Thursday, April 25, 2013


The New York Times has a good article about the huge economic growth some parts of Paraguay are experiencing right now. My part of the country specializes in the kind of modern, mechanized, GMO agriculture that is leading this growth and many of my students and counterparts make their living, and live well, from monocultural GMO soy, wheat and corn production. I think the economy in my area is somewhat more equitable than in the cities; there are a few mansions here, but there does seem to be a fairly large middle class in my town. There seem to be relatively many smallish land-holders who can make their living in this way, and there few desperately poor people here.

On the other hand, this morning I rode my bike out to do literacy activities in a tiny school about 6km outside of town. The school is only open in the morning and has 9 students (and two teachers!). They say that there are so few students because more and more families have sold their small plots of land to the larger land-holders and moved into town. The teachers told me the families often aren't able to manage their money though, so now they all come out to work on the land that they used to own. 

It's hard to say that this boom is a bad thing for the country overall. The article "notes the overall poverty rate has fallen to about 32 percent in 2011 from 44 percent in 2003, said Roland Horst, a board member at the central bank" and that "the government had been trying to reduce poverty, noting that a program of giving small cash stipends to people in extreme poverty, begun in 2005, now included more than 75,000 families".

But the shamelessness of the rich can be really shocking: "“How is it possible to reconcile the fact that hundreds of people survive each day by sifting through garbage in the municipal dump of Asunción while Paraguayans are also the biggest per-capita spenders in Punta del Este?” said Mr. Rojas Villagra, referring to the Uruguayan resort city where rich Paraguayans vacation alongside moneyed Argentines and Brazilians."
and the government has little resources (in tax revenue) or interest in major poverty-reduction programs:
" Paraguay’s social welfare programs remain meager compared with antipoverty projects in neighboring countries, which have lifted tens of millions of people out of abject living conditions. They blame Paraguay’s relatively weak state, with tax collection corresponding to only about 18 percent of gross domestic product, a figure lower than that of African nations like Congo and Chad."

As Americans, we volunteers occasionally have the opportunity to rub elbows (is that a phrase?) with the wealthy elite of Asuncion, and some of the places we frequent in that city principally cater to that class. It's usually an interesting experience and we're always surprised how little they know about life in the rest of the country, how they speak English but not Guarani, how they've been to Disneyland but not Santani. 

Soy field after harvest, September 2012

Tuesday, April 23, 2013


I'm feeling run-down, worn-out, numb. Some good will still come of my being here an extra month, but not every day. Sunday I could have been in the US and nothing would be lost. Most of yesterday and today tooñ I'd like to be able to commute in to get those couple important tasks in, and then fly home to sleep in a bed on Vashon, or Seattle, or Portland.
It seems that the very act of getting to know someone and liking them determines that they will go to some far off place.
Lyda, Antonio, Ña Dolores, Francisco, Claudia; the San Pedro volunteers: Chris, Dion and Evelyn, Carol; the German filmmakers Stepan and Andreas, Brian and Emily in Asunción, G-34: Hannah, Matt, Sybil; almost everyone in my G, including: Nicole, Johnny, Zach, Travis, Johanna and Jeremy; in Itapua: Stacy, Benito, Rick.
Who is left? From my G Nicole, Katie, Champe, Claire and Ellie haven´t left the country yet. Lydia is still in Itapua and I may yet make it out to see her in Fram.
The successive waves of goodbyes make me all the more apathetic about my own farewells here in site, which ought to be the most important goodbyes of all. Then there will be the long-delayed return and farewell to Nueva Germania, and at last a farewell to Paraguay and Peace Corps.
I just don´t know

I was talking to Carolina, the librarian, about all this and she told me at least I'm lucky that on one has died. I haven't lost these friendships, I just have people I love in many places.

on a completely different note, I was talking to Denis, who studies English with me about the results of the recent election, in which one of the richest men in the country with no political experience won the presidency. Denis said that he won't be corrupt because he already has all the money he needs. I'd never heard that argument made before. I hope he's right.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

happy four twenty!

My thoughts have been too scattered these last two months to come up with anything worth posting. There is much that I would express... I ought to try and write a proper reflection piece on the last two years.

I was travelling a lot the last two weeks and I'm glad to be back in site. I will be around here mostly for the three weeks I have left in Natalio. My main priority is to finish up the big world map I've been painting in the back yard of the library with a 6th grade class. It's really beautiful so far and I'm going to be working on finishing it up this week. I've got a few other things I've said I'd do. We'll see.

I've still got to sell or otherwise divest most of my belongings.  My intention is to ship a box of things, including my computer, some souvenirs and clothes, back to the States and just travel with my medium backpack and a side bag. 

Most of my "G-mates", the volunteers I arrived with 27 months ago, have already left. Friends have been leaving the country every 4 months though, so it's not much harder to say goodbye than it's always been. I'm looking forward to spending a week in Nueva Germania after I leave Natalio, before setting out on my further travels.
Today was election day. The Colorados won back the presidency by a landslide and are celebrating boisterously about half a block from my house. It will probably a loud night. 

Wednesday, April 3, 2013


Semana Santa was last week. I visited three families, rode my bike 43 km to the closest large town, and went to see a fantastic waterfall near my site. Next week my training group swears out. About a month after that I'll leave Natalio, to go visit Nueva Germania for a week before leaving Paraguay from Asuncion. I'll travel three weeks in Argentina and Chile and then fly to Seattle from Santiago June 7th. I'll get in in the evening (though the sun doesn't set until like 9:30pm in June, doesn't it?) on Saturday the 8th. My younger brother graduates from college June 15th and, if Facebook is to be believed, is hosting a music festival at his house called "Return of the Dagobah Sound System" on the 29th. There is a family reunion in Pennsylvania in July. I'll be looking for a job. I'll be riding my blue Schwinn. I intend to ride around golden Maury island with a tub on my rack and pick blackberries. I'll jump in the cold green water off Tramp Harbor dock and at night it will glow like green fire. On grey rainy days, of which I'm sure we'll have this summer, I'll get fresh coffee at the Roasterie along with herbs and roots for my máte. I'm going to walk in forests, smell the moss and the mud and look up at tall trees. I'm going to be with people.

I want to engage with family and friends, but especially family, more earnestly when I am back home. I've spent two years with other people's families, I've talked about other family members, and many of these families have taken me in as one of their own. My own family doesn't even exist as a unit, we're four people with relationships with one-another, who all live in different places. My social life of the last ten years could be visualized as a series of explosions. First our family splits into two houses. I graduate from high school and leave home to go to college. My friends and I attend schools all across the country. I made fast, deep friendships in college, then in a few short years we graduate and move all over the country and world. I live in Portland another year, work in Americorps. My housemates move to New York, I join Peace Corps. I live in Guarambare four months, Nueva Germania for ten, and Natalio for fifteen. My fellow volunteers are constantly arriving and departing for parts of the US I can only vaguely imaging visiting. I am so damn tired of meeting people. I would like some stability, in these next few years.

I've got a lot to do before I leave. Finish work, sell my things, ship a box home, visit everybody, give gifts, plan my travels. I'm working on getting a CommunityEconomicDevelopment volunteer assigned here, but I won't know the verdict until after I've gone.