Our week began Friday/Saturday at midnight with a bus ride to Asuncion. We arrived at the bus terminal around 6 a.m. and were at the Salesian retreat house ready to begin our service around 7:00. The first two days were rough. Not all of the volunteers showed up so we had to work hard to cover their shifts. On the first day we worked until at 11 p.m. and I woke up the next day at 4:45 to work in reception and welcome participants arriving early that morning. Sunday the work schedule was about the same and the work was worse. I helped out in the kitchen, and the attitude in that area was a little less than pleasant. The employees/boss of the house definitely had their own schedule and way that they wanted things done, which wasn’t always communicated to us in the best way. After drying plates wrong I made sure to ask about everything, and after a bad experience making juice (everyone in the kitchen was watching me make it, not saying anything to me but then talking in Guarani and laughing) I was finally relieved of my kitchen service after a few tears. Thank God I didn't actually cry in the kitchen, and since I wasn’t the only one who cried either, I feel like it wasn’t just me being a baby haha.
In those first days there were definitely times that I thought, “What did I get myself into?” and, “I’m going to be here for a whole week?” However, when more volunteers came in and we had time to talk with the participants (a mixture of priests, bishops, sisters, brothers, lay volunteers and youth) the heaviness of the work went away.
Each day began or ended with Mass or prayers. I loved going to the daily mass in Albuquerque and it was nice to get back into that habit. I kind of quit going here after lent except for Tuesdays since it’s so early (the sisters leave at 6:10 a.m.), but now that I’ve only got about a month left (can’t believe I’m saying that) and I can actually understand the homilies maybe I can stop being lazy in the mornings and at least make it a few times.
I was part of the general service team and we were in charge of cleaning in the mornings. Not the prettiest work but definitely needed. In the afternoons we helped the coordinators by setting up work spaces and getting materials ready. I’m grateful I got put in this area of service, not just because it got me out of the kitchen, because I was able to listen in on some of the meetings and got to experience more of the conference. At night there were cultural showcases of each region of Latin America. People brought their flags, videos showing off their country and culture, traditional dances, and food and drinks for people to try. It was so neat to be able to learn about so many different cultures in one place and be able to talk to people from so many different areas. I don’t know where else I would ever have an experience like this, so I’m really grateful.
I was also excited that despite the various accents, for the most part I was able to talk and understand everyone. People even told me that my Spanish was good and they didn't know that I was from the U.S. right away. Language success!!! There were several participants from the US that attended and many others that spoke English. For the most part we spoke in Spanish, but it was nice to be able to talk in my native language, too.
The best part of the experience was without a doubt the people I had the opportunity to meet—a mixture of participants from more than 20 different countries and Paraguayan youth that served as volunteers. I’ve only been gone one day and I miss them already. It was AMAZING to be surrounded by people with such passion for the Church and Catholicism. I’ve never really been involved in any type of youth group minus the occasional trips with our small group from St. Mary’s back in Junior High/High School so it was refreshing and inspiring to be around so many people that are excited about and strong in their faith. Throughout my experience as a volunteer in Paraguay I’ve felt that my faith and relationship with God have fluctuated. I feel much better than I did before I started my journey with VOICA, but even though I feel close and strong in my relationship some days, others I feel like I’m not doing anything to improve. This week was definitely the motivation I needed, and I'm excited to get involved in some type of Catholic group for young adults when I get back to the U.S. I'm also excited to HOPEFULLY be able to participate in my first World Youth Day next year in Brazil (that is of course if I have the funds).
|The volunteers after our first meeting before the conference.|
|CAFASA where the retreat was held.|
|Giant ant hill.|
|Some of the volunteers: Nancy, Delma, me, Hugo, Alex and Emilio.|
|Cardinal Theodore McCarrick from the U.S. visited the retreat.|
|At one of the cultural nights.|
|At one of the morning Masses.|
|One of the priesst from Brazil after giving me my cross to celebrate WYD in Rio in 2013.|
|Each country set up a table to display information and share their culture.|
|On the cultural night for countries in the Caribbean. (Puerto Rico, Cuba and Curaçao)|
|One of the morning prayers.|
|On our way to begin our pilgrimage to Caacupe.|
|With Marilyn, one of my fellow US citizens.|
|With Leti, one of the coordinators for the Pastoral de Joventud of Encarnacion.|
|With Alex and Yari.|
|Jesus--this little guy joined us in the pilgrimage and Mass in Caacupe.|
|The group after the Mass in the Basilica in Caacupe.|
|Limbo! One of the priests from Honduras.|
|At one of the cultural nights.|
|At one of our nightly meetings for volunteers.|
|Cultural night of Central America and Mexico.|
|With my new Godfather from Peru!|
|At the Mass ending the retreat.|
The conference officially ended Friday, and we left early Saturday morning (1:30 a.m.) for the Falls of Igauzu--this time, the Brazilian side. I wasn’t planning on going, partly because I didn’t think I would be able to enter Brazil without a visa, but I’m so glad that I did.
|Heading to Cuidad del Este and the falls!|
|Morning prayer at the seminary.|
|Breakfast at the seminary.|
|With Delma at the park for Igauzu on the Brazilian side!|
|With Angel from Puerto Rico.|
|Notice the tail coming out of the trash can.|
|Me with Nancy, one of the other volunteers from Encarnacion.|
|Crossing the bridge back to Paraguay.|
|Cuidad del Este|
|Getting onto the other bus after ours broke.|
|Delma & Francis (Nicaragua)|
|Itaipu, the hydro-electric dam on the border of Paraguay and Brazil.|
|Mass at the seminary before the lights went out because of the storm.|
|Waiting for our bus after dinner.|
To say that the border of Brazil and Paraguay near Cuidad del Este is relaxed would be an understatement. We walked over the bridge that separates the two cities and were never asked to present our passports. Yay for me since I didn't have a visa! I also got to witness contraband at its finest as people threw bags over the bridge and lowered them down to people that carried them off avoiding the Brazilian customs.
Even though I'd already seen the falls from Argentina, first with Caitlin and later with Mom and Grandma, the experience was great. The park for the falls on the Brazilian side is smaller and has different views than the Argentinean side, and it also gives you the opportunity to really feel the falls. I was spared a little bit since someone gave me their poncho after they were finished, but I definitely still got wet.
After the falls, we crossed back over the border into Paraguay and said goodbye to part of our group that had to return to Asuncion early to catch their flights. Shortly after, as we were on our way to visit the hydroelectric dam, Itaipu, one of our other two buses broke down. After the tour of the dam we headed to a Salesian seminary for Mass. After Mass we headed to a churrascaria for dinner where we thought our new bus would be waiting for us afterwards, but when we were supposed to leave there was no bus in sight. First we were told the bus was waiting for us at the seminary. Later we learned our bus wasn’t there and that we needed to wait one more hour. All the Paraguayans (and me and Edwin from the Dominican Republic) got off at a gas station and waited for our bus. People broke out the guitar and time passed a lot faster than I expected, and two and a half hours later our bus finally showed up. Oh Paraguayan time…
We arrived back at the retreat house a little before 5 a.m., slept for a few hours and then prepared to head home. It was a long week but an amazing one. Sleeping in my own bed after being gone for nine days was great, but what was even better was being woken up by my niños of jardín singing/yelling their morning songs. I missed them so much! Seeing their smiling faces, getting hugs and hearing their yells of “hola profe!” made my day. I also missed the sisters, my co-workers, Gladys, Sandra and Lidia, and my friends. As much as I enjoyed my experience with the Pastoral de Juventud de Latinoamericana, it sure feels great to be back home especially since my time left is limited...39 days. :(