Wednesday, May 23, 2012

El Día del Lobo (The day of the Wolf)

Gladys was sick today giving me my first real test with the niños. Yesterday was a little crazy—one of our students, Rolando, arrived in the transporte (bus) kicking, crying, flailing and screaming, and that pretty much set the tone for the day—so I was a little nervous going into it. People always say that God only gives you what you can handle, and I couldn’t agree more. Only 12 of our 25 or so students showed up this morning (only 3 boys)!

Although some of the kids tested my patience by constantly being out of their seat, the day went great! Hermana Graciela popped in and out and one of the moms helped out a little, too. I lead the prayers by myself (finally know all of the words!) and even described our activities and work for the day. As a special treat, we listened to the story of Red Riding Hood, and Hermana Graciela brought in a wolf hat. The kids LOVED it, and thought it was so funny when I was the wolf. The best part by far though was when Hermana Graciela wore it, and the kids were running and screaming around the room. Test 1=pass!



Monday, May 21, 2012


When I finally checked my e-mail Friday afternoon, I had a wonderful welcome home message from Caitlin wishing me luck and telling me a little about her last few days here while I was gone. Like usual she told me it was full of surprise activities. At lunch on Friday Madre Maria Jose told me that I would be traveling once again—to the other Canossian community in Encarnación. Either she forgot to tell me or I didn’t completely understand, but what I thought was an afternoon visit was actually a weekend trip that was supposed to last until Monday morning. When I went downstairs Saturday afternoon ready to go and she asked, “Where are your clothes?” Oops!

One of the ministries of the other community in Encarnación is a home for young girls that are working and studying in Encarnación. Before coming to Paraguay I had read about this mission on the sisters’ website and was excited to see if I could help. 

After Mass

My first day didn’t exactly go how I thought since many of the girls had work and/or school on Saturday. It was pretty boring—I literally spent more than an hour ironing Madre Susana’s clothes (for the record I do like to iron and she didn’t force me to do it but still! Not exactly how I imaged my Saturday with the girls.) It did get better that night when we watched Mr. Popper’s Penguins though (It was in Spanish, and I asked about subtitles, but the girls must have thought I was joking. Regardless it was good and even though I didn’t understand all of the words I got the main idea and that’s good enough for me).  

On Sunday, we went to Mass in the morning at a nearby chapel of a group of Carmelite nuns. It was my first Spanish Mass since I’ve been back, and even though I forgot my bilingual missalette in my packing frenzy, it was good. After Mass, we decorated the dining room to celebrate the Quinceañera (15th birthday) of one of the girls, Clarita, later that night. Clarita is adorable—quiet but inviting and caring. She was so cute, especially when she practiced English with me since she’s been studying it for the past year.

After decorating, Hna. Magdalena, some of the older girls, and I cleaned the house while the younger girls had a catechism session. Later, the Madre Susana prepared a PowerPoint on the importance of taking care in our lives and the lives of others as well as vocations. Afterwards, Hna. Magdalena and I shared our stories about being called to our vocations. I love hearing how and why sisters decided to become sisters so it was interesting to get to know Magdalena on this level, too. Sharing my story, although I didn’t prepare (another surprise), was really fun as well. The girls were great listeners and even helped me with my Spanish when I stumbled. I hope that hearing about how I struggled with my faith in the past but am working to strengthen it now, why I decided to leave my country and come here and to know that I actually love being here despite missing my family inspired them at least a little bit to be open to whatever they’re called to do. And, after our hard day’s work, we celebrated!

Me with the birthday girl--Clarita
Clarita and her family

Hogar dulce hogar (Home Sweet Home)

I must have been looking pretty rough after my flight to Dallas since the man at security after customs asked me if I just woke up. It felt great to be back on American soil, but I couldn’t help being annoyed. The workers  in security were so rude and impatient! Coming off of an international flight there were many people that weren’t quite used to the US security and didn’t speak a lot of English. The workers had no patience, rolled their eyes and weren’t even polite when telling people to do things differently. I know people have bad days and security is a serious issue, but I feel like they could be a little bit nicer since they’re some of the first Americans people see when coming into our country. But, enough about that…After getting to my gate for my flight to Kansas City I primped in the bathroom and felt SOOO much better for it. I might have gotten some weird looks after changing my clothes, washing my face, brushing my teeth and yes, even curling my hair, but being able to feel somewhat clean after about 24 hours of traveling was more than worth it.

I was surprised at how normal being back felt. During my trip the weirdest I felt was when I was traveling and the moment right before stepping off the plane in Kansas City waiting to see my mom and Matt (he got in about 30 minutes before I did). I guess the best way to describe my overall reaction to being home would be that I just felt comfortable. I’m not sure if my lack of culture shock upon re-entry means that I’m just that good at adjusting or more likely if it means that I didn’t let myself fully take in the Paraguayan culture during the past three months and didn’t lose enough of my Americanness to feel weird when I returned. Funny enough, the thing that really made me realize I wasn’t in South America the most was just going to the bathroom. In most places in South America you throw your toilet paper away rather than flushing and I caught myself more than once forgetting.

Seth and Lisa’s wedding was gorgeous! It was at St. Mary the Virgin in Fulton, MO (a stone church that’s part of the Winston Churchill museum and was reconstructed from pieces of an old church in London that was destroyed during bombings) and the reception at a winery outside of Jefferson City. It was such a happy occasion with close friends and family. Seeing my little brother with a ring on that finger felt a little weird, but I’m excited to officially welcome Lisa into the Smith family. After all,  for now, we are the only true Smith women (meaning we have the last name) left. 

While at home, I also got to see Seth’s commissioning as an officer in the U.S. Air Force, play with Oliver, meet up with friends, meet up with Matt’s family, attend Mass and the adult faith group at St. Mary’s in Higginsville, stock up on my things to bring back to Paraguay (candy, hand sanitizer and Cheeze Its), get children’s clothes to bring back, and I got to use some of my Paraguayan souvenirs—my picnic basket and thermos—for two great picnics at City Lake with Matt. Being around so many of my favorite people was wonderful and just what I needed—no matter how hard it made leaving again. As expected, there were quite a few tears on Sunday saying goodbye to the siblings and grandparents and on Wednesday saying goodbye to Mom, Dad and Matt. 

To help stifle my tears at the airport though, I was given quite the distraction. On the way to Missouri, I flew from Asuncion, Paraguay to Cuidad del Este, Paraguay, to Sao Paulo, Brazil, to Dallas, TX to Kansas City. On my way back I was supposed to do almost the same trip in reverse. When I got to MCI in Kansas City what a surprise when I tried to check in. Apparently a stop was added between Sao Paulo and Asuncion in another city in Brazil after we booked the flight. Unfortunately to travel to any Brazilian airports besides Sao Paulo or Rio de Janeiro American citizens need a visa (which I don’t have). I was lucky enough to have great service at American Airlines and the two ladies behind the check in counter got my flights switched to go to Buenos Aires, Argentina and then Asunción bypassing Brazil and solving my visa problem. Proof you do need to get to the airport 2 hours early for international flights :). 

Another surprise at the KC airport was having a friend on my first flight. Our family friend, Mark Heins, happened to be on the same flight as me to Dallas on his way to Birmingham to help his daughter/my friend Whitney move to Washington DC. Whitney volunteered as a missionary in China for a year and a half and was an inspiration for me. Although our programs and experiences are vastly different, having her and her family to talk to means so much since they've been through the missionary experience. 

When I arrived in Asunción, I experienced the culture shock I was missing when I returned to the US. After spending nearly 10 days of not speaking Spanish and being home with my family the foreignness of Paraguay really set in. The airport was crowded and having to put my Spanish to the test without having Caitlin’s help was frustrating and overwhelming (I was this close to crying). But, I got a taxi, went to the bus station and found a bus leaving for Encarnación in 40 minutes. It definitely wasn’t up to the standards of my first bus to Asuncion, but for a cheaper price, the right time and my level of tiredness it was perfect. Unfortunately it stopped at what seemed like every little town along the way, which lengthened the journey from 5 hours to about 6; however, I was lucky enough to have two seats to myself for most of the journey (minus when a teenage boy sat next to me and started hitting on me and told me to give him my number even though I already told him I wasn’t single. It’s times like those when I’m glad I don’t have a cell phone here!).  From the bus terminal in Encarnación I took a taxi to our house and walked in the door at around 1 a.m. A mere 38 hours after I left my house in Concordia and I was back to my Paraguayan home! 

On the bus with only a few hours left to go!

I slept in the next morning but went downstairs to help with lunch in the jardin. To see the smiles on my kids’ faces when I snuck in the door was the best welcome home present ever. And to make it even better, Nati—my favorite student—was back in class! Goal for the next 6/7 months—more immersion and making this experience part of my life rather than something I’m doing while my “real” life is on pause, less internet/Facebook, more studying Spanish and making the most of everyday I have left.


Our plans might have changed a little for Asunción, but Caitlin and I were able to leave on Sunday night (midnight) by bus to have one day to explore Asuncion before my flight. Being a cheapo, I was hoping to take a city bus from the bus terminal to our hostel; however, after seeing about two buses filled to the brim with people literally hanging out I accepted that there was no way we were going to get on with my backpack and huge suitcase. So, we hopped in a taxi that took us to our hostel, Black Cat Hostel. The front desk people spoke English so from then until when I arrived in back in Asuncion 10 days later I basically took a break from Spanish (not a good idea!).

 I purchased Bradt’s Travel Guide to Paraguay while in Albuquerque (basically the only English travel guide available that focuses solely on Paraguay), and I was glad to have it. Embracing our touristness we brought the book along while exploring the city and ended up doing the walking tour it suggested, which led us to important government buildings, little known museums, fabulous marketplaces and other little gems. The only thing it failed to show us was where an ice cream place was, which we spent more than an hour looking for. Little did we know that literally right across the street from our hostel was an Amandau (basically the Cold Stone creamery of Paraguay)—in our defense there wasn’t a sign on the outside. There are many German immigrants living in Paraguay, and while in Asunción we got confused for Germans more than once by German Jehovah's Witnesses. One was a little confused as to why we were Catholic missionaries in a predominantly Catholic country, but they were nice and spoke a little English, which was fun. For dinner we went out to a place the hostel suggested as a must for coming to Asuncion. While eating dinner, we were approached by three middle-aged gentlemen sitting next to us to join tables. After politely declining several times we agreed to join up. It was a little awkward at first, but after the man who was shamelessly flirting with us left, we had some great conversation about Paraguayan culture with the other two.

The Cathedral

Memorial for Marzo Paraguayo (Memorial for those killed in demonstrations that broke out after the Vice President was assassinated in 1999. This was while the President was being tried for impeachment for abusing his power. I have sooo much to learn about the history!)  

Legislative building--funded by the government of Taiwan. We went to a great little museum inside. I don't think it gets many random visitors because they seemed a little confused when we asked about it, but the woman who showed us gave us a quick peak into the legislative session, which was cool.

Entrance to where legislative sessions are held.
Giving credit to the guidebook.

Street view by one of the museums

Old Train Station
A lot can change when you take a closer look.
The next morning Caitlin and I parted ways (her back to Encarnación and me to the airport). Although we said goodbyes and exchanged our last hugs it still didn’t seem real that the next time I will see her won’t be at the sisters’ house in Encarnación. (She left Encarnación on Sunday and flew out of Buenos Aires on May 15th back to the States. At the end of May, she’ll start a two-year teaching program through Creighton University where she’ll be teaching language arts on the Winnebago Native American reservation while getting her teaching certificate. As sad as I am that she’s not here with me anymore (and lonely), I’m super excited for her to start her new program, and I know she’ll be a great teacher.

Check-in at the airport was a breeze and I was happy to enjoy my first stop of many in the Duty Free shops. Duty Free Shops might be my favorite part about international flights—I love them more than the free meals. It’s not that I ever buy anything; I just like to get free spritzes of perfume to freshen my journey. Starting out smelling nice on a 9/10 hour flight is good and using a spritz to freshen up after a 9/10 hour flight is even better. At the airport in Brazil, I met two Americans serving in the US army who are stationed in Texas but work a lot in South America. It was fun to talk to other Americans, learn about travel, here some of their stories and share some of mine.

Pastoral de Joventud

While in VOICA formation, the sisters and past volunteers stressed how important flexibility is, and the days leading up to my departure for Seth’s wedding were a great example. Caitlin and I were hoping to get to go to Asuncion together to explore before my flight but were nervous about asking since we weren’t sure about “vacation” days. So, when Hermana Maria Jose asked us if we’d like to get to know the capital city we were thrilled—what we’d hoped for and we didn’t even have to awkwardly ask…so we thought. It was about two weeks before my flight when Hrn. Maria Jose mentioned that there was a meeting for young adults representing each of the different parishes in the southern departments of Paraguay. She said she would check to see if we could attend and then head up to Asuncion. After not hearing anything else about it, we figured that it wasn’t going to work. Finally, the Saturday night before my flight (Tuesday) we found out that we wouldn’t be going to Asuncion after the meeting but we were going to be leaving for the meeting the following morning at 4:45 a.m.

Caitlin, Delma, Maria and Lauri
The Cathedral in San Juan Bautista in Misiones
Our procession through the streets of San Juan Bautista
At the time, waking up that early wasn’t sounding that good, but I’m really glad we were able to go. It was a great chance to meet more young adults in our area and learn about some of the difficulties they face, even if I did have to dance a lot—Paraguayans love dancing and music, which is somewhat unfortunate for someone like me that generally requires a little liquid courage before hitting the dance floor. 

The last part of the meeting focused on statistics and the mission of the church towards young adults in Paraguay. I was scrambling to write down and translate all the facts, but here are some I found interesting and was able to record.

  • 54% of the population of Paraguay is under 30
  • 26% are between the ages of 15 and 24, and of this group 43 % are below the poverty line
  • The richest 20% of the population has 62.4% of the wealth
  • The poorest 10% have only 1% of the nation’s wealth
  • 26% of kids ages 7 to 14 work
  • 40% of young adults are in lower grades in school than they should be according to their age
  • Problems for young Paraguayans: poverty, hunger, lack of opportunities, lack of work, separated families (divorce or one parent working and living in other place), lower quality of education, lack of father figure, frustration, lack of authority

To end the meeting they talked about the next big World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro…if only it was this year.

This video isn't as cool as the one they showed, but it still makes me want to go.