EDITOR’S NOTE: Phawker South American Bureau chief St. John Barned-Smith just started a two year hitch in the Peace Corps teaching English in rural Paraguay.
BY ST. JOHN BARNED-SMITH Hello everybody. I hope you are all well. This will be my first blog entry since I landed on the ground in Paraguay about three weeks ago. There’s been a lot that happened since then. Lets start at the beginning. I landed in Asuncion with 48 other freaked out and excited American men and women – all young, below the age of 30. There are 24 in my group (including me) which is RHS – rural health and sanitation. There are two other groups as well, early education and urban youth. We are in communities about an hour and change southeast of Asuncion. I ended up in a house with my host mom, Marianna, and her children Lissa (21) and Eva janina (13). For all intents and purposes, they are my family here for the next three months. Luckily, I like them very much, and I think they like me. We live in a semi modern house in the campo (rural area). My family has 20 turkeys, 3 cows (which live 20 feet from my window), and a swarm of very annoying chickens. There are also three dogs (doggy, camilla, and mancho), and some sheep.
Five and a half days of the week, I have class. Language class in the morning, technical training in the evening. Usually, I wake at 5 or 6 because of the mutherfricking roosters, and then drink some terere or mate with my host mom. This drink is a mixture of yuyos (herbs) and yerba, with either cold water (terere) or mate (hot water.) Its great. I head to class at around 7:45, and we have language training until 11:30. For the first 2 weeks, I reviewed Spanish. Now we have moved to Guarani, the indigenous language. Paraguay is quite unique in the South American countries because it has enthusiastically embraced its native past – fully 90% of its population speaks guarani. Only 75% speaks Spanish.
At 11:30, I have lunch. A word here, on the diet. The Paraguayan diet here is… challenging. The main foodstuff is mandioc’a (or mandio or manioc), a tuber somewhat like potato. I’m still getting accustomed to it. Also, it’s a food culture based on meat, and may be empanadas. There are a ton of quality fruits, due to the abundant waterfall and subtropical heat, but verduras (vegetables) are more scarce. We eat tortillas (deep fried mixes of eggs, cheese, and flour), boiled mandioca, milanesa (deep fried meat), and more. Breakfast is milk with sweetened soy powder. Lunch is the main meal. Dinner is whatever is around. My mom here has presion – blood pressure issues – so I get to eat more veggies and rice and less fried stuff. In the afternoon, we have technical training – learning how to give charlas (conversations, presentations, or discussions) on nutrition, sexual health, how to build fogons (brick ovens), more sanitary latrines, and numerous other topics. The people in my class and group are great, all really with-it, giving people with the broader picture in mind. Getting to know them has been an affirming experience. In the afternoons, I usually play soccer with the neighborhood kids. This worked out well until recently, when they popped my pelota (soccer ball) during a game. Since I currently make the equivalent of $4 a day, I won’t be buying another one soon. MORE