Thursday, November 12, 2009

Living the life... Paraguayan style!

Oh wow! I have really fallen off the face of the earth... or maybe deeper into Paraguay ;o) The last couple of months have been a little rollercoaster, with both work and my social life. But spring is here!... and summer is right around the corner. With it comes more adventures, great projects, and maybe some surprises...haha. Enjoy these pics from the last couple of months!

P.S. I lost my camera back in May, so there is A LOT missing. Thank you Aunties Yvette and Wanda for my new camera!!! <3

First things first... I have a puppy! Her name is Chuchi; she loves to sleep more than I do, fight chickens, and eat like there is no tomorrow! She also LOVES to sleep with her head in my shoes after I go for a run. I'm falling in love...

My two favortie dogs; Chuchi and Bob.

"What can I get into now?..."

Hola Bob!
(I know he looks mean, but he just likes to make funny faces when he gets excited)

The Ogaguasu gets a facelift!


Of course I was there all week painting away...


From Sept. 26-29 the Ogaguasu (my community center) held its fist ever Arts and Crafts Expo. The "Expo Feria" was a four day event filled with great arts and crafts from Mboiy and surrounding barrios, traditional Paraguayan food, music, and dance.

The Ao Poi class of the Ogaguasu.

Opening night of the Expo. Don Rogelio (my counterpart's husband/ my host dad) gave a great speech welcoming the community and officially opening the doors of the Ogaguasu.

The girls of our dance class danced to some traditional Paraguayan music.

Two silver jewelers from Luque (near the capital city Asuncion) came to show/ sell their amazing work. These women are members of Instituto Paraguayo de Artesania (IPA), which works to promote art and culture here in Paraguay.

More great dancing!

Celebrating the big 2-5 with Alex, Natalia, and great friends in Asuncion! Thanks guys.

Raquel and her friend at the 4th anual Encuentro Feminista del Paraguay. This conference was a three day celebration of women's rights in South America.

Speakers and activist from all over South America came to Paraguay to share thier experience, views, and stories.

There were about 500 Paraguayan women there!

Salto Crystal for the weekend with some great friends! It was sooooo cold!

Celebrating Halloween in site with the kids. We carved a pumpkin!

Friday, June 5, 2009

This is why I joined the Peace Corps.

Photo Blog! Just wanted to share something visual to help explain why I love my job. Enjoy!

Ahecha Paraguay:

Ahecha Paraguay aims to develop the creativity and self-expression that exists inside each young Paraguayan individual, through the tool of photography.

From February 2008 through May 2009, over 400 Paraguayan youth and adult facilitators in 44 communities throughout the country are participating in the project's cycle, through:

· community photography instruction workshops and exhibits
· inter-community exchanges
· a collective cultural excursion
· a national exhibition series in the capital city of Asuncion

Ahehca (Guarani for 'I see') is a subcommitee of the Peace Corps Paraguay commitee CoCuMu (Compartiendo Cultura Mundial). This year was very exciting for me, not only because it was my first year working in the commitee, but because I got a chance to design this year's national exhibit. The theme chosen was bamboo, an increasingly popular and versitile plant. This years exhibit will be in five location between May 18 and August 24, 2009. Locations include: Centro Cultural Paraguayo Americano (CCPA), Villa Morra Shopping Center, The U.S. embassy, Alianza Francesa, and the Terminal de Omnibus de Asuncion.

There were 47 photos chosen for this year's exhibit. Half were placed on walls made of bamboo sheets, and the other half in bamboo frames.

Chris and Jesus, two of the super guapo PCVs that helped me out.

One of the bamboo walls, with the framed photos in the background, at the CCPA opening night banquet.

Ahecha Paraguay at the CCPA.

Sadiya and me!

If you would like to see all of the photos from this years exhibit, please visit:

San Pedro RVAC (Regional Volunteer Action Committee... the volunteers that live in my region), sleep over at my house! (We like to pick our noses)

Ahendu (Guarani for 'I hear') is another sub committee of CoCuMu that aims to share American and Paraguayan music. Every four months, we host concerts were PVCs and Paraguayans can perform live. Our last concert raised Gs 3,000,000 ($600)!!!!

Michael Jackson Paraguayo performed... he was actually REALLY good.

There are so many things we take for granted as Americans, one of which is clean running water.

After years of hard work, fighting corrupt politics, and A LOT of elbo grease, my counterpart's barrio has running water.

There were no professional engineers out there... these were my neighbors in the hot sun, building everything themselves.

Of course, the ladies were there for moral support.

Right after the water was turned on for the first time.

Three year old Danny, loving the cold water!

Fiesta Patronal in a neighboring compania.

Jazmin and Rocio.

Me, hard at work, making a sign for my community center.

My community center!

My English class for teens.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

9 to 5

I have been asked many times what my daily, “9 to 5”, schedule is like here in Paraguay. What does it mean to be a Peace Corps volunteer? What time do you wake up everyday? What time does your day end? Then, after I try to answer these questions, I hear “you’re so lucky, you can make your own schedule…” While there is truth in this, as volunteers our workday begins when we want it to. We do not have 9 to 5’s. There is no time clock, or supervisor monitoring the halls. Peace Corps is not Office Space. No, Peace Corps is so much more than a 9 to 5, and I am more than an employee.

This weekend my good friend, a fellow volunteer, came to visit me in Mboi’y. After a hectic week, we decided that the two of us deserved a relaxing weekend. Saturday night, to make it uber girly, we watched the movie 9 to 5 (if you have not seen this movie, basically… you need to). In the midst of all the laughing and recounting stories of similar situations “back in the corporate world,” I started thinking: I am working 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, for 730 days. I do not have a 9-5. I do not clock in, and I do not clock out (well, maybe in my mind sometimes). I always bring work home, because my work is my home. When all is said and done, my supervisor is my entire town, and they reserve the right to call on me whenever they please.

“Umm, yea… Courtney, I’m going to need you to go ahead and come in to work tomorrow. Great, thanks.”

I never thought I would miss the corporate 9 to 5 so much; the ability to clock out at the end of each day, and know that I can make the rest of my day, or weekend, whatever I want it to be. Now, ok yes, I do recognize that the corporate world is not easy and there is a lot of baggage carried around by everyone, everywhere. However, at the end of the day, a Peace Corps Volunteer lives in their office. There is no going home. While I love this aspect of my job, there are down sides (as with everything in life) that I feel I should share.

Currently, I am teaching English and helping to create a legally recognized neighbor commission that will be the governing body of my community center. I cannot be more thrilled that things have/ are taking off, and so quickly. I live in an amazing community, with amazing people that understand the value of hard work, integrity, and participation. Within three weeks, we already offer two courses (English and knitting), and should be offering more as soon as April. My English course, which lasts 10 weeks, has 40 students! So with all of this said; why is it that at the end of the day I have my doubts about being a volunteer? The answer to that question has to do with my personal life, or, the fact that I do not have one.

I spent three months of training learning cultural sensitivity, among other things. So I came to my site knowing that there would be many situations where I would have to put aside my own personal beliefs, habits, and routines in respect to my community. As volunteer, we all make sacrifices. However, what they do not remind us is that there is no cultural sensitivity training to Americans on the part of the community. Everything I do and say is new to them, and I can turn people off just as easily I can turn them on, to my work. When I say the Peace Corps volunteer works 24 hours day, I am referring to the fact that everything we do is known, and judged, by our communities. I do not blame my neighbors at all, I am a guest in their home which means it is my responsibility to respect their ways of life and costumes. But at the same time, this puts a huge damper on my personal life. For the most part, I do feel like I am able to be myself. But, it is not always easy.

(You may need to read my blog post: How many Paraguayans can fit on a bus)

For example, if I have visitors at my house anyone who wants to know about my visitor knows. Normally, if it’s a girl (which they normally are) there are no questions asked. But heaven forbid I have a male friend over… then the questions start flying, and the gossip starts flowing. Out of the five or so Americans that have lived in Mboi’y, 4 have married Paraguayans. The odds are not in my favor, and they know this. I want my neighbors to be interested in my work, and not my personal life. This has resulted in a sort of paranoia that I am not necessarily proud of. I try to give a good balance of professional and personal, because this is my home now too, but I am in constant fear of doing or saying something that can jeopardize my work. My first couple months in site, I was dating a Paraguayan that lives in another town. When he finally asked me why I always come to see him, and I have never invited him to my site, it hit me that I have to make some real decisions about what kind of volunteer I am going to be. I decided that I did not want to have any guy stay over, alone, at my house unless we were serious and I was ready to introduce him to my community as my boyfriend. This was a personal decision based solely on my personal feelings and concerns. There are many volunteers that date in and out of site and have no problem with their communities knowing. I, however, have decided not to… and this is not easy.

“This is the toughest job you will ever love.”

But, there are ups and downs to everything right? Hmm, ups to being a PCV in Paraguay? I DO get to set my own schedule. I DO get to know that I helped changed an entire community. I DO get to take 2 hour naps in the middle day if I so desire. I DO get to look back at this experience and know that I grew more as a person in 2 years than many do in 20.

So, enjoy that 9 to 5 you have!

- Wong

Saturday, February 14, 2009

"Cuidar y Cultivar"


In a previous Blog entry I talked about the idea of the "Land of Opportunity," and the fact that almost 50% of the Paraguayan population lives outside of Paraguay in search of more opportunities. There is so much beauty and opportunity here though, and it is a shame that there is such a limited amount of outlets. Just as my summer camp was wraping up, and I was beginning to worry about what project(s) I would be able to work on next, the sky openned up and all sorts of possibilities began to rain down on my little barrio of Mboi'y.

"Cuidar y Cultivar"

... Care for and cultivate...

For the past 7 months I have been living next to that outlet, and I didn't even know it. Ogaguasu, Guarani for "Old House", was the first house built in Mboi'y. It was built circa 1875, after the Triple Alliance War. Currently, Sr. Carlos Ovando, a 96 year old veteran of the Chaco War, lives there. Sr. Carlos is the father of the owner of my house (who lives and works in Argentina) and my landlord Antonia. Recently, his son Ramon (who lives and works in Asuncion) has been visiting to help care for his father and Ogaguasu. Ramon was impressed with my work with the kids, and apporoached me about doing something on a larger scale for the whole community, possibly using the Ogaguasu. I seriously almost passed out with excitment... it was Christmas, AGAIN, in 25 de Diciembre. I told him that it was dream of mine to have a community center in Mboi'y; a place where we can offer classes and hold events for the entire community.

I cannot believe how quickly things are moving along. This past saturday, Valentine's day, we held out first meeting to share the idea with members of the community, and get feedback and more ideas. Fifteen of my neighbors came to the meeting. Now this might not sound like a lot, but keep in mind this is a small community, and this meeting is being held by a Peace Corps volunteer... 15 people is great. My neighbors loved the idea, and were full of suggestions and ready to offer thier support.

And so, the Ogaguasu was born...

Misión: "Ogaguasu Centro Comunidad es un lugar para la comunidad que apoya cultura y crecimiento por expresión creativa y participación."

..."The Ogaguasu Community Center is a place for the comunindad that supports culture and growth through creative expression and participation."

Of course, this is only the beginning... but what a great start! During the meeting we disscussed what types of things we would like to offer the community. This list was created:

  • Basic Art: creative writing, drawing, painting, and photograpgy.
  • Artisentia: traditional Paraguayan crafts.
  • Health: educaiton courses and alternative cooking classes (using Soy).
  • Language: english (that would be me).
  • History: museum with photos, artifacts, and writings.

Needless to say, I am very excited for this project. In the near future I will beginning my english class in the beginning of March. I am asking the Mayor and the municipality to pay for paint and materials to paint the Ogaguasu, and fellow guapo volunteers to donate thier time, and love, to paint. Within the next 3 months we hope to have the property ready its ignaguration... I'll keep you informed!

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Campamento Guiaca y Mboi'y 2009

One of the best ways, I have discovered, to gain acceptance in a community is through the kids. I have been very fortunate to live in a community with a very strong sense of family. As a Peace Corps volunteer, I hope to strengthen that the sense of family by working with the youth (all ages) in the area of personal development and community participation. One of the best ways, I have discovered, to gain acceptance in a community is through the kids. I have been very fortunate to live in a community with a very strong sense of family. As a Peace Corps volunteer, I hope to strengthen that the sense of family by working with the youth (all ages) in the area of personal development and community participation.

(Sorry for the order of my pictures, Blogger makes it kind of hard)

King handing out fresh y muy rico empanadas de carne de soja.

The boys drawing thier favorite foods for the Olla de Alimentos.

El Cuerpo Saludable (The Healthy Body).

The build-it-yourslef Olla de Alimentos.

Team Participation day.

The Human Knot game.

The Spider Web (Guiaca).

Haha, and I don't know the name of this game... but they loved it.

Rojo Perro (Red Rover).

Milk Tye Dying.

The density column.


The Elephant game.

This past week, I held my first childrens summer camp in my barrio of Mboi'y. I am very proud to say that it was a great success! The camp was "un poco de todo"; four days of art, science, team participation, and health. I hope you enjoy some pictures from the camp!

Each day we began with a game to get the kids warmed up. Day one was art day, and we began by making name tags that had a drawing of your favoriet animal. The kids were asked to say their name and their favorite animal, then to make to the sounds and motion that animal makes. After our little intro game, we the elephant game: everyone stands in a circle and one person begins by pointing to another in the circle, the person who is pointed to has to quickly put their hands to their face to form the elephent's nose, and the two people on either side of them must quickly for their ears. If you are too slow, or fail to form the right part, you are out!

We had three activities for art day: community map drawing, origami, and homemade Play-Doh. At the end of each day, we gave the kids a healthy merienda (snack). The first two days we had fruit salad, day three was banana milk shakes, and finally on day four we made empanadas with carne de soja (soy empanadas).

Day two Karen, an absolutely amazing volunteer from my G, came up to help out. We had three different science activities: a density column with soap, water, alchohol, and oil; milk tye dying to demonstrate chemical reactions; and bottle rockets.

Day three was all about group participation. We began the day with Red Rover and Comunidad, Casa, Nino. Afterwards we split into three alternating groups again and did the human knot, the spiderweb, and the third... I have to be honest, I do not know the name of this game... but the idea is to get a group of people to all stand together on a small surface (mat, box, etc.).

Finally, on day four, we had two activities to learn about healthy eating. The first was a build-it-yourself "Olla de Alementos," which is the South American equivilant of our Food Pyramid. The kids were asked to draw little pictures of their favorite alimentos (foods). Then they were asked to put together the Olla (pot) with all 7 food groups. After the Olla was constructed and the different groups labeled and discussed, the kids placed their favorite food drawing in the appropriate sections. This activity was designed to allow to kids to compare thier diets with eachothers, and learn about what food groups they need to improve on. The second activity was un Cuerpo Saludable (a Healthy Body). We turned fruits and veggies in body parts and formed "un cuerpo saludable"; spinach is good for your hair, watermellon is good for your teeth, celery is good for bones, etc.
The turn out for my camp was great, ranging between 16 and 35 kids. It brought me so much closer to the kids in my community, and through them I hope to gain a relationship with thier families and the community as a whole.
I want to thank the amazing volunteers that helped me out this week. I could not have done it without you!... seriously, all those kids?! King, Holly, Roberto, and Karen <3