How is it possible that there are only two days left until Christmas, eight days until 2014, and three months before I end my service as a Peace Corps volunteer and head to the United States (real life) for good?! Even though school is out, summer is in full swing, and people spend the majority of their time sitting and drinking tereré, the weeks still seem to disappear into thin air. Somebody make it stop!

This year I’ve decided to stay in site for Christmas rather than travel off to some beautiful exotic beach. It was a hard choice, considering the weather this time of year is muggy and uncomfortably hot, but I figured I needed to spend at least one Christmas here and experience first hand all of the Paraguayan traditions (Oh..and I spent all of my money on my last exotic beach vacation). I decorated my house, using a bush as my tree, put up lights, and made some pan dulce, Paraguay’s version of the oh-so-famous Christmas fruit cake. Although I’d kill for some eggnog, a fireplace, and some cooler weather, this situation isn’t half bad!

My beautiful Christmas bush

My Christmas bush

Night time view of my decorations

Night time view of my decorations

Pan Dulce straight from the fogon

Pan Dulce straight from the fogon

The past few months have been a whirlwind of travels, family, and work in site.

In September, along with the local Municipality and the NGO PLAN Paraguay, I organized a 4k fun run to promote health, fitness and to celebrate Dia de la Juventud, a day aimed at celebrating Paraguay’s youth. It was the first of its kind in Quiindy and we had almost 80 participants of all ages, female and male. It was a lot of work, but a complete success! There was an outpouring of community support in the form of prize donations, help from the police and fire department for safety, and nurses and doctors ready for any emergencies. Seeing motivation and determination in people’s faces as they crossed the finish line will forever be one of the highlights of my service.

The start & finish line of our race!

The start & finish line of our race!

Our fun run participants!

Our fun run participants!

October was full of sexual education and a 12 week vacation in the states to spend time with family and friends. Along with a health team of one local doctor, two nurses, and two students from the high school in my site that I selected to attend a two day seminar on HIV/AIDS, we were able to talk in five high schools with close to 600 students in grades 6-12 about HIV/AIDS and condom use. Our goal was to be fun, engaging, hands on, and honest. The students loved it! We had students stay after our hour long class to tell us how interesting the information was, to ask questions, and to ask when we would be coming back. I was especially proud of the two 16 year old girls that assisted us from my site. Even though they were talking in front of their peers (who whistled, hissed, and made inappropriate comments) about a very a sensitive subject (SEX), they stood proud and if they were fearful, they never showed it. Much more brave than I ever was at that age!

My brave high school students talking about condoms

My brave high school students talking about condoms

Sex education with Nurse Laura

Sex education with Nurse Laura

Somewhere between all of our sex-ed chats, I was able to squeeze in a 12 day vacation home. It was 12 days of pure heaven. After 18 months of not seeing my family and friends, going home and being able to spend time with everyone I love was absolutely amazing. I stuffed my face with treats and food I had been craving (Mexican food was first), I drank delicious beers and fancy coffee drinks, I got as many hugs and I love yous in as possible, and I tried to soak in the experience. It was overwhelming how thankful/lucky/fortunate I felt the entire time I was home. So much had changed over the course of almost two years: new babies, new marriages, new houses, new jobs, but at the same time, nothing had changed at all. Many times I stopped and thought, “JEEZE, I am SO blessed. STOP and appreciate this!” It definitely wasn’t enough time. I wanted to spend more time with my mom, my aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents, and friends; however, I also knew that I had a job and a commitment to get back to. It did get me very excited to get home and be much closer to my loved ones!

First night home with my beautiful family!

First night home with my beautiful family!

I had missed my mama!

I had missed my mama!

Reunited with some of faves!

Reunited with some of faves!

Team Gold! Tee time with the Slevin Family

Team Gold! Tee time with the Slevin Family

The action didn’t stop in November as the women’s commission I’ve been working with FINALLY got sufficient funding to start construction on the fogon (an elevated, wood burning, brick oven) project we started over a year ago. On top of that excitement my dad came to visit Paraguay! It’s been a long, long time coming, but the hard work of 13 dedicated women paid off when we started fogon construction on November 15th! A Peace Corps friend and fogon constructing master came out to my site to do a training with two guys who had never built a fogon before. Two days later, we had completed our first stove! The next week I worked with the two bricklayers, guiding them along (and controlling Uncle Juan’s sugar cane liquor intake on the job), as we built five more. The women, who I think had lost some hope somewhere along the year long journey, were ecstatic and so grateful. The women have started using their new stoves and aside from a couple of adjustment burns, I have heard nothing but, “it is so pretty,” “it works so well,” and “I am so happy with my fogon!” regarding their new kitchen accessory.

Fogon #1 complete!  Uncle Juan in the middle

Fogon #1 complete! Uncle Juan in the middle

Happy faces all around

Happy faces all around

November 27th, after five months of anxiously awaiting his arrival, my dad arrived in Paraguay! Just my luck that the morning he arrived I got on the wrong bus and had a leisurely 3 hour ride around the city landing me at the airport about an hour late. (Sorry dad!) I decided to throw my dad right into the mix of things by choosing the public city bus option over the air conditioned taxi. After 27 hours of sitting, I figured he needed some adventures. We got on the bus and had a nice crowded, loud, hot, bumpy bus ride to the city center of Asuncion. We ate lunch and headed to my site.

Dad @ the Paraguayan white house

Dad @ the Paraguayan white house

Although we didn’t spend a lot of time in my site, my dad was able to share a big Thanksgiving barbeque with my neighbors where he tried lots of popular Paraguayan dishes, he got to go to a kindergarten graduation, wash dishes using the “bucket method” and get woken up at least 15 times in the middle of the night by the obnoxious chicken colony next door (I swear they’re out to get me). I’d say he got a pretty good idea of what life in the “campo” is like! After three nights in Paraguay, we traveled to Argentina. We spent a week in Bariloche riding bikes, fishing, swimming, drinking craft beers, eating cured meat and smoked cheeses, and adventuring around all of the lakes, rivers and mountains. Our week in Bariloche was followed by three days in Buenos Aires for more wine, more beef, more beautiful sites and more fun! Argentina was wonderful, and it was made that much better sharing the experience with my dad. I was so happy that he was able to make it down to South America and especially glad he got to see my site. It was an epic and unforgettable father daughter trip.

Biking around Bariloche

Biking around Bariloche

Great day fishing Lake Nahuel Huapi

Great day fishing Lake Nahuel Huapi

Wine-ing around Buenos Aires

Wine-ing around Buenos Aires

Since my dad left things have slowed way down. Because of the heat, between the hours of 12 and 5 nobody (including myself) does a thing! In Paraguay, Christmas day isn’t as big of a deal as Christmas eve, which means that tomorrow is the big celebration. I’ll be going over to my neighbor’s house to hang out with her family, and then after midnight I’ve heard everyone walks around wishing their neighbors Merry Christmas. The kids all have their fireworks ready to light off at midnight and the adults have boxes of apple champagne (Sidra) and sangria (Clerico). Should be a loud and crazy night.

2013 has been an amazing year for me! It has been filled with many successes, failures, new friendships, fabulous adventures, and unforgettable moments with some incredible people. Bring it on 2014! I am so excited to see what you have in store. Wishing everyone a very Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and Happy New Year. As always, Thank you for following my journey.

Boat ride across the Tebicuary River

Boat ride across the Tebicuary River

One last thing! In February Peace Corps Paraguay is hoping to host the 3rd annual Camp GLOW (Girls Leading Our World) for approximately 50 young girls. Camp GLOW Paraguay includes motivational speakers, engaging activities on sexual education, self-expression, creativity, goal setting, value formation, gender roles and personal identity. With your (tax deductible) support, our dream to fund Camp GLOW 2014 can turn into reality for this year’s motivated participants! Please unite with us in the movement towards female empowerment in Paraguay! To donate, click on the link below! https://donate.peacecorps.gov/index.cfm?shell=donate.contribute.projDetail&projdesc=14-526-001

Xoxo Bridget