Posted by: brendavthepcv | November 24, 2011

The Final Countdown

As I wrap up my 27 month Peace Corps service in Paraguay, I feel a wide array of emotions. While I am excited to finish my service, travel for a few weeks through Chile and Argentina, and make a new life for myself in the States, I am dreading saying goodbye to the amazing Paraguayans who have opened their doors to me and accepted me as a part of their families.

Last month, I wrapped up my projects in site so that I’d have all of November to visit families and live up the tranquilo lifestyle. In the beginning of October, the local agricultural high school held the inauguration of the library that was improved through my Peace Corps Partnership project. Despite me (along with my host mother and all of the women in the parent’s commission) sobbing on stage, the inauguration went really well!

In October, I also held my last English class with my 5th and 6th grade students. Unfortunately, there were several teacher strikes that month so not all of my students showed up to the final class, but those who showed up had an excellent time receiving their certificates, eating delicious treats, and playing with games I gifted them for finishing the two years of classes!

So, with all of my official “work” taken care of, I’ve been concentrating on my last big project: getting Esnaider ready for his new home! Esnaider has been such an amazing dog and such a big part of my 2 years in Paraguay, so it will be very hard for me to give him away. Though I played with the idea of sending him back to the States, I know I can’t give him a great life yet in the States and he will be happier staying in Paraguay. It wouldn’t be fair to him to be stuck in an apartment for 8-10 hours a day. He might not get as much affection with his new Paraguayan family (I probably shouldn’t have let him sleep on the bed with me when it was cold…), but he’ll always be surrounded by lots of people and will always have someone to play with. So while it will be hard to pass Esnaider on, I know it’s the best decision.

Today is my last full day with Esnaider, as I will be giving him to his new family tomorrow (11/25). I then have a little over a week left in Nueva Colombia to say all of my “see-ya laters” at several farewell dinners with my favorite families and hopefully not cry tooooo much..

I am leaving Nueva Colombia early on December 5th to spend the day taking care of last-minute things in the Peace Corps office. On December 6th, I am going out to Guarambare to visit my training host family for the last time. On December 7th and 8th, I am going to a town outside of Asuncion to spend 2 nights with my fellow group mates to celebrate the end of our services. And then December 9th is my group’s swear out ceremony! And the following day I will be on a flight at 7:45 am heading to Southern Chile.

Whenever I think about the end, I just cannot believe I have lived in Paraguay for 27 months! It was definitely the most challenging experience of my life, but I’m really proud of myself – for the relationships I made, the projects I worked on, and my personal growth. I will leave Paraguay on December 10th with no regrets, beautiful friendships, and amazing memories.

Thanks to all of you for supporting me through this journey. I couldn’t have made it without all the words of encouragement, the postcards, the care packages, the phone calls, etc. I’m looking forward to seeing all of you in 2012!

Posted by: brendavthepcv | August 17, 2011

Hay que aprovechar

With less than 4 months left in Paraguay, I have found that my new mantra is “Hay que aprovechar,or “You gotta take advantage.” Long gone are the days when I complained about the fatty fried foods, was bored out of my mind in terere circles when people spoke mostly in Guarani, was frustrated about the lack of work opportunities, etc. Now, I purposely go over to Paraguayan houses before meal time just to get some delicious Paraguayan food, I try my best to catch the few Guarani words I understand in a conversation so that I too can know the gossip, and am completely content with the work I have (and have not) done and the work I am currently doing in Nueva Colombia.

Now that the end of my 27 month Peace Corps service is in sight, I have realized that instead of fixating my time on Peace Corps’s faults or what I wish I could have done differently during my service, I should really be spending my time appreciating all of the amazing people I’ve met and the good times I’ve had in Paraguay.

Here is a brief update on my life:

Thanks to all of you wonderful people, my Peace Corps Partnership was fully funded in only 2.5 months! While I was busy writing tons of emails about the project to people in the States, the high school administration and I worked on filling out book donation requests to embassies and NGOs in Asuncion. We received several donations, including a donation of over 100 books from the Spanish embassy! So now we’re busy classifying the books according to the Dewey Decimal system. The parents’ commission also had several fundraisers to buy bars for the windows so that no one breaks into the library. Although they still have a few fundraisers left, they have bought the bars (partly on credit) and have placed them on all the windows – they look great! Lastly, the school received an amazing donation of a Powerpoint project, computer, and air conditioner from the Ministry of Education all for the brand-new library! Since some of these items were included in our budget for the Peace Corps Partnership grant, we are modifying our budget and plan on using the extra money to buy a shade structure and worm-composting bins for the high school’s garden.

In addition to working with the agricultural high school, I have continued my weekly English class with the 5th and 6th graders at the local elementary school. I have been using some of the manuals I received in training to incorporate some environmental themes, which has been going well.

Besides that, I have been enjoying drinking terere and mate (this winter has been as cold as 30 degrees, but as of recently it’s been in the 90s), eating lots of Paraguayan food, attending many birthday and holiday parties, and playing with my wonderful dog Esnaider!

Tomorrow the first volunteer who lived in Nueva Colombia (from 2006-2008) is returning for the first time and we’re surprising everyone in NC with her visit. She’ll be here for 3 days, so I’ll be visiting many Paraguayans with her.

The following week I am leaving for a vacation to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil where I will be meeting Stephen – who is making his 3rd appearance in South America since I’ve been in the Peace Corps (such a good boyfriend!).

The day after I return from my trip, my group is reuniting for the first time since our 3 month reconnect in April 2010 for our “Close-of-Service” (COS) conference where we’ll learn how to deal with reserve culture shock and learn about some of the perks of PC: health coverage, non-competitive government eligibility, and the Returned Peace Corps Volunteer networking opportunities. It’ll be great to see everyone again and reminisce about our 2 years.

After COS conference, I will be busy finishing up my Peace Corps Partnership – buying all of the equipment for the library and garden and inaugurating the library with community members and my bosses at Peace Corps – and then I am heading to Buenos Aires in the end of September with a group of 9 of my best friends in Peace Corps to have one last hooray together before we officially swear-out on December 9th.

I have to be in site for my last two months of service, so I plan on eating a TON of watermelon and drinking copious amounts of terere with Paraguayans. And when I’m not with Paraguayans, I will be spending all of my time with Esnaider – my beautiful puppy son!

All in all, I am definitely looking forward to making the most of my last few months in Peace Corps ;-)

Posted by: brendavthepcv | August 9, 2011


A BIG THANKS to everyone who contributed to and shared my Peace Corps Partnership… it is officially FULLY FUNDED! We will be receiving the check in 2 weeks and then will begin purchasing everything for the library.

Check out my blog later this week – I promise to write an update about what’s been happening down here!

And once again, THANKS! My service would not have been as successful without all your support :)

Posted by: brendavthepcv | May 26, 2011

Project Approved!

*PLEASE read the entire post! The link to the donation page for my project is at the bottom of the post.*

Finally summer is over and work has been picking up in site.  This year, I have mainly been working with the two schools in Nueva Colombia – the elementary school (where I do monthly workshops on environmental themes with the teachers) and the agricultural high school (where I have been working to improve the newly constructed library).

However, today, I want to focus on my work in the high school and how you can help to improve its facilities! The school is led by an incredibly hard-working principal who manages two agricultural high schools in the area. What started as a two-classroom school in 2001, has, under her leadership, blossomed into a 5 classroom school with a beautiful new library and cafeteria.

Over the past few months, I have been working the salaried librarian to help improve the library’s facilities. We went to a Peace Corps-sponsored workshop where we learned how to classify according to the Dewey Decimal System, how to get kids more engaged in reading, and different organizations that donate books. Since then, I have been writing book donation requests to embassies and NGOs with the librarian and the school’s administration. However, these requests alone will not drastically improve the school’s library – and that’s where you come in!

I, along with the principal and other members of the school’s administration, have been working diligently on filling out the paperwork for a Peace Corps Partnership and it has finally been posted. The $4000 we are requesting will fund new books, bookshelves,  2 computers, and a Powerpoint projector. These new resources will have a wonderful effect on the school and community because not only will it gives students and teachers new educational materials but it will also allow the students of this high school to give presentations to other high school students and their community members about sustainable agricultural practices they learn about in the classroom and in the field.

Regardless if you’re a random blog viewer or my parents or close friends, please take the time to read the project posted on and donate today! The community of Nueva Colombia will really appreciate it :)

Posted by: brendavthepcv | April 18, 2011

Che Avy’a

Avy’a is one of the most important words to know in the Guarani language when you’re speaking with a Paraguayan you’ve met for the first time. No matter the person you’re speaking with, how long you’ve been in Paraguay, or your skill level in Guarani, the Paraguayan is bound to ask you “Revy’a?” And your IMMEDIATE response – despite the amount of Guarani you actually know and understand – will be “Hee, Che Avy’a.”

So what does that mean exactly? Well, the verb (A)vy’a means to be happy. Thus, Che Avy’a means “I am happy.” So when someone asks you “Revy’a?” (Are you happy?), you must respond “Hee, Che Avy’a” (Yes, I am happy). This phrase is so important to Paraguayans that we learned it on our first day of Guarani class in training, alongside how to say our names, how old we are, etc.

But what happens if you’re not actually happy? Well, your actual state of happiness is irrelevant, really. To Paraguayans, you must always be happy, you must always like the food, you must always think the terere is super rico – even if in reality you are super stressed about the lack of work possibilities, you hate eating all the beef fat in your soup, and you’ve drunk more than enough terere to last you a lifetime. But since reputations are so important to Paraguayans, they care a tremendous amount about your opinion of them and their country. That said, you ALWAYS respond “Che Avy’a.”

I have now been living in Paraguay over a year and a half, and I can’t even tell you how many hundreds of times I’ve heard a Paraguayan ask me “Revy’a?” And, like a good Peace Corps Volunteer, every time I am asked if I am happy, I immediately respond “Che Avy’a Paraguaype!’” (I am happy in Paraguay) or “Che Avy’a Ko’ape!” (I am happy here). However, sometimes, when I am feeling down, I wonder if I should just say the truth:“Well, actually, I’m really not that happy. It’s hot and I have no energy, no one wants to work with me, and I’m sick of my neighbor yelling at me about Esnaider.” But I’ve restrained from saying what sometimes is the ugly truth because I realize it’s culturally inappropriate.

It’s been a tough year and a half, with many ups and many downs. I’ve learned an incredible amount about myself, about happiness, about “work” and “success,” about personal relationships, etc. I’ve pushed myself to get out of bed every morning even though no one is checking up on me, even though many days I have nothing to do until I invent a task for myself, even though I feel like I’m not ‘helping” anyone.

But now, with almost 19 months down, and 8 months left to go, I can honestly, and without any hesitation, say Hee, Che Avy’a Ko’ape!” I’ve gotten to the point where the time I have left is significantly less than the time I’ve been here. I have finally stopped dwelling on what my expectations were, how at times I have felt disappointed in Peace Corps, and whether I’ve been “successful” as an Environmental Educator. Instead, I’ve been reflecting on how people in my community know and respect me, how the kids in the school always run up to hug me, and how everyone has been kind enough to offer me their terere and mandioca despite the little money they have.

So for the next 8 months, I plan on living it up here in Nueva Colombia. I’m so much happier when I don’t think about my ‘work impact.’ I’ll continue teaching environmental education and English in the elementary school, and will be working with the principal and librarian of the high school to improve their new library. But for the most part, I will be concentrating on sharing terere and mate, learning a few more words in Guarani, and spending as much time as possible with the amazing Paraguayan people who have opened up their doors to me and have allowed me to become a part of their families.

Che Avy’a Nueva Colombiape. Che Avy’a Paraguaype. :)

Side note: This post is dedicated to my friend Molly who will be coming down to Paraguay next month as a trainee in Community Economic Development. Revy’ata Paraguaype!! (You will be happy in Paraguay!)

Posted by: brendavthepcv | February 27, 2011

Culture Shock, Black Outs, and Todo Tranquilopa

I know this sounds like the same introduction to most of my posts, but I once again apologize for the severe delay in a new blog post. The beginning of my second Paraguayan summer was jam-packed with visits from friends and travels to foreign countries, and by the time I was ready to sit down and write a blog post my computer burned out! Not too much has happened since getting back from Chile, but here’s a brief update nonetheless:

Culture Shock

When I went home in August after being away from the States for 11 months, I was nervous I would experience reverse culture shock. I’ve heard time and time again that upon returning to the States, RPCVs (Returned Peace Corps Volunteers) feel completely overwhelmed by American culture and its level of development. Fortunately, when I returned to Wisconsin “culture shock” didn’t faze me and I instantly felt at home. I have come to long for and truly appreciate washing machines, easily accessible supermarkets filled with whatever vegetables and fruits I desire, transportation in cars, etc.

However, traveling to Chile was an entirely different story. Upon landing, I felt complete culture shock. I just couldn’t fathom how a country so close to Paraguay could be so different and well, so much wealthier! But then again, I found it quite easy to adjust to the Chilean lifestyle, which is basically the States but a little more tranquilo. Within a few days, I was even determined to move to Santiago after finishing my Peace Corps service. Now reality has set in and its less of a possibility (work visa?!), but I’m not completely giving up because I loved Chile! I also visited Mendoza, Argentina, where I scoped out some wineries, ate the famous Argentinian meat, and did a short day hike around the largest mountain outside of the Himalayas.

Overall, it was a great trip to visit my first South American countries outside of Paraguay. Plus, I had the pleasure of hosting my first visitor from the States! While it was a bit strange showing someone from home where I’ve been living for the last 17 months and introducing him to my Paraguayan families and friends, it was nice to finally connect my US life to my Paraguayan life.

Black Outs

March is only 2 days away which means summer is coming to an end! But fortunately this summer has not been nearly as hot as last summer. While I still have had to suffer from 100+ degree weather on a daily basis, there have been afternoon thunderstorms several times a week which have cooled things off for a while.

While the rain definitely made living (and sleeping) a bit more comfortable this summer, it also caused a minor inconvenience in my life. During one of the thunderstorms, I was hiding out in my house and using my computer, which was plugged in despite not having a surge protector (which has never been a problem for me). If my lights do go out during a storm while I’m using my computer, I unplug my cord immediately and wait at least 10 minutes to plug-in my computer after the lights come back on. This particular storm, however, was a bit different. The lights in my house flickered and before I even realized it, my computer cord had stopped charged. Despite many attempts to resuscitate my cord, it was completely fried.

The following week I headed to the Apple store in Asuncion to buy a new computer charger, but learned it was my computer that had fried. I planned to buy a new computer and send it down with a friend’s friend who would be visiting this month. But a week after investigating which netbook I should purchase, a fellow Peace Corps Volunteer posted a sign in the office selling a brand new netbook. So I quickly called her and now I have a computer again! That said, hopefully I will be updating more frequently since I’ll have no excuses not to!

Todo Tranquilopa

Overall I’ve enjoyed this summer much more than last since I’m finally integrated in my community and feel comfortable being myself. And the fact that this summer has been a lot cooler than last summer has definitely helped!

After returning from Chile in mid-January, I decided that before I started planning work for the year, I needed to get my life together. So I did a ton of laundry, spent lots of time with my dog Esnaider and taught him to rollover!, cleaned my house, and started visiting Paraguayans. However once I got my life back together and was ready to start thinking about work, the storms began and my life fell apart. My computer died, my fan burned out, my roof leaked, etc. Now I’ve finally gotten everything in my life in order and am ready to dive into work again!

Since school started last Wednesday (2/23), I went to the elementary school with the intention of congratulating the new principal and talking to her about possible work ideas. Unfortunately, she wasn’t there so I sat around awkwardly with 3 of the teachers for several hours. I then had planned to talk to the principal later in the week once school already started but since there were thunderstorms each day and very few students go to school when it rains  I decided it’d be best to go the following week. Also in the past few weeks I have begun coordinating different activities that I can work on with the Health Center. We are planning to give weekly talks about different health themes to the waiting room at the Health Center, on the radio, and at the schools in Nueva Colombia and the schools in the surrounding rural areas.

I have also been communicating with my contact in the local government about the possibility of starting a community committee to talk about the trash problem in Nueva Colombia and devise a trash management/recollection plan. We even made a list of people to invite to the meeting and printed out the invitations, but unfortunately my contact postponed the meeting since he was too busy for the original date. Hopefully he actually has enough interest in pursuing the project… I’ll let you know!

Anyway, that’s my summer update. I’ll be back soon, I promise….

Posted by: brendavthepcv | December 20, 2010

Who let the dog out?

In less than a week, there will be a big celebration for a very important birthday. And no, I’m not referring to Christmas. I’m referring to the fact that Esnaider will be turning 1 years old (or 7 human years) on December 25th!!

It feels like just yesterday when I got the phone call about the miracle of my first Paraguayan Christmas: my dog in Guarambaré had 6 puppies and I would soon have one of my own. Reflecting back, it’s been quite a year with Esnaider.

Universally, having and raising a dog is challenging. They need shots, they get sick and need to be taken care of, they want to run free, they need to be trained, etc. However, raising a dog in Paraguay presents its own challenges. I can’t just hop in my car and drive to the local vet if Esnaider appears sick. I can’t give him the exercise he needs because walking on the streets with him would risk him getting into a fight with a ton of street dogs and me getting bit. I can’t take him to a dog salon to get groomed once in a while. And, of course, Paraguayan environment is a breeding ground for fleas (in addition to all types of gross insects) that are practically impossible to get rid of.

One of the biggest problems that dog owners face in Paraguay is… CHICKENS. Chickens in Paraguay are ubiquitous! Seriously, they are EVERYWHERE. They get into your garden and eat all your veggies, they wake you up at all hours of the night, and, well, they are one of the biggest threats to a Paraguayan dog’s life. Dogs love chasing chickens. In fact, Esnaider’s #1 interest in life is chasing chickens. I’ve come to the conclusion he’s part hunter, so whenever he hears the 20 chickens that my neighbor owns prancing around like they own the block, he sits erect and is ready to pounce on them at any moment.

Esnaider’s infatuation with my neighbor’s chickens has caused me an unbelievable amount of problems in Nueva Colombia. Earlier this year, he destroyed multiple parts of my bamboo fence so that he could escape to chase the chickens. I then proceeded to “sew” on (empty) animal feed bags to the fence so that he would be trapped inside my yard. Unfortunately, it only took two weeks for Esnaider to figure out he can dig a bit and escape the fence again.

My neighbor, who has nothing better to do with her day, intently watches Esnaider, beating him with a big piece of wood whenever he gets near her chickens. And, of course, she constantly yells at me for “allowing” Esnaider to escape so that he can chase her chickens and eat their eggs, despite all the effort and money I have put into making a secure fence for my yard and unlike her who lets her chickens loose at all hours. I can’t even tell you how many times I have heard from her and other people in my community how much she hates Esnaider and that her next step in preventing him from chasing her chickens will be to give him poison, thereby killing him.

I’m sure you think I’m exaggerating now. Brenda, your neighbor would never poison Esnaider just because he chases her chickens. Oh, on the contrary, my naïve blog readers… Poisoning dogs is a common solution to those pesky Paraguayans dogs eating eggs and chasing chickens. I have actually known volunteers whose dogs have died from being poisoned by neighbors. Thus, I can’t take this threat too lightly.

Therefore, in October, I bought chicken wire to install around my fence so that Esnaider could not escape – once and for all. It was expensive to buy all the wire, and in total I have spent almost an entire month’s salary on my fence and all of the improvements just so that Esnaider cannot escape. However,  it was worth it so that Esnaider wouldn’t have  to be tied up all the time. My host family found 3 men who gladly offered to securely place the wire on my bamboo fence – for a hefty price, of course, since the job was for an American. However, I could see within the first hour they were working, they were doing a poor job. They were putting the wire 6 inches above the ground. Not only could chickens easily enter my yard, but Esnaider – who appears big but can work his body to escape from very small areas – would be able to effortlessly escape. I tried to explain they needed to lower the fence, but they gave a stupid excuse about why it had to be so high. Needless to say, Esnaider escaped 3 minutes after the men “completed” the fence.

I can’t even explain how frustrated I was after Esnaider escaped. Fortunately, that weekend a Paraguayan friend helped me lower the fence and secure it to the bamboo. I thought I finally fixed my fence problem! Boy, was I wrong…

I have now given up on making a secure fence that Esnaider can’t escape from. Unfortunately, if I am not able to watch him, he is tied up on a long chain. It’s not the ideal life I’d like for him, but I have no other choice. Surely, he’s better off tied up than poisoned… And now the majority of problems only arise when he somehow breaks the leash he’s tied to… Es posible?!

My dysfunctional fence, however, poses a big problem when I have to travel. And well, my job involves a lot of traveling (for example, I have to leave for several days every few months for trainings in Asunción). Earlier this year, I was able to leave him with a friend but unfortunately I can no longer do that because her dog is deathly ill and is able to give his disease to other dogs. That means, whenever I leave, Esnaider has to be tied up and one of my friends comes by once or twice a day to replenish his food and water.

Overall, it’s a hard-knock life for Esnaider and for lots of Paraguayan dogs. But in spite of all of the problems I’ve faced due to having a dog in Paraguay, I’m still grateful that I have Esnaider. Showing Paraguayans that you can teach dogs to be obedient and well-behaved without beating them has been extremely rewarding. Plus, seeing Paraguayans in awe when I say Mba’eichapa (How are you? In Guarani) and Esnaider passes me his hand makes my day every time I show the trick. And of course, having a companion living with me has been invaluable as I deal with the ups and downs of Peace Corps.

I’m looking forward to celebrating Esnaider’s birthday. He really is an amazing dog, companion, best friend, etc. And in case you want to send him a present, we have the same address ☺ He especially enjoys flea medication…

So, Happy Birthday Esnaider!! Hopefully we’ll get to spend more birthdays together… If only I could figure out a way to bring him back to the States with me, but I’ll leave that dilemma for another post…

Posted by: brendavthepcv | December 8, 2010

2 Month Update

IT’S DECEMBER?! Anichene! If I weren’t directly under my ceiling fan sweating profusely, I wouldn’t believe it… Summer has definitely begun here in Paraguay, but thanks to living in my own house and being able to use vacation days (Chile, I here come!!), this year I am better prepared to battle the heat.

I can’t believe it’s been almost 2 months since I last updated my blog. I really was planning on updating more often… Oops! However, I’m starting my New Years Resolution early this year: updating my blog once a week with a highlight of the week: whether it’s a project I’m working on, a holiday I celebrated, an explanation of that unknown language Guarani, one of Esnaider’s many chicken adventures, a book I’ve just read, etc. Let’s just hope I stick to it!

Anyway, a lot of things have happened over the past few months, but here are the top 3 major events in my life:

1) I formed an Environmental Youth Group.

On October 16th, I had my first environmental youth group meeting that 12 youth attended. During the meeting, the youth chose a name for their group, Naturaleza Joven (Direct English translation: Nature Youth), and elected their President, Vice President, Secretary, Vice Secretary, Treasurer, and Vice Treasurer.

Since then, we have completed two major activities: a Halloween-themed movie night and a river clean-up. Despite a few obstacles during both events, the movie night and river clean-up were successful first activities for the group.

One of the main problems I am currently facing with my youth group is that the kids are pretty young. In Paraguay, “youth” is defined as people aged 15-29 years old. My youth group, on the other hand, is composed of mostly 12-14 year olds, which means they’re less mature, less likely to get permission from their parents to do big activities, etc. Ideally, I’d like a little bit of an older youth group, but kids aged 15-18 in my site think they’re “too cool” to enter… pssh!

The youth group is definitely a work in progress, but with time I’ll hopefully figure out the best way to run it and hopefully make it a sustainable group (aka, it continues in Paraguay even when I’m long gone). But jahechta… (we’ll see..)

2) I finished up my English Classes.

Woo woo!

Don’t get me wrong, I really enjoyed teaching English… but after teaching 4 English classes a week from Tuesday to Friday, I needed a break! During the 3rd week of November, I distributed 67 certificates to kids who successfully completed the 3-month course. I’ve decided to take the summer off and start my English classes back up again when the school year starts in late February/early March. I plan on continuing my 2-hour class for the high school students on Fridays, but instead of offering separate classes for the 4th, 5th, and 6th graders, I’m only going to offer one class for the kids who will be in 5th and 6th grade next year. And since it will build off of what we learned in the first series of classes, only those students who attended the first set of classes and received certificates will be able to enroll next year.

3) I bought a hammock.

So you probably have no idea why I would include this in a list of the top 3 major events in my life over the past 2 months, but owning a hammock has honestly been life changing and has increased by happiness level exponentially. It is hung in the back of my house, beneath my tin roof where I spend much of my time washing my laundry by hand. Now, I spend even more time in this spot – relaxing, reading, consuming massive of watermelon by cutting it in half and eating it with a spoon, drinking tereré and attempting not to melt, etc.

And while this may seem cheesy, my hammock represents a lot of what I’ve learned throughout my first year of service. Life is too short to take yourself too seriously. I joined Peace Corps with hopes of helping a community raise awareness about and overcome the environmental problems they face. But over the course of the year, I’ve realized I can only do as much as my community members want of me. I’ve learned that instead of worrying about how I feel like I’m not doing anything in my community, how I’m not improving the quality of the environment, how I feel like I’ll have nothing to show for these 2 years of my life, I need to concentrate on my own happiness and sanity because without those two elements, it’s impossible to have a positive effect on my community.

Tranquilo, Brenda, you’ll make a difference. Tranquilo, Brenda, it comes with time and you still have a year left. Tranquilo, Brenda, stop worrying and chill out in your hammock. Tranquilo, Brenda, it’s hot and the only thing there is to do is drink tereré…

Yeah, life isn’t too stressful when I’m enjoying it from my new bright pink hammock…

Posted by: brendavthepcv | October 13, 2010

Everyyyy Rose Has Its Thorn

I’ve been living in Paraguay for a little over a year now and every day I realize how comfortable I am despite living in a foreign culture – even though I don’t even understand 1 of the 2 primary languages.

Standing on a crowded bus next to a man with a stereo system singing a song in Guaraní is no longer bizarre; in fact, it’s exciting that I now can understand several of the words coming out of his mouth! When I am told on a regular basis that I look fatter, I no longer take it to heart – instead, I use it as motivation as I train for my 10k on October 30th. And when it rains, thereby halting all activities for the day, I don’t get upset that all my plans were ruined and I have no food to eat. On the contrary, I stay in bed the entire day (only getting up to make hard-boiled eggs and tend to Esnaider), relishing the fact that I don’t have to feel guilty for not visiting a family or doing 3 loads of laundry by hand.

And while I can’t say I am having the most amazing experience ever with billions of friends or that I am in love with Paraguay and am never leaving, overall I am content in Paraguay. I’ve finally gotten to a level of comfort: I’m good (enough) at Spanish and sometimes can even trick people into thinking I know Guaraní, people in my community know me (though on a daily basis I am still called the name of the first volunteer who lived here from 2006-08), and I like the work I’m doing. Am I saving the world? Absolutely not. But then again, did I sign up for PC thinking I would? Nahanarí! (That’s Guaraní for “No!”)

Basically, I’m happy that I’m still here and that I’ve made it these past 12 months despite all those days I couldn’t find the energy to go on. And I can say I am confident that the next 14 months will be even better now that I have a better understanding of the culture, Paraguayan education system, (TERRIBLE) weather, holidays, etc. Plus, saying has it that the 2nd year is a lot better, easier, and goes by a ton faster than the 1st year :)

Despite feeling relatively comfortable, I’ve realized the roller coaster of emotions that I’ve previously mentioned in my blog will be continuous throughout the entire 2 years of my service. And that, basically, every good thing that happens to me in this country is also weighed down by an equally bad situation.

Example, you ask? Okay, here we go:

For a number of reasons, I have enjoyed teaching English classes. But it has been especially helpful in building relationships with motivated youth who I hope to have an environmental youth group with. I’ve already identified several leaders from my high school English class of 35 students and last Sunday I invited 4 girls over to help me plan the youth group’s first official meeting. Only 2 of the 4 girls were able to attend the meeting on Sunday, and they were accompanied by a 16 year-old who isn’t in my English class but is a friend of mine. Although I was a bit disappointed the entire group of 4 girls I invited were unable to attend, I was still super excited that the others had enough interest in helping me plan the meeting.

I made them cocoa banana bars (which they devoured) and we used my lindo dry erase board to brainstorm invitation designs, possible names for the group, and the first meeting’s agenda.

When we finished the meeting and the 3 girls left my house, I was on such a high. I had been struggling to find work in my community since I have found it challenging to work in the schools, but finally, I thought think, this could be my main project in site. We can do some really neat environmental projects, I can help empower the youth (who all too often leave for jobs in Spain or Argentina after graduating from high school), and especially have a good influence on the young women who need to know the potential they possess so that they respect themselves and their bodies (especially important due to the high teenage pregnancy rate in Paraguay).

After the meeting, I received a text message from the 16 year-old asking me over for popcorn. Thus, I went over to her house, ate popcorn, caught up with her mom, and overall had a very successful afternoon.

It wasn’t until that evening that things took a turn for the worst. I went over to my best friend’s house, since it’s on my way home, for our nightly mate session (mate is the hot version of tereré). While waiting for her to cook dinner for her family, I decided to mess around with my phone to entertain myself. Since Peace Corps provides us with a cell phone plan, they take out 55 mil a month (equivalent to $11 USD) from our monthly salary and on the 1st of every month we automatically get that credit transferred to our phone. That night, the 3rd of October, I checked how much credit I had left, and realized that in 2 days there was no way I used 20 mil of my credit. I was so confused about what happened to my credit, but then remembered the 16 year-old kept messing with my phone at my house and then asked to use my phone at her house to play the game Snake.

Thus, it didn’t take too long to realize that she had stolen almost half of my cell phone plan for the month.

Unlike in the States, it’s extremely easy to transfer cell phone credit from phone to phone. Paraguayans rarely have cell phone credit to text or make phone calls and often ask if other people have credit they can transfer (which is incredibly simple to do). It’s also incredibly easy to snag someone’s phone, transfer their cell phone credit to your phone, and erase the evidence – all under 1 minute. Stealing cell phone credit was something I was warned about in training. However, now that I’ve been lived in Nueva Colombia for almost 10 months and have developed some good (and what I thought, trustworthy) relationships, I let my guard down.

I know that the 20 mil (or $4 USD) of cell phone credit isn’t much money and isn’t the end of the world, but this experience just reminded me that no matter how long I live in Nueva Colombia, no matter how comfortable I get, and no matter how good I think the relationships I have with my community members, there will always be people who see me as a walking dollar sign – someone they have ever right to take advantage of because I’m from the United States and therefore must have lots of money. No matter what, I’m still an outsider in my community and I always be a foreigner in Paraguay. However, I was especially upset with this situation because I’ve given this particular girl so much – I always help her with her English homework, I’ve given her clothes I’ve gotten from volunteers who have finished their services, I’ve baked for her family, etc.

It took all my strength not to confront her about stealing from me. If I’ve learned anything about Paraguayan culture, it’s that it’s extremely passive aggressive. So I talked to my host mom about the best way to approach the situation. We decided that the next time she asked for my phone I’d say “Sorry, I can’t lend out my phone anymore. 20 mil of my credit disappeared this month so Peace Corps is doing an investigation to see what time it happened and the number it was transferred to.”

The 16 year-old had been calling me all week but I was too upset and hurt to see her, so I waited over a week until finally saying she could come over to my house for English help. Not surprisingly, she requested to use my phone and I rattled off the few sentences I had been practicing, but dreading to say, for several days.

Despite this minor thorn, the situation still flowered into a beautiful rose (okay, cheesy metaphor, I know, but such a good song!). A few days after the initial meeting, I received a text message from one of the girls saying that the 4 original girls and 2 guys wanted to come over to my house to talk about the youth group. This time, they brought over the snack and juice, and we sat on my porch, brainstorming possible names for the youth group and what our first activity should be.

I have high hopes for the next 14 months.

Posted by: brendavthepcv | September 28, 2010

I refuse to teach English!! Oh, wait…

One of the reasons I chose Peace Corps over other volunteer programs abroad is because I didn’t just want to teach English in a foreign country. I loved the fact that I was going to get to share my passion for the environment by doing different environmental projects for 2 years. That said, whenever teaching English was brought up during training, I decided to tune out.

A lot of my fellow volunteers were constantly harassed about teaching English in their communities and consequently began teaching during their first or second month. I, on the other hand, have only been sporadically asked by several individuals to help with English homework or translate a word or two.

During June and July, however, I realized that instead of trying to think of elaborate environmental projects, maybe it’d be best to work on getting to know my fellow community members better. And what better way than to teach an English class! I decided to postpone the class until after I got back from my trip to the States so once I got back (and attended all my different workshops), I began preparing for my English class.

I decided I’d offer 2 classes: one in the elementary school for interested 4-6th graders and one in the high school for youth and adults.

So I made this lindo flyer and distributed it all over Nueva Colombia, making announcements at the elementary school, high school, and on the radio:

My first class in the elementary school garnered 60 students!

Thus, I decided to divide the class and teach each grade separately. So now I’m teaching 4th graders on Tuesdays, 5th graders on Wednesday, and 6th graders on Thursdays. I’ve been teaching for several weeks now and fewer students are showing up, which was what I had hoped would happen since I would like to teach only the students with an actual interest in learning. Plus, I want to combine the class again in the future so that it isn’t so time-consuming.

As for my high school class, the first day roughly 30 students showed up.

The majority of my students were 12-15 years old (7th-9th graders). While I was hoping for a few adults, I was pretty content with the turn out. Thirty students can be a bit challenging – especially since I’m putting an emphasis on actually speaking – but usually a lot more people come to the first class and drop out after, so I wasn’t too worried…

Therefore, I was incredibly overwhelmed when I walked into a classroom of 42 students, despite preparing activities for a smaller group. Thank goodness a 19-year-old Paraguayan friend of mine who takes English classes twice a week in Asuncion came to help out so we were able to divide the class into groups for some of the activities! I don’t know what I would’ve done without her.. The following week, around 30 kids came to the third class and I had another Paraguayan helper, so things will definitely be more manageable from here on out.

Surprisingly, I’ve really enjoyed teaching English classes. I feel like people in my community understand my role a lot better. It’s hard for Paraguayans to understand “I am living in this community for 2 years to do environmental projects with motivated community members” so having a concrete project like teaching English makes a lot more sense to them and I think they actually respect me more for teaching English because they see it as valuable. Plus, teaching English is helping me better get to know youth in my community, which is extremely helpful since I am hoping to form a youth group soon.

Overall, things are going super well! Some other things that are going on in my life:

  • My radio show is up and running every Wednesday at 4 pm
  • I’ve started weekly presentations in the Health Center about different health problems (first one was about hypertension)
  • I’m working with the nurse to plan our series of HIV/AIDS presentations
  • The anniversary of my town is this Wednesday so I’ve been attending lots of different parades, dance performances, and prayer services
  • Esnaider has some gnarly flees that have been jumping under the skin of MY toes where they make eggs! They hurt so much and I have to dig into my toes with needles to get them out. So if you know of any good anti-flea medication please let me know or send it to me!!
  • Just celebrated my group’s 1 year anniversary in Paraguay! We had a BBQ and then went to a reggae festival, which was really fun. Still can’t believe I’ve spent an entire year in Paraguay…
  • The new group of Environment/Agriculture volunteers arrives this Friday! Hopefully I’ll get a neighbor or 2 :)

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