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.