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Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Hobnobbing with Big Wigs, Mud Biking, and Living Solo

            As a follow up to last week’s entry I’d like to start this update by discussing the educational congress that took place a week ago. My conjecture wasn’t too far from the truth when I said that it a bunch of important looking people came from Asuncion to put on a series of presentations for all the area school teachers. I didn’t personally attend the presentations even though I would have probably been more than welcome to attend. Being a Peace Corps Volunteer in Paraguay is a pretty big deal in the eyes of important government officials, non-profit organizations, and schoolteachers. I often times feel that my title as a Peace Corps Volunteer entails a lot more respect than I think I actually deserve given my professional experience prior to my arrival here, but I am always a welcome sight at the schools, where I can walk up at any time to grab the attention of the teachers, the municipality, and casa de cultura. I guess that relationship is a testament to the success Peace Corps has had her in the pass, and Paraguay’s historical support of the US and it’s foreign policy, but I digress.
Mercedes Lugo de Maidana curtsy of Kristin 
            From all indications the presentations were done by a series of representatives from the Ministry of Education and the Fundación San Sebastian (Saint Sebastian Foundation), a non-profit that provides educational materials and resources for both schools and students. From all indications, the presentations were chock full of text heavy PowerPoint slides that were less than stimulating. Supposedly, that style of presentation is not entirely uncommon, but it still seems to me that it would be a lot better to make a seminar for teachers more didactic so what they learned could be transferred into their classrooms. From what I gathered, the way the presentations were done demonstrates the very top down approach Paraguay takes in education. The Ministry of Education is like an absolute monarchy in that whatever materials they produce or teaching methods they encourage are the ones that are used by teachers regardless of the potential challenges associated with the uses of Spanish and Guarani as the primary form of language in a given classroom. I was glad I didn’t subject myself to those presentations because aside from my own language barriers I am sure there was plenty of technical jargon that I wouldn’t understand in English let alone in Spanish. At the end of the day, it seemed as thought he congress was a smashing success. Fundación San Sebastian put together an art activity to all the area kids to come and paint pictures using all kinds of different art supplies. There were probably close to 20 kids there when I went, which denoted a success in my book.
Sadly, I missed my opportunity to meet the first lady of Paraguay, Mercedes Lugo de Maidana, who showed up about an hour after I left. I was pretty upset that I blew my chance to meet her. Both Mike and Kristin told me that she sort of just showed up randomly and started shaking peoples hands. An interesting thing about the first lady of Paraguay is that she is not in fact the wife of the President Fernando Lugo, but rather his sister. Lugo won the 2008 election by essentially running on his own ticket. He is a catholic archbishop, and many people believe that his victory was largely a result of Paraguayans religious affinity over the bitter rivalries of the 2 main opposition parties the Colorados and the Liberals. So when he shocked everyone in his victory one of his first acts, since he had no wife, was to declare his sister the first lady of Paraguay. Anyway I didn’t find out about this until it was too late, and despite my efforts to enter the congress to see if she was still there I found out that I was a little too late. Instead, I got my picture taken with the people you see to your left. The man is the Intendente (superintendent) of the municipality of O’Leary. I think the American equivalent would be a combination of mayor and county commissioner. The woman I know less about. I am pretty sure she is a representative from the Ministry of Education, but for all I know she could be the head of it or just some random employee. I’ll have to ask around to find out more.  The congress lasted a day and school was scheduled to resume the next day. That was until the rain came.
My ride
One of the biggest challenges I face on a daily basis is my limited method of transportation. I have my bike, which to date has had its breaks broken 3 time, the pedal fall off once, the water bottle holder break, and a decent size rock screw up the chain. Not to mention the seat is like riding on top of a rock with every bump, there is not such thing as a smooth road where I live, does things to me that only my male counterparts can fully comprehend. Nevertheless, it is bar none my fastest mode of transportation, and I rely on it daily. The problems mainly arise when the rain comes. Where I live the streets are all made of dirt. Dirt plus rain equals mud, mud plus Thomas on a bike equals trouble. I never ride my bike in the rain, but have found myself of late forced to face the streets of O’Leary shortly after heavy rains In sections the road dries quickly, but in other parts it takes up to a week before I am able to get through without spinning my tires through deep soggy mud that reminds one of a haven for pigs. To date, and I knock on wood while writing this, I have yet to fall, but on those days after it rains I have had several brushes with catastrophe of late. What I will say about the roads after it rains is that there is a substantial improvement concerning the amount of dust that enters my lungs, and for that I am grateful. As for my bike, I still cannot tell if the bike itself is a faulty piece of equipment or whether it is the most well put together bike on the market that is the poor victim of rough riding day in and day out. My heart wants to side with the plight of my bike’s circumstances, but my head is telling me that there has to be a better option for the Paraguayan county side. I believe this because the bikes that I see many Paraguayan’s riding are often times old worn down bicycles that look like they were built circa 1970. I think those are the bikes that have managed to stand the test of time, and it is the newer bikes with many more parts that while advertised as a rugged mountain bike that can stand up to anything is in reality inadequate to survive in the uneven country roads where I live.
Trench connecting the well from to the water tank
Water Tank
Speaking of where I live, last week marked my official move to my new house. The last of my things were placed inside my two rooms dwelling on April 13th marking the 4-month anniversary of moving to O’Leary. The process at times was hellacious, and as I write this I am still without consistent running water or electricity both of which are problems that will likely be remedied by weeks end. Yesterday my host Dad, Julio, and I dug a trench to hook up the water pump to the holding tank on top of the house, put a light in one of the rooms, put together the outdoor light that is still for some reason missing a part, and fiddled around with the electricity for an hour before we decided that we would have to get someone from the power company to help us out. I don’t have a table or dresser, but I do have a couple of chairs, a bed, a modern bathroom, and a sink inside the house. I am also lucky enough to have 6 mandarin orange trees, so yesterday I spent probably an our eating oranges to kill time. As for food, I am still taking advantage of the kindly nature of Kristin, Mike, and my former host family’s invitations for food. I by the food and they let me use their kitchens to cook. Not the most convenient situation, but doable for a bit until we get this electricity thing squared away.
Next week I have what is called 3-month reconnect in the training center where I spent my first 10 weeks in Paraguay. I still don’t know why it is called 3-month reconnect when it takes place 4 and a half months after we swore in as volunteers, but its not my job to ask those questions. I am pretty excited to have Nilda’s, my former host mom, cooking for a week, and to see everyone from my training group. By all indications the training is structured more or less the same way it was during or initial training. In a lot of ways it is kind of like a vacation for me being able to leave O’Leary for a week. I haven’t left in close to 2 months and reconnect is timed well with my desire to get away. I am sure I’ll have plenty to about reconnect next week, so look for another update then.

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