Sunday, March 18, 2012


It was a week ago that I found out I would have to be moving from my site. I met with the Country Director, the Security Officer, and my Program Manager, and they all agreed it would not be safe for me to continue living there.

I'd come into Asunción six days before that after a phone call from the Country Director saying he wanted to talk to me in person about something, and that I should come in as soon as possible. I did, only packing a pair of underwear and a t shirt, expecting and hoping to be able to return the next day and get in at least a couple full days that week at the Escuela Básica, which was still getting started with the school year.
I ended up not going back to site until last Thursday, 9 days later, when I rode up with Eduardo, a Peace Corps driver, in a pick up to pack up my belongings. I didn't interact with many people that day and we left town around 5 to return to the city, but the next day I rode up again with my Program Manager to talk with a few of my counterparts and say goodbye to those few I would have time for before leaving again for Asuncion.

It breaks my heart to leave behind my community, my home, my friends and aquiantinces, my students and my plans. I feel terrible for abandoning so many kind people without so much as a "chau" after they welcomed me into thier lives. I've spent most of the last year in Nueva Germania trying to get to know people and understand how things work in anticipation of this year. I did do some work that I am proud of: my summer reading class, diagnostic testing, library reorganization, diadactic materials work; but mostly it was all short term, dubiously sustainable, and uncomplete.

It is the relationships I formed with wonderful people in town that will last and that I feel the worst for leaving behind so abruptly. I formed a bond with many of the children in town, especially in my neighborhood. I think it was because I was so unusually interested in them, that I didn't mind acting silly or undignified with them, that they took to me. I will always remember with deepest fondness the way kids would yell my name all over town whenever I would walk by. Claudia said they've been coming by my house asking for me since I've been gone.   <heart breaks>

And I can't help hating the Peace Corps a little bit for ripping me from my life. from my real relationships and personal commitments, so nonchalantly. This is the US-government-bureaucracy side of the Peace Corps, with unbendable rules and priorities and redeployable human resources. I understand thier reasoning, it is logical. All the same, they control nearly my whole life right now, and I resent thier assertion of that control which in an instant rendered my personal credibility among these people meaningless. I am unmasked as a cog in a great machinery and my attempts to bridge great gaps of culture are revealed as trivialities, each personal commitment and moment of trust equally unimportant in the long run to the organization in which I serve.

I am not seething or depressed. I've been trying not to think much about it at all, as there is nothing that can be done, except to try and make contact with those I wasn't able to despedir appropriately. We are in the process of finding a new site for me. I will be able to integrate and figure out what I will do more quickly, now that I have more than a year's experience in Paraguay working with the education system. I am sure I will form new meaningful relationships, and friendships, and that I will find new beautiful places to recharge me, though I truly cannot imagine dealing with the bullshit without the lovely fields and river just East of my old house, without sitting on my porch watching the barrio in the changing evening light, just as I can't imagine meeting any old lady as kind and nurturing as Ña Dolores or any friend as generally hilarious and good natured as Antonio.

I give thanks, at least, for having been able to spend one good year in that random town. From here it is one day at a time, for some time to come.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012


So, in the interest of presenting Praguay to the outside world, it is good to have my own photos and bloggings. Because then there is a personal connection, if you know me, to my experiences. On the other hand, it is a little ridiculous that every single volunteer is taking all their own pictures and trying to recreate thier experience for anyone that cares back home. Other volunteers have great pictures which are relavant to my experience, but the data overload is so much that it is inconvienient to share everybody's photos, there are thousands, just from my "G" (group of volunteers that came into training at the same time as me).

Anyhow, sometimes I read a blog post that says what I'd like to say, and it would redundant to have to relate the same experience all over again. We all do go through many of the same experiences, which is one of the amazing things about being a Peace Corps volunteer. Even after returning to the States, ReturnedPeaceCorpsVolunteer groups are very popular because it is so hard for anybody who's never done this kind of thing to really understand.

I can make anything verbose and long winded...

Here are some blog posts I've enjoyed and felt I could have related myself nearly word for word, if I were so talented.

on the subject of trash and yard maintenance. I never thought I would be doing so much yard work in Peace Corps, and I wasn't even very guapo about it.

on the subject of Guarani

on the subject of terere

on the subject of what happens to your body in the campo

Monday, March 12, 2012

Asunción - Parte II

So that urban character. The personality quirks of a city.

I spent much of yesterday walking around the older part of town. No historic part of Asunción is completely preserved, but there are a large number of beautiful old buildings scattered around are large part of the city. They are most concentrated in the core historic district, with the presidential palace and other government buildings, and the main plazas, but can be found in gradually decreasing frequency the farther you go from this core. Like a scatter plot. The buildings are grand and heavily ornamented. They seem to be evenly  spread out along a spectrum that runs from perfectly restored and beautiful to completely falling apart. So I mean you're likely to find a about equal numbers of semi falling apart and semi-restored buildings too.

The rest of the buildings in the old city are very ugly modernish cement structures. They seem mostly to be painted yellow or white and blue and all are covered in soot and dust. There are some tall buildings which are equally ugly and covereed in soot and these are scattered around downtown but not in any way that forms an attractive skyline.

That is the old city. The new city is the Americaland that has been constructed to the South East. It is shopping malls and mansions, huge streets and SUVs and security gaurds. This is where the aristocracy lives. It is where most of the important business is conducted, with corporate headquarters and large banks. The character of the new city is quite different from the urban density of the old city. It is much like American suburbia except with much dirtier cars and roads. You can still see poverty, but the deeper you go into the nieghborhoods the more the whole rest of Paraguay is shut out.

I have a friend that works as a teacher in the American High School in this part of town. I stayed with him the other night and it was wonderful to be in a house so comfortable and American. I am grateful for his and his roomates' generosity. I used thier wifi and we exchanged movies with our laptops and drank coffee and I used thier fancy minty natural shampoo. They live in a bubble though, and it was hard to believe I was still in Paraguay. I could have been in a semiposh California suburb.

Then we went out to brunch yesterday in a cafe the food was great but I was really blown away by the good taste. Many of the fancy places are ostentatious and grandiose, but tasteful and creative design is something I have come to long for. The old city has its grand old buildings and some fine restaurants and hotels that are very tasteful in a traditional way. The good taste in a postmodern setting is more difficult to achieve, I think, and it is in very short supply here.

Of course that is all very subjective and intangible.
I don't really like that side of town though, it is too elite and also I have my prejudice against suburbs. I meant to write more about the old town, which I spent some time exploring last week. I will get to that, in Parte III...!

About Guaraní

the NYT has a good article about why Gauraní is special, and how it ended up that way.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Asunción - parte 1

Well, now.
Events have conspired to compel me to spend some time in Asunción this week. This will a good opportunity to really explore the city in a way that I have not been able to do so far, and then I can write about it!  Generally when we come in it is for some  PC event or another, and there are many volunteers in the city for a short time and we devote a fair amount of our free time to going out, drinking and otherwise burning cash before quickly returning to our more humble lives in site.
I will be reimbursed by the Peace Corps for the price of my hotel room plus 45k Gs. (10$) for food and walk around money, but I can´t afford to be drinking and galavanting around the city like I normally would. I did once know how to live very cheaply, but my discipline has severely eroded away over the years. Still, I love walking and I don´t mind eating bananas. You can see a lot of interesting things in Latin America cheaply if you are willing to walk around and eat bananas. Because bananas are cheap.
Asunción is the only proper city in the country. It is the oldest Spanish city on this side of the Andes and contains the bureaucracy and society that allows Paraguay to operate as an independent country. In Paraguay there is Asunción and then there is everything else (the interior).

But as far as cities go, as far as Latin American capitals go, it is not much. Not very impressive. Disappointing, if you are hoping for a metropolis or a mysterious and beautiful imperial relic. There are no mighty Spanish fortifications or ruins, the cathedral is uninspiring, the river port is sleepy, the road network is baffling, dangerous, dirty and loud, there are no dizzying winding stairways or mountainside barrios, the nightlife is unimpressive, even the modern buildings are ugly.

For all that, I love it for what it is.
Disappointment is of course a matter of incorrect expectations. The result of an error on the part of the beholder. It is a dirty little city, that is all you can expect.
Is it little? It is difficult to classify cities by size. Asunción is quite large. There are 2.3 million people in the metropolitan area, which is about the same as Portland. There were only 2.3 million in the whole country in 1950 (now there are 7) and town with more than 20,000 people in Paraguay is considered a ciudad. My parents refer to Nueva Germania as a village, while my neighbors refer to it as a ciudad. Anyone who has spent much time a true city however, knows what it looks like. It is that urban core that really defines all the sprawling area around it. New York has a seemingly endless urban core, Seattle has a decent sized one, Portland´s is rather small. It is there that the best, the smartest, most creative and most expensive of everyone and everything in the city´s region is focused and it is there that the city´s character is decided.

It is a dirty little city, but it does have its own character. An urban character, which is built out of so many lives so deeply enmeshed in the city´s little universe over multiple generations. This is what I cannot help but come to love, this little outpost of cosmopolitanism deep deep up inside South Ameica, so far away from the modern world of information and international commerce and steel and glass and iphones.