28 November 2009

A few months later...

It's been almost 5 months since I left Paraguay, but some things in my life are still Paraguayan. I still have mate and tereré on a regular basis, though not as often as I wish I did. Yerba is ungodly expensive here, and postage from Paraguay is a bit pricey, especially by Paraguayan standards, so I'm trying to stretch what I still have.

For those of you who didn't follow my blog while I was in Paraguay or those of you not familiar with Paraguay, tereré is a kind of tea. See the picture for a visual. It's made out of loose leaves (yerba) and icy water. It is drunk out of a cup made out of metal, wood, or horn called a guampa, and drunk through a metal straw called a bombilla (see picture) that has lots of tiny holes in the bottom so that you don't drink the leaves. Mate is basically the same thing, except hot water is used in place of cold water. Tereré is a social activity in Paraguay. Whenever you go to a friend's house, you can be sure that they'll offer you terere (in the warmer months) or mate (in the early morning and cold months). From the high-class Asunceños (residents of Asunción) to the campesinos (farmers) in the middle of nowhere, everyone drinks terere. On sweltering February afternoons, the best thing to do is just sit with some friends and tomar un terere.

Besides terere on a somewhat-regular basis, I've made Paraguayan food several times. Mbejú is a favorite, and I attempted chipa once. One Sunday a few weeks ago, my Japanese AFS sister, the inbound from Paraguay, and I had a cooking day, and we made mbeju, mandi'o chyryry, mandioca frita, empanadas, and pizza de palmito y huevo. Mbejú is a traditional food made out of cheese, tapioca flour, corn flour, milk, and salt that looks something like a pale-yellow-ish white pancake. Mandi'o chyryry is a dish made with boiled cassava/yucca/mandioca, eggs, and cheese. Mandioca frita is simply fried cassava. Empanadas are basically amazing. They're little fried, folded-over pockets filled with some combination of eggs, vegetables, spices, beef, chicken, cheese, mandioca, peppers, corn, or anything else you could want. Most of these were successfully made, but the mbeju was a little crumbly.

All these crazy words like "mandi'o chyryry" and "mbejú" are Guaraní, if you were wondering. Guarani is an Amerindian language spoken in central South America, that happens to be one of the two official languages of Paraguay (the other being Spanish, of course). I put a handy little phrase list and pronunciation guide on the right hand side of this blog, but if you're looking to (for whatever crazy reason) learn more than a few phrases, I highly recommend that you head on over here. "Here" is a blog/podcast designed to teach/help English-speakers learn Guaraní. It's created by a Peace Corps volunteer who's currently in Yataity, Guaira, Paraguay. I've been using it to learn more advanced Guarani, to add to my lovely bank of insults/swear words that my compañeros so excitedly taught me (Apparently teaching the rubia to yell "Japiro! Ñama kota!" is hilarious...who knew?). Ok, maybe I learned more than that, but in all honesty, I'm still a ways away from proficiency with Guarani Guarani as opposed to Jopará, which is Guarani mixed with Spanish.

Nearly 5 months later, and sigo llevando mucho de Paraguay en mi corazón. I'm still perpetually late, though I at least try now. I don't stress about the little things, and I still think our houses are huge, are roads are amazingly smooth, and everything is expensive. School is still dull, and I still think that people have no balance in their lives. It's all school-work-money or all party-drinking-puking with very little middle ground. The empanada/Ades/alfajór/guaraná cravings still come every now and then. Pepsi is too sweet after a semester of nothing but Coke. My brain still switches to Spanish on a fairly regular basis, and a decent-sized chunk of my iTunes library is devoted to Reggaeton, Cumbia, and Bachata.

I see that this blog is still being read quite often, and I assume that at least some readers are perspective exchange students to Paraguay. If anyone is considering going to Paraguay, feel free to leave your email address in a comment, and I can hopefully answer some of your questions. About a year ago, I was trying to research Paraguay and came up with football/soccer scores, colonial maps, and info on the Chaco, Yguazú falls, and the Itaipú dam. I know that there is basically no information out there about Paraguayan school, food, transportation, or really anything else you really want to know.

29 August 2009

Back in the States..

I'm finally back from both Paraguay and China, but STILL part of AFS. My family is hosting a student from Japan for the year, so I'll still be involved with local AFS stuff.

I've been out of Paraguay for a month and a half, although three weeks were in China. I still wish I was with all my Paraguayan friends & family and Paraguayan food and Paraguayan music and Paraguayan schedule and Paraguayan...everything. Re-adjusting to the US schedule and concept of time has been hard. In Paraguay, we would be out at the club until 4 or 5 most weekends, whereas curfew here is 11, and they actually check IDs. I also am not having fun with needing to be on-time. In Paraguay, NOTHING was on-time, except for sorta school. Oh well. I know I'll be going back someday, I just don't know when, for how long, or why...

28 June 2009

1 week

One week from right now I'll be leaving Pilar on my bus to Asunción.
I'm definitely not ready to be leaving. A semester is really waayy too short; I haven't even had two culture shock-free months. These last few weeks have been amazing, and I wish I could stay here. For any prospective AFSers/exchangers in general reading this- go for a year if you can. You won't regret it. It feels like I'm leaving in the middle of something...

This will probably be my last post from Paraguay.

This has been a crazy six months. I don't even know how I'm going to begin to explain when people ask me about it. Also, everyone, please stop asking "How's Paraguay?" because there is no good answer that you're going to get out of me in less than 20 minutes. It hasn't all been good, but it's not bad either. It's just different, to fall back on the typical exchange organization's mantra.

5 July: Take noon bus from Pilar to Asunción, get there around 6, for sure seeing Abbey, hopefully Kat, Thomas, and basically everyone else in gran Asunción.
6 July: Fly from Asunción to Santiago, Chile in the morning, wait around in Santiago for a while, get on a plane to Miami
7 July: Arrive in Miami (morning), go through customs and immigration, go to Atlanta, go to Milwaukee..

09 June 2009

Ciudad del Este

I know why you can never leave the Hotel California. It's a tangled maze of hallways, courtyards, rooms, and stairs in the middle of Ciudad del Este, Paraguay and happened to be the location of the last AFS camp of the semester.
Friday morning I got on a bus to Asunción with Jana (German exchanger in Pilar) to meet up with the Gran Asuncioñeros whom we got on another bus with to go to Ciudad del Este. I got to meet a lot of people who've been here since August, along with seeing a bunch of my friends from February again. Most of the people are from Germany, but there are also a few from Austria, Belgium, Iceland, the USA, France, Switzerland, and Turkey. Ciudad del Este is about a 4 hour bus ride from Asunción, but as these last two weekeds have taught me: long bus rides are WAY more fun when the bus is filled with 40 other exchangers!! My bus (we were split into two groups) watched some movie with Elijah Wood, but everyone else in the movie had a reallly thick Cockney accent, so I found it easier to read the Spanish subtitles. I guess that's a good sign! The other bus was lucky- Slumdog Millionaire, subtitled in Portuguese. Ya gotta love movies that come on DVD-Rs in a cellophane bag with a office printer labels...

Friday night involved a tasteless dinner and some frisbee injuries at about 1 AM. Saturday was a little more exciting. We went to the Itaipú dam in the morning. It's the largest hydroelectric project in the world, and is on the Paraná river, between Paraguay and Brasil. We got to visit both sides of it (Paraguayan and Brazilian) but didn't have very much time. The sheer size of it is absolutely amazing. I tried to take pictures of it, but they don't really do it justice. After the damn, we had some sessions with the volunteers where we got to write letters to future exchange students and ourselves. We also played a pretty intense game of ultimate frisbee involving an immobile tennis net, some unripe passion fruit, and nice neighbors of the hotel.
Later on Saturday, we watched the Paraguay-Chile World Cup qualifying match. Even though Chile won, it was still fun seeing a bunch of foreigners outdo the Paraguayans with support for the team. Even with this loss, Paraguay is still in first place for the division, tied with Brazil at 24 points. Chile is in third with 23, Argentina 22, Uruguay and Ecuador tied at 17, Venezuela at 16, Colombia at 14, Bolivia at 12, and Peru has a measly 7. Technically Brazil is ahead of us because of goals scored, same with Uruguay and Ecuador, but points-wise, we're tied.
Sunday we began the day with a trip to "Salto Monday" (not monday, it's guaraní) which is a decent-sized waterfall. It's absolutely beautiful. I'm not sure why we didn't go to Yguasú, but either way, Monday is beautiful too. After not enough time there, it was back to the hotel for a pretty emotional goodbye/last session. A few hours later, it was back on the bus to Asunción. We had some amazing Chipa in Eusbio Ayala and got into the city around 8. From there I went to a volunteer's house for the night. They told me I was leaving at 8AM to go back to Pilar, meaning I got up at 6AM Monday morning to get to the terminal in time to buy my ticket. There is no 8AM run to Pilar. The first one is at 12AM. I ended up going on a taxi tour of the city, and watching the England vs Kazakhstan game at another volunteer's house. Everyone except for the empleada (maid) was asleep for most of the few hours I was there, but she seemed to enjoy ranting about Paraguayan politics to me and gave me some amazing grapefruit juice.
The bus ride back to Pilar was as smooth as it can possibly be on roads built by a corrupt dictator, and we got back only 4 minutes behind schedule, which is pretty great in any country and amazing by Paraguayan standards. Now I'm back in school, getting ready for exams. Unfortunately, my school is considering moving exams back a few weeks until after winter break thanks to Swine Flu. I know it's mostly passed out of the news in the US, but it's just starting to arrive here, and if it sets in, it's going to be bad. The medical care just isn't here, and even if there are vaccines, the people most at risk won't have access to them. Masks are starting to become a bit of a trend, but nobody's seemed to notice that wearing a mask, then taking it off to drink tereré out of a straw that everyone present is sharing doesn't make much sense. I just hope it doesn't get worse here...

01 June 2009

El Chaco

The Chaco is extreme. It is either unbearably hot, or very cold. People dying of thirst, or drowning in floods. This weekend was chilly and wet. Most of the inhabitants are indigenous people. Some people think there are still uncontacted tribes somewhere in the Chaco. Those that aren't indigenous are Mennonites from Germany, Ukraine, and Canada. The lingua franca is German in the cities, and in the indigenous communites Guaraní and other indigenous languages. Spanish is widely spoken as well, but signs come first in German, then Spanish. The Chaco has no natural resources, save the tannin extracted from some of its trees, and has been called "the green hell" on many occasions. This is where I was last weekend.

Friday I got on a bus at noon with Jana, the other AFSer in my town, and arrived in Asunción at about 7. There, we met up with the exchangers from Ciudad del Este, Encarnación, and Santa Rita and Fernando, the AFS volunteer from Capiatá. From there, we got on another bus (micro) to go to Capiatá. The 10 of us non-asuncioñeros went to his house to wait for the bus that was going to take us to the Chaco to get there, and watched TV for an hour or so, including a subtitled "I Am Legend" and a poorly-dubbed "Fresh Prince", before playing some sort of card game that had instructions in German, Dutch, French, and Italian.
About 15 minutes into our game, we went to the supermercado to get on the biiiig bus to take us to the Chaco. Some people were already on the bus, and some people got there right after. In all, there were 40 of us, from the US, Germany, Belgium, Thailand, Austria, Turkey, and Japan, plus three Paraguayan AFS volunteers. At about midnight, we left with the destination of Loma Plata, Presidente Hayes. Needless to say, nobody got too much sleep. We talked, entertained a gas station attendent with our crazy mix of languages, and watched Texas Chainsaw Massacre while driving through one of the most desolate areas of the world...
Eventually, most of us fell asleep, and woke up in Loma Plata. Loma Plata is home to a grocery store that sells marshmallows, gummi bears, donuts, and a few other really out-of-place foods alongside chipa, mburucujá, and who knows what else. After a grocery store breakfast, we went to tour the Chortitzer Cooperativa, which is run by german-speaking mennonites, and produces dairy. Lots of dairy. And a tinnnnnnnnnyyyyy museum. Next was Neuland, with another museum, featuring poorly-stuffed animals native to the Chaco and Paraguay, including tapirs, anteaters, jaguars, and capyberas.
After that, we boarded a bus to Filadelfia, where our hotel was. We went to a store that sells indigenous handicrafts from the chaco tribes and books. Choice of languages: German, Spanish, English, or Guaraní. A museum filled with poorly stuffed animals and mennonite newspapers later, we went to Fortín Boqueron.
Fortín Boqueron was the site of a large battle during the war with Bolivia over the Chaco in the 30's. There's an indoor museum of photographs and weapons from the war, and an outdoor "museum" of underground bunkers, bottle tree sniper hideouts, cemetaries and monuments. I got to actually sit in one of the bottle trees that was used during the war.
Back to Filadelfia for the evening. Dinner at a pretty nice and verrry expensive (by Paraguayan standards) restaurant, and movie night. AFS USA-ers - NUGGET! jaja
The next morning, we woke up and got on ANOTHER bus to Mariscal Estigarribia. First stop was an indigenous town. Our bus was greeted by about twenty kids, eager for the food the buses of blondes always bring. Most of them didn't speak any Spanish, but I was able to talk to a few of them in Guaraní. The kids loved seeing pictures of themselves, and seemed to have learned the word "foto" in Spanish. A few of the adults spoke Spanish, so I was able to have more substantial conversations with them. One woman, Juliana, came here from Bolivia when she was little. She spoke Spanish, plus three indigenous languages and came to talk to us with her niece, Maria Silvia, who goes to the Mennonite school in town, and is excited to be starting German next year. Unfortunately, they hurried us out of there rather quickly to get on to the next stop, which was the Airport.
At the airport, we saw runways, and listened to a guy talk about how it's one of the best airports in Paraguay that really isn't used for anything. He seemed pretty optimistic about some company coming in to take over and turn it into a busy commercial airport in the middle of one of the most inhospitable regions of the world nowhere near anything else.
After the airport, we went to an army base where Fernando the volunteer's dad was stationed. They cooked us lunch- rice, guaraná soda, and massive helpings of chicken. An hour of ultimate frisbee later, we were back on the bus, headed to Asunción again.
The bus ride back was actually pretty entertaining. Scattergories, Wall-E, fortune chipa gurus, mburucuyá yogurt, Garden State, stories, "Leftist Breakfast", immigration arguments, photography, and a million other things..

Total Bus Time:
Pilar-Asunción: 7 hours
Asunción-Capiatá: .5 hour
Capiatá-Loma Plata: 7 hours
Loma Plata-Neuland: 1 hour
Neuland-Filadelfia: 1 hour
Filadelfia-Fortín Boqueron: 1 hour
Fortín Boqueron-Filadelfia: 1 hour
Filadelfia-Mariscal Estigarribia: 1 hour
Around Mcal. Estigarribia: 1 hour
Mariscal Estigarribia-Asunción: 8 hours
Asunción-Pilar: 7 hours
But worth it.

19 May 2009

Crazy Week

Last week Monday was a normal school Monday, but EVERYONE (teachers included) told me that there was no school on Tuesday. Of course, I didn't wake up to go to school. When I woke up at about 9:00, I found out that there WAS school. Wednesday there were classes too, so I actually went. Thursday was Paraguayan Independence day, so there was a HUUUGGEE parade through the "municipalidad" in the center of town. All the schools had booths with food and soda to raise money. I helped out at my class's booth for a while, we were selling ChoriPan which is basically like a hot dog, except with grilled chorizo. They're eaten with ketchup and mayonnaise, and are for some reason really popular, even though I think they're disgusting. Most of the Paraguayan food is great, but I do NOT like the chorizo here.

After the parade, at night, everyone in town went to Mi Viejo, which is the only disco/club in my city. They elect the best marching band, colorguard, and leader from all the schools. My school had the best marching band, Juan XXIII won for colorguard, and CREP won leader. I'm sure there are better English words for those things, but I'm definitely starting to notice my English deteriorating.

Friday was Mother's Day in Paraguay. My local AFS rep showed up at my house with a cake for us at about 9 AM. Other than that, it was a fairly uneventful day. My mom didn't really want to do anything, so we didn't..

Saturday was fairly uneventful in general. In the evening, I went to my friend Antonella's house for dinner and a party. Because there really isn't anything to do in Pilar (no movie theatre or "shoppings" as malls are called here) we usually just pile into her SUV and drive around blasting music for a few hours. Somebody found a semi-functioning microphone, and it turned into a karaoke party. I'm still hopeless with understanding most music in Spanish, but they were all pretty impressed that I actually could understand the words to Avril Lavigne songs. Not sure why, but everyone LOVES her here.

Yesterday my older little brother Victor came home from soccer practice with a crying puppy. He found it in the street, away from any other dogs that could possibly be the mother. I'm estimating it at about 4 weeks old. It doesn't bark, and it shakes when it walks. We've been feeding it a bread and water mash because it can't chew anything solid. We're in the process of trying to find a veterinarian who can look at it. Most of the vets here only deal with animals like cows and horses, dogs and cats generally don't get any medical care unless they're really sick, and even then it's rare. It's absolutely TINY. It's all black with one white paw. I don't know what's wrong with it, but it's obviously sick. The other family dog, Olivia, is jealous! They're planning on keeping the puppy (who's been dubbed "Maria Elena Encarnación" by Victor) so I guess Oli will have to get used to her...

Almost all of my time left is planned out already. I should be leaving with the AFSers who've been here since August in the beginning of July, giving me about 6 weeks in Paraguay. In two weeks, I'll be going on a trip to the Chaco, that's being organized by AFS Caapiatá with a bunch of my friends. The weekend after, I'll be in Ciudad del Este for an AFS orientation/camp, and the weekend after my friends Abbey (Ohio to Asunción) and Kat (Oregon to Luque) are going to come to Pilar to visit me, and we might go to Encarnación to see the Jesuit ruins. That leaves me about 3 weekends in Pilar! =0

To any prospective exchangers out there reading this, DO A YEAR PROGRAM! When you get over culture shock, you'll only have a little bit of time left if you do a semester, and if you do a summer, you'll be lucky to get real culture shock at all. I'm finally over most of my culture shock and can function in Spanish (and a little in Guaraní!) but only have a little more than a month left. Granted, I'm leaving a few weeks early, but it still wouldn't be enough if I was staying.

09 May 2009


I'm officially more than halfway through my exchange now, but I still don't know exactly when I'm leaving due to a rather interesting circumstance.

Back in Wisconsin, I was my school's Model UN president. After I was already in Paraguay, Horlick Model UN was invited to a conference in CHINA! Considering what's normally our most distant conference is run by the University of Chicago, a whole two hours away, this is a pretty amazing opportunity for us. At first, I thought I wouldn't be able to go, seeing as the China trip leaves August 1st, and I wasn't scheduled to be back until the 6th, but I actually AM able to change my departure date, and it's looking more and more likely that I will be in China in August! The main obstacle, at this point, is fundraising for my group. They are all working their butts off back in Racine to try to raise the money, and I think everyone who was selected to go deserves the chance. It's a really great group and I feel bad about not being there selling donuts, serving spaghetti, and running rummage sales with them, so instead, I'm resuming my job as website editor. The Racine Journal Times actually ran an article about us/them a few weeks ago, which you can read here:

Next week, 14 May, is the Paraguayan independence day. There's going to be a huge parade, and every school has a band and colorguard. Inconveniently, they practice during school in the courtyard, making it more impossible than usual to get anything done. It wouldn't be so bad if it was cohesive music, but it's still disjointed snare drums and trumpets, combined with the school across the street's band doing the same thing for HOURS every morining. School is still basically impossible. I can understand most of the worksheets, but I can't understand the explanations, lectures, or notes because nearly everyone else in my class is too busy either screaming, fighting, running, arguing, complaining about nonexistant homework, throwing paper, laughing hysterically at someone else throwing paper, or some combination of the above. The level of the work isn't really a problem for me, it's the fact that A) It's in Spanish/Guaraní, and B) It's too loud to think. This is somewhat normal in Latin America, but in comparing experiences with my other exchange friends in Paraguay, my class seems to have taken it to a new level. I would love to switch, but I'm now being told that we have exams the first week of June, which is news to me, seeing as I've been told that they're in the middle of July, the beginning of August, or the end of June up until now. I don't think anyone really knows. If exams really are in three weeks, I'll basically be done with school work. If they're in August or the end of July, I won't even be in the country anymore. Aggh. Nobody knows answers, and I'm starting to think people make up answers when they don't know them.
The people in my class take tons of subjects (Math, Statistics, Logic, Spanish, Guaraní, English, Psychology, History & Geography, Philosophy, Geology, Physics, Biology, Chemistry, Science, Religion, Arts, and Gym) but I'm only getting graded in 7 or so. It's an impressive-sounding list of classes, but most classes are only for an hour or two a week, so they are not very in-depth at all. The teaching methods here are also not very...effective. In most classes, the teacher copies from the state-required book onto the board, and the kids copy word-for-word, into their notebooks. I've actually had a teacher slightly upset because I used different punctuation than was in the book. If the teacher doesn't want to copy onto the board, sometimes they just read it outloud, slowly, and we have to copy. If the kids complain enough about having to write, the teacher gives us photocopies, which we have to pay for. The final exams are a supposedly big deal, but they have something like 4 or 5 chances to take them, so nobody even studies until the third or fourth time they're given. When I got here in February, most people were still taking exams from the school year that ended in November. If a kid fails, the parents assume it was the teacher's fault, and I wouldn't be the least bit surprised to see someone openly buying a grade. Also, we have to underline everything with colors and put everything that's turned in (almost nothing) into pretty folders. If someone messes up on a word in notes or on an assignment, it HAS to be whited out, or if there's no white-out at hand because it's been either thrown at someone across the room, or used up writing on the walls, totally redone on a separate sheet of paper, which is ridiculously expensive here. This is one of the only things I flat-out refuse to do. I questioned a few teachers on why, and they had no idea. I think they might have actually stopped requiring that now...

03 May 2009


I just got back from the long weekend in Asunción. I didn't have class on Wednesday for a teacher's meeting, Thursday was some sort of Teacher's holiday, and Friday was "Día de los Obreros," which translates into "Day of the Workers" and is basically like Labor Day in the US. I took the Wednesday morning bus from Pilar to Asunción with my 10-year-old brother, Anibal. In Asunción, we went to my host aunt and uncle's house for a while, and afterwords he stayed with them and I went to visit my friend, Abbey, from AFS who lives in Asunción.
She finally got her new host family, and they are a much better fit. There are three teenage sisters and a little brother, plus my friend and her parents, and of course, Blackie, the hyperactive but adorable toy poodle. They live about 10 minutes from downtown Asunción, so we went to see "La Casa de Independencia" where the overthrow of the Spanish colonial government was planned, "La Casa Rosada" which is BEAUTIFUL at night, and a few other monuments and buildings downtown on Thursday afternoon. Thursday night I went to a "quince" for one of Abbey's friends, which is something like a big US "Sweet Sixteen" except it's for the fifteenth birthday instead of the sixteenth, and nearly everybody has a pretty big party, rather than the relatively few in the US. Friday we met up with some other AFSers in the area at Shopping Del Sol, paid about four dollars for some pretty awful waffles, and went to see XMen as a fundraiser for Abbey's school.
Saturday we went to a cousin's wedding in Areguá, which is absolutely beautiful. It's right on a fairly large (compared to other lakes in Paraguay, it's got nothing on Michigan) lake, and is FILLED with art, from painting, to indigenous weaving, to flourescent lawn art. The wedding ceremony is basically the same in here as in the USA. The reception was at a club in San Bernadino. SanBer is AMAZING. The town is cute, and the lake is beautiful. I can't believe AFS didn't take us anywhere other than the bakery, or at least let us explore a little when we were in SanBer for the Adaptation Orientation. The reception itself was nice, and we were lucky with the weather that we could be outside as well.
Today, I basically got up and went back to Pilar. It's a good thing the bus wasn't too crowded, because my Olimpista brother decided to take home a 2-foot-tall ceramic dog-shaped bank painted in Club Olimpia's colors. I'm sure my other Cerrista brother he shares a room with is absolutely thrilled with the new decorations...
Club Olimpia and Cerro Porteño are the two biggest, rival football/soccer teams in Paraguay. It's like a Packer/Bear or a Horlick/Park rivalry. At least a third of the graffitti in Asunción has to be devoted to either supporting one of the clubs, or vandalising graffitti that supported the other club. Olimpia is black and white, Cerro is red and blue. Other than Cerro Porteño and Olimpia, other popular clubs are Rubio Ñu, Guaraní, Libertad, Nacional, Sol de America, and Tacuary.

Asunción is about the size of Milwaukee, but after almost three months in Pilar, it feels big. Pilar has no supermercados, shoppings, or movie theaters, which Asunción is filled with. Other than the crazy traffic (there are how-to manuals about how to use stoplights every few blocks), the thing I notice most about Asunción is the poverty. Some of the parks in the center of the city have become tent cities because there is nowhere else for the people to go. Kids in the street try to wash windshields for the equivalent of 10 cents (500 Gs) and people try to sell fresh fruit and knockoff sunglasses car-to-car. Entire families stand on street corners in their flourescent orange vests selling lottery tickets. The steps of government buildings, churches, and storefronts are covered in cardboard and plastic bags because they're somebody's home. I don't even know if the kids in the street have families or go to school. Some of them can't be older than 6 or 7, and I've seen older kids carrying infants around while they work. Sure, some of them are probably a scam. In general, it very obviously isn't. With this many people with this little, it's no wonder the crime rates are so high in some areas. The parks look like Hoovervilles, and most people seem to have become oblivious to the fact that they are in the middle of such absolute poverty. I don't even know where to begin, but if you know of any organizations that help with this kind of thing, help them out. A little bit goes a long way. A dollar here can buy a meal, five can feed someone for a whole day, and free them up from windshield washing so they can hunt for a piece of metal to make a roof for their cardboard house. This isn't a problem just in Paraguay either, this is all over the world. It might not be as extreme or as obvious, but it's there, and a tiny bit of effort or a tiny bit of money can really help someone out. They'll get more out of it than you'll feel like you're giving. Please, even if the economy isn't doing so great, figure out a way to help someone who has so much less than you can even imagine.

15 April 2009


Last week I got letters and pictures from my cousins, the Pitrof kids: Sydney, Olivia, Tony, and Sam, which my host family thinks they're adorable. So to start off this entry, I'll answer the questions they asked in their letters.
Do you like your new home?
Yes, I do. My house is between the center of town and the countryside, so I'm close to both. There are currently 8 of us living in the house, so it's a pretty big change, but I like it. Mostly, I like our yard though. Growing in the yard we have grapes, avocados, grapefruits, limes, apples, and a few fruits I haven't figured out the names of yet.

How's the food?
The food here is actually pretty good. It's pretty similar to US food, with slightly different ingredients and very different names. In the morning, breakfast is usually chocolate milk or coffee and bread. Lots of times we have snacks at the school's cantina, maybe a half-sandwich, some cookies, or an empanada. Lunch is the biggest meal of the day, and is a lot like dinner in the US. Usually there's some kind of grain (rice, pasta, mbeyu, borí, sopa paraguaya) with some sort of meat or vegetable and mandioca. We have merienda in the late afternoon. It's usually a lot like breakfast, except maybe with a bananaor yogurt. Dinner is really late, and we almost never eat it during the week. On weekends, I usually go out to eat with friends for dinner.

Did you teach them how to play football?
Here, "futbol" is soccer, but I'm working on teaching my little brothers how to play "futbol americano" which is what they call what we know as football. I can't say that I've been successful in teaching them the rules/format, but they love playing with the weird-shaped ball.

What sports are there?
In my city, basketball is actually the most popular sport, with soccer, tennis, and volleyball also being pretty popular. In the rest of the country, however, soccer is the most popular sport. Because basketball is only popular in my city, most people are fans of one of the national soccer clubs as well as a local basketball team. Volleyball and tennis aren't really watched, but lots of people play them for fun.

Do they know English?
Well, my English teacher does! English here is like Spanish class there. Other than her, I know a Peace Corps volunteer from California who lives in my city, an AFS returnee who lived in Chicago for a year, and a Mormon missionary who speak English well. There are a few people around who speak a little English, but mostly everyone just speaks Spanish and Guaraní. In the big cities like Asunción and Ciudad del Este there are more people that speak English. On the border with Brazil, cities like Ciudad del Este and Pedro Juan Caballero, a lot of people actually speak Portuguese more often than Spanish. In the countryside, everyone speaks Guaraní and some people don't speak Spanish. In my city almost everyone is fluent in Spanish and almost-fluent in Guaraní.

Are there TVs there?
Of course! The most popular show here is The Simpsons. Almost all of the programs come from other countries, and a lot of them just have subtitles instead of being dubbed. Because of this, there are programs from the USA, Brazil, Thailand, Korea, the UK that are just subtitled in Spanish. Other shows come from Mexico, Puerto Rico, Colombia, Venezuela, and Argentina.

Is it fun there?
Sometimes! I don't think some things like math class are fun in any part of the world though.

Is it ever cold or is it always warm?
It's never cold like it is in Wisconsin! It never snows. So far, it's been between 80 and 100 degrees Fahrenheit most days. Because Paraguay is in the Southern Hemisphere, the seasons are the opposite of what they are in the United States. It's spring in the US, but it's fall here. When we have summer vacation, it's the middle of winter here. Christmas is usually one of the hottest days of the year! It will get cooler in the winter, but it usually doesn't get below 40 or 50 degrees Fahrenheit.

What's your brother and sisers names?
My oldest sister is names Patricia, but it's pronounced "pa-tree-see-uh" in Spanish. She's 16, and will be coming to the USA for a year in August as an AFS exchange student. She's in my grade at school, but in the other class that specializes in business.
My oldest brother's name is Victor. He's 14 and plays soccer.
My other brother's name is Anibal (ah-NEE-bahl). He's 10, and also plays soccer and violin.
Also living with us is my 12-year-old cousin Laura and my grandpa, plus my parents, of course.

Easter here is basically not celebrated. More important is Semana Santa, the week before Easter. I didn't have school last week Wednesday, Thursday, or Friday, and there were activities instead of classes on Tuesday. I got to meet some of my "extended family" from Asunción last week. There's a HUGE fishing competition in my city over Semana Santa, but nobody cares about the fish anymore. It's more about going to the park and the beach for the music and food, and we luckily had GREAT weather for it.

It's finally not so sweltering hot, but it's still in the 80s daily. Due to this change, my school has started letting us wear our gym pants instead of our skirts, which is a cause for celebration. School is still REALLY different here. There are no text books (there's no money for text books) and we stay with the same people all day. The classes are only one or two times a week, so not too much gets done...

29 March 2009


I'm starting to put my pictures on ShutterFly, check them out at usatoparaguay.shutterfly.com
If it asks you, the password is "pilar". It's a slow process, so check throughout the week for more updates.

22 March 2009


A lot of people have been asking about the food here, so here it is. An entire post dedicated to Paraguayan food. I´ll add to this during the next week too. Breakfast here is almost nothing. Milk with coffee or chocolate, some bread, and maybe some tea. Lunch is the principal meal, and EVERYONE eats lunch at home. Dinner is basically just for weekends, and instead we have "merienda" in the late afternoon, and again around 8 or 9.

This is Sopa Paraguaya. It´s one of the most "Paraguayan" foods there is. It´s made with egg, cheese, flour, and some seasonings. It´s super common, and it´s really good. It reminds me a little of the crust part of some casseroles.

This is chipa. Chipa is a cheese-corn mixture eaten several times a week. Because dinner isn´t big here, we have "merienda" in the late afternoon. From about 3PM to dark, there are chipa vendors that walk or ride bikes around town selling fresh chipa door-to-door. Chipa is usually half moon-shaped, but it is occasionally ring-shaped like a bagel. In Asunción, they had prepackaged chipa that tasted like fritos, but I definitely prefer the fresh kind.

This is mbeyú. Mbeyú is made out of corn flour, manioc flour, cheese, and milk. It starts out in a crumbly dough, then is cooked in a pan over the stove. The cheese melts to hold everything together. It doesn´t have a really strong flavor, but it pretty good.

Empanadas are sort of fast food, Paraguayan style. They´re little fried pockets filled with egg, chicken, beef, corn, vegetables, or basically anything else. These are usually eaten as an evening snack, or sometimes as a side dish to lunch.

This is called borí borí. Borí are little balls made out of corn, served in soups with vegetables, chicken, or beef. This is another very "Paraguayan" food that no other country has. I´ve only had this a few times, because it´s mainly a "winter food" and autumn is just starting here.

Mandioca is eaten almost every day at lunch. Usually, it´s just peeled and boiled, but it can also be fried, or used to make other foods such as mbeyú. It´s a lot like a potato, and has a very mild flavor.

This is chipa so'o. It´s like chipa, except it's filled with a ground beef-and-veggie mixture.

I can´t find a picture of the actual soda, but guaraná soda is AMAZING. Simba is the most popular brand here. It´s flavor is kind of hard to describe, I´m sure I´ll bring some back.

Lomito is basically a hamburger in a slightly different shape. Lomito and hamburger are both eaten with different toppings here though- fried egg, mayonnaise, salsa, lettuce, tomato, and choclo (corn) are the most common.

Tereré IS Paraguay. We drink it every day, everywhere. Home, school, in the car, outside, inside, everywhere. Almost everyone has their own Termo, Guampa, and Bombilla. Termo is the pitcher, guampa is the cup, and bombilla is the straw. Tereré is a type of cold tea. First, the guampa is filled with Yerba Mate, a mixture of leaves, about halfway. Then ice water is poured in from the termo. You drink a cup, fill it again, and pass it around. I'm planning on bringing a bunch of this home.

07 March 2009


Part 1, AFS Camps, Plane ride, etc.

Part 2, Pilar

Part 3, Pilar, Carnaval

Part 4, Flowers/Trees/Plants

Cowboys and Birds

So I´ve completed my first full week of Paraguayan high school. Some subjects are surprisingly easy (Matemáticas, Física, Lógica) and others are basically impossible for me (História, Lengua Castellana, Guaraní, Química). In total, there are about 20 or so subjects. I was kinda freaking out for a bit, but someone finally told me that I only have to choose 8 or 9 to actually be graded in, the others are just a formality. I´m still not sure which ones I´m taking, but I should know by the end of the week.
This weekend is CARNAVAL! Last night we went out to eat for a friend´s birthday, then to the parade area. It´s so much fun. Everyone runs around with these cans of spray soap bubbles, attacking everyone else, and there´s a huge speaker system set up blasting the same bizzare mixture of traditional Paraguayan music and reggaeton that seams to always be playing and isn´t sounding quite so bizzare anymore. Every now and then this drumming group comes out and performs. It´s amazing music, the kind that somehow just gives you energy (which everyone needs, seeing as this all doesn´t even start until 10PM or so and goes on all night) and all 15 or 20 members of the group are in perfect sync. They range in age from about 14 to 50, and enlist younger kids to help them carry the equipment. After a few hours of this, the parade starts around midnight. The costumes in the parade are incredible. They´re all similar in design, but all different colors, and slightly different styles. Always beaded, sequined clothes, glittery skin, and elaborately feathered and beaded headdresses and, for lack of a better word, "wings." The wings aren´t really wings, but massive decorations made out of a massive amount of feathers worn on the dancers´ backs. Everything in their costume combines with their stilettos and dancing to make them look like elegant birds. The guys in the parade are all dressed as cowboys, with some added glitter and sequins. I really don´t know how birds and cowboys go together, but I guess for one weekend a year in a small town in Paraguay, they do. The dancers range in age from adults to little girls who couldn´t be more than 6 or 7 years old. I don´t know when this all actually ends, but it was going strong when we left around 2:30 because both of my little brothers had finally fallen asleep.
The flowers here are all so beautiful and exotic looking. Some of them only flower at night, and I´ve been told that the flowers now are nothing compared to what there is in May and June.
In other news, my family has internet now, meaning that pictures will be posted soon! I´m currently working on getting them uploaded, but it´s taking a while. Hopefully I can get them up today, but if not, later this week for sure.

26 February 2009


I started school on wednesday. It´s called "Colegio Nacional Italiano Santo Tomas¨but everyone just calls it Santo Tomas. The "Italiano" in the name just means that there´s an Italian flag in the school seal, and it was probably founded by an italian; it´s not like the classes are in Italian or anything. The schedule is really different. I don´t even know what Monday or Tuesday´s schedule will be. Wednesday we had an assembly-thing in the morning, and it felt like I was back at Sacred Heart, between the uniforms, and the 2 hours of religion class. After, 2 periods of Math, 2 periods of Chemistry, a period of history, and a period of art. That goes from 7 to 11:50. Then lunch at home. At 2:30, we go back to school for 2 hours of religion, 2 hours of Biology, and 2 hours of general Sciences. That doesn´t get done until almost 6 PM. Thursdays I have 2 hours of Spanish, 2 hours of something called orientación (no idea what it is), and three hours of Physics. That´s it. The hours aren´t actually hours, there more like 40-minute periods, if that. Tomorrow I have Math, "lógica", and religion in the morning, a lunch break, than statistics and psychology. Also, the kids stay in the same room all day, and the teachers change. The desks are sized for elementary schoolers, and are in a horseshoe around the room. I think I have 30-some kids in my class, but supposedly no more than 20 or so are there on any given day. The school is arranged around a courtyard, with two floors of classrooms and outdoor hallways. There´s a sitting area and a basketball court in the courtyard. The uniform is a gray skirt, school polo, and some of the ugliest shoes you´ve ever seen. My classmates are actually really disruptive, for the most part. I can´t hear ANYTHING most of the time. Not that I could understand it if I could hear it. There are a couple people I already know in my class though, so they´ve been helping me.

The weather is still HOT. It´s been raining more this week though, so I think it´s cooled down a bit. There´s been one GREAT thunderstorm, and a few showers. They´re still trying to teach me Guaraní too, but it´s not exactly working out. I know a few common words, but I still can´t understand Jopará. I´m also starting to understand ¨Paraguayan Time.¨What that means is that when my spanish teacher says she´ll be there at 2, don´t bother showing up til 20 after because she won´t be there until at least 2:30. Unfortunately, school actually DOES start at 7.

I have my next AFS camp March 13-15 in San Bernadino, near Asunción.

19 February 2009

Still hot...

It´s been ridiculously hot! School starts next Wednesday. I get my uniform tomorrow- a gray skirt and white blouse. I´m going to be in the general class, rather than trying to do something specialized for just a semester. That means I´ll have a ton of classes, but for a short time, and not every day. Here, the kids stay in the same room and the teachers change rooms. I´ll have Spanish, English, Guaraní, Math, Physics, Chemistry, some sort of History, Gym, Art, Choir, and who knows what else.

Everything here is so cheap! An hour of internet is less than a dollar. A pizza is about $1.50. Soda is $0.25. Phone calls are expensieve though.

Everything´s going great so far!

16 February 2009

I´m here

So I´m finally here. After 3 flights, 2 days in a hotel, a crazy van ride through asuncion, two days in a hostel-type thing, and a 6 hour bus ride through the campo, I´m finally here. The people are all really nice. The orientation in Miami was decent, and I got to meet some really great people who are also in Paraguay (or brazil or costa rica) but nobody else is anywhere near my city.

The hostel-thing where I had orientation was really nice. It´s called Quinta Ykua Sati, and is kinda secluded from the rest of Asuncion. I had roommates from Thailand and Germany there, and there were also kids from Belgium, France, Austria, and Switzerland. I had to leave pretty abruptly to catch my bus to Pilar though. My sister, Paty, met me at the terminal for the 6-hour bus ride to Pilar. The colectiva (bus) we were on was really nice- nicer than most coach busses. The drive was almost entirely through campo (countryside) and it was realy pretty. I think Paraguay has more cows than Wisconsin! Parts of the road were almost impassable, but most of it was fairly smooth, compared to city streets. After the long hours on the bus, I was greeted by a group of people (mostly my sisters´friends) screaming ¨¡feliz cumpleaños Hannah Montana!¨ After that, we all got into an SUV and drove around Pilar blasting some bizzare mix of reggaeton and traditional music until we got to my house.

The city of Pilar is pretty small, and it seems like everyone knows everybody. My family is really nice, I have parents, a sister, two brothers, and a live-in cousin. There are always a ton of kids though, and we´re always with their friends. School starts in 9 days. The weather is HOT! Usually in the mid thirties celsius. My house is small, but it´s nice. I´ll post pictures some other time. Everyone here drives mopeds (motos) unless there are too many people for a moto. Traffick in asuncion is CRAZY. People pile into cars on laps, and I saw 5 people on one moto. There are a ton of street kids (little kids) that run up to your car and try to wash your window or sell you coke. They dart out into traffic all the time; it´s amazing they don´t get hit. Pilar is different though. There aren´t really any traffic laws, but people drive slower, and almost everyone uses motos instead of cars. Also no street kids so far.

Yesterday was part of carnaval (I think) and it was a ton of fun. In the afternoon, basically everyone in the city had a massive waterballoon fight. First, we went over to a neighbors house, and threw them at all the other kids that went by, and they returned fire. Some people stand on corners, some people pile into camionetas (pickup trucks) or take backpacks full of chupitas (the balloons) with them on their motos (mopeds) to throw at people in other cars or in the street. After throwing them from the sidewalk for a while, we piled into an ancient landrover with about 15 or 20 gallons of chupitas and drove around throwing them and dodging them. It was so much fun! It started raining in the evening, so we rented some movies. Definitely Maybe (In Spanish with English subtitles for me) and Blind Date (In English with Spanish subtitiles). Today was calmer, we walked around town, and hung out at a neighbor´s house. I´m in an internet cafe right now, about a 10-minute walk from my house.

I understand more than I thought I would, and most of the time I can communicate what I need to. I´ve only used my dictionaries a few times, and most people are pretty patient with me when I have no clue what they´re talking about. The accent is pretty different, but I´m getting used to it. Jopara drives me insane though. Jopara is a mixture of Spanish and Guaraní, the native language that is spoken just as much as Spanish in a lot of areas. People don´t speak pure Guaraní that much, but tons of people speak in Jopara. Paty and some of her friends were trying to teach me Guaraní today, and it´s insane. They have letters that I´ve never seen before. It´s going to be taught in school, so we´ll see how that goes.

Gotta go, time´s up on the computer

02 February 2009

10 days...

11 February I go from Chicago to Miami for an orientation..
13 February I fly to Santiago, Chile.
Later that day I fly to Asunción.
I stay in Asunción for 2-3 days for an orientation.
Then I go to Pilar, probably by bus, to meet my family.

I've officially started packing.

11 January 2009


My visa application is in. I have a host family. I have plane tickets.

Now I wait.