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Tuesday, January 17, 2012

January Heat

It finally rained in O’Leary this past Thursday and Friday much to the relief of thousands of farmers who had planted soy. Paraguay is the world’s third largest producer of soy behind the United States and Argentina, so a bad soy harvest means a smaller economic growth percentage. In 2010 Paraguay’s economy grew a record 14.5%. A large reason for that immense growth was a strong soy harvest, so it will be really interesting to see if the farmers in this country continue to grow soy and finish out the growing season, or rip it out and plant corn, which is more resilient to drought. At the very least it was a quick 3-day break from the sweltering heat, so I think everyone in the area was grateful for that.
The interesting thing about rain in Paraguay is that it functions the same way as snow in the United States. If it is raining the kids don’t go to school, people don’t leave their houses, and the few cars that are on the road seem to drive more cautiously then they normally would. A rain day is a good time to sit around and do nothing, but drink mate or terere and watch the day go by. I think a large part of this cultural phenomenon is due the lack of infrastructure. With the exception of the main cities most of the roads are unpaved and made of compacted dirt or are empedrado (cobbled), so if you are driving your motorcycle around in the rain on a dirt road it is obviously more likely to get stuck or broken. The thing that I still struggle with is that back home even if it is snowing if you have an appointment or meeting somewhere 9 times out of 10 you are expected to be there on time regardless of the weather. Not here though, Paraguay for all intents and purposes comes to a stop on days when it rains especially in more rural areas. My American mentality has yet to accept this cultural reality however, and it seems to me that the days it rains are the days that I am the busiest.
            This past Friday when it was raining the hardest I have seen in a while I hopped on a bus to visit another volunteer for the day in a town called Yguazu. The interesting thing about Yguazu is that there are roughly 200 Japanese families who live there, and several distinctly Japanese features. Supposedly there was a relatively large migration of Japanese people throughout Paraguay who set up colonies with the encouragement of the Paraguayan government across the country to help develop large-scale farms. With the boom of the Japanese economy in the 1960s-1970s many of the original families left, and to this day there is still a large amount of traveling back and forward between Japan and Paraguay, but there are still a good number of Japanese people living and working in Paraguay. Yguazu for that reason has a flare all its own complete with a baseball field, a number of Japanese products in the grocery store, and even sushi. At least for that day I felt like I was somewhere else other than Paraguay.
            I am lucky that I share a site with two other really awesome volunteers who have basically given me a run down of how things work in O’Leary. I have been introduced to a number of really interesting people, and been given countless tid bits of advice about how to approach a variety of projects based on their experiences. Kristin is an Education volunteer who puts on a reading/English camp for students in her community twice a week on Monday’s and Wednesday’s that I have been helping her with. Mike who lives in the center O’Leary has done so many projects and knows so many people it is hard to keep track of everything. Last Monday the two of us went to the town dump. It is basically a wide spread concoction of plastic bags, glass bottles, and other random piles of burned garbage in a big line with an earthen barrier on one side and a dirt road on the other. It was on fire in parts because the people who live next to the dump set it ablaze to prevent the garbage from blowing onto their fields. It was clearly affecting a group of farmers close by, but it seems like a very daunting problem. The municipality doesn’t have a lot of money to fix the problem let alone the expertise to manage a landfill, and given my lack of knowledge of managing waste it was an overwhelming site for sure. Mike and I are both a bit perplexed about how we can help given a lack of funds, but I was reminded by another volunteer who spent her whole career working in landfills and with hazardous waste in the United States that America was in a similar predicament with garbage 50 years ago, so at least there is hope for the future.
            I also, thanks to Mike, Mikes family, and Kristin, got the opportunity to go swimming and fishing in the large lake called Yguazu that boarders O’Leary. Now I am sure you are thinking wait, isn’t that the name of the Japanese town you visited? In fact it is and it is also the name of the famous waterfall that lies between Argentina and Brazil. The reason for that is because Yguazu means big water in Guarani, so naturally there are many places named Yguazu because of the amount of water in Paraguay. The photos you see are picture of lake Yguazu. The water is bathtub warm and there were countless birds flying all around. It is an absolutely marvelous place, and hopefully will incentivize some of you to come visit in the future.
 As for the fishing I was able to catch three fish all smaller then 6 inches, but considering that none of the other 5 people in the boat caught anything I got a lot of props for my ability as a fisherman. Naturally fishing is pretty much unregulated and the ability to enforce conservation fishing is pretty noexistant, so I got the impression that people take as much as they can get when they go fishing. Fish is not, however, a staple of the Paraguayan diet. The first time I had fish since I have been here was sushi not exactly Paraguayan cuisine, but over the past few years there has been a growing demand for tilapia on the world market as a substitute for many varieties of whitefish commonly consumed all over the world in the form of frozen fish sticks. Tilapia, specifically the Nile Talapia, is a very resilient fish that people particularly in developing countries can produce relatively easily for both auto consumption and sale. I have yet to learn a ton about how the process works, but all you need to get started is a retaining pond dug into the ground that has a small inflow and outflow, a few fish to get started, and cheap food. The rest happens naturally and before you know it you have a supply of tilapia that is quickly and easily produced with minimal overhead. I have heard a couple of people express interest in this topic and have seen a couple of the ponds around the area, so we will see if there are opportunities to work on those projects during my time here.

            It is suppose to get hot again this week, which I am not looking forward to but, at least the rain has brought with it the opportunity for me to start a garden that I have wanted to build since I got here. Today I spent 2 hours dying in the heat hoeing, raking and weeding. After I cleared about a 10x5 foot area my hand were covered in blisters, which indicated to me a job well done. Tomorrow I’ll start to build the seed beds, and with luck Wednesday I can begin planting. I will be sure to inform the world of my progress in the upcoming week, but until then I hope everyone is enjoying the cold weather as much as I am enjoying the heat.

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