Thursday, December 29, 2011

Christmas town

I write from the comfortable and affordable Asuncion hostel. It is clean artsy and convieniently located, and with the Peace Corps discount costs the equivalent of 8$ a night. There´s a continental breakfast in the morning, but the coffee is terrible. Asi es

Spent the 23rd and 24th in Aregua with Elmer Calata. Saw artists and hippies and hipsters like I have not at all since I came to Paraguay. I saw beautiful things! Man made things, no less. For all my affection for this country I do believe that it suffers much for want of aesthetic taste. The old fancy traditinoal houses downtown here are cool, and there is a beautiful chruch up the hill from the hotels that outshines the cathedral even. But generally speaking, people built ugly things (even more so than in postwar America!).

But in Aregua there were tall dark trees, fine houses, taste. It was soothing.

Then on Christmas day I went down to Quiindy in dpto. Paraguari where Jonathan Rosario lives in Barbara Dean´s old house. My cousin Bryan lived in a nearby compania six years ago or so. It is a pretty town. It´s not  so isolated as many places, but with a rural charm. Departamento Paraguari is my favorite because of it´s varied landscape and Quiindy has rolling hills and dells that give it character.
There were four of us at Jonathan´s house and we watched movies and restored an amoir. I slept in my hammock in the yard which was real nice and something I´d wanted to try for a while. As long as it doesn`t get to cold at night it´s a bed I can take with me that is superior to a thermarest (which I don`t have anyhow).

And now I´m back in the city. I`ll go to Guarambare this evening to visit the host family. Then I`ll take the bus home which passes through the town of 25 de Deciembre, but which I prefer to call Christmas town.

Thursday, December 22, 2011


A good night tonight after a hot as balls day. There is a warm breeze blowing the leaves beneath the stars. No moon, so far. Across the street at the Samudio house there are loud male voices and Brazilian sertanejo music on the stereo. There are just a few lights and I just have a candle and a beercan-oillamp lit, because my porch light is a fluorescent tube which is blindingly powerful.
There was no power or water for most of today, which, combined with the debilitating heat, made it a pretty low key day. The national power company ANDE was replacing power poles in our neighborhood, replacing old palm tree trunk poles with concrete ones. The water thankfully came on again around 5 and I was able to take a cold shower and finally get around to some laundry. The power came back on around 7. I rarely lose power or water, but they do both go out together sometimes. I am thankful for my regular water, which is not foul tasting either, when I hear from other volunteers that more often than not have no water in their pipes.
Today my only real activity was to go by the comedor (literally 'eater', where poor kids get lunch 3 days a week) and I gave out Christmas gifts to all the kids there. When dad came to visit I casually suggested he might bring down some toys, as there are lots of kids in my part of town and I rarely see them with any. He brought a shoe box and a bag stuffed with all sorts of action figures and matchbox cars and old beanie babies left over from my childhood and from Granny's Attic (best thrift store ever, back home). I had about 60 items, over varying size and quality, and figured I could let each kid in the comedor choose one toy and still have plenty left over. It actually was a little less chaotic than I expected, and only got mob-like at the very end. Walking home I felt good about putting these toys to good use, but weird about the way in which it had happened.
We do not want to be seen here as purveyors of charity here. It is a whole touchy issue, but comes back to the idea of good development, of helping folks help themselves. It seems silly to split hairs when it comes to giving toys to poor kids, but even so I realized the way it happened was unpleasant to me. The mobbing was to be expected, especially with no planning and with Teresita, the philanthropic Señora in charge, absent today. And I hold the right of kids to have toys above philosophical distinctions about charity and development. But the point of giving out Christmas presents should have been to help establish a relationship with the kid.
Hannah Freedman, my neighbor an hour away in San Pedro de Ycuamandiyu, has done amazing things just getting to know and trust a group of kids there who have grown up mostly neglected and occasionally abused. She trusts and opens her life and home to these kids far more than most volunteers are willing to do, and finds them usually to be kind, smart, honest and helpful. I´m always amazed how they clean up after themselves; legoes, paint, food, whatever. What she says is that these kids have just been ignored by adults their whole lives and that when they do get a little bit of attention and appreciation they shine.
The point then in this Christmas gift business is that it is a great opportunity to establish something personal, to say to the kid that they are important and special and that they matter in the world. To build some self-worth, (which anyhow is a core focus of my project group: Education and Youth Development). What I felt I ended up with instead was a more or less impersonal charity hand out. All the more so since it was within what is in fact a charity hand out (for all its merits), the comedor itself. The rest of the toys I´ll be giving out to kids I know in the neighborhood and around town. That will be more personal, and more satisfying.
I just hope they play shit out of those toys.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

there's no good translation for 'porch'

It is a beautiful night. There is a wind in from the south which is warm and friendly and somehow invigorating. There are nice non-threatening high-up clouds moving across the evening sky which is changing from blue to grey to orange to green to dark blue again and I recline in my lovely hammock on my lovely front porch and drink $2.50/bottle wine. I have a candle burning, because why not? These lovely quiet nights and afternoons and mornings on my front porch are the most special, reliable, beautiful part of my life right now. Tranquilo is a favorite word of Paraguayans, and with good reason. My street, as I like to say, is paved with grass. Kids play soccer in it, men and women come and go, occasional motorcycles and horse carts pass by. There is only one other house beyond mine before the proper edge of town. After that there are mostly pastures for cattle and a few scattered homes. The big river lies south of here and runs perpendicular to this side of the town. To get to it I walk down my street, turn right, and follow the road for what would be about 6 blocks. There is a crossing there with usually about 5 canoes tied up, adults fishing and sometime children swimming.
The recently paved highway runs through my town and past where I lived my first 3 months with my host family. Large trucks pass noisily by carrying soy or corn on their way to the port on the Rio Paraguay at Antequera (about an hour away). I was very happy to move off the highway, and though I am just 5 blocks from it the difference is profound. Here you can see the ancient character of a road, as a multipurpose public space. Soccer field, pasture, pedestrian trail, and vehicle route. In the states we have specialization of all things, because it is efficient. I am glad to experience the many not yet specialized realities of a life here.
I am also very happy to be typing at night with my window open, which I can now do because today I installed a screen (a novel idea!) over it.
I have started teaching English class two nights a week. I held off for a long time because it is not part of our project. I am glad to be doing it now, and I partly wish I had begun earlier, but beginning now that normal school is out for the summer does make sense. It is great to have some normal kind of work to do, and not to worry too much about its long term sustainability, about involving local counterparts, about NGOs and grants and collaborations. I enjoy teaching this damn language that is the only one I will ever speak well. And it is fun to be with the jovenes (young people) doing something concrete. Just having a set concrete thing on my schedule helps my sanity a great deal. Something to plan around and for.
I will be doing a remedial summer reading class for illiterate 3rd and 4th graders, but that won't start until after the New Year. I've been trying to have drop-in drawing class and story hour at the library, but lately nobody shows up. With the English class they've had to pay to sign up (to go towards buying a new ink cartridge at the library) and they have to keep up, so they have some skin in the game. I hope it goes well anyhow.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Prairie Home

I listen to a lot of NPR podcasts here. I can download them on the wifi network here at the library and listen to them on my stereo in my house and it makes me feel so much at home. I listen to KCRW´s To The Point, which has long been my favorite news show. They focus on 3 issues for the whole hour and get really smart, well-informed and usually quite reasonable people to talk about each issue. Context, context, context.
I listen to This American Life and Selected Shorts in the evening or while I clean or do laundry. The quality of the story telling and even just the good use of language, the quality communication, is a welcome relief after a day of bungled, half-misunderstood attempts to communicate with my friends and neighbors here.

My favorite though is Garrison Keilior`s News from Lake Woebegone, the only part of Prairie Home Companion that you can download. The story telling and use of language is great, but it goes even beyond TAL and Slected Shorts in its beautiful rendition of the mundane of (United States of) American life, which I miss so much. The stories of the characters in the small town, who have known each other thier whole lives, of thier strange behaviors and thier own hesistant interactions with one another, all take place deep within a distinct strain of (United States of) American culture. All these people speak the same language, or often don´t even speak it; they can communicate with a grunt or a back-handed compliment more than I can with all my train-wreck Spanish or Guaranì.

To live in your own culture, to be so deep within it that the entire world is understood through its meanings and connections is a very special, but rarely appreciated thing. You only notice it when you go far away from your native place and you realize that not just the words are different, but that nearly everything else about how people communicate is as well and that you cannot possibly learn it all over again because it has to be hardwired deep down within you to be really natural.

One can learn to fit in, and to an amazing degree communicate with people in a culture so unlike to that in which you were raised (and here I am not even leaving the Americas, speaking a romance language!). I believe there is a limit however, and that even the most brilliant Indian or Paraguayan could come live in rural (United States of) America and be unable to learn the myriad assumptions and unspoken rules of interaction. This is not meant to bash foreigners or immigrants. On the contrary I am in awe of how difficult it must be to permanently leave your native country behind. What I mean to say is that we should all be thankful and proud of our unsurpassed ability to know and speak our own culture, and that even the dullest among us can communicate in a language that can never be completely learned, no matter how supieror the student may be to us in all other subjects or tests of mental ability.

Miss you guys.

Where all the women and strong, all the men are good-looking, and all the children are above average.

Friday, December 9, 2011



It's raining now. It rained a little bit this afternoon, but only briefly. I have the feeling now that it is settling in for a good long soak.
The weather has been humid since Saturday, with a few showers that night and big ominous looking clouds every day since. But the weather here needs a good soak to reset. Then you have several pleasant warm sunny days, followed by increasingly unbearable humid heat until you get a good soak again. Sometimes the weather tries for a good soak, but it doesn't pan out. Then the weather is overdue for a reset but can't get up enough umph for another 5 days at least. Like when the toilet doesn't quite flush all the way, but you can't flush it again until the tank fills up.
That happened after thanksgiving. I was glad it didn't rain that day, but the weather afterwards was awful until Wednesday the first.

I have not written in awhile. I've been in Paraguay 10 months now, which might as well be a year. It was a year ago that I got my invitation packet and finally knew for sure where I'd be doing these two years and change. At this point my most recent memories from the states are outdated. My understanding is that everyone and their mother has iphones now. I won't even be able to communicate with folks by the time I get back. They will have their cybernetic chips implanted and I won't even be in the habit of using voice-mail. (Nobody seems to use voice-mail here, I'm not sure why).

It is hard to write because it is hard to explain anything without having to explain everything. Which I would be very happy to do, but it is beyond my powers. It is best to stick to concise topics.

When it rains here most everything comes to a halt. This is understandable with so few paved roads and so few cars. Of course, it also rains much heavier here than it does in the North-West. It rains year round, but least in the winter. As a result everything is green. I have lived in my house less than 5 months and I have several plants that are as tall as I am that have grown in my back yard in the meantime. Young trees have grown 3 or 4 feet. This area was all once rainforest, and it is a shame that so little remains, but I can't help being reminded of the comparison of Paraguay to Ohio, which was also once completely forested (right?). And I can't very well make a big fuss about folks clearing Ohio 200 years ago.

In my garden I've got cucumbers and tomatoes so far. The cucumbers are growing fantastically and it is a pleasure to watch their vines and tendrils grow and move from one day to the next. My tomato plants are coming along and I just put four more plants in the ground. This is my first garden, and I am moving slowly, but it is a great pleasure to have the freedom to go about it as I like and to learn from my own trial and error.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011


In Paraguay the bugs are bigger. Moths, spiders, flys, beetles and even toads (which are not bugs, but are bichos which means pest). All these things also like to come into my house, which is impossible to seal off. The walls don't connect with the roof, the doors don't go to the floor, the windows have no glass (the two big ones have wooden shutters, the little ones nothing.)
So far nothing has shown up in my bed. This morning there was a slug down in the toe of my shoe. I didn't even know there were slugs here.

On the bus, 11/2

            I'm on the bus! Using my computer! How cool. As long as I don't get car-sick.
            It's not generally recommended to take your laptop out in public, but I have been surprised at how unimpressed folks have been in my site. Laptops are around, mine is very likely the fastest one in town, but you can't tell just by looking at it. I have seen people using laptops before, and have seen many fancy web phones used on the bus. And I have never had any security problems on a bus before. I generally stow my rucksack in the overhead compartment opposite my seat so that I can easily see it. It still looks pretty conspiciously american backpacker-y, but it is a little more ragged than it was, and I really feel like folks don't care that much what you look like, within certain bounds.
I got a haircut recently. I actually get annoyed in the states when I wear a hat, or get a hair cut or gress up nice, every single person I talk to comments on it. Here folks either don't notice or choose not to say anything about my hair cut, or my facial hair experiments. It may just be because I'm so weird generally, its harder to track the little changes, but I think it is also just a less obsessively observant culture. You try to dress as well as you can, but if your t shirt says absurd things in a language you don't understand, if folks can see your underwear through your spandex, if you've turned up the bottom of your t-shirt to give your belly more breathing room, or you've covered yourself in tacky flashy jewelry  or y these things will probably not be remarked upon.
Verbally anyhow.

            We've just pulled into the Santa Rosa bus terminal. I've spent a fair ammount of time here and at the terminal in Santani waiting for buses. These terminals in towns along the main spine of dept. San Pedro remind me of Mos Eisley. First off, the new double decker long distance buses look like spaces ships, with their curved mirors that come down off the front of the bus like antenae. They are enormous, shiny, and with the tinted glass one cannot see the normal human beings inside. Then you have the other, older buses, the hunk of junks, the Mellenium Falcons. Some of these are fantastically delapitated. All, new or old are decorated with at least a flamboyant paint job, and each bus line attempts to differentiate itself from its competitors with its unique and unmistakable motif. Numerous vendors advertise soda, chipa, meat, “sandwiches”, and roasted meat by chanting the names of their goods. “Chipagaseosachipa” or “chiclegalletitacaramellochicle”. Other vendors have seemingly random inventory combinations: sunglasses, socks and nail clippers or cell phones and jewelry and playing cards. Others focus on pirated DVDs and CDs. My favorite are the real salesmen, who come on the bus as it is leaving the station and make their pitch to the captive audience of passengers. They always speak clearly but animatedly, either in Guaraní or Spanish, about their oriental healing salve or patriotic educational materials or cheapo smart phones, and then pass them out for the passengers to appraise. He'll collect the money from interested passengers on his way back down the eisle, and then get off the bus at the next stop, which is anywhere he or anyone else wants it to be.
            All the fast and loose capitalism is amusing and sometimes thrilling even as it is precarious and occiasonally obnoxious. Generally it all works very well. Another element Mos Eisley element to Santa Rosa is the strange variety of people you find there. Mostly you have Paraguayans of course, but there are young and old, well dressed and in rags, from the city and the campo, men, women, children (who throw up on the bus with alarming frequency), soldiers, salesmen. There are always attractive young women in skin tight pants and revealing tops to appreciate. On the weekends and holidays you get a crush of people fleeing the city to visit their families, and the bus will fill so that every seat and every centimeter of standing room is occupied. Along Ruta III in dept. San Pedro there is also a lot of exchange with Brazil to the north across the open border at Pedro Juan Caballero/Ponta Pora. So while you may encounter the occaisonal Brazialian, you are much more likley to encounter large quantities of Brazilian goods, or raw good bounds for Brazil. The strange chord of this place is really only complete when you encounter German Paraguayans, especially the Mennonites, who have a colony just up the road from Santa Rosa and who often come into town dressed straight out of American Gothic with plaid dresses, bonnets, brown overals, freckles and sand blonde hair. The other German descendents have integrated with the general Paraguayan society, but have contributed a scattering of blonde hair or mysterious blue eyes among the general population here, and in many parts of the country. It is much more likely that a blond haired person in my town will speak fluent Guarani than even a little bit of German.


Tuesday, October 4, 2011


Many months in now, things seem vaguer, deeper, less distinct. Also I am sick, or was very sick yesterday, and that tends to blur the edges. Work moves forward, but my motivation waxes and wanes. The internet connection here at the library has been bizarrely unpredicatable in a way that resembles my adventures with my pen drive mp3 music. It defies any pattern or logic, but al least seems to be functioning more often than not this week. But the less frequent connection to the outside world of information, the uncertainty of when the connection will even be on, the longer periods of time in site and the increasingly powerful hot weather add to my sense of disconnect from the outside world.
Which from an intergration stand point is a good thing. My language abilities suffer every time I spend a few days with Americans and my connections with my neighbors here are deepened the more I rely on them for my social interactions en vez de far away americans.
The anticipated arrival of a swift little computer in the arms of my soon-to-arrive father will reinforce my connection with the outside world once again. It will give me powerful new tools to make things happen quickly, and hopefully will motivate me to do more work in my "free time" at home in the evening. I think the timing of this is good. I`ll have had 8 months in the country without my own computer (an escape into a whole digital non-paraguayan world) to learn how this place runs and where the bottlenecks are. Now with my decent understanding of how things work here, I`ll be able to use this productivity multiplier more effectively. Or so I hope.

We had a little VAC day last sunday here in Nueva Germania. VAC stands for Volunteer Action Committee and basically means the other Peace Corps Volunteers that are located near me. There`s Leah in a village called Oratorio, about a half an hour away (by bus, at least an hour by bike), and Hannah and Marissa in San Pedro proper, a large town and the department capitol, an hour away. Leah also has a friend visiting her from home these two weeks. So they all came out and we went aswimming in the beautiful undeveloped river near my house. Paraguayans don`t swim there because the current is stronger and the water deeper than the other river, which has "balnearios" built up near where the bridge crosses. But there is a large back water above the bend without current, with the water about 5-7 feet deep. Great for swimming. The other river has only a few spots deeper than 4 feet.

And then we all came back and cooked some delicious spicy sausage and veggies. It was the first time any of them apart from Leah had seen my house, and they all said they liked it. I like it too. Its a great little size and I`ve been able to do a lot to make it feel like my own house in these 3 months that I`ve lived there. Little contraptions and such. I`ve been trying to find logical and easy to access place to store things, mostly by hanging by nails along the wall. I believe in a logical cleanliness only. What good is it to hide my things somewhere where they are difficult to get to if it only serves to keep them out of sight?

But after dinner everyone had to run to catch one of the rare and unpredictable buses heading back towards San Pedro. These buses come all the way from Asunciòn, so there is a window of an hour and a half in which they could reasonably pass. When we got to the highway we discovered that the bus had already gone by, which began a long unpleasant adventure of trying to find a sober ride to San Pedro, which is only 25 minutes away by car. We found a ride eventually with my friend prof. Evanhy and her bf, and all was well.
But I had not taken off my wet cotton shorts, and it was a cool evening. I`m not sure if that was the direct cause of my sudden sickness, which manifested itself as soon as I arrived back at my house, but I`m sure it did not help.
I was feverish yesterday, but merely congested today. But it is late in the afternoon and I must return home to eat lunch (leftover chili, homemade) before coming back here this afternoon with prof. Lyda`s 3rd grade class.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011


Thinking about all the things in Spanish and Guaraní that confuse me reminded me of things in English that confused me as a kid.

Booty / Body
They sound pretty similar. Also shaking your booty requires shaking ones body.

Fudge / truffles / Fuji / fungus / sushi
This one is a little complicated. Truffles can be chocolate or mushrooms. Fudge is a kind of chocolate. Fuji is the name of a mountain in Japan, and sounds kindof like sushi which is a type of food they eat in Japan, and kindof like fungus, and kindof like fudge. I therefore connected them all and figued fuji was a type of mushroom/truffle they ate in Japan.

I didn`t get that ph makes an `f ´sound so I figured that the correct pronouniation was `pone´ and the way we said it was incorrect like "`aint" or "gonna".

So last week I was at PDM/IST along with all the other PCVs from G35 and one CC each at CAFASA in Ypacarai. In additional to the RHS PCVs, all of the G32 PCVs from the EEE and UYD projects came in as well for our EYD sector encuentro and to meet our new PM Jeremy Smith. Jeremy is replacing Alastair (who`s normal job is PS for EBC) who had been our acting APCD since Josefina was fired in April. Don Clark, the PCPYCD also came in on Monday and Friday. Lindsey, our PCVC did a lot of the work organizing the whole thing because Jeremy was so new.

So, as you can see, Peace Corps has another language of is own.

Saturday, September 17, 2011


I haven`t written in a while. I`m at the library again, but the internet isn`t working. It`s only been working in the mornings until cutting off some time before noon since last Monday at least. Since I can`t pursue my normal distractions, it is probably a good time to write something.
I`ve been ramping up my involvement here. While the facilities and recources here excellent for Paraguay, they are managed inefficiently if at all. It was very difficult even to get the 4 principal actors here together for a meeting: the president, vice president, and the two librarians. The vice president is very active and motivated, but has several other responsibilities, including his day job at the Suspervisión Pedadgogica, so he is limited in how much he can get done. The librarians are paid to be here all day (one or the other of them from 8am - 6pm, M-F, 8-12 Sat.) but tend to do only the minimum ammount of work. They`ve just completed an inventory of all the books we have here (13 months after opening) but madeningly, insanely, the inventory includes the author, the publishing company, and even the city it was published in, but nothing at all about the subject of the book. Not even fiction vs. nonfiction.
Last week I was excited that we were able to dig a large freestanding black chalkboard out of the supervisión office to bring over here. We now have announcements, rules, and the schedule publicly posted where people can see them! So that was cool. Now I want to work on an improved organizational system. This oughtn`t to be too hard. The current system is to try and remember, or guess, where a book was previously and to put it back there. About half the shelves are labeled and about half the labels actually apply to the books on that shelf. The easiest thing to do will be just to improve the labels, make more of them and make sure the related books actually go there. But many books are already unorganized. I would like to work towards having a dewey decimal system for all the books, each with its own number alongside all the other information in the inventory. We need to work on letting people know (like, a sign would help) that they should leave the books on the tables for the librarians to reshelve. First we need the librarians to care about where the books even go in the first place.
The librarians basically don`t have any oversight. There`s the president, but she never comes here, and seems uninterested in the whole thing. Unfortunately the library commisión decided to have its leaders elected for 5 years (!) just like Paraguayan national elections, so Teresa will be president for just under 4 more years. She is a good woman, and is also in charge of the comedor (like a soup kitchen I guess, but only for kids) where she takes a more active interest. However, even there our construction of a (to my mind) unnecesarily huge garden has stalled for no aparent reason.
Not having reliable internet access has been frustrating. It is something I have really come to depend on. It seems crazy that I can be all the way out really in the middle of nowhere and use computers and the internet daily and that I acutely feel the lack of them when I cannot, but this is the 21st century, folks. When I applied for Peace Corps, and later as I packed and prepared to leave, I imagined a romantic technology purge that would elevate my conciousness and health. The truth is I`ve been using computers daily for most of my life. By 3rd grade I had my favorite computer games that I played all the time. Here I even enjoy doing little technology favors for people, setting up a printer, changing the langugage settings from English, trying (in vain) to help to pirate windows, because it means I can get my hands on something so familiar as a computer.
Anyhow, my father has offered to buy me a laptop for my birthday and bring it down with him in October when he comes to visit for 9 days. I hesistated for about 24 hours before giving in to my fantasies of computational prowess. Once I did a little looking around online and realized just how powerful even laptops are today my salivation intensified. 6 gigs of RAM? 8? are you kidding me? And I`m still taking cold showers, washing my dishes by hand, cooking a lot, walking and riding my bike everywhere, making things out of cans and plastic bottles and cardboard, building fires in my wonderful woodstove, laying bricks, hopefully gardening soon, and living pretty damn simply anyhow.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011


Paraguay has presented a previously unnoticed complication of being left handed:
Generally in Latin America you don`t flush your toilet paper, you put it in a little waste basket beside the toilet. Since most people are right handed the waste basket is usually on the right side of the toilet. In my house it is on the left. But when I use the "water" in other places, I have to reach across myself with the dirty paper to throw it out. This is gross.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Reading List so far

Travels with Charlie - Steinbeck
I The Supreme - Augusto Roa Bastos
The Age of Wonder - Richard Holmes
Love in the Time of Cholera - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
The Alchemist - Paulo Coehlo (Spanish translation)
Musicophilia - Oliver Sacks
The Adventures of Mr. Norrel and Jonathan Strange - Susanna Clarke
The Corrections - Jonathan Franzen
Mountains Beyond Mountains - Tracy Kidder
The Portable Thoreau - editor: Carl Bode
The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2007 - editor: Dave Eggers
When You are Engulfed in Flames - David Sedaris
Born Standing Up - Steve Martin
At The Tomb of the Inflatable Pig - John Gimlette
The Final Solution - Micheal Chabon
Kafka by the Shore - Haruki Murakami
This House of Sky - Ivan Doig
The Power and the Glory - Graham Greene
The Art of Music - My dad`s old music text book from college

So I`ve gotten a lot of reading done, anyhow.

Ballad of my Ballads - part 2

"Music is the sole domain in which man realizes the present. By the imperfection of his nature, man is doomed to submit to the passage of time - to its categories of past and future - without ever being able to give substance, and therefore stability to the category of the present. The phenomenon of music is given to us with the sole purspose of establishing an order in things, including, in particular, the coordination between man and time." Igor Stravinsky

"I almost reached the point of putting an end to my life - only art it was that held me back, as it seemed impossible to leave the world until I had brought forth all that I felt called up to produce..."
Beethoven - Heiligenstadt Testament, written as his deafness deepens.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The Ballad of my ballads, or why I should have just brought some cds

Chapter 1
I prepare for leaving home for 2 years, fully intending to leave much of my current life behind and reinvent my self. I am sick of all the damn music on my computer anyhow. I pack only a small radio and headphones with a splitter adapter so that I could plug my headphones ino someone else`s ipod. I intend to discover new music, both Paraguayan and that of my American counterparts. I also manage to forget my small ipod in Florida at my uncles house a month before departing.

Chapter 2
I arrive in Paraguay disoriented and exhausted with the alien culture. I am desperate to listen to and escape with familure music. Paraguayan radio is often just the same endlessly repeated elctro-pop or reggaeton songs, with very little variety. I`ve heard the Barbara Steisand song about 1000 times. At best they play traditional polkas in Guaranì, but these can be hard to find.

Chapter 3
I buy black CDs to burn on other people`s computers. I am the only volunteer in my `G` that did not bring a laptop, so it should be easy to get lots of music. I also borrow my host nephew`s crappy little guitar which I love to play. It has a looseness and a twangyness that is perfect for the blues.

Chapter 4
My first attempt to get music from a fellow volunteer is a success. I burn a mix of Zach`s computer and enjoy listening to it on my host family`s small radio/cd player. My uncle sends my ipod to my father whom I beg to send to me in a package. I ask him to include a 1 to 1 cable so that I could plug it in to speakers and stereos.

Chapter 5
Further attempts to burn cds fail for a number of reasons. Many volunteers keep thier music on hard drives which they don`t bring out with them, Jaimee`s music was totally unlabled and unorganized because it had all been erased somehow before arriving, Johanna`s music had also been erased, I didn`t want anything from several people`s libraries, seemingly successful burns would yield still-blank cds. Also my family`s ghetto blaster was on the fritz and often wouldn`t even recognize cds.

Chapter 6
I received my ipod in the package from my dad! It`s only about half full with stuff that I wouldn`t have put on if I`d known I wasn`t going to be able to change it for 2 years. It turns out that I can`t find any stereos to plug it in to. I enjoy listening to it with my headphones in my bed. In a week I feel like I know many of the songs better than I had from months or years half interestedly listening to them in the states. I also manage to burn 2 good cds from Champe`s extensive library, one a MP3 cd with some 120 songs (of wildly disparate sytles: Architecture in Helsinki, Paul Simon, Satie, Prince, Passion Pit) or so and the other some strange Phillip Glass album.

Chapter 7
I head out to my site. I bring my random ipod music and my random several cds. Within the first few weeks I buy a radio/cd player. Not quite a boom box, not quite a ghetto blaster. But it plays DVDs too! And it has a usb port, so it can play pen drives. It turns out that the Paul Simon, Passion Pit and Architecture in Helsinki albums that I put on the mp3 cd are ordered by their track numbers, so I get one PS song, one AH song and then one PP song then back to PS, which is totally jarring and unpleasant at first, though I end up getting used to it. I was thinking the thing had an input for my ipod 1to1 but that was a different model. The radio reception is not that good.

Chapter 8
Johanna comes to visit and leaves me one of her pen drives. I put some music on it from her hard drive, but for some reason my radio doesn`t read it. Because it is a new fangled style that folds up into a card. Pretty cool. No dice. Also cds tend to make a high pitched noise when they are spinning in the cd player. I despair that I bought a cheap pieceofshit.

Chapter 9
I buy a normal pen drive and put all the music from my mp3 cd onto it. And it works! But the files are strangely organized. They are not arranged alfabetically or in any ordering that I can discover, however files with the first part of thier name, like Paul Simon - Graceland and Paul Simon Kodachrome, tend to be grouped together, but not always. All my efforts to control this organization are futile.

Chapter 10
I buy a tv! I am able to watch dvds on my "mini-componente" and see the display when playing my pen drive. Unfortunately this does not clarify things much. I can at least navigate through the strange clumps to find something like what I want. I put some of Lauren`s great music on my pen drive at the VAC meeting.

Chapter 11
In attempting to bring some semblance of order to my music I try to put my music into folders on my pen drive. Inexpicably only one of the folders ever appears on my tv, that of Buena Vista Social Club.

Chapter 12
I buy two mp3 cds of music from a vendor in the bus station in Colonel Bogado while visiting Johanna. One of Paraguayan guaranias and polkas and one of Brazilian and Paraguayan Sertanejos. Brazilian Sertanejos are interesting because they bear close resemblance to american country music, especially in the use of fiddles and guiatars. Some of the music is good but mostly it all sounds the same. Do I need to learn to appreciate the music better or should South American musicians work on developing thier stylistic individuality?

Chapter 13
On my way back from Col. Bogado I pick up the package my father sent me in the postal warehouse in Asuncion which is a hideous and terrifying building carved out of the old locomotive roundhouse. It`s got a bunch of great cds in it: Charles Mingus, Yo-yo ma/Bach, Chet Baker, Abbey Road, Ukele dude, Mel Haggard. Except Abbey Road is in reverse order for some reason, which really doesn`t work on account of the long medley. Fortunately I can program my cd player to play them in the correct order.

Chapter 14
I go to San Pedro, the department capitol, to buy a little gas stove and a few things and on a whim I buy a 2 to 1 cable of the sort I have several of in boxes back home. My thinking is to plug it in to the front of my tv and listen to my ipod through my tv speakers which aren`t great, but are better than nothing. I take it home and no dice. For some reason the tv needs to be receiveing information from both the audio and visual parts of a single red/white/yellow AV cable to play sound.
In my disapoointment a thought comes to me. It would seem hopeless, a last try simply to combat inevitable failure a minute longer, but I feel something, some divine inspiration, that tells me that this will work. I plug my ipod with the 2to1 into the back of the minicomponente. It only has one set of ports and I simply assumed that these were output only. Not so!
Anda ya!
I can blast my ipod through my little ghetto boomer to my hearts content! Music which is pointless to listen to on headphones is unlocked. Music which fills the room, the home, with its happy logic, which renders incomprehesible time a matter to delight in and celebrate with spontaneous dance.
Now if only I could modify my ipod library. Perhaps I can hack it?

Thursday, July 7, 2011


Hidden within all the minor frustrations of living in a developing country are the many forgotten pleasant (quaint) ways of life that no longer exist in the rich, unionized, modern, hyper litigative society of the United States.

I never felt like I got a good understanding in college of what makes a developed country developed. Perhaps there is an econ class that addresses that subject. It seems to me that it`s that industrialization means fewer people can produce more stuff, so stuff becomes cheaper, so people can have more stuff. At the same time, other people are free to pursue white collar activities that enrich the society culturally or in other ways. The real prosperity comes when you can produce things cheaply and sell them to other places, then everyone has more money to spend on physical things and on intangibles.

I think the most visible trait of developed societies is the value of a person`s time. In the USA it is not worth a working man`s time to hand paint a sign, travel by ox cart, plant a garden, built furniture by hand, or ride to work on a bicycle. Given the cost of labor it is almost always cheaper to use a more mechanized process. The cost of labor is high due to a limited population, high levels of schooling, training, and experience, the success of labor rights and unionization efforts in the 20th century.
But I really enjoy the pace of life that comes from a society where a working man`s time is not worth very much, even as I lament the poverty that it is a symptom of.

I love to see things hand-made or improvised, to see the use of beasts of burden, to be able to interact with so many people daily who are not off hidden in a highly regulated workplace. In Latin America you can buy food and drink just about anywhere, because there is someone who`s time it is worth to hang around and sell it to you. Nearly every other house function as a `dispensa`, or convenience store. Mobile vendors will take care of you in parks or at the beach.

Furthermore your commercial interactions with these people are casual, informal. This makes sense in an economy dominated by informal employment, and lax regulation on formal employment. Workers are not controlled by rigid rules passed down from corporations or the government. When rules exist they are loosely enforced, but more often they do not exist. Perhaps because just aren`t making enough for it to be worth it to care.

So I can buy something, and if they don`t have correct change, they`ll either let me keep the difference (or once in a grocery store I was given little candies in place of exact change) or tell me to come back some other time to pay. People trust you. They value you and would not think of putting you through some obnoxious impersonal process. I am sure I will lament all this when I return to that States and all the barren, legally mandated spaces and interactions that I will surely encounter.

edit 7/20
I don`t like my vague negativity about commerce in the states without concrete examples of what I`m talking about. Since I can`t remember very well specific instances, it`s all so unremarkable after all, I thought I`d add a few examples of commerce that I`ve really enjoyed.

I like to have yogurt for breakfast. I walk half a block, turn the corner, and walk another half a block. There are often kids building sand structures in the "road". I buy my yogurt out of a little store which has all sorts of useful things, and is operated out of the front of a home. The yogurt is produced in a mennonity colony in this very district, a place called Rio Verde which is probably half an hour away. The only artificial ingredient is coloring.

My until recently host mother cooks great bread. I`m going to go back over there tomorrow and buy a loaf. Folks also come buy in the evening to buy dinner. She cooks them empanadas or milanesa (like country fried steak) and they can eat in the front room or the main room or wherever. The line between home and business is so hazy, the warmth of family bleeds into commercial interactions.

And glory of international commerce glories I`ve discovered they sell a German import Heffewiezen that`s pretty good and reasonably priced in the "supermarket" in town.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Thumbs up

My daily life is a constant barage of thumbs up. Also everyone shouts my name when they see me. I don`t know how everyone decided this was the thing to do, instead of saying like`hola` or something.

So I`ve been in site for about two months now. I`ve been working in the school and in the library, though not that much still in the library. I would like to work on getting a system so that people, teachers at least, can actually check out books. I`d like to work on the organization and reshelving of the books. I`d like to work on the computers and rules for thier use. So far I`ve just got my weekly chess and checkers club, but I wasn`t able to do that this week because I was still in Asuncion, on my way back from visiting Johana for a very pleasant long weekend.

At the school I`ve been doing diagnostic testing these last few weeks of all the classes from 2nd to 5th grades. This is a quick test done one on one with each student outside of the class to find thier reading level. It`s not something that`s done here in Paraguay, and it can be really helpful in identifying students that need help and for forming class groups diffrentiated by level. I`m done with that so the next step is to actually be in the class modelling techniques, songs, activities, didactic materials, etc. This is a bit scarier, especially because my language skills tend to leave me when I`m in front of twenty-odd students and a teacher.
Trial by fire, I suppose.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Maybe June

Thoreau said ¨Morning is when I am awake and there is a dawn in me.¨ Likewise I think Summer is when I am alive and there is a June (or a May) in me. I have a May in me today. It poured rain all day yesterday. Last night I saw the constant flashing of lightning through the cracks in my door. Today the sun has returned but the air is cool and moist, the plants green and robust, and the sand and dust subdued in red brown muck.
Though we are still technically in fall here, today feels to me distinctly like a late spring day. Those days felt so glorious both for their freshness and for the iminent end of the school year. The prospect of freedom is always sweeter even than freedom itself.

It is Aldo`s (my host brother`s friend) birthday today and to celebrate they slaughtered one of the pigs at my house today just before lunch. I`d never seen a mammal gutted and disassembled before. I`ve heard pigs screaming here, and seen (everywhere) fresh hunks of flesh tossed about, carried open in horse drawn carts, shlumped in refrigerators and on kitchen counters, but I still had yet to see the most important part of the process.
The pig bled and died quickly. It had been stuck right in its heart, which I can only assume requires impressive dexterity. Boiling water was poured on it and then the hair was scraped off with spoons and knives. Frist its ears were cut, then the skin down its middle. The feet were cut off at the ankle. The skin was opened like a coat and the fat scrapped off the meat. Then the chest cavity was opened and the guts removed. This was the part that amazed me most. To see the lungs, stomach, intestines, liver and heart. I held some of them in my hands. I thought how silly it is that the school recieves so many educational materials with anatomical pictures. These kids have a more intimate and accurate understanding of thier insides than I do.

I`ve found a house to move into in July. Its brick and has tree rooms and a bathroom. The kitchen is the back porch, but that lacks a sink (or a drain...?). They say they`ll put stucco up inside, in the bedroom anyhow, before I move in. I`ll have a little front porch to sit on an drink terere or coffee or something stronger with guests. There`s a little mango tree next door, a couple grapefruit trees in the yard, and also a bitter orange and a banana tree. Its in the poorer part of town, a good 4 blocks from the paved highway that cuts through town, so it is very quiet and removed. I can`t wait to move in, but I`m required to stay with my family for my first 3 months in site. This is so I can share in important bonding experiences, like slaughtering a pig, but its a requirement that many volunteers chafe at.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011


At the library. Just finished the second session of Chess/Checkers club, which again was a success with just the right amount of kids showing up, and playing and having fun without destroying stuff, and then leaving peacefully after about an hour and a half.
The idea of the Chess Club is to get more kids in here with a sort of library-related activities. The space is really excellent for a small town in this poor part of the country, but it needs some work. First off, almost no one comes here for the books. A book is a wonderful thing, full of information, or stories, or pictures. But it`s not the one you want, or you can`t find the one you want, or you don`t even know what you want, it is not very attractive. I`ll be working with the library here to make it easy and more pleasant to use, so that hopefully it won`t stand quite so empty all the time.
I think a community bulletin board would be another step in the right direction.

Johanna visited me this past weekend. This was very good. It`s a 11-12 hour process to get from one site to the other however. I`ll be headed down her way the weekened after next.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

the air

The weather here has been phenomenal. In the 70s, with a brisk breeze in the mornings. The air is so light and perfect it makes me just want to melt, or evaporate rather. On top of this perfect temperature (like NW summers at thier best) we have the lovely autumn light. Also amazing half-the-sky orange and pink sunsets. It is three o`clock and so quiet here at the library. This seems somehow related to the quality of the air. Dreamlike. I would like to play guitar out front here (the library has guitars!) forever.
This air, as perfect as it is almost makes me anxious. Because it is so lovely I am concerned about squandering it and about how long it may be again before it is like this. This anxiety is I think a holdover from summers growing up, when the 2 and a half months of summer vacation went by so quickly. Of that you could only count on a good month to a month and a half of warm weather like this, and then you were plunged into the inevitably, progessively shorter and darker days that dominated the rest of the year.

I am amazed how much nostalgia I constantly feel here. I get flashbacks from all different times and places in my life, triggered by the most sutble combinations of sounds or smells, or seemingly by nothing at all. I recently realized that my Peace Corps time already has formed an important epoch in my life and will only carve out a bigger share. In due time I will have the same nostalgias and flashbacks of this time and place, as I`m now experiencing exclusively of places very very far away.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

El Lugar

Written 2/9/2011

An obstacle to my becoming excited about being in this place was how little I knew about it. I´d never learned much about Paraguay. Even while my own cousin was serving here and diligently writing a blog five years ago I failed to read what he wrote. Paraguay is an isolated country. For me to love being here I`ve had to locate it in the world.

I´ve been trying to better apreciate its geographic posistion, because I think this is very important in understanding this place. It is landlocked, and far from the andes, so one has no immediate geographic landmark to anchor our understanding of where it is in the world. The andes run like a spine streight north from Patagonia forming the entire border between Chile and Argentina. They then run into Bolivia and form a large plateau, but there the course changes dramatically; they shoot off to the West and begin the enormous crescent that runs through Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, to Venezuela. Paraguay lies to the South of Bolivia, so the Andes still form thier great wall far off to the the West of here, on the other side of Argentina. Paraguay is mostly flat with some hills near the Eastern and North-Eastern border that it shares with Brazil. This border runs along the Parana river which is heavily dammed, providing most of the power for this country, but also has one of the world´s most awesome waterfalls (Yguazu - y: water, guazu: big). In general the Eastern half of the country is green and wet. It´s in between jungle and grassland. Meanwhile the ¨chaco¨ covering the Western half is dry, and is excellent for ranching. The Paraguay river runs through the middle of the country, and like of spine of an offset-book, forms the western border for the South-Eastern part of the country, and the Eastern border for the North-Western part of the country. It is navigable and runs to the "river" Plate, which is just a glorified bay, and divides Argentina from Brazil and Urugay.

Paraguay has stood outside of the main courses of history. This is largely because of it´s geographic position. It`s capitol city, Asuciòn was the first Spanish Settlement on this side of the Andes, but it soon lost importance to Buenos Aires. To the extent it was colonized by the Spanish was because the Paraguay river was the best land route to take between Buenos Aires and Lima. Perversely, in the old Spanish Empire all trade had to leave America through either Lima or Mexico, so inter-american trade routes were more important than they otherwise would have been. Only once did Paraguay step into the spotlight of (South American) history, and it got severely burned. After the South American colonies became independent from Spain, they spent a good bit of the 1800s consolidating and unifying their territory. Argentina and Brazil (which was itself now a co-equal part of the Portuguese Empire) were huge and decentralized. Paraguay, possibly because of it´s small size and thanks to a competent but totalitarian ruler (Dr. de Francia) was able to consolidate far sooner than its larger neighbors. Paraguay became a true power in South America for the only time in its history. Two dictators later Paraguay still loomed large, but neighboring giants had succeeded in consolidating their power somewhat, and in a bungled attempt to play one against the other, Paraguay ended up at war with both, and with the Brazilian puppet Urugay to boot. The war dragged on and the dictator Lopez put every warm body he could between the enemies guns and himself. By the end 90% of Paraguayan men had been killed, and Paraguay would return to its place as a backwater and footnote to history in the Southern Cone.

History interests me because I have a boyish delight in old battles, amries, ships, and castles. It also interests me in a more mature way because it affects, subtly, so much of the mundane reality of daily life. When I am in Latin America I am struck both by how different our cultures are, but also by how many common foundations we share. My culture is founded in a Western European medley dominated by the English, and Latin American culture is simarly founded in Western Europe, but in Imperial Spain. There is much in both cultures that comes from the Romans. So while I get some delight in thinking of the Roman legions eastablishing themselves in France, crossing the Channel, battling the Celtic kings and building Hadrian´s wall accross the island, the more fascinating thing is how those actions lead to how I live my life, and how it is not so much different, in its foundations, from my host family here.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011


Last night an army of army ants attempted to campaign accross our house. There were thousands of them. I think they entered the courtyard from the west side, which is open. They were trying to get out over the walls or through my room. When I got home there were lines of them scaling the outside wall of my host brother`s room, next to my door. This was not a great route for them, the wall was to smooth and almost all of them fell off before reaching the top. There was also a massive train of them entering my room under the door and following along the edge of my wall under my bed. When they reached the corner some attempted to scale the wall, which again was too smooth and they fell onto my bed and pillow, while the rest turned the corner, went straight past the bathroom door (they didn't seem to like the smooth tiles) and exited out a hole in the wall near the other wall. When I first entered the room I did not perceive the order of thier movements, and it appeared that a huge colony of ants had decided to make my room thier new home. If I`d realized they were just travelling through I probably would not have done anything to impede thier swift progess.

I sprayed some mosquito repellent on thier exit hole, and then Lola, my host mom, got some liquid poison that we splashed around a few places. This killed a few of them, causing them to convulse energetically, but mostly is served to block the movement of the train through the area where the poison had been splashed. The army was stymied. The train began traveling at great speed in a loop in front of my door and along the wall. For hours they went around and around. I wish I would`ve taken a video of thier sinous movement. Fluid, yet following closely a path laid down by the ants in front of them, unnecesary wiggles perserved by presedence. Meanwhile groups of ants that were apparently carrying eggs had climbed up to the overhang above my door. They sat there without moving, clutching eggs of various sizes.

The poison had had a greater effect than I`d realized. Before I went to bed I discovered that the train had disentergrated and that many ants were now writhing and moving wildly. There seemed to be fewer of them. Maybe the rest of the train did find a way out, perhaps through Prof. Laura`s room, which is next to mine on the other side. The egg carriers were still clinging to the overhang and to the outside of my door. In the morning they were gone, but many ant bodies remained, some still writhing weakly. All night I dreamt of ants. I hope the hens don`t hurt themselves by eating too many.

Thursday, May 5, 2011


I have reason to believe we all will be recieved in Graceland.

It`s autumn here. Today is warm again, but Monday was very cold. For some reason the people of Paraguay have never felt it worth it to put fireplaces in their houses. Whenever I mention my surpise at this people say it is because the firewood here produces too much smoke, unlike the firewood in Brazil. I respond that they could built chimineys too. My host family cooks most of its meals over a brick wood stove, even though they have an electric hotplate and small over inside the house. I love this, it gives my house what seems to me a "camp" atmosphere. Like many of my favorite things, it also reminds me of Pirate Camp.

Fireplaces with chimineys are pretty basic technology. How many hundreds of years have they been in use? And almost all the buildings are made out of bricks, so that can`t be the issue. Really I suppose it has never been an issue of survival, so people have learned to worry about other things. It was very cold here Monday and Tuesday nights, but I doubt it went below 40F (or roughly 5C). This wouldn`t even be worth mentioning in the states, but that is because we expect that all building are heated. It is quite cold otherwise, but with enough blankets (or in my case, a down sleeping bag) it won`t put a stop to much of anything, except perhaps daily showers.

Living in the "Croz Nest", the uninsulated, barely heated loft in the garage of my last house in Portland was a good preparation for Paraguay in several respects.

I have been amazed by the autumn air here; how it feels exactly like early autumn air at home. In my last post I wrote about living in a small town again. The evening air lately has just the same crispness, and the warm traces of the recent summer, as September on Vashon. I could have sworn the cool wind was coming right off the Puget Sound.

I of course neglected to bring much in the way of winter clothes, since I was going to SOUTH AMERICA, but I will need to invest in some here. I bought some sweat pants to sleep in, but I was heartbroken yesterday when I realized I had left my navy blue beanie, which I brought from the states and wore all last winter, on the bench in front of a store, and that it was gone.

I am heartbroken whenever I lose a hat. But this is just part of what I know I`m getting myself into whenever I aquire one. It is only a matter of time.

Monday, May 2, 2011

about town

I`m out at site! This is my second week! Everything new, unknown, different. Some things are mildly to quite inconvienient. I love being able to walk around to everything I need, and to buy a glass bottle coca cola to enjoy on a hot day just about anywhere. I love the library with fast free internet access. I love the mandarins, oranges, and grapefruits crowding trees everywhere just waiting to be picked and eaten.

It is a funny difficult process, as I think might be expected, to move somewhere completely new and foreign, and go about becoming a member of the tight-knit community. But I am glad to be part of a community again. The last 5 years I spent in Portland, and I enjoyed myself very much but did not feel that small town spirit I felt growing up on Vashon. Small towns have thier drawbacks, but to be a functioning member of that society, with relationships to so many people was very rewarding for me. When I visit Vashon now many of those old relationships remain, but they have not grown in 5 years. Every time I visit it is a weary rehersal of the past with everyone a little bit older.
I felt that again at the "clàsico" soccer game between the two local football clubs. There are 8 teams in the surrounding area that compete, but just these two are in-town. Everyone was there. It was a pleasant early fall evening. We were spared the powerful sun, and enjoyed white clouds blushing pink as the game came to its exciting but inconclusive finish (a tie, 1-1).
This all reminded me of the festivity and energy of High School Football games on Vashon. Since we never won it wasn`t worth it much to keep track of the game, which I did not understand anyhow. I was in the Pep band and we just had fun with music. Parents, grandparents, classmates, and younger siblings were all there, making it a kind of mixed-age shared experience that I think has become rare in the States. We at glorious hamburgers slathered with grilled onions.
I can be a part of the growing web of all kinds of relationships called a community again. I will wait on the hamburgers until I return home however. I have very fixed American ideas about how a sandwich should be, and I have yet to find a Latin American sandwich that lives up to them.

In those Vashon days I struggled to first figure out what was "normal" and then to figure out how to be "myself" in realtion to that normal. I unfotunately spent too much time trying to figure out what the normal was, but as I´ve gotten older I`ve become so much more comfortable and capable at figuring out how and when to break from the norm. This has been one of the most important things I`ve learned about living and being an adult.
Here what I have to do is very different. My MO is to find normal and to conform to it to the best of my ability. I am an outsider here. To be as unthreatening as possible I have to do my best to blend in. Figuring out how to do this while at the same time nudge people forward in certain ways (in teaching styles, in acceptance of diversity, in modern health and hygene practices) is one of the several balancing acts of my service here.

Saturday, April 9, 2011


Things I Wish I had brought:
CDs: especially classical music. (I´m glad I brought some heavy reading because I really have the time am patience to do it. The same would have applied with heavy-listening)

Winter Clothes: (it doesn´t get too cold here, in absolute terms, but there is no heating and no insulation. One is lucky if the windows shut all the way.)
My brown wool embroidered jacket
My fleece sweat pants/any pajamas
A rainjacket

Bike Tools
Short Socks
Better Shoes
A Tie
A History of God by Karen Armstrong
Moby Dick by Herman Melville
Northwest Trees by Stephen Arno
More handkerchiefs
My nice blue shirt
More boxers
My CDs

I´m thinking of going into San Lorenzo this afternoon to buy
Leather Sandals
A professional looking shoulder bag
A frying pan for my host mother
A leather belt for Johanna

Tuesday, March 29, 2011


I´ve been assigned a site! Nueva Germania in San Pedro in the north of the country! I´m the furthest north volunteer in the Eastern half (non chaco) of the country.
Google maps

Saturday, March 19, 2011


The calm pace of life, my lack of independence, the simplicity of my possesions, and of course the warm sunny weather here lately remind me of summers on Vashon. Autumn is approaching, and the weather has cooled from its sweltering peak last month. This week we´ve had something like low 80´s with a pleasant breeze. I was actually cold in my bed last night. This wind especially brings the fresh air of the puget sound to mind.
I wore my old red Vashon Maury Maritime Heritage shirt with a compass on the sleeve and the Wind and the Willows quote yesterday and I had to explain to a few people what kind of a strange ¨CREW¨ I was on. I´ve been thinking about the sound in the summer, especially as seen from the water. The floating green seaweed, the trees bursting with foliage, friendly houses with picnic tables in the lawn. Boats Boats.
Not many boats around here. And the golden watery summer on the sound I´m dreaming of won´t even exist for another 5 months. I´m enjoying the summer here a great deal of course. I´ve got a hammock now, and a bag of exceptionally cheap cigars. I´m going to go out to Cumbarity, to visit a trainee friend of mine out there this afternoon, which should be very pleasant. That town is smaller and further from the highway than Guarambare. We´ll play guitar and sit and smoke.

`Do you know, I`ve never been in a boat before in all my life.'

`What?' cried the Rat, open-mouthed: `Never been in a--you never--well I--what have you been doing, then?'

`Is it so nice as all that?' asked the Mole shyly, though he was quite prepared to believe it as he leant back in his seat and surveyed the cushions, the oars, the rowlocks, and all the fascinating fittings, and felt the boat sway lightly under him.

`Nice? It's the ONLY thing,' said the Water Rat solemnly, as he leant forward for his stroke. `Believe me, my young friend, there is NOTHING--absolute nothing--half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats. Simply messing,' he went on dreamily: `messing--about--in--boats; messing----'

Saturday, March 5, 2011


I said to Andrew, or wrote perhaps, how much I loved travelling, because you leave everything that isn´t you behind. The expectations, the relationships, the failures and successes, all the things, and it´s just you and your pack.
I have been enjoying this lightness very much being here. I am probably the only one without a computer in my ¨G¨, which means the 48 of us trainees that arrived in Guarambare (hence the G) at the same time. I also didn´t bring any music, which I regret, but at the same time I am thankful for. I can listen to music with the same virgin enthusiasm I had when I was 14. (Also, they call black cds ¨discos virgenes¨, which I find ammusing).

It is a thrill to be able to redefine ones´self. To find out which parts of what you´ve been carrying are still relevant and important, and which have become vestigial and can be shed as dead weight.

And to be reminded that how much you like what is left!

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

March Fourth

It is sunny and hot once again here in Guarambare. It rained most of last week which pushed back the start of school from the Wednesday before last to Monday. I observed the 2nd grade class that day at a very small, 4 room shool a little north of town. My teacher seemed competent and engaged, the class was small and they were well behaved, which was quite different from the experiences reported by most of the other trainees who observed a class.

We´re learning about classroom manegment skills here, which is something that is totally neglected in teacher training. As we learn new skills there is always the balance of figuring out what it is that we are more knowledgable about, what it is that is lost in translation, and what it is that we really know little about and must learn from the community. Clearly, with a college education, and my Peace Corps training I am privledged to have been exposed to many ideas and methods that my Paraguayan partners have not. At the same time it is obviously futile for me, young and inexperienced as a teacher, to come into a community or school and tell them what to do, both because I lack thier trust and respect and because I don´t know what the needs and strengths of the school or community. Meanwhile, I have to figure out what knowledge is genuinely new and what is already known by a diferent name (many things which seem like common sense and that Americans wouldn´t think twice about are unheard of here. For instance a popular and very helpful training activity with teachers is to teach them the sounds of individual letters, which they do not know because they learned all thier phonetics in chunks: mi, ma, me, mo, mu (mí mamá me amo mucho)).

Still have not tried Avacado with sugar. Mango and guayaba season is just about over, but orange season is about to begin!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Aca en Paraguay

Mangos and Guavas are so plentiful here they are more a nuisance than a boon.

Today I bought a straw hat for 10,000 Guaranis, or about $2.2.

I´m in the ¨New Cyber¨ internet cafe, al lado del plaza and the church. The town is quiet and peaceful. The buildings are very old. No one speaks English. This place is very far from the USA, except that internet pentration has increased rapidly in the past few years. My experience using computers here is the best I´ve ever had in a Latin American country. This machine has a flat screen, runs Windows 7 and Mozilla, and is fast.

There are 47 of us new trainees. Half are in the Rural Health program though, and are living futher out of town. I live a few blocks from the central plaza.

The people I´m training with are beautiful and intelligent and motivated. The family I live with is warm and caring. My host brother lives in the front part of the property with his wife and two sweet and adorable kids, Mattias 11 and Belen 15. I live in the back in a small house with Cristi and Artemio, my host parents.

You can´t get a proper mexi-coke here. They´ve got very small ones in glass, and liter and larger ones, but not the normal size.

And they eat avacado with sugar. I have not tried this yet. I´ll report on it the next time I write.