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Monday, March 5, 2012

The Circus and Coming Months

            Last week I had the opportunity to go to the circus for the first time it what seems like forever. The Osvaldo Terry traveling circus has been making its way across Paraguay since the 1950s and the technology doesn’t look like it has change much since those early days to say the least. All jokes aside though, I never thought that my first experience petting a baby tiger would be in Juan E. O’Leary Paraguay with the Peace Corps, but it was. The cost of admission was 20,000 Guaraní's ($5.50), which is actually a rather substantial amount of money for most families myself included. I mustered up the courage to pet the baby tigers despite the circulating rumors pertaining to these same tigers biting the arm off a child earlier that day. To no ones shock that rumor was later revealed to be a slight exaggeration, but all the same it was amazing how quickly word traveled, and the genuine concern people expressed in going to the circus thereafter. Another rumor that might have a bit more substance than that of the child eating tiger was the circus folk driving around the community offering 30,000 Guaraní’s ($6.50) to purchase dogs that would be fed to the lions and tigers. Side note these were the laziest lion and tigers I have ever seen, so I question their ability to effectively stand up let alone kill a dog, but I digress. A rumor about the circus buying up dogs had added validity when it had been backed up in a short article in ABC Color that reported similar offers for local k9’s all over Asuncion when the circus was there a few weeks earlier. What amazed me more than the stories themselves was how ardently people around town believed both stories in their most ostentatious form of embellishment. The rumors were spread through hearsay more than any other form of media, and were taken as fact in the minds of most people that I talked too.
            I think what amazes me is that the advent of print, television, radio and electronic media are all corner stones in how Americans share and obtain information, and while many of those outlets exist in Paraguay accessing that information is habitually limited by logistics. If you don’t know it exists, or if you don’t have any way to gain convenient daily access to it your might be liable to take what so and so said about whatever on his trip to wherever as fact. The odds that the TV does a report on it, or that the person being told the fact has available access to a newspaper, if an article was even ran, is slim. I find myself more prone to gossip, and at times join in with the conversations that seem a bit farfetched. Word travels so fast and at time it even feels as though I learn about things in the news or what happened to so and so without even needing to read about it online or in a newspaper. That’s they way it was for a long time before the creation of newspapers and computers, and the weird part is that some days I don’t feel like it is necessary at all to learn about things going on in the community through any form other than hearsay.
            It even goes further than that. I cannot count the number of times people recognize me in the street, and even sometime know my name without me having ever met them. There doesn’t seem to be a great level of privacy in that respect, so more often than not when I meet people they remember seeing me riding my bike, at the store, walking from someone’s house ect. I sort of feel like a rock star in that respect, but I got to say it is a little unnerving to feel like you are being observed under a microscope, and that any move you make might grab the attention of someone for better or for worse. However, for the most part being visible in the community be that riding my bike with that goofy looking helmet ,or walking into a random store to buy something does get people questioning what exactly I am doing here if they don’t know already, and that is okay in my book.           
            In terms of upcoming projects I would say that can be folded into 2 categories: the school and the reforestation project. The school is going to prove to be more challenging to get the ball rolling than I expected. I am still searching for a place to live where I can have actual space to do things, or be productive without having kids hanging around me asking what am I doing incessantly. Last Monday, I went to the school just to kind of see what was going on and how many students would attend the morning secession. The answer was less than 20 in 4 grades. Smaller classes sure, but not enough students to feel confident about sustaining a garden by a long shot. To be fair, kids tend to roll into school over a several week period before the numbers reach the numbers they are supposed too, but with that being said I hope more show up for the sake of the school. The day is supposed to start at 7 am, but it didn’t actually happen until 7:45 because of last minute registration of students, the fact that it was the first full week, and because we hadn’t finished drinking the mate yet. Not going to lie its going to be challenging not to get involved, but to get a sustainable garden going. How do the kids learn punctuality and continuity when the operation of the school itself lacks those things? What I will say is that the teachers that I have met do all really seem to care, and are operating an entire school understaffed with extremely limited resources including the materials I need for the garden itself, so I feel a bit stuck for now and will have to wait and see what happens over the next few weeks before I can make a huge push with the actual construction of a garden.
I have been keeping busy thanks to a joint effort with Mike. We decided to do a big time reforestation project partnering with the municipality to plant an undetermined amount of trees along the main highway at different intervals along the 6 km stretch through the municipal area of O’Leary. Paraguay, particularly the eco-region I live in known as the Bosque Atlántico del Alto Paraná (BAAPA), has had major challenges with deforestation over the past century. Many organizations within the county have as a result taken the initiative to improve this problem through the promotion of grassroots tree planting projects. Through out the country there are reputable viveros (tree nurseries) that utilize the resources of a NGO (Non-Governmental Organization) called A Todo Pulmon in obtaining native tree species, in some cases free others discounted, for the purpose of reforesting. Peace Corps Paraguay has a partnership with A Todo Pulmon making it easy for volunteers to obtain trees for said projects. Paraguay has many very stringent laws regarding deforestation that are commendable, but at times are missing the resources to go about massive reforestation projects. It is also a delicate issue because how do you effectively prevent the average person who needs to cut down a stand of trees for the sake clearing land to grow crops to support his family? Needless to say this is not going to be a walk in the park at all, but we have managed to get several schools interested in helping us out by agreeing to take some trees to plant in their own school area, and everyone seems on board with the concept. Selling the idea though is the easy part getting a large group of people to come out and plant the trees is a completely different issue that doesn’t even begin to broach the topic of the other resources we will need, or the educational component of how and why we are planting trees.
            I am looking forward to the challenge and am confidant that we will be able to actually pull this off the question is how long will it take to finish? Only time will tell, and the weather is slowly but surely getting more tolerable, so I am excited and cannot wait to see how it all plays out.

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