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the journey evolves [Sep. 25th, 2008|09:29 am]
September 25th, lazy afternoon in la paz.

The thing about bolivia is that it is super tranquilo. Even in the capital, La Paz, people are not in a hurry. So, it is 3 in the afternoon and everything that we try to accmplish gets shutdown. It is thursday. We seek tourist info and the office is closed, out for lunch... At 3 pm, out for lunch??? Ok, I get the idea, just relax and forget about accomplishing tasks american style. That brings us to the internet, a good way to waste a lot of time...

This is my first post-peace corps blog. If I had to sum up my peace corps experience in two words I would say, ¨masochistic altruism.¨ If you are the self-denial or deprivation type, you would do well in peace corps. Also, if you like to work with the poor and uneducated, if seeing children smile and laugh, if seeing your work change the life of someone economically destitute, seeing them smile and thank you deeply for your work... if these things warm your heart, you would do well in peace corps. So masochistic altruism sums up the combination of these emotions and attitudes. I guess most of peace corps volunteers feel OK with putting themselves through highly uncomfortable situations, ridiculous living conditions (by american standards), egregious stomach issues, and the pain of being removed from family for extended periods of time. Some of us maybe even enjoy it in a weird sort of self-denial type of manner, putting yourself to the test type of thing, seeing how much you can endure and taken care of yourself, going inside yourself and testing the limits. Observing how you react in volatile and utterly abnormal situations. We-I also love to travel, speak new languages, carry out work that matters to me, that I see as useful and worthy, while laughing, partaking in new cultural rituals, breaking the cultural barrier and sharing joy with other members of this bizarre race on a level that transcends color, language, understanding... To be cheesy, doing good and sharing myself and country with others... that would be the altruistic part, that comes at the cost of a little suffering, yet immense amounts fo tranquility as well! Whew!

So, that entire experience feels like some removed, hazy surreal dream, accopmpanied by a warm and smiling sentiment every time I think back to tembiapora, the red dirt, the torrid sun, the loving and selfless neighbors, and the herbs and terere.
And I often reflect on the time there, and continue to realize what a special and unbelievable experience it was.

To make a connection,. I have now moved from masochistic altruism to a sort of masochistic astonishing joy, that of traveling, being free on the road, without an agenda or schedule to dictate my day. The journey is what it is all about, you continue to beat yourself up, go through highly uncomfortable experiences, yet immensely enjoy doing it. For example, Matt (my traveling companion) and I left Uyuni, Bolivia the other day. We were headed to Cochabamba, Bolivia, en route to La pAz, the capital. We decided to take the cheapest bus possible from uyuni. It was a ten hour overnight bus through the high altiplano desert all the way to the desert plateau city of cochabamba. We get on the bus around 8 pm, make our way to our seats and realize that we are quite out of place. The ONLY gringoes on the bus, this is local transport in its rawest form, it is a bus full of indigenous families, mothers, kids, crying babies, and drunks. There are 40 seats on the bus and 60 people in the thing. The bus has no bathroom, no heat, and there are holes the size of footballs in the floorboards. Ok, tranquilo, it will be a long night... So, we light out under a full moon bumping across the high desert of the bolivian altiplano, there seems to be no road, the driver is just mashing through rocky, washboard, dusty desert floor. The bus walls are rattling so hard that Matt and I cant even hear each other speak, we are screaming in our ears, wondering if the walls are gonna fall off and how we would make evasive movements to prevent disaster. At this point still enjoying the ride... digging the moon like desert scenery out the window, the moon shining off the white sand of the desert floor. I try to relax, kick my boots off, knees smashed agressively against the seat in front of me and lay back to rest. The bus is bumping so hard over the rocky ground that my back feels like its about to give out after ten minutes, as the night draws on, the temps drop, significantly... As ridiculous gringoes, we neglected to plan for this... As the feet get cold I decide to throw my boots back on, I search under my seat, no boots..... OK.. dude, Matt says, there is a kid crawling around on the floor, what if he swiped your boots??? Uhhhh, dude, there are holes in the floor, maybe your boots fell through and out of the bus...?? Not good possibilities... I dont panic, but I am not calm either... luckily after a few minutes of searching I find that my boots had rattled their way a few seats behind me, under the seat of a sleeping bolivian campesina. perdon, disculpa... Ok, got the boots, I look around the bus and notice that all the bolivians are wrapped up in five layers of llama wool blankets, the warmest substance known to man. Matt and I have nothing. as the night winds on, Matt and I go into serious freezing mode, without blankets, we can see our breath and arctic air continues to blow through the holes in the floorboards. HUGE mistake not bringing blankets. To make a long story short, it was a grueling and sleepless night, two grown men huddling and holding each other to keep from going into hypothermia, a ridiculous experience that we choose not to discuss in length. But, it is nights like those that will be remembered forever and are just another notch in this wild journey northward.

After THE BUS RIDE, we spent a few days in Cochabamba, gettin gour bearings, planning some treks and tapping into the culture. We witnessed a military display of incredible magnitude. The entire bolivian military was mrached through the streets, making a statement in the government´s stronghold to warn the separatists in the east. Bolivia is in a time of political turmoil at the moment, but now is not the time to go into it. After Cocha, we bussed over the mountains into the tropical region of the country and hiked through rainforest for a couple days, coming face to face with various different primates, all of which freaked me out, they are so humanlike it is ridiculous.

We then arrived here in La paz, the highest capital city in the world at over 10,000 feet, it is tough to walk up stairs without catching your breath. La Paz is also known as the indigenous cultural capital of the world. Walking around the city, you see a homogenous looking people of indigenous (quechua or aymara descent) celebrating their colorful culture. The streets are also speckled with alien looking gringo backpackers like ourselves... This is a dynamic city, with a proud people who genuinely have power in their own country. Evo Morales Ayma is the president elect in Bolivia, democratically approved with close to 70% of the popular support, a thriving democracy almost unheard of in todays world. I didn´t understand the significance of this until we attended an indigenous film festival here in La PAz a few days ago. Evo was portrayed as a savior, sent to the indigenous after hundreds of years of struggle against the conquistadors and spanish oppression, exploitation, and violence. This is such a momentous event in bolivia and in the world at large, an indigneous majority taking control and governing their country. It is exciting to see this type devotion to a cause, a people´s liberation movement. We will see what happens, there are many powers that do not wish this revolution to succeed.

Alright, many more stories follow, but they will wait for another day, we are preparing to make our second trek up into the majestic andes, over an old Inca roadway and into a Yungas rainforest. Be well my stateside companions, til next time, thanks for reading and looking forward to seeing yall soon!

Peace from Bolivia

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Sweat and Worms [Apr. 16th, 2008|12:57 am]
When it rains in the campo no one does anything. Nada, unless you consider getting drunk or sleeping “doing something.” We are nearing the end of the rainy season here in Paraguay, however we continue to be frequented by torrential downpours. The last of these jungle storms passed through recently on a Monday morning. Time to make myself at home, I wasn’t going anywhere for at least a few hours. After placing every bucket/pot/pan that I own under all the drip spots, throwing plastic over my bed and electronic equipment, unplugging all devices (yes there amazingly was power at this point in time), bringing my clothes in from the line, covering my well and picking the rope off the ground, I fired up some Maté con manzanilla and settled down to listen to the battery-powered short-wave radio broadcast La Voz de America “Enfoque Andino” desde Quito, Ecuador. Needless to say, it was gonna be a tranquilo April Monday morning here in Tembiaporá.
After about two sips of Maté my 40 year old neighbor Pelaggio (mechanic and father of 7 children) came shouting outside my door, “Kyle! Are you up yet? What’s the plan? Naturally, I invited him inside to escape the rain and sip some Maté. No plans Pelaggio, just maintaining tranquility. After looking around and attempting to understand everything going on in my room (the stuff that a gringo has, short wave radio, guitar, camera, iPod, books, Cds,…. can be very perplexing to campesino Paraguayans…) Pelaggio sat down and we sipped some Maté. Apparently bored by what I was doing Pelaggio resorted to entertaining himself by throwing my cat outside in the pouring rain and laughing hysterically as The Misch, pissed off, raced back under cover. Right when she got inside he would grab her again and toss her back outside. Hilarity ensued. By the 6th time I was starting to get a little pissed cause The Misch looked like a wet, dirty little weasel and was clearly not enjoying the situation. “Ok, tranquilo” I told him and he left her be. The Misch immediately jumped up on my bed, shook herself off and then walked all over my sheets with her wet and muddy paws. Wonderful…. I’m trying to enjoy my morning off. A few minutes later Pelaggio asked me if I wanted to start the day right and drink a little Caña, Paraguayan liquor distilled from sugar cane. It was 9 am so I told him no but maybe a little later…Disappointed, he left and headed for home. Slightly baffled by that whole exchange I sat there thinking about alcohol and the campo. Around 11am the rain subsided and I headed over to Pelaggio’s house to see what was up and also to visit his three cute and uppity daughters. Sure enough he had found a drinking buddy and by 11 o clock they were a couple pints deep into an alcoholic stupor. As we all know, it’s pointless to be the sober one hanging around drunk people, so I took off back for home. There is definitely an alcohol problem here in the campo and in most poor rural areas in South America. It is a cheap, quick escape from the everyday realities of poverty’s oppression. Plus ,there are limited other forms of recreation and entertainment as we have in the States. And it is addicting. This leads groups of dudes to get together quite often and slug down some caña either in the morning or most afternoons after a hard day’s labor in the fields. Poverty and underemployment always go hand in hand with higher rates of alcoholism. This has a very destructive effect, as I’m sure we are all aware. I’m just speaking my mind at this point, but I bet this alcoholism has a lot to do with the lack of family planning in the rural areas, which is another problem. All the couples I know out here in Tembiaporá have between 7 and 12 kids. There are some rare exceptions when an educated family will have only 4 kids. Birth control is either not available, not known or understood, or too expensive, or simply not used in the heat of the moment. A common picture: The man of the house comes home in the late afternoon after an intense day hoeing the fields. He is tired and beat. Instead of eating and settling down for the evening, he begins to drink. Not beer or wine…. Hard liquor. Liquor gives you energy, you feel happy, you forgot how brutal the day was and how tired you were, and you are ready to party. You are also ready for one more thing, and the Missus can’t say no or even try to have a conversation at this point. The 11th child is made. More mouths to feed and kids to go to school and less money cause the caña continues to siphon off the meager income. Ugly cycle. Maybe more access to education and less income inequality would help????

Teaching has been one of my major activities while in Peace Corps and the power and importance of education is very evident. For the most part people want to learn, want to know how to take care of themselves, understand the basic skills to function and participate in society, be privy to new ideas and knowledge, and at least begin to comprehend the cryptic global system that we are all so intimately tied to. Education should be a right to all. I am accustomed to the educational system in the States that adheres to strict structure and discipline. I think this is a pretty good thing for the most part. In Paraguay it is the total opposite. For instance, the other day I visited a Profesora’s house for lunch. I had taught English all morning at the High School and I had a full schedule for the afternoon so she invited me over to eat and then we would head back to school. It was well over 100 degrees and I was wearing long pants, a wife beater (what a terrible name, I’ll call it a tank top from now on…) to soak up the sweat, and a long sleeve button down. My entire body had been sweating all day, and when I say entire body I mean face, neck, forearms, mid-section, thighs, shins (I didn’t know it was possible to sweat from your shins), and feet. I was a disaster. And this was before I entered the house….Upon entrance I was hit by a heat wave that immediately caused the sweat flowing from my body to triple. Wooden walls and low corrugated-tin roofs trapped the 100 degree Paraguayan heat, radiating it from the roof and maintaining it in the wooden frame. It was worse than walking fully clothed into a sauna. I was becoming delirious, probably partly due to dehydration… where the heck was the terere??? After putting my bag down I went back outside, which wasn’t much relief but at least there was some terere. The Profesora actually cooked in those hellish conditions while I and a couple students sweated outside under the mango trees. Unbeknownst to me, the Profesora was preparing a steaming hot bowl of soup to be consumed on this torridly hot day. WHY would you make hot soup on a day like today? She called us into the house and we went to the table, tucked in a back corner of the house with a dirt floor and very low hanging corrugated roof, radiating the sun’s heat down on the top of our heads and necks. I couldn’t even touch my hair it was so hot. The profesora kindly served us all our bowls of soup. Upon placing this thing in front of me I felt a blast of heat come up toward my face. The soup was a steaming heat wave coming right at me and I felt as though I would pass out right there, face down in the soup. The heat from above and below now felt like a furnace licking me with its flames from all angles. “What the heck is going on?” I wondered as I stared at this damned bowl of soup, trying to compose myself in front of my students and the Profesora. Leaning over the bowl, the sweat from my face had now turned into a steady drip cascading off my forehead and nose directly into the bowl of soup. I rolled my sleeves up and decided I would try to eat this thing as fast as possible so I could get out of there. After taking the first sip of that steaming dish into my body I broke into an even more intense sweat. By the time the meal was over I was soaked. Sweat was pouring off my head, my hair was wet, and I had sweated completely through the tank top and my shirt was totally wet and stuck to my entire upper body. The sweat from my forearms was pooling on the table. This is not to mention what was going on down below… Everyone was looking at me with concerned faces and asking if I was OK. No, I don’t think I am, I’m gonna head home to change and shower and I’ll be back for 10th grade English… Thanks for the soup.
Anyway, back from that tangent. I head back to school about 15 minutes late and find that class still had not begun. Why isn’t anyone in class yet?” I ask one of the teachers, and she tells me “tranquilo, haven’t you noticed, we never start on time..” I guess I hadn’t noticed, I’m usually in the classroom trying to round the kids up to get going, while no one else seems too concerned about the schedule or punctuality. Teachers are chilling out drinking terere, kids are playing soccer, drinking soda, lounging in the shade… tranquilo, “no hay apuro” (there’s no hurry)… class will start when it starts.
Meanwhile, I’ve been doing some health education workshops at the elementary school in La Paloma. This started after I heard that 75% of Paraguay’s drinking water is not safe and nearly all the kids in La Paloma have worms in their stomachs. Luckily, the benevolent United States, the savior of the world, donates anti-parasite pills through Peace Corps to be distributed in elementary schools in the third world. The pill boxes say “a gift from the Government of the United States of America. Not to be sold.” The reactions from the Paraguayans were interesting. Some kids, and especially their parents, were reluctant to swallow anything from the United States as they are scared of every aspect of American foreign policy, and rightfully so. Some people actually believe that I am here to help the US government wipe out the local population so that we can steal their water and/or start oil exploration. Actually, a lot of people (including some of my best friends) still believe this even after I have been here almost two years. Other reactions are different. People are very thankful for the support from the U.S. and automatically swallow the pills saying that “if it was made in the USA it must be way better than anything we can get our hands on down here.” Anyway, we got a total of 370 pills and last week 185 students swallowed them. A couple days later some people were questioning their effectiveness when a young student marched into class and proudly declared that, after feeling a bizarre sensation while taking a dump he had decided to look at his feces and upon examination found two long worms in it. After some laughter we all agreed that this was a good sign that the worms were indeed being expelled from these children’s bodies. Thank you Uncle Sam. So goes my work in Paraguay. I must say, there is never a dull moment down here.
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La Pachamama [Mar. 24th, 2008|08:06 pm]
I am back from a very impressionable two week adventure through Peru. It seems only reasonable, then, to write a blog about the trip and my experiences. Well, I now realize that there are many things that words cannot describe. Just as pictures (at least those taken by an amateur like myself) often do not do justice to the real thing, words can only serve to relegate the majesty of Peru to an unjustly earthy realm while the truth of Peru is something transcendental, beyond the restrictions and contaminations of modern day thought, perception, and understanding. There is something so pure and humble about the way these small Andean communities live that I have been led to reevaluate my life, my purpose, and my responsibility as a member of the world community. There is an overwhelming assurance that what is important is not white or black, American or Venezuelan, Hillary or Obama, but instead an understanding that we are all inferior to the Pachamama, the Quechua word for Mother Earth. Many indigenous believe that the human race has erred greatly in assuming and self-appointing themselves to a position of superiority over all other life on earth and over the earth itself. This has led to an uncontrollable spread of humans over the entire earth, destroying and abusing the Pachamama in every way possible, thinking in unbelievably myopic ways about the land, the soil, and all other forms of life. As opposed to committing ourselves to sustainability and harmony with the earth, we constantly seek ways to take advantage of these resources for short-lived and selfish means and pleasures. We have strayed so far from an appreciation for the value of the earth, subjugating it to a role of exploited service, that many of us rarely even come into contact with nature, thus forgetting its majesty, its intelligence, and its importance. In passing through many ancient Incan settlements I perceived a great and simple harmony with their surroundings: the mountains, the sources of water, access to sun, use of immediate resources, and with the majestic universe.

The Incas did not write. They left no written information about their civilization, no hieroglyphs or etchings on the walls. My guess is that they did not write because it would have been worthless. Words are merely not capable of depicting the grandeur and the majesty of the Andean Mountain section of the Pachamama. The beauty of the land of the Inca transcends all possibilities of the written word. Tolkien may have come close in his description of Rivendell in The Lord of the Rings, but it still does not do justice to the tremendous awe one experiences while standing atop a steep Andean valley wall, watching a waterfall cascade thousands of feet down below. With each breath, a draw of crystal pure energy into the soul. For all you Lord of the Rings fans, imagine two weeks frolicking around the majesty of Rivendell. With each sip of the purest mountain spring water, one’s eyes open to an ever expanding reality. It is said that the Incas were in touch with an energy, a power, far beyond anything we understand today. This almost has to be the case to explain how this ancient civilization (without the use of even the wheel) moved and placed stones that weigh over 1,000 tons! Wrap your head around that. There is no logical explanation for the method of construction of Incan stonework. It just simply is beyond our understanding. Locals say that they were in touch with some foreign energy in the Universe that taught them how to harness the energy necessary to move mammoth stones, and place them in perfect harmony, building stone structures far superior to anything we see today with modern architecture. They did this with their hands. Incan settlements were oriented toward the sun, the moon and movement of the constellations in order to access the wonder of the universe. Observatories and sacrificial grounds reveal this orientation. Some scientists say that the orientation and patterns of the Incan stonework reveals an understanding of the universe similar to that of Thucydidean mathematics. This was a highly creative and intelligent civilization. When the filthy, racist, delinquent, and murderous Spanish came to rob, rape and terrorize the Incan populations, they built Spanish style homes, fortresses, and cathedrals either right next to, or on top of existing Incan stonework. Today, in Cusco and surrounding areas there are still numerous examples of this juxtaposition between the two types of stone construction. Inca work is far superior in every way. Not only is it aesthetically more pleasing, it is structurally more sound, having stood through numerous earthquakes and other forms of wrath. Spanish architecture simply crumbles in comparison. The locals like to joke, they say, “here on the left we have the work of the Inca, and here on the right we have the work of the Incapables” (the Spanish). This incredible Inca civilization was wiped out completely by the barbarians from Spain. The Incas did not leave history in writing because they had a higher form of communication that went beyond the restrictions of the written word. The Pachamama cannot be captured in words. As a result, we are left with endless speculation into this wondrous civilization. Whatever the Incas were in touch with, I will never know. My guess is that they harnessed a great power through their relationship and constant contact with nature. The mystical setting of the Andes, the clouds whisking over the emerald green peaks, mists spraying over the mountain ridges, a soft howl as the wind carries its voice through the high alpine forests; this all inspires awe and humility.

Matt and I were completely humbled as we hauled our weary matter out of the valley of Choquequirao. We were corrected in our errant belief that two young, courageous, galavanting Americans could strap on absurdly heavy backpacks and stroll in and out of a steep and deep Andean valley, in matter of days. We were so utterly mistaken it was hilarious. The switchbacks were cut for mules and the local Quechua who are capable of running in to Choquequirao in one day. It took us five days to complete the trek. We set out on our descent on the fourth day, getting a head start on Nancy and Lucia (our arriera) who were fixing the mules with our gear to carry down and out of the valley. Matt and I were deliriously stumbling down the path, about halfway down the mountain when we heard footsteps behind us. Looking back I saw little 5 year old Rosa running down the path, giggling and smiling as she went. She was wearing old ragged sandals. We, by comparison were wearing $300 hiking boots. Next to Rosa, was our arriera, Lucia, running down the mountain, with sandals, and with a baby strapped to her back by a colorful blanket. They flew past us leaving us standing their dumbfounded, blinking in disbelief. I rubbed my eyes, looked over at Matt and asked him if that really just happened or if I was hallucinating as a result of fatigue and altitude sickness. It had indeed happened. We were over come by two young girls who started down the path an hour after we did. They ran ahead happily skipping and enjoying the morning. This bewildering event was explained in part when we reached the other side of the valley and started our ascent. At this point I was atop a mule named Lomito and Matt was riding a horse named Fresia Linda. We dismounted to traverse an exceptionally rocky and steep section of the trail. The baby on Lucia’s back also dismounted. Rosa took her by the hand and led her, at a jogging pace, through the rocky obstacle course. These rocks must have looked like boulders to this one year old baby, but she was running, stumbling, and negotiating the trail just as well as Matt or I was. Seeing this one year old baby run along a steep, treacherous, rock ridden, switchback, deep in the Andes, explained why five year old Rosa had no issues running down the other side of the valley. They are born into this majestic land, live on a steep slope, learn to walk on a valley wall, and then by age one are running around on terrain that most people would be too scared to even set foot on. Remarkable. Nancy, Lucia, and Rosa’s family had inhabited this valley for over 200 years! These humble, beautiful people, patiently led Matt and I out of the valley, atop mule and horse. We were so physically beat from the trek that walking out was not an option. I am thankful that we got brutalized to the point of collapse; we got to spend two unforgettable days trekking with these ladies who live amidst the same majesty in which the Incas built their civilization. I will never think I am hard-core again. Humbled turned out to be the key word of the trek. It was a trek into the mysteries and uncertainties of the past, a challenge to stay in the present and marvel at the mystical harmony of this earth, and with each step, a doorway into future of the unknown, initiating a quest to assure that this harmony lasts, as much for the purity of Nancy and her family, as for our own posterity and a chance to share the magic and beauty of this green world. Respect the majesty of the Pachamama. Go to the forest,.

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Injection gone awry [Feb. 3rd, 2008|12:42 pm]
I am only gonna attempt to begin this blog entry as I have no ambitions of completing it in this sitting. The “Great Brain Drain” is setting in as I enter the post-GRE era of Peace Corps. I just finished a taxing GRE experience a few hours ago here in Asuncion and the inevitable drain has begun. The last six weeks were spent memorizing close to 1,000 vocabulary words appropriate for the GRE. Out of these 1,000 words that I gruelingly crammed into my brain, I will probably only use 5 to 10 of them ever again in my life. If I used any of the other words, no one, I mean no one, would have any idea of what I was talking about. What is the point of knowing a random esoteric (like this word) word if you will never say it, hear it, or read it ever again? I have no idea. Using these types of words only solidifies one’s position as a pompous high-class wannabe elitist. Anyway, I am glad it is over and it is necessary for admission to most graduate programs so what am I gonna do. Go back to speaking Guarani.

The last few weeks in site have been quite interesting. Beyond filling my head with elitist vocab I have had a few intriguing experiences. On my way back to Tembiapora on the bus a couple of weeks ago we encountered a squall . The roads turned to muddy rivers and the bus driver was losing control. As we approached a rickety bridge to cross a small river the bus began fishtailing. We descended upon the narrow bridge with our tail sliding back and forth, wheels spinning furiously, and no traction to be found. As we rolled onto the bridge, the bus lurched forward to the right and the back end swung out to the left. We began going into a jackknife position on a bridge too narrow to hold the length of the bus. Realizing what was happening, the passengers on the left side of the bus panicked and jumped out of their seats (chickens and children in hand) screaming, cramming over toward our side while some headed for the exit. The bus began tilting to the left and the back left tire inched ever closer to the edge of the bridge. At the moment I was sure we were going to slide off the edge and back dive into the river. Right as I got up and went into game mode to prepare for a serious incident, the tire caught some traction, the driver gassed it and we lunged forward just in time. The adrenaline was flowing and all us passengers looked at each other wondering what on earth had just happened.

So, as I said in my last blog, this particular journey out of site was on behalf of the Misch. I was transporting a long syringe from the pueblo back to Tembiapora to inject the Misch (my cat) with birth-control. In the last blog I was ranting about the bloated U.S. healthcare system and how it seems logical for us to just inject our own animals with medicine as opposed to paying some else to do it. I stand corrected. Having never injected anything in my life I was pretty nervous when it came time to inject the Misch. I get back to my house and decide to just get it over with. So I call the Misch and plop her down on my lap. Stroking her and comforting her, assuring her that everything is gonna be ok, I put some Iodine on her back where I will be inserting the syringe. The time has come. My heart is pumping, I’m sweating profusely, the adrenaline is rushing and my nerves have gone on tilt. I seize the Misch, pin her down with my left arm, and pinch the skin up on her back. I rip the plastic cover off the 3 inch needle with my mouth and prepare to do the job. Mistake one: I am going at the Misch with needle from above, towards my lap where the tiny Misch lays. I close my eyes and shove the needle into the Misch. No reaction. Maybe it didn’t go in?? Or maybe not deep enough…? So, I push harder and shove the needle into the Misch. It goes all the way through her and out the other side of her body and into my pants. I press the needle and the liquid sprays out all over the inside of my pants, nearly pricking my thigh in the process. Alarmed, I pull the needle out, toss the Misch, and jump up out of the chair. I almost faint due to hysteria. I thought I had just injected my leg with cat birth control. Looking down I see a white solution all over my pants. Oh no… Shaking with anxiety, I rip my pants off and examine my leg. White stuff everywhere…. but no blood. Ok good, maybe the needle didn’t enter my leg. It just went into my pants and sprayed all over the place. Feeling a little better I look at the Misch who is just smiling in amusement at the moronic move I just made. Not a drop of the birth control went into the Misch. There goes 20,000 guaranies. At least I’m still alive. Maybe I should have had a professional do it for me….

After surviving a near disaster, I decided to spend a few days studying for the GRE. As it is the rainy season in Paraguay and hot tropical squalls routinely pass through in the afternoon, the roads are rutted, muddy, impassable swamps. Tembiapora is also in the process of beginning the exportation of bananas to Argentina once again. So having decent roads is pretty important. After a truck almost tipped over trying to leave Tembiapora, spilling a days worth of bananas loaded on the truck, the citizens decided to get serious about demanding an improvement in road conditions. As usual, the municipality did nothing, not even a response to the official request from the pueblo of Tembiapora. So the campesinos took it upon themselves to fix the road. Among one tractor, 20 campesinos, and 20 hoes (if you don’t know what a hoe is refer to my flickr pictures. No offense, this is for the younger readers that have probably never seen a hoe) the campesinos have smoothed out over 2 K of the dirt road leading out of Tembiapora. To pay for the gas for the tractor they imposed a tax on any truck passing on that road during the work day. The drivers were happy to help. I was there as well in the mix with a hoe in my hand, getting fried in the sun and trying to figure out what was going on. Such an amazing manifestation of group will and organization contrasted by such a lack of concern from the authorities just had to be documented. We got a hold of a campesino that has an old video camera and used some recording equipment that we had recently bought for the radio and we made a quick little documentary of the situation. We interviewed several of the workers asking their opinions on the situation. The two messages were: You can accomplish anything through unity and will, and that the authorities must assume their responsibility and fix the disastrous roads in this agriculturally productive country. It was such an impressive testimony that I brought the video into Telefuturo last week. Telefuturo is a national news station in Paraguay, like ABC. I met with the director of the Interior from the News Channel, wrote up a summary of the situation and left the tape with him. Telefuturo broadcasted the video two days later while all the campesinos in Tembiapora and hundreds of thousands other Paraguayans watched. It was a very empowering experience for the pueblo of Tembiapora. Putting these “little” campesinos on national TV and letting their voice and concerns be heard was a huge accomplishment in their struggle to obtain their rights as productive, working citizens of this country. It was a major step forward for the pueblo and is an encouragement that they can fight to develop their pueblo even in the face of immense authoritative opposition. Alright, I’m spent. It has been a wild couple of weeks out here in Paraguay. Hope all is well and tranquilo up Stateside. Much love to all and take care,

El Norte- Kyle

For all you skiers: I am ridiculously jealous of all the snow you are enjoying this year. Carve some powder turns and think of me. Peace
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Lights, The Mish, and Radio Itapè [Jan. 12th, 2008|02:09 pm]
There’s never a dull moment when working with electronics (anything electrical for that matter) in Paraguay. I just plugged my laptop in here in Che Ido Kue and sparks and lightning bolts shot out of the socket, making a loud popping sound and probably almost electrocuting me in a very serious way. If I didn’t just fry the hard drive, this computer should make it to the end of this blog. Asi es. That’s what we say here in Paraguay to calm frustration in very irritating circumstances. Paraguay is home to the second largest hydroelectric dam in the world (it was number until China built theirs a couple years ago), Itaipu. It provides power to a large part of Brazil, Argentina, and Paraguay. Itaipu was built under the Stroessner Dictatorship in the 1970s, the only thing Paraguay accomplished during a brutal 35 year regime that destroyed and robbed this country of hundreds of millions of dollars. Itaipu also happens to be about 90 Kilometers from where I am right now. Yet after more than 30 years of close proximity to the largest dam in the world, Tembiapora remains without adequate power. There are blackouts in Tembiapora about 50% of the time. Last night, the power came back on for the first time in 4 days. For me, it just is kind of obnoxious, but for people that need to work with electricity (carpenters, mechanics, butchers, etc….) it is a real problem. Meat goes bad in the refrigerators, cell phones die, there is no way to communicate…. It is not cool. Despite our location right next to this mammoth dam, electricity has failed to arrive to our pueblo. It amounts to a kind of silent oppression of the campesinos. The electricity routinely goes out in the evening (almost every single night) while people are trying to cook, inform themselves through the radio, or watch their soccer team on TV. Suddenly the electricity is taken away and we find ourselves in darkness and silence. This happens a lot while I am cooking, and it is frustrating. New Years Eve 2007, the biggest party of the year, power outage in Tembiapora. The pueblo passed the New Year in silence and by candle light. So, asi es. Oppression. The pueblo ought to stand up for their right to share the benefits of a multi million dollar NATIONAL hydroelectric Dam Project. But no, tranquilo.

So, Happy New Year from Paraguay! Bienvenidos a 2008! Many things have happened since I last posted on the blog. Believe it or not, you can actually be busy in the Peace Corps. In Paraguay it is a requirement to drink terere with your neighbors for at least 4 hours a day. It is just part of the job. If you do not integrate culturally you will not be effective. But all this terere consumption really eats away at your time. I can’t complain, we’re on a whole different wavelength down here. So I came into Che Ido Kue today to pick up a few things for my Paraguayan cat: The Mish. Go figure, I still end up spending all kinds of money to take care of my pet in Paraguay. It isn’t quite the thousands of dollars that Americans spend annually on their pets, but it is still expensive. “Pet” in Spanish in “mascota,” kind of like mascot. I though that was kind of funny, I have this little Paraguayan mascot running around, The Mish. So, the Mish is terrible. I though it would be easy to have a cat here in the Paraguayan Campo; just toss it a few meat bones from time to time and it will be ok, complemented by rats and beetles and what not. Not so. If y’all remember from before, I have had a history of trouble with cats. I ran over the famous “Boodles” with the family Suburban back in High School and then my first Paraguayan cat, “Cacique,” fell down my well in La Paloma and drowned. Horrific stuff. The Mish is number 3 and is doing pretty well so far, but we will see. I started off giving her my table scraps to eat. She was happy for a few days and then refused to eat them. Next, I tried giving her cooked sausage with white rice and mandioca. Again, got sick of that real quick. Ok, so I started feeding her raw sausage and that appeased her for awhile. Once again, she turned away after a few weeks…. Turns out, the only thing that The Mish will accept at the dinner table is raw ribs. Well, those are too expensive and I don’t eat meat very often out here so that is out of the question. I now have to come in here to Che Ido and buy cat food for my friggin Paraguayan campo mascot. We are on the second brand and I think we have come to an agreement. That is just the beginning. The Mish has already had fleas twice and is now needing birth control so she doesn’t have 10 babies next month. I stopped by the veterinarian this morning and he fills up a syringe with liquid and hands it to me. “Inject this into your cat” he tells me. OK. I have never injected anything into anyone in my life but I guess I will go stick this needle into my cat this afternoon. That’s how we do things around here. In the U.S. it would probably cost hundreds of dollars to bring your cat in, get a consultation and have a professional inject it. In Paraguay, they just hand you a syringe and you give them a dollar. That reminds me of an incident a couple weeks ago. My friend Matt paid me a visit from Peru and got bit by a spider. His ankle swelled up so bad that he could no longer walk on it so I took him to the local health center (an old dilapidated building) in Che Ido. A nurse attended to him, disinfected the bite, and gave him antibiotics all for two dollars. She told us to find a pharmacy and told me to inject him with an anti-tetanus shot. What! You want me to give my friend a shot? That is unspeakable in the States. Luckily, the local pharmacy was all out of tetanus shots so I didn’t have to shoot Matt up. It sure would have been interesting though. Once again, we are in the second poorest country in South America (behind Bolivia) and we received good, quick healthcare for under two dollars. Should we be questioning what the heck is going on in the States with its healthcare? Anyway, the Mish, spider bites, patients administering shots to themselves…. That is what is going on in Paraguay. And why not? It can’t be that difficult to stick a needle into something! At least it is affordable.

December 18, 2007 was the Dia de la Virgen de Itape here in Paraguay. Esta virgencita is the namesake of our Community Radio in Tembiapora: Radio Comunitaria de Tembiapora Itape 95.7. On December 18 we inaugurated the opening of the new radio and celebrated the completion of the dual project between USAID and the campesinos of Tembiapora. The new brick structure is complete, the new equipment is up and fully functional, the radio tower reaches 30 meters, and the radio Comunitaria de Tembiapora now broadcasts up to 50 Kilometers of radius. A lot of sweat went into this project as a large group of campesinos (including yours truly) worked voluntarily for over a month to construct a locale for the public community radio that they can call their own: la voz del pueblo, the voice of the town. It is a great accomplishment and an important investment for the social and economic development of the community. It is a demonstration of the solidarity of the community and a desire for education and unbiased access to information. The inauguration was a spectacular event. The radio made its first broadcast from the new building while close to a hundred community members and their families gathered to dance, listen to traditional Paraguayan music and examine the new facility. The community radio is vital to the growth of an educated and aware civil society because it brings unfiltered access to information and a means to share and spread that information throughout the community. It also provides the campesinos FREE access to a means of communication to diffuse their ideas, concerns or needs to thousands of fellow campesinos instantaneously. Right now, the powerful majority of radios are commercial radios that serve no purpose to the community. They are interested solely in profit and therefore the majority of airtime is spent with ads for parties, alcohol, and cigarettes, amongst other huge enterprises. These radios are also controlled by political parties so that any information given is pure propaganda unfounded in reality. There are no education or development programs in commercial radios and you do not have access to them unless you can prove that you are affiliated with that party. So, the community radio is not entrenched in politics and gives campesinos a great alternative for a source of information and quality music, free from regressive commercial ambitions.

A week after the inauguration, on Dec. 26, the radio received a strange, bittersweet Christmas gift from above. An afternoon rainstorm turned into a torrent of heavily gusting winds. One of these gusts caught our radio antenna at just the precise moment and brought it crashing down. Luckily, the antenna fell toward the South, missing the new building and landing softly in the branches of some lapacho trees. Huge stroke of luck. The trees broke the antenna’s fall, saving it from being completely destroyed. Magically, the antenna was only fractured in one spot. Cecilio called me that afternoon and told me in a distraught voice that the antenna was destroyed. Only a week after completing our project, mother nature brings the antenna down. Instead of getting discouraged, the radio commission rallied and we gathered 7 or 8 people to go to the radio and put the thing back up. I say this was a gift from above because we realized that one of the antennas support posts was dug shallow in soft ground. The antenna was bound to fall at some point. So, the wind brought it down easy into the trees for us so that we could reconstruct it twice as strong. And that is what we did. We dug three holes, ten feet deep each, in rock solid earth. We threw burly tree trunks into each hole and cemented them into the ground to be tied by cables to support the antenna. It will not fall again anytime soon. We were sweating, digging, swearing, just on a mission to ensure the force of this new antenna. One 56 year old Senor in particular, Galeano, dug a hole like nothing I have ever seen. He would raise his shovel up as high as it would go, grunt, and throw it down into the ground, breaking the earth with each blow. Sweat flying, blood spurting out of his hands. It was a sight to see. It was like Zeus striking his thunderbolt down on the infidels. As far as raising the antenna itself back up 90 feet into the air… I am incapable of explaining it. It is just something you have to see. How do 7 guys, with no equipment except a couple ropes, a shovel and a machete, raise a metal antenna 90 feet up in the air? I was there watching and I still have no idea. It was incredible. These guys are serious. All I can say is it involves climbing freestyle 30 to 40 feet up in a tree, lots of dangerous maneuvers, and lots of rope support (there was a pulley involved). Anyway, a perceived tragedy turned into an opportunity to improve the stability of the antenna. The whole thing was miraculous really. We are now broadcasting (when there is power) up to 50 Kilometers from 5:30 am until 10pm everyday. It is a huge success and I am thankful to be part of it. Well, I could go on forever about all the interesting stuff happening out in Tembiapora but this laptop is so hot that I can no longer touch it and I am afraid it may blow up as a result of unstable and poor power. So, that is all for now. Happy New Year and look forward to much progress in 2008! 2008, the year I will be back in the U.S.!! Wicked,

Take care everybody and thanks for reading,

Peace and Love,

Che Ido Kue, Paraguay
11 January 2008
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Jungle storm and Operation Smile [Nov. 18th, 2007|01:11 pm]
It started several days ago, on a subtropical stormy day, slogging my way through the deep sticky red muck down a small path lined by the dense Paraguayan jungle. I was told this path would be easier trekking than the more frequently passed dirt road that was torn up by banana trucks earlier in the day. To no avail, this virgin mud is just as nasty as the deepest rutted soup that you see on the main path. To make matters worse, I have my bike in tow… Bad idea Cecilio: Ya its raining , but that back jungle path is very bike friendly, the drainage is good… Well, I am ankle deep in vicious mud , once again carrying my bike through the jungle, something I swore I would never do again…. It is happening…. But tranquilo… The bike cannot be rolled because the mud clings to the tires, snowballing with thicker mud after each revolution of the wheel, completely clogging the wheel well after about five revolutions. I am screwed, and its raining. At this point there is only one thing to do, get off the path, clean the tires with a stick, plow your own virgin trail through the bananas, and embrace the rain. Once I got rollin again, the rain subsided into a trickle, a few rays of sun broke through the grey clouds and the jungle began singing in its full glory. The green leaves sparkling and dripping with fresh rain after nature’s torrential bath. Life comes into bloom and the birds begin their chorus. A random harmony of birds chirping and celebrating the end of the storm. It was a moment. One of those fleeting moments that reminds me why I am in Peace Corps, living in the campo, dealing with hardships. Alone in the middle of the jungle, after a tropical storm, everything comes alive and your spirit is rejuvenated. Moments like this keep me going. So I emerged from the jungle, crossed the river and made my way into Asuncion…..

The reason for the trip was to volunteer at a project called Operation Smile. Operation Smile is a non governmental organization from the United States that sends Doctors and Surgeons to countries all over the world to do free cleft lip and palate surgeries to poor children in the developing world. A team of about 40 doctors, nurses, med students, etc. came to Paraguay for a couple weeks to perform the surgeries. I, and several Peace Corps volunteers went in to help translate between the Doctors, nurses, and the Paraguayans, many of whom spoke Guarani, and very little Spanish. It was a very powerful experience for me personally and for everyone involved. Paraguayans came from all over the country to bring their children in for this operation, some made very long trips from the poor region of San Pedro. I did translating for American nurses in the Pre-Operating part of the process and then for Doctor Steve (a pediatrician) in the post-op part. Doctor Steve spoke some Spanish but needed a translator, especially for the families that spoke guarani. It was very moving for me to approach a family that looked confused and scared and then see their expressions change into relief and calmness when I spoke to them in Guarani, their native language. I am very thankful to be a part (small part) of this amazing global project. The Doctors and nurses and surgeons all do this work voluntarily. They are some very impressive and awe inspiring people. I have the utmost respect and appreciation for what they do, their work is life changing. It was a powerful experience. After Op Smile, I got to go to a Paraguayan National tem soccer game against Ecuador with a few Peace Corps buddies. I was fun to see Paraguay deliver a shalacking to Ecuador 5-1. A serious beat down. Great game to watch. The fans were fanatical, high energy, and the riot police stormed the stands a couple times to keep these crazed fans under control. Wild stuff.

Alright, this is a short update because I have got to catch a bus back to site this afternoon and I gotta roll. It was just such an inspiring weekend that I had to write about it. More stories to come later. Check out some new pics on Flickr.com

Peace and tranquilidad,

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The Normita, Gaseous Water and an Apple [Oct. 26th, 2007|07:13 pm]
I sit here in the Coop building (more like a hovel…) in La Paloma, wondering what to say this time around for this here blog. It is nearly impossible to squeeze this experience into a few words, and once again I don´t know where to start. I could begin with our Cooperative. The low lying tin roof that ruthlessly magnifies the sweltering heat of the early afternoon. The lack of ventilation and the subsequent sweat pouring forth from my face onto this paper. However, little Norma has just walked in and given me a better idea…. Norma bursts into the office, stops up and exclaims, look at this new chair, how beautiful!!!! We recently got a new chair for the Cooperatives office. By new chair I mean an old, moldy, tattered, mustard green office chair that just walked out of 1965. Something that we Americans would look at disgustedly and say, how hideous! This little Norma exalts its beauty and novelty in La Paloma, she has never seen anything like it before. And it swivels!!!!! Perception is a funny thing. Anyway,

So, you all may be wondering about my well issues and what it is like to live without clean water at your house, undrinkable with most days not fit for bathing either. It aint cool. This is a problem that I never thought Id have, and it is a little heavy from time to time. I had no idea how complicated a well, (essentially, just a big hole in the ground) could be. After pulling all the thousands of liters of water out of my well for the fourth time and digging yet more mud out of its base, I succumbed to defeat. The well still emitted a stink like a festering mud flat after a hot summer rainstorm. Hundreds of little worms persist in the well, seeming to continue their peaceful little lives squirming around in my water, gawking in my face every time I pull up a bucket. This was the state of my well, one deep stink hole of a headache. So, I bring over 10 Paraguayan campesinos to advise me on the next possible steps of well purification. Each one gives me amazingly different diagnoses of the problem and prescriptions for repair. My favourite answer was, “Este pozo tiene gas no más, esto es normal”. This well just has gas. Oh, thats wonderful, my well only has gas in it, that sounds great, tranquilo… I thought there was a problem. So, I decide to give it one more shot, cleaning the well. If it does not work I feel I will have to destroy it in a very aggressive matter, just to get some revenge…. So I hire a local to help me take the water out and patch up the base of the well. The deal was a small fee plus breakfast and lunch. Good deal. I choose to fix him up a good hearty breakfast meal to give his stomach something to work on. I cook up a savory pot of oatmeal, a delectable porridge that tingles your tongue and melts in your mouth. I toss in oatmeal, milk, sugar, peanut butter, honey, chocolate, everything imaginable to ensure the sweetness. It was amazing. I pour some in a bowl and eagerly pass it to him, awaiting his reaction…. The guy receives it in his hands, wearily eyeing it like it is a dead and decaying animal. He looks on in horror. Just watching his facial expressions is racking my nerves. He proceeds to take one bite and immediately goes into convulsions as if he is about to vomit. I watch in awe. One more bite and he hands the bowl back to me, still completely full. “I cant eat this he says, I am gagging.” Nice compliment on my food asshole, why don’t ya get to work then? No need to get upset though, it is really just a moment to sit back and laugh. Such are the funny cultural differences amongst us humans in this world. He later told me that it smelled good but that he couldn’t handle the texture. What for one is a delicious breakfast is for another dogfood. Amusing really. Just like when it rains here in Paraguay. When the winds start howlin and getting angry, you know it is about to dump. So you frantically rush around the house, pulling things away from the windows, situating the desk, clothes, books, CD player in the few little spaces where rain doesn’t come through the roof. You grab your biggest plastic bags and cover as much as you can before the rains begin. Because once the storm starts you are too busy sweeping water out your back door as it floods in waves from the front door. Once again, you just have to laugh and enjoy the experience. In spite of these few hardships, I am living surprisingly well and thoroughly enjoying each day I have in Tembiapora. Our local projects are also progressing quite well.

We recently found out that USAID will be sponsoring the Community Radio`s project in Tembiapora. Our proposal was accepted, request confirmed and the funds have arrived in Paraguay. Thank you Uncles Sam. The U.S. still does a few good things in this world. Relaying the good news to the Radio Commission a few days ago was one of the most rewarding moments of my time in Paraguay. I saw a grin of delight appear on Cecilios (the president of the Radio Commission) face. A pure satisfaction and feeling of accomplishment that came from deep within. It was really heart warming to be a part of that moment of mutual appreciation and joy. These guys really deserve a break, and being able to assist in any way is a great feeling for me. So, we got the money. Cecilio and I just had to go into Asuncion to pick up the check. Going to the city with campesinos is always an event to see. They are so out of their element it is ridiculous. The look on their face is one of attempted comprehension, yet befuddlement by the absurdities witnessed in the modern city. It is pretty funny really, I have witnessed this phenomenon a few times now. Cecilio remained petrified as we dodged buses and motos, crossed busy streets, and got frisked and searched going into the Peace Corps office. Plus, his stomach went on tilt, another common phenomenon for campesinos in the city. They eat something unnatural, artificial, something that has not come directly from the land and they lose it. Furthermore, it is difficult to maintain a continued regimen of terere consumption while in the city. All these factors just make for a hell of a time. It was fun though, we were laughin, telling stories, and planning the next steps of our grand project and construction of the radio. In the afternoon I bought a couple apples and handed one to Cecilio, thinking that it might help his stomach. He takes it, looks at me and asks, “what the hell am I supposed to do with this? I only have one tooth!” That’s true, I am a moron, how is this guy supposed to bite into the apple with one tooth, literally one tooth. We found a knife and cut up the apple to make it possible to consume. Just a quick note of waiver- I am not making fun of him or the campesinos. To me it is just a funny situation that I wanted to share. We both cracked up after he told me the tooth situation, it was hilarious. So we are putting the USAID funds to good use. We are going to begin construction on the new local this week. Plus, we are buying all new and powerful equipment for the radio. Plus a little news reporter tape recorder to go out into the campo and hear from the campesinos themselves. A bunch of cool ideas are circulating to develop the radio and serve the community. I will be teaching classes on budget maintenance and transparency as well, inviting everyone to come and see how to avoid corruption and account for all the money involved in the budget.

I am sweating like a beast so I will wrap things up- Everything is tranquilo, just ask any Paraguayan. I am still constantly being accused of spying and being a militant from the U.S. Which is hard to play down and deny. Just look around the world. This Sunday however, my community contacts, Ricardo and cecilio are going to do a program with me on the radio to further explain Cuerpo de Paz and my mission and goals in Paraguay in an attempt to dissuade the sentiment that I am an evil spy from the CIA. It should be a good program and it is really warms me to know that there are Paraguayans in my community that care enough about me to take this suspicion on and fight for my case. An American that really just wants to help through peaceful means. Alright, signing off, I gotta go drink some terere. Peace to all,

Tembiapora, Paraguay
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Mas Tranquilidad [Aug. 24th, 2007|05:09 pm]
Oh the wonders of technology. It is a love hate relationship for sure. Imagine the internet 4 years ago... when you actually had to wait for between 5 and 20 seconds for a webpage to load. Outrageous I know. That is what it is like using the internet in the little pueblo of Che Iro Kue, Paraguay. I can´t believe we used to have to deal with a slow connection and sticky unresponsive keyboard, what absurdities. So, it is funny going back in time and using a relatively old school computer and net connection, I guess it is a little frustrating, but only because I am a spoiled American who gets anxious with anything less than top of the line. How do I handle Paraguay you may wonder...? Well, I maintain tranquilidad, it is as simple as that, it is a beautiful simplicity and an understanding that I can take a few deep breaths, relax, and the world will continue on its course, just as before. It is so unbelievably insignificant that this internet is slow and the comupter messed up, that I have the nicest sandals in all of tembiapora that are envy of many campesinos, or that my well has been dirty for over two months and as I result I have to shower at a neighbors casa and carry buckets of water from a neighbor to drink at home. There are millions of people that do just that on a daily basis all over the world, and in fact, there situation is a lot worse. So, the little things are nothing to get upset or worried about. I guess that is how I feel right now. If we are gonna worry about something, it better be pretty damn important, or it is just a waste of time, because we (any and everyone with access to a high speed internet, ie. Those reading this blog) shoule feel nothing but lucky and fortunate sons. We were born in the United States (most of us), by chance, and live in the top 1% of wealth distribution in the world. So, on a real scale we have nothing to worry about. We should be more concerned with finding joy and tranquility on a daily basis: a good smell, a nice smile and hello, and some good relaxing sounds. That is why and how I am enjoying Paraguay, and how the campesinos enjoy there daily lives, even though many of them struggle with a disempowering poverty. Alright, excuse me for that, complete random free association blabble. You spend alot of time thinking in the Peace Corps, it is inevitable, what else do you do by yourself at night? Anyway, I just got to enjoy a little ¨chat¨ online through the cyber waves with my good friends Sister Kim and Mister Walters, who I can always count on to be online when I make it into Che iro to use the computer. It is a true joy, even just to share a few words in a little box on the comp screen, with good people from home, I look forward to it and am thankful for the fact that technology provides this for us. I have now been in Paraguay for about 15 months and am beginning to look forward to going home. It is way to early to look forward to this and I am sure the feeling will pass, plus I am going home soon enough, but anyway, it is fun to think about home. Nevertheless, there are some exciting things taking place in site, and then there is the tranquilidad.

The radio show with ¨Profesor Killer¨ is called Norte Piro Y (which is Guaranî for a fresh breeze from the north) and airs each Sunday morning at 10 am. The show has quite a number of dedicated listeners who send us text messages, request music, ask questions about anything (literally everything- advice about girls, of which I have very little, all the way to questions about different kinds of animal poop), and support the show. I now have accumulated a team of 4 high school students, who show up each week for the show. It has been quite a lot of fun and a highlight for me. We talk about education, organic farming, and cooperativism, and give community news, ie. About the people who got their land robbed in Ykua Pyta. Radio Itapè, Norte Piro Y 88.9 FM. Yáll should tune in. There is a comission that runs the radio and coordinates all its activities. I have ended up working quite a bit with this commission becasue it has been the one and only commission I have found in the campo that is run in a participatory and democratic manner, with total transparency. It is quite a thing really, astonishing. We have been working on a request for financial aid from USAID and I will be turning it in in Asuncion next weekend, pretty exciting stuff, I will keep you posted. The idea is to get a tranmitter that is more powerful to reach all the community. This equipment costs quite a bit however.. Hopefully we will get some aid. We did put on a successful fiesta last weekend celebrating Paraguayan folklore and culture, we were able to make some money (mostly off of selling beer, big surprise) and there was alot of traditional music with the paraguayan harp and the beautiful danza paraguaya, la chiperita. I will attempt to post some pics on flickr. Beyond that, I continue to teach english at the High school in Tembiapora and the middle school in la paloma. This is work that is quite enjoyable for the most part, and never a dull moment. It is pretty funny alot of times witnessing a foreigner attempting to speak, or better yet, write in english. It is even more comincal when I realize that that is the equivlent of what I sound like in Guarani. I give much dreaded tests and the kids all get real scared and try to copy and then get offended when I take their cheat sheet from them. Then, I review the tests and find that everyone wrote ¨farioshel¨ in the space where I asked them to translate the word brother. So, one person guessed wrong and everyone else copied them. In that way, I guess it is exactly like the States. Most people just want to copy their neighbors work. At least in the States you get in trouble if you get caught. The atmosphere is too tranquilo in paraguay, there is no room for discipline or punishment, or confrontation. This has its benefits, but tranuility taken to an extreme level can be a negative thing. This is what I have noticed lately. It is hard to excite people in the campo. They are just too tranquilo. Through a cultural and historical lense this makes perfect sense. During the dictatorship there were spys in many rural communities, and if you were caught talking out, attending a meeting, or saying anything even remotely aggressive, you were very easily subject to kidnapping and torture. I have already heard several gruesome stories of peoples parents and siblings who were raped and torture during the Stroessner dictatorship, for simply having ideas that were anti-dictator. You could be locked in a small cell, peed and pooped on (literally) by police and left to fester. Then maybe you would get to go outside and you would have the option of riding a savage horse bare back, or fighting with a martial arts expert who knew how to work you over real good. These are all stories I have heard, I have no proof, but nevertheless, the dictatorship certainly was brutal and they did torture thousands of people. Foul. So, After 35 years of this type of government, people don´t want to do anything but be tranquilo. I dont blame them.

So, when you have been living deep in the country, more or less off the land, the things you become interested in take a comical turn. For example, I have noticed lately that my compost pile is one of my pride and joys here in Paraguay. It is amazing and I tend to it quite well. I almost took a picture of it for you. Furthermore, I have engaged several deep and thorough conversations about poop, different kinds and their respective properties, and their benefits to gardening. A conversation I never could have imagined in the States. Yet, in my setting it is actually important to talk about organic material, such as cow or chicken poop, and its richness for the land. I may be going out on a limb, but it may also be more important than what Brad Pitt or Cameron Diaz did yesterday. At least it is different.

That is more or less in a nutshell what I have been up to. Living a life in the campo that is utterly different than the one in the States. They both have their advantages and disadvantages. I am maintaining tranquility, but I have also involved myself in many activities that keep me busy day to day, if nothing else drinking terere with a paraguayan and talking about how beautiful the girls are. There was so much actividad in the campo that I missed the Peace Corps celebration for 40 years in Paraguay, I heard it was a good time though. I find that I enjoy being outside in a pleasant setting and I don´t rush into the big Asuncion as often nowadays. I like going to the school garden and picking lettuce and carrots and having a wicked fresh salad with stir fry. Au natural. That is enough, I guess this was kind of all over the place, but so goes the activity in the campo; searching through the thick web of tranquility in an attempt to free those few individuals that are seeking a momentary escape from tranquility, an attempt to enter the world of action and probe it to see what it has to offer. Dont get to excited, but change is necessary, a constant that we must come to terms with. Hasta luego, much love to all my friends and family,


Ps- the Ykua Pyta refugees are still in the tent camp, without their land and with no place to go. On the positive side, the community really pulled together to provide them with basic needs that were devoured in the assault. The situation remains the same however, we are looking and hoping for a change soon.
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Ykua Pytá Refugees [Jul. 20th, 2007|03:28 pm]
Ykua Pyta Refugees

“Ivai la porte nande hermanokuerapeguara. Oikohina carpa guype. Jaha.”
These few words were enough to spark my interest and merit an impromptu bicycle journey to Ykua Pyta. We had to see the situation for ourselves.
“These people have nothing left,” Cecilio said to me, “they lost everything… It’s a grave situation right now in Ykua Pyta.” In a couple days we raised some money for cooking oil and carbon, rounded up a bag of beans and corn, strapped the provisions on the bike rack and set off on the 10 K trip to Ykua Pyta. That day was last Wednesday and it was just about freezing in Paraguay, as cold as it can possibly be in this subtropical country in the Southern Hemisphere. This particular day it was snowing in Buenos Aires for the first time in 90 years. Needless to say, it was abnormally frigid in this region of the world. The temperature hovered right under 40 degrees F and you could see your breath steaming in the moist coldness. With a brisk breeze coming off the lago Yguazu it felt bitter cold.
“They have been sleeping on the wet ground, under sheets of plastic.” “That is horrible,” I thought to myself…. I was freezing in my sleeping bag in my brick house, I can’t imagine sleeping on the wet ground….
After an hour trek on bike Cecilio and I arrived at the scene of the Ykua Pyta refugees. As we crested the last hill and were descending on the site we could see an enormous swath, some 500 hectares, of land freshly burnt to the ground. “That was there land until they got forced off a a couple days ago.” He’I Cecilio. The scene at the camp was heavy. A group of around 100-150 Paraguayans, including lots of children, sat or milled around with cold, unsmiling, dejected faces. Two long makeshift tents of black plastic extended through the grass field. There was no floor inside, just wet muddy ground strewn with banana leaves upon which the refugees slept. There was no light inside the tent either. Simply a cold long darkness with no end to be seen. Outside sat one “lean-to” latrine for everyone to share. The kids hauled water from a well down the street and the women brought mandioca from a neighbors field. The others continued to mill around, gazing at their lost land, or gathered near one the fires to keep warm. The first person I met was Julio. He is an older, outgoing, witty, “voice of the group” type of person. After the introductions, he said , “Kyle, nuestra situacion es muy pesimo ahora.” It is a very dire situation indeed. We turned to look across the street. On the other side lies these people’s land, freshly burnt and still smoldering in places. Two tractors were still mauling the fields, ensuring total destruction of anything left standing after the fires. “What happened here Julio?”
The refugees had been living on this land, working, raising families and animals, some for as long as fifteen years. This is their home. The problem is that they have been basically squatting on the land. The legal landowner is some Swiss guy who, many years ago, had informally sold the land (without legal tender) and permitted these people to live and work. About one year ago, he decided to legally sell his land, to another buyer…..

Instead of working out some fair deal with these Paraguayan farmers and their families who have lived there for years, he opts to sell to a high-bidding Mennonite soy company. After a year long legal battle, the poor Paraguayans with virtually no representation and the Mennonites with high-priced lawyers on their side, the land gets turned over to the Mennonite soy business. “The business is burning our land and cutting down our trees to prepare for the soy plantation.” Three days prior to my visit, the Paraguayan police had moved in with guns and clubs and forced the poor farmers off of their land. “Ohapymbaite,” said Julio. The new land owners set fire to the land (a common soil preparation technique prior to planting) burning houses, animals, and crops while the bulldozers leveled homes, destroyed wells and uprooted trees. All the while, the policemen stood guard against their own countrymen, threatening them with the use of force, in order to protect the interests of a wealthy business.
With no place to go and everything destroyed, this refugee camp popped up on the other side of the street. Dividing these people from the land they used to work stood a newly constructed fence and a freshly painted sign that read “No trespassing: Private Property.” Next to this sign stood the newest development on the devastated property: a nice little wood cabin where the police stay to keep warm and keep watch over the homeless farmers. Way to protect your fellow brothers and countrymen. “So who is helping you” I ask Julio. He responds, “The only help we get is from our neighbors and Paraguayan campesinos from Tembiapora” But these campesinos can’t afford to give much…

As we speak, Cecilio and I are making daily requests on the radio for community support in the form of food, blankets, old jackets, cushions, etc… Furthermore, a group of 3 Peace Corps trainees and their trainer just spent a week with me in Tembiapora to learn about Peace Corps and what the volunteer’s work consists of. With their help and consideration we were able to gather four blankets to bring to the refugees as well. There is little government intervention in respect to the Paraguayan refugees. The mayor paid a visit to the refugees last week to tell them that they need to move farther away from the land or they will be thrown in jail for breaking the law. Somehow the law is more important than the fact that these people lost their homes and the land where they’d lived for 15 years. Where are these families supposed to go? How are they supposed to buy new land? They haven’t even been offered compensation for their enormous loss. “Money is what dictates” says Julio. He is obviously correct. Gringos (this is what Paraguayans call foreigners) come to Paraguay with lots of money and are slowly “buying” the country. The government is more than happy to be selling the land and taxing the sales to line their coffers. “The gringos are taking over our country while we sleep in the dirt” says Julio.

This is a very real and heavy situation for the Julio and the other Paraguayans farm families who have been forcibly removed from their land. Not to mention all the kids. I moved around the small camp and saw the despondent faces, and talked with the women. Some women were amazingly maintaining a bit of optimism and joking that, “ we need to solve this problem soon because sleeping on the ground is a little cold and not much fun.” With no place to go, these people are just helplessly waiting to see what happens, waiting to contact family for help, somehow get offered a location to move to. Unfortunately it is a slow ugly process. They have been living like this for more almost two weeks now. “This is the real Paraguay” Cecilio said to me on the way home. This is the injustice that happens in this country and all over the world. After seeing something like this, it is a little difficult to find hope in a worldwide system that is based on the “laws” that protect the rights of “money and business” while real people go hungry and sleep on the ground. That must be why it feels so good to meet people like Cecilio and Julio. When you have almost lost faith, you can always meet someone who brings it back. Cecilio, for example, is a devout Christian, very quality and service minded. But he does not judge, he seeks only to serve the community (regardless of race, appearance, belief, politics…) in hopes of a better and more prosperous future for all. He is currently heading the community relief effort for the refugees in Ykua Pyta. There are a lot of challenges for these people. At some point people have to be given priority over laws and profits if we are ever to see a more just future.
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Tranquilildad no mas... what else? [May. 19th, 2007|02:08 pm]
To use the overused cliché, there is so much to write I don’t even know where to begin. Post- “Allard Spring Break ’07 South America Trip” -life in La Paloma has been tranquilo, jolly, yet busy at the same time. And, believe it or not, I actually almost got stressed out last week when quite a few events landed on my plate at once. After a two- hour terere session and constantly reminding myself to be tranquilo (“tranquilo Kyle, tranquilo no mas…”) the stress was gone… The people in the community are realizing more and more that I am a temporary resource that will be gone again very soon. Therefore, they should attempt to utilize me to the fullest…. The cooperative, “Pakova Poty”, is organized fairly well at the moment and it has exported over 28,000 crates of bananas already this year. I am augmenting this bump in the cash flow with money management and economization classes for the socios of the cooperative. However, this is all happening at the same time that a Brazilian enterprise is trying to buy up all our banana plantations, essentially to drive all the small farmers off of their land (including my best friends in Paraguay) in order to streamline and mechanize banana production under one name, one man, one corporation. Whereas at the moment, each farmer has 1-3 hectares of bananas, the corp. would buy hundreds of hectares, consolidate production, and all the native families of la Paloma would be forced to leave. This has already caused internal conflicts between friends within La Paloma. One farmer decided to accept the offer and sell his land, thereby initiating the process of corporate acquisition. His neighbors and friends responded by basically denouncing him and protesting on his property in front of the prospective buyers. This all happened last week, we will see what happens. Still, despite all this, everybody is super tranquilo, walking around slowly and casually with big smiles on their faces.

Furthermore, I have begun my weekly 2 hr. radio program at the radio comunitaria in Tembiapora. It has been a hit so far. I am optimistic that this will be beneficial to the community as I am actively discussing and promoting citizenship, participation, education, and communication/info sharing, with a little North American music and culture, jokes, dating games, etc… recently I submitted a request to an NGO in Asuncion for financing for a more powerful radio transmitter to reach the entire community . Moving on… this week we built a large garden at the school in La Paloma. The purpose is to promote health and self-sustaining farming practices to combat and pry people away from the destructive effects of capitalism felt by small farmers. We also welcomed the new incoming group of peace corps trainees recently. That means I have been in Paraguay about a year, which to me is mind blowing… I have been asked to give a presentation to the new group in mid June about the economization of the small farm family. Then, my site was chosen to host a group of the trainees who will be visiting La Paloma in July to see what the peace corps experience is really like on the ground. The next couple months will be busy and fun. Bueno, that is just a little snapshot of what is going on…

So the Paraguayans in the La Paloma will not stop talking about the Allards, who have now been christened with legendary status in La Paloma… Dad knows how to have a good time and attempts to speak Guarani (the most praise-worthy behavior in Paraguay), Mom is beautiful (it is impossible that she is 53) and all the men are fighting over who will marry Kim the next time she comes to visit. So, the Allards are famous in La Paloma.

I would like to say a little but about the giving mentality that is so prevalent in this poor community. It is awe-inspiring. People refuse to accept money from me! A rich American (well… actually I’m pretty poor at the moment by American standards, but anyway..) Three instances come to mind:
1- As we approach winter here in Paraguay the nights are becoming increasingly bitter and cold. The community “tatakua” (a large brick over resembling a huge igloo) has been busy pumping out carbon to fire our brasseros. It is hard, dirty work to make this stuff. The guys come crawling out of the ovens covered in soot lookin like wounded birds that just emerged from an oil spill. The next day I get presented with a sack full of carbon to warm me during the night, and the workers refuse payment from me. Refuse. It seems they place more value on being a giving and caring person than they do on money.
2-After the coldest night this year, my neighbors brought me two sweatshirts (unsolicited) to layer on and keep warm during the brutal night. The poor giving so much charity if remarkable.
3- Lastly, I go to visit and drink terere with Catalino, and to celebrate the visit, they slaughter a 80 lb. pig, right then and there, and we feast an amazing pig roast two hours later!

All these giving attitudes are pretty cool.

Now, I would like to share an example of how well capitalism is working for the people of La Paloma:
The cotton harvest passed a few weeks ago in La Paloma. Many farmers and their families hit the fields in brutal Paraguayan sun to pick the soft, light little cotton balls. The same stuff we clothe ourselves with. You have to pick the little balls of the bush out of sharp, spiny holsters that prick raw the tips of your fingers. My neighbor Norma and her family (dad, Mom, 10 yr old brother, and 12 year old sister) went out an picked 70 kilograms of cotton in one day. That is roughly 117 lbs. The family as a whole got paid 28,000 guaranies, or roughly 5 dollars… In other words, they got paid about 4 cents per pound of cotton picked. Cotton is pretty light and a POUND is a decent amount. In the States a cotton shirt weighs roughly say a pound and is worth about 30 dollars, compared to 4 cents in the field in Paraguay. It is a big difference and the labor on the ground is worthy of a larger share, one would think…

Lastly, I find some of the superstitions and “home remedies” in Paraguay to be hilarious.
Just a couple examples. One, while I was preparing a section on alcoholism and treatment for my radio show I consulted an official text book on alcohol and drug addiction and health and what not that is used to teach with in the high schools. The remedy for severe drunkenness (in the States you get your stomach pumped) was a mixed herbal tea that would produce “horrific diarrhea, vomiting, and dizzy spells” that was to be followed up with a warm bowl of chicken soup! Seriously, a bowl of warm chicken is prescribed for sever drunkenness! It probably works wonders too.

Ok, that is about enough for now, I could go on and on…., but this is enough.

Take care,

Hope all is tranquilo in the States,

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