Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Hace muchoooo tiempo

I can’t recall the last time I updated my blog, and for those who thought I might have died… well, I’m still kickin’. My life living on the ex-communicado circuit has been quite an experience. 

Time has passed quickly here in southeast Paraguay and I have enjoyed about 88% of it. The other twelve come from bouts of food poisoning, waiting for buses, biking in the rain, awkward silences in conversation, etc.

Though it may have been a rocky start to begin with, my community is now fully receptive of my work and me. My Guarani language skills have progressed considerably, but there are still times I that I have no idea what people are talking about.

I mix my time working in the primary school, agricultural high school, with community members, and by myself at my house.

The World Map project at the school is taking some time to complete, but when it is finished it will look really nice. The background ocean blue is painted and I am placing a grid system onto the wall. I wish I could work more in the school garden but very few of the students show interest in this topic. One of my favorite things about the school is being able to make kids laugh and smile. That itself is a good day.

I work two days a week in the agricultural high school down the road from my house. I’m still working with third-year students and their graduation projects, but I recently began working with first-year students on the implementation of a one-hectare agroecology field. Mba’epiko ha’e (what is) agroecology? Agroecology is the use of various conservation agriculture techniques to improve soil quality, control erosion, and conserve water in the fields. So far, I’ve given a lecture to the students about water conservation and soil erosion, and the field is ready to be planted. Paraguay is nearing the end of winter (we didn’t really have much of that) and I plan to plant the field in September. So far, we plan to plant corn, beans, sunflower, and green manure crops. The volunteers in my group participated in a training event in April in which we learned about marking contour lines in a field, and my group has begun to implement this practice. Contour lines are trenches in a field to help conserve and navigate rainfall water on a given slope. 

My house has come along way since I first started working on it. No more structural problems, and I now have a nice patio to sit outside and enjoy the day or eat a meal. I added a new little closet to store my books and tools. Last thing to do is paint, maybe a nice PSU theme? I really enjoy working in my garden, and here’s a picture of the result:

Finally, my work with members of the community has been mixed. Some are receptive to visits and working together, but others have little knowledge or misconceptions about my work and that has made it tough. For those who are responsive, I continue to assist in soil recuperation  efforts in the fields, mostly through green manures and cover crops. With summer approaching, I have been coordinating with farmers their interest in planting these crops and learning of proper ways to store these seeds for future use. I recently received a loan of one-half hectare to grow my own field crops and create a new demonstration plot for community members to view and learn. Around September I plan to get some chickens at my place so having a crop of corn and beans to feed the chickens will be nice.

Running water? Well… projects in developing countries, especially in rural areas, take a long time to complete. Nearly all the piping has been placed and workers have been throughout the community constructing black-water tanks at each house. In addition, each house will receive a shower and toilet stall to use. I believe a total of 20 kilometers (12 miles) of piping will be placed by the time everything is said and done. Maybe, just maybe, I will have running water by the time I finish my service next year.

Days can seem incredibly long and boring but the weeks and months fly by. No single day is the exact same, and that’s why I enjoy this job. Peace Corps Paraguay encourages volunteers to seek out work opportunities instead of handing out projects on a platter. I have come to realize the incredible amount of self-motivation needed from volunteers to complete this task. Peace Corps has been in the news a fair amount recently, not under the best circumstances, but I have also come to realize how great the staff is here in Paraguay and their willingness to assist you in any way needed for a project.

Here are some of my favorite recent photos for your viewing:

Thursday, April 10, 2014

CNA, Running Water, project updates

Hey everyone, I just wanted to update you on some of the progress that is taking shape in my community.

First, I am FINALLY living alone in my house! It feels really great to finally be able to cook whatever I want, when I want. I will be quite honest, I am not a fan of Paraguayan food. I lost a decent amount of weight trying to survive on scraps of meat and empty carbohydrates everyday. Literally within an hour and a half, I would be hungry again from just eating lunch. Now that I can cook more protein and heavier foods, I no longer feel hungry between meals during the day. Gotta get ready for winter hibernation!

Update on community projects: We have started working on the running water for the project. It is a lot of work. We started last weekend and a backhoe came in to dig the trench for the waterline. The backhoe digs 2.5 feet deep and has dug for 2 kilometers. We (community members) are required to lay the line, and back fill the dirt with our hoes (for however long the line runs). It certainly has been tedious, mind-numbing work but it looks like we are going to have running water by the end of May! With this, I can have a running shower (as compared to bucket bathing), a functioning toilet, and a place to wash my dishes and clothes.

Community running water meeting
 Backhoe digging the water line trench

Agriculture Projects: A large part of my work in March was gathering information for my Community Needs Assessment (CNA). All Peace Corps volunteers in country conduct a CNA in their first six months at site, and is a great tool to understand the history, politics, and potential future of the community. The CNA required me to visit community families to conduct interviews about the crops they grow, what needs they see for the future, and how I might be able to tailor my work to fit these needs. It is a good way for volunteers to interact with community members to get to know each other and gain respect as a volunteer. Conducting the CNA was really a lot of work to compile the information of each family, analyze what projects could be done within the next year and nine months, and create a document to send to my Peace Corps Agriculture sector boss. I really never thought I would ever be creating a large document in a foreign language in my life. After spending a few hours every night, I shipped my CNA off today for review and approval. 

Ag high school: I have started off my work in the agriculture high school by advising students on their "graduation projects." Once a week, I spend 4 hours in the school working with students on production projects. I supervise 27 students on projects that range from carrots, peppers, tomatoes, bees, chickens, soil recuperation, and yerba mate nurseries. Each group of students must produce at least two cycles of their respective project. This is a good way for me to start my work in the school. It doesn't require too much preparation and I enjoy this style of informal education with the students, as compared to given a weekly lecture in a classroom. It allows us to be out in the nurseries, gardens, or fields and we can discuss the progress, difficulties, and successes of the projects. 

 Laying chicken project at the high school

Primary school: In the primary school I currently work with 7th and 9th graders on the school garden. The past few weeks we have been prepared the beds by constructing, applying manure, hanging shade structures, and planting. So far we have planted carrots, onions, swiss chard, lettuce, beets, and turnips. We also have a compost pile that is in progress. We review the compost pile every week to see the rate of decomposition, and add to the materials so that we can have more organic matter to apply to the gardens in the future. I am also starting a world map project at the school, which I am really enthusiastic to do. World maps are painted onto walls of school structures so that students can literally view the world on a large scale. Many times rural schools lack infrastructure to view a map online, through a globe, and sometimes even through a textbook. The world map lets the students understand that other countries do exist outside of their own, and to see how far in relation other countries are from Paraguay. Though it may be a tedious project to complete, it will help me create one of my first tangible projects in site for many people to see. The primary school hosts a lot of various community meetings, so members of my site will be able to see the work I have done in the school. 
Example of world map project

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Work on my casita!

Hey everyone! Finally there was a southern "cold" front that blew through this week and we are in much cooler, normal temperatures!

I have been really busy the past few weeks getting my house ready to live in. I don't really have much to say so I will just post some pictures on the progress of my house.

 When I first arrived at my house. Overgrown with weeds and in need of a lot of help!


After the weeds in my house were all cut down! Here in Paraguay "lawn mowing" doesn't exist. Well, it does but in a different way. They cut the whole yard with weed eaters. Mine was so overgrown the guy had to use cutting blades to mow it all down. These are banana trees. When I first arrived they were all clustered together (like on the left side). I decided to actually manage my trees and transplanted 16 trees in lines (on the right side). I also planted an abono verde plant kumanda yvy'rai in between the lines of transplants to fix nutrients in the soil for the trees to grow faster.

Beginnings of where my garden is located. And yes, I did end up burning trash and some of the organic material that was cut down.
Finally my garden is planted with three beds! Right now I have onions, lettuce, carrots, sunflower, marigold, zinnias, beets, sorghum, tomatoes, peppers, cabbage, and brussel sprouts. 

We added a front gate to my house! Hopefully the crazy cow won't try to get in anymore.

Changing the siding on my house. Much of it has rotted or been prone to termite damage. 

Hopefully by the time I write my next blog I can show you pictures of the finished product! Chau for now!

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Nde rasore hakueterei!

In case you were wondering, it’s still blazing hot here. I envy those in America who got to experience the record breaking cold a few weeks ago. Here is a list of things I’ve done in Paraguay and literally broken a sweat doing. Anything that requires physical exertion above this level guarantees a sweat.

-Typing this blog post
-Playing candy crush saga
-Eating hot soup for lunch (happens on a regular basis)
-Shelling peanuts
-Sitting under a shade tree thinking about snow

Okay, gotta quit talking about the heat. Resort to part two to learn a great way to beat the heat: drinking terere!

My first whole month as a volunteer at site has been… weird, to say the least. I was having some major struggles trying to introduce myself and meet different people in community because of some prior happenings that I don’t really want to discuss in detail. However, I received some help from Peace Corps staff and members from another community to make the transition easier with the members of Capitán Leguizamón. Next week my community is organizing a meeting to formally introduce me so that everyone knows about my work and what the heck I’m doing here. Previously, much of the community had no idea I was here, nor did they understand exactly what Peace Corps volunteers do for their service. Hence, it was particularly tricky for me to introduce myself to community members by walking up to their house and trying to explain to them that, no, I’m not an Argentinian, nor am I a Cuban, nor a German, nor a spy. And yes, I have had all those questions asked about me.

One thing that has been a major help to my community integration is Paraguayan curiosity. They ask me anything, and everything. They are so interested to know what it’s like to live in America. The foods we eat, the work we do, how cold it is, who is your girlfriend, do they eat mandioca there, do you have terere there, etc. etc. That is one of the great things I like about Peace Corps. We are a culture-sharing machine. Clearly there are things I do that Paraguayans think I’m crazy and gawk at me. However, these are the little things that keep me sane and realize I’m making a tiny bit of impact so little time into my service.

I don’t really have too much exciting stuff to share so far, so I’ll leave you with some photos.

My host cousin Alexi and I enjoying some funny moments on my laptop

Isn't this just about the ugliest chicken you've ever seen?

One of the many impassable sand pits in my community

It's gonna rain! Haha just kidding!

Okay, I finally have the low-down on my mailing address. If you send me something, please please please make sure it is written exactly as I have put down.

Letters/cards/envelope items:

Orry Pratt
Correo Paraguayo No. 6700
San Pedro del Parana
Calle Parana y Capitan Niconor
Capitan Leguizamon
Itapua, Paraguay, South America


Orry Pratt
Correo Central Encarnacion 6000
Tel: 0984656118
South America

Jajapo terere! Let's make terere!

Paraguay isn’t known for much. People only know the country exists and that’s about it, right? Well, if there is one thing I teach you through this blog, then it will be about the most important thing in Paraguay. Terere. It isn’t just a drink. It is an addiction. It is flavored water. It is cheap. It is the drink of choice for everyone in Paraguay, and they spend endless hours each day sharing this tradition. It’s pretty simple to make, so jaha!

To make terere, you’ll need:
A bombilla (metal straw with little holes in the bottom to act as a filter)

A guampa (wooden, metal, or horn cup)

A pitcher or thermos full of ice cold water. Yeah, that's the color of the water at my site. Haven't gotten sick from it, yet...

*Ain’t no ice cubes in Paraguay down here. They put it in bags and freeze it in log form.

Some yerba! No, not the cooking hierba or the Cheech & Chong hierba. Yerba mate. It’s a ground up plant that offers an acquired taste when mixed with water. Kurupi is one of the more expensive brands of yerba mate. It sells for $1.75 USD a box. The cheap yerba is non-flavored and runs for about $1.25.

Put your desired type of yerba in the guampa until half or three-fourths full. Then insert the bombilla into the guampa. Pour yourself some water into that guampa and you’ve got yourself some terere! The first “ha” (drink/sip/take) is called Santo Tomas and is undesirable and extremely strong. Lucky you if you have the first ha! 

Guampa filled with yerba and bombilla. Ready for some agua!

I don't normally take selfies drinking terere, but when I do, I make sure the thermometer reads at least 35 Celsius.
Instructions for drinking terere: Gather a group of your buddies and sit down in a circle like fashion. The designated server pours a participant their ha. Participant drinks ha, passes back to server. Server pours another ha for next participant. Next participant drinks ha and passes back to server. Repeat in same fashion in circle-like manner until you have had enough. After you finish your last ha of terere, you say gracias and leave the terere group.

“So you all share that same darn cup and drink out of that weird metal straw??”
            -Yes, yes we do.

“Why doesn’t each person just make their own terere and drink from that?”
            -Because that’s not how they do it in Paraguay. Sharing is caring.

“What if someone in the group is sick? Won’t that spread germs?”
-Sure.  But that’s the least of worries down here. Tranquilopa! Besides, the bombilla has little holes to filter all that stuff out!

“Well what happens if someone doesn’t want to drink….”
            -How rude of you!

“What happens if you drink terere and then eat watermelon?”
-According to Paraguayan thought process, you’ll die. But don’t worry! Peace Corps volunteers do it all the time and we’re still here!

“How much terere does one normally drink in a day?”
-Depends on how hot it is. Two liters at minimum. Some days can be 6,7, or 10 liters of water with terere. Keep that bathroom handy! Oh wait, I pee in the trees.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Blog Three Paraguay: A Scramble of Thoughts

It’s been a decent amount of time since my last blog post, and a lot of things have transpired since then.

First, I’m officially a Peace Corps Volunteer. Long time for that to finally happen! I’m at site now and will be here for the next 24 months. Three down, 24 to go.  Hopefully I can keep pace to have 27 blog posts by the time everything is said and done. It’ll be interesting to look back at how my life changes over this period of time. My advisor at Texas A&M, Gary Wingenbach, advised me that I take a photo of myself every month at the same time and place to see how I change over the years. It sounds like a crazy idea, and well, he is a bit crazy himself but he does have a valid point. I shared the idea with my other training mates and they seem pretty keen to it.

I’m at site now. My community is called Capitán Leguizámon in the district of San Pedro del Paraná, department Itapuá. You won’t be able to find my site on Google Maps, but the closest you’ll find is San Pedro del Paraná and that’ll give you a good idea of where I live. I’m about 10km from San Pedro, and I live way out in the sticks. It’s actually pretty nice and relaxing, except for the persistent blazing heat everyday. The hottest I’ve seen so far is 112, just a few days ago. It’s crazy how you perceive heat; when it gets down in the 80’s at night it feels a bit “cool” out. No paved roads here, no cell service, no running water. In fact, it’s not even dirt roads here, just sand. The “soil” quality is incredibly poor here and that is going to be one of my main missions for my Peace Corps work. Imagine trying to plant a field of corn or beans on a beach; that’s pretty much what it’s like here. My work is to teach farmers the benefits of using “abonos verdes,” green manures and cover crops to help recuperate the soil. Green manures are planted amongst other crops to provide nitrogen to the soil and to help break the hardpan that may exist further down the soil profile. Cover crops perform exactly how they sound; they provide cover to prevent soil erosion and organic matter to decompose when the field is not in production. I also have an agricultural high school at site, which is a rarity among the agriculture volunteers in Paraguay. They have a bunch of different projects going on so it will be interesting to see how that work pans out over two years. I’m so new and fresh here that it is really hard to speculate how my work will transpire. Flexibility is one of the main values of all Peace Corps Volunteers around the world; I gotta keep that in perspective.

We haven’t had rain in about a month. It’s getting dry and I’m looking forward for the rains to come. I planted a few crops right away when I got to site but hadn’t expected for such dry conditions. Only half of it came up and it’s looking pretty dismal. I have a ton of different seeds but don’t want to take any more chances on planting until I know there will be adequate water for the plants to grow. The weather is pretty wild here. Everyday in the afternoons the clouds get really dark and you can hear thunder but it always passes over. But it does provide for some amazing sunsets at night. I’m looking forward to receiving my camera from long-term storage so that I can capture some of these amazing moments. My iPhone just can’t do it justice, and I’m not even sure if a DSLR camera can do the trick either.

A list of happenings so far.

Best food: So’o apu’a (meat/corn balls in a creamy sauce)
Not-so best food: Kidney soup

Funny moment: Joking with my host mom that she might have worms because she was going for fourths on her favorite meal.
Strange moment: “This is my granddaughter, and this one is my daughter” (said X woman introducing me to two little girls of the same age. Not a lie.)
Sad moment: Attending the ninth and final day of mourning for the loss of a community member
Humbling moment: Shaking the hand of a 103-year old grandfather of a community contact. Imagine the things he has seen in his lifetime…
Kinda scary moment: A dog trying to attack me while riding my bike.  A German shepherd-mix with some big teeth. I carry rocks in my backpack now.
Not-so scary moment: Waking up and seeing a softball-sized spider/tarantula in my room and not freaking out.
Sweaty moment: Everyday. Story of my life.
Surprising moment: Watching a hedgehog climb up our gate and onto the roof. I didn’t know they exist in Paraguay!?

Uncertainties: I feel like I don’t know what I’m doing. Am I “working” enough? Am I gaining the respect of my community? Am I advancing my language skills?
Accomplishment(s): I started a compost pile with my family. I got a bike. I went to town in the blazing sun and purchased my family a Christmas gift. And they appreciated it. And I cooked a “heterei” pasta dish for family. They loved it.

Learn some Guaraní:
Heterei – very delicious
Haku – hot (temperature)(said every five minutes in this country, no joke)
Ndaipori oky/y – there’s no rain/water
So’o – meat
Ryguasu – chicken

My address has changed (not that I’ve received anything except cards and packages from my parents! *Insert sarcasm here*)

Orry Pratt
Correo Central Encarnación 6000
Tel: 0984656118
South America

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Training, Site Visit, and DENGUE!!!

Hey what’s up y’all! It has been over a month since I created a new blog post so I figured I would update on how everything is going in Paraguay. Everything has been great so far!

Training: Training keeps us very busy in which we are now easily putting in 10-12 hours a day five days a week plus a half-day on Saturdays. Not a lot of free time so I am looking forward to that whenever we move to site in just over a month from now. We train in a lot of different areas. More or less we have language-training everyday in Guarani. We recently had a proficiency interview to determine whether or not we need to study more to pass the final language exam at the beginning of December. Most of us placed in the Intermediate Low range, including me. We need to advance to the Intermediate Mid range in order to pass the language component to become a Peace Corps Volunteer. Other areas of training include our sector work in agriculture. We have learned about agroforestry, small animal husbandry, extension principles, green manure and cover cropping, gardening, and working with schools. Other areas of our training have consisted of health, safety and security, Peace Corps approach to development, and cultural interactions.

Site Visit: In the middle of October all the trainees had the opportunity to spend three days visiting a current PCV in their respective sector. I headed three hours south to San Juan Misiones, a department that is very close to the Argentina border. I stayed with a female volunteer so I had to sleep at a different family’s house. The PCV that I visited is a first time volunteer, meaning that no volunteers have ever worked in the community that she is working. She is almost a year into her site and is trying to get her work sorted out for the community. During the visit we had the opportunity to attend a high school class in which an agriculture teacher spoke about the importance of fencing animals to keep them out of gardens and into pastures to graze. Overall, the site visit was a really good learning experience for me as to what things I desire or do not want with my site and future work.

Dengue: The last day of site visit I woke up and was extremely sick. I had aches through my entire body and I was extremely dehydrated. I didn’t eat much and had no desire to eat or drink anything. The next four days were probably the worst I have experienced in this country so far; I barely ate anything and still had no desire to drink. I had two different fevers, extremely painful headaches behind the eyes, and painful stomach aches. I was first taken to Asuncion on a Friday but was brought home because I was feeling better. The next morning the doctor called me and said that I tested positive for dengue fever; the South American version of West Nile virus. I slept all weekend long and did not improve my situation. I was taken back to Asuncion on a Monday and was placed in the hospital until Wednesday. I had never been hospitalized in my life until I came to Paraguay! I was placed on an IV to replenish fluids and had multiple tests which showed that some of my organs had leaked fluid into my stomach cavity. They kept me in the hospital until this cleared up. I was finally cleared to leave the hospital and was just told it would take another week to recuperate my energy to feel better again. Now I can say I am all better and experiencing none of the symptoms of dengue. It was a pretty crappy week or so but hopefully I won’t have to experience this again!!!

In sum, I just want to say that I am enjoying Paraguay a lot and am pleased with how training is going. I am looking forward to these final few weeks of training in which we will learn where we will be living for the next two years. Thanks for all your support and I will try and mail some messages soon! Chau!