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Monday, April 14, 2014

New Start

       I remember having long conversations with returned volunteers about what it would be like to come home. The transition back to the states is harder than leaving is what we're told they day we arrive in country. In fact, one of the first things we were told by the staff was that you cry twice when you come to Paraguay, once when you say goodbye to your family in the states, and once when you leave Paraguay at the end of service. While I didn't cry in either situation both instances were extremely emotional. As I sit here now, having accepted a job in Washington DC,  on the precipice of starting a new experience after only having been home for three months, my Peace Corps service feels sort of like a dream.
       I never thought I would get a job as quickly as I did. Luck probably had more to do with it than anything. The process of getting a job in the states is a lot of hurry up and wait. You apply for a ton of positions online in a rush of inspiration and then wait for weeks on end in the hopes that you get to the next step or even receiving the courtesy of a rejection email. Then its rushing again once you finally hear something, but cannot remember what the job is because you applied so long ago. Making travel arrangements, figuring out logistics, and doing your best to present yourself in a way that makes you a hirable candidate. Then nothing again as you sit and wait to hear back. That process takes weeks, and you go back to your routine until you suddenly get a call back asking if you can start the next week as you try to figure out a way to uproot your life, review the employment offer, and attempt to figure out how in the hell you are going to get to the job on the first day. I need a place to live, I have no furniture, I don't have a clue how to move around in the city and the list goes on
       The crazy thing is that is normal. Most people I talk to can relate to that situation, so my feelings about how hectic and unnatural it all seems are muted a bit. The thing I keep coming back to however is that figuring out those types of challenges is what I did in Paraguay, but instead of analyzing a health benefits package or filling out an I-9 form I had to hand wash my clothing or rewire my electricity. The ability to adapt to new situations that I got used to in Paraguay is sort of the same as I open this new chapter of my life. What makes it different is not being familiar with it. In Paraguay I made sure that I took things in stride and dealt with problems as they came up. Day-by-day, managing expectations, and asking questions are simple ways to live, but are so applicable in a multiplicity of contexts whether that is in Paraguay or in the states. 
       I'd by lying if I said being back in America has been easy. Transitions are always tough especially when you account for the stark differences between the United States and Paraguay. Those differences are overwhelming and they take time to figure out. I know that I will eventually get more comfortable in my new surroundings in DC, but life never really slows down and the second you think you got everything under control is the second that something throws you for a loop. 

Monday, March 3, 2014

Television

       I have now been home for two months. The strange thing is that I still feel like I never left home. The routines of my parents, and the overall lifestyles of many of my friends aren't drastically different than they were before just in different settings. Yet, in spite of this seeming comfort I still find myself overwhelmed over the most random junctures of day-to-day life.
       Most recently I've noticed how much our entertainment is rooted in watching stuff on our phones, TVs, or computers. I find myself captivated with all the forms of media, and the how remarkably easy it is to access anything. Thinking back to college, I remember how bonded I felt to friend groups based off of a video on YouTube, but it seems even more ubiquitous now then it did back then. Granted some of that could me own perception having been removed from an intensely wired society, but something tells me there is more to it than that. In conversations I find more and more that the substance is driven by seeing something online. It is almost as though seeing someone get hit in the crotch with a potato gun fired from a guy in a Santa Claus suit give us more substance to our lives than our day to day actions. To be honest, if I saw something like that online it might actually be the most bizarre thing I see in a day and would thus be inspired to talk about it. The problem I have with it is that I find myself constantly looking at screens because of the importance of finding relatable topics to bring up to my friends in conversation.
       If I am at a bar there are at least a dozen HD TVs in the room I am in. Often times there are more. It is almost impossible to not look at the brightly colored screen especially when Sportscenter is on beating another story into the ground with their team of 65 analysts. In Paraguay, I did see young people constantly on their phones or using social media, but for the most part the art of the conversation reigned supreme. You had to carry on a discourse with another person because there were no other distractions aside from what was going on around you. The substance of those interactions were more focused on the immediate environment. The truck that blew out a tire, the mango that almost hit Juancito on the head, or the lack of a particular item in the store. People were not constantly on the move from place to place. Interaction occurred incessantly all around and that is what we talked about.
       Since I've been home I notice I comment on why we as Americans do certain things the way we do. Why are bars full of big screen TV's? Why when it is -15 degrees outside does my water come with ice? Why are our my instincts when something breaks to buy a new one rather than attempt to fix it? These question plague me and constantly weigh on my mind. Everybody has something interesting to say if you really probe them about their interests, but it is easy to deflect the questions to a more light hearted YouTube clip, or the most recent episode of whatever show.
       I am super guilty of this. I would read just about every night when I was in Paraguay, but now I find myself binging on books when I have time riding in a car, or waiting at  doctors office rather than having some consistency. I get distracted too easily by what is on TV or the internet. I am not even saying it is a bad thing, but my social interactions are more dictated by what is popular rather than what I actually find important. If you want to sit around and watch TV all day that can be a tremendous stress reliever, but why is it everywhere I go? Are we so tired from doing our jobs and working to support ourselves that we really don't have the energy to do something active with our free time and I don't mean a regimented daily work out at the gym that is preplanned. It is almost as though spontaneity has been been eliminated from our lives. If social calendars are not planned in advance through a text or email do they even happen as much as we subconsciously want? It is weird to go up to a neighbor's doorstep and say hi without advance warning these days just to name an example.
       I find myself asking questions that I never would of thought of before. Questioning even the most familiar things makes me realize how complex our lives really are. There is always something new to learn. Some social trend, app, or other piece of technology, but I find that most of these things are just tools to help us find the activities we really enjoy doing. The problem is how overwhelming that can be when all you really need to have a good time with your friends is a setting and a topic.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Crockpot Conundrum


            Two nights ago I decided to make some dip for the super bowl.  I got the recipe from a woman who I worked with in college, and while it is easily the unhealthiest concoction imaginable I was pining hard to eat it. The dish requires several bricks of Velveeta cheese, some Bob Evans Italian Sausage, a can of cream of mushroom soup, and a jar of salsa. After browning the sausage the ingredients are put into a Crockpot as the onlookers are forced to wait as the room fills with the smell of artificial goodness.
            The dip turned out to be as good as I remember it, but some simple science caused the clean up to be a bit more difficult than I could’ve imagined. Taking a Crockpot from a cold plug and heating it up too quickly led to a bottoming out of the removable pot. It literally cracked in a perfectly symmetrical circle where the bottom of the pot was hung an inch above the heat source. This caused a sticky gooey mess that sealed the broken bottom in a burnt cheesy mixture that resembled the aftermath of a bout of food poisoning than a dip that was just eaten.
            My immediate reaction was to throw it away, but then I thought how ridiculous that sounded. Why in the world would I throw away a Crockpot just because a replaceable part broke? Surely I would be able to fix it with minimal effort? I was actually upset that my thought process immediately went towards replacement, a more expensive but easier option, than trying to use a little ingenuity to fix it. After all, those types of problems happened every day in Paraguay.

            
Then I started to realize that maybe my initial reaction was the only option. I was disturbed at the thought that maybe trying to figure out the name of the part of the specific brand and model of the Crockpot, finding a place that sold the part in a retail store or online, paying for it and waiting for the order to be filled would probably cost more than buying a new one.  I reluctantly threw it away, and am not proud to say that the action bothered me all day.
            Yesterday, my mom and I went to replace it. I agreed to pay for it because I broke it and thought that the cost would have to be higher then when we bought the original. We went to a department store, and started to browse around. I was shocked by how many options existed. Some had full digital monitoring system that looked more like a satellite than a kitchen appliance. Others were so technologically complicated that the cost tripled the amount that my mom had bought the original for. After spending about 10-minutes looking through the options an employee offered to help us find one using their in-store computer registry. To my absolute amazement we found the exact same Crockpot, with an additional smaller Crockpot that could be shipped to our house in 5 days for $10 less than the one my mother had purchased several years earlier!
            I couldn’t believe it. I kept thinking how is this possible? How often do people buy Crockpots that justifies such a low price? Then I thought, well, I broke one just because of a sudden 25-degree change in temperature, so this has to happen all the time. The overall cost of the basic model is still low enough where the is no room to even carry replacement parts for the thing even though Crockpot technology hasn’t really changed at all since they were invented in the 1970s. In fact, as we were leaving my mom said that my grandmother has two that she has had for decades, and that when I move to my own place that I could have one of them.
            I’m convinced that all the fancy Crockpots I saw for crazy amounts of money with all sorts of digital gadgets on them probably aren’t as reliable as the original models that only had an on and off switch. Despite all the technological marvels that have occurred since the Crockpot was originally invented the models seem to be designed to fail within a 5-year period even the ones with all the bells and whistles. A Crockpot is a nice thing to have, and my family uses them all the time. What I cannot get over is how something that is so technically simple can be redesigned to look nicer, with improved materials, and work worse 40 years after its invention. I just wish I could of found a way to fix it for the same small effort it took to get a new one.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Beginning the Transition

       In my last few days in Paraguay I had several people ask me whether or not I would continue writing in this blog after I returned back to America. To be honest, I always thought that this would end the day I left Paraguay. The whole reason for writing it was to give people insight to the work I was involved in with people in my community, and to provide some general information about a country not often thought about on a global scale. I hadn't even considered writing about the transition back mostly because those would be ramblings in America, not Paraguay. The more I thought about it, however, the more I realized that all those ramblings in Paraguay had left an indelible mark that would dramatically influence my decisions when I finally returned. While I still haven't figured out what the experience of being a Peace Corps Volunteer in Paraguay is in the long and short runs, I know that it had to of done something that overtime will hopefully become clearer in my mind.
       After traveling for 3-weeks through Bolivia and Chile I left Santiago at 10:10 PM on December 19th. It wasn't until I was sitting at the gate that a flurry of emotions hit me that I had been suppressing since I had left Paraguay. Aside from the Paraguayans I would miss there were countless other people, things, and places that kept popping up in mind. Would I ever seem them again? Would I be able to go to that place in the future? When, if ever, will I go back there? Those feeling were compounded with the emotions of seeing my family for the first time in two years. I think I almost broke down on the plane several times just thinking about it all. Thankfully a women in front of me had a panic attack about the plane tacking off, and wanted to get off. Seeing that interaction, and the hundreds of movies available to watch on the touch screen TV's were enough of a distraction to get me through the first leg of my journey. When we arrived in Atlanta the phenomenon of being in America for the first time since I left in September 2011 really started to hit me. I never thought that I could be overwhelmed by a modern bathroom, but as I entered the facilities in the Atlanta airport I was taken aback by the fact that you could flush toilet paper, the facet automatically spit out hot water, and a seemingly old fashion paper towel dispenser turned out to be an automated machine that spewed the perfect amount of paper toweling to sufficiently dry my hands. I was much more used to no soap, freezing water, and minimal toweling at best, so having everything work in that efficient manner overwhelmed me a bit more than I thought possible. After braving the modernity of the bathroom I started heading for my gate, and was exposed to American morning television programming for the first time since I left.
       As most morning shows go, this one was a myriad of pop culture trash stories intertwined with national and international news. There was a two minute bit on some guy saying racist comments from this super popular television show that I had only heard of in passing called Duck Dynasty. Then there was a 30 second update on the brewing civil war in South Sudan followed by a three minute breaking news piece about a theatre in London collapsing during a performance where nobody died. I understood that news is meant to appeal to the people watching it, but having come from a place that was lower down the development scale I was saddened by what my country saw was important information. That's not to say this particular news program was most well informed show on TV, but it being my first exposure to American media it was a bit overwhelming.
       When I finally saw my parents for the first time the emotions finally boiled over, and it hit me that I wasn't going back to Paraguay. Seeing the city where I grew up for the first time since I left was pretty incredible. Cincinnati has gone through numerous development projects since I left. There are all sorts of new apartments, bars and restaurants in several areas where there was previously nothing. There is a large casino in the middle of downtown. Houses and buildings that I passed on a daily basis growing up are sometimes different colors. Supermarkets, bars, restaurants, and stores have more choices than I could imagine, and I have often found myself getting overwhelmed by those choices. All technology seems to be put in place to simply to make things happen faster like having your check split without even asking. I was so used to struggling through who owes what when the bill comes that I sort of missed the incipient banter that inevitably followed resolving the check. In Paraguay, if I found a stout beer I would literally scream out loud. In America, every bar has at least four choices all which are slightly different. The way we interact with people is also remarkable.
       The way we as Americans interact with each other is peculiar to me now, and I finally understand why Paraguayans thought I was so strange on some levels. We have this instinctual ability to ask extremely directed questions at each other. To me, it seems more like a mechanical process to produce the desired result as quickly as possible. Drawing out emotions in conversations that are meaningful is a talent that not many of us pocess. Since I've been home, granted its been a week, the first time I see people that I haven't spoken to since I left they ask my two questions in this order: "How was it?" and "What are you going to do next?" Its not rude, its just how we interact. The questions are general enough that I could ramble for hours, but instincts tell me that I have to have a short an concise answer. Before we left Paraguay we had a closing of service conference that had a secession about transitioning home. In that time we discussed elevator speeches in which we gave a five minute summery of a good story, a challenge, and a funny story from our service. I, for whatever reason, haven't quite figured out the perfect way to tell that story, but I have a lifetime to figure it out. I hear all the time that people don't care about what you did, and that the hardest part of transition is that seeming lack caring, but I don't think it's that simple. It's not that people don't care I think it's more they don't have the capacity to understand in that moment. I view it as my responsibility to get them to care, to show them that this something meaningful to me and that if you're willing to listen it can have some semblance of the same meaning to you. It's getting to that conversation that has been the hard part because those two years that I spent in Paraguay were two years that other people spent doing interesting things as well that could've been as meaningful if not more to their lives as my experience was to mine. The conversation is reciprocal, and it is a skill to be able to illustrate how my experience relates to others. This has been a crazy week and I am still figuring out what it means to be home again. All I know at this point is that things seem eerily the same, but strangely different and recognizing the differences has actually been quite fun so far.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Saying Goodbye...Again

Well as hard as it is to believe, my two years of Peace Corps service have been completed, and I have to admit that it really hasn’t hit me that I am leaving tonight. Packing up and saying goodbye constantly for seemingly about a month has taken a pretty big toll emotionally. Couple those feelings with the inevitable challenges with dramatic transition, and you got yourself a big mess when trying to wrap things up and finally say goodbye for now to a lot of people who I have come to care about.  I had a very positive experience in Paraguay and the adage you learn more from the people you’ve come to help than you teach them certainly seems true at this juncture.
                  I like to think that I used this blog primarily so people at home could see what I was doing, and how I was living. The more I wrote about in it the more I noticed a change in style from short anecdotes to larger themes about the culture, economy, and Paraguay in international contexts. Those small projects that I found myself involved tremendously enhanced my understanding of Paraguay in the larger contexts, and a better fostered personal understanding of how the country functions. Paraguay is a small poor country. The division of wealth is astronomically skewed, and the tides of globalization where omnipresent and incessantly expanding in the two short years I was here. I saw one President get overthrown, and another get elected in. I sat in on community meetings, and read a lot about Paraguay’s government and history. The spectrum of my experience is truly remarkable, and it kept me guessing at every juncture. Despite all the challenges this country still faces it still somehow manages to leave an indelible mark on the psyche of the people who spend time here, and I marvel at how happy people are despite not having many things I would’ve deemed essential before my arrival. A truly happy life isn’t one that is defined by material processions or individual achievements, but rather by the people you choose to share it with. If I have learned anything in my two years it how essential relationships are in making us complete human beings. I truly believe that if you surround yourself with loved ones who share common interests and help each other out than the path to a beautiful life has already been discovered. Time truly flies when you’re the happiest, and for me these two years went by in a breeze.

                  My plan is to continue writing as in this blog as I travel and transition back to the states, but I wanted to thank everyone who took the time to read even one entry. I found this blog to be a respite in a sometimes hectic lifestyle, and I truly appreciate the support and kind words I have received concerning my writing. Look for a new entry when I get back to the states on December 20th, so until then suerte!

Friday, November 1, 2013

Eco-Brick Bench


            Introducing new ideas, or projects in a community is very difficult. There are so many facets that determine whether or not something is going to be successful that there is no clear indicator of how something is going to work until you try it. A good example of this is seen in the usage and production of ecological-bricks. What makes them an interesting example is that they are a relatively new idea in Paraguay, but their creations taps into a common cultural norm of reutilizing things. Paraguayans are constantly finding ways to reuse things that I would consider garbage. Got rotting boards in your house? No problem, use them to make a fence. Some shelf or door break? Get some small gage wire and rig it back up. I've even seen people deconstruct their house piece by piece only to rebuild it somewhere else. A lot of this has to do with cost and availability of materials, and yes while many things are no ubiquitous, the decades of self-reliance still prioritizes reusing stuff as much stuff as you possibly can.
             Eco-bricks are pretty simple to make. Basically you fill plastic bottles with plastic bags, wrappers, or paper products until the bottle is densely packed to the point of being hard as brick. Given the rise of plastics, especially grocery bags, soda bottles, and candy wrappers, there is a plethora of these materials all over Paraguay. The sheer amount greatly contributes to the growing problem with trash management not just Paraguay, but many other developing countries. With growing accessibility to things like plastic bottle cokes, and Nestle candy wrappers a there is a big spike in the amount of garbage individual families produce that is compounded across the country. It is amazing how much trash I produce individually. It used to be that I could fill a bag of garbage per week, but ever since I started making eco-bricks, my trash productions have been halved. Over the course of nine months I filled ten bricks. The school was able to make 49 from leftover garbage, papers, and trash thrown in the streets in just three weeks. In short these bricks are not only effective, but also easy to make and free to produce.
            The idea originated from Guatemala where an environmental NGO started, recognizing the rising costs of building materials and the ever-growing multitudes of trash, started filling up empty plastic bottles to use in building schools, benches, and other small buildings (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eco-brick). By layering the bricks, setting them in wire fencing, and coating them in cement you get yourself a pretty stable small structure. The costs are virtually nothing, helps reduce waste production, and cleans the streets. There is, however, some debate concerning the structural integrity of the bricks. If they are not densely packed then they're susceptible to crumbling. Obviously the solution is to make sure they are all in good shape before hand, but when doing this with children you're dealing with attention spans that can be shifted at the drop a hat. While from what I've seen, kids are very enthusiastic to fill up the bottles, but less inclined to pack them to capacity. Nevertheless, given the plan at the school next to my house was to build a small bench; we could overlook a lot of these less than ideal full bricks.
            The most basic design Peace Corps Paraguay has developed requires 28 bricks, a bag of cement, and about 20 regular bricks. You can buy a regular brick for a nickel, but cement costs about $12 per 120 lbs bag. That is a bit pricy, but still not over the top expensive. Bricks made in Paraguay are not that much different then bricks made anywhere else. Heavy clay soils are mixed with some chemicals, dried, and baked in a giant kiln. The problem is how fragile they are. The cheapest bricks will break if they fall from a height of a foot. It is a very labor-intensive process that has to be done with care. Eco-bricks, while useful, do still need to be flanked by regular bricks so they structure can better hold its form. In our case we decided to make a small 28 eco-brick bench, so setting the structure in wire before hand wasn't super important but building a support structure was.
            When I got to the school the day we were to build the benches we picked out a location and began digging a small trench to layer normal bricks as the foundation. We then mixed cement and started building up the bench with four layers of eco-bricks of seven across with regular bricks on the flanks. We decided to leave one side of the bench open to better demonstrate what we did. I left the morning classes feeling good what we accomplished. In the afternoon I thought all we would have to do is smooth out the cement, and fill in a few holes. When I sauntered up to the school in the afternoon, however, I saw that all students were there filling more eco-bricks with the teachers. I was informed that the bench was off center, and they wanted to extend it. I was thrilled by the enthusiasm, and quickly started digging the extension. After several hours, and 31 eco bricks later, we had our bench. We determined that having the top layer of regular bricks is a more effective way to encase the eco-bricks, and it made for a more stable seat. Ironically the extension made the bench more off center than before, but the teachers seemed thrilled.


            I have no idea whether the eco-brick bench will lead to construction of similar things in the community. What I do know is that this new idea inspired the students and teachers to work independently of me in finishing up a project I helped educate them about. It not only temporarily reduced the trash consumption of the school, but also added a new place to sit for virtually nothing. I don't see Paraguay consuming fewer plastics in the future, which leads me to believe that this type of project will continue to have legs moving forward.  Paraguayans have an inherent comprehension of how to build things and how to reutilize things. Tapping into those engrained cultural norms can be a very powerful tool in introducing new ideas no how big or small.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Monday Street and Traffic


            I spend a lot of time walking down long dusty roads. Approximately 15% (http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/IS.ROD.PAVE.ZS) of roads in Paraguay are paved. The vast majority of the paved roads are in the major cities, and the principal highways connecting those urban centers together. The number of paved roads has been steadily increasing for decades, but progress is still slow. A big part of the reason progress is so slow is the process of paving the roads themselves. I'm hardly an expert on how roads are constructed, but I am fairly confident that the method utilized here is a far cry from the standard in a more developed nation.
Monday Street is about 30 yards from my house
            I'll concede that buying the most efficient and modern road paving equipment costs lots money, and would take a lot time to arrive in Paraguay given its lack of industrial machine factories. With that being said I still find it amazing how long the process of paving a road can be. For starters, if a road is to be paved it must be worn down to a hardpan layer of dirt. There are no shortages of those roads in Paraguay, but selecting which roads will precede to the next phase of the construction process is more a matter of what political party is in charge rather than who needs it more, but I digress. The next step is cobbling the road. This task could be completed with a machine that grinds and spreads rocks, but that machine takes the place of laborers who painstakingly bash rocks with hammers and lay them on the road piece by piece. Based on my observations, a crew eight of cobblers can do a 100-meter stretch of road in one-two weeks if they're working efficiently. Once completed, a machine can actually pave the road in a matter of hours.
            The problem, however, is that getting a road paving machine is easier said than done. There are finite amount in Paraguay, and you got to have the political capital to get one, especially if you live far away from the major cities. Four months ago, O'Leary obtained one of these machines, and paved five roads in the center of town that had been cobbled years ago. Over the course of a week, most of the principal streets were paved, but the town still has a ton of cobbled and dirt roads interspersed throughout. I have to admit that overall, I was very impressed by the new paved roads. To promote the completion of the roads the Municipality hosted a bicycle race around the freshly asphalted streets, a task that would've been much more difficult on the male anatomy just a few months before. People seemed pleased by the roads, and despite my last place finish in the race, I could tell this was a positive step in the development of the town. Despite taking years to complete, it was nice to see the town progress in that way, but there are many consequences that I initially overlooked when considering the benefits of the new roads.
Plants covered in dust layer
            First and foremost is that it encourages more reckless driving. The number one non-disease related cause of death in Paraguay is motor vehicle accidents (http://www.worldlifeexpectancy.com/country-health-profile/paraguay). From 2010-2011 the number of accidents went up 100% according to our Peace Corps Safety and Security Director. While it is great that there are new roads, there is not a single new traffic light, or road sign. Even if there was, I doubt people would obey them. I say that for several reasons, first being it is illegal to drive a motorized vehicle under the age of 18, yet it is very common to see kids as young as 10 driving motorcycles to stores or down the street. It is also illegal to ride a motorcycle without a helmet; yet again walking down the street it is more ordinary to see people without helmets than with them. Lastly, Paraguay has a zero tolerance drinking and driving policy, but every weekend there is a party somewhere, and it is impractical to walk to these parties more often than not. Essentially the laws are so strict that obeying them, despite their good intention, is at time impractical leading to their blatant disregard. Why would I stop at a stop sign if no one is coming? On a similar note, I've lost count of the amount of time a cab driver runs a red light when no one is around. What about the police? Why can't they do something? Aside from the questionable motives of the police in general, if they issue a citation for every person who breaks a traffic law they would be overwhelmed by the amount of work they would need to do to process the tickets.
            If they issue a citation it’s likely that the guilty party cannot afford to pay the fine, and would simply discard the ticket as soon as the cop left. The judicial system is very rigidly structured, and lacks the efficiency and capacity to process a high volume of traffic violations. In essence the amount of resources and effort it would take to effectively enforce traffic laws would overwhelm the institutions relegated to deal with the laws. It is far easier to turn a blind eye to the problems then deal with the upheaval associated with strict enforcement. Disregarding minor traffic violations frees up the police and courts to focus on bigger issues. That being said, there is no way this country can continue to ignore this endemic problem with traffic safety.
Truck kicking up dust
            Paraguay is not going to stop building roads, and as the population continues to grow so will the number of motor vehicle accidents, thus necessitating the need for a comprehensive traffic safety system. A few months ago a group of volunteers and I did a tour of Itaipu Dam. On our tour were a British woman and her husband. Naturally we were all surprised to see this couple in Paraguay. When we asked why she was here she responded that she had been coming frequently for 20 years trying to assess the need to a traffic safety system. When she first came 20-years ago there was no need whatsoever, but now with rapidly growing population and the dramatic influx of motorcycles she said that she couldn't justify not implementing a modern traffic safety system. What is most remarkable is how despite the growing need for such a system how few roads are still paved.
            It think it is obvious to say that paved roads lead to faster speeds, and more accidents therefore necessitating infrastructural improvements for traffic safety, but 85% of all roads are still unpaved. The number of paved roads has increased at snails pace since the 1980s, but the number of vehicles has increased tenfold. Even the poorest of families can take out a loan for a motorcycle and pay monthly quotas at insane interest rates. Repossession for non-payments can take months, so it is not uncommon to see families with two or three motorcycles. Many of these poorer families live on the extremities of cities, towns, and in the countryside where paved roads don't exist. The ever-increasing amount of vehicle traffic in these dirt road communities leads to a plethora of other problems including dust erosion.
Dust cloud
            I live 2 KM away from a principal highway on a street called Monday (mun-da-u). The street is a dirt highway that goes 88 KM into the countryside before hooking left for another 45 KM until you get to another paved road. Due to its length, it is heavily trafficked by trucks carrying agricultural products from communities in the interior, personal cars, and motorcycles. The amount of traffic coupled with the importance of the road makes Monday Street a veritable quagmire of mud and dirt. When it rains the road is virtually impassible even on foot. The clay heavy soil, the lack of trees, and the hilly topography leads to countless accidents. Trucks get stuck; people slip, and the road stays that way for days. When it is dry, the vehicle traffic kicks up enormous amounts of dust that coats everything. I get made fun of all the time for having dirty cloths by people outside O'Leary. I kindly explain to those hecklers that if they come visit me they'll find out why. All my white cloths now have a reddish-brown hue to them, which is nice if all your dress socks are dirty, but not in any other situation. People's houses are covered in dirt and the vegetation has a nice layer of brown covering anything within a marginal distance from the road. The worst part about it is how common this situation is throughout the country. Although, I'll admit that Monday is one of the most trafficked paved roads I have heard of in Paraguay.
            It is easy to complain about the mud and dirt, and trust me I can do that for hours, but what is really scary is that in spite of the fact that the road is unpaved, vehicles still bolt down this road at excessive speeds. In some cases, families live 10 feet from this road, and while these is a side path, it eventually ends so you are more often than not walking on the street itself. I am absolutely amazed that I don't hear of more instances of people getting into accidents on this road. The number of children I see riding motorcycles loaded with stuff from a store, or with multiple people on board weaving between this heavy traffic is staggering. People complain, myself included, that they need to pave the road, and I agree the respiration and general health issues associated with inhaling a ton of dust is of the utmost importance, but is a paved road a better option given the frequency of motor vehicle accidents in Paraguay? If the assumption is that paved roads lead to faster traffic than paving Monday would theoretically lead to more accidents. I have no idea whether that factors into the reasons why the road is not going to paved anytime soon, but I think it should be.
            As with any developing country safety standards seem to develop after the creation of the danger. The brutality of motor vehicle accidents in the States led to the creation of laws that improved vehicle safety standards, more stringent law enforcement, and a more safety conscience population. Does that mean the same sort of things will happen in Paraguay? Ironically motor vehicle safety laws in Paraguay are in some ways more extensive than in the USA, but lack infrastructure and enforcement. I think it goes beyond that though. I've notice through my interactions with people that death is something that is intensely grieved for a short period of time, and rarely brought up again afterwards. You are hard pressed to find someone in Paraguay that doesn't know someone who died or was in a serious motorcycle accident. Despite all that death and suffering countless families have endured at the hands of a traffic accident nothing seems to change. People aren't mobilizing to demand better traffic standards. They don't seem to change their own habits either. It's one of those things that is seemingly just accepted a part of life that we all must live with. An expression that people use on a daily basis here is "así es" meaning it is what it is, or quite so. It breaks my heart that sentiment exists in place where so many have suffered losses that might of been prevented, but what hurts the most is I don't see any sign that things will change. I believe there will never bee a massive campaign to remedy this problem that is causing so much death in this country. It's just not the way things work here. I truly hope I am wrong and that over time people will stop accepting this as normal part of their existence, but I sadly don't see it changing anytime soon.