Wednesday, October 24, 2007

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.

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