Tuesday, December 4, 2007


Hey everybody, I finally got some pictures loaded. Just a handfull to give you a little drop in the bucket of what its like here. I will post more this week or next.

I found this snail walking from my training village to the next town over. You think that´s big? you should see the spiders here.

This is a general view down a general road around here. More or less. I took this outside my training village walking to the larger village of Guarambarè to use the internet.

Here are my two hoste sisters, Ruth (in the white) is 6 and reserved and smart. Jazmin is 3 and a huge mess. She gets into everything and spends all day running around the house hollering up a storm. I have to say that they have grown on me and I will miss them when I leave for Itapùa.

Here is the only picture I took in my new site, my new home, Cruce Guayuaybi. This was from the yard of my contact´s family with whom I will live with for a couple of months. As you can see, it´s soy as far as you can see. The area is covered in soy, and some other crops. Mostly owned by Japanese people who live in another town. You thought Paraguay was in the rainforest? You´re looking at it. 35 years ago I would have been taking a picture of lush jungle. Those trees on the left in the picture, that´s an example of what remains. Not much. My site is kinda near a large forest reserve, but only a handfull of rangers are on hand to protect it from tree poachers. We only have 5% of our forest and it´s going fast.

I hope you enjoyed my pictures!


Thursday, November 22, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving - and my new home

On this day of giving thanks I have trouble finding a place to start. So many things have gone right and so many people have supported me so that I can be where I am at this moment. I am thankful most of all for my friends and family back home. I hope all of you enjoy your turkey and cranberry sauce today.

Yesterday our site assignments came in. Next week I will be heading out to the deep south to visit my new village for a few days. It is located in the department of Itapùa, near the city of Itapùa Poty, my village is called -and i´m misspelling badly it here- Guayuayvi. This lovely little town is 50km away from the San Rafael forest reserve, one of the few remaining reserves of rainforest left in Paraguay. The town has electricity but no running water, and of course the roads are all dirt. My contacts are the director of the collegìo (like a high school) and the vice director of the elementary school. This is great because it gives me a foot in the door of both schools right away. Other volunteers have worked in the area, but I am the first to live in this town. That means I will be doing a lot of hanging out with the neighbors getting to know them and helping them get to know me. One of the big missions of Peace Corps is cultural exchange and I am on the front line in my new town. I am extremely excited about this site based on the little information I have, and look forward to visiting soon to get a better idea of where I will spend the next two years.

Well, I am off to help prepare for our Thanksgiving feast here in Guarambarè. Eat an extra scoop of cranberry sauce for me and I´ll eat an extra slice of mango for you!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

"The Girl" anti-update

I am sorry to keep all of you waiting for the conclusion of the story but things have been incredibly busy for me lately. I was out of town all last week doing "long field practice." We went in groups to different PCV sites and practiced giving presentations in schools. It was a very full week... let´s just say I learned more and became more confused about the culture all at the same time. So it was a success.

Tomorrow is future site day! We finally find out where we will be living for hte next 2 years. Cross your fingers for me, i´m hoping for a spot way out in the country. Thursday in Thanksgiving and I will try to make a quick update to let you all know where I will be going. I don´t know which I am looking forward to more, my future site assignment or Thanksgiving! I hope somebody is able to find cranberries...

Also, If you want to get a letter from me send me your address. I can´t make any promises but I will do my best. You know, a great way to let me know what your address is, is by sending me a letter! Just something to think about. Thanks to everybody who has left comments and emails. I thrive on your attention...

Well, I´m off to get some ice cream and hike through the sugar cane field.

Until next time,

- Agustìn

p.s. I will update the girl situation, but I want to do it right and there hasn´t been time. I will say that my progress in learning the language has helped incredibly in the past week.


It is hot. That´s what was thinking as I trudged through the sand covering the path through the sugar cane field. I had been walking for too long without shade due to an unfortunate shortcut attempt. I never really appreciated shade before coming to South America. Now it´s not just comfortable, it´s necessary. It´s a long walk through this field, but it´s a good shortcut to get to Guarambarè where I use the internet. The other way to get there requires two busses and twice the fish skin. Anyway, it´s rare that I have a free afternoon during training and I wanted to spend some quality time inside my brain.

Back at the house it´s a continuous stream of attention from the kids and the animals, out in the field on the dirt path it´s just me and the sun. The two most important things that I brought with me are my hiking boots and my Tilley hat. Every time I walk down the only "cobblestone" road without breaking an ankle or a foot I think how thankful I am for those boots. The fact that I still have skin on my face is 100% due to my hat. I finally hit the routa at the end of the sandy red dirt path and made up my mind to catch a bus instead of walking the rest of the way into town. It can be done, but not on days like this. The asphault of the routa singed my nose with fumes and could have singed my feet through my boots if I stood in one spot too long. I found some shade to stand under and waited for a bus.

I don´t know how it is in the US because I never took buses, but here you can get any bus to stop for you by simply sticking out your hand like you would if you were a falcon trainer. The next bus to come by slowed down enough for me to jump on before tearing down the road again. I paid and sat down. It was mostly empty, nobody does much when it´s this hot. The wind blowing in my face didn´t help much, but at least I was moving. The long haul buses here are big and sometimes have bathrooms, similar to a greyhound bus back home. The short trip buses like the one I take to Guarambarè is probably 30 years old. Every trip in one of these is an adventure, and they are usually the best and only way to get around. Half the time there is a string you can pull to signal the driver to stop for you, but this wasn´t one of those times. I made my way up to the front as he swerved around people, parked cars, and animals. "Upepè por favor" I said pointing to the internet cafè. He nodded and took a sip of terrerè before slamming on the breaks.

I jumped out onto the hot street, alone in the heart of South America in a city full of people I can barely communicate with and who might never fully understand why or how a NorthAmerican is down here buying chipa and talking about the forest like he lived there. Every day is an adventure. Aiko porà - life is good!

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

My favorite word

"ikatu" means yes, no, and maybe. It means possibly, and if you add a "pa" to the end you can ask somebody to please do something. For example "Ikatupa get me some nachos."

This word can also be very dangerous. Last weekend I discovered why.

Sunday morning started like a lot of Sunday mornings for me here, I slept in (till about 9) and when I got up my host mom gave me some breakfast. This is a big Sunday treat because in most of Paraguay they don´t have anything substantial for breakfast most of the time. So I was enjoying my delicious hot plate of tortillas and cafè con lèche when my host dad says he´s going off the the field. I had no idea why he was going to the field because he was all dressed up and had a binder with papers in it. He doubled my confusion by saying "jaha" which means "we go" or "lets go" more literally, but apparently (I didn´t learn this until two days later) that word can also mean "see you later." Paraguayans are very indirect and lots of words have double meanings. I suppose english is the same way, but this is a part of the culture that will take some time to pick up. I am telling you all of this to tell you how confused I was right at the start of the day.

So later on the rest of the family (and I) head off to the party that I had no idea was taking place. Maybe they didn´t tell me because they thought I wouldn´t understand, or more likely they DID tell me and I didn´t understand. So I am sitting at the party (I will describe Paraguayan parties in another post) sitting back and checking out what´s going on. My language isn´t super strong yet in big social situations because there is more noise and confusion. I wasn´t looking to get into a big conversation. My host mom had other plans.

So interactions between guys and girls can be very different than they are in the US. I could spend a long time writing about what very little information I do know. So if this is confusing, welcome to my world.

My host mom comes over and tells me that this blond (very rare) Paraguayan girl is sending me "saludos" which is their way of saying i´m interested in you and would like to get to know you - sent through another person. I thought it couldn´t hurt talking to her and practicing my language a little bit so I brought my chair over and said hello. We talked for a while and despite my limited vocabulary we were able to communcate a decent amount. The problem with being able to communicate a little bit in a foreign language, is that they assume you know more than you do. This is where things started to get crazy.

This girl decided to make me her boyfriend.

I know some of you guys reading this might be thinking "congrats!" Like everything, it is more complicated than that here. In many parts of this country, if you are dating somebody you are already engaged in the minds of both families - and the families are very involved. By the end of the party both my host mom and the mom of this girl were there along with a bunch of other people. By now you may be wondering how I got into this hole.

I "ikatu´d" myself into it. I had been using that word to fall back on when she asked me something and I wasn´t quite sure of the meaning. Here is an example:

Her: ***** my house **** drink **** some time ***
Me: ... ikatu...
Her: Do you think paraguayan women are pretty?
Me: Sure I do
Her: ***** ** **** ***** *** *...?
Me: ... ikatu...

It went on like that for a while and after a while she started talking about things that I won´t repeat here. In a 1 on 1 conversation I could have held my own, but the situation turned into 6 people machinegunning questions at me in a language I barely understand.

Is the story over? We will see next week!

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Giving birth. And my training address

Hey everybody! This is a short one because I played soccer all afternoon and you know how one thing leads to another. Here´s a short anechdote anyway...

I spent an hour the other night picking tiny white eggs out of my foot from a pikee. It was awesome - which is a sign that I am getting used to the Paraguayan way of life. You have no idea how fulfilling it is to pull an egg sack out of your foot and admire the nice big (ish) hole you now have. I think I can now relate to a mother after she has given birth. Its just one of those things you have to experience for yourself.

Here is my address..

Austin Durr
Cuerpo de Paz
Chaco Boreal 162, c/Mcal. Lòpez
Asunciòn, Paraguay

Be sure to write out the whole thing, the mail system here is extremely slow and it´s best not to take any chances. I will possibly be able to get some computer this time but if not, see you next week!

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Some information from our sponser

Hey everybody,

I am finally going to get this thing going since I talked about it so much. I will hopefully update once a week or every other week and if we are really really lucky I will be able to put up some pictures. I will put up my mailing address next week... hint hint hint

Have fun reading, please give me your feedback positive or negative but hopefully constructive. I would love to hear about you all and what is going on back in the States.

Also, I hope you enjoy your AC and crank it down a few notches in memory of me. On second though, it must be getting cold up there so in that case, crank up the heat and spend a day like a Paraguayan!

23 years young

I had a great birthday here. On Sunday a group of us went to a nearby town called Ità. It is known for having a Nazi buried in their graveyard. They also have a large pond in town with some small alligators, I took some pictures of them. We walked around town and explored, but because it was Sunday most stores were closed except the restaurant/bars.

My evironmental education training group went together and bought me a guampa and bombilla which was super cool. Now you are probably asking yourself, "what is a guampa and bombilla??"

A guampa and bombilla are essential for Paraguayan life. The guampa is basically a cup, it could be wooden, wood with metal, or made out of a hollowed out cow horn. A bombilla is the metal straw you use to drink out of the guampa, it has a strainer at the end so that you don´t suck up the little particles of yerba mate when you trink your terrere or mate. What is terrere and mate? Terrere is mate served cold, mate is a tea type drink. You buy it in a bag of loose ground leaves, and there are tons of different variations. Fill the guampa about half full of yerba mate, and add hot or cold water depending on the weather. This daily ritual is extremely Paraguyan and you will see people drinking their terrere all day long no matter what they are doing. Part of the terrere is crushing up fresh herbs to soak in the water that you are pouring into the guampa and there is a whole cultural science behind the herbs you use and the health benefits they provide. There is something for everything!

Monday (my real birthday) my host mom cooked up a great meal of gnocci. After that we just hung out and talked for a while. My language is getting to the point where I can have limited conversations in spanish/guaranì with the help of my best friend the spanish-english dictionary.

Q & A with Iowa students

My Mom´s 6th grade students sent a list of questions about my experiences and I bet a lot of people are wondering similar things. Here you are:

They want to know about the food you are eating.
- The food is usually good but can be a little weird to an American. For instance, the other day I had some fish soup, and the fish was just sitting in the soup intact, fins and all. They don´t spice their food very much here except for salt. They salt everything! My favorite food is the tortilla. It is very different from what we would call a tortilla. It is made out of egg and batter with a little cheese and sometimes a bit of some kind of green leafy vegetable. Then it is fried. It´s tasty but probably not very health. Most people don´t eat a whole lot of vegetables because they are expensive and it just isn´t traditional. To them, if you can eat meat it is a sign of wealth, so families try to searve as much meat as possible. My host mom made pizza one night, it was a thick crunchy crust covered with onion, a little tomato, and a tiny bit of cheese.
One interesting note about how Paraguayans eat is that they don´t drink anything with their meals. They save drinks for after you finish, because they believe that it is bad for your digestion to drink while you eat.
Any unusual insects
- There are lots of unusual insects. I can´t name any of them unfortunately. Last night there was a beatle flying around in my room that was almost the size of a pingpong ball. There are also leaf cutter ants that are huge and will bite you if you make them angry. They mow down large paths through grass that you can see stretching into the distance. We have these little bugs that are like a sand flea called the pike (peekay). They like to get on your feet and lay eggs in your skin. It looks like a little black dot that hurts like a pimple, and you have to dig all the eggs out with a needle so they don´t hatch. Luckily I have not experienced a pike personally. There are also parisitic worms in some places, we found one the other day that we think came out of a dog. It was skinny and white, about 3 inches long. We put it into a little jar of water to show to the school children.
Nearby rivers
- There aren´t any nearby rivers where I am now, but two very large rivers boarder Paraguay - Rio Paraguaya and Rio Pirana (that´s not the exact name of the second one, I can´t remember it at the moment)
is your village in or near a rainforest?
- Paraguay has less than 8% of it´s original forest remaining. What we do have wouldn´t exactly be called rainforest except for the most northern parts of the country. Where I am living right now used to be a rainforest, now the only way to describe it is a quasi desert. The ground is sandy/clay. There are plants around though, we have a lot of mango trees and a handfull of trees that were either replanted or not in a place that was needed for farm land.
What little forest we have left is in the process of being cut down for timber and then used for poorly managed farm land. I have also heard that they are having trouble on the Brazilian boarder with unregulated lumber harvesting. It´s not a good situation right now.
- My training village is a satalite community of a larger town called Guarambare. In my village there are maybe 100 families. I do not know where my permanent site will be after I finish training, but there is a good chance that it will be very small and rural. Where I am now is pretty urban by Paraguayan standards.
tv, electricity, running water
- As I said, we are pretty urban. Many families in Nueva Esperanza have TV´s. My host family has one but doesn´t watch it much, other families have their TV on all day. We have electricity and running water as well, although the only hot water is in the shower. The heating element is inside the shower head and if you touch it while taking a shower you will get a mild electrical shock. I did it once on accident and it wasn´t that bad. I visited a peace corps volunteer last weekend at his site in Caaguazu. His house was one of only a handfull that did have electricity and running water. Most of the people living there lived on less than $1 a day. It was very sad to see how those people were living, but interesting too because although it is a very hard life they were generally happy (at least that is how they acted around us).
- There aren´t any monuments around that I have seen. I know that in Asuncion (the capital) there are some monuments. I will tell you about them when I see them!
churches-are they fancy or crude?
- The church in Nuevo Esperanza is not fancy but I wouldn´t call it crude either. It is large enough to seat maybe 150 or 200 people. It has only one room with 3 big doors on the front that open up to let air inside, sometimes they set up chairs outside when there are too many people.
is there hunting?
- I haven´t heard of any hunting. I don´t think they do much of that around here because there are no forests to hunt in. Also, many people do not have the time to go hunting because they have to work so much. Hunting is a leisure activity that many people here can´t afford. However, that could be different out in the campo (the extreme rural country).
what is the school like?
- Schools are very different. In most cases school only goes up to high school level, but they call high school colegio. Generally, you go to school either in the morning or in the afternoon but not both (unless the school is very progressive). Their education system is based on rote memorization with very little to no room for creativity. The effects of this are seen throughout the country. Most kids do not go to school past 15 or 16, depending on how much money their family has. Also, if it rains and you don´t live in a town with paved or cobblestone roads, school is canceled. Many towns only have dirt roads that turn into mud roads when it rains.
Have you seen poison dart frogs?
- I have not seen poison dart frogs, I don´t think they live here anymore (but I could be wrong!). I have seen other frogs though. They like to get into people´s bathrooms because it is nice and moist and there are usually lots of bugs in there. There are also very big toads but I usually just see them squashed on the road (I saw one the size of a softball this morning).
Is it a good place to live?
That is a tough question that I can´t fully answer. I have been here for about 3 weeks and I can´t answer that question for the Paraguayans. Is it good by American standards? No, Most Americans would refuse to live in these conditions. I like living here though for a number of reasons. The people are generally kind and generous. It is a fulfilling challenge that makes daily life back home seem dull and bland. I wake up every morning and say to myself "Im in Paraguay" and then I have to be totally focused all day until I get back in bed. When it is a challenge to do something as simple as talk to the other people living in your house you start to appreciate life on a different level.

A bit about my home and family

My family has 2 girls, 3 year old Jasmin and 6 year old Ruth. They are both incredibly cute and remind me a little bit of Olivia and Elise (though Olivia and Elise are more mature). Education is slower here and I am learning a lot about it because it is in my technical area. My host family is great. They have completely welcomed me into their home and are very patient with my language growing pains. Elias the father works in Asuncion as a construction worker. He also sings at the church in town. I enjoy his singing and have been to 3 masses (they had a bunch to celebrate their patron saint San Fransisco). The house has 5 small rooms, 2 bedrooms (i have my own, the family shares the other one), 1 small bath, a dining/family room, and a kitchen. Paraguayans keep their homes tidy but don´t worry too much about bugs because it would be impossible to get rid of them all. Homes aren´t insulated because it never gets really cold here. Windows in homes don´t usually have glass, but will sometimes have metal bars for security and shutters to keep the bugs out.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

First Entry

The first day of Staging in Miami is over and I finally have time to get to a computer and put my final thoughts down before leaving the country tomorrow evening. We officially registered today and became "Trainees." This whole time I had a weird fear lurking in the back of my head that I would show up and they would turn me away saying that they had made some mistake. Well, I am still here and I am not going back.

I am in a group of 42 people going to Paraguay. Everyone is in some environmental field from agro-forestry to bee keeping to environmental education. Some have more experience than others. We spent the whole day in a room getting to know each other while they drilled the rules into us. I already know that I am going to make some great friends.

42 hours from now I will be breathing the air of my new home away from home. I couldn't be more excited.

I don't know how internet access will be when I get there so I may not update for several days but I will keep trying to get news out! Please send me emails and messages about how things are going in your neck of the woods!


- Austin