So these last few weeks I've been back with my host family in Pilar. Very little about the city itself has changed. A few more streets have been paved, there's a new dispensa across the street, the "Castiglioni Presidente" signs from 2008 are now pink instead of red, some different stray dogs follow me around, Hamburgueseria Milenio is actually indoors now, but that's about it. Mostly everything is exactly how I remember it, with the added bonus of not having to deal with school this time around.
My first weekend here in Pilar was my cousin Lauri's fifteenth birthday. As in most of Latin America, 15th birthdays are a huge deal in Paraguay, so just after midnight on the day of her birthday, I got to go with a group of her family and friends to her serenata. The two singers who came with guitars did an amazing job, and the celebration went on for a few hours, though I left around 2am.
I've been watching a lot of soccer (Copa Libertadores). Cerro Porteño, a Paraguayan team, beat the Jaguares (from Mexico), but unfortunately lost to the Brazilian team Santos. They still have the regular season though, and this wednesday I'll be at their game in Asunción! I'm super excited since this will be my first real soccer game in Paraguay. After the game in Asunción, I'll be heading to Ciudad del Este to visit a friend, then to Encarnación to see some Jesuit ruins, and then on to Argentina and Uruguay for a week or two.
In the time that hasn't been taken up with wandering aimlessly around the city and hanging out with my host family, I've been working on the project that got me the grant to come here. I'm doing research on bilingualism in schools by talking to teachers and administrators, observing classes, and analyzing print materals. I've visited a few schools and looked at a bunch of books/notes, and so far everything is going well. The teachers here have been amazing about having me drop by with little to no notice and giving me the information that I need. Most of my work so far has been with schools in the city center, but I have one last visit lined up tomorrow at a school on the outskirts of town, where the students are coming from a much more rural environment, so hopefully I'll be able to get some contrasting information there.
For my part in Paraguayan-style bilingualism, I've been studying Guarani as much as possible and I feel like I'm actually making a bit of progress. I'm obviously still far from fluent, but I've been picking up bits and pieces in conversations, and a lot of what I learned last time and forgot has been coming back to me. I hope to be able to actually continue studying once I go back, now that there are so many more materials available online than there were a few years ago. I love the language, and I love those triumphant moments that come when you actually understand something that you hear all the time, or can deconstruct a phrase that you've known for a while and see how it's actually put together. The random Guarani trivia for this entry is that the word for "pray" also means "learn" and that the guarani word for "mass" (as in church) breaks down into "big prayer".
The weather here has been almost identical to how spring was in Beloit, except with the important difference that in Beloit, we were celebrating the warm weather and wearing summer clothes, and here in Paraguay, people are wearing hats and boots. I've mostly been in jeans and short sleeves, but even so, nobody can seem to believe that I'm not freezing. I'm getting slowly accustomed to the climate though, and had to break out sweaters the last few days (though not today). It'll also be colder as I get further south into Argentina and Uruguay, plus I'll have the ocean to contend with.
I've also been enjoying Paraguayan food again. I've been on a veritable empanada tour of not just Pilar, but half the continent thanks to the 2-day trip it took to get here. Paraguay's empanadas are by far my favorites, though the Colombian ones weren't bad either. I was not a fan of the Peruvian mushroom-chicken-pepper concoction that was made into an empanada, but I think they were trying to be fancy, so maybe more normal ones are better. I've already had most of the foods that I missed, including sopa paraguay, mbeju, chipa, mandioca, chipa guasu, bori bori, terere, dulce de leche, guaraná soda, and the Turkish-Paraguayan hybrid of Lomito Árabe/Döner Dürüm. I'm still not quite sure how that managed to retain its popularity as fast food on the voyage with immigrants from Syria and Lebanon to Paraguay, but it did, and no matter what continent it's on (and I can speak for 4 of the 6) it's good.
There are significantly more exchange students in town now than when I was here. There were only two of us for the vast majority of my time in Pilar, but now, I know of at least 5. There are also a few new Peace Corps volunteers around town, including a volunteer who's working in a school, which gives me some hope that I might actually be placed here should I ever make it into the Peace Corps. Paraguay LOVES its PC volunteers. Everyone in town seems to know them, and the national governement dedicated a series of stamps to the 40 year anniversery of PC in Paraguay. I hope that I'll be back in Paraguay as a volunteer in a few more years, but we'll see.
I started trying again, and promptly gave up on making sense out of so much here. There's still the eye doctor in Pilar who advertises for contacts with pictures of blue-eyed lemurs. Bus number 18.2 is still running in Asunción. Furniture and cell phones are naturally sold in the same stores, exclusive of anything else. I saw a guy riding a motorcycle in circles-- on the back of a flatbed truck. I passed a business in Asuncion called "Pizza, pero sólo para llevar" which means (Pizza, but only for takeout). The guy I sat next to in the Asunción bus terminal had "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" as his ringtone, in English and in May. I bought lunch from a place called "Soon" in Asunción. I just don't get it sometimes, but I think that might be part of the reason why I love it here. It doesn't make sense, and nobody seems to think that it should.