At this point it has been 3 weeks since my last update. I have been in site now for 5 weeks and things are continuing to go pretty smoothly. I got to enjoy Mother’s Day—Paraguayan style, I moved into my second family’s home, I had a surprise encounter with the governor of my department, I attended a fancy birthday party and got into a minor car accident all in the same day, I gave my first health related lesson in the school, and finally I observed a couple of new things about Paraguayan culture, Oh..and I had a little visitor in my toe.

Let me start with my Mother’s Day experience. Mother’s Day here is a pretty big deal. The cannons started around 4 A.M. [This is another thing about Paraguayan culture that I don’t quite understand. A cultural difference, if you will. Before a birthday, during the celebration of certain saints, for Mother’s Day, and for other events, you will hear cannons or gun shots being fired off throughout the day. The first time I heard a cannon/gun shot here I didn’t quite understand its celebratory significance and ran for cover thinking there was some sort of civil uprising about to happen—I looked like an idiot, but I quickly realized there was nothing to run from, it was just a birthday.]

So the cannons started at 4 A.M (I’ve gotten used to sleeping through loud noises: gun firing, my host brothers blasting music at 3 A.M, my host dad hawking up loogies all through the night, etc. etc.), and by 6 A.M we were up and at it, drinking our Maté and preparing for the day ahead. The day before, my host father had purchased half of a pig and my host uncle had killed one of his bulls and given us a leg, both of which were hung by the refrigerator (these kinds of things happen here), so we cut the meat up and started marinating it. I was in charge of dicing up the typical Paraguayan variety of vegetables (green bell pepper, tomato, and onions) for our rice and potato salads (you can NEVER have enough starch and carbs!). I then went over to my host Aunt’s house to help her grind up corn for our Sopa (cornbread made with LOTS of margarine and oil, or pig fat).  I had a pretty busy morning cooking and meeting all of my host mother’s siblings. She comes from a family of 10 children and 8 of them came to the Mother’s Day festivities with their spouses and children. Needless to say, there was quite a crowd and my head was spinning with all of the new names.

After eating more pork, beef, rice and potatoes covered in mayonnaise and a couple of vegetables, sopa and cake than I ever thought possible, we indulged in the refined Paraguayan mixture of red wine (SUPER classy because it was out of a bottle and not a box) with Coca Cola (Auntie Bea, please don’t have a heart attack reading this!). Note: You do not drink with your meals because it WILL make you sick. This is another thing my host families think I’m a real risk taker for doing. After lunch we walked to the family soccer field where my host mother’s family organizes a family soccer game every Mother’s Day amongst all of the men in the family. When you have ten kids, you can do these kinds of things. Overall, it was a very fun day.

Beef ribs anyone? Mother’s day

The half of a pig that we also ate for Mother’s Day. You can never have enough meat.

As mentioned in my introduction, I am now living with my second family. Family number 2 consists of my new host mom Berna (stay at home mom), new host dad Claudio (construction worker), 23-year-old host sister Daniela (housecleaner studying to be a physical therapist), and my 12-year-old host brother Miguel. [Aside from the human members of the family, we have 2 pigs, one dog, 3 cats, and a large bird named Pincho] They are very kind, however much more quiet than my first family. I think Miguel is terrified by my existence (he has not said more than 2 words to me over the past 2 weeks and avoids me at all costs), but I am determined to get him to warm up to me over the next 2 years.  My host mom is a great cook, so I often watch her while she cooks up different varieties of Paraguayan food.  She loves when I complement her skills. In my new family’s home I have a room to myself, which has been really nice. The only problem I’ve encountered with my new family is the overwhelming number of mosquitoes surrounding their home! My mosquito net has been a real lifesaver!

My host dad is pretty active in the community and I have learned, very political. The other day he invited me to a meeting with his commission where the former mayor of Quiindy was going to be speaking. Because my job for these first 3 months is to show up to community events, get to know people, etc. I figured it would be a nice event to attend. I realized as soon as I showed up that what I was actually viewing was a political campaign. The mayor was there to speak, as was the governor of our department, AND the guy who wants to be the next governor. There was a cameraman and all of the current governor’s assistants. What an event! My host dad made sure to call me in front of the group to introduce me to the governor and the future prospect—we will see if the introduction pays off when and if I ask for money for future projects.

Now that I have 2 families in the community, my former family and my current family, I am having to juggle my schedule (tomorrow I move to my third family’s home). My old family will invite me to lunch, but I feel bad leaving my new family. It is also kind of funny the way my old family and new family ask me questions about one another. “Do you still get to watch Cuna de Gato (the soap opera I watch with both my former and current host moms) over there?” “Do they have peanuts over there?” “Do they have x, y, and z in their field?” “How many chickens and or cows do they have over there?” I try my best to keep things neutral and make both families feel special by being very ambiguous with my answers.

A couple of weeks ago my former host family asked me to attend the birthday party of my host brother’s girlfriend. I figured it would be awkward since I wasn’t directly invited, but as mentioned before, I am constantly trying to meet new people and attend as many events as possible so I figured I might as well. (Plus, about every event I go to is a little bit awkward or uncomfortable in some way or another, so I’m getting pretty comfortable with awkwardness) On our way to the party, my host sister’s husband was driving when his breaks failed to work. He swerved off the side of the road where there were a whole bunch of soccer balls and volleyballs displayed (this is one of the main sources of income for many families in Quiindy, and they sell them along side the road). We started plowing through racks of balls until the car finally came to a stop. It was pretty terrifying thinking about what could have happened had there been another car coming in the opposite direction, or had we been driving any faster. Luckily both of these conditions had worked in our favor and nobody was hurt. We were still able to go to the party!

We got to the party and as expected, nobody knew who I was. I got some strange looks, but thankfully Paraguayans are pretty nice, so me crashing the party wasn’t too bad. When it came time to eat there weren’t enough seats at the grown-up table, so I had to sit at the kids table, but that was the least of my worries. Again, there was tons of meat, sopa, and the rice/mayo mixture. It was a beautiful party that I’m glad I went to!

Fancy birthday party-notice the kids table on the side

Fancy birthday party-notice the kids table on the side

In my site, the organization PLAN Paraguay is very active. PLAN Paraguay is an organization that focuses on a range of needs within Paraguay from family and school gardens, to strengthening individual families and teaching parents how to encourage and motivate their children. Because they are so active in my community, there are plenty of classes and events that I can attend to better understand the needs of my community. Also, they are very hardworking and I have been forming relationships with the directors in my region to have as resources once I start working. Anywho, my contact is the PLAN community health volunteer for Comandante Peralta and she was given toothbrushes and toothpaste to give to the preschoolers and kindergarteners in the main school—to be accompanied by a small lesson on brushing your teeth. Eduvigus (my contact) asked for my help. To make more of an impact on the kids I figured we should teach the students a little bit about the relationship between what we eat and the effect it can have on our teeth if we don’t brush regularly. I found (Peace Corps provides us with a ton of useful tools for situations like this!) a story about Maria the Tooth who ate too much sugar and started to hurt until she started to utilize her friend Mr. Toothbrush. We sang a song about brushing your teeth everyday and then we played a game with a picture of a healthy mouth and a picture of an unhealthy mouth and I had the kids put pictures of different foods on each mouth. Soda and ice cream correspond to an unhealthy mouth and toothpaste and vegetables would be placed on the healthy mouth. I came across a couple of obstacles. First, you have to be VERY animated or you loose attention QUICKLY. Second, at least with the younger students, having a teacher translating the important facts into Guaraní is very helpful, and thirdly you must incorporate your resources! I told Eduvigus I would help her, but for our first (of two) lesson, she was outside with the teacher getting the names of all of the students (leaving me alone in the classroom). For the second lesson, both the teacher and my contact were actively engaged in the lesson, asking questions and translating, and it made for a successful dental chat! Working with the students got me really excited to start planning out activities in the school.

Showing off their new toothbrushing skills!

Showing off their new toothbrushing skills!

I am sure those of you regular followers remember me mentioning the bit about Paraguayans publically picking their noses. Well, I’ve discovered its not JUST picking their noses that they are comfortable with doing in public.  It’s pretty much every normal bodily function you could think of! More than once now, I have been walking through my community and have come across some male relieving himself in public. I’m used to men peeing in nature—my own father is a master at the old “road-trip-pull-off-the-road-to-pee” move, but these guys don’t make ANY effort to cover up or hide themselves. To make matters worse, when I pass, they will still turn around to say hello, WHILE THEY ARE PEEING! It is a site to see. Also, I have yet to see it, but I’ve talked to a couple of other volunteers who have looked out the window while on a bus and seen people pooing along the road—I will let you all know if I come across this situation. Aside from the peeing/pooing and nose picking, Paraguayans also engage in the snot rocket move. Got a little boogy bothering you and don’t feel like picking it? No worries!  Shoot it out! At least you don’t dirty your fingers. Unfortunately, people do not just pull the snot rocket and hawk-a-loogie moves outside, as I’ve seen many people do in the states. They do it in their HOMES! On their kitchen or bedroom floors! Sometimes I catch myself laughing at the strangeness of it all and I wonder if I will ever get used to some of these things!

On to my last point–beware its a little gross. Paraguay has a lot of little creepy crawlers. I training we heard all about common parasites and things that we might encounter while we are here and of course I found it FASCINATING! Well, last week I started to feel some discomfort inbetween my big toe and the toe next to it. I looked around and found a little spider bite looking bump. I covered it in duct tape, thinking it was a botfly (worm larvae that gets in your skin and tries to get out once it hatches that you have to suffocate). After four days of this I was able to squeeze out a little egg sack(disgusting I know). I documented the whole process with my camera and when I showed the doctors at our medical office they told me it was actually tungiasis or more commonly known here as pique. It is basically a sand flea that burrows into your skin and deposits eggs which you take out with a needle. Basically all of the volunteers get it (multiple times in some cases). It becomes a normal part of volunteer life! Luckily it was not botfly–I don’t know if I’m quite ready for that.

Extraction of Pique

Standalone egg sack

I finally got the local post office to provide me with an address so that I can receive packages and letters in my site and don’t have to travel to Asuncion. Here is my new address for those of you who are interested:

Bridget Slevin—Cuerpo De Paz

Idelfonso Mereles C/ Ruta N. 1

Correo Quiindy

Quiindy- Paraguay

CP 4240

As always I miss you all and love, love, love the comments—keep ‘em coming! I finally have internet in site so I promise to start responding to comments.