Let me start by saying Happy Belated Easter to all! Spending Easter week here was definitely an experience and although I thoroughly enjoyed it, I missed my own family and our own traditions. I was craving a big Easter Brunch filled with prime rib, mimosas, and a grand dessert bar, preceded by some Easter egg coloring and hunting.  What I actually did over the Easter holiday here was in fact quite different.  Paraguayans in our community, and from what I understand, all over Paraguay, celebrate Semana Santa, directly translated into Saint Week.

Semana Santa starts the Wednesday before Easter and ends on Easter day. Basically it is the Paraguayan spring break. Kids are out of school and adults are all on vacation. That Wednesday is called Miercoles Santa, or Wednesday Saint, and all families in Paraguay make Chipa all day long. My family started the day at 4:00 A.M (Paraguayans wake up EARLY!—Waking up at 7AM here is considered sleeping in). Because I wanted to participate in the festivities, I decided I should wake up at 4:30 to help. By the time I woke up, my family had already started cutting the cheese, breaking the eggs, and getting everything ready. Chipa is a type of Paraguayan bread, made of corn flour, cheese, anis, pig fat/oil/ or butter, salt, eggs, and Almidon which is flour made out of Mandioca. So here we were at 4:30 in the morning, making the traditional Chipa. Every family makes ridiculous amounts in order to have enough to eat throughout the week and share with neighbors and friends.

Our Recipe:

-100 Eggs

-1/2 Cup of Salt

-1/4 Cup of Anis

-14 Kilos of Almidon

-5 Kilos of Margarine

-6 Kilos of Paraguayan cheese

-10 Kilos of Corn Flour

(I’ve included some photos for your viewing pleasure of the hard work we put into making our Chipa)

Wednesday you make Chipa, Thursday most families have a big BBQ with lots of meat: beef, chorizo, pork (which means our family is down one pig), salad, Sopa (a Paraguayan version of corn bread with lots of added fat and salt), and of course mandioca. After gorging yourself Thursday, all day Friday families are supposed to stay at home and do absolutely nothing except eat Chipa. Luckily my sisters wanted to hike a hill famous for religious reasons in Yaguaron, so a group of us went to climb the cerro (hill). When I heard we were going on a hike I figured I knew what I was getting myself into. I put on my sneakers, my yoga pants and a t-shirt, and the other Nortes came in similar outfits. There we were, all waiting for our families, and out come our Paraguayan siblings decked out in nice clothes, makeup on, hair done, and jewelry. It was a site to see. Three of us trainees looking like we were about to run a marathon, and our Paraguayan families looking like they were about go out dancing. Needless to say, our group and hundreds of other Paraguayans also in their “hill climbing attire”, made it up the hill.

Saturday and Sunday were no different from any other day. A couple of friends and I made some oatmeal chocolate cookies Saturday, and we had a nice little rainy day together. I’ve found that baking and cooking here is really fun. Not only do I get to indulge in things that I miss from the states, but it is also nice to share the things that we love so much with Paraguayans. It will be a good way to get to know my new community and new neighbors. Easter Sunday the only requirement that my family had was to eat beef. They aren’t very religious, so we didn’t go to church and neither did the majority of the other families in our community. All in all I discovered Semana Santa is a week devoted to the eating and sharing of Chipa. I must have eaten about 25 pieces of my own family’s chipa and every time I went to visit another trainee I had to try their family’s chipa. It is a huge source of pride amongst all Paraguayans and each individual family.

Now that everyone is just as sick of reading about Chipa as I am of eating it, I will change the subject to something slightly more exciting—my future site visit! The week before Semana Santa I went to my future site of Comandalta Peralta for 4 nights. Comandanta Peralta is a Campania (small town) in the pueblo (bigger town) of Quiindy, which is in the Departamento (more or less county) of Paraguarí. Each of us trainees was assigned to a main contact in our sites. My contact, Eduvigis, was wonderful! She is very hardworking, motivated, and already has a million plans for me. I will be living with her, her husband and her two daughters (she has 5 other children that visit frequently but don’t live at home) for my first three weeks in site. I decided after talking to many volunteers, that the best way to integrate myself into my community is to live with four families for three weeks during my first three months in site (if that was overwhelming to read, just imagine what it will be like doing it!). To help make this happen, Eduvigis walked me around a portion of my community and introduced me to families I could potentially live with. Luckily, the families she suggested were all willing to take me in for three weeks. Not unlike my life in the states before I came to Paraguay, I will once again be a wandering nomad. Because Peace Corps encourages all volunteers to take the first three months getting to know the people in their site by living with families, hanging out at the school, spending time at the health clinic, and attending commission meetings (amongst other things), before engaging in any actual work, I figure drifting around will occupy some of my time.

My site is pretty large, but because it is so spread out I discovered it gives me many options. There are a couple of schools within walking distance of my house, there are many other smaller towns I can choose to work in if I needed more things to do, there are multiple commissions and groups already developed that I can work with (the volunteer before me was very hardworking and built over 80 fogons in my site with these comissions), and there is a health post. I feel like I will have no shortage of work to do over the next two years. I did see an immediate need for dental health education and there are a lot of young, smart girls with whom I’d love to form a youth group. I left my site excited and slightly overwhelmed by all of the possibilities, ideas, and the thought of once again starting anew. I will keep everyone updated on the progress of projects and ideas as I learn more.

More recently, we have been preparing for our swearing in and becoming volunteers. April 20th, our group of 28 trainees will swear in as volunteers and officially start our two years of service. We had our last set of tests last week; Security tests, training tests, language tests, etc. This past weekend I did a lot of my packing and spent time with my family, promising a visit back as soon as possible. This week, our last, we are going to Asuncion for our final meeting with the Peace Corps directors before we swear in, and we are celebrating the end of our training with our trainers, families, and friends that we have made over the past 11 weeks. It is a bittersweet feeling. I am excited to start what I came here to do: work on projects, help form commissions, determine the needs of my community and try to assist where I can. At the exact same time, I am slightly terrified about starting all over in a new community alone! It has been so nice to be able to spend time and share my first three months in Paraguay with the other trainees, and now we are all going off to our own sites and have to integrate by ourselves. I am also sad to be leaving my family here in Hugua ñaro, but I know we will keep in touch. Already, these past three months have been life changing and character building, I can only imagine what the next two years have in store!

So, Thursday Peace Corps picks up our bags, and Friday we swear in. Amongst others who will be talking during our swearing in ceremony, the U.S ambassador will be there to welcome us into the Peace Corps—kind of cool. After the ceremony here in our training community, all 28 of us will be bused to Asunción for a weekend to attend meetings, meet other volunteers, relax, eat some good food, maybe catch a movie (the Hunger Games?) and enjoy some city life before we head to the campo. Wish me luck! My next blog post will be posted from my site. (Once I figure out the internet situation)

That is the update, and thanks for reading. I read and appreciate all of your comments—keep them coming!  As always, feel free to ask any questions re: chipa making, my new site, or anything else. I miss you all and hope you are enjoying the spring weather in the states as I transition into Paraguay’s winter season.

*Also, don’t forget that letters and packages are always welcomed with open arms

Sending my love,

Bridget

Some pictures for your viewing pleasure

Chipa making

Eduvigis taking the feathers off of her freshly killed chicken

Chipa before being baked

View from the top of the cerro

I tried to rotate the pictures but it didn’t work out.

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