Friday, February 24, 2012

Meet Inodorito

We caught a photo of him!
Trying to hide.
We have two toilet stalls in our bathroom, but we’re only using one. Why? This little guy, the frog that we’ve named inodorito (little toilet in Spanish). Caitlin was surprised by him on the first day, and we’ve been hesitant to use the toilet ever since. After a few days, I decided it was silly that I wasn’t using that toilet, but after I got a small surprise too when I flushed we’ve decided that Inodorito can have his own stall and we promise not to bother him anymore. Luckily he’s nice enough to wait to jump out until you aren’t sitting on the toilet, only after you flush.  

I think it’s pretty normal in Paraguay, not to be afraid of them, but to see them in the bathrooms. When we were talking about things we’re afraid of with Hermana Ylse she said she was afraid of toads. When we didn't understand the word in Spanish she explained to us, “like in the bathroom, but bigger.”

Getting to know our neighborhood

I don’t think I’ve ever been this happy for rain! The past few days have been much cooler and bearable thanks to the downpour Tuesday and a little bit today. And while I’ll admit that I used to complain about rain because it screwed up my perfectly straightened/curled hair, now that I’ve accepted that my last good hair day was  in Albuquerque  and I’m embracing the “air dried” look, it doesn’t get much better than a rainy day in 100 degree weather. 

We've also had some very eye-opening experiences too as we’ve gone to visit families and people that we’ll be ministering to. Like most countries, in Paraguay there are the haves and have nots, but when you hear about poverty and even see pictures nothing can really prepare you for what it’s like when you’re there in person. Being so close to it and seeing, breathing and feeling the things even for a short moment that these people experience everyday definitely makes you thankful for what you have. One family we visited was a mother, father and six boys ages 3 to 14 who lived in a tiny wooden house and had for the past 16 years. (I hope that I get to meet the littlest boy more in our kindergarten because he and all of his brothers are adorable!) Their entire house was smaller than my bedroom back home. Right now, the owner of the land is trying kick the family off of the land and the sisters are trying to help the family. 

We also visited a neighborhood that’s situated beneath the bridge that connects Encarnacion, Paraguay and Posadas, Argentina to let parents know about the kindergarten. When the bridge was built many families that lived in the area and near the river were displaced and moved to our barrio, Fatima, and others; however, some families didn’t want to/couldn’t leave and still remain. Ester, a girl that volunteers with the sisters and lives in our neighborhood, said the police are starting to force them out though. Although there are some adobe/brick houses for the most part they are small wooden houses. I tried to get a few pictures.

Makes me really excited for the jardin to start!

A great example of my air dried look. Ehhh...

Only 30 days old!

Making bread with dulce de leche inside.

Since the kindergarten (jardín) classes don’t start until March 5, we’ve been preparing the classrooms, cleaning house, and cleaning at the Centro de Salud. Caitlin has also learned how to work the reception, which hopefully once I can speak and understand better I’ll be able to do as well. In addition to health services, the sisters offer literacy classes and manicure and pedicure classes at the center, which we’ll probably be helping some with, too. Hopefully they can practice on me!

El Centro de Salud (Health Center)

Classroom in the health center.
One of the classrooms for the jardin.
Caitlin and Hna. Graciela varnishing chairs for kindergarten.

For Ash Wednesday I tried to wake up early and go to the morning Mass with the sisters (they leave at 6:10 a.m.) I was all ready to go at 6:05 but decided I should braid my hair. Bad choice! While trying to make my hair look presentable I heard the truck start in the garage downstairs. Even though I ran down and tried to catch up , I wasn’t quick enough. No bueno! After, I decided to read the readings for the day, which happened to touch on not focusing on appearances—guess God decided to teach me a lesson with the braid . Luckily, the morning Mass wasn’t my only option, and we went to the little chapel in our neighborhood later that night. It was crowded with young people, and it seems like here too (just as in Albuquerque at San José) the sisters are developing a strong faith group of young adults in the community.

Another one of our ministries will be to visit the sick. This morning we stopped by four homes to talk to and check-in on the sick in our barrio—one older woman, an older man, an older couple and a 35 year old woman who is physically and mentally disabled. Seeing her reminded me of our time at Casa Angelica and really made me miss the “angels” there, but it was definitely a drastically different environment that she lives in with her mother and sister than we experienced in Albuquerque. I can’t wait to get to know all these people and the others we’ll be meeting through our ministries.

Sunday, February 19, 2012


My new passport stamps!
Entering Paraguay!! Finally after 3 days of traveling!
My room with a spare bed.
The Canossian Sisters' house. Community Magadalena de Canossa.
The heat has definitely shortened my honeymoon phase of life in Paraguay. I’m still very excited about my experience and am so grateful to be doing it, but already I’m missing the familiarities and easiness of life in the U.S. Part of me loves every minute of being here because I’m getting to experience a new culture and meeting new people. The other part of me is frustrated with the heat (going to Mass is probably the most uncomfortable part of my day because it’s so hot and long), the differences in how things are done and mostly not knowing the language. It’s so frustrating to want to speak and say things so badly but knowing there isn’t a quick fix to me learning Spanish. Unfortunately it just takes time. I know that the first few months will be the hardest since we have to make a lot of adjustments, so in the time when I don’t understand things, especially during Mass, I’ve been praying for patience and strength. I don’t think I ever realized how much I was going to need them. This is definitely nothing like studying abroad.

Honestly I was not in the greatest mood after Mass today, but after a fun lunch with the Sisters (Sr. Graciela always makes me answer questions to practice my Spanish and helps me out as I’m spurting out Spanglish) I’m feeling energized and excited to take on the rest of the day. 

Here’s what we’ve been doing for the past few days:

Friday we went into the city for grocery shopping and to change money. The exchange rate is about 4,300 guaranís for one US dollar, but I haven’t quite figured out what that means in terms of how much things cost here. When we got home, we made some welcome signs for the tutoring program and health center. Classes don't resume until the beginning of March, so right now we're just getting things ready. The rest of the day I slept since I wasn’t feeling well—not sure if it was from the water, food or just being plain tired after three days of traveling. Regardless after a 3 or 4 hour nap I was ready to go to a ceremony for adults that completed a literacy course. It was neat to hear the students and teachers talk about how it has changed their lives and also to see some Paraguayan culture. 

The literacy ceremony.

Yesterday, we toured the city center of Encarnación and went down to the coast of the River Parana. They built a beach on part of it for people to swim and enjoy. The city and other South American cities definitely have more of a European feel than that of the US. There are tons of little shops crowed together and lots of people walking. Unfortunately my memory card in my camera screwed up, so I lost almost all the photos from the day, but Caitlin was nice enough to share hers. While touring, we also got to try the customary drink of Paraguay, tereré, that’s made of herbs, cold water and a little fruit juice. I actually really liked it! At night, we went to Mass at the chapel in our neighborhood, Barrio Fatima, which turned out to be a wedding. Very cool to see, but very hot! The chapel like most churches here only has fans. 

In the Plaza de Armas

On a ride around the Plaza in a horse drawn cart.

In front of some bank. They asked us if we wanted to take a picture, so we said yes.

View of Posadas, Argentina from across the River Parana.

In the Plaza de Armas
This morning we went to Itacua, right outside Encarnación for Mass and to see the shrine the Virgen de Itacua. The story is that Mary appeared to people crossing and fishing in the river Parana and helped keep them safe from the rocks. Now, there is a small shrine/grotto where there is a statue for people to come and see. The church was really pretty and modeled after a boat, complete with a watchtower. 

The Shrine for the Virgen de Itacua.

The church at Itacua.

Making our way up the "watchtower"

At the top!
Outside the church.

Friday, February 17, 2012

The past few days: Buenos Aires, La Plata, Bus Ride & Encarnación

It is 96 degrees out today and feels like 105. Quite the change from dry Albuquerque and snow the day before we left, but here’s a little bit about my last few days. The most important thing I can say about this experience so far is that I love it! After a few teary last phone calls in the U.S., we boarded on our extremely crowded plane to Buenos Aires. (Sr. Angela, if you’re reading—this was the second time of quite a few that I regretted how much stuff I brought. You may have been right.) With less than five seats empty on our flight, overhead storage was limited so I had to put my (embarrassing) hat, towel and pillow hanging backpack underneath my seat, where it wouldn’t even fit until I took out my computer and a book. As the flight took off, I think Caitlin and I were both pretty nervous, but hearing words in both Spanish and English were just the transition I needed. Plus, my seatmates (a young woman from Argentina and a young man from Quebec) were really friendly. I even managed to sleep for a few hours off and on.

Upon arriving in Buenos Aires, we first paid our reciprocal entry fee. Visas aren’t required for U.S. citizens wanting to enter Argentina, but we do have to pay a $140 fee that’s equal to what Argentineans pay when they come to the States. Good news is that it’s good for 10 years!! Then, baggage and customs was a cinch, but finding the sisters, that was a different story. So many people were exiting customs and so many people were waiting and looking to find their passenger that we somehow missed Sr. Mariella and Adriana (a postulant—aka someone who wants to be a nun and is checking out what their life is like). After about 20 or 30 minutes of searching and wondering what we should do, I made one last round. Lo and behold there they were. I was so excited I just spurted out, “Hermanas canossianas?!” And Sr. Mariella excitedly hugged me saying Si! 

Next was luggage. I didn’t understand everything they said, but I’m pretty sure Sr. Mariella and Adriana were a little surprised by how much we had. After shoving and maneuvering our bags into the small car and sweating profusely while doing so (it’s summer in Argentina right now so the temperature was somewhere in the mid 90s) we made our way to La Plata, a city outside the city of Buenos Aires.

The sisters gave us a short tour, lunch and took us to our rooms. It was so nice to be able to rest! The shower and nap were both much needed. After our nap we went to prayer with the sisters, and I’m so glad that we learned the Padre Nuestro (Our Father) and Ave Maria (Hail Mary) before coming. After prayer was dinner (bread, pasta, salad, chicken, and veggies) and some chocolates from Brazil.  After dinner I was out. If you’re wondering, the school and the sisters’ house (except for the kitchen) didn’t have air conditioning, but it really wasn’t hot inside with the fan. In La Plata the sisters run several schools and kindergartens that we got to tour. Class wasn’t in session though because the students were taking their exams before the new school year starts at the end of the month. 

Before catching the bus to Posadas, Sr. Mariella and Adriana also took us to the Provincial House in La Plata to meet Sr. Beatriz (the Provincial for the province of Argentina) and some of the other sisters in the community. 

I’ll be honest, I was not excited for the 16 hour bus ride from La Plata to Posadas, but it was actually pretty awesome. Buses in South America are nothing like the buses in the U.S. There is no comparison between these buses here and Greyhound. Megabus is definitely in the right direction, but still has some work to do. We had plenty of foot space and even a thing to put our feet up, a TV with movies and music videos, a bathroom, air conditioning and two meals. I’m pretty sure they had free whiskey and beer too although neither of us tried it out.

Luckily the sisters in Paraguay have a truck so luggage in Posadas was easy. Next, we drove across La Puenta Internacional (the bridge that crosses the river Parana and takes you into Paraguay). Security and customs was pretty laxed compared to the U.S. and despite having our visa that doesn’t expire until 2017 we still have to go to Posadas every three months since tourists are only supposed to stay 90 days.
The sisters’ house is really big and new. It was built maybe 4 or 5 years ago and also houses the kindergarten (jardín de infantes). There’s a larger chapel for prayer and Mass with the children and a smaller chapel for daily prayer. We live on the top floor with our own bedrooms and a shared bathroom. And luckily, there’s wi-fi. We don’t have a/c in our rooms, but we do have the most powerful ceiling fans I’ve ever felt. Like in Albuquerque the house is much more than I expected. 

After settling in we got a quick tour of the center for health and a little bit of the city. We went to Mass at the Cathedral and then stopped for some ice cream, which we ate in our courtyard under the stars. Not a bad way to start out our time!

Some photo of our adventures in Argentina, traveling and a tiny bit of Encarnacion.  More to come soon!

Us with the sisters and postulants at the Provincial House in La Plata
In the courtyard at the Provincial House
Provincial House with one of the older sisters.
Our bus ride to Encarnacion
View from the bus in Buenos Aires
Sunrise on the bus in the northern part of Argentina.
Getting ready for take off!
With all my bags in the Buenos Aires airport. Definitely looking a little tired.
First photo in South America!!

View of Buenos Aires from the car on the way to La Plata
View of the outskirts of Buenos Aires.
My room for our night in La Plata.
The church in La Plata
The mural inside one of the sisters' elementary schools in La Plata.
Inside the music room in the school.
Inside the courtyard in the school.
Inside another classroom at the same school.
Inside the larger chapel with the sisters.
Stained glass in the larger chapel.
Statue of St. Magdalene in the courtyard at the school in La Plata.
The outside of the school in La Plata which is also named San Jose
Mural in La Plata
The Cathedral in La Plata
Enjoying the bus!
Waiting to go through customs to go out of Argentina.