day and Father’s Day but no Kids’ Day. My mom told me that every day is kids’ day for parents. I guess this made me feel loved, though I still wanted to have a day where the world revolved around me even more than usual. 

Well, it turns out other countries do have children’s days! But in Paraguay the reason for the Día del Niño is even more depressing than the thought of devoting every hour of the year to caring for another human and then having the ungrateful brat want to have a special day to be celebrated extra just for being a kid. 

The Paraguayan Día del Niño tradition originates in the Triple Alliance War against Brasil, Argentina, and Uruguay (see the blog post about my cat for more background). During this war, Paraguay lost between 60 and 80% of its men. Even so, the general/President Francisco Solano López believed Paraguay had a fighting chance, making the phrase “victory of death!” the motto of the Paraguayan military (and this guy is considered a hero… *insert eye role emoji*). 

In 1869, without enough professional soldiers, the Paraguayan army sent approximately 3,500 minors into battle at Acosta Ñu or Campo Grande. According to stories, some were kids as young as 6 to 8 years old. They were fighting against 20,000 professional soldiers. Naturally, almost all of the kids died (over 3,200). The Triple Alliance lost only 50 soldiers. 

So, to celebrate the heroism and sacrifice these young fighters made (or to say “sorry for sending all those children to die”), Paraguay now celebrates the Día del Niño, day of the child. The main tradition of the day is giving out free hot dogs to kids. At my community’s school, there was also celebration with student performances, free junk food, and a clown. All my Paraguayan Facebook friends posted pictures of their kids to wish them a “feliz día.” 

It was a festive, light-hearted day, but there were many reminders of its origins, and the teachers made posters that list the rights of children (to love, medical care, education, etc.). In all seriousness, I think a children’s day is a great idea – not to celebrate individual kids necessarily but rather our obligations to protect, love, and empower (and not send into battle) the young humans of the world – and to protect the world itself in case there are future young humans who want to breath, eat, etc. 

P.S. Many Paraguayans boil their hot dogs with onions, tomatoes, and herbs. I recommend this. It is tasty. 

P.P.S. I’ve eaten hot dogs for 3 meals this week, but none of them were given to me as consultation for the masacre of thousands of children. 

P.P.P.S. Despite being neither a child nor a mother, I was given free food both at the child’s day festival yesterday and at the Mother’s Day one back in May. I guess it sometimes pays off to be in an ambiguous life stage. 

P.P.P.P.S. here’s a joke the clown shared for any Spanish-English bilingual readers (best read out loud): “Puedo hablar English! Oh yes. Oh yes… Hoy es miércoles.” He also said “soy de Asia… Así allá” *insert eye role emoji again* 

P.P.P.P.P.S. here’s a Spanish language explanation of the source of the holiday, which I used to corroborate the oral stories I have heard since getting to Paraguay: http://m.notimerica.com/cultura/noticia-celebra-paraguay-dia-nino-16-agosto-masacre-acosta-nu-20170816074439.html

Living  “Alone” in Paraguay 

This past weekend, I moved into my very first (rental) house! I have never even rented an apartment, and now I’m living alone in a HOUSE. I’m feeling pretty growed-up. I think I will begin describing myself as an “independent woman in her mid-twenties.” 

“Come in in (through the back door, because it is a prettier color than the front)” – an independent woman in her mid-twenties
My house has one big main room, a bedroom, and a bathroom. It is huge by many standards, especially for one person. It is also relatively chuchi (fancy) with a tile floor (much easier to clean than cement), modern bathroom (with an electric shower head to heat the water), glass windows, strong electricity, and a ceiling in the bedroom (a big plus for temperature regulation and dampening the sound of rain on a tin roof). It is definitely not the shack without water or electricity that I pictured when first thinking of joining the Peace Corps 10-15 years ago. Of course, the last few decades have seen a dramatic fall in extreme poverty around the world (yay!) so the profile of an average home probably has changed a bit in that time!

“Yes, I’d like to rent this house.” – an independent woman in her mid-twenties

Having my own space has been relaxing and energizing and basically all-around awesome so far. I’ve baked bread and made a curry stir-fry and planted flowers and decorated the walls and listened to my own music (at a reasonable volume!) and slept when I wanted and walked around naked (though not in the main part of the house, since I don’t have curtains yet). 

I have also had A LOT of visitors. Some volunteers talk about getting lonely living by themselves, or having a lot of time alone with their thoughts. I might get there some day, but for now living “alone” has not afforded me much alone time. 

Within ten minutes of arriving in my new home, my next door neighbor and my host mom (each with a daughter) arrived to help me set up my appliances. Then the parade of neighborhood kids began. One morning, a total of 8 kids and 3 adults visited me, most of them before 9 am. The kids don’t bother announcing themselves before walking in the door. Some of them “helped” me clean and organize my stuff (in a way that made me need to do the same thing again after they left). 

“What’s that? An unaccompanied baby is crawling toward my playful cat and hot oven… better take a picture” – an independent woman in her mid-twenties (who quickly steered the baby in another directions after taking this picture)

I mentioned setting my own sleep schedule. I should probably clarify that this does not mean other people are unaware of when I am asleep or awake. In Paraguay, if the weather isn’t bad and you are home, it is customary to open your windows and doors. You can be sure people will have – and share – their theories about what you are doing behind closed doors. Opening your house is also a sign that you will accept guests (probably offering them tereré), and it allows you to hear anyone who might clap at your front gate to announce their presence and ask for permission to enter. 

The other day, I went outside to wash my dishes around 7:00  in the morning and my neighbor told me her 4-year-old daughter had been asking to go over to my house to play since I opened my window a half hour earlier.

“I told her you would want some alone time after waking up, but she told me you would cry if you were alone.” 

Note: My kitchen sink is on the outside of my house (well, my kitchen tap/faucet… the sink part that catches the water is missing… also I don’t actually have a kitchen). From the tap, I am conversational distance from my next door neighbor’s own dish/clothes washing stations. 

“Here is where I keep my tools for distracting children so I can do my own thing” – an independent woman in her mid-twenties

To somewhat curb the frequency of  visitors, I have been trying to make myself as boring as possible from a kid’s perspective, but I’ve also used a few of their visits as teaching moments. Sunday morning, there was a partial solar eclipse while my 9 year old neighbor was at my house, so I poked a hole in a piece of cardboard and tried to show her how the the circle of light passing through this changed shape. On Monday, I planted a a bed of flowers in front of my house with three little assistants. These same kids helped me prepare my materials for a lesson on seeds that I was going to do in the school. 

My neighbors are also sure to teach me a thing or two. My next door neighbor is an excellent source of information and has offered me the use of her laundry washing sink (I haven’t told her it will be the first load of laundry I do entirely by hand). I’ve also talked about some recipe exchanges with a 20-year-old girl across the street and with the 25-year-old mother of my most frequent 9-year-old visitor. This woman arrived in Paraguay from Brazil fairly recently and speaks very little Spanish, so it looks like I might need to learn a bit of Portuguese. Our conversations are somewhat of a guessing game, but we bonded over a mutual disappointment in the taste of Paraguayan birthday cake. 

I’ve had quite a multi-cultural guest list this week. In addition to Paraguayans and Brazilians, two of my “North American” friends came to see my new digs the other night. One is a volunteer in a nearby community. His house is now only about a kilometer from mine and right next to my primary grocery source, so I’m sure to visit him and his girlfriend frequently (and am looking forward to meeting their new baby in a month or so!). The other friend is temporarily farming his father’s land in an Amish colony nearby. (I was told to include in my blog a mention of a fancy meat buffet he generously treated us to the other day. So ya, we went to a fancy meat buffet restaurant that is beyond our Peace Corps budget. I then got locked out of my host family’s house because we got back around midnight, which made me feel a bit too much like the rebellious teenager I never was.) Also, shout-out to these two guys for fixing my toilet the other night. It might have ruined my do-it-myself reputation, but what is an independent woman in her mid-twenties supposed to do when faced with an absurdly high toilet tank and no step ladder? 

“If I could reach it, I would do it myself.” – an independent woman in her mid-twenties

In addition to human visitors, my house and yard are hosts to many non-human occupants. My favorite are the fireflies that fill the yard at night and the single giant purple dragonfly that hovered near my door once. When I first moved in, I had to clean up after some birds, lizards, and countless bug species who were living inside the house (really, an entomologist would have a field day here!). My kitten is a big fan of the new environment since he has plenty of critters to chase. The giant toads outside are also lots of fun. Not as fun are the 6+ dogs who use my yard as their playground/bathroom/nap place. One of them picked up poor Rutherford by the neck the other day and I had trouble getting el Presidente to go outside for at least a day afterwards. I now scare that dog away any time I see him. The other ones I let sleep on my porch when it rains. 

“Woah so much going on here!” – a not-very-independent 3-month-old cat

143 Days

At 143 days, my time in Paraguay has now exceeded my time in any other country outside the U.S. 

In 2015, I studied abroad in Chile for 142 days. The extent to which my current experience differs from the one I had during that semester in Chile is astonishing sometimes. I was recently talking to a friend I met in Chile about how unique our time there was (in large part because we had no responsibilities, to be honest). 

Besides two armed robberies and a few school assignments, my time in Chile was mostly a carefree adventure. We wandered art-filled streets, listened to live music, ate lots of ice cream, watched soccer games in rowdy bars, climbed things in high heels, ate live sea urchins we were given by some random men on a cliff, sat on sand dunes to watch the sun set over the ocean, danced in a geodesic dome after eating nothing but honey for dinner, and shared french fries at 3 in the morning on a street that still smelled like pepper spray. I lived in Casa de Colores – a house that was colorful because of both the funky murals on its walls and the diversity of its occupants. These 5 months in Chile also included a backpacking trip that is probably the highlight of my life so far: 10 days during which we plunged into glacial lakes, laughed hysterically in the middle of long hikes, jammed with a ukelele and harmonica, brushed our teeth while looking up at the Milky Way, and got really close to new friends (like 3-people-to-a-2-person-tent and 6-people-to-a-bathroom close). 

Photo by Annika Heilman (or at least from her camera/Facebook) …Patagonia, Chile

Besides eating a lot of empanadas in both countries, I haven’t done much in Paraguay that compares to the adventures of Chile. The first 10 weeks here were spent in training with a full-time schedule Monday through Saturday. Then I got to my site, where I have relatively little structure to my weeks but a lot of boundaries set by cultural and professional expectations. I live on a long dirt road surrounded by farmland. There is little in the way of accessible art or nature. I help around the house, walk to town to do errands, and visit neighbors to drink tereré. I constantly assure my host mother that not finishing the mountain of food on my plate does not indicate a profound unhappiness. 

Some of my (non-human) neighbors

Don’t get me wrong, this is how it is supposed to be. I’m not here for an adventure; I’m here primarily to form relationships, and it is a great place to do so. The people in my community are wonderful and that long dirt road is relatively scenic. I enjoyed organizing a summer camp recently. I am looking forward to working in the school to increase environmental awareness. I might also teach English, encourage people to compost, or plant trees. In a few weeks I will move into my own house and start a garden. I think I can have an impact here, and I know the people here will have an impact on me. I am happy enough of the time, and I get more happy here every week. 

My street

I’ve made a list of what gives me emotional energy (here and in general), and since one of the things that makes me happy is oversharing, I have included the list below. It’s pretty obvious stuff, but sometimes it’s nice to have the reminder for when something frustrating or unpleasant happens. Maybe making a list like this can also help those of you at home who are going through a difficult period. (I’m talking about our country being led by a fascist with the temperament of a two year old, a white supremacist who profits from lies, and a Congress full of corrupt cowards.) 

Here’s my list:

– spending time with people who could become great friends or professional contacts 

– feeling productive (stay tuned for a blog post about visiting 115 families in 5 days)

– reading often and a lot (I’m hoping to share my love of reading with people in my community. Paraguay has a high literacy rate but almost no reading culture.)

– getting mail (unfortunately it’s too expensive to regularly send mail from here)

One of the postcards Shawn has sent me

– eating chocolate (usually from the packages I receive)

 – sleeping at least 8 hours a night

– drinking plenty of water

-snuggling with my kitten 

El Presidente Rutherford B. Hayes II

– staying active (bonus: when I work up enough of an appetite to finish my whole lunch, my host mom takes this as a sign it will rain the next day, and rain is a nice break from the heat and smell of burning trash.)

– telling myself that I am happy or am a happy person (This is probably dependent on a certain level of mental health as well as fortunate circumstances, but I really think happiness and unhappiness can be decisions.) 

Summer Camp in the Campo

In the past two weeks, my site-mate (one of the closest volunteers to me) and I organized two summer camps – one in her community, one in mine. Each camp was for two mornings. The theme was “vamos viajeros!” or “let’s go, travelers!”

 In case you find yourself in the Paraguayan campo (countryside/rural area) and decide to host a summer camp, here are some “really useful” tips: 

1. Spend the majority of your prep time drawing a world map. 

2. When creating “charla papers” (posters to use during a lesson) for each country, make sure to employ some young helpers for the coloring. Empowering youths is probably more important that maintaining a supply of markers that haven’t been used too forcefully and then left with their caps off… I suppose… Also, make sure you have an answer for when your coloring assistants ask if you are REALLY going to be traveling to Japan, Holland, Brasil, Egypt, Kenya, Germany, the U.S., and Australia during the two day camp. 

3. Only sign up kids between grades 3 and 9, since kids younger than this are too difficult to supervise. But be flexible, because littler kids will sneak in whether you like it or not. 

4. Charge Gs. 5,000 per family (equivalent of about 85 cents) to buy snacks and art supplies.

5. Sign up about twice the amount of kids you actually want, in anticipation of a low participation rate. Or not. You might end up with 40+ kids and two “adults.” Luckily, there will probably be a few teenagers (or 12-year-olds) who can help translate your commands into Guaraní. 

6. If you have the kids sit under trees, make sure you know what to do in the case of caterpillar bites. (General rule for Paraguay: do not touch caterpillars. Symptoms range from itching to paralyzation to involuntary twitching). One kid at our camp was bit by the itchy-rash-causing variety of caterpillar, and we responded with “uhhh so what do you want to do?” When some other kids brought me over a leaf with a more dangerous variety of caterpillar on it, I calmly ask that they put this critter somewhere where it won’t bother the other children. 

7. Do a water ballon fight. This will be everyone’s favorite part, even if it causes some tears. When the boys throw the water ballons in the girls’ faces, you will understand why multiple girls asked you if you were going to do two separate water balllon fights – one for girls and one for boys. But you will not regret your decision to make the whole camp gender neutral. You believe boys can learn not to throw things in people’s faces. You will even give boys pink name tags.

8. Mummy-making contests and mummy races are a wonderful opportunity to take photos of smiling children and their undead friends. 

9. Make sure to have the kids help pick up the used toilet paper from the ground. Then find a nice place to bury all of this since there’s no such thing as a trash pick up service and you are trying to avoid burning things. 

10. Bake chocolate chip cookies. Pass these out at the end of camp so that when you ask how the camp was the kids tell you it was delicious.