Thursday, November 29, 2012

Since I left you

It really is amazing to me the change since I first got here. I remember the first morning I went out to the front yard of the retreat center just after dawn and just listened to the sounds, smelt the air, tried to figure out the trees...
The first six months I or so I had this persistent sense of wonder at just about everything I saw here. After I moved into my house and started to have more time to myself and to get into my homey habits this began to wear off. The breakup with Johanna, the receipt of a computer for my 25th birthday (a wonderful gift from my father), doldrums of my first summer in Paraguay started to blunt that sense further. I was reverting to my old self in some ways, which was satisfying also, because I found that I still mostly liked who I had been.

I fell in love with the campo life. I fell in love with the ease of mind, the casual beauty of daily life, the sense of disconnect from the rest of the world. I fell in love with Claudia, too.
In the crazy heat of the summer I made the mistake of acting on a feeling, began a romance with her and consequently had to leave behind the place and people I'd come to love.
I continue to count Claudia as one of my closest friends, but the relationship wasn't able to stand up the distances and lack of a future which my relocation to Natalio imposed.

I came to my new site demoralized, angry, confused. I've yet to really pull myself up out of this hole. I've made a lot of progress. It comes and goes. The worst thing is a closed off-ness in my soul which colors everything I think and feel about this second year of Peace Corps service.
I'm really trying to open back up. When I think about what things were like before and why they're different now I need to appreciate that the most important thing is in me, not in the circumstances. And that I can change it.
I wanted to be a Peace Corps volunteer for long time. People always told me that I would be a great Peace Corps volunteer. It felt a little like my whole life was leading up to it.
It is a habit of mind, it is luck, it is determination to get out the door and give things another shot. Today was a good day for me. Paraguay in general had a bad day, with intense rains and flooding in several parts of the country. Many homes destroyed, a few deaths.
But I met a couple of interesting people at the radio station, had a good on-air chat with the host Yanina about the summer at the library, worked in my garden and yard, cleaned and sharpened my tools. I planted the rosemary plant and a mysterious tropical shrub that I bought on Tuesday, when I decided that I will be staying in this house. I love and have missed the smell of fresh rosemary.

It is really something being gone for so long. I have thought maybe it was a mistake not to try and visit home after the site change or to ET (early terminate) and cut my losses. That would have felt like a mistake also. I am haunted by hypotheticals; it is best to stare them down and see my choices through.
And I marvel at how new and weird everything which now feels humdrum used to be. I think I will have been glad to have forced myself to experience being away so long and to know what that feels like. What is significant about it is how far back the chain of remembered feelings I have to go to get to that morning I left mom's house with a fever and her car bit the dust on our way to the airport at 4 in the January morning.

my fb status update for today:

1. It hardly rained at all here in Natalio, just a Seattle-drizzle
2. "damnificado" (left homeless due to some kind of disaster) is a scary word
3. new word of the day "raudal" (torrent)
4. really glorious sunset tonight
5. check out this video


Monday, November 26, 2012

recommended reading

A fellow PCVolunteer in Paraguay whom I have not had the pleasure of meeting wrote an article which was featured in the Huffington Post at the beginning of the month. It's a good read and breaks down some of the internal logic that is constantly going on as we volunteers think about what it is we're really doing here.

here's a picture of a cute kid:

Thursday, November 15, 2012


I am happy to announce the completion of my PeaceCorpsPartnership grant.

The principal reason that I ended up in Natalio is to work with the new public library. This library is the outcome of years of effort by various library commissions and Peace Corps volunteers, going back to 1990.
Lizzie Greer, my predecessor here, and the commission succeeded in constructing a new building for the library in the center of town, in addition to securing book donations from embassies and NGOs. The library opened in June of this year.
Before she left in July we worked together on the paperwork for a PCPProposal to help equip the still largely empty library. In August we sent out requests to friends and family for donations and I am thrilled to report that as of last week the entire $1,400 has been spent on Spanish and Gauraní books and locally produced furniture for the Municipal Public Library of Natalio.

The books were purchased in Asuncion by Felicia Lopez, the vice-president of the commission, and the furniture was built by Ernesto Delvalle, husband of another of the commission members. The books are mostly published in Paraguay, the rest are published in Latin America, and have a heavy focus on Paraguayan authors. We purchased approximately 150 books of many types: young fiction, classic fiction, poetry, theater, history, sociology, psychology, economy, education, law, math, biology,  anthropology, several books in Gauraní and several about the language itself.

The furniture built is one large bookshelf and four benches, which are useful for sitting on while removing muddy shoes before entering the building, and also for seating when whole classes come to visit.
¡Mil gracias para todos que contribuyron! A thousand thanks to everyone who contributed!

As long as I am here (until April 2013) I will continue to be able to accept donations to buy more books for the library, which can be sent to my paypal account with a note attached. I give my Boy Scout word of honor to see your money end up in the hand of a Paraguayan bookseller and a lovely new book in the hands of a kid.

And here's the furniture:

Go well!
Que se vayan bien

Wednesday, November 14, 2012


It's been a difficult few days, though I can't easily say why. The anxieties of my now-foreseeable end-of-service are compounding my existing dissatisfaction with my life in Natalio and the work I've done here. The work in the schools I've done has been fine but disorganized and not fully developed, meanwhile my work with the library has become very frustrating.

The school year is coming to a close and getting things done during the summer in Paraguay is difficult. The month of December was a complete wash last year in Nueva Germania. I'm not sure how things will be here down south, but I am hesitant to try very hard to organize anything before New Year's. Furthermore, my motivation and ingenuity for creating and organizing classes or clubs or events is at this point very low. It takes a lot of inspiration, intuition, organization and optimism to have even a chance of putting a successful activity or event or summer camp. I am in awe of the many beautiful projects my fellow volunteers have been putting together; I have not felt I have it in me.
I've been talking to people: Jonathan, Nicole, Claudia, my dad, my boss, Felicia the vice-president of the library commission. I'm grateful for their support. I'm not even sure what's wrong exactly - I tend to periodically wind myself up and then despair about everything. I'd like to be home now, but there's not so much time left to stick out here. The time I have left though is dominated by summer vacation and will not be productive in the traditional sense. I am already planning the workshops and activities I want to do with the schools and the library once life gets moving again at the end of February. I suppose I ought to be grateful to miss a dreary North-West winter.
my house is pretty funny-looking, huh?
I hate all these regrets and complaints I've built up. I want to smash them all and look at Natalio with fresh new eyes. I'd like to be overwhelmed and amazed and elevated again by the crazy-blue sky and the towering clouds.
I sincerely wish that there were some other volunteers nearby that I could visit to help me keep an even keel. To visit and do simple, boring Peace Corps things: cooking and washing clothes and watching movies. When I go out a-visiting it invariably becomes a grand romp which leaves me exhausted and broke and further estranged from life in my site.
What is more distressing is the conviction that all sites are essentially the same, a Peace Corps volunteer makes lemonade, or they do not. Dissatisfaction with a site is merely failure to find the way to make it satisfying. In Peace Corps there's not really such a thing as success or failure either of course, every volunteer has many successes and failures, but even so.
Even so.

The simple trick to summer anyhow is to relax. I suspect that my 24/7 internet access, which I enjoy compliments of my neighbor's unprotected wifi network, is not helping in this area.
Sorry for the griping. Let us hope that it has been helpful to vent.
It appears that Paraguay has beat Guatemala 2-0! Bombs are exploding in the street and overhead