Thursday, April 24, 2014

Best Gift to Myself Ever!

One of the many perks of being a Peace Corps volunteer is that at the end of your service the government gives you a check, something they call a “readjustment allowance.” Basically this money is supposed to help you settle back into regular life. For someone who has been living on a salary of roughly $250 dollars a month for the last two years, this allowance is a big step in the right direction, but definitely not something to live off of.

However, I decided I want to treat myself to something, and one things I have been wanting for a few years now is a nice camera. I had taken a couple semesters of photography classes in high school and really enjoyed it. I had wanted to pursue it but, other things had always seemed to be getting in the way. I had always been a little jealous of my sister, who had followed through with this hobby and continued classes through the years, and her Nikon. So I decided to follow in her footsteps and get the newer version of the same camera she has, the Nikon D3200

I have only had it for a about a week now and am still going through the User’s Manual but, I definitely think I have made the right decision. This also means lots of fun photography posts to come. But, I have realized that those photography classes I took have gotten lost somewhere in my brain and I definitely need a refresher course, luckily there are things like Pinterest to help me with that, without spending a lot of money.

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Monday, April 21, 2014

Tañarandy Festival

Not being a very religious person, I don't usually observe Good Friday. But, this year I made an exception.

Tañarandy is a small community just outside the city of San Ignacio, Missiones, and very close to where I am now living. It is known as La Tierra de los Irreductibles (Land of the Irreducibles.) The story goes 
that when San Ignacio was founded as a Jesuit Mission in 1610 a group of indigenous Paraguayans resisted the evangelical teachings and formed a community in Tañarandy.

San Ignacio and specifically Tañarandy are known for having the largest Semana Santa celebration in Paraguay. The festival was started in the early 1990's and is organized every year by artist Koki Ruiz.

I was very excited about going to the festival this year, now that it was practically in my backyard. I'd heard
about it in the years past but I never got the chance to go. But, on Thursday, the day before, it started raining so intensely it looked like it would never end. Even Friday when I woke up it was gloomy and drizzling all morning. But luckily, Ruiz had commented in a news interview that the show would go on in whatever way possible.

The festival starts as La Procesión de La Dolorosa (Procession of our Lady of Sorrows) leaves the church and heads along the yvaga rapé (emphasis is put on the last syllable) or camino al cielo (path to heaven) which ends at "La Barraca" the property of Ruiz. As the procession makes their journey there are representations of the stations of the cross, where members of the procession, called estacioneros, sing hymns. The path is lit by torches and thousands candles, that are made from orange peels filled with wax, giving the air a faint citrus smell.


As the procession arrives at "La Barraca" more hymns are sung at the last stations of the cross, the crucifixion of Jesus. When Jesus is taken down from the cross the cuadros vivientes (live paintings) of famous religious works of art are revealed. 

The live paintings are incredible to see, they transcend any religious connotation and are incredibly beautiful for their sheer artistic value. There is always imitation of The Last Supper by Leonardo Da Vinci, and this year they also added a modern portrayal of the painting. In all there were 10 live paintings. (But, sadly I couldn't get close enough to get a picture of the original Last Supper)

My favorite was also a more modern representation. I'm pretty sure it was of Mary Magdalene holding Jesus after he was crucified, I could be wrong, either way it was beautiful.

Ruiz has stated that this was the last year of the cuadros vivientes and next year he will be focusing on baroque art creations. He added an example to the show this year to give everyone a sneak peek. It was a massive altar that was decorated with corn, pumpkins and other gourds.

 The dreary weather may have kept the festival from reaching its expected attendance of over 40,000 people, but, there were still thousands of visitors, Paraguayan and foreigners alike. The silver lining of the bad weather and the smaller crowds is I got a really good view of the whole performance, even if it did make my shoes a little dirty.

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Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The End ... or The Beginning?

The time has come … I am no longer a Peace Corps volunteer. I am now what they call a Returned Peace Corps volunteer. It is called RPCV instead of using words like ex or former because they say you are a Peace Corps volunteer for life.

About half of my group (G-38) had left Paraguay already, but, 15 of us were left for our swearing-out ceremony which included words from our bosses, receiving our completion certificates and ringing the bell that signifies the end of service … oh and who can forget, the cake!

It is a bittersweet moment ending my service. I was feeling a mixture of emotions, excited for the future, sad to be leaving so many new people in my life and just a feeling of uncertainty. End of service is one of those things that always seemed off in the distance and now that it’s here, I can’t help but thinking …. What  is next?

Well I do have a plan for the next few months at least and that is …. To stay in Paraguay! I have moved to a town called San Ignacio in the department of Missiones. I will be living with my boyfriend Jose and exploring some possible working/volunteering opportunities.

I have also decided to continue blogging! Keeping you up-to-date on my daily adventures.

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Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Cooking in Paraguay.

One of my favorite things to do is cook for other people. I'm not really a big fan of cooking for just myself, that is boring. So two years in my campo house have seen some pretty interesting meals that have stemmed from the lack of desire to cook.

But, when I have the chance to cook for other people I love it. However, cooking in Paraguay comes with its own set of challenges. Basically everything has to be made form scratch. You don't realize how easy it is in the States to be able to buy most of the ingredients for meals. In this country I've learned how to make so many things that I would have just bought from the store back home; things like bagels, pizza, pie crust, yogurt, buttermilk, and the list goes on and on. So my adventures in Paraguay have led to some pretty interesting concoctions.

Home-made pizza crust, brownie, banana icecream, bagles, and a perfect example of working with what you have, a giant quiche!

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Thursday, February 27, 2014


Ahecha means "I see" in Guarani, and it is the name of an amazing program here in Peace Corps Paraguay. With this program, volunteers who sign up, receive a kit with a number of cameras inside to use in their communities to teach photography!

I received my Ahecha kit at the end of November. This ended up not being the best time for me as I was traveling a lot for holiday season, last minute planning for the camp and just to escape the summer heat. So my Ahecha experience ended up being a little more unofficial than  others, I didn't teach any classes or workshops, but, interested children would show up to my house and have impromptu sessions. We talked about various topics from how to use a camera, how to treat cameras, and what makes a good photo.

Children here are so fascinated with cameras because they are not as common as they are in America. Some kids didn't really care to listen to the lessons I would teach and would just take pictures of anything and everything (including a million selfies!). But I did have a handful of students who really paid attention and put in to practice what I taught them.

Here are a random selection of some of my favorite pictures taken:

"Volando" - AnaLiz (age 16)

"Ojos" - Elena (age 5)

"Chipa" - Fatima (age 13)

"Locitos"- Fatima (age 13)
"Aventuras" - Fatima (age 13) 
"Tomando Mate" - Mariana (age 9)

"Guapa" - Mariana (age 9)

"Pensando" - Mariana (age 9)

This project can also inspire other effects aside from creativity. I've talked about Elena before in other blogs. She is my 5 year old neighbor. Most times I absolutely adore her and other times she drives me insane. Honestly, I can see why she acts the way she does though. She is no longer the baby of the family now that 3 year old Alex, who is actually her nephew, is around and that can be hard for any child to understand. But, also she has her mother, grandparents, 2 older brothers and 6 older sisters who all are telling her what to do all the time and that can definitely be confusing to a 5 year old girl, especially if she gets opposing messages from them.

So when we started this project and I gave her the responsibility of taking care of this camera for a few hours at a time, she was SO excited. Before, I was a little nervous that she might break it, but, she took such good care of it I was so proud of her. One day at her grandfather's birthday party I told her she was in charge of taking pictures of the fiesta. At one point in the day, one of her sisters took the camera away from her for no reason, only because she  said she was too mala (bad) to be allowed to have it. Normally, I don't like to get involved in disciplinary situations like that, numerous times they have told me to hit/spank Elena or Alex when they do something bad too me or in front of me, it is very uncomfortable. But, this time I stepped in. I told her sister that I had specifically given her the camera to take pictures of the party and explained that Elena knows how to take good care of it. I also told her that you can't expect Elena to learn about responsibility and how to value things if you don't give her a chance. I really hope this experience has given Elena a little more confidence because sometimes I'm worried she'll get lost in the shuffle of her large family. - Here is a link to the Ahecha blog if you want to check out more pictures.

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Thursday, February 20, 2014

Camp Deporte y Vida!

Sorry I've been so MIA lately. I got a little busy with the holiday season and then the final stages of planning for Camp Deporte y Vida! (Formerly named Camp Caballero) But, it all came together in the end and it was amazing!

Last week 33 youth from all over the country came together at Tierra Prometida in Carapegua, Paraguay for a 4-day male sports and leadership camp.

All together there were 59 youth and volunteers involved in the camp!

The initial idea of the camp was a leadership camp for young men, to teach them values, planning for the future and by doing so making them a part of the gender equality discussion. We also made it a sports camp because we wanted them to have fun as well and show them that the same values that are important on the playing field are also important in your everyday life. We achieved this through a number of sports activities, because we also wanted to introduce them to new sports that they don't get to play normally. Soccer and volleyball are the two main sports played here in Paraguay, so we taught them to play American Football, Tae Kwon Do, Wiffleball and Kickball a well. There were also a number of informational sessions on subjects that ranged from, diversity, women's rights, planning for the future, sexual health and domestic violence.


Tae Kwon Do!

We had people from the NGO - Centro Para el Desarrollo de la Inteligenci (Center for the Development of Intelligence) come and teach the soccer segment of the camp

CDI has a program called "Partidi" that teaches young men and women good values through soccer. So they were a perfect addition to our camp!

We also had a "Professional Men's Panel" that included 3 men from CDI and one of the doctors from Peace Corp. They all talked about their individual journey to success.

Working on an activity called "Interview with myself in 10 years" it helped the boys think about what they envision their life to be in the future.

American Football!

Session on Domestic Violence. This is a topic that is not really talked about in this culture but is definitely a problem. He touched issues like self-esteem, machismo and healthy relationships.

A talk about women's rights with 2 people from the Ministry of Culture and the Ministry of Women. This was an amazing moment seeing all these young men so interested in this subject, something most of them have never talked about before.

I was so impressed with the young men who attended this camp. They were all so involved in both the physical activities and the sessions. They all have such bright futures ahead of them and I hope this camp helped them realize their potential.

Also, thank you to all the people who donated to this project and made Camp Deporte y Vida! such a success! We couldn't have done this without your support.

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