Saturday, November 21, 2009

Back Home

We've been home a week now, adjusting to the NW November weather and time change.  We had a great trip, varied experiences from ultra urban cities to wetlands wildlife, and of course my return to Paraguay.

It was wonderful, and sometimes awkward seeing the people I worked with back in Pilar.  It seemed as if 25 years had evaporated seeing the teachers I had worked with, until of course their children, that were once under seven years of age appeared as fully formed adults, some with children of their own.  Pilar is now larger with new neighborhoods, more people, more paved streets and infrastructure: cellphones, television, internet, motos, but the feeling is still tranquilo and the people are warm and generous in opening their homes and hearts to you.

I met the new PC volunteers in Pilar, and in this new PC with cellphones and internet access I'm hoping to assist Joan, one of the volunteers, in getting some libraries started in the schools and town.  She has started the groundwork with proposals and requests for some books, but has a long road ahead to get appropriate reading materials and community support.  Therefore, what I am requesting from friends and family this year instead of holiday gifts for me, would be either books or donations for to me purchase appropriate books for the children of Pilar.  If you want to provide books, the schools are most in need of early childhood picture books in Spanish.  Thanks so much for your help with this.  Coming home to house filled with books, book club gathering and memories of all my childhood reads has made me more cognizant and appreciative of the gift of reading.

I'm also attaching links to more photos of our journey for those of you not able to see them on Facebook.

Wishing you all a Happy and Healthy Holiday Season!

Love, Sarah 

Monday, November 9, 2009

Tudo bem? Tudo bom.

All is well and good, but being among speakers of Portuguese, in tropical heat, now with flowers, leaves, water, mosaics, and beauty all around, we've become less verbal.

Figurine at Pousada Santa Clara on Boipeba

I realize that I have not written about food. Much has been bland. On the bus in Paraguay, the anise seed I encountered in every fourth nibble of chipa was thrilling; chipa is usually uniformly boring, as well as dry. In Foz do Iguazu, Sarah and I went out for pizza and chose the "Paulista" (Sao Paulo style with heart of palm and peas), I think because it was vegetarian and also because I could not imagine that plain canned peas would be used. The canned peas dried out less in the oven than you would expect and were impressively vile.
In Salvador, we were able to sample traditional foods. Acarajé is made from bean massa (blackeyed peas). The same product steamed in banana leaves, abara, has the appearance and texture of a perfect mudpie (very fine particles, just enough water to stick together, firm enough to cut). It was bland with a faint unpleasant undertaste (probably dried shrimp). I liked acarajé fried.

Sarah says that she liked acarajé and that she suspects that I am writing something unfair about it, so here is a quote about the importance an virtues of acarajé. I have read that acarajé is not only a traditional food in Bahia and Ghana, it is associated with the Candomblé religion.

"Acarajé belongs to the cult of Iansá. Iansá is the Lady of the Winds and the flash of lightning. It represents freedom in the figure of the wind. It corresponds to Saint Barbara in the Catholic Religion. She carries a scimitar, her colors are red combined with white and her ritual greeting is EPAHEI!
Acarajé is made and sold by women in Bahia and has been declared "heritage culture" of this region of Brazil. "

Figurine at Pousada Redfish in Salvador


Wednesday, November 4, 2009

More thoughts on Paraguay from Salvador

Sorry I haven´t been able to post photos along with my blogs, but I´m old school compared to Jen, who is able to blog and upload photos from her iPhone, while I must wait until we have computer access, and most don´t allow for camera card uploads, so you´ll just have to wait until I get back home for the photos.

We´re now in Salvador, Brasil which has been a fun city by day to explore, but it´s quite dangerous at night, so we´re back at the hotel and I thought I´d catch up on blogging and finish some of my thoughts on Paraguay.  The politics have certainly changed in the fact that one can now openly discuss politics, and we even saw a small demonstration in Asuncion, but as for real change, vamos a ver.  I spoke with the 2 physicians I had worked with (Asuncion & Pilar) and asked them what they thought of President Lugo, and they both said that he essentially has no power.  One said he would have been more effective continuing to preach (if it weren´t for those kids he fathered), and they both feel he doesn´t have the political support or savvy to truly effect change.  One of the physicians even said that Stroessner´s grandson is high up in the Colorado Party waiting to make a move after Lugo is out.  Vamos a ver.

I can´t see a lot of change in the mindset of the people, and a lot of that is still ingrained from early childhood where the education system is still a very closed system, with rote lessons, few or no books, and discipline versus inquiry.  I was saddened to find the few deaf students that I had gotten enrolled into school that are now young men in their 30s that still can´t read or write, and are doing menial tasks.  However, they are from poor families and I´m not sure if all the members of their family can read or write, so perhaps my hopes and expectations were too grandiose.  They at least seem happy and are embraced by their families and the folks in town.

I was quite pleased to find Senora Molina, the mother of 10, four of whom had developmental disabilities, and to see how well she was.  She reported that her daughter that dutifully rode Raul, a young boy of 9 or 10 with cerebral palsy to school, every day on the back of her bike and learned the home exercises to do with him, is doing well in Argentina, where she became a massage therapist so she could do the work that Sarah did to help people.  She was such a good sister and daughter that it truly touched me to hear the news.  Unfortunately Raul passed away about 7 years ago, but his older brothers that I also worked with are doing well, hanging out with the old guys, sweeping the sidewalks and sipping terere.

Jen and I met the two PC volunteers in Pilar, and they are working with the schools and local government, facing some of the same frustrations that I did 25 years ago.  Yet they are in a whole new generation of PC, where all the volunteers have cell phones and some even have internet access.  Joan talks to her boyfriend back in the states every evening via Skype.  I can´t even imagine what PC would have been like with that kind of potential connectedness to the world and home. 

Our last night in Pilar, we met an Irishman, Julian Bloomer, who is pedaling all around the world, taking a sabbatical of sorts from his previous teaching job at University in Ireland.  He has had quite the adventure up to now, and seems to have the strong legs and easy manner to complete his journey.  See the link to his blog on the sidebar.

The one thing I hadn´t prepared myself for and I don´t know why I hadn´t, but I was totally at a loss for words when the first questions from Mami and Marcella were, ``Are you married?``  Rather than replying with a simple yes or no, I stuttered and ended up by saying ``Mas o menos``.  It was that old feeling of not being valued because I wasn´t married and didn´t have kids; that despite my work, and my relationship and family that I couldn´t share with them, I was somehow less.  At least the Paredes were totally open and accepting, which was quite refreshing and rewarding. Asi es.  It has made for some odd experiences travelling, where people never think of us as a couple, we get hotel rooms with 2 double beds, and can not show any signs of closeness.  Oh well, es como es.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Acalaca, limpkin, ocelot, puma

Southern Pantanal

10 days ago Carolina from Rio photographed 3 or 4 jaguars at Refugia do Ilha, but we came a few days after the flood, early this year, began. With the flood, clear water rises and spreads and the wildlife that depends on it disperses. Wild hyacinth sends up floating rafts to reproduce. We still saw amazing birds and mammals. Sarah has the best photos on her camera and they will be uploaded eventually.

Dogs in a field near where the parrots come to roost; they chase no animals


Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The dogs of Pilar

I know that Sarah will write about Paraguay, so I will not say too much here. Pilar in the SE state of Neembucu seems well described as tranquil, despite my being awakened the first night there by the loudest clap of thunder of my life. The rain was needed. The people there enjoy the tranquility and each other. They enhanced my appreciation of familia and acceptance (or at least tolerance) of the things one cannot change, including politics. I am left with an impression that President Lugo, despite his good heart and right speech, will not have the political power to achieve much.

Sarah with Patricia Paredes and 'Tian

Sarah with Mami and Felipe de Torres

Selling chipa in the Asuncion bus station

In the sanitary facilities in that bus station, there was a small clump of wet leaves in the sink I used, left over from someone's terere - una bebida muy refrescante y tipica de Paraguay.

My early BA experience with a time shift altered state of consciousness faded pretty quickly, with men's faces back to their individual and distinct
qualities within hours. Thinking about this in terms of neurobiology, different types of animals have specialized sets of neurons in their brains for rapid recognition of that which is really important: horizontally moving fly sized objects for frogs, bioluminescence for night flying gulls (which sounds beautiful and thrilling), faces and patterns for people. Some atypical patterns/connections must have been active for a while between my brain functions for pattern recognition and faces.

Anyway, the dogs of Pilar vary in appearance more than dogs in many places but there are clearly some large families. The tan and white short hairs, the shepherds, the cockeroid clan and the big brindle bitch all hold their tails up and demonstrate self confidence and good cheer.

We are now at Foz do Iguacu and happy.

A dog at the intersection of Paraguay, Argentina and Brasil


Post Stroessner Paraguay and the New Peace Corps

We´re now in Foz do Iguaçu, Brasil getting ready to head to Puerto Iguazu for the Argentinian experience of the Falls.  We arrived here Monday evening after a 12 hour bus ride through Paraguay.  You knew it was a long ride when Jen started asking for more chipa...

It´s been a bit of a time warp feeling for me, filled with all kinds of mixed emotions.  It was so great to see some of the people I worked closely with, see some of my former students, the town of Pilar and to fall into that welcoming hospitality of the Paraguayans.  Then I started to feel guilty, que verguenza, at not spending more time with some of the Pilarenses, how to divide the short time I had with them and not totally alienate Jen in this strange place.  I probably could have spent at least a couiple of more days in Pilar to feel as I had visited with everyone respectfully, but I~m not sure if Jen could have handled one more morning of grilled ham and cheese sandwich with weak coffee, & sugar water juice for breakfast to be followed by a full day of visits and conversations in Spanish or Guarani.

The physical changes are the most notable, the majority of the roads, that were once all dirt, are now paved or empedrado (paved with stones).  There are now 6000 motos in Pilar according to those in the know, buzzing through the streets that were once filled with bicycles, people walking or riding horses.  All these newly improved streets, have new shops, and one wonders how many clothing shops, little kiosks and cell phone shops can the town support, but apparently the number is large.  And then there´s the dogs.  There are stray dogs, very docile, hanging out on all the streets.  They are very well suited to their town, muy tranquilo, seemingly well fed if not well groomed.  Of course they may all have worms as Jen mentioned which would contribute to their tranquiloness.  Yet as tranquilo as they are, the teachers that I went around town with are afraid of these dogs, that barely stir as you approach them, curled up in the dirt or in a shady spot on the sidewalk.  Asi es.

The other changes are sadly not that impresionante.  Yes, there´s a new President, a new political party in power, hopes for a new future, but it seems more hopeful than realistic for any big changes after talking with the people, particularly those in the intellectual Liberal crowds that I spoke with. 

Wow, I have to go, the bus is leaving.  More later.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Vamos a Pilar

We've been in Asuncion for 2 days and are soon heading out for Pilar, 5 and a half hours on the bus, but a fancy one that the staff at the hotel front desk didnt even know about, and then proceeded to roll their eyes at the $10 US cost upon calling the bus agency.  Itś the bus Patricia Paredes recommended so now that Iḿ no longer on a Peace Corps budget, weŕe splurging on the chuchi bus, not the feo one that others suggested.

Asuncion is full of the smells I remember; diesel, chipa, sweat, overly perfumed people in restaurants and dust.  Itś bigger, with more buildings on the outskirts, many new shopping malls, BMW car dealerships, and the like; but still once one crosses the plazas and military complexes by the river the shantytowns are still thriving.  When I have the opportunity to post some photos, Iĺl add some of the street kids who suckered me into giving them moneda.

Yesterday I visited the rehab center where I had worked for a short while before transferring to Pilar.  The doctor I worked with and one of the OT aides was still there.  The place is really hopping now, 10 bed inpatient post acute rehab unit, busy outpatient therapy, school for kids with various handicaps.  Itś nice to see the place really thriving, although I of course wanted to jump right in and start making suggestions about wheelchair seating and positioning, but bit my tongue, I was just a visitor.

So, now weŕe off to Pilar, where Iḿ looking forward to seeing old friends and students, in a town that is hopefully more tranquilo than here, even though it has grown.  Hasta luego amigos!