My one-month anniversary has come and gone! What an amazing adventure Peace Corps has already been. After leaving Miami, Florida after a day filled with icebreakers and filling out lots of paperwork, our group of 28 volunteers from all over the U.S boarded a plane for a nine-hour flight to Buenos Aires. It went by much faster then expected. We freshened up at the airport and boarded another plane—direct flight to Asuncion. Upon landing, our entire group got into cars to spend the night in a “retreat center” before meeting our families the next day.

Meeting our families was much more nerve racking than I expected. Because our training group is separated into two communities for the duration of training (11 weeks), it was a very intimate setting. 13 of us stood, patiently waiting for our names to be called to meet our new families. My family is very sweet. Much larger than what I’m used to. My father is a farmer, he grows cucumbers, bell peppers, cantaloupe, and we will soon have tomatoes. My mother is a stay at home mom, and I have 4 sisters. Rumelda (28), Griselda (22), Liliana (19) and Fabiola (14). All four of us live in a two bedroom, one bathroom house—very cozy. Shockingly when you have to share one bathroom amongst 6 people (5 of them being women!) it somehow works out.

It makes me feel at home because in our small community of Hugua ñaro, almost everyone on my street is my cousin, aunt, uncle or family friend. People are constantly stopping by to say hello and drink Tereré (Hierba mate with ice cold water—a necessity when it is 104 degrees and humid outside).

A couple of things I have noticed about Paraguay so far

  1. It is HOT. I grew up in the central valley of California, I KNOW hot, but this is much different. It has been about 100 degrees everyday and because of the sub-tropical climate, it is also humid. You cannot escape this Paraguayan heat. I wake up sweating, I go to sleep sweating, I wake up in the middle of the night sweating and SURPRISE SURPRISE all throughout the day I’m sweating  (And believe me I’ve tried it all, cotton clothes, no clothes, its all the same). All of us Nortes (North Americans) are struggling and feeling the effects of the heat, however, the Paraguayans somehow still manage to look great. HOW IS THIS POSSIBLE?! It doesn’t help that I brought 8 pairs of skinny jeans/pants which we all know are NOT breathable. Bridget Slevin=huge idiot with a constant heat rash. AND to make matters worse, if it isn’t the heat rash that makes me itchy all day long it is my mosquito bites. This leads me to my second observation
  2. There are so many bugs! My first night here I took a broom into my room and killed about 10 large black spiders. My family must have thought I was crazy person, swinging a broom around. Despite my efforts, there are many spiders that still live in the small holes in my walls, but we are learning to co-exist. As for the mosquitoes and biting ants I will not compromise. I have made it a game to step on all ants I see and to kill all mosquitoes.
  3. There are also many animals. My family has two cats, 2 pigs, 3 dogs, and approximately 10 chickens. They are cute, don’t get me wrong, but I tend to stay away from them in fear I will contract scabies. I also don’t want to befriend a chicken because my mom kills one of them once a month. As for our two large pigs, one of them will be slaughtered for Semana Santa (Easter week) and I’ve heard a screaming, dying pig is not a pretty sight. Thus, I have decided not to befriend our food sources.
  4. Paraguayans love hierba mate (a tea that apparently is good for you and very energizing) and anything that has to do with it. My dad drinks HOT mate every night (yes, hot tea when it is 100 degrees outside), everyday we drink Tereré, which is the hierba with ice water, and apparently during the winter, everyone drinks mate dulce. Warm milk with sugar poured over mate. I am definitely getting used to drinking it. Especially Tereré.
  5. There is so much fruit here and it is delicious! We have two mango trees at our house and the mangos that fall are SO wonderful. My family thinks I’m weird for eating so many mangos, especially because at my home, the chickens are the only ones who eat them. This doesn’t bother me though, because they are so good! My father just harvested the cantaloupe so I have been eating plenty of those. The grapefruit, mandarins, and oranges are almost ready. I can’t wait.
  6. The Paraguayan diet consists of about 5 things. Mandioca (yucca, cassava) root, white bread rolls, pasta, variations of corn bread (chipa and Sopa), rice, and fried meat. Although these things are all fairly delicious, eating them in large quantities cannot possibly be good for my health, especially considering most things are made with real pig fat. Because my dad is a farmer I consider myself lucky because we have rotating crops. Right now there are lots of cucumbers in our house and I eat about two a day. I purchased oatmeal at the local store, that I am going to try and eat every morning just to keep things regular. It will be much easier to eat healthier options once I live alone, but for now I am trying everything and working on integration.
  7. Volleyball and soccer are huge here. Soccer I would have assumed, but volleyball came as a surprise. There are outdoor courts set up all over our neighborhood and it has become a weekend activity to play with the other Americans and Paraguayans who live in our community. The Paraguayans are so scrappy. I wish I had had some of their hustle when I was playing in high school. They dive in the dirt (despite the weeds and ant hills), they run for every ball, it’s great—I’m referring mostly to the boys, girls tend to be less involved. Our community has 3 soccer teams, Oriental, Provenir, and Franco. Just yesterday I went to a game where 3 fights broke out. They play every Sunday and it is by far the most popular community event.
  8. Picking your nose is completely acceptable! My first couple of days here, I would be having a conversation with someone and BAM! finger up the nose. I thought it was just the people I was talking to, but I encountered the same behavior when I traveled 3 hours to see another volunteer. This is going to take some getting used to, but maybe by the time I leave I will have integrated myself enough to pick my nose in front of other people as well.
  9. It is BEAUTIFUL! I knew NOTHING about Paraguay before my assignment here, so arriving in this subtropical country was quite a shock. There are trees of all sorts everywhere, the sky is bright blue most days, and most of the roads you walk on are made of bright red dirt. I feel so lucky to be here and to learn more about this country.

Training is going well. My days are filled with pre-planned activities Monday-Saturday so my schedule doesn’t leave much time for internet use and blog updating. We have language class about 4-5 days a week. Picking up Guarani is moving slowly along. Some days I can pick up more of a conversation than other days, but I know once I’m on my own it will be much easier to study. We have had classes on gardening, health topics, fogon building, and general Peace Corps policy. Although the days can drag on sometimes, it’s nice to be preoccupied and to spend lots of time with our training group. What a great group of people. I am looking forward to getting to know everyone over the next two years.

Next week we are going on a Long Field practice. My language class of four people will be traveling to Cazapa to visit another volunteer. There we will give classes on certain health topics, build a fogon, make soap, and generally follow the steps of being a volunteer. I am really excited to have this practice course, and hope to have lots of pictures and updates upon returning.

Thanks for reading! I hope there will be a smaller gap between this blog post and the next. I miss everyone, but am very happy here in Paraguay. If you have any questions feel free to ask them and as always, thank you for the messages/emails/etc!

I’ve added some pictures for your viewing pleasure.

1. My father with his melons

2. The road I walk to my house each day

My walk home

3. My room

4. Our Chancho/our Easter meal

Besos de Paraguay,

Bridget

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