Saturday, April 28, 2012

Little Moments and Realizations

With less than two weeks until I get to come back to the States for a week for Seth and Lisa’s wedding I’ve had so many thoughts going through my mind. I’m ashamed to admit it, but one has been how much easier it would be to just stay home. (Don’t worry it’s not happening. I still have so many things I want to learn and do here. Plus, my Spanish is nowhere like I hoped it would be at this point. I know that I’m not ready, and He’s not ready for me to leave.) It’s not that life here is stressful or physically demanding, but being away from the people I love and being confined to a different lifestyle is harder than I expected. When we’re busy time flies, but when I’m sitting in my room lonely and with nothing to do I often wonder, “What am I doing here?!"--Especially on rainy, cold days ( It's about 62 degrees today, and the sisters have informed me that this is fall weather. Winter will be colder, especially since our house, like most in Paraguay, doesn’t have heat. (As I write this I’m currently under three blankets and in a sweatshirt.)

Tuesday night and Wednesday morning we visited Posadas to get to know the sisters there along with their missions. We stopped by Comedor Medalla Milagrosa (basically like a food kitchen) run by one of the nearby chapels and volunteers. One of the volunteers is from Germany and serving in Argentina for a year—I think he’s on his 8th month. We exchanged less than 50 words, but meeting him gave me hope that I’ll be able to do this for the next 7 months for two reasons. First, because he’s doing it and that in itself is inspiration, and second, he’s also part of a group similar to Habitat for Humanity that builds houses for families in need. He said the next build is in June or July so I’m excited to hopefully be a part of that. We also visited a neighborhood that’s built around a landfill that people are constantly searching through to find materials for construction. It was definitely eye opening to see people, especially children, in flip flops digging through mountains of trash and contamination. Additionally we got the chance to stop by a daycare and kindergarten with babies to 5-year-olds. They were of course adorable, and it was nice to see what some other kindergartens are like. Unfortunately it started pouring right after our "tour," so we didn't get to see the city of Posadas yet. Hopefullly we'll make it there Monday when we go to Posadas again for a special Mass celebrating Hrn. Vicki, a new sister that works in La Plata but is from Posadas.

In this visit and our visit to Jardín America I think Caitlin and I both have realized how lucky we are to be in our community. Not that the sisters in the other communities aren’t nice and accommodating like ours, because they are, but the personalities of Hermana Maria Jose, Hermana Graciela, Hermana Ylse, Hermana Magdalena and Delma definitely mesh well. Plus, we feel very included in the community here in Encarnación. I’m sure it helps too that they’re all very young (three of the five are under 30).

In our other ministries things are going pretty great, too.

Jardin has finally gotten to its full schedule of 8 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. I was a little worried how the extra hour and half would pass, but it’s flying by. I’m really starting to get to know the kids, which has been good since I’m starting to bond with them, but bad because some of their true colors are showing and we’ve got a few terrors. I was surprised to find out though that one of them actually asked where I was when we went to Posadas—after all the times I’ve told him no and disciplined him he still likes me! Score! Part of the additional time of jardín is spent serving lunch, which is a great thing to be able to give the kids since you know how hungry and malnourished some of them are.

Right now, since my language still isn’t 100 percent, I visit the barrio beneath the bridge with Hermana Magdalena twice a week, go the health center and serve as the secretary to Hermana Susana for one day, and only help with classes de apoyo two days a week. It’s a great mix of ministries that allows me to get to know a variety of people, so I guess my language handicap is actually a blessing in disguise.

This Tuesday and last Friday, we got to spend the afternoon with Sandra (the 4-year-old teacher in our jardín) at her other job where she teachers 5-year-olds at a public school where many of the kids from the neighborhood beneath the bridge attend. Since we help with the clases de apoyo, it was interesting to see what an actual school is like. Plus, we made some little friends. I’m hoping to volunteer more there when I come back after the wedding.

Saturday morning and early afternoon is Caitlin and my free time, which we usually spend exploring Encarnación and stocking up on sweets (for me). It’s been raining all day today though, so we decided to stay in and watch a movie. Since that’s what I often do on rainy Saturdays at home it was definitely comforting. Plus, after watching The Way I have added another entry to my bucket list—El Camino de Santiago de Compostela (The Way of St. James). I heard about the pilgrimage that ends in Spain when I first arrived in Albuquerque (since I arrived on the final day of a retreat focusing on the camino—not this specific one, but about the journey of life in general) so it was great to be reminded of it again and to get some images to go along with what I’d heard. It’s a great film starring Martin Sheen about a father that goes on the Camino after his son dies in an accident while trying to complete it.

When I reflect back on this week it definitely wasn’t one with a lot of work in our ministries (with our trip to Posadas and lots of rain there wasn't a lot going on), but it was one focusing on relationships--with Caitlin, with the sisters, with friends and family back home talking via Skype and through meeting new people. I have definitely discovered that relationships and people are the most important part of my life. Before coming to Paraguay, while I was living and working in St. Louis after graduation, I often thought about my time studying abroad and wished I could be living in London or Ireland or some other foreign place because I thought that is what would make me happy—being in new or different places was my thing. But, what I’ve realized is that it’s not the places that I loved so much. Sure, they have been breathtaking, impressive, famous, and historical, but it has been the experiences I’ve had with the people I was with that made those trips for me and that’s what’s making and will make my experience here.

Enjoying a toast after "Cumple Bingo" for Hrn. Ylse's birthday.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Cataratas del Iguazú

 Visiting Iguazú is definitely something I would suggest to everyone if you can. The falls themselves and the surrounding landscape are incredible. I’m excited that I’m going to get to have this “once in a lifetime” experience twice when Mom comes to visit. Not that I didn’t take enough photos to last a lifetime—my count was over 200 and Caitlin’s over 500. Don't worry, I just picked some of my favorites to share here, and I'll be putting a link to my Facebook album of Iguazú on the Photos page of my blog.

The only bad part about going to Iguazú was coming home. We hadn’t had our normal schedule for a week and were completely on our own for two days, so coming home to the structure of Paraguayan life with nuns was difficult. However, after having some time to adjust and a few teary phone calls to Mom and Matt, I’m back in good spirits and excited about my time here. Plus, it’s less than a month until I’m back in Missouri for a week to celebrate Seth’s wedding.

Semana Santa

It’s only been within the past few years that I’ve started participating in any of the celebrations of Holy Week besides Mass on Easter, and nothing was like what I experienced here. Since Paraguay is a 87 percent  Catholic country, it was interesting to see how ingrained Catholicism is in the culture and how they celebrate. Plus, when you live with nuns it's pretty much your job.

Anything that lasts more than 4 hours in straight Spanish is a struggle for me, but each day I came away from Pascua Joven (an event for the young adults during Holy Week put on by our youth group and the youth group from barrio San Isidro) I was excited and glad that I experienced it. It was a great way to get more involved in the Easter celebration and to get to know people in our young adult group better. For Holy Thursday we went to the Pascua Joven and listened to songs and watched a presentation and then went to Mass. For Good Friday we had Stations of the Cross in the morning. Different families helped celebrate each station in front of their houses as we made our way through the neighborhood ending at the chapel. A really neat experience!  That night we went to the Good Friday service and then had a short activity at the Pascua Joven. Since the Easter Vigil Mass is long in English, I wasn’t exactly looking forward sitting through it in Spanish, but with the help of my bilingual missalette it was actually really wonderful. It begin with a fire outside and a candlelight procession into the church, and after, we had our biggest night of Pascua Joven with songs, snacks, dancing, and even a piñata. We didn’t get home until 3 a.m.! Luckily, time in Paraguay fell back for their daylight savings on April 8, so we got an extra hour of sleep for Easter. 

Palm Sunday (Domingo de Ramos)

Instead of each person having a palm branch people bring these bouquets.
Stations of the Cross around our neighborhood.

Procession into the chapel.
Pascua Joven 2012!

Popping the pinata.
One of the signs I made to decorate for Pascua Joven--The best place to be in the world is always where God wants me to be.

It wouldn't be a party without some squeegy cleaning.

The last time I missed Easter with my family I went to Mass at the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. Although it sounds like it would be great, a crowded Mass in a language I didn’t understand with tons of people around taking pictures wasn’t exactly for me. And, neither was our Easter dinner at McDonalds. This year, I still missed my family, but being in the presence of the sisters definitely made it easier. We began the day at 7 a.m. (after not going to sleep until 3:30 from the Pascua Joven) and headed to Posadas where we met the other sisters from Encarnación and Posadas to take what I like to call “The Nun Bus” to Jardín America to celebrate Easter. The food was different but delicious. The meat and the chimichurri sauce along with it was fantastic. Definitely going to get the recipe! Additionally, we could use the chimichurri as salad dressing, which was great because normally it’s just vinegar and oil. To top it off, we had cake and ice cream. After lunch, the sisters took Cailtin, Delma and me to visit a small waterfall nearby, Los Saltos, to get us in the spirit to visit the falls at Iguazú. Monday we stayed in Jardín America and got to talk to some of the students at the school about what we are doing and why we’re doing it. I was nervous at first when they asked us if we could speak, but with a little preparation the night before it was fun, especially the 17 and 18 year olds who actually had questions for us and didn’t seem bored. Monday afternoon I think the sisters may have forgotten that we were there. We had a rest time of 5 hours after lunch and literally did nothing else that day except check the bus schedules. Considering it was their first day back to school after Easter break, I don't really blame them. I guess it gave us time to prepare for Tuesday since we got up early (our bus left at 5:30 a.m.) and headed to Iguazú.

At Los Saltos
"Nun Bus"

The students at the sisters' school.
The sisters of Jardin America, Argentina.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Want to Help?

I just updated my "Want to Help?" page! I spoke with the sisters here and got a list of some of the things we really need in our community. If you'd like to get involved and help with any of the things listed below (and also on the "Want to Help?" page) send me an e-mail or find me on Skype!

Centro de Salud “Sagrada familia” (Health Center)
  • Materials for courses for adolescents and adults in sewing/tailoring, painting, manicure/pedicure: 1.200.000 Gs (approximately $300)
  • Medicines for patients and supplies for doctors and nurses to use in consultation/treatment: 2,500,000 Gs (approximately $625) each month
  • Salary for dental assistant for 10 months: 6,000,000 Gs. (approximately $1,500) each month.

Jardin de Infantes (Kindergarten)

  • Two CD players/Tape recorders (Boom Box): 300,000 Gs. (approximately $75 each)
  • Projector 2,800,000. Gs. (approximately $700)

“Adopt” a Child, Adolescent or Family
There are many children, adolescents and families in need of help with things such as clothing, uniforms, shoes, school supplies, etc. Since shipping costs are so high, donating money for the purchase of supplies here would probably be the most economical; however, if you'd rather send the items that works, too. For more information on a specific child or family contact me.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

La Santísima Trinidad

Last Friday we were lucky enough to get to see some of the nearby Jesuit ruins at Trinidad. During the weekend, they offer night tours with the ruins illuminated. Since I’m not really a good photographer these pictures in no way capture the magnificence of the ruins and the experience of visiting them, but they’re proof that I went and things to spark my memories. Hopefully Caitlin and I will be able to visit again soon in the daylight.

A little back story on the Jesuit ruins (Keep in mind the tour was given in Spanish at night and my Spanish brain turns off around 9 p.m. (Gracias a Dios for Google). Trinidad, located less than 10 miles from Encarnación, was one of the last Jesuit reduccions to be built in the Rio Paraná area in southern Paraguay and Northern Argentina. Reduccions were communities established by the Jesuits during the 17th and 18th century to integrate the indigenous populations with the Catholic faith. The ruins at Trinidad are one of the two UNESCO World Heritage sites in Paraguay. Trinidad was originally constructed in 1706 and included a central meeting plaza, a large church meetinghouse, a school, several workshops, a museum and housing for the local indigenous population. The Jesuits learned Guaraní, the local language, and worked to create a community focused on education and cooperation. Community members could speak Spanish, Guaraní and Latin. In 1761, more than 2,600 natives lived in the community.

Caitlin, me, Delma & Hna. Ylse

The church.