Thursday, March 22, 2012


My view this morning.
This morning, before jardin, I went on my first run since I've been in Paraguay, and it was amazing. It's been hard not having many similarities here to my life at home, so running was a great way to get some of that back. It gave me time to think, do something normal (well, for Americans at least--definitely got a couple of stares from our neighbors), realize that just because I've lost some weight it doesn't mean I'm in shape, and just take in the beauty around me. It's definitely a lot better way to deal with my homesickness than stuffing myself with the cookies and candy I bought on Saturday (out of the 3 rolls of cookies and 3 bags of candy I bought, after 5 days I'm down to one roll of cookies and half a bag of gummy bears). Here's to ejercicio!

Sunday, March 18, 2012

I can’t believe I’ve been here a month.

Sunset along the River Parana
View of the bridge going to Posadas on our way to the barrio.
Thursday marked exactly one month that we’ve been living in Paraguay. Some days it feels like I’ve been here for so much longer and can’t believe only a month has passed, but most days it still feels like we just arrived. I’m sure that I’ve changed a little and that I’ve learned things, but for now it still feels like I don’t know anything and I haven’t grown at all. For instance, this past week I was having one of those blah days. You know, where you aren’t in a bad mood, it’s just not a good, happy mood. As we were walking around the neighborhood beneath the bridge telling people that the health center is open and what days the doctors, dentists and courses are I couldn’t help but thinking, “What is wrong with me?!” Here I am seeing people that lack shoes, adequate shelter, clean water and I’m feeling blah because I didn’t get to talk to my boyfriend this afternoon and the birthday card I made probably won’t make it to him on time? Ridiculous! But that in itself was a sign of how much I need to be here for me. I’ll be honest, I absolutely love the experiences I’m having—working with the kids, meeting people in our neighborhood, helping people improve their health, visiting the sick, getting to know the sisters and increasing my faith—but every day is a challenge for me—missing my family, Matt, my friends, being able to do exactly what I want when I want. Knowing that I have so much room to grow and that I’m definitely going to be a better person because of the struggle is enough to keep me going.  I’m thankful that I still have almost nine months left here. 

After a day at the Centro de Salud (Health Center)
One of the adorable kids we encountered while walking around the neighborhood.  He's 4, his mom is 17 and he has a little baby sister.
Banana Tree!
On our walk in the barrio.
For the second week of jardín class lasted for two hours, so it was nice to have more time with the kids to get to know them and to learn how to talk to them more. I now carry around my dictionary in one pocket of my apron and my camera in the other. 

Caitlin with her kids in Sala Azul.

Nati with her flower she helped paint.

Some of the girls with Hermana Graciela.

More difficult than adjusting to the culture shock of living in Paraguay is living with nuns in a very structured community, especially after living on my own more or less for five years. In Albuquerque it was like we got a glimpse of what community life was like for a nun, but here we’re actually participating. The sisters pray together in the morning each weekday at 5:45 (haven’t made it yet), go to Mass at 6:10 (sometimes—for lent I’ve vowed to go at least twice a week plus Sundays and usually Saturdays), pray in the afternoons and also pray together at night before dinner (we participate). I’m sure that there’s more that we don’t know about, plus there are various events at the chapel and other churches such as special prayers, speakers, and Masses. Strengthening my faith is definitely one of my goals of this experience, and it’s happening sometimes because of all the structured prayer and sometimes in spite of it. I generally prefer personal prayer, and to be blunt sometimes I’m all prayed out in Spanish. Sitting and listening to three hours of straight Spanish is still exhausting for me at this point since I have to mentally translate everything. In times like that I just apologize, ask for patience and strength to make it to the end of the service and use the time for personal prayer. I think Jesus understands. 

Earlier this week we had a meeting with Maria Jose, the head sister in our house, to talk about how things are going and to ask questions. It was wonderful! We more or less figured out our daily schedule for each week, talked about visiting Jesuit ruins and Iguazu falls, talked about specific projects the sisters could use help with (I should be posting those soon) and found out that we have a little more freedom than we thought. Plus, she said they like us. 

In other news, our stove caught on fire! On Thursday when Caitlin and I came back home with Sr. Magdalena after walking around the neighborhood under the bridge, I went downstairs to eat some of this coconut dessert that I’m absolutely addicted to. Instead of the dessert though, I found black ceilings, everything in the kitchen and dining room covered in soot, and the sisters assessing the damage. Luckily no one was hurt and besides some electrical problems in some of the adjoining rooms and the obvious soot, the kitchen is the only room that needs a lot of work. Fortunately the sisters have a kitchen upstairs as well, and it looks like we’ll be eating there for about two weeks. 

The kitchen and stove.
Outline left from a cross hanging on the wall.
Dining room.

This weekend Caitlin and I celebrated our one-month benchmark and St. Patrick’s Day by wearing matching green shirts, going out and exploring the city, looking at souvenirs and stocking up on sweets. It was nice to have a day by ourselves to learn the buses, look at Paraguayan things and take pictures without feeling embarrassed or worried that someone is waiting on us. Since we didn’t get lost we should be able to take the bus in by ourselves more often, which is nice since it’s much cheaper than a taxi. (Bus is equivalent to about $0.50 whereas a taxi is about $5.00.) At night we went to Mass at the Chapel followed by dinner and cake in our courtyard and a movie under the stars. A much different St. Patrick’s Day then I’m used to, but it was still a great time. Structured community life is difficult to adjust to, but the fun times and getting to know the sisters helps a lot. 

Inside the market.

The government building in Encarnacion.

Who would have thought I'd be taking another picture like this in Paraguay.

Bus ride!
Front of the bus.
Hermana Magdalena, Hermana Maria Jose, Caitlin and Delma.
Blowing out our candle--Caitlin and I celebrating one month of volunteering, Hna. Magdalena one month of being a nun and Delma 7 or 8 months as a postulant.
Delma, Caitlin, me, Hna. Magdalena and Hna. Graciela.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

This is why it’s worth it: La primera semana de jardín

On Monday we finally started jardín! And, like I had hoped, the kids are already making me feel like my time here is worth it to me and them.

I’m in the Sala Roja helping with the 3-year-olds. I guess God and the sisters were thinking the same thing as I was. Paraguay is a bilingual nation, with Spanish and Guarani both being official languages. In many of these kids’ homes they predominantly speak Guarani, so Profa. Gladys (the teacher) talks very slowly and simply in Spanish when she gives directions, asks questions and teaches songs—so basically everything. How PERFECT (or as I love to say “perf,” which happens to translate into Spanish just the same as English) is this for me?! Since this was the first week and was first time a lot of the kids have been away from their parents, class was only one hour. This basically gave us time to raise the flag, sing songs, play, eat and pray. Oh, and to cry of course. This week almost all of the parents stayed for the entire time, although Gladys has been slowly helping them and the kids realize that it’s not really necessary for them to be in the classroom. Day five and I think we only had two or three criers out of 20 something. Not bad!

Sala Azul (4-year-olds)
Sala Roja (My Classroom) and Gladys
Parents and kids waiting on the first day.
Playing and building.

Time to head home.
Tren de las ninas.
And los ninos.

Although I loved meeting all of the kids, I’ll admit that I already have a favorite. Natalia or Nati is in the 3-year-old classroom with me, and the sisters said she will be my hija (daughter) adoptivo for the year. Nati lives with her parents in a house not too far from the sisters and the jardín, and the sisters have kind of taken her under their wings. Even though I’ve only known her for five days now I already love her, and I hope that I can help her as much as I know she’s going to help me. 

Our first of what I'm sure will be many photos together!
The sisters got her a mochilla (backpack) and she was beyond excited. Her smile was priceless!

Nati and Caitlin (or Catalina as everyone calls her since they can't pronounce Cailtin)

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Another month begins...Marzo

Last Sunday, a new church opened for our neighborhood and one other to share. It was packed…and hot. Despite the heat and me not feeling well, I’m glad we got to see it. Plus, we met a priest from the Philippines that spoke English! It was nice to speak in my native language, but definitely felt weird, and we’ve only been here a little over two weeks. I’m so used to Caitlin being the only person I can talk to in English (although we try to talk in Spanish as much as possible) that it almost felt wrong.

View of the church from the balcony.
View of the church from the main level.
This week, like the past one, has been filled with cleaning and preparation for the opening of the jardín, the start of the oratorio (a get together for kids in our neighborhood with songs, games and a little bit of catechism on Saturday afternoons) as well as the Centro de Salud. It has been a little slower than last week due to the rain. Because walking is many people's mode of transportation, if it’s a hard rain things like our literacy classes or meetings sometimes get pushed back or rescheduled for a better day. So we painted tables, make/hung up signs and decorations, painted walls and cleaned up water. We’ve become squeegee experts! In Paraguay a lot of floors are made of tile, and to get rid of extra water you squeegee.

View of one of the city streets in Encarnacion.
Our first bus ride!
Walking home in the rain.
My feet after walking.
Kids playing in the puddles after a long rain.
Street view of Encarnacion.
Shop in Encarnacion.
Saturday nights are movie nights, and the past Saturday we watched Karol, a film on the life of John Paul II. It’s a two part film, and we watched the first part about his life up until he became Pope. So interesting!  If you haven’t seen it, I would definitely recommend it. I actually didn’t know much about his life before watching, and without a doubt it has motivated me to learn more. 

La Professora
One of my goals for this experience is to learn about the culture of Paraguay. To help us learn, the sisters had a professor come to our house and spend a few hours with us talking about the history, the mixing of the native and Spanish cultures, and the culture and issues today. It was extremely interesting to hear about the history and present and to get a better idea of what’s behind the people we’re working with. What’s even better, is that I actually understood almost all of it! It was definitely good moment in my constant journey of ups and downs while learning Spanish. 

We baked a cake!
Thursday we had our first Paraguay baking experience! In honor of St. Magdalene’s birthday the sisters asked Caitlin and I to bake a cake. I love baking sweets, so it felt great to be able to make something here that was familiar to us, like a chocolate cake. However, some of the ingredients and methods for baking happen to be little different, which provided for an interesting turnout for our first attempt. Both Caitlin and I have a ton of recipes (I even planned on bringing some with me but unfortunately left them in Albuquerque), but neither of us managed to bring them. Since we have internet, we didn’t think it would be that big of deal. As our luck would have it, the internet was super spotty yesterday, but Caitlin managed to connect for about 2 minutes and find a recipe for chocolate cake. We gathered and adjusted some of the ingredients (self-rising flour instead of baking soda/powder, a chocolate drink mix like Nesquick instead of cocoa, and we made powdered sugar from granulated sugar with the blender) and started. Everything looked great until we added the last ingredient—one cup of boiling water. It was super liquidy, but the recipe said it would be. The oven here doesn’t have any temperatures listed so we guessed on which notch we should put it on. After about 35 or 40 minutes we tested with a knife and thought our cake was done. It looked a little different, but smelled great so we had good expectations. We even made frosting! 

Taste wise I think it turned out pretty good. Texture wise, our word was "interesante." Our first cooking experience will be Monday, hopefully it goes a little bit better than the cake!

Worried about how it will taste.

Finished product! Don't be fooled by the exterior.
Jardín starts Monday! These kids are what I’ve been most excited about, so I can’t wait to finally meet them and start to get to know them.I'm hoping for the 3-year-old class, mostly because I hope that means they'll know how to say fewer things and are more on my conversation level. :)

This afternoon was the first session of the oratorio, and being with the kids definitely made my day better. As a self-proclaimed world traveler, I'm a little embarrassed to admit how homesick I've been. Days where I don't understand a lot of things, days where I'm surrounded by Spanish without a small break and days when I have so much free time I don't know what to do with myself are hard, but actually being with the kids is just what I need to tell me I'm still in the right place and doing what I should be doing. Even though I still don't understand a lot, interacting with them gives me the hope I need to know that things will get better.